When I was in college, I always worked shitty jobs.
For a couple years, I unloaded packages at 4 A.M. at UPS for $12 an hour. Overall, the job sucked. My back always hurt and waking up at 3:30 in the morning meant that, unlike my peers, I couldn’t stay out all night on Thirsty Thursdays.
But most of my coworkers were cool and everyone bonded over the fact that we all hated arching our backs while our supervisors yelled at us to move faster.
In 2015, I quit UPS to become a cashier at a liquor store. My rationale was that doing so would allow me to earn a graduate degree quicker, but in reality, I was sick of waking up before sunrise, and I wanted to be like all the other college kids and waste my time and money drinking.
Which leads me to the summer of 2016. Somehow, some way, I was hired to be a camp counselor at a gun safety/nature camp.
I didn’t like kids, nor did I have any formal training in firearms, but I concealed this information during the interview process.
“Do you have any moral objections to guns?” a man named Chris asked me as we sat in a coffee shop for my interview.
“Not at all,” I told him, which was true, but I did leave out the part about guns scaring the hell out of me, to the point that just seeing one makes my skin crawl.
“That’s good,” Chris said, “because we couldn’t hire you if you were.”
“I understand guns have a place in our society, especially for hunters,” I told him.
Chris nodded, skeptically.
He was a smart man. He knew the only reason I wanted to work there was because my then-girlfriend already did, and that hiring me would bring little value to his organization.
I mean, there was literally nothing I brought to the table. I had failed nearly every science course in college, couldn’t load a gun if my life depended on it, and was very susceptible to contracting poison ivy.
Most of my coworkers could distinguish different types of mushrooms, hit a bullseye from a hundred yards away, and console a child if they were in tears.
My prospects were not looking good. It would be a surprise to no one if I ended up that summer staying in my college town and getting one more run of debauchery in before graduation arrived.
Yet, a few weeks later, on Superbowl Sunday, I received an email.
“Quentin, we would like to offer you a position as camp counselor for the summer of 2016,” the email read.
I did a double take, then did my best not to bear my crooked teeth and reveal a stupid smile.
“What did the email say?” my girlfriend asked.
“I got the job,” I sheepishly answered.
It was going to be an interesting summer.
A few months later, upon arriving at the camp, I met a number of people both familiar and unfamiliar.
One of the unrecognizable faces belonged to a man named Robert, an Argentinian-born writer who was a few years younger than me and already had published a number of books.
Initially, I was jealous of Robert.
Robert had already done a few of the things that I aspired to accomplish.
And for the next few weeks, it took time to recognize that my jealousy was my way of projecting my insecurities onto him.
Robert deserved credit for his work, and if I ever wanted to be in a similar position as him, I would need to become more consistent and devoted to my own writing.
Unfortunately, my story with Robert doesn’t extend much further.
We maintained a friendly relationship, occasionally chatting if ever we were assigned to the same projects, but Robert was a guy who liked his alone time, and I was already preoccupied with a relationship and spending all week looking forward to the weekend; a time when there were no kids around and everyone went to the bar to forget about the nagging humidity and complain about whichever little Kevin or Julie had drawn their ire that week.
It’s been four years since that summer, but recently I found myself scrolling through Instagram looking for someone interesting to connect with, and luckily, Robert was willing to take the time to talk with me about both his writing career, and also his time in the United States during 2016.
Editor’s Note: our interview was conducted in Spanish, a language that I still have yet to achieve fluency in.
Therefore, Robert helped me in translating parts of our recorded conversation that exposed my limitations in his native tongue.
Robert: thank you for your time and thank you for enlightening me on aspects of the world that have to this point eluded my attention.
Quentin Super: Robert, I have always admired the fact that you’re a writer. How many books have you published so far? What genre have they been in?
Robert Chevalier: “I’ve written many novels and short stories, but so far, I have published five and I’m about to publish another one in the coming months. The literary genres that define me perfectly are fantasy and suspense, and within these I always play a lot with mystery and terror, just as I like to explore subgenres such as science fiction, dystopias, thrillers, etc. I am multifaceted and can write all kinds of books!”
QS: What inspires you to write books? What does your process look like?
RC: “I have a great talent to create stories because I have a lot of imagination, in addition to the fact that I’ve always been a weird boy, out of the ordinary, lonely and very different from most ever since childhood. All that has influenced who I am today, and that’s why ideas flow from my mind with great creativity and ease when it comes to telling a story. There are many stories; the challenge is narrating them to surprise the reader, and that is what I always look to do. When I have an idea, I always think about where I want to go, where to start from, and what incredible things will happen in between. I’m very good with suspense and plot twists that take the reader’s breath away, so that’s something that is never lacking when writing. I love cliffhangers. The reader deserves respect and needs to be surprised in order to enjoy the work he is reading. So far, I have not disappointed anyone…”
QS: What inspired you to begin writing?
RC: “I started writing because, as I said before, I have always been someone rare and out of the ordinary, so, due to that different way of seeing life, and the great imagination I have had since I was a child, I have felt a deep need to express myself through the art that today I want to share with the world.”
“In my teens, I really enjoyed English literature, with great classics like Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, and Mary Shelley. They inspired me a lot when I started writing. Also, the Americans like Edgar Allan Poe, Shirley Jackson and Stephen King have been very important to me, as well as Jorge Luis Borges, who is one of the best writers in my country, Argentina.”
“Currently, I have become very fanatic of classics like the tales of the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Perrault, Lewis Carrol, also C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Roald Dahl, whom I admire in the fantasy genre, and I am a follower of modern works like those of Neil Gaiman, Veronica Roth and Suzanne Collins, among others. I love all of them and they inspire me a lot, in everything that I write.”
QS: How did you feel when your books were published?
RC: “The truth is that, although I was always creative and dedicated to art, be it drawing or writing, I never imagined that I would end up dedicating myself to writing books and publishing them. In fact, money was never what motivated me. I just write for the love of art; it was always like that. One day, I decided to try my luck and went to learn from a local publisher whether I could publish my first novel. It has been a journey since then.”
“Being able to publish my first book was very surprising not only for me and my family, but for all my people, for being one of the youngest writers my town has ever had and for starting to write stories with themes that were never explored here (the fact of having written a first novel, Cromwell’s Curse, was a novelty, whose plot took place in England during the 60s; a country and a time in which I never lived). Since then, I continued writing original and striking stories, which was considered very innovative for where I live.”
“The reception has always been excellent, winning positive reviews and having a very good audience consisting of children and young people. At my age, I have already had the pleasure of one of my books being worked on as study material in some schools, and I also participated in some contests in which I was one of the winners chosen to integrate my stories into anthologies both in my country, as well as in Spain.”
QS: Why do you like heroes and heroines?
RC: “I like characters out of the ordinary because they have incredible characteristics that are very relatable for all of us. For example, they are human, they are also afraid, they make a lot of mistakes, and things don’t always go well for them. This allows us to identify with them, and that makes the story credible, because it is something credible for the reader, but doesn’t mean that the story is no longer surprising.”
“I also like strong female characters. I think that many times women have been displaced (and that unfortunately continues to happen today in many areas). The truth is that women can be very powerful, many times more than men, so it is important for me to give them a good place in my stories.”
QS: Four years ago, you came to the United States. Did you enjoy it? How was your experience?
RC: “Of course! Living and working in the USA has been one of the best experiences I’ve had so far in my young life! And I don’t regret anything.”
“My experience was great. Knowing a country as big and important as the United States is something I have always wanted, and what better way to experience it than by living there and sharing experiences with my North American brothers.”
“However, to be honest, I must also say that I was sad for a long time because it was very difficult to be away from my family, especially my beloved girlfriend Andrea, with whom I have spent more than five wonderful years with. That was fatal, a huge blow to my heart. But, as I said before, I don’t regret leaving my equally beloved Argentina. I learned a lot during my time there and it made me stronger and a more open-minded person.”
QS: Why did you originally decide to come to the United States?
RC: “As I mentioned, I decided to go to the United States because I wanted to have new experiences. Everyone in my family was surprised by my decision because I am very shy and do not even usually leave my own house.”
“However, I really wanted to get to know that country because I really like its culture, its music, and way of life, you know? Also, I love English, which is my second language (maybe because in addition to having French blood I also have English ancestry), and what better opportunity to improve my way of speaking than by going to work there.”
“As a writer, I also needed to have new experiences, and experience new places and cultures. And man, did it help me!”
QS: What was the most difficult part about living in the United States?
RC: “Missing my girlfriend and my family, as well as my pets. That was heartbreaking, but I was able to get over it. After all, I eventually returned to my native country.”
“The second most difficult thing about living in the United States, especially in Minnesota where there were no Spanish-speaking people, was having to communicate exclusively in English (and the weather was always cold, too). I had studied English since I was a child, but it is difficult when you have to interact every day using that language, and sometimes you do not know how to express yourself. That was very difficult and frustrating. Many times I wanted to cry and could not. But such is life, and I really like challenges.”
QS: What was the best part about living in the United States?
RC: “I really liked getting to know the country. Going there had been one of my dreams, especially since I was never able to travel to other countries. I loved experiencing their culture in the first-person, from the foods, ways of living, to the music that I heard on local radios.”
“What I enjoyed the most was being able to interact with multiple cultures, because I not only met Americans, but also people from New Zealand, Africa, India, etc. That was wonderful!”
“And last but not least, what I enjoyed the most was being able to enjoy the peace of living in the middle of the forest while working there. Traipsing through the forest, doing activities that I had never done, like canoeing or hiking, was incredible! It was the ideal place to write and read!”
“I will never forget my solitary visits to the forest, in front of Big Deep Lake, where I read books and also wrote. All of that inspired me and I actually wrote many stories there that I am very much looking forward to sharing with the world one day.”
QS: What advice would you give to someone new to America?
RC: “My biggest advice is to have no fear or prejudice. Many times, people in other countries believe that the people of the United States are very shallow and racist. But that’s not true!”
“As a Latino, they never made me feel bad or discriminated against. In other words, there are idiotic people all over the world, even in Argentina, where there is a lot of racism and xenophobia (I have Spanish, French, English, Italian, Portuguese, African and Native American Ancestry, so I hate racism).”
“From my experience, I can say that Americans are wonderful people, like any other. They’re very kind, patriotic and responsible. I would definitely love to come back as a tourist and be able to interact with such wonderful people again.”
“Also, Americans are very serious when it comes to working, and they take great care of their country and the environment. Therefore, if we go there as visitors, we must respect them and their country, and we must take care of it as much as they do. But they are human beings and very good ones at that, just as there are also good people in my country, in England or in Israel. It doesn’t matter your ethnicity or religion; we are all human and deserve love and respect!”
QS: Did you visit other parts of the United States?
RC: “I only got to know Dallas, Texas, and Minneapolis partially, because, having to take four flights by plane to get to Brainerd, I had to make those stops at the airports. Unfortunately, I could not visit other places because it was very expensive, and the truth is that my family had to make a great effort to pay for my tickets to get there. The economic situation is very difficult in my country, and only very wealthy people can take trips around the world. Still, I’m happy, and with the love of my people, I feel lucky.”
QS: What does life look like in Argentina?
RC: “Sometimes life in Argentina is very difficult and we don’t always have many opportunities. There is a lot of social inequality due to poverty that stems from corruption.”
“However, life is also very warm and simple. I definitely want to continue living in my beautiful country because I love it and I want to contribute to its growth using my platform as an artist and future professional engineer.”
“Also, Latinos are very kind people. We really like to kiss and give hugs (something I missed a lot when I was in the United States). We are always ready to help each other, no matter the situation, and I really like the beautiful culture and traditions that we have. The music and food here are great. Things like dulce de leche (milk caramel), alfajores (dessert/confection), asado (roasted meat) and a good Argentine wine are irresistible things!”
QS: Do you plan to write more books?
RC: “Of course! I have many books to be edited and published that are innovative and fall within the fantasy and suspense genre. I will never stop writing because it is one of the things that makes me happiest in life. I love writing novels and short stories, so as long as I am alive I will continue to do so, and I hope that one day the rest of the world will know my work.”
“Living in Latin America may make it difficult, but my dream is to be able to transcend the English-speaking world if my works become translated. I have a lot to offer. I know that the stories I write can surprise different audiences, such as the United States and Europe. I can create works that develop in any space and time, and I know that they would have a good market.”
“Many times people have told me that my novels would be good as movies, and the truth is that I think my stories could be very popular if they were adapted to the big screen. I know it sounds ambitious, but I am very confident in what I do and offer. Anyway, whether they get recognition or not, I will keep writing because it is what I love to do.”
QS: Robert, what were your first thoughts when you met me?
RC: “You were one of the four best people I met in America because you always made me feel welcome and included, and I consider you a friend. Also, our personalities match very well. I always remember our first days at the shooting range, when we talked about literature, languages and our dreams; I really liked that. So you were one of my favorite people after the great Molly Maleck, who was our director and sadly is no longer with us, and who I will continue to hold as an example and also honor (she was a mother to me in the U.S., and I’ll always remember her as the leader and excellent person she was).”
“I also remember when we worked together with the group of teenagers that were part of that farmer’s group. (FFA, I think). They were funny.”
QS: My next question is: what is the most challenging part of learning a new language?
RC: “Listening and understanding everything! It is extremely difficult to understand different accents, and if someone speaks very fast, it’s easy to become confused. But with practice everything is attainable. In addition, there will always be someone who is willing to help you and point out if you do not understand something or need to repeat what they have said.”
QS: What are you working on at the moment?
RC: “Currently, I am in my last year of studying Food Engineering. I write and help at home, too. University life is very hard, especially when I need to write and don’t have time.”
“Although I love science and the world of engineering, my biggest dream in this life is to be able to further develop my career as a writer and dedicate myself to this because it is what I love and am most passionate about, but still there are many people who do not know me, and they do not know everything that I am capable of offering. If only someone could translate my books into English and publish me outside of Argentina, that would be huge because otherwise it will be tough to ascend.”
“I have a lot to offer and I hope to have readers around the world one day because I know that I’ll not disappoint them and that I can pleasantly surprise everyone.”
Roberto Alejandro Diaz Chevalier, known as Robert Chevalier, is a 25-year-old writer and engineering student who was born in La Banda, Santiago del Estero, Argentina, where he’s still living. He speaks Spanish, English and Portuguese, and has worked for a while in the United States of America.
He has been writing since he was a child and became published when he was only 18 years old. As an author, he has written more than ten books, but has published six of them so far. He has gained much public recognition in his province, participates in literary events, often appears on television and in local newspapers, has won some awards in story contests, and some of his stories have been added into anthologies. He is also engaged in genealogical research.
To learn more about Robert Chevalier, follow his artist page on Facebook