Metropolis Books spans maybe 20 feet across and 50 feet deep into the entrañas of a low-rise building in the heart of Los Angeles’ urban renewal movement. Well ahead of the hipness curve, Metropolis has been in its location now three years, evidence of the swelling spread of loft-dwellers into the heart of downtown Los Angeles. Metropolis’ shelves pack a lot of wallop for the space. During the Q&A, for example, Daniel remarked that his work runs fewer pages than a magnum opus like War and Peace. I looked at the shelf at Dan’s right elbow and there was War and Peace, one shelf over from the poetry section. Taste, that’s what Metropolis Books’ inventory reflects.
Olivas selects three monologues from his involving collection Anywhere But L.A., adding a fourth when late-arrivals take seats: “Blue,” a ten-paragraph horror story of a child’s drowning that Olivas based on the 10 tracks of a Joni Mitchell vinyl. You can read “Blue” at this La Bloga post. “Let Me Tell You a Story,” filled with understated rage at lethally irresponsible drug addled parenting. The enchanting “Painting,” spoken from the perspective of a nude woman in her portrait, a beautiful evocation of Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn," or Sandra C. Muñoz' "Free Metal Woman." “Gordon,” another point of view piece, this one a dog’s.
To read Olivas is to experience a master of the short form. Olivas illustrates how character development doesn’t require pages of dialog and extensive tell-then-show. In Olivas' hand, a word or two is enough show. “Gordon,” for example, speaks volumes about the nature of this dog when the Setter avers his preference for the ideal bone, “a femur.” Absence of, suggestion of, detail is among Olivas’ most effective techniques. In “Blue,” for example, the speaker has been hollowed out by the life path she’s chosen surrounding giving birth at fifteen. Olivas fully conveys her emptiness by withholding details of events and people, facts hinted, alluded, never spoken, as if the story's events, as is her life, are unspeakable.
Writers-as-readers will profit from observing Dan's technique. Metropolis Books provides a table and chair, but Dan works for effect. He stands away from the table to commit his entire person to the reading. Readers who sit, or hide behind a lectern, not only diminish their effectiveness by denying themselves the full use of their body, the fully-exposed reader releases pent-up nervousness while developing power and poise that make a convincing case for buying this book. Standing like this always makes a wise choice, given that in any reading, the writer's two purposes are to entertain and to sell books.
Daniel Olivas’ first novel is in publication now, coming later this year.
Juanita Salazar Lamb © 2010
A friend asked me recently if I would continue writing stories set in the Latina/o experience, or would I reach out and write for the rest of the community. After all, isn’t my current writing like singing to the choir, she said. Mulling over that has spurred me to think about my presentation at Northwest Arkansas Community College Spring Arts Festival. In February, Jose Faus and I, of the Latino Writers Collective read from the anthology “Cuentos del Centro: Stories from the Latino Heartland” and the discussion afterward centered around questions of writing technique, dialogue, and some translations for the audience. But as our friend Michael Sedano sagely says there are 3 presentations:
- the one you prepare to give from notes;
- the one you actually give;
- and one where you actually deliver all the good things you thought to say afterward.
So here is the one where I talk about universal issues in multi-cultural writing: While it’s true that “El Vestido Colora’o” and “Promesas” are set in la cultura Tejana of South Texas, with its mix of Spanish and English language and customs, these stories both address universal themes. “El Vestido Colora’o” is a coming of age story in which the adolescent girl, chafing under her mother’s choices and directions, nevertheless recognizes the need to toe the line. Marisol’s insistent refusals to participate in a social gathering with her parents are met with her mother’s threat that Papá will be called in. This resonates with “wait until your father gets home.” Marisol is naïve in the ways of relationships with boys, other than the occasional glance or smile across a classroom, but at the same time she is experiencing twinges of nascent lust. This is evident as she describes Tony, the object of her affection, as “the cutest boy in the whole world” and when she restrains herself from reaching up and running her fingers through his hair. And we are all familiar when, as adolescents, we were absolutely certain everyone in our surroundings was staring at us and our awful __________ (fill in the blank from the options: skin, zit, shoes, clothes, car). So it is with Marisol as she prays that the earth will open up and swallow her and the awful red dress. And finally, the issue of validation. By the end of the story Marisol finds validation from the most important person at the moment. Haven’t we all been put at ease when someone we cared about paid us a compliment when our confidence was shaky?
Similarly, in “Promesas” we can identify with issues of self-esteem, jealousy, and revenge. Zoila has had enough. Enough to go out and find herself a real man, not someone who will run off after a few hours, as she says. But first, she has some unfinished business with this sinvergüenza, and the prescription requires that it be administered on this special night. In a world where relationships can be fleeting, self-esteem mercurial and exacting revenge costly, Zoila shows us that once you’re ready for a new start, dale gas! The surprise twist in this story reaffirms the universal belief in the triumph of good.
So for my friends who think that writing Latina/o stories is singing to the choir, come sing along with us. You may find we can all sing along.
Try to Remember by Iris Gomez Book Give-Away
Award-winning poet and expert in US immigration and asylum law Iris Gomez delivers a debut novel about a Latina daughter's attempt to sustain her family as her father battles with mental illness after immigrating to the United States.
"What holds the reader is the drama of each intense home scenario, scary and tender... The clash between traditional immigrant values and feminist independence is powerful... In her debut novel, Colombian immigrant poet Gomez dramatizes the universal dilemma of a loving family serving as 'both joy and prison.'" --- Booklist
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