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Cuban Author Yoss Discusses 'A Planet for Rent,' the Joys of Writing, and Cuban Economics

First Posted: Aug 13, 2015 05:00 AM EDT
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Photo : Yoss/Restless Books

This article is part of "Palabras," the Latin Post Latino Author Series.

José Miguel Sánchez Gómez, author of "Timshel," "Historia de Gladiadores" and "Los Pecios y Los Naufragos," is well-known around the island of Cuba as Yoss, a notable champion of science fiction and a leader of rock and roll.

The lead singer of the heavy metal band Tenaz and Spanish-language author of more than 20 highly acclaimed books began writing when he was just 15 years old. At the tender age of 4, he was a compulsive reader of adventure novels, biographies, science fiction, detective novels and spy mysteries, and he was always enamored by the concept of "infinite time and space, locating adventures, as well as its close relationship with science." But, one day, Yoss' father arrived home with bad news, informing Yoss that he was unable to find any books in Yoss' preferred genres that he hadn't already read. This provoked Yoss to write books on his own.

"I started, and at first it came out terrible; I found it very difficult. But, I was also attracted to creating worlds and characters who would travel worlds created by others. I still am," Yoss told Latin Post. "I think, then, if I lived in a country where bookstores were full of works of this genre, today I would only be a reader, not a creator. But of course, that can be pure speculation."

Yoss' interest in creating worlds was roused around the same time he became interested in music. The sophistication of opera and other classical music, as well as the popular sounds of salsa and rumba encircled him as he began to embrace aspects of a rocker's persona: long hair, boots, wrist straps and wide belts, much like the fiction heroes of his childhood: the Black Corsair, Sandokan and Conan. Since then, he committed himself to wearing that "uniform," confident that he would become a rock singer, which happened at the age of 38, in 2007, proving that it's "never too late to realize a dream." That said, the author is no stranger to realizing dreams.

Yoss had a simple response to an inquiry about his ability to make time to pen books, essays, reviews, and compilations, read and judge literary contests: "I do not do anything else. 

"I am an exotic entity anywhere in the world, but especially in Cuba, in that I am a professional writer, or full-time. Most authors I know are making a living as doctors, engineers or biologists, or they are proofreaders in publishing or for a magazine. I don't, I only write in my house. I have no schedules, I have no bosses," Yoss said. "I can write what I want, when I want. Normally, my day, after going to the gym in the morning, is dedicated to that. I check my email, and then I write. By the afternoon, I go out running as I'm faithful to my personal motto, 'rotten mind in healthy body.' When I return home, often, I keep on writing, or I see any film or series with my girlfriend, or I read. It's a good life ... with a unique problem." 

The lone downfall to Yoss' nearly perfect writer's life is that he doesn't have a fixed salary. If he isn't receiving royalties that month or he hasn't won an award, he's forced "to tighten his belt." According to the author, he's pretty sure that he can only live well in Cuba. With what he earns each year, in any other country he believes he'd likely die of hunger.

"A Planet for Rent" ("Se Alquila un Planeta"), translated by David Frye, is Yoss' first foray into English-language publishing. The novel draws parallels between Cuba's período especial during the '90s and a non-so-distant future laden with economic and environmental issues, as well as alien colonizers, brutal interstellar bureaucracy and exploitative extraterrestrial visitors.

"In the '90s, I, like many other Cubans my age, saw our leaders after the fall of the USSR and the rest of the socialist camp. The cessation of decisive economic aid to our country encouraged leaders to open its doors to tourism capitalists and accept their dollars after years of demonizing and criticizing anyone who had a relationship with them. As a result, we soon began to feel like strangers in our own land. Visitors had rights that we lacked," Yoss stated. "For example, until 2008, a Cuban couldn't even stay in a hotel, although they had money. The standard of living fell; prostitution and corruption flourished. Athletes, scientists and artists began to desert the nation en masse, many using precarious rafters to try to reach the U.S. Yet, the Cuban government insisted that all was well, and they never published a single line on the real cause of the problems facing the nation: its absolute inefficiency in economic management."

"'A Planet for Rent' was, for me, an urgent and necessary book. I had to write it or I would burst. I could not keep doing stories about distant worlds, on complicated philosophical problems questioning where we come from or where we're going, when before my eyes the whole country and the dreams of my parents' generation were going to hell, sinking past the future of our children. The escapism of the science fiction has its limits. Maybe that's why, even today, this novel, my best known work abroad, remains unpublished in my country."

"Se Alquila un Planeta" was first published in Spain in 2001; then in France in 2011. The Italian edition of the novel will be published soon. Also, as previously mentioned, the book is available in English in the U.S.

Yoss, who remarked, "everything is inspiration" and "I've never had what is called 'writer's block," shared that he has enough creative material to keep writing for the next 20 years, likely due to his "very orderly muse." He is presently writing new books ("Of course; always, 3 or 4 at a time."). One is a science fiction book, titled "100 preguntas sobre las armas." Another is a heroic fantasy tale, united by a common universe, titled "Los nombres olvidados."

"A true, genuine writer should never write books they wouldn't want to read. If you're writing for critics, or to impress other writers, you might get ephemeral enjoyment, but in the long run, the deception will emerge," said Yoss. "The key to really being a writer is to write a lot, always write. Enjoy the process. Instinctively distrust those who speak pompously of 'the anguish of the creative genius' or 'the birth pangs of intellectual conception.' Writers write because we like it so much that we just could not live without it. The rest is propaganda and deception."

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