CON: “The Extinction Story” exaggerates something about our culture, which is to turn everything we can into entertainment in order to make a buck. What does this inclination say about us? What does it mean if it’s considered patriotic that “the show must go on?”
MG: I don’t think it says anything very good about us in some
respects, in this story’s respects it says nothing good about us because not
only are we making a profit off of anything we can, but we’re making a profit
out of a horrifying thing. And it was really the only way I could consider what
we are doing, kind of like unintentionally or thoughtlessly I just decided to
make it intended, deliberate actions so that at least there was some agency in
us destroying the world that we’re all living in and everybody had more of an
There’s sometimes, though, when “the show must go on” is a great rallying cry. I think what it says is that, as ever, people can be the absolute worst or sometimes the absolute best and it kind of sucks. It would be nice right? If people could just always be the absolute best but that’s not how anything works and in this case, they’re the worst.
CON: I agree. Species extinction is a real and scary thing.
MG: Yeah it’s terrible.
CON: It keeps a lot of us up at night along with climate change. Yet, here you are making me laugh in “The Extinction Show” and that kind of makes me go, Manuel are you part of the problem?
MG: I might be.
I can gladly bow to Guillermo del Toro, who says that this is the Mexican humor. You have your comedy and tragedy in the same sentence so that you’re laughing and crying at the same time. I don’t know. I’m lucky, I guess. Or burdened, I don’t know.
CON: It entertained me.
MG: I’m part of just about every problem I feel. Yeah, I think it’s uncomfortable how funny I think this story is and I wrote it and I shouldn’t think my own stuff is as funny. But even before sending it to Tyler, I sent it to a couple of friends who were really mad at me for foisting such a disturbing and, what they thought was very funny, and then unsettling because it was funny, little fiction at them. But yeah, I think what I like to do make people feel really bad about the thing that they found really funny. Because then that kind of ill will feeling maybe lingers also on top of the general like “oh we feel very bad about this horrifying thing that’s going on in our ecosystem” and then they’re like “oh but that was really funny oh and now I feel worse.”
CON: Absolutely. Absolutely, though it did definitely make me look up a few places and donate some money.
MG: Oh good.
CON: It’s curious to me that the Broad Billed Hummingbird was a blockbuster in your story. I love birds, like known bird lover, though I’m not sure I would want to show up for a bird’s final appearance. That would be really hard for me. But what is your story saying about the value of different species?
MG: Well I feel like, everybody loves hummingbirds and we already see them so rarely, and so that kind of creature is going to fetch a high price to be privileged enough to see the very last one flap its wings for the last time. But then you look at a Dung Beetle, which are also extremely important to just the ecosystem and life on this planet, but nobody cares about that guy, right.
And so there’s this continued prioritization of the very beautiful animals and everybody is very fervently in favor of saving them. And then still there’s so many species that we’re losing that are very pedestrian, small but beautiful biological cogs in this ecosystem that we have to survive in. I mean, I hate mosquitos, but mosquitos give us chocolate. They’re not in any danger of going extinct right now, but if you think of even like the things that we just don’t think about or think are unattractive, they’re still just as important. But people aren’t going to pay a whole lot to see the last beetle die.
CON: No they’re not. Where did the seed of this story take root? Like, what was it about that news on extinction that made you see the makings of a great short story?
MG: Well, I can’t really remember what made me think immediately of this kind of extinction show business model. But the idea of one million species soon to be extinct just made me think of, for some reason, black box theater. Which is also on its way out it feels like, sadly, especially now with the quarantine and the lack of arts funding. But it made me think of that and then like a tiny little spotlight on like the very last thing and then I just kind of kept going with it. I didn’t really know where I was going until I was halfway through it and then the rest fell into place in my head.
CON: Then you sent it to your friends who were really upset with you about that. And it is hilarious but it’s dark. It’s so dark. How do you wield dark humor as a tool, because I feel like it’s such a hard tone to hit. When you hit it it’s fantastic, because it’s kind of rare, to me. But it seems to be a tool for you, like a sharpened blade. How does that happen?
You want a unicorn? Awesome. They’re gonna make you completely obsessive and also at the end of the story it’s gonna stab you through the heart and run off. Because it’s a wild, majestic, really angry creature. And I just like the idea of playing with those elements because it just makes the story writing more fun to me.
MG: It’s kind of just where I live. I’m always just thinking of the real mean way of looking at even the most simple things. And I think sadly I’ve passed this on to my son who’s nine and is often making jokes or asking questions that I understand but nobody else in the family understands. Because they’re just really dark and funny. Real funny and surprising and I recognize him in me, or me in him, I don’t know. I don’t know how genetics work. But I don’t know why I have this. I can gladly bow to Guillermo del Toro, who says that this is the Mexican humor. You have your comedy and tragedy in the same sentence so that you’re laughing and crying at the same time. I don’t know. I’m lucky, I guess. Or burdened, I don’t know.
CON: Both. It seems like there’s a lot of that here. There’s, you know, on one end being entertained and on the other end learning from being entertained or feeling properly bad for how things are going in exchange for being entertained. This story, it seems so far-fetched but fewer and fewer things are seeming far-fetched in this day in time. So in 10, 15 years, could you see a version of something like this actually happening? Do you think it would take that long?
MG: I don’t know if it would even take that long and I kind of feel bad that I put this idea out there because there’s gonna be some venture capitalist, entrepreneur who’s like “Oh yeah!” I mean, we already had that the Matthew Broderick and Marlon Brando movie, [The Freshman], where he was trafficking in almost extinct species as super fancy meals for the ultra-rich, and that was back in the 90’s. So I’m surprised that that hasn’t happened. Who knows, maybe that is happening. Komodo Dragons. No they wouldn’t tell us, I mean I’m certainly not on that list of high price diners.
CON: Many of your short stories use fiction to highlight an almost fantastical neon aspects of the way we live. It’s just right there. What are you trying to get at by mixing fantasy with fact?
MG: When I first wanted to become a writer, I tried writing just very realist dramas or realist anything and found I was just utterly bored by myself and also that what I was trying to deal in other people had done better than I was doing it. And then I started remembering the things that really brought me into reading which was sci-fi and fantasy and horror and comic books. I always like also the idea that things that we wish for when we have them in real life, they’re never really what we thought we wanted. We’re a little disappointed and sometimes it becomes a real bad situation. And I like injecting, kind of magic or fantastical elements, as a way of just teasing that idea out even further.
You want a unicorn? Awesome. They’re gonna make you completely obsessive and also at the end of the story it’s gonna stab you through the heart and run off. Because it’s a wild, majestic, really angry creature.
And I just like the idea of playing with those elements because it just makes the story writing more fun to me.