the influence of los lobos–the town and the city

What can I write about the influence of The Town and the City on my writing projects. This band and album I have so much affection for. I can play the cd and the music allows me to get into those Southern Colorado neighborhoods of my youth and helps me to find the characters and situations. The flavor of these songs reminds me of the music coming from radios and 45’s clicking down onto players just as when I was a kid. The music coming through screened windows and out back doors into the backyards of my family and friends. Notes I think on as I write.

In interviews I’ve read the band thought of the tracks as first person narratives linked that give a type of autobiographical feel–moments perhaps from Louie Perez, Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo’s life. Each song explores the band’s integrity in truthfully and relevantly framing immigration and poverty–the complexity of Latino neighborhoods and lives in the US. The joys and tragedies.The Road to Gila Bend is specifically about immigration .

A few years back I had a chance to meet the band as they signed autographs after a show near Chicago. And I am embarrassed to say I was completely star struck and couldn’t ask a question.  I have a bad picture to prove it. I think I might have been too nervous to take a quality picture. I literally had no words to express how important their music was to me and what it represented.

notes: composite novel, novel-in-stories or just plain stories

I’ve been obsessing over this question for weeks now. What to label the book? I’m putting the final touches together for my first book and after reading more and more on the subject of genre I seem to be more confused than ever. After reading The Composite Novel–The Short Story Cycle in Transition I am more and more informed on how I make fiction and how that fits into a tradition and also into a developing genre—I have a better sense of where my work fits rhetorically. Sort of. I mean I’ve always known I have a sort of disjointed sort of style. I have always wrote smaller stories following the same characters and I’ve always felt these smaller stories as “complete and autonomous” as labeled in the book. Interrelated enough yet at the same time creating a complete whole. Creating a story arc the way a novel would. And I’ve never liked fiction too on-the-nose. I like a rougher feel to the writing. Like punk music or something. But as it comes down to the wire on revisions and I get closer and closer to turning over the manuscript to the publisher I struggle with labeling the work a novel-in-stories, composite novel or just plain stories.

The one guiding organizational principle to the book is thematic but also follows the same characters and quite nearly stays in a similar place. Like Drown or Jesus’ Son and also All My Friends are Going to be Strangers, the books that have inspired and guided me, and they all have a guiding principle bringing the stories together.

The books feature what Chapter 1 from The Composite Novel classifies as the following:

Setting–(all my work takes place in the old neighborhood)

Protagonist–(I follow the Ortiz family)

Collective protagonist–(the family in different time periods and perspectives)

Pattern/patchwork—(identical or similarly themed stories focusing on trouble, problems, work etc.)

And I recognize this in my own work. The telling of a longer story as in a novel with the form of shorter and more disjointed stories making the reader work a bit harder in understanding the time and arc of the overall story. Though the stories do shift from first to third and to a mix of first and third…

More on this as I think of it and finish reading the book.

english studies meeting notes

Met with English Studies Club/Group yesterday and I put together a quick list of links to some websites and books I reference:


Bringing the Devil to His Knees by Charles Baxter

the Art of Fiction by John Gardner

Writing Fiction: a guide to narrative craft by Janet Burroway


The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo

Leaping Poetry by Robert Bly

 A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver

mary gaitskill lecture notes

A few weeks back I typed up some notes from Amy Hempel’s workshop I attended. I found my notes on Mary Gaitskill’s portion of the workshop and finally had the chance to type them up.

I remember she was intense but I got some good notes down on how workshops can be “imperfect” she lectured but also can be energizing. She began by saying workshops can be like twelve heads or dreams barging into your dream. I like the idea of a fictive space as a dream. And I guess this analogy or metaphor appropriate since she also lectured on the writings “inner quality” as she called it. The subtle and strange feeling that exists beneath plot, character and theme. This quality makes the best writing “live or die” she stated. She called it the guts and she called it the soul.

One of her examples: “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor. And as I would find later I believe her work is a strong example of this idea.

She went on to lecture this feeling or mood came from the irrational level—the feeling or the tone coming from language. She stated this was beyond psychology—the soul of the book. In the story it is what cannot be manifested in life. It’s all created by phrase and tone. She kept referring to it as the soul or the unseen. The idea is to use something not important to take yourself and reader somewhere very deep. Language creating images and the subliminal to radically enhance what we see.

All this made me think of Tracy Daugherty and the idea that language and phrasing creates the skin of a character. It made me think of Stanley Kubrick movies where the most minor or insignificant detail or thread at the right place and time can enhance the atmosphere or feel of a piece of writing.

Found this clip of Gaitskill’s reading–beginning around 37 minutes in. I think she gives a great example of the ideas she lectured on:

Quick Notes on New York State Writers Institute

Here are some of the ideas we discussed in Amy Hempel’s Fiction 2 Workshop. First, we discussed concerns we have as writers: gaps in stories/transitions, plot (I brought this one up along with a few others), over explaining, implying, use of third person narration, openings and closings and also subtlety of language.

And I am pretty cynical about workshops and “direction” from other writers but the campus is quiet and green and I guess I am lightening up a bit because I actually took some notes and wrote down many of the authors she suggested to read.

She also gave us a ‘to do’ list:

1. Watch this Youtube video: PJ Harvey–“You Said Something”

The lesson here is that sometimes central mystery is key to a piece of writing.

2. Read this essay by Gary Lutz–“The Sentence is a Lonely Place”

The lesson here is to appreciate language and the sound of language.

3. Read this Sharon Olds poem–After 37 Years My Mother Apologizes for My Childhood

4. Read this story by Mark Richard–“Strays”

Amy Hempel explained how central elements of story converge but three important elements dog, home and boy are all introduced in first sentence.

4.5. Try to write this week. Two pages to one of these prompts: 1. Moment of giving forgiveness or not giving forgiveness; or a moment when you were not given forgiveness. 2. A moment of being blindsided. 3. A moment of collision between illusion and reality.

I also put some of her quotes down in my notebook:

Story=event of what someone wants

Careful of writing situation but not yet story. Also it is more important who is in situation rather than situation.

Try to figure a story where characters whose ideas beliefs desires stand as opposed but both right…

Story can be event versus effect. Read “Miriam” by Truman Copote as example of story creating effect rather than giving event.

Some random quotes:

“You are trying to be listened to.”

“Get yourself on the paper quickly.”

“Do something right in the small and the large will take care of itself.”

“Who is in the situation is more important than the situation.”

Place: “What happens here and nowhere else.” “Details too good to fact check.”

After meeting with Amy Hempel I have many more new books to read and study. She gave me this quote I put in my notebook on whether or not to worry about writing about family or real persons: “Show it to them when it is published.”

Also here is one of my favorite quotes from on of her lectures. Quote from Amy Hempel lecture: “If you think of fiction as just another made up thing, then you might as well put a gun in your mouth.”

felipa free writing

After a quick trip to Colorado Felipa has returned to me. In the form of some sad bits of free writing. Haven’t seen her in a while. She was the last one I thought would turn up again:


After Felipa and Carlos finally loaded their clothes into the truckito and the neighbors helped the old man Carlos ot of his wheeled chair and into the cab, Felipa burned every last family picture in her bedroom. The threats had been soft and never real until that moment out near the nearly-used-up wood pile.

I’m gonna burn these damn pictures up. Ain’t got no family I want to see them survive with, she would wail.

She had taken to drinking a few stray cans of beer stolen from Carlos’ nightly paper sack. No one took her quite as serious as she wanted.

And in the weeks and months following Carlos’ amputation she had gotten into the habit of taking the old man’s place at the back porch and hollering away at the neighbors. Especially in the months her sister moved home and away from their house on Franklin Street.

And this was her mindset during the sessions of organizing and planning before the big move away from San Luis. After the mortgage was lost and after the money had all dried up—after the pinche doctors from Alamosa sent out their bills.

Disgraced and tired Felipa felt she had nothing left and felt she wanted nothing left of her life and memories. It was almost a reckoning from what the old folks told me later on. She just pulled out the clothes and bedding that she was told there was no room for in the truckito and in the move and piled them onto the center of her bedroom. She watched as the men from the neighborhood broke down her brass bed and broke down her mirrors and dressing tables for the back of the truckito. She mentioned she would return to the piles of clothes and framed pictures but Felipa new better. She made believe that she would return after finding cardboard to pack them out.

Que Pasa, Felipa, the woman from across the way mentioned as she swept out the carpets and spotted the mess of clothes and photographs.

I’m finding places for all of them, she lied.

She found the kerosene in the back shed and remembered how the man cleaned his oil stains to his jeans. The matches were in Carlos’ coveralls and alongside his cigarillos and rolling papers. She had also taken to the habit of smoking and even chewing as she worked in the back garden. Drinking and smoking in the company of the neighbor’s was once a disgrace to the young Felipa but now became her defeat.

She pulled the matches from her purse and calmly struck them along the pack. She walked solemnly to the bedroom and dropped the fire on to her clothes and family photos. Carlos was in the truckito speaking to Ruben Archuleta from blocks over and discussing the best routes down the valley highway towards the interstate and the drive north to Huerfano County.

The woman will have to drive us out of here.

She have a license?

No license.

The men smoked their cigarillos and laughed. Carlos asked about his smokes and his matches.

Just yards away in the center of the house where the woman poured her kerosene and drenched her bedding and photographs the flame and sticks of wood slipped from her fingers. The spark and flame surprised her and in seconds the heat and smoke had nearly over taken her and as she fought the urge to throw her purse and then nearly her entire body into the flames.

It was the floor boards and abandoned rugs that went up first. Then the flames tickled the wood panels on the north wall. Felipa stood and watched mesmerized by it all. She giggled and stepped back as the heat rose.

When the men came running from the dusty yard out back Carlos was screaming, My wife! My sweet darling!


colorado free writing

I want the writing to be dusty. Arid and windy as a southern colorado drive with the wash of dust littering the windshield of the old man’s truckito. I want the work as faded and easy as jeans worn well past sensibility–torn and ragged from alleys of work and hard travelling–frayed around the boots from that one time in the lanes when the rain and mud became too much for the afternoon. Pages filled with roasting green chiles and the flower smell of readied masa and greased wood stoves ready to fry. I want the work to smell wood smoked and leathery–welcoming as San Luis ristras hanging in windowsills and porches. I want the work with immense spoons of lard and diced pork–red chiles and pinto beans on metal plates. The word as men and pipes and sweet tobacco over sweatfilled hollaring and arguing poker across the alleys and side streets of their old lives. I want the pages filled with packs of stray dark haired children barefoot over gravel and unpaved streets with their great laughter and waves. Green hoses spraying and wetting down sidewalks and weeded yards–days from my grass-stained youth and early evening sunsets just behind the power mountain of the Utes turning notebook pages…

compulsive ray bradbury

Over the last few weeks I’ve become a compulsive reader of Ray Bradbury. I’d done the requisite reading of Fahrenheit 451 in high school but have no memory of reading. And I’ve had Illustrated Man on my shelf for years also not picking it up since quite nearly high school. I do that quite a bit. Someone asks have you read it? or what did you think? And I give them a blank look. I like to mention to students books that I’ve read though I have only the slightest memory of plot and characters. For some reason I can remember the HG Wells novels I’ve read but not much more when it comes to sci-fi. It wasn’t until a banned book reading a year or so ago–maybe two years ago my memory is strange–that I even thought about Bradbury. And because I want to write more sci-fi or because I want the House of Two Bears manuscript I worked on years back to have more of a dystopian edge I am drawn to Bradbury and his stories. Maybe it was because as a lit teacher we become snooty about sci-fi–we become elitist or so focused on literary fiction that we lose the “genres”. And it maybe because I’ve been reading Junot Diaz’ Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao most of the interview of Diaz we’ve watched in class reveal Diaz’ love for sci-fi–and even his acknowledgement page to that back of the novel shows the many thank you’s to teachers who exposed him to sci-fi novels. Reminds me of all the comic books and sci-fi movies I drowned in as a kid. I remember vhs tapes of poor quality–time travel and futuristic films.

What draws me to Bradbury today is how damn readable he is. That’s the only way I can describe it. As intelligent and as mind-blowing the book Chomsky Year 501 the Conquest Continues, the form just bores the crap out of me. I know that it is non-fiction and it is Chomsky and political and pretty brilliant in relating US history in relations with Central and South America but it puts me right out. Which is why I have it on my table near the couch and now near the bed. The “genres” or the sci-fi from Bradbury engages me and gets me turning pages. I re-read Fahrenheit 451 in days–which is lightning fast for me. Same thing with Illustrated Man. The form is engaging and concise and so energetic. Maybe that’s what I mean by readable. From scene to summary the pace is so elliptical–more so than Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays which is another book I’ve re-read lately and was cause for me to think about what is readable. And I don’t mean it panders tot he read–bradbury never dumbs down the story. In fact the pacing and the trajectory of each story and even in the novel seem to for you to turn the page to find the next direction or trajectory. Each decision and interaction of his characters is so weighted and conveyed so quickly you can’t help but jump on to the next chapter or next section. There was never a place in Fahrenheit 451 where I felt the pace slowed or the digressions wandered too far or strayed. Nothing seemed as important to me as getting to the next plot point–in nearly all of his work I re-read.

These are all thoughts on form–characterization that happens rapidly and deeply. Theme wise the notion on the importance of books for identity instead of the electronic culture or the distractions of popular culture is so powerful and somehow has entered my life after re-reading. Devices and or technology consuming or confusing identity–destabilizing self rather than creating a stronger sense of self. Wonder what he thinks of books on devices like the kindle or iPad. My thoughts are random but I’m more and more interested in the form and meaning of Bradbury’s writing.

article on the old neighborhood

Just remembered this article from months back. I want to return to my thoughts on the neighborhood and Cornbread. In many ways I return to him and the draft when I read these articles. And I did take a look at an old story I wrote called Cornbread in the Attic based on another Chieftain article I read. This one discusses the history of Bessemer going back around  125 years or so. My class is reading Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz and as I re-read I am having many thoughts to return to the draft I’ve neglected for a while.