On Moral Luck and Moral Grit
with Sergio Troncoso, author of 'Nobody’s Pilgrims'
#NuevasPaginasconLupita is a space that is both an archive and resource aimed to "spotlight" Hispanic/Latinx/e authors with newly published books. The goal is to connect readers to new and/or old favorite Hispanic/Latinx/e authors and their books! So give this & every post a share to help us reach more readers!
How does it work?!
Here’s the deal, I came up with a set of casual/random/funny questions to ask each Hispanic/Latinx/e author, I interview. For now, the questions will all be the same but maybe in the future I’ll launch this into more specific questions to the author or maybe I’ll turn this series into a mini-podcast, or maybe……well, you get it! The possibilities are endless.
If you are new here don’t forget to check out all the other amazing interviews! We also have a great line-up of guest authors coming up so make sure you don’t miss an issue by subscribing now!
A friendly reminder that I am an affiliate with Bookshop.org and I may earn a commission if you click through any book links and make a purchase.
Hey Heyyy Book Franz!
This week came quickly for me. In fact, I feel like time is flying. That is usually the case for me during the summer - I blink and it’s Halloween lol. That said, I’m excited about the many interviews I have lined up for you, like today’s author interview!
I don’t have much to add or rant about other than a huge thank you for signing up for this newsletter and supporting this endeavor. When I first started it, I thought I might have a lot of gaps between interviews because honestly, I wasn’t aware of how many amazing Latinx/e authored books get published every year. This space has taught me that the number is vast, though we don’t always hear about them all. My goal was to connect readers with those books and I’m glad/hopeful that this space is doing just that. But this space wouldn’t be possible with you all - so thank you, truly. If you love this space or find any of the interviews to be of interest to someone in your life - make sure you share the space with them. This space grows and thrives when folks tell other folks about it. I won’t keep you any longer from today’s interview!
Without further ado, our special guest author today is….Sergio Troncoso, author of Nobody’s Pilgrims!
Could you tell me a bit about where this photo was taken? Is it special to your book in some way?
This photo was taken in my apartment on Manhattan's Upper Westside at my writing desk. My wife bought this old postal desk from Philadelphia for $75 at a New Haven thrift shop many years ago. I love the heft of the oak, and I like mixing the modern technology of my iMac with the old-World feel of our desk.
Tell me about your book without telling me about your book - share any literary inspirations behind your book! If there are none, the gap you wanted to fill in the literary canon with your book.
The literary inspirations to Nobody's Pilgrims are a mix of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, and maybe The Road by Cormac MaCarthy. I'm fascinated by the resilience and grit of young people, how they clearly see the many shortcomings of the adult world, and how they can make rash, even revolutionary decisions, sometimes on the fly, sometimes without heeding the consequences, into peril and perhaps a new path for them.
Nobody's Pilgrims fills the gap in understanding young people from the United States-Mexico border and how they connect with young people thousands of miles away from the border. To be inspired by a book does not mean you agree with everything in it. As a writer, I think you should read widely, even books that you might be critical of, because that very criticism can inspire you to write something better. Even Toni Morrison carefully read and critiqued Mark Twain.
What are two central themes in your book that you connect with the most and why?
The people and issues of the United States-Mexico border have traveled beyond the physical border, deeply into the culture, geographies, and communities of the U.S. I call this theme 'the border beyond the border' in Nobody's Pilgrims. This theme is not just about the diaspora of, say, Mexicans or Mexican Americans who were born on the border but ended up in New York, or Kansas, or Minneapolis, or Kent, Connecticut. This theme is also about relationships of love and friendship between cultures and ethnicities, for example. And even about the close relationships of those within the drug trade in the United States and Mexico. The good and bad of the border have gone beyond the border, so to speak.
Another theme that is meaningful to me in Nobody's Pilgrims is the theme of moral luck and moral grit. The three teenagers, Turi, Molly, and Arnulfo, are at different points faced with critical, ethical decisions in trying to escape the evil people that are after them. Sometimes they think they know the right course, and sometimes they guess. Sometimes they just act, without exactly knowing why. And I believe this is the miasma of morality we all face in our lives, especially when society appears to be collapsing around you. You have to be a bit lucky. You might try to do the right thing. And if you are faced with a series of surprises, you have to follow a tilting and swiveling moral compass inside of you, and hope that's enough to survive.
If a book was home, where would your home be?
My home would probably be the setting and milieu of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, where I would get to have coffee and conversations with Raskolnikov, and where we could talk about the collapse of nineteenth-century Russian society. And of course, I could talk about my own society. I'd love to compare and contrast the political ideologies, the nihilism, and collapsing morality of our societies, as well as the choices left to an individual who wants to survive her world and save herself. Yes, that's a dark home, but I would hope the great, crazy conversations would be worth it, and I'd hope the aperitifs would be too.
If your book was a famous musician who would it be?
These are hard, unusual questions! Nobody's Pilgrims would be Lil Nas X, because he doesn't fit anywhere exactly, he's constantly pushing across different boundaries of music and audiences, because he doesn't give a damn and just is who he wants to be, without fitting into predetermined boxes in the music industry or the expectations of others. Lil Nas X is creating his own road as he goes, upsetting people, opening people's minds, prompting serious questions about identity and culture, all of it like Nobody's Pilgrims.
What comfort food could a reader pair with your book?
I would say any kind of jerky you could get at a convenience store, smoked turkey jerky, maybe, because it's a road food that you would buy if you were traveling across the country, on the run, with your young friends. Jerky is that perfect food that's salty and spicy and chewy. In the middle of the night, the taste wakes you up to keep driving until you get home, or wherever you think home will be. Jerky might also give you an upset stomach, but that's all part of the experience.
In what ways has access (or little to no access) to Hispanic/Latinx/e literature defined you as a writer?
I rarely read about people like me in high school, poor Mexican Americans from the border. And frankly I only started reading many novels and nonfiction books about people like me when I was in graduate school and later. Even then I had to find the books myself, and so I am largely self-taught as a writer and reader. The first author I read that seemed like me was Rudolfo Anaya. Thankfully I got to know Rudy much later in life, when he awarded my first book, The Last Tortilla and Other Stories, the Premio Aztlan Literature Prize. One of my basic missions in life had been to produce the kind of books that readers from the border would love, but also readers very far away from the border. I want to expand empathy for characters and families and books about the border, but that's also a direct challenge to all audiences not familiar with the border: pick up our books, read them, absorb them. Empathy should always be a two-way street if we are ever to build a community in which we all belong.
Where can readers keep up with your work?
The best place for news about my work is my website, SergioTroncoso.com. Readers can sign up for an occasional newsletter I send. I also post my latest writing news. I'm also on Twitter as @SergioTroncoso and on Instagram as @STroncoso6. All of my social media platforms are on the front page of my website. Thank you for reading my work.
A huge thank you to Sergio Troncoso for taking the time to chat with me about his book! Please please make sure you purchase a copy (or request your local library carry a copy) of their book #SupportLatinxLit!
Author Bio from his website:
Sergio Troncoso is the author of Nobody’s Pilgrims, an adventure story about three teenagers, Turi, Molly, and Arnulfo, on the run from evil and unwittingly carrying even a greater menace in their stolen truck. Troncoso also wrote A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant’s Son and edited Nepantla Familias: An Anthology of Mexican American Literature on Families in between Worlds, which received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews. A Fulbright scholar, Troncoso is president of the Texas Institute of Letters and teaches at the Yale Writers’ Workshop.
Synopsis for Nobody’s Pilgrims Bookshop website:
No Country for Old Men meets Contagion in this story of three teenagers on the run, carrying a great menace, and chased by a greater evil.
Three teenagers are traveling northeast in a navy blue Ford pickup. Turi has fled his abusive family to see the beautiful New England landscape he's always dreamed about. Arnulfo is undocumented and wants only to find someplace to work and live. Molly seeks a new life far away from her nowhere Missouri town. Turi and Arnulfo are best friends. Molly and Turi are falling in love.
But for all their innocence, violence follows the trio at every turn. The mean viejito who owns the truck wants it back. The narco who hid a deadly shipment in the truck really, really wants it back. And the imperturbable hitman the narco sends after the trio will kill anyone who stands in his way. Turi, Arnulfo, and Molly might outrun the carnage that's stalking them ... but they can't elude the chaos they're carrying, no matter how far they go.
A literary novel with the propulsion of a thriller, a genre joyride written in the prose of a master, Nobody's Pilgrims both offers and questions the possibility of escape in America -- like Huckleberry Finn with a gritty frontera twist.
The best way you can support Latinx/e authors and Latinx/e literature is by doing the following:
REQUEST that your local library carry a copy
PURCHASE a copy of a friend, family member, or your nemesis (hey! I’m sure they read too).
SHOUT about the book on any social media platform or to your friends and family!
SHARE this interview widely! Word of mouth does wonders for connecting readers to books.
REVIEW their books on any website that sells books!
The other day one of my cousins asked in our family group chat….” Hey! What kind of music does Lupita listen to?” and without even missing a beat my brother replied “AUDIOBOOKS”!
The moment audiobooks stepped into my life, they became my music. I listen to them on walks, while doing laundry and chores — basically any moment I have to myself. So if that is you too (or if you simply want to fit in more reading during your daily life) check out Libro.FM! If you use the code LupitaReads you’ll receive two audiobook credits for 14.99 USD with your first month of membership. These credits can be used on your choice of more than 250,00 audiobooks on Libro. FM.
And if you need some audiobook recommendations - I made a list just for you!