Author, Alexander Nixon, with sketch for Apassionéa.
SAM: “Who is Alexander Nixon and what is your book about?”
ALEXANDER: “I am 35 year-old Brooklyn resident, Peace Corps volunteer-turned-novelist, and future art historian. When my fans ask what my new book is about, I sometimes hesitate to answer.”
SAM: “It is a fantasy novel.”
ALEXANDER: “If someone told me he or she had written a fantasy novel, I would turn and run, my mind conjuring elves and dwarves, dragons and wizards, or, worse still, vampires and werewolves, from whom there is seemingly no escape. When I returned from Peace Corps service in Guatemala several years ago, I resolved to write a book that artfully blurred the line between reality and fantasy, hoping to breathe life into the genre by tinkering with its boundaries.”
SAM: “How did your Peace Corps experience in Guatemala impact your novel?”
ALEXANDER: “In Guatemala, I had experienced a “pre-Colombian” fantasy realm still teeming with magic, wonder, and awe. I think there is a vital force, a key concept to be gleaned, from pre-Colombian civilization. Like an El Dorado, or Tree of Life, pre-Colombian mythology promises nourishment for our wary souls, maybe even the salvation of our civilization, if the Mayan named Ixmatá is to be believed.”
SAM: “Who is Ixmatá?”
ALEXANDER: “The Mayan Don Ixmatá (ish-ma-TA) and his stories are the focal point of the three stories in my book. “The Rise of Apassionéa,” my novel, is three stories woven into one. The first one takes place in the present, in New York City. The second one takes place in the near past, in Guatemala. The third story takes place in a distant, mythical past, on a lost continent called Apassionéa, now located underneath the Antarctic ice.”
SAM: “What do you mean by three stories?”
ALEXANDER: “In the first story, the “present,” the main character of “Apassionéa” investigates the historical record to determine if there was any truth to the colorful stories that Don Imxatá had recounted in Guatemala.”
SAM: “The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of “The Rise of Apassionéa, which takes place in the “present,” in New York City, the main character having just returned home from Peace Corps service in Guatemala:
Columbia University Geology Professor Martin Gatwick was giving a lecture about Antarctic fossils the week I returned to New York City. This fortuitous event was a catalyst for finally answering questions left unanswered in Guatemala by my Mayan friend, Don Ixmatá.
I had listened to his stories about a lost continent buried underneath the Antarctic ice at face value. In Guatemala, I had neither the means nor the mindset to investigate the accuracy of Ixmatá’s colorful Mayan myths. Professor Gatwick was one of the leading US scientists working in Antarctica, being at the forefront of a new wave of scientific inquiry into the geological history of the lost continent concealed by a layer of mile-thick glaciers.
SAM: “The more the main character discovers, the more believable the Mayan myths start to seem. Simultaneous to this, the other two stories, or realities, start to seem like fantasy.”
ALEXANDER: “In Guatemala, Ixmatá and I made a deal. In exchange for giving me motorcycle lessons, I agreed to write down Ixmatá’s stories, though they were not his stories. According to him, the stories had reached his lips, and my ears, across countless generations of Mayas. He claimed his stories were, “the bedtime stories of a thousand generations.””
SAM: “Why was Ixmatá so intent on writing down, once and for all, that which had survived so long just fine orally?”
ALEXANDER: “Ixmatá was obsessed with the end of the world, and, at the time, 2012 was still several years off. According to his way of thinking, me using his stories for inspiration for my own story was an indemnity against disgracing his ancestors.”
“What about your daughter?” I asked him. “Won’t you tell her the stories?”
He shook his head and replied, “She’s too young.”
I suspected her gender was the real reason.
SAM: “The following is an excerpt from the second chapter, wherein I describe my meeting Ixmatá to a new female friend whom I met at Professor Gatwick’s Columbia University lecture:
“Ever since I was a boy I have wanted to write a fantasy novel.”
“What has been preventing you?”
“Inspiration,” I answered.
“You need inspiration?” he asked, his face suddenly glowing like a car salesman who just found out his brother-in-law needed a new car.
I nodded. I did not expect his offer to amount to much more than an amusing anecdote about a friend.
“My father died a few months ago,” Ixmatá said while crossing his chest, a Catholic gesture. “Before he died, he asked me to remember his bedtime stories, to tell them to my son, so that they would not die along with my father.
Ixmatá’s tone was full of despair. It was obvious he was sincerely worried about disappointing his father.
“Are you planning on dying soon?” I asked him.
He reminded me about the Mayan prophecy for 2012.
“Telling me your family’s stories will not make the stories any safer,” I said. “I don’t own an ark, and even if I did, it costs a fortune to dock a boat in New York City.”
Ixamtá was not laughing.
“I don’t care about you,” he said bluntly.
Now I was the one who was not laughing.
“It’s the stories I am worried about,” he said. “You must publish a good book. One that people will want to read. One that a publisher will want to publish.”
I wanted to say that I had been hoping to write a total flop, but I had learned that sarcasm was not a well-appreciated form of banter by Guatemalan standards.
“So you want me to transcribe your family’s bedtime stories?” I asked, seeking clarification.
“They are not my family’s stories,” he said. “These stories belong to antiquity. They sprouted from the earth like corn. They fell from the sky like stars. The gods chose the Mayans to preserve their stories for the sake of humanity.”
“Have they not been written down already?”
“No,” he said. “It has not been time yet.”
It has not been time yet?
“Why now?” I asked, guessing the answer mid-way through asking.
I could not tell if Ixmatá was more concerned about the world ending in 2012 or about letting down his father. I was happy to do whatever I could to lighten his heart.
Admittedly, the grqduate student inside of me was charmed by Ixmatá’s Don Juan meets The Alchemist meets The Popul Vuh proposal. Statistically speaking, the likelihood of my book, or any book being published, was slim to none. But I was willing to tweak my self-estimation for the sake of helping a friend, or humanity, whatever may have been the case. I had most of my two years of Peace Corps service remaining to make the most of. Ixmatá noted me mulling over his proposal.
“I don’t want you to write down the stories word for word,” he stated. “You are the writer, not me. You must breathe life into my father’s stories, give them your own meaning, translate them in a way that will be understood by your friends and family, as well as total strangers. Understand?”
I nodded, indicating understanding, if not total agreement.
“Do you know how to ride a motorcycle?”
I shook my head.
“Tell you what,” he said. “How about you hear the stories first. After that, if you do not feel inspired, at least you will have learned how to ride a motorcycle.”
“How is that?” I asked.
“I am going to give you motorcycle lessons in exchange for your ears,” he answered.
“On whose motorcycle?” I asked.
“On mine,” he replied. “I have one at home. She’s old and can’t travel far, but she’s perfect training for when you get your own.”
“Am I getting a motorcycle?” I asked.
“You will,” he replied.
“I am going to buy the new motorcycle I showed you,” he answered.
“How is that going to get me a motorcycle?” I asked.
“Didn’t you say the only thing you needed was inspiration?”
A month later, Don Ixmatá made a down payment on his brand new bike and proudly parked it out front of our co-op headquarters for all to see. The coffee growers were happy to know Ixmatá no longer had to suffer the long and cramped bus ride to work.
A few of them joked about him having another half hour in bed every morning with which to do whatever his imagination was limited to, though I am paraphrasing, as well as sanitizing. Later that morning Ixmatá invited me to his home to meet his wife and see his town.
“How am I getting there?” I asked.
“The same way I am,” he exclaimed.
“Why the worry?” he asked. “You aren’t driving.”
Reluctantly, I agreed. Peace Corps expressly forbid riding on motorcycles. I told Ixmatá so much. He told me the buses in Guatemala were no safer. Remembering countless harrowing moments aboard a bus careening downhill inches away from the edge of a precipice, I could hardly demur. I asked him if he had an extra helmet. He asked me if I was worried about his driving. I told him I was more worried about being seen, the Peace Corps finding out.
“You work for the Peace Corps,” Ixmatá stated. “Not the CIA.”
SAM: “If you want to read Ixmatá’s Mayan legends, you have to buy Alexander Nixon’s book. Here is a link to his Kickstarter page.”
ALEXANDER: “Thank you, Sam.”
SAM: “My pleasure, Mr. Nixon.”
Alexander Nixon has a B.A. in Fine Arts and Latin Americans Studies (Stanford U., 2000), an M.A. in Latin American Studies (NYU), and is currently a graduate student in the Art History program at Booklyn College. He served in the Peace Corps from 2008 to 2010.