Much like Rivera faces the challenge of sifting through memories of thoughts and impulses, sometimes it can be difficult to parse out how exactly a story was conceived. To the extent you can recall, what was the inspiration behind “Now You Feel It”?
For this story in particular, the inspiration is quite clear to me. In 2015 four young men of wealthy families in Veracruz sexually abused a girl (who was still a minor at the time). Two of them fled to Spain so that they wouldn’t be persecuted. The whole thing and the trial were discussed on the news a ton. In 2017, when the trial was underway, I remember reading about it. I was living in Iowa at the time and feeling quite estranged from anything to do with Mexico. As I remember it, the defense lawyer argued that the guys were just bothering her and didn’t feel any pleasure during the abuse, so they couldn’t be accused of having had sexual intent; therefore, they couldn’t be charged with sexual assault. This made me so mad at the time and I couldn’t stop thinking about how it would work if crimes were sentenced based on intent, and what a future might look like if intention could be seen and judged. Moreover, I realized that even with a technological advancement that could prove intention, in a country like Mexico it was inevitable that people with money would try to get away with it. That’s how this story started.
I agonized a lot about what kind of crime Gabriel would commit. Even if the inspiration was a real case, I wanted to do something different. At the time, sharing intimate pictures of people wasn’t a crime in Mexico and I thought it would be interesting to choose something that would seem “mild” by our standards and that would be a big deal in this world. I mention this because in the time since I wrote this story, the “Olympia Law” was passed in Mexico and now people who share intimate photos or video of others without their consent can be charged.
Although set in the future, “Now You Feel It” feels contemporary because it deals with issues that are not created by technology but which have been exacerbated by it. In a way, because Gabriel and Froggy can share Carmen’s pictures so easily, they do damage in the heat of the moment, whereas if they had to move slowly, they might have reconsidered. Similarly, it seems that because Rivera manufactures Gabriel’s feeling of guilt all at once, rather than letting it develop naturally—which it might have done, since the threads were there beneath the surface all along—Gabriel is destroyed by it. What can we take away from the effect this technological acceleration has on our characters?
This is a very interesting reading that I had never considered. When writing future scenarios I do keep in mind how fast technology is changing, but how slow human feelings and behavior change in comparison. Technology is going faster and faster, and I don’t think our interactions and feelings can keep up; by the time we’ve figured out one way of using a certain advancement, it seems as if a new one is already here. We sometimes speak as if technology is going to resolve the issues we have as a society and in most cases, I think technology just makes it clearer where the system is the weakest. In the case of Mexico, impunity, injustice, and corruption are issues that plague the day-to-day of its citizens and how they interact with others. I guess it is like that in many parts of the world, but it feels especially in-your-face in Mexico.
While readers will rightly be disgusted with Gabriel’s actions and root for him to face consequences, much like the story’s criminal justice system, that impulse is based on the perceived intentionality of his actions. In the end, the Gabriel who faces punishment is arguably no longer the same person who committed the crime; however, the damage to his victim, Carmen, is even worse than before. As readers weigh their own reactions to Gabriel’s fate, what should they take into consideration?
The world of “How You Feel It” is one of the bleakest I’ve written, but still, I couldn’t bring myself to keep the characters from facing the consequences of their actions. Even Gabriel’s father must face some consequences. I think the bleakness lies in the fact that it is inherently unfair how the consequences are dealt for each character; they don’t necessarily fit the actions. Carmen hasn’t actually done anything wrong and is the one that gets the worse punishment. I really feel for her and the humiliation that she is put through twice. In her case it doesn’t even matter that she, too, is from a wealthy family: she is vulnerable because a man believed she had wronged him. That man is Gabriel, who’s really still a boy, and who in the end also pays a price for what he did. I think nothing in the story is fair because the system the characters inhabit is unfair at its core. The person I really wanted to be punished is Gabriel’s dad and although in some ways he feels guilty for what he did, I think he feels it for all the wrong reasons. It is easy to see how Gabriel would have turned out like his dad very easily, feeling like he could get away with everything.
One of the rhetorical flourishes I enjoyed was how Rivera’s gender is at first concealed from the reader, so that when Don Meíja-Botta meets Rivera and is surprised to find out she is a woman, at least some of your readers likely share that surprise. I certainly did, and it made me reconsider how my experiences as a man create implicit biases and assumptions that shape how I view the stories I’m told—a thought which I carried through the rest of “Now You Feel It”. How did you come up with this tactic?
I don’t remember when I first thought it would be cool to conceal Rivera’s gender. I think one of the beta readers told me they were surprised by her gender even when it was clear from the start, because of the expectations we have of the genre. From the start the story has a clear cyberpunk noir tone. I recognized from the comment how it could easily be assumed that Rivera was a guy unless I stated otherwise, and so I thought it would be neat to not be obvious about it. Some people are tricked by it, others aren’t. I also think that the effect is different in English. Both languages telegraph gender in very different ways. In Spanish, possessive pronouns aren’t gendered and you can just drop the subject pronouns in most sentences. I think the effect might be less pronounced in Spanish because of that—you could almost miss it. But Emma Törzs, the translator, did an awesome job when I brought up the feature, and she was ready to take the challenge of making it work in English. I was quite pleased that she figured out a way to make it work.
Finally, what’s coming up next for you? In addition to any scheduled releases, are there any new projects or ideas that you’re just beginning to explore?
Recently I was selected as part of Granta’s “Best Young Spanish-Language Novelists” series, and there is an SF story in the showcase issue that I’m very proud of. Then in the fall I have a story coming out in Future Tense, a partnership between Slate, New America, and Arizona University. I’m also currently editing a novel about love and the end of the world. Idea-wise I keep trying to understand how to write about Mexico City now that I’m living here again.
Spread the word!