Writer Shea Serrano on “Post,” Getting Paid to Podcast, and Loving Family - Take No Credit | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Writer Shea Serrano on “Post,” Getting Paid to Podcast, and Loving Family

Take No Credit

Aug 18, 2020 Shea Serrano
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When it comes to imaginative pop culture pieces, writer and author, Shea Serrano, is one of the most popular voices on the Internet. Whether he’s writing about sports, movies, TV shows or any number of topics for the website, The Ringer, or dabbling in new passions like his recent foray into writing the fictional short story, Post, Serrano is an innovator who provides a unique, generous, imaginative perspective. A Texas native, Serrano is also a lifelong San Antonio Spurs fan. He’s had books highlighted by President Barack Obama’s reading lists and had stories written about him in The New York Times highlighting his charity work. We caught up with the writer to talk about what first piqued his reading interests, how he recently turned to writing fiction, why sports matters to him and much more.

Jake Uitti (Under the Radar): When did you start reading in earnest? At what age were books or language or communication really starting to grab your attention?

Oh shoot, it wasn’t until college sometime. I was not, like, one of those kids who just read a ton of stuff or enjoyed reading. That wasn’t a thing we did at the house. The first time I can remember, like, reading a book and being all the way pulled in was in college. I read this book for one my classes, called The Alienist. And I thought it was really, really cool and really interesting. I felt as I was reading it like I was watching a move in my head. That was when I realized that books are cool and I started reading everything that I could find. Then I went to the bookstore and I realized people were writing books about stuff that I already liked. Prior to that point, all of the books that I’d been presented were just books you had to read because of school. I didn’t know there were books about basketball or books about gambling or books about whatever stuff I happened to be into at the time. So, it was, like, late in my college career, like my junior year.

You’re from Texas. Is that where you spent the majority of your life?

Yeah, I’ve never lived anywhere except for Texas. I lived in San Antonio, that’s where I was born. Right when I turned 18, I left to go to college. Then after that, I was in Houston for 14 years and now I’m back in San Antonio. Everything has been in Texas.

And you were a teacher as an adult out of college, I believe?

Yeah, I taught for nine years at a middle school in South Houston.

Oh, middle school! That seems like the hardest grade level to me.

It’s my favorite one!

I know you’d been writing for years at this point, but how did you get the idea for your first book, The Rap Yearbook?

That was actually not my idea. That was the editor, her name is Samantha Weiner. She had that idea. She presented it to me and asked me if I wanted to write it. In fact, I thought it was a bad idea when she told me and I turned it down because it seemed boring. It wasn’t until, like, a few months later that I needed money and so I hit her back and I said, “Actually, that’s a pretty good idea let’s do that book.” So, that was all her. I didn’t have anything to do with it.

Was there a moment when you actually said, “Oh this is a good idea!” Did the idea grow on you?

No, it was the money. That’s why I did it. Then, once I started working on it. I was like, “Oh, rather than it being just a text book with no pictures, or whatever. It would be fun if we had some illustrations in here. We can do charts and some other stuff.” So, once I actually started working on it, I realized it was actually a pretty cool thing. But it wasn’t before then, no.

You provide inspiration to writers because it seems like you allow yourself to lean into your own imagination and into the things that tickle you. You have the skills to present all that in a way that’s both digestible and joyous to many. I imagine it took some time to be confident and comfortable to lean into your own imagination and trust yourself to do that. Is that accurate?

Yeah, that’s a thing that comes with just writing a whole bunch. I didn’t start out like that. I’m sure there’s some people who just arrive to the game fully formed but for me it was, like, trying a bunch of different styles and seeing what, number-one, what’s the most natural or what felt good. And then, number-two, just trying to figure out a way to do that in a manner that had not been done either before or had not been done to death. That’s really all I’m looking for when I’m writing that stuff. Then, you know, the further along in your career that you get, the more leeway your editors will start to give you and they’ll let you try some weirder things. Then if those weird things do well then you can try even weirder things. That’s really all that’s going on. I’m just trying to do different stuff all the time. Sometimes it works and if it works then I keep doing it or heading in that direction. If it doesn’t work then I just stop.

How did you establish the relationship with the visual artist you work with, Arturo Torres?

I found a flyer that he had done on Twitter. There’s this rap group I like called The Outfit, TX, and he did a flyer for them. They were involved in a thing and they were sending it around. And when I saw it, I was already working on The Rap Yearbook and I was already looking for an illustrator and as soon as I saw that flyer I said, “This is exactly the style that I’m looking for.” Because, again, he draws in a way that I had not seen before. Because it’s not quite comic book illustrations but it’s not quite not that. It’s like this weird space in the middle and it’s very textured and it’s very—you can look at it and understand that this is a guy who loves drawing and has a real history with it. He studies all of that stuff. So that was exactly what I wanted. I just wanted somebody who enjoyed what they were doing. So, I saw that flyer, I reached out to the group, they connected me to the manager, she connected me to him and then I got him on the phone and asked him to draw for me.

There’s a lot of dignity in his work. Even if they’re cartoons, there’s dignity and respect in his hand, in his lines.

Yeah, that’s exactly—that’s a very good way to describe it.

You’ve done a lot in your career, as we’ve talked about. The latest turn is towards writing fiction. What was the genesis of making that choice to challenge yourself in that new way?

It was just something I wanted to try. I had never written, like, actual fiction before. I mean, a bunch of the stuff I write is silly but it’s all grounded in actual, real-world applications. Be it people who already exist, or whatever. So, I just wanted to try something different from that. I was talking to [my wife] Larami and we were actually­—I remember exactly where it happened. We were sitting at the table and I was telling her about a story I wanted to write and I was asking her advice on this or that and by the time we had finished the conversation, I was like, “Oh yeah this is a thing I want to try and do.” Then, I had already at that point done a couple of self-published things [Conference Room, Five Minutes and Where Do You Think We Are?], so I knew that I knew how to do that part of it. It was just a matter of writing it and building all of the rest. Again, this is like what we were just talking about. I wanted to try some stuff and see if it works—cool. If it doesn’t, I’ll go to whatever the next thing is.

Is there any worry or concern about trying new things for you? Do you worry about failure or have you just accepted that that’s part of the job?

I don’t worry too much about the stuff that doesn’t work out. Just the nature of being a writer—rejection is a natural part of this process. So, yeah, I’m not too worried about that. More than anything, the thing I’m most worried about is doing something that is not cool. I would much rather do something that was cool and unsuccessful versus something that is uncool and very successful. That’s the thing that I worry the most about. But a thing not working or maybe people aren’t interested in reading it, that’s not something I think too much about.

In writing the new fiction story, did it grow new creative muscles?

The main thing I learned was in all the other writing that I’ve done to this point, it was all non-fiction. So, all of the background work had already been done for me. Because, effectively, what I’m doing is just writing about a thing that somebody else has already done. So, all of the, like, actions of events all make sense because, again, this is a person who exists and they have a certain history. And because of that history, that’s why they do the thing that they do. So, when I’m writing about them, I don’t have to consider that part of it. But when you’re writing fiction, I realized, you have to build these characters from the ground up and that was the thing I struggled with the most. Because the story is only 4,000-words long. I can write a 4,000-word non-fiction thing in, like, two hours. That’s no problem, I could crank that out if I have all my stuff ready. But this thing took me several weeks because I would write and write and write and think that it was good. Then I would re-read it and be, like, it doesn’t make any sense that this character does this thing right here. Why did this character do this thing right here if they did another thing in another part? It took me a while to figure out how to get all of everything moving in the same direction. I had never had to do that before. That was the hardest part.

What has sports brought to your life that nothing else has?

Sports is like watching your favorite movie over and over again, except the ending is different every time. That’s what sports does that nothing else can do. Blood In, Blood Out is my favorite movie I’ve ever seen. I’ve watched it 200 times but I know exactly all of the parts and all the pieces. I know how it’s all going to end. The Spurs are my favorite basketball team ever. I never know how a game is going to end when they start playing. There’s always an opportunity to see something you’ve never seen before. They just played yesterday and they got walloped by the [Milwaukee] Bucks and I had no idea what that game was going to look like. Nobody did. I think that’s the one thing that sports does that nothing else can really do.

Similar to your love of sports, you also talk about your love of family. I imagine that interaction with your family is heightened to a degree during the pandemic. But, in general, what does family mean to you?

Family is important to me because that’s the only reason any of this stuff is important. If I don’t have some people to share it with, then who cares, you know what I’m saying? I’ve had a big family my whole life. I have my own family now. Oh, here’s a perfect example. Just today, earlier today, I got some very good news. I got some good news and I was very excited about it. And the first thing that I thought to do was I went inside the house—because I work outside—and I went inside of the house and I was, like, calling for Larami so I could tell Larami. And she gives me a big hug and a kiss and she high-fives me and she’s, like, excited for me and that feels good.

Then I go and find each of my sons and I tell each of them that the thing happened. And they all respond in whatever way that they respond but I’m excited to tell them because I want them to be proud of me, of whatever little stuff that it is that I’m doing, that’s part of it. But really I’m just sharing this moment with people that I care about. And that’s the good stuff. I’ve had good things happen to me when I’m by myself and then, like, my first reaction is always call Larami so I can tell her and then if she doesn’t answer everything becomes just 30-perent suckier because I didn’t have somebody to share it with.

So, that’s a selfish reason for why family is important. That’s all for me. But beyond that I just really like sitting down at the dinner table and talking to my kids or watching them do a thing. My youngest son, he’s into boxing right now and it’s really cool to watch him practice and practice and practice and to get better. My other two kids, the twins are teenagers now and they’re, like, beginning to grow up into, like, the young men version of themselves. Now they’re doing things that they’ve never done before. They’re keeping their rooms very clean, for example. They like to make sure they look a certain way. You talk to them and they’re very charming and funny. And it’s just cool watching them do these things that you’re like, “Oh man, you’re better at everything than me at all of this stuff when I was a kid.”

You’re a successful and popular writer. But above that, you also inspire people to work on their passions. What do you love most about offering this inspiration to others?

So, that’s a tricky question to answer because that’s not something I’m, like, actively pursuing or trying to make happen. But it is really neat when somebody’s like, “Oh, I tried this thing because you tried this thing over there.” That’s cool. I think maybe the reason that I find that so interesting and so cool to see is because I know how happy it makes me getting to do stuff that I like and care about. My whole job at this point is just doing things that I enjoy doing. My friend Jason [Concepcion] and I are doing a podcast [for The Ringer, called The Connect]. They’re paying us money to do this podcast and what it is, we just watch some movies and we talk about them. That’s the whole job.

It’s the same thing about writing. Somebody pays me some money and then I write about some stuff that I like. Being able to live that life provides me a certain amount of joy. And it’s cool to imagine other people getti ng to feel that same sort of thing. There are a bunch of people who have grown up a certain way and have lived a shitty life for a long time, like what I was doing. And then to think about maybe some of these people won’t have to do that anymore is neat. That’s probably the main part of it. But, again, this is not something that I’m pursuing or something that I’m interested in taking any sort of credit for.



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