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Interview: Carlos Mock and Tales of Papi Chulo

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Carlos Mock is a fixture in LGBT, Latino, and fiction circles here in Chicago, and now, nationally. He is a physician, novelist, blogger and social commentator. Take a look at his bio, some of the rave reviews, and our conversation that follows.

Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico to a middle class family. Grew up in the San Francisco/Santa María suburb of San Juan and attended Colegio San Ignacio de Loyola prep school where upon graduation escaped to The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. Then proceeded to attend the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan where he obtained a Doctor in Medicine degree in 1980.

After an internship in New Orleans and a four-year obstetrics and gynecology residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago he went to work in the private practice in the Chicago suburbs until 1996. Currently, he shares life in Chicago with his life partner, Bill Rattan, and their dogs Mellow and Mocha. Mock is very active in the LGBT community by being on the board of two organizations; Equality Illinois and Orgullo en Acción, and maintains a travel website at: The Pink Agenda. He has five blogs at CTMock and Latino Odyssey, News Summary, Chicago News, and Pink News. Mock publishes a quasi-weekly newsletter with links to articles on a wide range of topics including Finance, Politics, and LGBT news.

Currently Editor of the Floricanto LBGT Latino Line. Floricanto Press, recognizing the void in today’s LGBT Latino Literature, is launching its new line. For that purpose he’s been hired to be their Editor coordinating the series. We’re interested in creating a network of Latino LGBT writers that will help sell books for each other. Therefore, Floricanto will go through the process of getting the books recognized nationally through the LAMBDA Literary Foundation Awards (Lammies), The Publishing Triangle Awards, and the American Library Association LGBT Roundtable Stonewall Awards. The press will have two titles ready for publication this summer.

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t direct you back to the work of this renaissance man. Join me in looking at the critical acclaim for Mock’s writing, as well as that conversation I promised.

Lambda Book Report Review, June 28, 2006

This book is mislabeled: Borrowing Time (Floricanto Press) is billed as a Latino sexual odyssey, but it is not. Instead, it is a wonderful story of love and compassion, growth and resolution, mourning and acceptance, and about family – the one you were born in, and the one you make.

Carlos T. Mock has written an engaging book about growing up gay in Puerto Rico, and how it affected the life of the protagonist, Juan Subirá-Rexach. Yet, it is a story of a gay “everyman.” Anyone self-aware of themselves and their sexuality at an early age has faced many of the same dilemmas, and made choices – some of which were good, some not so much – as Juan describes.

The tone of the book is the studied reflection of a man facing his maker and his making. It begins with a vivid description of a hospital horror. Not the kind of scene involving dismemberments and gore, but the mind-numbing, full-of-excruciating-pain type that seems to be without surcease, a purgatory of pain that does not allow any escape. In that kind of agony, the only resort is inward, to the steps that led to the torture that results from a failing body due to AIDS. Mock’s description captures this hopelessness when Juan states that he is defenseless, “…not life nor faith, nor any of the structures that surround me, nothing…nothing more than fear. What experiences are left? Death, nothing else.”

But do not get the wrong impression. This is not some morbid book about death and dying; it’s not the main storyline. Borrowing Time has delightful anecdotes about the first baby steps taken in self-recognition of being “different” from other kids and how this occurred on the Enchanted Isle. Macho in Puerto Rico is not just a mannerism; it is a way of life that is very different from Ozzie and Harriett. Being outside of that machismo mandate is both revealing and staggering to Juan, who knows internally it is okay to be feeling “those” feelings, but sees a very different reaction from those around him – especially his father. Mock addresses this problem with strength and self-worth; it is a joy to behold.

The story also delves into unconditional love, and observations from the lofty angle of painful remorse. Juan is able to see things through the focused lens of time, and thereby finds nuggets of truth: “For the first time in my life I learned the silence that is required to really talk to a loved one.” That “walls are either to protect what is inside, or to hide the fact there is nothing there.” Or, that “love is like a clear stream; you don’t know it’s there till there’s an impediment.” And a favorite, “a relationship is judged on how well you travel together.” Each of these observations comes from a life well lived and the recognition that the gifts and treasures given without end are “borrowed.”

Most of the book is in leitmotif, and is an easy, fun read. For anyone who has had time to reflect on and assess where they have been and where they are going, and recognize the bullion of joy to be found, this is a must read.

The Windy City Times: 2007-01-10, Copyright

Chicagoan Carlos T. Mock is a doctor and his new novel, The Mosaic Virus (Floricanto Press, paperback, edited by Katherine V. Forrest) , makes full use of his medical background to create a tale of murder and intrigue during the early 1980s.

Mock, who is well-known as a supporter of GLBT, AIDS and Latino causes in Chicago, has set his newest book in the Vatican, the U.S., and Cape Town, South Africa, as he sends readers around the world in search of the cause of a mysterious virus killing priests—a virus that is strikingly similar to the new plague just being discovered among gay men in the U.S.

Jesuit Priest Javier Barraza is our hero, trying to fight against repressive Catholic ideas as well as his own longing for a childhood sweetheart–a woman now working for the FBI. The two met as teenagers in Argentina, and Special Agent Lillian Davis-Lodge has made sure she meets up with her friend again years later as they both search for the truth. The book is full of intricate medical details, but it is not too intense for someone who does not understand the inner workings of a virus. We follow Barraza and Davis-Lodge as they try to unravel an onion of power and deceit that goes all the way to the White House and the Pope–starting with World War II and ending in 1983. Mock has used actual history as a backdrop, adjusting timelines and some facts to fit his fictional story, but that does not take away from the mystery and suspense.

The Mosaic Virus works by presenting intriguing ideas that work precisely because they could be true. The best science fiction works when it is just one layer away from the reality we all think we know. And, in fact, there have been theories professed by activists that the HIV virus itself could have been a man-made virus that simply moved beyond its initial intended targets and use. Mock even involves former Nazi scientists living in Cape Town, experimenting with a new group of subjects, Blacks in Apartheid South Africa.

In the “real world” just this past weekend, the Vatican’s pick for archbishop of Warsaw, Stanislaw Wielgus, resigned after admitting he had worked with the Polish Communist-era secret police, according to The New York Times. There are many empires of power Mock tackles in The Mosaic Virus, but despite so many conspiracy theories, Mock has managed to write an accessible story of a parallel universe that just might not be parallel after all.

The Windy City Times: 2007-08-22, Copyright

Chicagoan Carlos T. Mock is a political voyeur. He writes frequently on blogs and in newspaper columns about a wide range of gay and mainstream topics, and he has a special interest in Latino gay issues. He has written about his Puerto Rican identity in Borrowing Time: A Latino Sexual Odyssey, and published The Mosaic Virus, a novel about an AIDS-like virus and the Catholic Church.

Mock’s newest work, Papi Chulo, (Floricanto Press) is similar to The Mosaic Virus in that it takes historical facts and massages them into a work of fiction, this time about the island of Puerto Rico and its fractured identity. Mock’s love of his native land is evident throughout Papi Chulo. His own hopes and dreams for his people ebb and flow with the tragic tides of history. He is cynical about political leaders and passionate about the people, some who are clearly modeled after inspiring heroes in his own life.

Mock’s background in medicine is also evident in Papi Chulo. One of the primary characters, María Rexach, becomes a pioneer in women’s health and the right to choose abortion. Born in 1900, we follow the path of both María’s own life and the life of her nation as it comes under control of the United States, and fights for its own life for more than a century.

We meet the real and imagined political leaders of the last century as they squabble and sometimes succeed in bringing rights to the island. We see how identity issues plague generations of people, as some move to the mainland and lose touch with their home, and as islanders dismiss them as not true Puerto Ricans. Puerto Ricans born on the mainland have an especially hard time with identity issues.

The novel is not a “gay novel” in the typical sense. However, it does include gay characters, and the sensitivities of the book are informed by an author who is both pro-choice and out.

There is a risk in creating an alternative universe, where some facts remain and others are altered to fit the vision of what the author wants to occur. The real people may be upset, but Mock clearly states at the beginning of the book that this is a work of fiction, even though some facts are real. Incidents of revolutionary violence ( to push for independence from the U.S. ) , political intrigue, funding of the Contras or even the Stonewall Riots of 1969 are used as backdrops for a multi-layered story about the potential of a people and the dreams of a nation.

Mock’s own antipathy for self-interested leaders is clear throughout the novel, but he uses the stories of individuals like María, her friend Clara Rodriguez, her children, her friends and others to show the pain through the eyes of people, making the history more accessible and the imagined reality all the more desired. As Mock would attest, if novelists ran the world, it would be a whole lot better place.

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Tell us more about your personal professional odyssey; physician to writer to editor. It seems a very left brain/right brain journey.

First of all, I am not your typical doctor. My major in college was Latin American Literature. My thesis was on Gabriel Garcia Márquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude), the Colombian Nobel laureate. I love magical realism and I’m prone to write that way.

Then after 11 years as an OBGyn, where I was working over 100 hours a week, I was diagnosed with HIV in 1996, I stopped working. For a few years I just traveled and partied, thinking I was going to die.

A divorce, a new lover, a new lease on life. What to do? I was driving my new boyfriend crazy because I could not lay still. So one day he ordered me to sit down in front of the computer and start typing all the stories I have told him. That became book one–a magical realistic memoir.

Do you think there is a Latino queer aesthetic different from mainstream queer sensibilities? If so, what would you say are its major features?

Just as the African-American population, the Latino population has a hard time admitting that they are gay. Lot’s of men in Puerto Rico are on the down low. Puerto Rico has the highest percentage of new cases in the USA. We are ruled by the three dogmas of the Puerto Rican Society:

Machismo – where as a top is not gay but a bottom is (really!)

Religion – 95% Catholics who are dealing with guilt and deception. Strong morals that place men on top, women way low and homosexuals even lower in the social strata. Unfortunately HIV positive men/women are at the bottom of the scale

Family Traditions – you do not leave your home until you get married (lots of activity in the outdoors) and you are supposed to reproduce so that your family name does not die. (The biggest thing my mother holds against me – but then again she prays the rosary for fun)

How would you describe the ways you hope your writing, your activism impacts the Latino community? The LGBT community?

Latinos and Puerto Ricans have lost their sense of identity. We are taught by the white man to assimilate or you will not get ahead. In the process we do not know who we are anymore. In Puerto Rico I’m looked as an Americano, here I’m seen as a Latino. When I first came to Chicago I learned of the concept of “Safe Space”. Safe space is a place where a Latino man or woman can feel safe and does not need to “cover” for the white man to pass as a member of our society.

What would you say are the themes that run through your fiction? Can you give La Bloga readers a glimpse into your writing process?

I love historical fiction. I love taking a history, research the time, the real characters and then introduce “my characters” to interact with the real ones. Sometimes history needs to be bent to accommodate the story, but I am fully aware that I’m writing fiction so who cares? As long as you enjoy my book I’m happy.

You’ve recently joined Floricanto Press as an editor. Can you talk about that and what you see as the direction you hope to offer?

Floricanto Press, recognizing the void in today’s GLBT Latino Literature, is launching its new line. For that purpose I’ve been hired to be their Editor coordinating the series.

Floricanto is interested in creating a network of Latino LGBT writers that will help sell books for each other. Therefore, Floricanto will go through the process of getting the books recognized nationally through the LAMBDA Literary Foundation Awards (Lammies), The Publishing Triangle Awards, and the American Library Association GLBT Roundtable Stonewall Awards. We will have two titles ready for publication this summer.

Felice Picano edited my work, Papi Chulo: A Legend, A Novel, and the Puerto Rican Identity and Leo Cabranes-Grant’s Three plays-Puerto Rican Scenes. Felice also wrote an introduction to both of these works for Floricanto’s new line. I envision all of the participants meeting somewhere in the US once or twice per year so we can help sell each other’s work. The LGBT Latino market is untapped.

We are working closely with Emanuel Xavier. He will be soliciting submissions from around the country so that we can have the first Modern Anthology of Latino LGBT Poetry: Mariposas. We anticipate a Summer of 2008 release.

What I can offer is an outlet for LGBT Latino voices that are looking to be heard.

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About Lisa Alvarado