North Carolina-raised Samuél Barrantes has lived in Paris since 2010, but the 26-year-old author’s debut novel, “Slim and the Beast,” smacks of home. The dark, heavily philosophical and occasionally violent tale revolves around the friendship of a haunted Iraq War veteran (Slim) and a towering, equally tortured UNC basketball player (The Beast), and the action takes place along familiar Chapel Hill streets and landmarks.
Yet Barrantes won’t be coming back any time soon; he loves his hand-to-mouth European existence.
“This is my apartment – literally you can see the entirety of it,” he says during a Skype chat, turning the computer so its camera captures the 500-square-foot space. “You live in these holes. Bohemian, right?” He teaches English when there’s work, plays basketball with his friends, and writes.
“Slim and the Beast ” isn’t Barrantes’ first novel, but it’s the first one to see publication, thanks to San Francisco crowdsourced publisher Inkshares. Barrantes spoke with us about crowdfunding, writing and North Carolina.
Q: Was the campaign similar to Kickstarter, with incentives and such?
A: The incentives were pretty basic. In some ways, I think that was better. The difference with Kickstarter, from what I understand, it would be me saying “I need 10 grand for myself to finance it.” I wouldn’t necessarily have gotten an editor from FSG or a San Francisco company helping design. Inkshares really had a system set up for it.
Q: What can you tell me about the book you didn’t publish?
A: It was essentially a near-future dystopian critique of American society. The basic premise was a democracy ruled by fear. I liked the story, but the characters weren’t developed at all.
Q: How did you decide to write “Slim and the Beast?”
A: This first one took me three years. “Slim and the Beast” took me three months to the first draft. It started on a train in France. I had this voice in my head from Samuel L. Jackson’s character in “Pulp Fiction” – his voice popped into my head, and I wanted to write a scene where this loud guy is ordering a burger. It kind of blew up out of that.
The boys’ night is a big theme in the novel. In Paris at the time I was close to a couple of guys where every Wednesday night we would get together. I wanted to honor those nights, so that fueled the relationship with “Slim and the Beast.”
Q: In the boys’ night out, there’s a solid core of philosophy. Why did you want to dedicate that amount of space to basically a philosophical discussion?
A: Because I am so interested in philosophy, essentially. I wanted to write serious fiction in the sense that I wanted to confront themes that I’m confronting in my life, philosophically, and I wanted to do it in a way that would attempt to be more accessible.
As the cliché goes, I hang out in Paris with writer friends and talk philosophy. So I write what I know.
Q: From reading your book, you evidently love basketball. Do you miss it?
A: I miss it in the sense that I have to stay up very late to watch Duke. It was my first real love. It was my first real passion to play that sport.
Q: Was it easier to write about North Carolina from the outside?
A: Hemingway was never able to write about Paris in Paris; he wrote “A Moveable Feast” in, I think, Cuba. Same for me. When I go back there I love it, and I really love the area and people are really cool and progressive – just as interesting as they are in Paris. It’s too close to home to write about it at home.