Thursday, July 2, 2015
Interview with Danny Herrera
Today I am very lucky to have an opportunity to chat with a rising star, humorist writer, Danny Herrera. Sit back, relax, and hang onto your helmets. You can learn more about him here on his blog http://bydannyherrera.com/
JG: Welcome to Papercut. Thanks for taking the time to sit and chat with me. Tell us a little about yourself.
DH: It's a pleasure— thanks for the opportunity John. I was born and raised in the westside of San Antonio, TX. I've bounced around a little: I went to college in Iowa, and lived in Denver for just about 2 years. But I've been living in New York City for 3 years now. My problem is that if I get too comfortable somewhere I get all this existential anxiety and feel the need to leave that place. But with New York it's different— between the rats, the constant stench of urine in the subway, and all of the eccentric humans that live here— it's hard to feel too comfortable here. The city really pushes you to your limits and it just feels right for me. It's home, for now.
JG: You write non-fiction. When you go back and recall these past events, how do you maintain the accuracy of things that were said and the rest of the details?
DH: Keeping a diary helps. Often, I'll take note of a piece of dialogue or an event/thing/person that strikes me and then later on I'll transfer it into my diary. I'll usually revisit a diary about a year after the date I started it. I've written a lot about my family and my childhood and luckily because most of my family is still around, I can ask them about how they remember a certain event/person and that will sometimes trigger new memories in my mind. But man, there are just some things you'll never forget. Like the time my cousin Rudy pulled down my shorts in front of my entire family and I wasn't wearing any underwear.
JG: When did you start keeping your diary?
DH: I started keeping a diary in high school. Ms. Hood was one of my teachers. She stood at 5ft 4 inches and weighed well over 300 pounds. She taught "Health and Wellness." And although she didn't lead by example, the habit she instilled of writing things down has stuck with me ever since.
JG: How often do you update your diary now?
DH: Daily. My goal is to write one sentence each day and usually I write more than that.
JG: Do you blog? Do you enjoy blogging?
DH: I took a writing class while living in Denver. One of my class assignments was to create a blog and upload work. So I've kept up with that but I don't really enjoy it. Just the verb 'blogging' makes me nauseous. I never liked the idea of blogs and I still don’t. Themed blogs are the worst. Either way, by virtue of having a blog I put myself in the company of this weird virtual world. A friend of mine recently said that the blog is like the literary equivalent of a “selfie.” I think that's a good way to put it. But I've kept up my blog for 3 years now and one of the good things about it is that I imposed a weekly deadline for myself and created new work every week. That led to some of my essays getting published which was new for me and felt good. Nowadays I update my blog a few times a month. I like to think of it as my creative compost. Not everything on there is good but sometimes a really good essay will come from that compost.
JG: I’ve had the great pleasure of hearing you read your essay “Biddie Biddie Bom Bom”. It’s funny and poignant. Would you like to share the inspiration behind that piece?
DH: That essay started with the image of me as a 10 or 11 year old singing “No, Señor” by Johnny Z. I remember my mom smacking me over the head when I sang that song because some of the lyrics were filthy. So I started with that memory and built upon it. That then led me to questions about my cultural identity and the essay just naturally evolved into this theme about what it means to be a Mexican-American that didn't grow up speaking fluent Spanish. Like sometimes I was made to feel like I wasn't “Mexican enough” because I wasn't born in Mexico. And then other times I felt like I wasn't “American enough” because I've been called racial slurs in the past. It's a weird in-between state and I still think about it. Race is one of those things here in America that is constantly talked about and I think it's important because the “American experience” is constantly evolving and as we move into the future, it's going to continue to be more and more diverse.
JG: Who are your writing influences?
DH: Hunter S. Thompson because of his courage to implicate himself in the journalism that he creates. David Sedaris for being able to blend humor and insight. Toni Morrison for her wisdom and being a master storyteller.
JG: What do you like to read? What are you reading now?
DH: I like to read a lot of fiction and non-fiction. I'm currently reading Harlem: The Making of a Ghetto. It's about the history of Harlem and how it became a slum/ghetto. I like it because I live in Harlem and I want to know its rich history. Recently, I also read Bill Buford's Among The Thugs which was a great read. If you want to read about English hooligans who drink way too much and start riots at soccer games, I highly recommend it.
JG: How long have you been living in the city? Give me your impression of it. How do like it compared to other places you’ve lived?
DH: I've lived in New York for 3 years. I lived in Astoria for a year and now I've been living in Harlem for 2 years. I like New York because it's the cultural capital of the world. New York is a city of extremes and whatever you're into, you'll likely find it here.
JG: You’re billed as a humorist. How does this shape what you write? Do you consider yourself to be naturally funny or have events in your life helped pave this way?
DH: I think being a “humorist” shapes my writing insofar as I always try to paint an image in the reader's mind. Some of the funniest things are images you can see in your head. So that helps to shape how I write. I always try to imagine how it looks and then I try to translate that by creating a vivid atmosphere for the reader. I think there's humor in everyday moments and I really try to lock in on that. For example, while on the train recently, a man was standing next to me with his phone out. It started to ring and the contact on his phone read, "Dickhead." "Hi mom," he answered. "Yeah, almost there."
Now that's not profound, but it's funny. And who knows, maybe one day I'll find a place for it somewhere in one of my essays.
JG: How do you like to write? What mediums do you use (ie; laptop, notebook, napkin, cell phone)? Do you have a preferred medium?
DH: I make notes on my phone and at the end of the day I'll expand on those notes in my actual diary. Since high school I have used paperbound diaries and I still do. I go through a couple every year and at this point I have many completed diaries which becomes a problem when I move. So I'm actually considering starting to keep my diary on my laptop. It would save me some time and space, that's for sure.
JG: Do you have a schedule for writing, a preferred time or place?
DH: I work full-time so I usually write at my desk at night.
JG: When you are not writing, what are some of things you enjoy doing with your time? I go to the movies often. I listen to a lot of podcasts (my current favorites are Fresh Air, Radio Ambulante and This American Life).
JG: What do you want to be when you grow up?
DH: Well, in terms of my “professional” career, I'm starting graduate school this fall. I'll be getting a Master's in Urban Policy Analysis. So I hope to be able to do future work that helps disadvantaged populations. But creatively, I hope to be the author of a book(s) of essays.
JG: If you were throwing a dinner party who would you invite (Living or dead)?
DH: I'd invite Francois Truffaut, Toni Morrison, Conan O’Brien, and the President.