by Pascale Potvin.
I recently had the pleasure of reading Charlie D’Aniello Trigueros’s newest book, Between Death & Flight, before it releases on May 3rd. In epistolary form, this (sometimes fictionalized) creative-nonfiction recounts his experience as a minor detained by ICE, having escaped transphobic abuse from his then-home in the Dominican Republic.
The pre-order page from warning lines lit, of which D’Aniello Trigueros is also Editor-in-Chief, describes book as a story of “confinement, stripping of freedom, and existence as an inherently transgressive self”. Knowing my blurb couldn’t ever do justice to its power, I also wanted to have him speak more on it, himself, for the audience of Wrongdoing. As members of online literary communities in common, I was grateful that we shared the following conversation.
You have another book forthcoming, too, with Gutslut Press, which is quite exciting. What made you decide to release Between Death & Flight specifically through your own organization, warning lines literary?
I do! That book (a poetry chapbook titled PLACES) has been waiting a while to be published, I’m really excited Gutslut picked it up! I think my decision to publish Between Death & Flight via warning lines rather than trying to find an external publisher ultimately comes down to trust. I have to admit I don’t quite trust trad publishing to treat this story with respect; I don’t trust the industry to deem my story marketable, in part because it’s not the kind of story I hear about at all. I guess, also, I wanted to retain as much power over this narrative (this experience) as I possibly could, especially given how powerless I was in the situation Between Death & Flight approaches. It was my way of saying “fuck you, I’m going to tell it the way I know how”.
If I’m not mistaken, this is your first book-length publication of creative nonfiction. How has the lead up to release been, overall, in comparison to your other launches? Does it feel more vulnerable than publishing, for example, poetry?
It feels a lot more vulnerable than fiction, and moderately more vulnerable than poetry in general. With fiction, I feel like there’s a couple layers of separation (at least from the reader’s point of view). However, my poetry is often also kind-of creative non-fiction, if that makes sense? My poetry is a vessel for my memory and my history (and my trauma!) in a way that feels very similar to creative non-fiction— or at least to Between Death & Flight specifically. That’s probably why my personal journals also invariably end up containing more than a few poems scribbled spontaneously on their pages.
But even then, I feel like when I publish poetry I feel slightly less naked (well, okay, sometimes not), because there are truths within my poems that are hidden just enough so as to not be conclusively deduced. Only I get to know the meaning in minute details of my poetry, and that makes it so I don’t feel quite as naked. With Between Death & Flight, on the other hand, there’s truths in there that I had to confront in order to convey them, and they’re right there, plain for everyone to read. This is especially vulnerable since some parts of the book are quotes from my journals.
In your first email to me requesting a blurb, you stated: "the events happened in 2016 (I confess that I started writing it while IN the detention center), and has been repeatedly rewritten, reformatted, reimagined since then”. What did that revision look like? What shifted and changed throughout the process?
I’ll be honest: Between Death & Flight came very very close to not being published at all. It was only this year, after certain personal ties were severed that had been begging to be cut for some time, that I finally swore to myself I’d see it through this time.
When I first started writing it, this story was being put to paper (in pencil and by hand, mind you, since I didn’t have access to the internet or to technology in the detention center) almost in real time. I wrote the bit about my short stay at the airport and Officer Baker probably a couple weeks after it happened, in a notebook I kept with me at all times to avoid it being read while I was away from it. But then half a year later, I was deported to my home country and had to keep the peace with the people I originally ran away from, so I put the notebook away and shelved the project.
Sometime after that, I tried writing this book as fiction, changing key aspects of it so as to make it less specific, more palatable to the average reader. But that made it feel fake, made me feel like I was sacrificing something too important for a purpose that was not worth that sacrifice. Still, I couldn’t yet even think of publishing something that placed guilt on a certain member of my family, so I abandoned it again.
At some point, I began to write it in prose and as creative nonfiction, but the guilt of speaking ill of my mother, despite all that she has done, made it impossible for me to go on, especially because I thought, at the time, that my relationship to her had changed and improved in the years following my running away.
Then, last fall I realized the truth (though I cannot speak as to how, in part because it is so wordless and nebulous). And I still had the notebooks I’d journaled in all those years ago. So I set out to transcribe the parts that resonated most, and that made me remember so much of what I felt and lived (though I promise you I have never really forgotten, at least not yet). It felt the most real and the most appropriate to recreate my journey (more my mental journey than the concrete events, really) in journal entries, as that’s how I’ve always processed my feelings best. That’s how the final version was born.
Between Death & Flight details such varied hardships and challenges from just a short period in your life. Without having to get too personal with your answer, what would you say was the biggest challenge in putting the book together?
This answer might seem odd, but I actually think the dreams were the biggest challenge.
Even at the best of times, sometimes I drift back to Jefferson House in my dreams. And not just to the detention center itself, but to the times directly before that— to the life I had as an abused trans teen, which made me feel like those were the only options: to die or to flee. That’s what the title means, incidentally: that I was trapped in between the only two escapes I saw for pain and abuse: death or flight.
Anyway, about the dreams. While writing Between Death & Flight, the dreams/nightmares of being 17-again and helpless greatly increased in frequency, and that was difficult to deal with. I had a lot of arguments in my dreams. I yelled a lot. I even woke up yelling in Spanish a couple times. But that’s the cost of remembering, and I accept it.
Is there anything you’d like your readers to know that you might not have been able to include in the final text?
There are a lot of things (and a lot of people) that I didn’t include in the book. I want readers to know that these aren’t the only events that happened— and that the point of the book wasn’t to detail every little thing that happened while I was there. I mean, it was six months of my life. That’s half a year, which for a 17 year old is a long long time. I made a lot of friends. I lost many others. I couldn’t hope to describe the full story even if I wrote three more books on it.
I also want people to know that the experience was a lot less black and white than they might think reading Between Death & Flight. For instance, when it comes to the Hounds (the staff members assigned to guard the imprisoned children). I made friends with a handful of them. I thought they were my friends, sometimes, back then. I was a child, I thought they cared. I thought, for the most part, that we could be friends despite the power imbalance. But the book is meant to focus on the isolation and the introspection, the feelings of the thing from my 17-year-old perspective, but definitely told as processed by my 23-year-old self. I wasn’t as aware back then of the white supremacy and colonialism at play as I am now (I was aware, and I suffered at the hands of it, but I wasn’t as aware). That’s part of why my “friendship” with the Hounds isn’t given space in the book except to comment on feeling like a pet/complicit: because my perception of that fluctuating “friendship” back then has been overwritten by the clarity of my more mature awareness of the power dynamics at play there.
What’s next for you, project-wise? Can we ever expect more CNF about events following the detention centre and your journey to your current residence in Sweden?
I think you’re more likely to see some creative non-fiction about my earlier childhood than about the-detention-center-and-beyond! Ever since I started publishing my work (especially poetry), I’ve been slowly getting to know my childhood self again. A lot of my childhood is plagued by trauma, and writing about it seems to help me understand my identity as it relates to my memory/history. Though it’s a poetry chapbook, I think you’ll find a lot of that in PLACES once it comes out with Gutslut Press! I also finished a second chapbook of poetry (and one short piece of creative non-fiction) inspired by Satan, Satanism, and by my own identity journey from lost lamb to reclaimed monsterhood, which I hope to publish at the beginning of the fall!
Charlie D’Aniello (he/they) is a queer and trans Costa Rican-Dominican author, editor, and self-proclaimed malcontent. He is the editor-in-chief of warning lines literary and author of THE ONE & THE OTHER (2021), BETWEEN DEATH & FLIGHT (2022), PLACES (coming spring 2022, Gutslut Press), and more. Among his hobbies are reading, arguing, and being an utterly incomprehensible person. His work has appeared in Wrongdoing Magazine, perhappened, the winnow, The NoSleep Podcast, and others. Find him on twitter @beelzebadger.
I became acquainted with Pascale Potvin, Toronto writer and poet, within the greater online literary community we both inhabit. But as someone who has produced and performed in other mediums myself, I have been particularly excited about her work in film. After years of acting and creating her own short films, including collaborating with Canadian collective The Boys Club, Potvin set out to helm her first feature film, the forthcoming psychological horror “Baby Fever.” Co-directed by Potvin and Nupur Chitalia, the story follows wife and expectant mother Lila, played by Sara Caspian, her husband James, played by Mark Pettit, and the clique of mommies in bucolic Elk Creek. When a problem develops with the pregnancy, Lila’s troubles are only just beginning.
As editor in chief of Wrongdoing Magazine, Potvin was interested in sharing the latest about her cinematic endeavour with the readers, and granted me an interview to discuss her inspirations and the process of bringing “Baby Fever” to the screen.
My first impression of the trailer, besides loving it, was taking account of some of the pop culture touchstones that may have led to the concept… Rosemary’s Baby, Stepford Wives, The Omen… were these or any other works overt or subtle influences on either the original story and/ or screenplay, or on your direction?
Practically everyone who's commented on the teaser has brought up Rosemary’s Baby! I can’t say I’m surprised, though.
These works, especially that one, are definitely influences—and, without giving away too much, I hope they shape the audience's understanding of Baby Fever. I was eager to write in both overt and subtle references to iconic films, not just because I love them, but because they laid a nice foundation for us to play with.
I assume from some of the still images I saw on the film’s Twitter and Instagram accounts, and in the proof of concept short from a year ago, that you take a certain joy in poking the audience’s brain with disturbing images. Love it. Have you ever taken it so far that even you couldn’t look?
I personally haven’t gone so far that I couldn’t look, at least not while on set—shooting this feature in 7 days, I entered such a flow state which was hard to disturb. I think I found the perfect middle state between caring for Lila’s predicaments, and using that to direct Sara, while also not recoiling.
That being said, now that I’m at a healthy distance from that intense shoot… watching the footage is definitely disturbing. More than I anticipated for myself. Which, ultimately, is a good sign.
How was the experience of working with a co-director? Was this the manifestation of previous collaborations like Boys Club, or similar dynamics in other mediums? Or was this a new experiment for you, and how did it go? What were the benefits you immediately appreciated? What were the challenges? What had you anticipated that turned out differently? What do you want us to know about Nupur Chitalia and your regard for her?
Working with Nupur was a new experience for me just as was directing a feature film. She put so much into—and brought so much out of—the story, ever since the very beginning of pre-production.
Since she had more experience in talking to crew, and myself more comfortable with actors, it was also great to be able to split up and maximize our efficiency. Our visions were so aligned that I was completely comfortable doing this, and I do think it worked. I didn’t expect to butt heads at all, really, but considering the high-paced environment I suppose it was inevitable—and we moved on to a professional compromise each time.
My experience as an actor has been that no matter how much I love my director and co-stars, no matter how much fun I have inhabiting the character and living in the fictional universe, I can hit an emotional wall if doing an intense scene. I had a full on crying jag after a violent scene even though my character was the one inflicting the damage! Did you hit any similar bumps yourself or with your actors, and how did you navigate those? If not, do you attribute that to any particular precautions you or your actors take?
Yes—we had tried to design the schedule to make things easiest for Sara, our lead, but a few challenges had us having to recalibrate things. And so she would sometimes run out of tears. It was an emotionally exhausting role overall, but it helped to remind her that the character is also very emotionally exhausted. If anything, it might’ve added some realism.
Any anecdotes about moments of levity on the set, between takes perhaps? I’m imagining the moms group actresses particularly having a lot of fun portraying sinister forces. Or struggles with practical effects (even if they didn’t seem so funny at the time while you were working to get the scene finished!).
What stands out in my mind is a sequence in which we had one actor on the floor, surrounded by baked goods. It was such a great touch by our thoughtful art department, and overall it ended up being one of the funnest scenes to shoot (to clean up, not as much). Overall, any scene with all of the ‘moms’ was a lovely time—I really enjoyed the days that we had Zoe, Allisha, Esther, or Bethany on set.
What kind of conversations did you have with Sara Caspian about the character and her backstory? What did she bring out in her performance that surprised you or altered your perception of the character?
Sara was so committed and spent so much time—with Nupur and I and on her own—preparing for the role. We had a lot of conversation and rehearsal, but I think it all came down to sharing our own thesis about the character’s big want. Finding that in itself was our first step, of course; we had to do a lot of character work before we even brought Sara into the conversation.
That being said, of course she brought so much to the table and to her performance. We especially appreciated her perspective as an Iranian in Canada and how she let us know how to support it, and her, in the script and on set.
Musicians are often asked: what comes first, the melody or the lyrics? With that analogy in mind…your documentary Healthy Conversation dealt with mental health, as did the Can You Hear Me series. Baby Fever tackles trauma, PTSD, and gaslighting against women who experience it. And even your short film Beat has a parallel to Baby Fever in that it deals with a protagonist, what distinguishes them physically from the other characters, and how that informs their journey. Tell me more about what compels you to explore these topics. From your perspective, do themes inspire the stories you want to tell, or are you just stumbling into stories you want to tell that sometimes invoke these themes, or are they born together hand in hand?
I think that’s a question that a lot of us writers ask ourselves. I’m a person who kind of believes in Muses, only because I feel like the stories are always there waiting for me to find them. As I was mentioning earlier, I don’t truly discover theme or intention until after several revisions of the work.
Of course, I’ve always written about mental illness—even before I had any idea I was mentally ill—so in many cases, I think the Muse is just the subconscious.
Is Baby Fever horror, psychological thriller, or both? Or do you categorize one as a subset of another? How do you compare your intentions as a director to your intentions as a poet, novelist, and actress? (Particularly in how you want to impact your audience.)
I’d say it’s both, and that’s why we’ve classified it as a psychological horror. That’s really the genre I gravitate to most, I think because it can incite the strongest emotions in. person. To watch characters be pushed to their limits is a way to share something so (albeit terrifyingly) unique with one’s audience; and, ultimately, my aim is to connect with others in that way.
What excited you about shooting a feature as opposed to the shorts you have previously? What challenges did you overcome in going from short film to feature length? (Similar to my question about co-directing — anticipated or otherwise!)
Baby Fever was uncharted territory for me in so many ways. I don't think I can even compare a feature shot in 7 days to other shorts I shot over months.
I think the biggest challenge was being the Director, Writer and Executive Producer and ultimately in charge of so many people at the age of 24. I didn’t think I had it in me, but I was also so excited to prove myself wrong. And I did. Especially having all of these people around me, working toward the same goal I was—believing in the story, too—it made it one of the best weeks of my life.
And finally, without asking you for what the audience should take away after watching the film (because it feels like that could reveal spoilers), I’ll instead try asking: what big question(s) do you hope the audience asks themselves after watching the film?
“Oh my god, what the hell just happened?”
h. is a writer from Magical Higley AZ, by way of Phoenix and Los Angeles. He received an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles and a BA in English Literature from Arizona State University. His writing has appeared in Cultural Daily, Discover Pods, Drunk Monkeys, and Modest Proposal, and he serves as an editor for Meow Meow Pow Pow and Screenshot Lit. He shall overthrow the mighty and lay waste their temples, he shall redeem the despised and wreak vengeance in the name of the burned and the tortured. More of his work can be found at HubUnofficial.com.