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…

View original post 665 more words

palabra, a magazine of chicano and latino literary art issue 8

Palabra 8I’ve long read and admired elena minor’s publication, Palabra, A Magazine of Chicano and Latino Literary Art. And I am so pleased to see my fiction available now in Issue 8. Here’s the official release.

kerouac’s original scroll

This Thanksgiving break I’ve finally made my way through Kerouac’s On the Road The Original Scroll. I’ve read excerpts and specific portions to compare to the novel/fiction version but never the entire book. I was most struck at the editor’s note in Book 4 that reveals a dog ate the last few feet of the work.

luis urrea interview

Enjoying 2009 interview with Luis Urrea instead of working. I had fun yesterday following his Facebook “Sunday writing church” discussion thread. Love his thoughts here on writing, storytelling and identity. I need to make time to read The Devil’s Highway.

quick note on philip roth retiring

In a 2004 PBS interview Philip Roth mentions how he believes he is “empty” without a novel. He needs the challenge and the work. Says he isn’t very happy or energized without the daily direction.

Now I have to say the news last week that he plans to retire caught me off guard. And not only is he retiring, according to this New Yorker article , he says he doesn’t want to talk about fiction anymore.

Here’s the quote that struck me:

“…I decided that I was finished with fiction,” Roth went on. “I don’t  want to read it, I don’t want to write it, and I don’t even want to talk about  it anymore. I dedicated my life to the novel. I studied them, I taught them, I  wrote them, and I read them. At the exclusion of nearly everything else. It’s  enough!”

He went so far as to state he doesn’t want his letters and notes from his body of work to be studied past his death either.

Now, Roth is a heavyweight of an author. My rereading of Goodbye, Columbus for the current literature course I’m teaching reminds me. So does the rest of his body of work I’ve studied. American Pastoral is a particular favorite. I mean he’s prolific as hell. Winning every award short of the Nobel Prize. So what else is there to prove, right?

Now I have to say I’ve always seen writing as different from publishing. I see them as two different problems. With that said I have to ask: Are we to believe he’ll put away his computer and pen? Are we to believe he will only read? I think of him as I am doggedly drawn back to my notes again and again. The work and energy I draw from working on my own novel. And I have to say, like what I used to believe about Roth, I need the daily work even if it doesn’t take my career anywhere. I’ve long thought on how I would rather be writing than reading. Most folks who call themselves writers I believe feel the same.

I’m left with this: Will a life of writing and toiling at your desk lead to such a negative thought? Will the work lead you away from everyday life? Can you become so depleted from writing at a certain age you can only give it up?

“so it goes”–staying up late with kurt vonnegut

Some nights when I’m supposed to be working on my big fat failed novel.  When I am supposed to be sleeping. Or grading. I can’t and so I sit and listen to books on tape. A few months back it was Jesus’ Son. Something about Will Patton’s voice that grabbed me. This time out I have been obsessing over Ethan Hawke reading Slaughterhouse Five.

Maybe it has something to do with my hesitation to dig in to some memories. And then dig in to the revisions. Maybe, like Vonnegut’s characters–coming to me via Hawke’s whispering performance–I’m up at night obsessing over the memories and the dilemma of how to organize my stories. How to give them structure. How to do them justice. How to deal with people who are dead and gone. How to try and recreate their errors in the writing. To try and re-imagine them and understand.

It makes me think of Alberto Giacometti’s surrealist sculpture “the Palace at 4am” and how it influenced or inspired William Maxwell to return to his memoir or writing. How it represents that dread in the middle of the night that comes to people.

I tell my students to find those stories that are so difficult for you that you stay up late thinking and rethinking their importance. The stories that give you Phillip Glass–The Hours soundtrack–kind–of–dread in the middle of the night when decent folks are sleeping. When even my dog is snoring. Perhaps I should tell my students what you do when you find the ghosts from those stories and how to keep them at arm’s length so you can just get some rest.

The sad situation reminds me of Amy Hempel’s first assignment in her workshop. To paraphrase: find the story that reveals deep secrets that reveals and breaks down your innermost sense of self. I guess I’m stuck on the “breaks down” part now that I am hundreds of pages in to my manuscript and the characters based on dead folks from my youth.

More on this as I think of it.

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.

ernesto galarza’s barrio boy

Reading Galarza’s book Barrio Boy I was amazed at the brilliant memoir of Galarza’s boyhood experience of the Mexican Revolution and segregation in American neighborhoods. I was interested to find a different definition of the term chicano and also I was interested to read about the struggle for work and how that struggle for work drove the family to head north to Sacramento, California. I delighted in the entirety of the literacy narrative and Galarza’s attention to detail and description of his boyhood village and the American colonia he later lived in with his family. I hope to add this book to my proposed Latino Lit course for the Spring 2013 term.

lisa higgs interview

Poet Lisa Higgs, interviewed by her University of Illinois Springfield colleague Ted Morrissey, discusses her chapbook of sonnets, Lodestar (2011); the collection she’s currently writing; poetic craft; and the Vachel Lindsay Association, for which she serves as president. The interview took place in the historic Vachel Lindsay Home, originally built in the 1840s.

Lincoln Land Review

Poet Lisa Higgs, interviewed by her University of Illinois Springfield colleague Ted Morrissey, discusses her chapbook of sonnets, Lodestar (2011); the collection she’s currently writing; poetic craft; and the Vachel Lindsay Association, for which she serves as president.  The interview took place in the historic Vachel Lindsay Home, originally built in the 1840s.

View original post

quick note on troncoso’s from this wicked patch of dust

From_This_Wicked_Patch_of_DustLast week–despite mountains of grading and student conferences–I spent time with Troncoso’s sweeping novel From This Wicked Patch of Dust and found so much to admire.  I admired the form as well as the content. Told in a third person limited omniscient narration the story drops into the thoughts, feelings and questions of each member of a Mexican American family–the children and parents–working and struggling in Ysleta, Texas. The narration hovers above the family and drops from section to section into certain family members thoughts and feelings. I also admired how the story fragments and separates by jumping years in between chapters. Something I work on in my own writing. One week later and the story stays with me. Overall the narrative gave me such a realistic and positive representation of an American family and quite simply it spoke to me. And I’m happy to say I sent Troncoso a quick message on Goodreads stating that and he was prompt in responding a kindly thank you.

This week I’m spending time with Luis Alberto Urrea’s Six Kinds of Sky and hope to have some thoughts soon.