After 18 years of working in a newsroom, UT alumnus Antonio Ruiz-Camacho only knows how to write at one speed: quickly.
As a result, when Ruiz-Camacho turned his attention to writing a novel — his fiction debut — he finished the process in less than a year.
“Barefoot Dogs: Stories,” which will be released in the spring, chronicles the misadventures of a large wealthy clan in Mexico trying to cope with the blowback from the disappearance of the family’s patriarch. Ruiz-Camacho said writing the novel allowed him to explore the personal effects and consequences of violence in Mexico on people’s everyday lives — something he could not focus on at length as a reporter.
“As a journalist, you jump in, get the story and get out — already pursuing the next story,” Ruiz-Camacho said. “I’m most interested in investigating what happens to the people who have to live through those events even after the media has left.”
A fiction writer since middle school, Ruiz-Camacho said he never considered his hobby a viable professional option. Before focusing his efforts on his fiction, Ruiz-Camacho worked in almost every position in a newsroom, working for publications in Europe, Mexico and the United States. Most recently, he served as senior publisher at Univision Interactive Media.
Ruiz-Camacho said that after spending many years in leadership positions — first as an editor-in-chief and then as a managing editor — he realized he felt disconnected from the storytelling process.
“I didn’t write stories,” Ruiz-Camacho said. “I didn’t assign stories and didn’t even get to edit stories.”
In 2009, Ruiz-Camacho was one of 21 recipients of Stanford’s Knight Journalism Fellowship, which involves an engaging 10-month program that seeks to instill creativity and exploration in its writers.
“The feedback and encouragement at Stanford for the first pieces I wrote was so incredible [that] I decided to give fiction writing a real try,” Ruiz-Camacho said. “I thought that, as long as people keep reacting positively to this and giving me opportunities, I will keep doing it.”
After completing his fellowship in 2010, Ruiz-Camacho went on to earn his Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from UT’s New Writers Project, to win the prestigious 2014 Dobie Paisano Fellowship, and to see his work published in dozens of publications — including The New York Times.
Ruiz-Camacho, a Mexico native and Austin transplant, admits writing fiction is, at times, a challenge because English is his second language.
“[When writing my novel,] I felt I didn’t have complete control of the grammar and all the idioms you only acquire when you use a language — things no one is going to teach you in a class,” Ruiz-Camacho said. “Getting rid of that self-consciousness was the hardest part.”
English associate professor Oscar Casares has been Ruiz-Camacho’s friend and mentor since the two met in 2010, while Ruiz-Camacho was
pursuing a graduate degree at UT. Casares said Ruiz-Camacho’s status as a bilingual author contributes to his distinct voice.
“Part of what makes [Ruiz-Camacho’s] voice so unique is that he’s mastered English without losing the cadence of his Spanish,” Casares said.
Ruiz-Camacho said he rarely begins a story with a deliberate intention or theme in mind. He said the inspiration for most of his pieces emerges from striking images or scenes of distinctive characters who cross through his imagination unsolicited.
“I feel I am receiving visitations from these characters, as if they were like ghosts or dead people haunting me, asking me to tell their stories,” Ruiz-Camacho said. “I start investigating, asking myself, ‘Who are these people, and what do they want?’ For me, answering those questions and forming a narrative around those answers is thrilling.”