100 Dallas Creatives: No. 15 Carlos Alejandro Guajardo-Molina, the Book Guy
Scott Wayne McDaniel
Mixmaster presents "100 Creatives," in which we feature cultural entrepreneurs of Dallas in random order. One of the most exciting additions to hit Oak Cliff in 2014 was definitely The Wild Detectives. From the outside the place looks like any other house down 8th Street, but inside you'll find three of life's most glorious gifts: books, booze and bottomless cups of coffee.
And one of the main people we have to thank for this intellectual playground is General Manger Carlos Alejandro Guajardo-Molina. Through a mutual friend, he was introduced to co-owners Paco Vique and Javier Garcia del Moral to help launch the indie bookstore in the summer of 2013.
Since then Guajardo-Molina has been manning the helm, picking out the books, looking for ways to expand The Wild Detectives scope to include local music and curating the fantastic events. Everything from book readings with authors like Scott Blackwood, to Mouth Full of Words, their new series of tasting sessions, and let's not forget eccentric musician George Quartz's Friday night DJ sessions, Fahrenheit 314.
We just had to get a hold of Guajardo-Molina and find out his secret to creating a unique and comfortable space. Luckily he had some time for us in-between filling shelves with the coolest books in town.
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Okay, so just to get a little background, how did you initially get involved with The Wild Detectives? Will Evans and another close friend of mine approached me one afternoon in the summer of 2013 saying that they had just come from a meeting with these two Spanish engineers that are opening a bookstore with a bar in Oak Cliff and they thought that I should manage it. This was, as you can imagine, completely out of the blue, especially since I had left the book retail world years ago and never looked back. I couldn't imagine why, in this day and age, anyone would want to open an independent bookstore; Amazon won, everyone else lost, and an indie bookstore in Dallas was a pipe dream. Why someone would want to subject themselves to that kind of disappointment was beyond me. But, my friends insisted and the next week I found myself meeting with Javi and Paco and any skepticism I had was dispelled when I saw that they actually had drawings and business plans and charts and a whole lot of passion. I thought, OK, these guys are for real. Before I knew it, I was on board with this crazy plan. I don't think there was ever even a formal interview. We just talked about books that we liked and I got a crash course in La Liga.
What are your responsibilities at The Wild Detectives? My official title is General Manager and when we first opened, I was pretty much responsible for every aspect of day-to-day operations from scheduling staff to fixing the toilet to running to the grocery store for milk. After about six months or so, we were able to hire a manager to just handle the food and beverage aspect of the business, so my position has evolved into more of a program director. I still handle the administrative side of the business--payroll, buying, accounting etc--but I get to spend a little more time curating the book selection and organizing compelling events.
It's part bar, bookstore, cafe and music venue. How would you describe The Wild Detectives to someone who has never been? Just like that, actually. I think it's interesting to hear how our patrons describe it because no one says the same thing. For some, it's all about browsing the books while for others, the books are there to add atmosphere to what they see as a cozy cafe. Others see it more of a project space and come to work and create. And then of course, there are those who just want to hang out and have a drink after work. There's a definite neighborhood vibe to the place too; a lot of regulars and people are always running into other people they know there. I think what makes the space unique is that it's no one thing and yet it offers so much to people with varied interests.
What are your plans for the future? We want to continue to grow our profile on the national scene and make The Wild Detectives a destination for touring authors. We've already had successful events with Merritt Tierce and John Darnielle, among others, I think that even though we're small, we can still host quality reading events that are engaging and entertaining even if it means getting a little creative with how we utilize the small space we have. We're also working on expanding on the type of music events that we bring in. We've been heavy on the folk and indie rock, but we had great success with a Chicha night this past summer and want to branch out into other genres, including jazz, hip-hop, R&B as well as some more experimental sounds. I'm also working with Vice Palace to curate some local music in a unique way. More on that later.
What experience do you have in the book selling business? I started working for Borders while I was finishing my music studies at UNT. It was one of those things where I kept moving up through the ranks and coming into my own as a bookseller and manager in book retail. When the company was at its best, it was a great company to work for. I certainly learned a lot about the book industry as well as running a business, plus I was able to make a lot of connections with other book sellers, book dealers and people involved in the publishing industry all of which have been incredibly helpful now that I've taken on this little venture where, in a lot of ways, I often find myself reinventing the wheel.
The bookstore has been a major proponent of international authors and English translations. How important is it for English language readers to experience the works from around the world? Well, it's cheaper than travelling. But seriously, reading foreign authors has been such a staple in my own personal reading for so long that it didn't occur to me until fairly recently that this is not the case for most people. It wasn't until fairly recently that I heard the statistic that only 3% of the books published in the US are foreign authors in translation which I found surprising and a little sad. I think that reading literature from around the world helps to bridge the empathy gap with other cultures. It helps us develop a capacity to put ourselves in another person's situation, so that those who are different from ourselves in circumstance, identity or practice are made to feel knowable, relatable and maybe even demystified a little. Also, as a lover of language and wordplay, I often find that foreign authors are more focused on characterizations and sensory experiences versus a plot driven narrative and that appeals to me more.
What is your thought process when selecting books to be sold at the store? This is a tough one to answer because I don't have any set criteria, but I know what I like and I know what I can sell and I try to merge those two as much as possible. We specialize in literature and poetry and as mentioned above, we're heavy on foreign authors representing those genres, so there's that, but I also like to have a good selection of under-represented American authors, usually published through smaller independent houses or university presses. It's important to have a product that looks good, especially in this day and age where it's just as easy to own the text electronically, there has to be something about the book that would make someone want to physically own a copy. A lot of work by a lot of different people go into the design of a book, everything from the font to the layout to the paper style and thickness and, of course, the cover design. I find that it's the smaller publishing houses who seem to put more emphasis on the overall aesthetics of the book design and that often speaks to the overall aesthetics of the writing as well. The old adage of "you can't judge a book by its cover" is a nice sentiment, but it's just not true. Plus, it's nearly impossible to sell an ugly book no matter how great the writing.
Will Evans from Deep Vellum has said that the art scene in Dallas has not embraced the literary scene as of yet. Do you think The Wild Detectives can help generate a larger literary presence here in Dallas? I think that's changing rapidly as we speak. People like Dee Mitchell and Karen Minzer of WordSpace and Karen Weiner of The Reading Room have done a lot to bridge the art and literary worlds. And Will has enough energy to single-handedly generate a larger literary presence on his own. Literature is tricky because it requires a little more investment in time to experience. You don't have the gratification as you do with art where you can show up at the opening, see and talk about the work with others and meet the artist. But, I think having a space that curates a unique literary selection and hosts interesting and engaging literary events will continue to be our contribution to the literary environment of Dallas and it's only a matter of time before that scene flourishes.
How has the community reacted to The Wild Detectives? Overwhelmingly positive and that's been humbling. People were starved for literary culture in Dallas and people are constantly thanking us for doing what we do. It's nice to be appreciated just for existing.
100 Creatives: 100. Theater Mastermind Matt Posey 99. Comedy Queen Amanda Austin 98. Deep Ellum Enterpriser Brandon Castillo 97. Humanitarian Artist Willie Baronet 96. Funny Man Paul Varghese 95. Painting Provocateur Art Peña 94. Magic Man Trigg Watson 93. Enigmatic Musician George Quartz 92. Artistic Luminary Joshua King 91. Inventive Director Rene Moreno 90. Color Mavens Marianne Newsom and Sunny Sliger 89. Literary Lion Thea Temple 88. Movie Maestro Eric Steele 87. Storytelling Dynamo Nicole Stewart 86. Collaborative Artist Ryder Richards 85. Party Planning Print maker Raymond Butler 84. Avant-gardist Publisher Javier Valadez 83. Movie Nerd James Wallace 82. Artistic Tastemakers Elissa & Erin Stafford 81. Pioneering Arts Advocates Mark Lowry & Michael Warner 80. Imaginative Director Jeremy Bartel 79. Behind-the-Scenes Teacher Rachel Hull 78. Kaleidoscopic Artist Taylor "Effin" Cleveland 77. Filmmaker & Environmentalist Michael Cain 76. Music Activist Salim Nourallah 75. Underground Entrepreneur Daniel Yanez 74. Original Talent Celia Eberle 73. Comic Artist Aaron Aryanpur 72. Classical Thespian Raphael Parry 71. Dance Captain Valerie Shelton Tabor 70. Underground Culture Mainstay Karen X. Minzer 69. Effervescent Gallerist Brandy Michele Adams 68. Birthday Party Enthusiast Paige Chenault 67. Community Architect Monica Diodati 66. Intrepid Publisher Will Evans 65. Writerly Wit Noa Gavin 64. Maverick Artist Roberto Munguia 63. Fresh Perspective Kelsey Leigh Ervi 62. Virtuosic Violinist Nathan Olson 61. Open Classical's Dynamic Duo Mark Landson & Patricia Yakesch 60. Rising Talent Michelle Rawlings 59. Adventurous Filmmaker Toby Halbrooks 58. Man of Mystery Edward Ruiz 57. Inquisitive Sculptor Val Curry 56. Offbeat Intellect Thomas Riccio 55. Doers and Makers Shannon Driscoll & Kayli House Cusick 54. Performance Pioneer Katherine Owens 53. Experimental Filmmaker and Video Artist Mike Morris 52. Flowering Fashioner Lucy Dang 51. Insightful Artist Stephen Lapthisophon 50. Dallas Arts District 49. Farmer's Market Localvore Sarah Perry 48. Technological Painter John Pomara 47. Progressive Playmakers Christopher Carlos & Tina Parker 46. Purposive Chef Chad Houser 45. Absorbing Artist Jeff Gibbons 44. Artistic Integrator Erica Felicella 43. Multi-talented Director Tre Garrett 42. Anachronistic Musician Matt Tolentino 41. Emerging Veteran Actor Van Quattro 40. Festival Orchestrator Anna Sophia van Zweden 39. Literary Framer Karen Weiner 38. Man Behind the Music Gavin Mulloy 37. The Godfather of Dallas Art Frank Campagna 36. Rising Star Adam A. Anderson 35. Artist Organizer Heyd Fontenot 34. Music Innovator Stefan Gonzalez 33. Triple Threat Giovanni Valderas 32. Cultural Connector Lauren Cross 31. Critical Artist Thor Johnson 30. Delicate Touch Margaret Meehan 29. Fashion Forward Charles Smith II 28. Dedicated Artist Carolyn Sortor 27. Political Cyber Banksy Wylie H Dallas 26. Dance Preserver Lisa Mesa Rogers 25. Rob 'Ain't No Creative Like A Bow-Tie-Wearing Creative' Shearer 24. Scholar of the Stage Susan Sargeant 23. Photographer of Record Justin Terveen 22. Music Man Jeffrey Liles 21. Keeper of the Safe Room Lauren Gray 20. Playwright Jonathan Norton, Man of Many Words 19. Filmmaker and Funniest Comic in Texas Linda Stogner 18. Gallerist Jordan Roth, the Art Scene Cheerleader 17. Artful Advocate Vicki Meek 16. Ballet Queen Katie Puder
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