Newly published author and current MFA candidate Dean Talamantez talks to us about what went into the making of his first published book, Sacred Fool. The book was created as a gift to famed Chilean-French filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky.
What is the origin story of your interest in Jodorowsky? Are there particular pieces of work or themes he explores that really speak to you?
I see Alejandro as a visual poet. My initial introduction to his work was the 1989 film Santa Sangre, which is considered his return to the Panic Movement that he helped found in the 60’s in Paris. I was just captivated by the film — particularly its immediacy, and its violence. It was also deeply philosophical, and was able to juggle being horrific and funny. When I first saw it, I couldn’t really comprehend what I was seeing, but I just knew I loved it. It was like the film was screaming at me in a language I didn’t understand, but it’s a language that’s particular to Jodorowsky that he calls “poetic action”, meaning actions that are more about their meaning than their capability to move a plot point forward. When you’re watching his films you know you have to meet each one on its own terms, which puts you in a more open state of mind.
What would you say inspires you most about Jodorowsky’s personal life or his work? What do you feel is speaking to you?
His openness as well as his pursuit. He’s willing to be unapologetically himself and show you his pursuit as he moves through it in his films. Also his willingness to possibly be wrong (in his films) or showing the process. I admire that bravery to put yourself out there that way.
Like he’s willing to take risks with the audience?
Yes. It’s like for him there is no audience. That’s not really a consideration. In a way I tried to mirror that with this book; I wanted it to be addressed directly to him and no one else. The trick I was trying to pull off was to parallel his visual style in prose and see if that’s recognizable to him. He’s not reading me, per se, he’s reading a hybrid of himself in me.
You said you admire Jodorowsky’s pursuit and that he shows you that process. What do you feel he’s pursuing? What are some themes or things you feel he’s reaching for?
I think it’s a process of self-actualization. Initially there’s a lot of violence in his upbringing, of feeling ostracized, and of breaking out. I see that in the Panic Movement and in his poetry and plays before that. After a sort of Dionysian phase, he moves into Zen Buddhism.
One of the cool things about his film El Topo is that he captures this intellectual pursuit. He’s a gun slinger in the Wild West who is seeking out famous mystics that each represent one of the major theologies Jodorowsky went through, and he gives you his philosophical take on each one of these journeys. He shows his psychological pursuit and his emotional evolution, which I also see continuing on through all of his films. In his latest films, it’s really cool to see him come around to a point where he’s more focused on connection to the earth, on family, and on life as he grapples with those things as an elderly man.
If you had to describe Alejandro in 3 words, what would they be?
I would call him a healer, a seeker, and a magician.
What is the significance of the title of your book, Sacred Fool? Can you tell me about the cover design?
To me, the title of the book is just an embodiment of Alejandro’s spirit as a trickster. He’s a dynamic character in his own life, but he also embodies a kind of archetype of the trickster, or sacred fool. So the title is a combination of two traits that initially seem to be in opposition, but they’re really not. Tricksters play a sacred role in many native cultures. He’s imbued with a mystic power to bring unexpected changes in unforeseen ways.
As for the cover, I’ve always liked 70’s cult film art’s overindulgence in fantasy. The culture is meant to capture or be an homage to that aesthetic. The 70’s are also when Jodoroswky rose to prominence and saw his largest commercial successes, so that style felt appropriate.
Is it true that you wrote this book in one semester?
Yeah. I had just gotten stuck in the process of writing another book that is my culminating MFA Project. I only took a month to write Sacred Fool, and I wrote it by hand to slow myself down, actually. I wrote it that fast in part because I knew I had to get back to my grad school work. Writing it ended up helping me evolve to the point where I could continue writing the second half of the MFA Project book. I was amazed at how easy it was to write it, and how little revision it needed.
What have you learned in the process of writing this book? What advice would you give other writers?
One piece of advice is to commit to receiving criticism, but only take it from people you genuinely trust are trying to help you.
If you write yourself into a wall, you can write yourself out of it. Just keep moving forward, and if you get that moment of inspiration, it’s always worth staying up all night to get it all at once. There’s a beautiful cohesion to work that’s done furiously in a short time.
Can you tell me a little about your writing process? Do you have any writing quirks?
In my process, I have to off-center myself. That’s the most vital thing — that I’m unbalanced in some way. I like to use some methods by CAConrad, or the cut-up method used by William Burroughs. I do anything not to repeat a process. I don’t like to know too well what I’m doing because then I feel like I’m not growing.
What surprised you the most about writing this book?
I never storyboarded the book, so I felt like I experienced the story as it was flowing out of my pen, and to be honest it kind of shocked me a little bit. I couldn’t believe some of the things I wrote came out of me. Another surprise was how much I felt I was developing a relationship with Alejandro Jodorowsky without ever meeting him. The format of the book includes letters from me speaking directly to Alejandro, and I started to feel that he was really there.
What portion of the book do you feel most proud of? What was the most challenging portion to write?
I’m proud of a chapter that presented an opportunity to have a really weighty, theological/mystical discussion between Alejandro and this goddess, Zarathustra, who historically is male but my version is a female. I was happy because I didn’t think I would be taking a moment to step away from the action and actually get that deep into some thought processes.
The most challenging aspect for me had to do with familial issues. Alejandro devoted his later films to exploring his family dynamic, which I talk about a lot in the book. Because I’m having a conversation with him, I knew I needed to be bold enough to reciprocate the vulnerability that entails, and I was nervous about publishing the book and having my family potentially read it. So I thought a lot about making last minute calls to make redactions, but ultimately I didn’t. I decided this book was about personal growth and to grow I needed to be capable of reflecting my truth.
What do you hope people will take away from the book?
Well, I have to admit that I wrote the book as a gift to Jodorowsky, so his journey was the priority, but for the reader, I hope they create their own takeaways that are profoundly individualistic and personal. I didn’t want to give the reader direction in that way because I don’t believe that everybody needs the same lesson. My primary goal as an author and with this book is more about planting idea contagions. It’s not for me to know in what conditions a seed would grow or if it will grow.
I believe a lot in the power of a thought, that once it’s planted it begins weaving an architecture in our mind. If we need it, even if we don’t understand it, it can’t be uprooted. Once it’s planted, its conclusion becomes inevitable.
Lastly, I heard that Alejandro Jodorowsky will actually be reading your book. How do you feel knowing your gift (the book) will reach its intended recipient?
It feels amazing. I wanted to bring Alejandro into intimate contact with himself. That was my goal. I hope I didn’t cross any lines, but if I did, I still succeeded in delivering my promise of giving him a view of himself he’s never seen before.