little mocos a novel in stories–book soundtrack–parts 1 and 2

Put together a quick listing of song titles I think work with each chapter of my book. Saw a few other writers I admire do this and so I thought I would try. More and more I like the idea of a movie-style book soundtrack. And I am finding this a fascinating exercise. Many of these titles are songs I listened to while drafting and revising and many I found recently as many of the characters and chapters refer to films and or songs in dialogue.

Ch 1 Animales has a very strong Los Lobos influence because I admire them so much. This is a bluegrass tribute I find beautiful:

Ch 2 Relles’ Boy and Ch 3 Little Mocos were both heavily influenced by Good Morning Azlan. I listened to this album nearly consistently for weeks as I drafted and re-drafted these early chapters.

Ch 4 Cornbread is all about the notorious criminal though I chose a upbeat track–maybe because I have so much sympathy or empathy with his character. Also the narrator has so much joy and love in learning about the man. Also the track is very quick and the chapter was meant to be this way–quick and elliptical–bopping from sad and funny story to sad and funny story.

Ch 5 Birthdays introduces the old folks or the grandparent characters back in their day–someone mentions Wheel of Fortune at the birthday–las dias–and the band I imagine would play this during the festivities. Also the family at the party sing together as I remember the old folks doing and I imagine them singing “de colores”:

Ch 6 Bear and Peaches is about a husband and wife feuding so the Hank Williams track is something the old folks might’ve listened to on the radio. I was actually amazed how popular Hank Williams was with the old folks:

Ch 8 Dogtrack is about the uncle who is a bad influence on his crew of boys and so I like that Emeterio might be listening to Al Hurricane on the truckito radio traveling out to the dog track:

Ch 7 and and Ch 9 are war stories essentially and the boys ask if the experience were similar to The Longest Day. This is a film I remember watching as a kid and thinking this was what military service was though the stories in the book contrast the film.

Ch 10 belongs to the crew of boys and so the child version of Las Mananitas seemed appropriate:

Ch 11 follows Emeterio’s downfall and he mentions drinking and partying as the fruits of his labor:

Ch 12 This feud between brothers ends with Emeterio going to jail and the other Santiago left alone to deal with family and bills. It also ends with a street fight and so this War track seemed appropriate.

father fragments

Relles on horseA quick nonfiction excerpt from a project I’m working on:

The dark haired boy, bare footed and tired takes the reins of the mare and throws his leg over with a kick. He’s been waiting for hours to ride. His lips widen and then he nearly lets himself giggle as the mount kicks and strides away from the Jefe and the fieldwork. The Jefe told the boy the horse needed rest and grain and so the boy bit at his lip and clipped onions until twilight. And after a day’s work the boy’s energy rivals the horse’s and the boy lurches with each powerful jump nearly uncontrollably for hundreds of yards. After weeks of side jobs it is the first time the boy has ventured out. When the boy finally thinks to check back, the old man wipes at his forehead and at the back of his neck. The old man’s face is small and worrisome. And the boy’s face glows for the horse and the yards paced ahead.

coffee recommendation–comet coffee company st. louis

C6cR57BWgAAPmqrSpring Break and we found ourselves in St. Louis for a quick day trip. We stopped off at Comet Coffee Company St. Louis. D had a cappuccino and I had a pour over. I’m new to pour overs but the coffee was very sweet tasting and light. Specifically the menu reads: Francy Torres, Colombia, chocolate, marzipan, fruit punch, roasted by Kuma Coffee, Seattle, WA.

The website says the place specializes in hand-brewed and single origin. Also they brought  the drinks out to the table instead of calling our names. A nice break from Starbucks crowd. Soon we will back to tumblers of french press coffee and Keurig nightmare creations.

film recommendation: moonlight

I’ve not watched Boyhood and in fact I’ve not watched many films concerning youth and masculinity lately–mostly because of my teaching schedule and work. Moonlight though came up on some podcasts I listen to and admire. And I have to say the film is rather amazing–subtle and subdued. I was taken with the music and also with the visual metaphors–the use of water and beach scenes. So much to say about this film. One particular performance I admire comes from Mahershala Ali as the father figure in the film. The swimming scene is particularly visceral and emotional.

a raisin in the sun

D and I escaped from the election and Trump fallout and enjoyed the Hoagland Center for the Arts’ presentation of A Raisin in the Sun. I’ve always enjoyed Lorraine Hansberry‘s family drama and the production had some strong performances. I found the play to be a very timely message on standing up and facing injustice as well as personal failings.

inside llewyn davis and the mobius strip narrative

inside_llewyn_davis_posterTeaching a film as lit class this term and spending some time this week closely studying Joel and Ethan Coen’s pre-Bob Dylan period film Inside Llewyn Davis. I am particularly interested in the themes of crisis and purposeleness. I also like the feel that the narrative is a mobius strip trapping the main character.

I am seeing many similarities with The Big Lebowski–another Coen brothers film I admire–in the themes of authenticity and honesty–also the theme of abiding or enduring. I also like the idea of the character who is not exactly aware of the depth of the crisis though I do feel Llewyn Davis comes to an understanding and awareness of sorts. I also love the motif in the incredible journey of the lost cat.

quick note–twin peaks, juan rulfo and spirit world voices

41kI1Ika+jL._SX306_BO1,204,203,200_After a long semester of teaching I found some time to indulge in studying the novella Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo. I’ve been an admirer of Rulfo’s career and this book reads as a tremendous progression from his short stories I was introduced to in his book The Burning Plain. What I found in this work is a complex, surreal story of a long abandoned town, Comala, and the stories from the ghosts of the townspeople. The book masterfully shifts from third person omniscient narration to first person narration. The book is filled with ghosts and spirit guides revealing their traumatic stories to the visiting narrator, Juan Preciado. We learn all about the dead city’s heritage from the ghosts of the past. In fact the sometimes narrator and his life aren’t very important to the story and this narrator only acts as a relayer–intermediary really–of spirits and voices from Comala. It’s been a few days and after much thinking and re-thinking on some of the motifs I think the book is simply about voices associated with place and a town dealing with generations of tragedy and grief–how objects and buildings can stand as totems for past traumatic events. How pain and suffering from the most horrible of moral offenses–murder, rape and incest–can stand at the center of entire town’s spiritual demise. The ghosts I found to be eccentric and odd yet always memorable. In fact, the book reminded me of Twin Peaks–David Lynch and Mark Frost’s masterpiece from the 1990’s. The narrator travels to Comala the way Agent Cooper travels to Twin Peaks to find answers about loss and death. From passage to passage I am wondering if the voices are real or  from a spirit world.

twin_peaks_fire_walk_with_me_ver1Recently I rewatched David Lynch’s Fire Walk with Me and I am finding so many similarities between Rulfo and Lynch. We have a small town holding onto psychic pain and suffering as well as intense secrets associated with the death of several young women. The film is filled with flawed and inept investigators who though despite being clever and observant cannot seem to crack the code to the murders as well as the spirit voices guiding them. The “lodge” mythology from the film and the television show are very different but the film has a cosmic and supernatural context I find so similar in the so-called magical realism work of Rulfo.

PS: Excited to see Twin Peaks return next year.

podcast recommendation: this american life episode 562–the problem we all live with

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Episode 562 This American Life–The Problem We All Live With

I’ve lived and taught in the Midwest for ten years now and have yet to fully understand the place and the people. After the Michael Brown shooting and the Ferguson riots, I found this incredible episode of This American Life on Michael Brown’s school district–the worst district in the state of Missouri according to journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. Makes me think more powerfully on the intersection of poverty, diversity and classrooms here in the Midwest.

PS: I would also recommend the documentary Spanish Lake I recently watched on Netflix on the topic of neighborhood integration in Missouri.

end of year note

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 8.41.31 PM.pngJust a quick note at the end of a long year. I guess it is important to remind myself about some writing news as well as teaching thoughts. The last few weeks have given me some good news. My story “Little Mocos” has appeared in Duende Literary Magazine. I am very grateful and thankful to the editors for working with me on revising the piece.

12274707_1164799070214327_8032396525517735155_n.jpgI was also excited to hear my stories “Farmhouse in the Lanes” and “Penance” appeared in translation in Word Mosaic Journal of Literature and Art. Turns out penance in German is buße.

I’ve also begun reworking the Monte Stories manuscript, and though revision goes a bit slow, I’m happy to find the stories heading in a sci-fi direction. Perhaps this break from teaching will give me some time to re-read some Kurt Vonnegut, a writer I return to again and again in some of my note-taking. Excited to see the writing style developing.

I’ve also heard word this last week on new computers at work–26 Chromebooks to change the way I teach comp, lit and creative writing. Should make for an interesting year in developing my teaching skills as well as writing.

series recommendation: master of none


Some time away from writing projects for the past few weeks so I’ve been enjoying Aziz Ansari’s series. The series is part Seinfeld and part Louie. The writing and situations are so well crafted. So much understanding and empathy in this series regarding race, diversity and representation in film and television. Can’t wait for a season 2.

quick review: cesar chavez

MV5BMTM5NTkyOTMxN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODA1MDYwMTE@._V1_SX214_AL_I’ve been waiting to watch Diego Luna’s film and finally had some time this weekend. The reviews were poor on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes and Marshall Ganz–a man who knew and worked with Cesar Chavez–criticized the film for the one dimensional version of Chavez’s life. I have to admit though I found Michael Peña’s portrayal of Cesar Chavez to be subtle and very powerful.

documentary recommendation: alive inside

A few months back I heard of Dan Cohen’s concept of using music with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. This holiday I finally had a chance to watch the documentary Alive Inside based on his work and I was amazed. I was struck by how music, memory and also identity were represented.

the house of order now available on kindle and smashwords

available now on kindlesmashwords

Jaramillo - Cover - Final.inddThe House of Order–stories, the first collection of composite stories by John Paul Jaramillo, presents a stark vision of American childhood and family, set in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.

2013 International Latino Book Award Finalist–The Mariposa Award–Best First Book–Fiction

Latino Stories.com 2013 Top Ten “New” Latino Authors to Watch (and Read)

hating writing

In the article “10 Famous Writers Who Hated Writing” from The Huffington Post, Bill Cotter discusses his “dark feelings” regarding what he labels as “the commission of the act of writing.” He lists quotes from famous authors revealing their angst on the very act of writing and he also discusses the problem of his own inarticulateness. And I must agree when Cotter jokes he would rather go to the emergency room rather than have a writing commitment.

And the more I teach the more I empathize with my first year students and concerns over writing and composing essays. I often say their concerns as writers are very similar to my own. Even in creative writing, my chosen field of study, I feel students have a point when they complain over drafting basic components of a short story assignment. I am just as susceptible to internet distractions and slothful tendencies. And I often dread approaching the work of revision.

Currently, I have a novel I’ve been wrestling with. I also have a novel I’ve been chipping away at for years. And perhaps the more you know about writing the more you are jammed up. The more I teach and learn the more I am self-critical and also I over-think the simplest of revision exercises. And maybe I am just reaching the age of worry over my talent if I have any and the limitations of talent. Perhaps subconsciously I worry about not fully developing as a writer. More and more I have broad stories with broad notes–more free writing really. And I struggle just to get my broadest thoughts down on the page regarding scenes or characters. Sometimes I just type where I want a character to go or what I want them to do and I have no way to get them there. I often say that writers suffer more from inarticulateness than most others. Lately I’ve been joking I would rather work with dogs or own a bed and breakfast than sit and work. I’d rather sit and watch MST3K.

This all reminds me of a George Orwell quote:

“All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”–George Orwell

Perhaps the difficulty of writing–the illness in composing and revising–is what makes it great. PS: It took me hours to write this.

 

film recommendation: world’s greatest dad

WorldsgreatestdadThis film is from 2009 and from director Bobcat Goldthwait. I missed it because of a limited release. I most admired Robin Williams playing a frustrated writer and teacher in this dark comedy. Love the scenes in poetry class.

“I used to think the worst thing in life was ending up alone, it’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel alone.”

quick note on new semester and dead poets

Dead_poets_societyA new semester will soon begin as I write this and my thoughts obsess over inspiring and motivating my students. It’s hard for me to believe I’ve been teaching since about 1999. I should be seasoned and secure in my teaching philosophy. Yet nothing concerns me more than motivating and caring for my students. The coursework comes easy but the technique in the classroom is something I’ve always struggled with. And I’ve aspired for years to act more aggressively as an advocate for my students.

I remember years and years back in an intro to education course watching a film with my fellow group members–a group of young and idealistic teacher-wannabes assigned to write on teaching styles. We watched Dead Poets Society over pizza and sodas in a dorm meeting room. And because I was young and capricious and uncertain what I wanted to do with my life–I mean one semester prior to this I was an engineering major thinking I would take all math and science courses–I found myself dismissing the film as sentimental and over-cooked. I was angry and young and stubborn at the time. And then I tutored for a few humbling years and found my way to the composition classroom. I returned to the film recently because of Robin Williams’ death and found myself captivated in the representation of the instructor-student relationship. I found the film to be a very strong representation of how a teacher can struggle with administration and also struggle with students. How a teacher has to face challenges from within and from outside the classroom. Williams’ character is kind and patient as well as firm.

The scenes I remember most fondly are the scenes where Williams’ character pushes his students to feel empowered and to think independently. These are the moments early on in a term when I am reminded of teachers who have inspired me–gone above and beyond to help me. Will Hochman from the University of Southern Colorado, Lisa Ede and Tracy Daugherty at Oregon State and most recently Sergio Troncoso from the Yale Writer’s Conference.

 

new year’s writing resolution

McCutcheonNY1905A few years back I made a joke to D about teaching and writing. I told her I was deciding to be a bad teacher and to focus on my writing. I told her I would be selfish. I would put my class work on cruise control. This was difficult to do because I feel such a responsibility to my students and I spend so much time note taking and creating lessons and lectures. It didn’t help that Sergio Troncoso inspired me with the care and attention to his students I witnessed in his workshop. Resolution: This year I will try to devote more time to the work. I always say my teaching is investigating story and writing, but I recognize I need to work harder on revising manuscripts rather than generating new material. Update: currently the Semi-Orphaned novel in stories manuscript is away at the editor and I am anticipating a mass of notes for revision. Actually I’m waiting for Jennifer C. Cornell to kick my ass. She was incredibly helpful with what became The House of Order manuscript. I’m slowly and surely starting to understand the importance of an experienced and assertive editor. And her notes are the most rigorous and detailed I’ve seen from an editor. Invaluable for the work. I’d also like to complete the Monte Stories manuscript later on this year. That is another manuscript–possibly another novel in stories–I know needs much work and development. This should be an interesting year of struggling for balance.

grading the college essay

IMAG0053Reading this defeatist article on Slate.com on grading the college essay. Rings true in many ways but why would I want to give standardized exams instead of essays? So as I prepare to spend the next three or four days reading my students’ work, I just have to keep telling myself to grade, and not to edit. In many ways this article goes against an essay by David McCullough I read a while back. His point was to have students write in every class, in every situation. In his point of view, and I have to agree, that is exactly what college is about. Reading, writing and thinking.

quick review of big sur feature film

Big_Sur_2013

Big Sur may be my least favorite Jack Kerouac novel. While On the Road and The Subterraneans captured youth and restlessness, Big Sur relates the aged, alcoholic Kerouac. And perhaps that is why I don’t enjoy the book. Kerouac’s persona is one of such a broken down writer unable to cope with fame and personal relationships. Kerouac’s obsession with death and the chaos of meeting up with Neal Cassady once again drive the energy of the book.

Michael Polish’s new adaptation is an independent film and therefore nowhere near my Midwest town and so I had to stream from Amazon to my television. Perhaps this is the future of watching smaller budgeted films. The film is so well shot though and gives so many beautiful views of the locale in recreating Lawrence Ferlinghetti‘s cabin near the beach where Kerouac would’ve stayed. The photography is so gorgeous I regret not being able to watch on the big screen.

I most admired the director’s decision to narrate the film with an abundance of Kerouac’s words. The words give the film an energy that matches the book–perhaps more so than Walter Salles’ recent On the Road adaptation.

quick review of junot díaz’ this is how you lose her

books

I’ve long read and admired Junot Diaz‘ style of prose. I’m almost embarrassed to say how much I’ve modeled my own work after his. This latest collection of work contains all the themes of trouble and failure at its heart. And also the redemption. I continue to admire how the work follows a consistent universe and also how his work stays composite. Overlapping. The voice here feels just as dynamic and strong as his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Drown.

stuart dybek’s the coast of chicago

9780312424251We’re discussing a few stories tomorrow from Stuart Dybek‘s collection The Coast of Chicago. I admire “The Woman Who Fainted” and “Pet Milk” (4:27) and I was happy to find this reading for my Lit 50 students. So important to hear the author’s voice.

I was lucky enough to hear him read years back at Oregon State. I remember he mentioned the stories began as failed poems. And a few years back a former student gifted me a nice hard bound version that was also signed.

the house of order indie reader review

cropped-jaramillo-front-cover.jpgGrateful for the thoughtful review at Indiereader.com:

“…the book is filled with beautiful moments, like shards of broken stained-glass window lying in the dirt. This book will open your eyes to a new way of life and will leave you with haunting images not soon forgotten. A worthy read.” –IndieReader.com

teacher’s lounge

teacher's lounge

excerpt from The State–“Teachers’ Lounge”

I tell my students that Week 4 of the semester is usually where the wheels fall off–for students as well as instructors. This semester is particularly difficult as I try to write, edit and  act as a student again myself. As well as teaching I am refreshing myself in an online instruction course. Something about week 4 that reveals the grind of education. Making time for work as well as reading and writing can be difficult. I’m also in the middle of a new technique and philosophy with my teaching method. I’ve decided to become less strict on classroom work and with my students. Trying to create more of a positive feel to the classroom. In the past few semesters I’m afraid I’ve lectured my students–not on writing or rhetoric but mostly professionalism and note taking. Reminding them education is about grit–energy and focus. I feel I’m still strict but I’m not so quick to change the energy of classroom because of a student on his or her phone or on a student coming in late. I guess I’m lightening up quite a bit as I’m encouraging them to use their phones for looking up words and author backgrounds. I began my courses with an exercise in criticizing previous instructors and techniques and even though I’ve been teaching for a while I’m consciously trying to become more and more effective–trying to stay flexible as well as  firm. Can’t help but think back to all those instructors I felt were working against me instead of working with me and the challenges I faced.

quick review of daniel chacon’s hotel juarez

51NRyxFCCNL__SY346_A few months back I wrote a quick review of Daniel Chacon’s book Unending Rooms. I admire Chacon’s aesthetic and overall writerly choices.  I look forward to picking up his novel and his other work Chicano Chicanery. His work at times is surreal and also thought provoking. I find his work here playful and intelligent. And I’ve been in the habit of reading work that is more composite in terms of plot or character lately but in his work it is also refreshing to see each story linked by idea or abstraction. So does he choose idea over characters? Perhaps, at times, yes. And I’m not sure we have a collection of complete stories. Felt more like fragments but I think that too serves the chaos that is Chacon’s style.

back in the classroom

Portlandia_Reverse_Stand_and_Deliver_80918340_thumbnailI set up this blog to follow my writing but the past few weeks I am back in the classroom. Putting the work of editing manuscripts aside. I am also back in the writing center and tutoring for the first time in years. In fact I had my first tutoring session. A session discussing a poetry assignment and I haven’t taught poetry in years. And even though I meet individually with my composition and lit students it is difficult to work on another instructor’s assignment. The session was great but I felt that I caught a stride again. I forgot how students who are hungry and seek out additional help from the writing center or student services can inspire.

the butler

The_Butler_poster

Back to teaching and had time to watch a quick movie this long Labor Day weekend. The Butler was  more complex and dynamic than I thought going in. Forest Whitaker’s performance was worth admission.

semi-orphaned aug 15 deadline

Day of Dead Felicia OlinSat down today–all day today–working towards an August 15 contest deadline for my Semi-Orphaned manuscript. Here is a quick excerpt:

Animales

Neto was over on the bed shirtless and crudo, shaking his head at the reality of missing his father’s funeral service, when he raised both arms to smell his pits. He started digging in his jeans for a comb and pushed at his dark hair.

This was all in 1983, before the winter ended. I remember Neto often visited from New Mexico to the Abuelito’s home on Spruce Street in Huerfano, Colorado and slept off his drunks.

“There’s a lot of folks upstairs waiting on you, I said.

When he saw it was only me, he kicked off his sneakers and dropped his soiled pants and bent over in the posture of a small child. His nicotine stained fingers shoveled down the plate of rice and beans I had for him. He coughed and spat to the basement’s concrete floor.

“You the only Ortiz worth a damn left alive in this neighborhood,” he complained.

His clothes were in two great big garbage bags and he stood still a minute as I dragged his only collared shirt out from under his stash of nudie magazines and fungus-looking weed.

I put his clothes down deep in the washing machine and asked out loud if he was my father.

“Listen to what I say, Manito. I can tell you this. Born into this world alone and die alone,” Neto went on half-drunkenly. “Family will leave you. Women will leave you. All you have is your own damned self.”

more yale writers’ conference notes

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Enjoyed Sergio Troncoso’s fiction workshop the past ten days and wanted to post some of my notes on the rest of the Yale Writer’s Conference.

Day One: Keynote speech by author and medical doctor Richard Selzer  asked us to combine our interests and occupations with our love for language. Loved the idea he gave us to avoid timidity in our writing. “Don’t be afraid to tell lies,” he lectured. He also gave us the idea that instincts are more important than our intellect; our impressions are more important than the facts of a story.

Day Two: Kevin Wilson’s craft lecture on his process in moving from short work to longer narrative works was so helpful. I loved the metaphor of short story as car crash versus a novel which is a road trip. Urged us to find the interiority of our characters. Also his exercises and group work with fellow writers was a great idea to push friends and fellow writers to write often. He shared some quotes from his mentor: “Your writing may fail but at least you will have the evidence.”

Day Three: Interesting thoughts from Deborah Triesman the New Yorker fiction editor. urged us to submit our strongest work to  fiction @newyorker.com.

Emily Bazelon from Slate Magazine warned us about the difficulty of earning a living as a writer for hire–warned as about low pay for freelancers. Also her words on the worry from her staff that there is not much reporting and not much high quality reporting from publications.

IMAG0301Day Four: The master class with Zz Packer was an incredible experience. Her lecture on communication and the creation of image was helpful. Her notes and lecture she put up on the chalkboard followed these thoughts: 1. clearly communicate and create the image by unpacking sentences. 2. add action or motivational force. 3. plotting advice. She also went through a series of very helpful tips in terms of revision. I was most taken by her messy use of the chalkboard and her interaction with the class.

Day Six: An incredibly informative panel discussion with seven literary journal editors. Some of the journals included N Plus One, First Inkling, Atlas Review, and Hunger Mountain ; Fence and The Harvard Review were also there. Each editor gave great notes on what type of story to submit and how to avoid the slush pile. I was amazed how each editor suggested stories that begin immediately and also how each stressed the idea that there are many more writers who submit than folks who subscribe and read the magazines.

More notes to come…

yale writers’ conference notes

Jorge_Luis_Borges_ColorIn the next couple of days I want to post more of my notes from the Yale Writers’ Conference. Today though Sergio Troncoso sent his workshop students this great link to Jorge Luis Borges’ lectures on poetry and philosophy:

http://www.openculture.com/2012/05/jorge_luis_borges_1967-8_norton_lectures_on_poetry_and_everything_else_literary.html

recuerdos-memories: latino experience in the land of lincoln

Cinco%20de%20Mayo_flyerLincoln Presidential Library hosting discussion of immigrant experiences, followed by food and music

From Swedes in the 1840s to southern African-Americans in the 1940s, newcomers helped strengthen Illinois with fresh ideas and energy. The process continues today with Latino immigrants, who will be the focus of a Cinco de Mayo discussion and celebration April 28 at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

The free event, entitled “Recuerdos-Memories: Latino Experience in the Land of Lincoln,” runs from 1-5 p.m.

It begins with a round table in the library. Illinois judges,professors, educators and community activists will give brief presentations about their personal experiences with immigration or its role in their communities  They’ll also discuss the generations-long history of Latinos in Illinois. A question-and-answer period will follow.

Afterward, visitors can enjoy refreshments and music in the library atrium. The group El Nuevo Trio Acapulco will perform “corridos,” which are Mexican ballads with themes of oppression, immigration, revolution and other social conditions.

“This event brings us together to explore the diversity within Illinois, the immigrant experience and the American dream. Lincoln and his tenacious pursuit of the American dream continues to be a global inspiration to those who want to improve life for themselves and those around them,” said Eileen Mackevich, executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

The panelists discussing their personal experiences and the historic role of Latinos in Illinois include:

·       Claudia Zabala, a dual-language teacher in Beardstown.

·       Salvador Valadezof Bloomington, lead researcher for the McLean County Museum of History’s Latino History Project.

·       John Paul Jaramillo, associate professor of creative writing at Lincoln Land Community College and author of the short-story compilation The House of Order.

·       Manuel Barbosa of Elgin, who served 14 years as a judge on the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of Illinois.

·       Ricardo Montoya Picazo of Springfield, representing the Culturally Integrated Education for Latinos Organization.

This event builds on the presidential library’s exhibit on Benito Juarez, who is often called the Mexican Lincoln for presiding over Mexico during a period of war and social change in the 1860s.

Cinco de Mayo dates back to the 1862 Battle of Puebla, whenthe Mexican Army defeated the poorly prepared but vastly superior Frenchmilitary. After the defeat, Juarez instructed Mexican mariachi bands to playthe national anthem and lively corridos to mark Mexico’s victory. He laterdeclared Cinco de Mayo a holiday. Citizens turned out in lavish displays ofcolorful dress for a street festival filled with corridos music, dancing, andfood.

Cinco de Mayo is not widely celebrated in Mexico today butremains popular with Mexican-Americans in the United States.

Refreshments are being provided by La Familia Mexican Bakeryin Beardstown.

Entertainment co-sponsored by Great Plains: Laborers-Employers Cooperative & Education Trust

rereading mark richard’s strays

51WF997PRCLThis afternoon I’m rereading Mark Richard‘s “Strays” for my Lit 150 class:

“Uncle trash rakes everything my brother and I owned into the pillowcases off our bed and says let that be a lesson to me. He is off through the front porch door, leaving us buck-naked at the table, his last words as he goes up the road, shoulder-slinging his loot, Don’t ya’ll burn the house down.”

tom spanbauer and literary minimalism

Preparing for Lit 150 and discussion of Amy Hempel’s stories “The Cemetary Where Al Jolson is Buried” and “The Harvest”. This morning I’m reviewing Tom Spanbauer’s notes on literary minimalism:

Notes on Literary minimalism—(exemplified by Mark Richard, Amy Hempel and Chuck Palahniuk)

Literary minimalism is characterized by an economy with words and a focus on surface description. Minimalist authors eschew adverbs and prefer allowing context to dictate meaning. Readers are expected to take an active role in the creation of a story, to “choose sides” based on oblique hints and innuendo, rather than reacting to directions from the author. The characters in minimalist stories and novels tend to be unexceptional.

Instead of grand narratives we see briefer and more economical scenes and seemingly insignificant moments that “add up to more than the sum of their parts.”

afternoon with argument/research papers

IMAG0053Spending time this afternoon with a large stack of composition argument/research papers. I’ve found no way to make the process easier for me other than to organize and seperate out to about ten or twelve papers a night in prep for about ten to twelve conferences the next day. So important for me to comment and also meet individually with each student to discuss.

i am a visitor in your world documentary

On Tuesday I had the fortune of attending a private screening of the inspirational documentary film I am a Visitor in Your World . The film was about Rebecca Babcock, a young writer and blogger diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 25. The film was a poignant account of her life and struggles and Rebecca’s story was so affecting. I liked the idea that her poetry from her blog was used as voiceover.

After the film there was a Q and A regarding the editing, cinematography and the music used in the film as well as commentary from Rebecca’s mother, Mary. The DVD is currently available at the filmmaker’s website.

quick review: orwell’s down and out in paris and london

Downout_paris_london

Drafting and revising semi-orphaned novel project but had some time to finish reading Orwell’s memoir/nonfiction/autobiographical novel about a young writer’s time in the ghettos of Paris and London. He works in restaurants and sleeps in homeless hostels. Pawns his clothes for food and also closely observes the down and out people he encounters. What strikes me most in Orwell’s work has to be his readability and the chapter movements. I’m also struck at his closely drawn character studies of those he encounters–the fat man in Paris and also Bozo in England are the stand outs. One thing that seems consistent throughout his writing is the strong sense of empathy and humanity. Here’s one of my favorite passages:

“Yet if one looks closely one sees that there is no essential difference between a beggar’s livelihood and that of numberless respectable people. Beggars do not work, it is said; but, then what is work? A navy works by swinging a pick. An accountant works by adding up figures. A beggar works by standing out-of-doors in all weathers and getting varicose veins, chronic bronchitis, etc. It is a trade like any other; quite useless, of course – but, then many reputable trades are quite useless. And as a social type a beggar compares well with scores of others. He is honest compared with the sellers of a Sunday newspaper proprietor, amiable compared with a hire-purchase tout – in short, a parasite, but a fairly harmless parasite. He seldom extracts more than a bare living from the community, and, what should justify him according to our ethical ideas, he pays for it over and over in suffering. I do not think there is anything about a beggar that sets him in a different class from other people, or gives most modern men the right to despise him.

“Then the question arises, Why are beggars despised? — for they are despised, universally. I believe it is for the simple reason that they fail to earn a decent living. In practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that is shall be profitable.”

day of good news

Two pieces of good news: Today I learned I will be a member of a Latino Lecture Panel at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum on April 28th and also that I was accepted into Sergio Troncoso’s advanced workshop at the Yale Summer Writers’ Conference.

quick review: luis alberto urrea’s the hummingbird’s daughter and queen of america

I first read the short fiction of Luis Alberto Urrea in graduate school. The discovery of a prolific Latino author whose work moves so adeptly from English to Spanish was important to my development as a writer. I enjoyed his collection of short stories Six Kinds of Sky and the keen worlds and characters drawn, his humor and surrealist edge. At the time I was struggling to capture Spanish speaking folks and the stories from the old neighborhood of my youth, struggling to make my work less obvious and overtly political. And the influence of his work stays fresh in my mind.

hummingbirds-daughterIn reading Urrea’s most recent novels, The Hummingbird’s Daughter and its sequel Queen of America, I am pleased to find these lengthier works equally representing for me what writing should aspire to be.

Over the course of two novels, set in the 1880’s to the turn of the century, the incredibly dynamic character of Teresita the Saint of Cabora, the Mexican Joan of Arc, rises from abject poverty and abandonment to her place as spiritual leader. Described as a “saint with grit” by Stacey D’Erasmo of the New York Times Book Review, Teresita survives rape, returns from the dead and learns to practice ancient magic, and travels to the United States after the Mexican-Tomochic rebellion. In the sequel Teresita survives as a celebrity of sorts travelling and experiencing the United States—St. Louis, San Francisco and New York City—and she marries and divorces. She also survives a medical industry out to exploit her healing powers. All based on historical events and Urrea’s research.

queenamerica

The most influential aspect of the two books for me though is the form, the lyrical and dream-like passages. The masterful use of third person limited omniscient narration. How the dreamscape that is Urrea’s writing style creates so many varied characters and experiences in an incredibly wide and brilliant spectrum. From field hand, Indian healer, to Teresita’s Mexican landowner father, Don Tomás, to the bandits, cowboys and tycoons, the cast of characters represents the complicated nature of hierarchical class structures at play in pre-turn-of-the-century and pre-revolutionary Mexico. Masterfully, Urrea immerses us in Teresita’s myth across a multitude of voices. I admire the novels’ contrast of authorial voice and character in nearly every chapter, creating this Mexican and American border world from inside and out, and more importantly, in terms of social class, from quite literally the bottom up. (Urrea’s lively and playful performance in the downloadable audiobook versions only enhanced my experience of these distinct voices.)

Ultimately, I have to admit to taking advantage of Urrea’s skill—stealing stratagems of technique once again into my own struggling work. I’m thinking of the author and critic Jim Harrison’s words: “One finds and understands his own voice finally through the voice of others.”

I tell my Midwest community college students that the key to nonfiction is in the facts and that creative nonfiction—as well as fiction—is in the telling. And the power from Urrea’s work perhaps is that he devoted twenty-years of research and study of Mexican political, cultural and religious history as well as struggled with the form. And in many other historical novels or footnoted historical books, the political thought becomes so blatant and relentless that readers stop hearing it. Yet in Urrea’s two novel saga, the insight into Mexican, American Indian and American history, I believe, along with the shifting voices create an inextricable link between human experience, political conflict and historical socioeconomic conflict. Another lesson for writer in the merging of form and content to craft a meaning greater than the sum of its parts.

grading and the b and n

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The most difficult aspect of teaching has to be the hours grading. And I have to admit commenting on lit analyses is my biggest weakness. Have to get out of the house and out to Barnes and Noble along with D for coffee and a place to focus.

gardner’s fat city

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Spending time today rereading Fat City by Leonard Gardner. Hope I can find the detail and the nuance in my Huerfanos/Semi-orphaned novel project:

“Yeah, I was in a bar yesterday, this guy’s calling everybody a son-of-a-bitch. So I go out and wait for him. He come out and I ask did that include me. Says yeah. So I got him. I mean I just come to town. Some welcome. I don’t know, trouble just seems to come looking for me.”

gerald nicosia article: on the road, the movie?

On_the_Road_FilmPosterSpent time this afternoon with Gerald Nicosia‘s Huffington Post article about his experiences working with the film makers of the On the Road film adaptation. I’m interested in his opinion because I enjoyed his book Memory Babe so much. Here he writes candidly about setting up a Beat boot camp for the actors and also becoming a bit starstruck. And I have to agree the Jose Rivera script had quite a bit missing in terms of Kerouac’s mad spirituality. I was sad not to see the Old Walking Saint character and the “Go moan for man” scenes or any stream of consciousness style scenes with voice-over narration. I have to say now that I’ve seen the film I’m more excited to see the Searching for On the Road documentary shot alongside Salles’ film. Also I wonder if Ann Charters has seen the film.

orwell’s down and out in paris and london

Downout_paris_london

Just received Orwell’s memoir in the mail and can’t wait to reread. Haven’t looked at it in years. I’m hoping to use excerpts in creative writing classes along with some of his fiction. I’m also hoping to use excerpts from Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. Again my favorite fiction writers are also my favorite creative nonfiction writers.

rereading orwell’s nineteen eighty-four

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Tonight I’m rereading Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four for my Lit 111 course: “To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are different from one another and do not live alone-to a time when truth exists and what is done cannot be undone: From the age of uniformity, from the age of solitude, from the age of Big Brother, from the age of doublethink-greetings!”

natasha trethewey reading

NativeGuardPoemsD and I attended a poetry reading last night by Natasha Trethewey at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential library and Museum in downtown Springfield. I had first heard a few interviews of her on NPR and also first heard of her from D. She read from her books Native Guard  and Thrall. I was most struck by her confident voice and her thoughts on race and being seen as “illegitimate” as a person of mixed-racial background. She emphasized the idea of mixing the personal and the historical in her poetry.

This morning I’ve been reading her work at her poets.org page.

chuck palahniuk’s stranger than fiction

200px-StrangerthancvrRereading Chuck Palahniuk’s Stranger Than Fiction True Stories for my Lit 150 class. My favorite fiction writers are my favorite creative non-fiction writers. I’m enjoying his essay “Brinksmanship”: 

The waitress used to say, “What will you be doing when you’re old men?” I used to tell her, “I’ll worry about that when I get there.” If I get there. I’m writing this piece right on deadline. My brother-in-law used to call this behavior “brinksmanship,” the tendency to leave things until the last moment, to imbue them with more drama and stress and appear the hero by racing the clock. “Where I was born,” Georgia O’Keeffe used to say, “and where and how I have lived is unimportant.” She said, “It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of any interest.” I’m sorry if this seems all rushed and desperate. It is. 

influence of v for vendetta

V_for_vendettaxHad a great talk today with a student about writing that serves truth instead of ego. Also about writing and politics. We both admitted Alan Moore and V For Vendetta were so influential to our thought process–political and social awareness. I keep repeating to my students I wouldn’t be a teacher or writer without graphic novels and comic books. I can still remember walking to the only comic book shop nearby Colorado State’s campus to pick up copies. I think I need to learn from D and teach this in my novels class along with 1984, Fahrenheit 451 and A Clockwork Orange.

salinger documentary

Rye_catcherNew Salinger documentary coming soon. Read this Daily Beast article years back, love the photograph, and it appears same film makers have an American Masters episode in the works. I’ve seen the A&E episode and watched some YouTube videos interviewing military academy folks on Salinger’s schooling but this looks interesting.

Huffington Post article

barnes and noble to cut stores

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Woke to this article in the Chicago Tribune. And I remember a year or two ago reading an article comparing the state of record stores in the U.S. to book stores of the near future. You buy an album online and a record store dies. Now the same fate for chain stores. First Borders and now perhaps Barnes and Noble. Not sure how I feel about Barnes and Noble which feels more like a gift shop and coffee shop lately than a bookstore. I personally don’t own an e reader and my publisher has very strong opinions about how e readers kill book sales. I wonder: In the near future will we all have e readers and surf the internet for books instead of libraries or locally owned bookstores?

Chicago Tribune article.

hunter s. thompson and joan didion

hunter s. thompson and joan didion

Today in Com 112 talking about the radically differing accounts of the 60’s in Joan Didion’s and also Hunter S. Thompson respective creative nonfiction . Didion alludes to Yeats’ Slouching Toward Bethlehem World War 1 generation poem and Hunter S. labels the generation in San Francisco as riding a high wave.

sunday morning philip k. dick segment on to the best of our knowledge

PhilipDicksunday morning philip k. dick segment on to the best of our knowledge

Spending time this Sunday afternoon listening to Philip K. Dick segment on To the Best of Our Knowledge. I was most struck by interview with Ann R. Dick, wife #5, and also David Gill interview on film adaptations of Dick’s work.

Love this quote: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” — Philip K. Dick

one fast move or i’m gone: kerouac’s big sur documentary

one fast move or i’m gone: kerouac’s big sur documentary

Had some time to watch this documentary by Kerouac Films and directed by Curt Worden. I was most taken by the cinematography capturing Big Sur and San Francisco. I was also taken with the candid interviews of Carolyn Cassady and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

2013 top ten “new” latino authors to watch (and read)

2013 top ten “new” latino authors to watch (and read)

latinostoriesLast night I received the news that Jose B. Gonzalez founder and editor of LatinoStories.com has named me on his Top Ten “New” Latino Authors to Watch (and Read) page. I could not be more pleased or honored. Grateful. Especially on a day when I couldn’t help but think “who’s listening” as I struggle with revising my novel project.

The Story Behind the Book

The lady from the old neighborhood who read my book leans forward, her hair pepper gray and black. Her eyes really only half open the entire time. Her one hand holds a stack of envelopes and the other a blue and leather handbag as large as you think of the state of Colorado as large. Behind her an unending line of patrons waiting in line at the post office.

She is old with a round stomach, wearing purple stretch pants and white Keds. Her round arms jiggle with fat as she points towards me and speaks. There, in line, the woman begins with, “Hey, John Paul!”

And I stop. Her arms filled with letters and greeting cards for her grandkids still in between us.

“I have to tell you,” the woman and her Grandmother smell tells me, “the profanity from your people shocked me.”

I say, “Excuse me?”

She says…

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