Dante Zúñiga-West


Zharmae Bibliography:

Rumble Young Man Rumble (S&E): Available in November 2014

Lovers and Fighters (S&E): Available in November 2015


Dante Zúñiga-West is a storyteller who escaped from Los Angeles. He is a graduate of the Evergreen State College and the Cal Arts MFA Writing Program. His fiction has been published in numerous literary journals, both online and in print; his journalism, in alternative newspapers and adventure magazines. He has worked as a high school English teacher, a librarian, a kitchen cook, a graduate teaching assistant, a childcare specialist, a counselor for the developmentally disabled, a bouncer, a Muay Thai kickboxing instructor, a bartender, a cab driver, a writing instructor to homeless youth, a landscaper, a videogame salesman, a copy-shop attendant, an SAT tutor, a freelance journalist, a newspaper editor, a private security guard, an at-risk-youth counselor and a touring musician. He lives off the grid in the coastal mountain range of Oregon.


The “Author Exposed!” Interview:

or, Things We’d All Like To Know…


- You, the Author -

Why do you write?

That’s a difficult question to ask someone. There is a universe of narcissistic hacks out there who want nothing more than for someone to ask them this question so they can pontificate. I don’t have a grandiose explanation for why I write. I have always wanted to write. I always knew I would live and die as a writer … whether or not anyone read my stories. If I didn’t feel that way I wouldn’t write at all, because the writing life is a very difficult thing to endure. I think that being a writer is something severely personal, like a religious belief, suicide, or what it means to say, “I love you.” There is no singular explanation for such things. What I can tell you is that I write because I am meant to.

What do you write?

Stories that have stories inside them. Straightforward fiction that reflects gritty subculture, damaged people and marginalized behavior.

Who inspires you?

I am inspired by survivors, by people who refuse to quit in the face of adversity. I am from those people, and I hope to be of them.

Who are your influences?

Literarily speaking, the writers whose words I stayed up all night reading as a younger man: Thom Jones, Tom Franklin, Cormac McCarthy, Ernest Hemingway, Alex Haley, Ursula Leguin, Raymond Carver, J.D. Salinger, Donald Goines, Faulkner, Krakauer, John Fowles, Chris McKinney, Knut Hamsun, Pablo Neruda, Kahlil Gibran, Dante Alighieri, Harlan Ellison, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Orwell, Huxley, Anais Nin, Ralph Ellison, John Fante, Charles Bukowski, Edward Abbey, Eli Weisel, Robert Heinlein, Casey Maddox, the list goes on, and on, and on … but those are just the literary influences. I really believe that any writer worth his/her ink is influenced primarily by the life they choose to lead, which inevitably is a writer’s life. The beauty of writing and having your work published is that you are able to contribute to the ongoing dialogue that is writing, built by writers who lived the writer’s life.

Many of the people who influence my writing are not writers; they are kids from the homeless shelter where I taught, 100-year-old Benedictine monks I lived around, people who rode in the taxicab I was driving, men I fought in the ring, or musicians whose music was playing in the background of a dark bar. Those are the influences for my stories more so than anything else.

What are your three most favorite books and why?

Favorite is too finite of a word to apply to my preference in books. I will concede three of the most powerful books I’ve encountered, and why:

The Odyssey (Homer): this was the bedtime story my father read to me as a boy, repetitively.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X: I am a young man of color in the United States, and all young men of color in this country who read this book are not the same afterwards. This is not just a book, it is a right of passage for us.

Hunger (Knut Hamsun): this is the book that actually began what we know today as modern prose. Often people will credit Hemingway for this, however Hamsun predated Hemingway and Hemingway adored Hamsun’s writing. He “borrowed” Hamsun’s style and brought it to America. This is how we got modern American prose.

- The Mechanics -

How do you write?

Like a man held at gunpoint.

Where do you like to write?

Rarely does a professional writer have the luxury of choosing where she/he “likes” to write. You write wherever, whenever. I’ve written at home, in other peoples’ homes, in parking lots where I can hi-jack a wifi signal, in dive bars, in cafes, in the back of empty restaurants. Anywhere.

Do you set a goal of so many pages per day, or something else?

Word count and story arc are the increments I keep track of while writing fiction. I don’t set daily goals for them; I tend to feel out when my work for the day is done. It’s like making love — you know when you have begun and you know when you have finished.

What program(s) or tool(s) do you use to write?

A computer. An old one.

What do you do when you get stuck on a problem which blocks the writing process?

Load up my Jeep and drive into the woods.

Do you envision the entire story at once and just fill in as you go, or do you just see where the writing takes you and troubleshoot as necessary?

I fall in love with a character. Then I envision the entire story, loosely. I always know the beginning, and I always know how I will end it. The middle part is my little war.

What do you have the most fun with during the creative process?

I do not associate the word “fun” with the creative process. However the most enjoyable part of creating a story for me is spending time with my characters.

- Human You -

What is a cherished memory from your life you’d like to share?

Signing the contract to get this first novel published.

Do you prefer coffee, tea, or something else entirely?

Tea, gunpowder green.

What comes first, the chicken or the alien egg?

…My writing deadlines.

Who is your favorite {literary character}? (Your Choice.)

Hayduke, from Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang.

- Rumble Young Man Rumble -

Who do you most identify with in this work?

There definitely would have been a time when I identified with Quinton Zanargo, the main character. To write a story like Rumble Young Man Rumble, which is such a close first-person narrative, I could not have achieved success without identifying with my protagonist. But Quinton is a young man, with young man problems. I wrote that book almost ten years ago, and I so I can’t say I identify with Quinton anymore. At this point I don’t identify with any of the characters from the book, but I love them all.

Why this story?

Rumble Young Man Rumble is a modern coming of age story. I wrote it because as a young man I did not identify with any of the iconic coming of age stories people gave me. I don’t think any of my peers did either. It’s 2014, hand your average American 20 year old a copy of Catcher in the Rye and see if they get past the first couple pages… they won’t. It’s sad, because Catcher is a great book, but it just doesn’t speak to the experience of growing up now. There aren’t too many books that do. When I taught high school English, it became glaringly apparent that my students were suffering from a similar lack of literature they could identify with. When I taught undergrads in college, I found the same thing to be true. In America, we no longer come of age in our teenage years: we come of age in our mid twenties with far more access and danger around us. I wrote Rumble Young Man Rumble to renew the dialogue of the genre.

I wrote it to reach out to the young men and women who, unfortunately, look at books like they are things that belong on a dusty library shelf.

On a more personal note, I wanted Rumble to be a story about love, loss, and prizefighting, all things I find to be infinitely fascinating and quite similar to each other.

Who do you think would be most affected by or touched by this work?

It is my hope that this book finds its way into the hands of sensitive and angry young men who are learning to become adults. I think that they would be the most touched by this story. I also think people who’ve never given ring fighting a second thought but had the courage to pick up this book will be incredibly surprised at the complexity and emotion portrayed in this story with regard to fighting. It is a book that, if you can look past some of the raw grit, can transcend age and gender variables.

What is a profound memory from this title’s writing process?

I remember turning the final draft into my publisher. I finished reading the last sentence, saved the document and stepped outside my house. It was a little after midnight and a full lunar eclipse was occurring. I live deep in a coastal mountain range; there are no city lights. The moon went black, and every animal around me began to howl and squawk and croak. I was all alone out there in my driveway, happy to have finished my book, surrounded by howling animals and the barking of dogs in the darkness. I won’t ever forget that.

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