“The Burning of San Porfirio” – to read or not to read…

With this post I am pleased to announce the release of my second novel The Burning of San Porfirio. The Burning was released on December 20th, perfectly timed to completely miss the holiday buying season (the Spanish version was released by Grito Sagrado Press in Buenos Aires in July). It is the sequel to the widely ignored The Lieutenant of San Porfirio which sold literally dozens of copies to admiring cousins and proud parents and those they could coerce.

The San Porfirio series is set in the Revolutionary Socialist Republic of Venezuela. Naturally this is a shout out to Bolivarian Venezuela – the ever-failing narco state on the shores of the Caribbean whose antics entertain us all on the nightly news. The reason for the setting is obvious – it is the most recent example of political shenanigans in South America, and one with which I am most intimately familiar. However it is Venezuela perhaps only in name; the geography is fictitious – as are all the characters. In point of fact this could be and in lots of ways is a story about every populist authoritarian political project in Latin America since self-government began. Whether the Castros’ Cuba, Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua, Pinochet’s Chile, Virela’s Argentina, Peron’s Argentina, Fujimori’s Peru (and the list goes on), this book is about them. Through the pages of my San Porfirio novels you will witness the same chronic institutional problems that have plagued Latin America for two hundred years. The informed reader might even identify specific idiosyncrasies from all of these; including Stroessner’s Midnight Cocktail (look it up).

The Lieutenant of San Porfirio, which was released in English in 2012 and in Spanish by Grito Sagrado Press in 2013 is about a socialist revolution at its apex – with all the pageantry and comedy we would expect from revolution. The Burning is the waning, as the political project burns itself out. If The Lieutenant is the party, The Burning is the hangover. Yet these are not books that mock. They are not comedies or even dark satires really. They instead were written to find humanity and sometimes common cause with the struggles of individuals caught in the maelstrom as these troubled republics come apart. They tell of the valiant attempts of common folks to vie for their interests and defend their freedoms as they see them and from whomever they perceive as their enemies. They are stories about people – real people.

Porfirio Cover

The other day I was chastised by a new friend, as I was explaining to him why I write and what I expected from my efforts. “None of us do this to make money,” I said to him, “Even Moby Dick only sold 25 copies a year during Melville’s lifetime.” There is something in the Indie novelist that is a bit iconoclastic. The “devil may care” attitude and the pride at being the “struggling author that nobody understands” up against “those faux establishment writers who do so only to tell people what they want to hear” (yes, I still believe there are too many of those – sorry).  “We don’t do this for success,” we tell each other as we commiserate our meager winnings up against the colossal effort of getting a novel out the door. “We do it because we can’t not,” (noses held high).

This of course is foolishness. As my new friend rightly reminded me – those of us who choose to be artists do so for self-expression. It is a profoundly narcissistic act. The counterpart to this gargantuan act of ego is the question by the would-be reader, “What it is about your ‘self’ that should interest me?” Which brings us to the idea of value, where we should have been all along. So let me lay it out for you. I write because it adds value to my life – and those who read my words do so because reading what I write adds value to theirs. Full stop. The free exchange, my value (in this case in the form of a book) for theirs (monetized into euros or dollars or yen).

And we are back full circle to the San Porfirio series. I have done my best to offer my best value – expressing in the form of a novel some of the struggles that I have had with profoundly troubling experiences and conundrums that affect too many people in Latin America as they fight for freedom and prosperity. Subjective value – which only becomes objective value when my readers reward my efforts by exchanging their money for what I have to say (my economist friends would challenge this statement – but they are missing the point).

So there it is. I’d like to thank those who have accompanied me thus far – who have parted with your hard earned money and your even more precious time to interact with some of my thoughts. And of course I welcome more of you. Because let’s be honest, I need you more than you need me. To keep writing, writers need customers. The great nobles of the past who sponsored the arts are gone, and good riddance to them. Now we writers must compete, exchanging value for value. But as I go let me ask you this. Up against three years of work, writing, re-writing, editing and re-editing and re-re-editing and cover design and re-design – is a $0.99 investment for your e-copy that great of a risk? Who knows what you might discover.

On that note, I invite you to take a journey with me to San Porfirio de la Guacharaca and to accompany Pancho Randelli on his struggles to find freedom and meaning in a world gone topsy turvy.



About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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