Sep 02, 2011 Erin Wisneski Uncategorized
Justin Torres has a story to tell.
The 31-year-old Baldwinsville native, who currently lives in San Francisco, will return to Central New York this month to promote his semi-autographical debut novel, “We The Animals,” the story of three brothers tearing their way through childhood.
Torres, like the boys in his book, has a Puerto Rican father and white mother who met in grammar school, and were the parents of three boys before they turned 19. Torres’ own journey took him from a difficult childhood, to a forced stay at a state-run institution (where his English teacher, Mrs. Iodice, would bring the class so she could continue to teach him), to a series of stabs at jobs and college. Bookselling and a love of writing led him to his current position as a Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford.
On Sept. 16, Torres will visit the Fayetteville Manlius classroom of his favorite former English teacher, with whom he has a very strong bond. Then, at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, Torres will read and sign books at the Barnes and Noble in Clay.
The Baldwinsville Messenger recently caught up with the author to learn more about his book and influences.
What influenced the title of your book, “We The Animals?”
Well, three boys have a certain wild energy. If allowed, they’ll go feral quickly. The parents too, are compared to animals by the narrator and the family is defined by a certain unpredictability, impulsiveness, violence and passion. I wanted the title to telegraph that rambunctious and slightly dangerous spirit. But, my hope is that by the end of the book, the reader resists the claim of the title; my hope is that these characters will reveal themselves as all too human.
Why did you decide to write a semi-autobiographical book?
I started writing for myself, telling myself stories I needed to hear. I would bend events to make them into art, to make them beautiful. I was not interested in writing a memoir, but I was interested in representation.
What is your connection to Baldwinsville and Central New York?
I grew up in B’ville, born and raised. I have some family still there ─ an aunt and uncle and cousins ─ and many friends, but I don’t make it back too often.
How do you feel about returning to Central New York for your book signing?
I am excited to return. I’ll be spending time with my high school English teacher, Mrs. Iodice, and talking to her students. I’ll get to meet my friend Christina’s new baby, whom I’ve only seen in pictures. And I’ve already heard from folks ─ former neighbors, former friends ─ who are planning to attend the reading, folks I lost touch with and never thought I’d see again.
Are there any Baldwinsville/Central New York references in the book? Can you elaborate to give readers a tease of what to expect in the book?
The book is located in an unspecified town in upstate New York. I didn’t want to name the town, or the exact region, probably for similar reasons I chose not to name the narrator; I wanted a certain universal entry point into the book. The focus is concentrated on the family ─ this book isn’t trying to describe a specific local community or a specific decade, though if you’re from the region and grew up around the same time, you may recognize certain things.
The B’ville I grew up in is very different than today, less development, less folks. The Barnes & Noble I’m reading at was just an empty field [then].
Do you plan to write any more books?
Where are you seeking inspiration?
Inspiration comes from the writing itself. Language inspires me; good sentences inspire me. I spend my days listening to music and reading novels, stories, poems and good journalism, and talking to folks, trying to pay attention to the artful way we’re all using language.
Anything you would like to say to your audience?
Thanks for reading.
Erin Wisneski is the editor of the Baldwinsville Messenger. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.