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Interview with Judge Santiago Burdon - 2022
Interview # 15 (Fiction, Short Stories, Transgressive Fiction, Autobiographical Fiction)
The Odyssey of Judge Santiago Burdon begins in Chicago, Illinois, the City of Big Shoulders, as Sandburg called it in his poem "Chicago". He was born during Mayor Richard Daley's first days in office and Eisenhower's first term as President. His father named him Judge, hoping he would pursue a career in law. He had no idea his son would end up appearing in front of so many.
He attended universities in the United States, England, and Paris, directing his focus on Victorian literature.
Judge Santiago Burdon's short stories and poems have been featured in over one hundred magazines, online literary journals, podcasts, and anthologies. His books include Stray Dogs and Deuces Wild: Cautionary Tales (Horror Sleaze Trash Press, 2020), Not Real Poetry (Impspired Press, 2021), Quicksand Highway (Horror Sleaze Trash Press, 2021), and Fingers in the Fan (Impspired Press, 2022). His website can be found here.
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Randal Eldon Greene: You are a character in these stories. And these are stories of sometimes illegal, sometimes immoral, and sometimes outlandish behavior. I have to ask, how close to your lived life do the stories in your books such as Fingers in the Fan and Stray Dogs and Deuces Wild come?
Judge Santiago Burdon: Think on this—I live in Costa Rica. Most of the time homeless. I can't have money sent in my actual name . My cousin is a notorious Narco Traficante now in prison in the United States.
My stories are purely fictional. I invent them . However many have commented that the stories ring with too much truth to be fiction. Not many people have the kind of imagination to create these stories. You decide which. My quote, "The best part of truth are the lies."
Randal Eldon Greene: There is a comic, recurring character in your books who goes by the name Johnny Rico. He's boisterous, a bit of a drunken idiot, and a talented drug smuggler. Is he an amalgam of personalities or someone ripped straight from the streets of Cartagena?
Judge Santiago Burdon: Everyone loves Rico. Some background on my carnal.
A profile of the character Johnny Rico:
We became acquainted in a Mexican prison, where I was a guest for eight months. I make it a policy to never associate with people I'd met in prison once I was back on the outside, but Johnny Rico was the exception to the rule. Sort of like a mild virus you're unable to shake, you know you're infected, but you just learn to live with the malady.
Always with a bandanna around his neck, and most of the time it clashed with his shirt. He said it serves as a fashion statement, but I've never been able to figure out what exactly he was trying to say. Then there's his common practice of always wearing mismatched socks. I'm sure he's colorblind and I've tried to demonstrate the fact with a simple test numerous times, but he refused to take part in my experiment.
He's very egocentric and will never admit to making a mistake or having a disability, but he's my carnal and has always been there for me. My proverbial Colombian guardian angel. I gave him the last name Rico, which fits his personality hand in glove. Commonly translated as "rich" or "wealthy", it can also mean exceptional, and for better or worse, that is Johnny all the way.
I've never had to worry about my welfare when Johnny was on watch. Even Jesus Christ wouldn't be able to get to me if he was standing guard. We were partners in the import-export business. I'm sure he's clinically insane but has always watched my back and is the only person I trust in the world despite his eccentric behavior.
An example: He had a Dodge Duster for a couple of years which I’m sure was stolen. The Duster became a victim of one of Johnny's psychotic episodes. After a three day cocaine binge, accompanied by a case of Scotch and an array off prescription medications he pilfered from the last Psychiatric Hospital where he resided for a week. They demanded he leave, they'd had enough of "his Riconess."
He drove the Duster into a concrete retaining wall near the beach. Then in a bizarre ritual to some ancient God, he set the car on fire. The Duster was beyond restoration and never did rise from the ashes. There was no resurrecting the Duster. He left it right there in the middle of the highway and never looked back.
If I told you he actually existed, I don't think you'd believe me. So I'll offer this response, if he was real I would be the most fortunate person that ever walked the earth. Santiago is a better man for having known him.
Randal Eldon Greene: Tell us about what it was like smuggling drugs across the border?
Judge Santiago Burdon: I am not sure how to answer your question since I write fiction and I don't want to incriminate myself.
The character Santiago with the same name as mine is relaxed and cool-headed when it comes to smuggling across borders. He participated in that type of high risk activity at a much younger age. As he amassed years—and without his partner to assist him—he realized he was too old to do anymore time. He began driving loads to domestic destinations in the United States. Texas to Denver, Arizona to California. Although this type of work didn't pay near as much as border crossings, the rewards were still substantial and the risk minimal. Being a Wheelman seemed to fit his needs perfectly. However, he could've just given up dealing in contraband, but he never considered that option.
I have given examples in stories like “Watermelon Roundup Run,” “Luck of The I Wish,” as well as a few others pertaining to the emotions he reacted to during that particular experience. Santiago also provides clue after clue of his association with a Sinaloa Traficante that few have been able to notice.
Randal Eldon Greene: In some of the stories, Santiago seems to be able to keep sober and say no to the temptations of the illegal substances around him. In other stories, the very purpose of his day is to get high. I'm curious about how you see the drug trade and addiction, considering you understand the financial "necessity" of one and paint with equally true colors the moral mayhem of the other.
Judge Santiago Burdon: Santiago has a set of rules he adheres to religiously. They are explained and demonstrated throughout most of his tales. The number one rule he practices is no drugs, alcohol, shenanigans or association with anyone while on the clock. His reason for this rule is one must be alert and focused so that there's no distractions to interfere with the completion of his mission.
It is a nonnegotiable protocol.
Randal Eldon Greene: What's your writing routine like these days?
Judge Santiago Burdon: There's no actual routine. I write when the words become too much for me to keep stored up in my head or my mind is spilling out ideas. I've found it does no good to force an idea (poem or story) to happen when you just don't have the motivation or the creative impulse.
Randal Eldon Greene: Do you have any formal education in writing?
Judge Santiago Burdon: My education has been much less than formal. I did attend a couple of universities and enrolled in some writing classes. I quickly abandoned being taught how to write. I was an English Literature major and read immensely. I did my own scholarship in writing by letting my style develop on its own. The structured guidelines taught in a formal education, I consider regimented—constricting thought and creativity. Although learning the rules of grammar and composition are definitely something in which every writer should be well-versed.
Randal Eldon Greene: Do your friends and acquaintances know about your writing, or is this something you keep sort of secret? If they know, what do they think about the books you write?
Judge Santiago Burdon: I believe anyone that knows me is aware of my predilection for writing. I'm a musician as well and had a satisfying career in music. Writing has always been my raison d'être.
Do they like my books? I assume they are astounded that I actually finished a task. I haven't been the most responsible or dedicated person.
My books were the cause of reestablishing my relationship with my brother and sister, a process that took twelve years. One of my books was discovered by one of my nephews. He gave it to his mother—my sister—telling her she should read it because it sounded like Uncle Santiago. Pretty incredible, huh?
Randal Eldon Greene: I think a good term for your writing may be autobiographical fiction, much like what author Elizabeth Ellen writes. While the stories may not be totally true, they are still a truth of the author. Also like Elizabeth Ellen, I'd say your stories fall into the category of transgressive fiction. The character you present is not a villain, though he may smuggle drugs or resort to violence. He, however, transgresses the boundaries of normalcy and legality. Is mixing the transgressive and autobiographical your secret to writing compelling short stories? If not, what is it?
Judge Santiago Burdon: Not sure if you can classify my stories as compelling. I've been asked what's the best advice I can offer on being a decent writer.
Not one to offer advice, but here it goes:
1. Write what it is you know.
I read stories about drug addiction or drug dealers and dealing. And it's obvious the author doesn't have the slightest idea of the real situation. It makes the story unauthentic and bullshit.
2. Character development and story themes. I especially don't want to read about a person without any interesting characteristics and a theme that has been used over and over again.
3. The most important writing rule to follow is: Just because it happened to you doesn't make it interesting.
I can't stress it enough.
Randal Eldon Greene: Is the young version of the character of Santi addicted to anything? Alcohol? Cocaine? Women?
Judge Santiago Burdon: Here's where I should tell you to buy one of my books and read it.
I'll save you a couple of dollars.
Santiago has always been at the mercy of his poor judgment and a willing victim to his self-destructive actions. Addiction has been a companion for most of his life. Alcohol, heroin, cocaine, speed, and other drugs all played an active role at one time. He was a sucker for games of chance: blackjack, poker and craps. Although he seldom won, he never considered himself an unlucky gambler. There were many women that entered and exited Santiago's life. The female was the one thing he couldn't get right.
“Who I Am”
I’m a recovering Catholic
drug fiend and addict,
a drunk, a thief and ex-con,
musician, writer, half-assed poet, and fighter,
a drifter, failed husband and father,
horrible dancer, a gourmet cook,
Atheist, well-read and a scholar,
quick-tempered, dog person, sports fan, crack shot,
a romantic and excellent driver,
a dreamer, jokester, gambler,
punctual, lazy, afraid of spiders,
worked as a smuggler,
too old now to do time,
it's the reason I've retired.
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About the interviewer:
Randal Eldon Greene is the author of Descriptions of Heaven, a novella about a linguist, a lake monster, and the looming shadow of death.