Saturday, March 31, 2007

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Postman and the Mex - Part Two

Manuel Ramos

I continue with an article originally published in Hopscotch, Volume 2, Number 4 (2001).


By Manuel Ramos, all rights reserved.

Or, and this he didn't like to admit even to himself, perhaps he had become a private investigator because in his daydreams he saw himself as a hero. -- Rudolfo Anaya, Zia Summer

Lucha Corpi’s poetry and an early novel are much admired for their Chicana perspective and their critical role in the definition of Mexican American literature. A teacher of English to adults in the Oakland, California, public schools, Corpi had written consistently in Spanish until she embarked on longer fiction pieces. In 1992 she turned to crime and published the award-winning Eulogy For A Brown Angel. Cactus Blood followed in 1995, Black Widow’s Wardrobe in 1999, and Crimson Moon in 2004. All of her books have been published by Arte Público Press.

These are truly Chicana mystery stories. Corpi’s heroine, Gloria Damasco, is a veteran of the Chicano civil rights movement, educated, smart, ambitious and possessed of a mysterious ability to "see," to use strange visions that appear incomplete and oblique even to her. In another type of story Damasco might by called a curandera, perhaps a bruja. In Corpi’s novels she is a Latina private detective, one of only two in the San Francisco Bay area (she teams up with the second one, Dora Saldaña, in Black Widow’s Wardrobe.) Corpi’s plots flow from cultural, historical and political events in the Chicano community. Eulogy For A Brown Angel opens with the disturbing discovery of a murdered child amid the violence of the riot that erupted in Los Angeles during the August 29, 1970 National Chicano Moratorium, the largest antiwar demonstration ever organized by Chicanos. Cactus Blood centers on Damasco’s investigation into the murders of three former activists from the seventies who were integrally involved in the struggle of migrant farm workers. Black Widow’s Wardrobe is nothing less than a retelling of the legend and myth of La Malinche, Cortez’s mistress, branded forever a traitor. In Crimson Moon, Saldaña assumes the major role in the story as she and her partner, Justin Escobar, investigate two cases that eventually involve the F.B.I., the Crusade for Justice, the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, a discarded manuscript, and even Luis Móntez, the Denver lawyer.

The use of La Malinche as the plot's fulcrum signals a deepening of the trend of the past several years to rewrite La Malinche’s story in order to overcome its inherent sexism and racism. Although Black Widow’s Wardrobe takes place in modern Northern California and in the Valley of Tepoztlán, Mexico, a complete understanding of the book must come from knowledge of historical events and people outside the limits of the book. La Malinche, or Malintzin Tenepal – her "true" name according to Damasco -- is the target of betrayal, not its purveyor, and she definitely is not her husband’s victim. Corpi also flips the myth of La Llorona on its head. The ancient tale of the woman who murdered her children and was forced to cry forever along riverbanks, a tale used for centuries by madres and abuelitas to instill good behavior in unruly children, is completely reworked in Corpi’s novel: the children are the possible murderers of their mother, and it is they who must suffer the consequences.

Corpi’s novel has only the obvious in common with the hard-boiled stories of Cain, Raymond Chandler, or Dashiell Hammett. In Black Widow’s Wardrobe gunplay and ambushes do light up the night sky, but the murder, if there is one, takes place years before the story starts and is entirely offstage. The heroine is a tough biscochito, but she’s no Sam Spade, not even a V.I. Warshawski. Black Widow’s Wardrobe is not a detective story like many have come to expect from the overflow churned out by authors of mystery or detective fiction. It is a Chicana tale of discovery and reaffirmation, a cultural reclamation project whose protagonist just happens to be a detective.

The book opens with the Día de los Muertos procession in San Francisco, during which a mysterious woman in white is attacked. Damasco witnesses the attack and “sees” a duo of armor-clad conquistadors involved in the incident. Her natural inquisitiveness and the nature of her profession eventually lead her to Licia Lecuona, the Black Widow, a woman recently released from prison after serving a sentence of several years for killing her abusive husband. Before the story is finished, Damasco has traveled to Mexico in search of details about La Malinche, of whom the Black Widow claims to be a reincarnation. Damasco becomes involved in a plot that includes stolen Mexican artifacts, a wild chase and a shoot-out in a labyrinthine cavern, and at least two domineering husbands. By the end she is recovering from a serious bullet wound, the victims of domestic violence have had their revenge, and the artifacts are safe. However, the true identity of the Black Widow has not been resolved.

The Case of the Genre Within a Genre

Fans and critics of and publishing house publicists for the mystery novel, an already pigeonholed literature, have delighted in classifying the genre even further: cozy, noir, police procedural, legal thriller, medical thriller, gay, historical, hard-boiled, ethnic ... . Then there are the subcategories: locked room, soft-boiled, redneck noir, African-American, Native American, and so on. Obviously, these are convenient marketing terms, signals to the reading public, but they also are reflections of the rich, deep promise of crime fiction, of the notion that as beautiful and ugly as humanity can be, as uplifting or downgrading our existence eventually turns out, there are writers who can use the format of the mystery novel to tell a gripping story. The abundant variety of crime itself, from the intricate plotting of Conan Doyle's Moriarty to the spontaneous, greedy and lust-driven spree of Frank and Cora in The Postman Always Rings Twice, requires writing that reflects the diversity of crimes and criminals that have plagued this planet since Cain mumbled his excuses and feigned ignorance of his brother's whereabouts. There is no mine as rich for writers to dig into as the psyche of the murderer, and because murderers and their victims come from all classes and in all colors, writing about crime has to be diverse and multicultural.

This is where Chicano and Chicana writers come in, a few years tardy but now cruising the same literary landscape as Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie. Just as Philip Marlowe could never solve a crime without tasting the bitter fruit of his jaded, lonely life, a Chicana or Chicano detective cannot finish an investigation until the Chicano culture somehow has been upheld or even enriched. The duality of the Chicano experience, the hyphenated existence of Mexican Americans, has been at the core of several Chicano and Chicana novels and now has made its way into crime fiction. The search for roots, for history, for identity motivates, some would say plagues, the Chicano and Chicana detectives. Sam Spade’s angst-driven loyalty to his murdered partner makes him turn over to the police the woman who has offered him love in Hammett’s classic The Maltese Falcon. Although loyalty to the community, rather than an individual, is a recurring theme in Chicano crime fiction, there also is the idea that Chicano and Chicana detectives carry the weight of history on their backs. The end is not merely the showdown, the last shoot-out, the ironic denouement with the killer cleverly unmasked. These tried-and-true devices must be tinged with Chicanismo.

Although Chicano crime fiction attempts to re-create an acutely defined genre, it can and does fall prey to many of the criticisms leveled at crime fiction in general. This literature can be formulaic and clichéd. Obvious endings are a disaster in this type of story. The author has to generate suspense and fear in readers and keep them guessing about the outcome. Conversely, the ending has to make sense in the context of the story, or the readers will feel cheated. Mystery readers prefer solutions based on good old-fashioned detective work, as opposed to dreams, serendipitous visions, or miraculous coincidences. Some mysteries contain too much action, at the expense of character development; others lose the plot in the maze of a character’s self-analysis and emotional havoc. The cozy mysteries can be too cute, too sterile in their portrayals of death and violence, and, with a subtle touch of irony, therefore, heartless, while the hard-boiled authors are too violent, too graphic, too visceral for many readers.

These and other criticisms have been made against all of the Chicano and Chicana authors who are writing in yet another subgenre. But the special nature of Chicano crime fiction also makes it susceptible to criticisms not usually associated with the broad category of crime fiction. The stories can be accused of paying too much attention to Chicano politics, culture, or history. In other words, the author’s Chicano agenda can get in the way of a good story. The folklore and spirituality of the Chicano community can be misinterpreted, and an author has to be careful to not patch plot holes with timely curses from a bruja or unexpected appearances of El Koko. Chicano and Chicana authors also have been criticized because their writing is not “Chicano enough,” that is, does not contain enough political or cultural references to be called a Chicano novel.

Chicano and Chicana literature reflects the continuous changes and development undergone by a people that claims an ancient history but that, politically, is fairly new to the world. Chicano crime fiction, too, is growing, finding itself, and its authors so far have only touched the edge of what is possible in it. Whether this fiction will continue to develop and whether its authors will firmly establish themselves in the crime fiction genre are questions that time must answer.

Many of these writers have been praised for their talent, their creativity and for injecting new life into a format that may have grown tired. Anaya’s Alburquerque won the PEN Center West Award for Fiction, while Corpi’s Eulogy For A Brown Angel was awarded the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award. The Ballad Of Rocky Ruiz won the Chicano/Latino Literary Award and the Colorado Book Award and was nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America. Limón’s Jade Lady Burning was a New York Times "Notable Book of the Year." Several of Nava’s books have received the Lambda Literary Award for Best Mystery. After all is said and done, of course, good writing is still the essential requirement. Authors have to be serious about their craft, willing to guarantee that good stories are written, and that the communities in them are honestly, not stereotypically, depicted.

What Chicana and Chicano crime writers have done should be regarded as an evolutionary leap for the mystery genre. From police procedurals to character studies, from cozies to hard-boiled, these writers have spiced up the mystery story, added a bit of chile to the recipe, and created huevos rancheros.

I want to thank the knowledgeable denizens of Rara-Avis, the Internet hard-boiled discussion group, for their many leads concerning some of the authors mentioned in this piece. -- MR

Well, that's it for me for awhile. Beginning next week my Friday space here on La Bloga will be taken by guest contributors, each one offering a unique perspective about literature, culture, the writing life, and a few surprises. Check out my friends Mario Acevedo, Linda Arroyo-Holmstrom, Jesse Tijerina, and Lucha Corpi. Let them know you appreciate their efforts. Don't be shy with the comments. See you again around Cinco de Mayo.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Boston Boys Club-Sex y la Ciudad/National Latino Writer's Conference

Move over Candace Bushnell, Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda, Tommy, Mikey, Rico and Kyle are on the scene. Summer reading season is almost here and I can't think of a better pre-season recommendation than Boston Boys Club. Chic lit had to make way for chica lit, and I'm glad to say the the ground for chico lit is being broken by Johnny Diaz and his own tale of the city, filled with hot boy on boy sex, friendship, romance, trying to make sense of who you are, and what you really want against a well-crafted backdrop of Beantown.

Flanked by gorgeous brick row houses in the heart of Boston’s South End, the Club Café is a bar where everybody knows your name—and who you slept with last. Every night men like Tommy Perez, Rico DiMio, and Kyle Andrews take their place among the glistening crowd sporting chest-defining shirts and lots of smooth, tanned skin, sizing up the regulars and the new blood while TV monitors blare Beyoncé and Missy Elliott.

For Tommy, Thursdays at the Club Café in the company of his wingman Rico and a Skinny Black Bitch (vodka and Diet Coke) are unmissable. Recently relocated from Miami to Boston to take a reporting job at The Boston Daily, Tommy is finding it hard to break away from his tight-knit Cuban family, but his homesickness goes into rapid remission when he meets Mikey, a blue-eyed, boyish guidance counselor from Cape Cod.

Smart, funny, and wicked cute, Mikey is perfect boyfriend material…until his drinking leads Tommy to suspect that he’s got some issues of his own. Rico—a tough-talking, Italian-American accountant with a gamma ray smile and mournful green eyes that hint at a past he’ll admit to no one—is sure Mikey is bad news, but to Rico any relationship that lasts longer than three hours sounds like bad news. Then there’s Kyle, the lean, preening model and former reality show star who makes a red-carpet entrance into the CC every Thursday as if a swarm of cameras still follows his every move, but whose real life is about to take a dramatic turn he never anticipated.

Over the course of one unforgettable year, Tommy is forced to rethink everything he’s ever believed about life, lust, and love. And in the Club Café, a place filled with endless possibilities—of stumbling upon the perfect partner, the perfect story idea, or just a play buddy for the night—Tommy might finally discover the person he was meant to be.

Any like any good summer read, Boston Boys Club entertains, amuses, and is the perfect compliment to a long, lazy day at the beach and cold tropical drink of your choice. But don't be fooled, there is a serious side to this book, which makes it all the better a slice of LGBT life. There are issues and illnesses, losses and things falling apart. But in the end, things come together and these boys win your heart. This book is a keeper, and Johnny Diaz had better start working on a sequel.

Boston Boys Club
ISBN-10: 0758215452

Written by Lisa Alvarado


Other Important News: Do not miss this year's National Latino Writer's Conference, held at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, NM.

This three-day conference that takes place May 17-19, 2007, invites all writers published and unpublished, to participate in workshops conducted by nationally and internationally known authors in the genres of poetry, fiction, screenwriting, playwriting and news writing. Panels of editors and publishers representing such presses as Arte Público Press, Warner Books, Curbstone Press, Simon and Schuster, University of New Mexico, Arizona and California Presses and many others will speak on the process of getting your work published. Agents will be available for consultation and interview.

In addition to the aforementioned workshops and panels, there will be an open microphone reading at which time registrants can read from their work to an audience of authors and publishers. A Thursday evening social and Friday night banquet will captivate participants into further discussion and networking.

Presenters Include:

OSCAR HIJUELOS [Fiction] was the first Hispano to win the Pulitzer Prize for his second novel, Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love which was made into a movie starring Antonio Banderas and Armand Assante. His novel, Empress of the Splendid Season was published in 1999 and his latest, A Simple Habana Melody was published in 2002.

LORI CARLSON [Youth Literature] is an editor, translator and author of Caña Quemada Burnt Sugar: Contemporary Cuban Poetry, Translations and Originals. Among her other publications are Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on the Young Latino in the U.S. and The Sunday Tertulia, both published by HarperCollins.

BRAULIO MUÑOZ [Fiction] is the author of an award winning novel, The Peruvian Notebooks. He is on the faculty of Swarthmore College and has also published A Storyteller: Mario Vargas Llosa Between Civilization and Barbarism, published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2000. In addition to literary criticism he also has published another work of fiction, Alejandro y los Pescadores de Tancay which was published in Italy in 2004.

KATHLEEN de AZEVEDO [Fiction] is the author of an award winning novel, Samba Dreams. She is on the faculty of Skyline College and her work has appeared in numerous publications including: Los Angeles Times, Americas, Boston Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Greensboro Review and many others. Her novel Samba Dreams, "reflects the conflict between the Brazilian and the American culture: the sensual and the pragmatic; the myth of self-determination and the myth of El Dorado."

PAT MORA [Youth Literature] is a nationally prominent poet/writer. Among her many writing awards, she was the winner of the 2006 NHCC Literary Award and author of Adobe Odes. Her many books of poetry, fiction and children's literature have made her one of the most productive and respected Chicana writers on the literary scene.

BENJAMIN SAENZ [Poetry] is a prolific poet and fiction writer. He is the author of Dreaming the End of War. He is on the faculty of University of Texas, El Paso and his latest book joins his many others. A former roofer, onion picker, janitor, theologian and Catholic priest, Saenz is now a prize winning essayist, novelist, poet and activist passionately in love with El Paso and its peoples.

BEVA SÁNCHEZ-PADILLA [Playwriting] is a native New Mexican, identifies herself as a literary media and performing artist. Her six produced plays include: La Guadalupe Que Camina, Mali and Maya: A Story of Malinche, Letty y su Mama, Contradictions Split-Rebozo, and An Altar for Emma. As part of her workshop on playwriting, she will perform segments from two of these plays.

ALFREDO CORCHADO [News writer] is a renowned investigative journalist with the Dallas Morning News and previously with the Wall Street Journal and the El Paso Herald-Post. He has won several awards for his coverage of Mexicans in the United States through special projects including: "The Mexicanization of the United States," and the "Disappearing Border." His reporting led to an internal U.S. inquiry and the removal of heads of the Immigration Customs Enforcement agency. His reporting on drug violence along the border led to the discovery of crimes committed in Texan cities under the order of Mexican drug cartels. Google Alfredo Corchado + Dallas Morning News and visit

YOLANDO NAVA [Marketing] Director of Marketing for NM Monuments of DCA. She is a specialist on writing for marketing and commercial media. Author of It's All in the Frijoles, Nava is an Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist, author and motivational speaker. Her book was winner of the Latino Literary Hall of Fames' 2001 Best Self-help Book Award and was also featured in the Writers Corner of Google "Yolanda Nava."

JAVIER GRILLO-MARXUACH [Screenwriting] is a writer for major TV serials like Boomtown, Medium, Lost, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Charmed and many others. He also writes his own comics with titles like Super-Skrull which he did for Marvel Comics Mini Series and Middleman, which he did for Viper Comics. He hosts a weekly video show performed entirely by Grillo-Marxuach. New episodes appear on his main website, or Google "Javier Grillo-Marxuach."

This three-day conference costs a total of $300.00 including all meals. Previous attendees receive a "founders discount" of $50.00 if you register by February 1st. Travel and lodging will be your responsibility. Participating hotels are listed on the registration form. For more information please call 505.246.2261 x148 or email

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

LA getting RealTalk in May; Good News

Denver teatro readings.
East LA Rep extends Black Butterfly run.
Tia Chucha's reopening

RealtalkLA Launches magazine to hit streets in May.

Watch out Tu Ciudad! There's a new lifestyle magazine coming to town and it's pointing in your direction. The big difference is RealTalk LA is a free monthly magazine and website that intends to carve its nickle out of the LA Times, LA Free Press, Pasadena Weekly.

Publisher Jay Levin and staff threw an open house recently to launch the magazine. Located a mile north of the Spring Street headquarters of the Los Angeles Times, the old industrial building has been spiffed up into a modern-day information factory.

A magnificent stage set painting by Margaret Garcia greets the visitor to Real TalkLA's studio. It's a warren of spaces partitioned into ten foot walls. Bundles of cable snake their way in the shadows at the walltops. Muy high tech place, a web and print design studio like this. A panorama of Garcia's larger paintings lines the corridors. I turn a corner and there is Margaret and her prima Cookie.

Real Talk LA's web executive Kamren Curiel admires Garcia's work and took the opportunity to sit at the tequila tasting table and chat about Curiel's collection. Publisher Jay Levin stopped at Margaret's table to say "hello." Culture Clash's Ric Salinas arrived a few moments later, and the actor and publisher shared a few quick laughs.

Real Talk LA is not Chicana Chicano media, but it'll have an influence and be influenced by. The target audience is 600,000 mid-twenties to low fifties second and third generation ethnics of all flavors. Gente who pump at family rates around $70,000 a year into the local advertisers' pockets.

In Los Angeles, this is code language for a lot of Mexicans. The publisher knows Black and Asian communities make up a lucrative chunk of Real Talk LA's market. Given the look and feel of the launch, there's almost a guarantee of better diversity here, than say, the LA Times, whose westside bias censors arts coverage of the Northeast and Eastside of town. Lastima. Pendejos. And with color and polished paper covers, a better value than newsprint, so wacha LA Free Press and Pasadena Weekly.

Advertising positioned in a package like this gains instant credibility. Levin's slick package has the gloss and high style to make the product sizzle, in so far as the team can put forth a quality piece month after month after month. The temptation to lean to the west, toward Hollywood must loom in the editor's mind.

Levin has good people working with him. Culture Clash, for example, is discussing a monthly humor and culture column, according to Salinas. La Bloga hopes the magazine and website will feature monthly literature and reading columns. Real Talk LA's staff will be the secret ingredient. Judging by the open house, most of these are: Young. Attractive. Dynamic go-getters. I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do.


Denver Troupe Brings Teatro to the Frontrange

email from the Troupe to Manuel Ramos...

Su Teatro announces Spring Reading Series

El Centro Su Teatro proudly announces its Spring Reading Series—a vehicle for new play development aimed at discovering and nurturing new and innovative playwriting talent through live reading, examination, discussion, and critique.

The Spring Reading Series will kickoff Wednesday, March 28 at 7pm at the Laughing Bean Café on 10th and Santa Fe, and the series will continue each Wednesday through April 18—same time, same place. Su Teatro company actors and guest artists will read the select playscripts and audience members will be invited to participate in talkback discussions.

Leading off the series will be “Braided Sorrow” by Marisela Treviño Orta—a poetic meditation on the unsolved murders of female maquiladora workers in Ciudad Juarez. “Braided Sorrow” won the prestigious 2006 University of California Irvine Chicano/Latino Literary Prize, and it will receive a full production this fall, kicking off Su Teatro’s 2007-2008 35th Anniversary Season.

“Braided Sorrow” will be followed by “Las Monedas de Ismael” by Aaron Vieyra (April 4), “The Kinetic End” by Valarie Castillo (April 11), and “El Blanco” by John Kuebler, which was a finalist for the 2007 Rocky Mountain Theatre Association Playwriting Award (April 18). All four plays explore contemporary themes that challenge our beliefs and test our resolve, including economic exploitation, alcoholism, terminal illness, and identity politics.

For more information about Su Teatro’s Spring Reading Series, please contact El Centro Su Teatro at (303) 296-0219 or Also visit,, and

East LA Rep captivated everyone who saw its staging of Sandra Cisneros' House on Mango Street.


Black Butterfly, Jaguar Girl, Pinata Woman and other Super Hero Girls, Like Me.

created by Luis Alfaro
written by Maria Elena Cervantes, Sandra C. Munoz, & Marisela Norte

Feb 23 - April 1, 2007
Friday & Saturdays @ 8 pm
Sundays @ 3 pm

Admission: $8-20 Sliding Scale

El Gallo Plaza Theater
4545 E. Cesar Chavez Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90022

For info and to RSVP please call (323) 276- 1868 or

The upsanddowns of bricks and mortar indie bookstores have more ups than downs this week, in news from the San Fernando Valley...

email from Luis Rodriguez to Daniel Olivas

Come to Tia Chucha's Grand Opening of our New Space -- March 31
Grand Opening of Tia Chucha's New Space -- March 31 from 4 to 8 PM

I'm glad to invite everyone to the grand opening of Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural this Saturday, March 31, from 4 to 8 PM. It will be at the new space that we've finally painted and organized after we were forced to vacate our old store/center in Sylmar (the new location is only 10 minutes away from there).

This will be an easy-going evening of food, poetry, raffles, and presentations by our instructors and some of their students from our various workshops, including Son Jarocho Mexican traditional music, Guitar, African Drumming, DJing, Reiki Healing, Danza Azteca, Mexikayotl Indigenous Cosmology, and more. Books will also be on sale as well as sign-ups for our events and workshops.

Your humble servant will be your host.

We will also be starting our regular schedule for "Noche Bohemias" (guitar, song, and poetry, mostly for our Spanish-speaking community), Open Mic (poetry, Hip Hop, Song for anyone), Film, and more (this schedule will be available on Saturday).

The new space is nice and clean, located at 10258 Foothill Blvd., Lake View Terrace, CA 91340 (on the corner of Foothill and Wheatland, in front of the Number 91 Bustop). Our new phone number is 818-896-1479.

Please join us as we try to re-weave the amazing tapestry of song, dance, words, theater, art, and ideas that temporarily unraveled with our move. However, we have the regenerative power as community to start anew, to continue our important work, and to prepare for better days ahead. You'll love our new space.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Biography adds to understanding of Chicano art

Gronk (UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Press) by Max Benavidez

Book Review by Daniel A. Olivas

In recent years, Chicano art has received some of the respect long denied it by museums, critics and educators.

This did not happen without such diverse supporters as comedian Cheech Marin and Gary D. Keller, director of Bilingual Review/Press at Arizona State University. Through the publication of handsome, well-annotated books and the preparation of traveling exhibitions, they and others have encouraged this evolution of attitude and opinion.

Such advocacy continues. In 2002, the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Press established the book project "A Ver: Revisioning Art History," billed as the only series on Chicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, and other U.S.-based Latino artists. The center's director, Chon Noriega, edits the series, which is distributed by the University of Minnesota Press.

The first book in the series is Gronk ($24.95 paperback; $60 hardcover with documentary DVD), a biography of the artist of that name by Max Benavidez, a Los Angeles writer and scholar. Through Benavidez's well-researched text, generously illustrated by Gronk's art and photographs from the artist's life, we come to understand not only the importance of his art but also the personal and historical events that inform his artistic vision.

Gronk was born in 1954 and grew up in East Los Angeles. Benavidez notes that this predominantly Mexican-American community was "a place literally and figuratively outside the mainstream." Residents suffered from government neglect, poverty, gang violence and drug abuse.

In this setting, Gronk was further marginalized when his father abandoned the family. Gronk was often left unattended at a young age because his mother had to work.

Eventually, he discovered the public library and spent countless hours there, reading book after book, moving alphabetically through the shelves. When a librarian learned of Gronk's reading plan, she sternly but wisely told him to "start with the Greeks and then work your way up to the present."

In addition to books, Gronk fell in love with movies and television shows of all genres and quality.

As Gronk moved into adolescence, he still felt like an outsider, in part because he was gay. Benavidez writes that during this period of self-discovery, Gronk became such a master of reinvention that questions still linger about his biographical details. While Gronk says his full name is Glugio Gronk Nicandro, Benavidez finds conflicting evidence regarding even this seemingly simple element of Gronk's identity.

In due course, Gronk gravitated toward like-minded young people as he began to develop as a playwright, actor, filmmaker and artist. He helped form Asco, a group of "self-styled misfits and cultural radicals" that originally included Harry Gamboa Jr., Patssi Valdez and Willie Herrón III. The late artist Jerry Dreva also had a major influence on Gronk's work.

Gronk eventually created his most famous image, the iconic "La Tormenta," who is always depicted facing away from the viewer. La Tormenta wears long black gloves and a matching gown that plunges in a deep "V" down her back. As Benavidez notes, La Tormenta can be seen as Gronk's "glamorously stylish alter ego" who is "central to his artistic arsenal, that serves as a symbolic counterpoint of an 'authentic,' stable sexual identity."

The political turmoil of the times also influenced Gronk's work. For example, the powerful "Black and White Mural" (a collaboration with fellow Asco member Herrón) was inspired by the 1970 Chicano Moratorium, a national protest against the Vietnam War. One of the more potent images depicted in the mural is the infamous killing of reporter Rubén Salazar by a sheriff's deputy who needlessly fired two 10-inch tear-gas projectiles through a curtain into the Silver Dollar Café in East Los Angeles.

Benavidez offers a riveting, clear-eyed and contextualized midcareer examination of Gronk's development not only as an artist but also as a person.

For more information on this exciting and much-needed book series, visit

[This review first appeared in the El Paso Times on Sunday, March 25, 2007.]

Con Tinta Report from AWP Conference

Previously on La Bloga, I reported on Con Tinta’s participation at this year’s AWP Conference in Atlanta and I promised a full report would be forthcoming. Richard Yañez very kindly offered to pen such report which is presented here in its entirety (thanks Rich!):

Con Tinta held its annual Celebration at Mitra Restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia on March 2, 2007. Coinciding with the AWP Conference, Con Tinta took this occasion to honor Judith Ortiz Cofer with an achievement award. Along with previous winners, Rolando Hinojosa-Smith and raúlrsalinas, Ortiz Cofer is an influential voice and respected elder in our Latino literary community.

Con Tinta Advisory Circle members were on hand to host the special evening. Current members include Kathleen Alcalá, Brenda Cárdenas, Lisa D. Chávez, Rigoberto González, Lorraine M. López, Daniel A. Olivas, and Richard Yañez. Con Tinta’s mission is to create awareness of the Chicano/Latino literary community through the cultivation of emerging talent, through the promotion and presentation of artistic expression, and through the collective voice of support to our members, our communities, and our allies.

The evening also featured a special reading by poets from The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry—a new Camino del Sol title from the University of Arizona Press—edited by Francisco Aragón. Those poets who shared their work were Rosa Alcalá, Naomi Ayala, Richard Blanco, Brenda Cárdenas, Albino Carrillo, Steven Cordova, John Olivares Espinoza, Gina Franco, Carolina Monsiváis, and Urayoan Noel. Blas Falconer also read a poem from his new book, A Question of Gravity and Light. Patti Hartmann, University of Arizona press editor, was also present at the unveiling of this exciting anthology.

As with last year's Celebration in Austin, Tejas, Con Tinta was joined by some very special guests: Rane Arroyo, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Diana Delgado, Reyna Grande, Juan Morales, Manuel Muñoz, Emily Pérez, Carmen Seda, and Melanie Viramontes.

Generous donors for this year's events included BorderSenses, La Bloga, Los Norteños, Momotombo Press, and PaPaGaYo Literary Center. Other contributors included José A. Rodriguez, Emmy Pérez, and Monica Robinson.

Con Tinta sends a big abrazo to everyone at Letras Latinas for its continued support. Letras Latinas is the literary program of the Institute of Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

Con Tinta thanks Gina Franco for documenting our Celebration with her photography. Click here for a slideshow of the March 2, 2007 event.

Con Tinta Advisory Circle members also participated in a panel discussion earlier that day. During this event, the group presented its vision for the coming year and received enthusiastic feedback from the audience. Con Tinta further claimed its presence with a busy (and colorful) display table at the AWP Bookfair. Sharing space with our friends from Kundiman, we greeted familiar faces from and made new allies with members of the following groups/organizations: Louder Arts/Acentos, California State University-Fresno MFA Program, Chrysalis, Escritores del Nuevo Sol, Tameme, and the University of Texas-Pan American MFA Program.

Con Tinta is currently planning events for next year's Celebration at the AWP Conference in New York City (Jan. 30-Feb.2, 2008). For more information on participating in the conference, click here for the AWP website. Deadline for proposals is May 1, 2007.

If you would like more information on Con Tinta, please email us at or leave a phone message at 915-831-2630. Our mailing address is Con Tinta, Attn. Richard Yañez, PO Box 1025, Santa Teresa, NM 88008.

[Photographs by Gina Franco. Photograph #1: Brenda Cardenas introduces poets featured in The Wind Shifts (University of Arizona Press); Photograph #2: Lorna Dee Cervantes and Judith Ortiz Cofer; Photograph #3: Richard Yañez and Judith Ortiz Cofer.]

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Living To Tell the Story: The Authentic Latino Immigrant Experience in Picture Books (Part 2)

Rene Colato Lainez

In My Diary from Here to There/ Mi diario de aquí hasta allá, Amada Irma Pérez writes about her own journey as a girl crossing the border with the help of her family. In her diary little Amada records her fears, hopes, and dreams for their lives in the United States.

Amada is happy living in Mexico, but one morning she hears that her parents want to come to the United States. Amada is very worried. She experiences the first stage of uprooting, mixed emotions:

“Dear Diary, I know I should be asleep already, but I just can’t sleep. If I don’t write this all down, I will burst! Tonight after my brothers- Mario, Víctor, Héctor, Raúl, and Sergio- and I climbed into bed, I overheard Mamá and Papá whispering. They were talking about leaving our little house in Juárez, Mexico, where we’ve lived our whole lives, and moving to Los Angeles in the United States. But why? How can I sleep knowing we might leave Mexico forever?”

Amada is the typical immigrant child who is already rooted to her country and culture. She is like any child in Latin America who enjoys playing with her friends, going to school, and reading and writing in her native language. When I came to the United States, I was fourteen years old. I had nine years of instruction in Spanish. Like Amada in Mexico, I was rooted to my Salvadoran soil.

For immigrant children who are already rooted to their countries, the idea of leaving a known territory for an unknown dark place is terrifying. Amada is in shock. She loves her house, friends and speaking Spanish everywhere. She worries:

“But what if we’re not allowed to speak Spanish? What if I can’t learn to speak English? Will I ever see my friend Michi again? What if we never came back?”

These are typical questions that immigrant children have when they leave their countries. I was worried that I did not know how to speak or write in English. Before we left El Salvador, I tried to write a sentence in English. The Spanish/English dictionary was very wordy and heavy. After the third word, I quit, “I go to Estados Unidos con mi mamá.” (I am going to the United States to be with my mother). English seemed something impossible.

Amada and her family leave and the journey begins. Amada is in the second stage of uprooting, excitement or fear in the adventure of the journey. She says:

“Our trip was long and hard. At night the desert was so cold we had to huddle together to keep warm…Mexico and the U.S. are two different countries, but they look exactly the same on both sides of the border, with giant saguaros pointing up at the pink-orange sky and enormous clouds.”

When I left my country I traveled with only my father. Neither he nor I had ever been to the United States. I left behind my grandmothers, brothers, sister, and most of my extended family members. Some immigrant families make numerous intermediate stopovers for different lengths of time in several places. Amada and her family go to Mexicali and stay in her grandma’s house. Because Amada’s father is an American Citizen, he is the only one who can cross the border. Amada is terrified. She loves her father with all her heart. Immigrant children can relate to this authentic experience. Many children suffer through a separation from their parents when they immigrate.

Amada and the rest of the family wait at the Mexican border for the green cards that her father is trying to get. All this time, Amada is writing in her diary all her experiences about her journey. Finally, the papers are ready and Amada can cross the border.

“What a long ride! One woman and her children got kicked off the bus when the immigration patrol boarded to check everyone’s papers. Mamá held our green cards close to her heart.”

Amada does not go through the third stage, curiosity, but her brothers do. They go through this stage when they are still in their Mexican house.

“The big stores in El Paso sell all kinds of toys!”
“And they have escalators to ride!”
“And the air smells like popcorn, yum!”

Most immigrant children have only seen the United States in American movies. America looks like paradise, the land of promise and opportunities.

Because this book is about Amada Irma Perez’s journey to the United States, she does not write about the fourth stage of uprooting, culture shock that exhibits as depression or confusion. However, we can tell that since the beginning of the story, she has been in this stage. She even makes references to the silent period, when she writes that she is afraid that she would not be allowed to speak Spanish and she would never learn English.

At the end of the story, Amada is in the final stage of uprooting. She has acculturated to the mainstream. She goes to school to learn English. She discovers that changes are not easy but that she can overcome any fear with the help of her family.

“Just because I’m away from Juárez and Michi, it does not mean they’re not with me. They are here in your pages and in the language that I speak; and they are in my memory and my heart. Papá was right. I am stronger than I think--in Mexico, in the States, anywhere.”

Amada Irma Perez presents an authentic immigrant story. Many immigrant children living in the United States can relate to her feelings about leaving her country and her separation from her father.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Postman and the Mex - Part One

Manuel Ramos

The following is Part One of an article that was published originally in Hopscotch, Volume 2, Number 4 (2001). I have updated it a bit but obviously I need to expand the article to encompass changes and developments in the six years since it first appeared. I will post Part Two next week. I welcome suggestions for Part Three, which I may get to one of these days. In the meantime, here is what I have so far and, as usual, all rights reserved by me.


Girl meets boy. Girl and boy murder girl’s husband. Girl and boy destroy each other.

If James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice did not create this essential formula it certainly planted it in the collective consciousness of hundreds of writers who have followed him down the mean streets of crime fiction. This classic noir novel--indeed, some call it a classic American novel--was published in 1934 at the height of the Great Depression and turbulent social unrest. Its bleak, fatalistic point of view and laconic style reflected the tragic world of the main characters and a prevalent cynicism about the American dream. Cain’s use of sex as the canvas for a violent picture of twisted morals and deadly greed was enough to have the book banned in Boston. No surprise, then, that it became an instant hit and established the reputation of Cain, who went on to write other intriguing novels such as Mildred Pierce (1941) and Double Indemnity (1943).

At its heart, The Postman Always Rings Twice is a novela negra, a crime novel, with criminals as the main protagonists and no real heroes in sight. But it has come to stand for much more. Albert Camus acknowledged it as the inspiration for his own book, The Stranger (1942). At least two major movies and one Broadway play have been based on the book, and more than seventy years after its first publication it is still in print. The Library of America recently included Postman in its two volume Crime Novels anthology published in 1997.

Set in southern California, the story races to its climax, never pausing for literary niceties or random observations other than those critical to our understanding of the characters and their motivations. Thus the fact that Mexicans are even mentioned in this book is especially telling about the times, the characters, the author, and, of course, the country. The first private conversation of the doomed lovers, Frank and Cora, begins with a bold statement from Cora:

“You think I’m Mex.”

“Nothing like it.”

“Yes, you do. You’re not the first one. Well, get this. I’m just as white as you are, see? I may have dark hair and look a little that way, but I’m just as white as you are. You want to get along good around here, you won’t forget that.”

“Why, you don’t look Mex.”

“I’m telling you. I’m just as white as you are.”

“No, you don’t look even a little bit Mex. Those Mexican women, they all got big hips and bum legs and breasts up under their chin and yellow skin and hair that looks like it had bacon fat on it. You don’t look like that. You’re small, and got nice white skin, and your hair is soft and curly, even if it is black. Only thing you’ve got that’s Mex is your teeth. They all got white teeth, you’ve got to hand that to them.”

At least Frank adds good dental hygiene to his smear of an entire nation. Frank and Cora’s attitude was not unusual for white persons during the dust bowl era of the United States. The reader is left to ponder, however, whether Cora isn’t in denial, expressing an early form of Mexican American self-hatred. All in all, Mex is a much softer term than Cain might have used, given the racially charged atmosphere of the Depression era.

Mexicans, Mexicans Everywhere, But Where Are the Mexicans?

From bit players to detectives to killers, Mexicans and Mexican Americans have added a realistic touch to what can be an unrealistic genre. As the body count climbs higher and the sleuth unwittingly stumbles into harm’s way, a Mexican here or there injects verisimilitude, sets a tone of truth. But Mexican characters also been included for their exotic or “colorful” natures, a technique that has been criticized as yet another facet of racism.

James Crumley, James Ellroy, William Campbell Gault, Dorothy Hughes, Whit Masterson, and Jim Thompson are only a few of the many pulp, hard-boiled, or mystery authors who have used Mexican characters or settings in their work. These characterizations rum the gamut from crass caricatures of individuals, whose only Mexican distinctiveness is their Spanish surnames, to sincere attempts to portray the culture authentically.

Non-Mexican writers have had Mexicans or Mexican Americans at the center of their books, and some have built an entire series of stories or books around these characters. Between 1944 and 1948, in the pulp magazine Dime Detective, D.L. Champion published eight novelettes based on his detective hero Mariano Mercado. Mercado was atypical of the 1940s private eye. First, he was a Mexican and operated out of Mexico City. He referred to himself as a “detectivo particular.” Second, although brave and smart, he had quirks, such as raging hypochondria and an unnatural fear of germs. He also had wild taste in clothing. In one story he is described as wearing a “bright, jealous green suit,” shoes as “yellow as the proverbial dog,” and a shirt as “pink as an embarrassed salmon’s underbelly.” When he had to, though, he was quite capable of acting tough and getting physical with the bad guys. Champion was born in Australia and educated in New York.

Robert Somerlott’s short stories about Detective Sergeant Vincente López of the Jalisco State Police appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in the 1960s. Somerlott could claim some legitimacy for his characterizations: he lived for a time in San Miguel de Allende. Rex Burns writes a series of police procedurals using Gabriel Wager as his detective. Wager is half Mexican, half Anglo. Burns won an Edgar Award for the first book in this series, The Alvarez Journal, in 1976. Marcia Muller created Elena Oliverez, the first fictional Chicana detective, in The Tree of Death in 1983. Other non-Mexican authors in this genre include Del Shannon (Lieutenant Luis Mendoza, head of the Los Angeles Police Department’s homicide unit), Richard Wormser (Sheriff Ken Craigie, half Mexican, half Anglo), Bruce Cook (Antonio "Chico" Cervantes, Mexican American private eye), Nancy Herndon (Elena Jarvis, Chicana cop from Los Santos, Texas), Earlene Fowler (Gabriel Ortiz, police chief of San Celena, California), Fredric Brown (Tucson homicide detective Frank Ramos).

At this point, the question becomes obvious: Where are the Mexican American authors of crime fiction who use Mexicans or Mexican Americans in their stories? And the follow-up question seems just as obvious: Does ethnicity make a difference?

A Brief History of the Detectivo Particular

The detective Hector Belascorán Shayne deserves special mention. He is at least the second Mexico City private eye whose exploits have made it to the North American reading audience. Champion’s Mercado predates Shayne by several decades. The one-eyed Shayne is the creation of Paco Ignacio Taibo, II, born in Spain in 1949 but a resident of Mexico since childhood and now a naturalized citizen of that country. Taibo has had several novels published in Spanish and English, and he is a major organizer of the International Crime Writers Association’s “Semana Negra” conference, held every summer in Gijón, Spain. Taibo has been writing private-eye novels in Spanish since 1977, but he was not translated into English until 1990. His detective, Shayne, is deeply into leftist politics and is quite philosophical. A typical Shayne story twists and turns through several permutations until, at the end, it has the feel of a Fellini movie. In one novel Shayne is killed off, only to return in the next, with a reluctant “explanation” (certainly not an apology) from Taibo for having upset his readers. Taibo, writing about a Mexican private eye, has found an audience not only in Mexico but in the United States.

Rudy S. Apodaca’s book The Waxen Image, published in 1977, is important because it was, Apodaca claims, the “first mystery-suspense novel by a Chicano.” However, its focus is not on Mexican or Mexican American characters.

The handful of practitioners of Chicano crime fiction engage in almost all of the major forms of the genre, from police procedural to cozy, and use characters from the prototypical private eye to the isolated loser. For example, Rolando Hinojosa is well-known for his ongoing project about life in fictional Belken County, Texas, just a stone’s throw from the border. Two books in the Klail City Death Trip Series are police procedurals featuring Rafe Buenrostro, one of the first Mexican American police characters created by a Chicano author. Hinojosa’s crime fiction resonates with the tempo of the border where corridos and rancheras mingle with the pop of bullets in the sultry night air. His Partners In Crime was published in 1985; Ask A Policeman came out thirteen years later.

On the other hand, Michael Nava’s hero is Henry Ríos, a gay, alcoholic Chicano lawyer whose cases often have elements from the gay underworld, the tragedy of AIDS and the bittersweet life of a man defining his values in an uncaring world. Ríos first appeared in 1986 in The Little Death. Nava has published seven Rios novels. The final installment in the series is Rag and Bone (2001).

Rudolfo Anaya, the author of the immensely popular novel Bless Me, Ultima (1972), took up mysteries late in his writing career but so far has published four novels that can be classified as mysteries: Zia Summer (1995), Rio Grande Fall (1996), Shaman Winter (1999), Jemez Spring (2005). Anaya’s contribution to the list of Chicano private eyes is Sonny Baca, introduced in a novel usually not classified as a crime novel, Alburquerque (1992). Baca, the grandson of legendary New Mexican lawman Elfego Baca, operates a private-eye business in Albuquerque. Baca’s arch-nemesis is Raven, brujo extraordinaire.

Martin Limón takes his readers to Korea where his Chicano military policeman, George Sueño, has to bend rules to solve exotic and violent crimes. Sueño debuted in Jade Lady Burning in 1992, the same year Anaya’s detective first appeared, and has shown up in three other novels, Slicky Boys (1997), Buddha’s Money (1998), and The Door to Bitterness (2005).

I first published a novel featuring burned-out lawyer and nostalgic Chicano activist Luis Móntez in 1993 in The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz. Móntez’s crime solving comes about because of the self-destructive antics of his law clients or the shady nature of many of his old friends. Five novels featuring Luis Móntez have so far appeared. I also have one stand-alone novel, Moony's Road to Hell, that tells the story of Denver private eye Danny "Moony" Mora.

Max Martínez’s stories are as hard-boiled as anything penned by the better-known Elmore Leonard. Martínez explores the dusty, heat-soaked Texas badlands with abundant helpings of gritty violence and feverish sex. Martínez’s sardonic hero, deputy sheriff Joe Blue, has been in White Leg (1996) and Layover (1997).

And Lucha Corpi has given us Gloria Damasco and Dora Saldaña, private investigators who are not quite cozy or hard-boiled -- maybe medium-boiled?

Brown Angels and Black Widows

Contrast Frank’s description of a Mexican woman in The Postman Always Rings Twice, with Damasco’s in Corpi’s Black Widow’s Wardrobe:

At least five-feet-six, and of medium build, she seemed self-possessed to the point of aloofness. Her eyes, framed by arched brows and prominent cheekbones, were large and observant, and they animated an otherwise doleful countenance. I tried inconclusively to guess her age.

"She was in the procession," Tania said. "She looks so sad."

"Sad but lovely," Art commented. "She is ... regal in her sadness. Like a tragic Greek heroine."

"More like a tragic Aztec princess," Francisco remarked.

"More like a brown murderess," Myra said.

Part Two next week.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Chica Lit, Meet Johnny Diaz

A staff writer for The Boston Globe, Johnny Diaz covers Boston’s colorful neighborhoods and Hispanic issues. Previously, Diaz was a reporter for The Miami Herald where he shared in the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the federal seizure of Elian Gonzales and its aftermath. MTV Real World fans will remember him as the “gay guy’s boyfriend” from the Miami season. In Boston Boys Club, his first novel, Johnny Diaz follows a trio of friends as they search for that perfect guy at the most happening bar in Boston, the Café Club.

I caught up with Johnny as he continues to juggle being a successful journalist and preparing for the national debut of his novel. Come back next week for a review of Boston Boys Club, summer read season is just around the corner.


Talk about chico lit and its place alongside chica lit...
What connection do you feel with writers like Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, and the chica lit movement? Who are the writers that influenced you, and what about them/their work clicked for you?

I believe chico lit is the guy's chica lit. Just as Latinas look for themselves and their stories in contemporary fiction, so are their gay brothers, cousins, and amigos. We want to see ourselves reflected accurately and positively. Latino readers of gay fiction want something that goes beyond what we've read countless times before: the gangbangers, the big and strong old-school macho guys, the sexy hot Latino gardeners to have sex with, and the stereotypical flamboyant drag queens. We're more than that just as Latinas are more than housekeepers and Spanish-accented sexy bombshells. What about our stories that speak of friendship and the struggles with being accepted not just in your own family and culture but in your own social group? What about our stories that show how we're constantly swaying and thriving in a bicultural bubble? We often speak two languages because of our parents and we travel back and forth in between cultures, 24-7 and I haven't seen many recent novels by a gay Latino writer that speaks to all that, especially from an American and Hispanic point of view.

I feel a strong kinship with Alisa Valdes Rodriguez and her chica lit movement. For one, I was a college intern in Living/Arts at The Boston Globe when she was a writer here. (She was my unofficial mentor and she would often read my copy and give me advice before I filed my stories to my editor. I sat next to her and I think I used to her annoy with questions about where to eat and dance.) I feel what she does now as an author is what she was did as a journalist, telling our stories, informing and enlightening readers about our culture and backgrounds and how diverse and rich we are. She broke a lot of new ground in Boston and in Los Angeles and in mainstream journalism. She always inspired me to do the same. (I actually have her old job here at The Globe.) When I read The Dirty Girls Social Club, I wanted to do a guy's version of that, hence Boston Boys Club but with not so many main characters, just three guys and how a gay Cuban-American adapts to a sometimes staid town like Boston.

So Alisa has been a big influence on me as well as authors such as Nicholas Sparks and William J. Mann. Some fellow writers frown on Nicholas Sparks because they say his writing is hokey and full of cliches with his simplistic stories, but they ring true and bring a romantic escapism for the reader. William J. Mann is a fellow gay writer from Cape Cod and he has written books about the gay party circuit. His novels have been the closest thing I've read to good gay fiction that speak to the everyday struggles of dating and relationships. But again, none of his characters are Latinos, hence another reason for writing BBC. I wanted to write something fun and positive about being gay and Hispanic today. I want people to read my novel and walk away with a good feeling about gays and Latinos in general, like they know understand us a little better.

Boston Boys Club will no doubt be popular as queer fiction in the LGBT community, but it also has the appeal of Bushnell and Sex and the City. Not to give anything away, but BBC has a strong thread of friendship as well as romance and sexuality. What do you that says about where we are in the culture wars, i.e. gay reality not a "subculture" anymore, but popular culture.

I find that if you write about universal themes (strong friendships, sweet romances, and the longing for intimacy) that they will transcend labels and be part of popular culture as opposed to a subculture or a specific niche. I know my characters are gay and one of them is Hispanic but their stories will resonate with anyone who has had issues with committing to a relationship, helping someone with has his own addiction issues or chronicling the challenges of being a newcomer in a new home and job. I describe the book as a Same-Sex in the City because men and women of various backgrounds related to that show, even though it was about four straight women and their search for Mr. Right. I hope that readers who pick up Boston Boys Club will relate to one of the characters, even if they are gay or Hispanic. My guys are all looking for love, and themselves and aren't we all in our own way?

On a related note, in your opinion, what do you think Latin culture has to offer the LGBT community and vise versa, and ultimately what do those communities bring to the "larger" body politic?

The Latin culture has offered us a rich tradition of storytelling. Our tradition is about sharing, being passionate and proud about who you are and what you do. We're all storytellers, from our abuelos y padres. I remember growing up in Miami, listening to my dad tell my sister and I stories about Cuba or he would pretend to be the voice of one of my sister's dolls to keep us entertained on long drives to Disney World. There is a long tradition of this among many famous gay Latin writers, from Reinaldo Arenas and Elias Miguel Munoz to Cuban poet Richard Blanco. You read their books and poems and you can hear, taste, smell, and see the results of those passed-on traditions of storytelling.

And by sharing their stories, they also contribute another layer of the
Latin experience - the gay experience, which has often been something you know but don't talk about. They've written about their tight-knit upbringing and struggles of being gay in a machismo mundo to being ostracized at times from a culture that is so often warm and embracing yet so cold and shunning with it comes to homosexuality.

As a journalist and novelist, do you experience one kind of writing as different than the other? For me, writing poetry feels very intuitive, very much a right brain activity, where fiction writing seems almost exclusively left brain. Does this resonate for you, and if not, how would you describe how your work develops, how it's linked?

That's a great question. I find that my writing for The Boston Globe is very left-brain and somewhat serious. I am writing with a pair of handcuffs on because the story is not about me, but about the person, the topic or the issue. I funnel the facts and the information from my notepad and do my best to write them into a clear and concise article that flows. I feel I have to keep my personality - my voice - at bay to tell the story for the newspaper. Sometimes, I struggle to keep my first-person observations out so that the article is completely third-person but sometimes, a personal insight or observation surfaces and I get away with it.

Writing fiction is pure pleasure for me. It's my creativity unleashed and it doesn't feel like work at all. It's feels more like art, something you do because your spirit guides you - calls you - to do it. When I write fiction, I feel I can take those proverbial handcuffs off (the ones from above at the newspaper) and let my voice run free and wild. When I write fiction, I feel like someone running in a boundless field of sawgrass or someone swimming in the middle of the sea. I don't where I'm running or swimming to but I am having fun exploring, seeing where the journey takes me. So yes, fiction is very "write" brain for me. :)

Where do you see yourself as a writer ten years from now?

I see myself smiling and writing, sharing my stories with others as a writer and telling other people's stories as well as journalist. And hopefully, I'll still be bopping around New England and South Florida in my little white Jeep Wrangler to find those stories.

Tell us something about yourself not in the official bio.

I'm addicted to the six-inch Veggie Delite sub (no mayo, honey mustard por favor) from Subways sandwich shops. I eat one daily for lunch, plus two chocolate chip cookies.

Written by Lisa Alvarado