“….Then where the pace of hilltop crags/ stands exposed and thirsting /in need of water clefts/ you must speed on my love….” recites Youssef, in his Critics of Mystery Marvel film, based on a collection of poetry of the same name. “…Past despair in human tones/ then catch her vain boastings/ in dawn blaze the sun/ sword laden storm…”
Youssef Alaoui-Fdili ‘s sword laden storm comes in the form of mystical and surreal writings. This poet and filmmaker is a man of contradictions. Both irreverent and spiritual, he might go from reading Tarot at the dawn to the Koran at midday, yet uses both as he communes with ideas that explore the human condition. Grounded in the quiet of home while seeking a Don Quixote journey of penned knighthood, he exposes his readers to the mythos of the wayfarer. Yet his steed is is no worn out work horse. Youssef’s Rocinante carries us to places dark, surreal, and at times carnal.
Youssef is an Arab-Latino, born in California to immigrants from diverse homelands: a Moroccan father and a Columbian mother. As the Alaoui-Fdilis are originally from the historical city of Fez, Youssef was given a unique perspective on the Arab world, finding his family and heritage an endless source of inspiration for his varied, dark, and spiritual writings. This later lead him to study classical Arabic poetry, Spanish Baroque poetry, and contemporary Moroccan verses during his MFA stint at the New College of
He has several published books. THE BLUE DEMON: A novella in the tradition of classic horror in the style of Edgar Allan Poe. The crew of a Spanish merchant ship discovers they have a stranger among them: a Moor with an odd nickname and worse yet, debilitating agoraphobia. The ship is thrown far off course by a cyclone and stranded in a giant kelp field. Added to their misfortune, an invisible visitor snacks on the crew at night, using their half-rotted heads like puppets, beckoning to them from the water. The crew must make an effort to understand their odd mate before they can vanquish their assailant together.
CRITICS OF MYSTERY MARVEL: Youssef Alaoui’s debut full length poetry collection, which explores human relationships between individuals, cultures, races, and genders. Alaoui deftly utilizes archaic tones to formulate an artistic approach to metaphor in verse creating images that appear wholly in the mind and not on the page. This volume consists of ten sections that blend surrealism, magical realism, and language alchemy as he explores the human mythos of love, gender, poverty, politics, racism, and war.
FIERCER MONSTERS: Youssef Alaoui’s short-story collection, is concerned with the
symbology of letters and the word as invocation, contrasted with the futility of language. In these stories, Alaoui presents a Neanderthal oracle, a little girl in Venezuela in the 1950s, a 19th-century hallucinating sailor, and a WWI soldier. The voices are sometimes salty, always salient.Each voice ultimately laments the fall of the tower of Babel and the resulting confusion.
When asked about his process, Youssef says, “Writing is a reaction to my ongoing process of self-discovery. My story is different, but similar to many mixed-blood firstborn people in the USA. Our story is the process of confusion primarily, then one of assimilation or rebellion from the illusion that white Christian life is “normal” and anything outside that is “unusual.”
Youssef also has several thought-provoking films available at vimeo.com/aldeboros
CONEY ISLAND SIREN: Like a siren, the spirit of a broken hearted daughter calls out to the spirit of her father at sea, hoping that this time he’ll remember what’s most important.
SACRED AND PROFANE/ FACELESS JACKS: An experimental, anti-narrative, cinematic tone poem for those of us lost, unsure and comfortable living within that dialectic.
BARON SATURDAY OF CONEY ISLAND: Baron Samedi must lead the character “Coney Island” to his death so that the new iteration of Coney Island may be born, but not before recalling the pangs of love and sadness that dotted his life. Marred by bleak visions, this movie is narrated sweetly by Youssef Alaoui who offers a cosmic perspective on life, death, and the changing of the times.
The following is a recent interview with this satirical wordsmith.
Could you tell our readers a little bit about your writing journey? – I began writing when I was 16. My grandfather had given me a typewriter. I didn’t use it regularly until I fell in love for the first time. We would sit in my room writing poems to one another on it.
Where are you from? – I am from “here” and yet not. I was born in San Luis Obispo, and yet, I only lived there until I was three years old. I am from Los Angeles, Davis, Albuquerque, Tempe, Lille,Paris, Seattle, Oakland, Rabat, Casablanca.
What has been your favorite book/poem/screenplay to write so far?– An unpublished poem about Marrakech called “The Baths of Azahara.” I am quite proud of it.
Why?– Because it sort of rose up out of a dream and also is a pastiche of my recent experiences in the fabled city.
Are you currently working on a book/short story/project?– I am.
Will this be your next release?– Indeed I hope so
What do you enjoy most about writing?– Getting the RIGHT words out. No filler words.
Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it? – Yes, I think that’s what it’s called. Basically I find myself “quitting” writing and I take up music again or I dive deep into event creation and promotion. Or I travel. I had a dream recently. Someone was selling me a device to keep the corner of one’s palm ink- free when writing extensively with a fountain pen. The writer rests their palm on this small square of wood so their hand doesn’t track ink all over the page. What was it called? A writer’s block! I don’t think I’m the first one who has thought of this, but how crazy is that for this object to appear to me in a dream? Every writer needs a writer’s block.
Have you ever had one of your characters take a twist you weren’t expecting and surprise you? – Once one of my characters did that. I took them aside and disciplined them thoroughly by dragging them through a number of complex poems, then I dropped them back into the story. They never stepped out of line again.
Which of your characters is your personal favorite?– I love a character who has not yet had the grace to be published. I’m hoping they will see the light of readers’ eyes before too long. They are an alien species in a science fiction novella I wrote.
Least favorite?– Once I wrote a little oration spoken by Idi Amine. But he is asking for forgiveness and instruction from the ghost of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. So, is there redemption for such a sadistic and cruel dictator? I generally like one aspect or another of each of my characters.
So far, what has been your favorite scene to write?– There is a scene that happens deep in space, on a rocky moon, deep beneath its surface, in a cubical cell, between an alien and a human, where they discuss the nature of light, the cosmos, the self, and infinity. Mindblowing.
What lessons have you learned since becoming a writer?– Patience & tolerance of the self & others. Acceptance. Maybe I learned that over nineteen years of yoga practice. Maybe I learned that over 35 years of writing and not writing. Maybe I learned that over 20 years playing music in bands. Maybe I learned that in a puppet show I walked past on the Amalfi coast four years ago. Maybe you wrote that into a cocktail napkin and handed it to me. Maybe the leaves assembled themselves into an Andy Goldsworthy installation and expressed this to me. Maybe I heard it in the drum beats of a Black Sabbath album. Maybe the cat staring at me from the fence is a psychic oracle.
Do you have any tips for new writers?– Let go. Let go of your ego. Let go of your mental ladder rungs of success/ progress/hierarchy/ power lechery. Let go of your preconceived notions of being a writer or what writers “do,” where they go, who they talk to, who they can or cannot talk to. Embrace. Embrace all ideas. Embrace the void. Embrace the blues. Embrace not writing. Embrace your peers. Embrace your elders. Embrace your juniors. Don’t try to be anything. Write the first thing that comes to mind. Don’t write the first thing that comes to mind. Keep a notebook. Use it. Do not use it.
If you were to recommend your books to a stranger, which book would you advise them to start with?– I would advise someone to begin with Blue Demon because it has all the elements in it that make up all my writing, but it is meant for a wider audience. Young and old readers both will like this story. It is a salty tale of the high seas. A merchant ship gets stuck in a kelp forest and something in the water plucks sailors on night watch off the deck with no warning, unseen, never to be seen again… No one can figure out what’s going on until they finally listen to a stowaway, an Arabic man who has agoraphobia and must work in the darkness of the galley. No one believes him until they absolutely must believe him, and their lives are on the line.
Do you have any extras you’d like to share, like a teaser about an upcoming new release, a summary of a deleted scene, or a teaser about a surprising plot twist or character?– As I said above, I have written an upmarket science fiction novella. This is a remarkable event because Arab American writers very rarely write science fiction. I wanted to see if I could do it, and I have. I am very excited about this book.
Now it’s time to get to know you! What are some of your favorite books to read?– Right now I’m reading The Phoenix by Manly Palmer Hall. The Tarot is a book. Yes, I look at it as if it is a picture book with 78 pages and innumerable plot twists and character variations. No one knows how this book will end. I try to read it every day. I also read from the Koran most days.
What about television shows?– Right now I’m watching the original Star Trek, watching the set get shinier, with more active displays, wondering how they know what each of those jolly rancher buttons mean, because they click them all the time, y’know? Five times and then they get sophisticated results… From that one single green jolly rancher button? What is Spock looking at in his little viewmaster? Sulu has one too. “Sensors indicate an armada of Spanish Galleons firing their cannons, closing fast!” Turn your head and Chekov is gone. Turn your head again and now he’s back with a new mop wig.
Movies?– Tarkovsky. Kurosawa. Wenders. Miyazaki.
Is there a book that you have read that you feel has made a big impact on your life?– Don Quixote, the Norton edition. This novel has all the power of any novel that followed it. It is the first and the foremost novel. There might be others, earlier novels, certainly epic tales and poems, but this one captured my heart, and the hearts of millions over 500 years. It is an indelible monument to novel writing, novelists, protagonists, antagonists, knight errantry, traditions, delusion, companionship, love, tears, death, and imitation.
Can readers/viewers find you at any live events, such as book signings or conventions?– I am going to be at the Write of Way Book Festival in Santa Clara, on the University of Santa Clara campus, on April 18, 2020. Please come visit. I will have books with me.
If you had to sum up your life as a writer in ten words, what would you say?– To sum it up: the waiting is the hardest part.
What are your hobbies and interests besides writing?– Yoga, music, my life by the sea.
Do you have anything else you’d like to share with readers?– Live, love, give, forgive.
Youssef can be found at http://www.youssefalaoui.info
Readers can follow him on:
The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry, Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles, as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward co-wrote Dean and JoJo: The Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet, and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net
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