“I can’t believe I actually bought this,” he groaned silently to himself. It was a decision he’d been struggling with for a couple of weeks. You see, Julio Flores had decided to buy himself a skirt.
Julio comically battles social norms in "Julio Buys a Skirt," a short story by Joshua Castro published in East Los Angeles College English Department's annual publication, "Milestone: 2012". The Alhambra resident and ELAC student often incorporates lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) characters and issues into his writing. Castro, 26, has lived in Alhambra for 15 years and says he often pictures Main Street and his neighborhood when writing about where his characters live and play. Castro shared why he is pursuing writing, how growing up in Alhambra influenced his work, and the importance of following your passion.
Your main character Julio in "Julio Buys A Skirt" explores gender roles associated with clothing and appearance. Your second short story published in Milestone, "My Afternoon With Dominic," is about a relationship between two men. Do you intentionally write about LGBT issues or from gay characters' perspectives?
To be clear, I never set about with a billowy rainbow flag in my hand when writing stories that feature gay characters. Those particular stories are never meant to be "gay" stories. For example, "My Afternoon With Dominic" is about two people who first meet each other online and then later meet each other in person for a "real" date, as so many people are more frequently doing these days. The fact that both characters happen to be gay is, to me, inconsequential. In my personal life, I am a dude who is into dudes.
As writers, we tend to write from personal experience, and in doing so I'm sure that there will be more gay male characters to come, but I'd never pigeon-hole my writing by always starring only young gay male lead characters. But I will promise to always, in some way, include a gay character in my stories, even if it's the most minor role possible, because to wholly exclude them from my stories would be to deny their, our, my existence in real life. And I think that's already gone on for long enough in the past hundred or so years of popular storytelling.
Do you think Alhambra has influenced your writing in any way?
Most of my writing tends to be a bit non-specific geography wise. I try not to place my characters in specific locations because I want them to be somewhat universal. Yes, they're almost always going to be Americans, probably in California, most likely in Los Angeles. Actually I guess that is pretty specific (laughs).
Since a lot of my writing is influenced by experiences in my life, or the lives of my friends who also live in Alhambra, then I'd say that yes Alhambra does, in some way, form a sort of a setting, or an influence, on my stories. When I envision the streets that Julio is nervously walking down, I imagine Main Street in my head. I may not always specifically cite Alhambra as a location in my stories, but it'll always inject itself in my mind in some way or another.
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
It's funny because I never really saw myself as a writer. Aside from my journal and the stray classroom assignment, I never really wrote that much when I was younger.My leap into writing fiction came about one night in the fall of 2010 when I was watching an A&E special about the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I had started reading his works and became very interested in him. He was 23 when he published his first book, and I was 23 when I watched his biography. I literally said to myself, "I want to be like him. I want to be remembered," and so I immediately hopped onto my computer and started writing a draft for a novel.
It wasn't until the fall of 2011 that I felt that inspiration to write again and wrote "Julio Buys A Skirt," which was based off of a personal experience. Since then I've completed three short stories and am still working on finishing my novel, which I hope to complete by this summer.
What do you see yourself doing next?
I want someone who reads my stories to be able to know and feel what my characters are thinking and feeling, either because they are the characters or they know someone close to them who is. I want to entertain them.I also want to finish my novel, "T.V.E." I think it'll be a good book once it's done. Honest. You'll like it.
Interview has been edited and condensed.