Thursday, June 30, 2011

El ruido de las cosas al caer

XIV Premio Alfaguara de Novela 2011

«Este hombre no ha sido siempre este hombre», pensé. «Este hombre era otro hombre antes».

Tan pronto conoce a Ricardo Laverde, el joven Antonio Yammara comprende que en el pasado de su nuevo amigo hay un secreto, o quizá varios. Su atracción por la misteriosa vida de Laverde, nacida al hilo de sus encuentros en un billar, se transforma en verdadera obsesión el día en que éste es asesinado.

Convencido de que resolver el enigma de Laverde le señalará un camino en su encrucijada vital, Yammara emprende una investigación que se remonta a los primeros años setenta, cuando una generación de jóvenes idealistas fue testigo del nacimiento de un negocio que acabaría por llevar a Colombia —y al mundo— al borde del abismo. Años después, la exótica fuga de un hipopótamo, último vestigio del imposible zoológico con el que Pablo Escobar exhibía su poder, es la chispa que lleva a Yammara a contar su historia y la de Ricardo Laverde, tratando de averiguar cómo el negocio del narcotráfico marcó la vida privada de quienes nacieron con él.

El ruido de las cosas al caer es la historia de una amistad frustrada. Pero es también una doble historia de amor en tiempos poco propicios, y también una radiografía de una generación atrapada en el miedo, y también una investigación llena de suspense en el pasado de un hombre y el de un país.

[Novedades de Alfaguara]

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My Shoes and I- Interview by 3rd-grade students

On May a group of 3rd grade Latino students critiqued my book My Shoes and I. You can read the critique here.

Muchas gracias niños and muchas gracias to maestro Rudy Garcia for your words and lindas palabras for My Shoes and I.

The students also sent me some questions. With mucho placer, here are my answers. :)

BryanG: How did you ever do this wonderful book?
Ever since I was trying to publish my first book, I wanted to write my story of crossing three borders. Yay! Now it is a book!

Have you gone through these things in your life?
This is my real journey from El Salvador to the United States. All the incidents in the book happened to me. I can still remember the dogs chasing me and discovering the holes on my shoes.

Nancy: What inspired you to do this book and how did you think of so many good ideas?
My journey to the United States was my inspiration to write this book. This journey and my life as a new immigrant child in the United States are my treasures of inspiration. Every time I want to write a new story, I look into my treasures and always find great stories.

Marianay: How did you come up with the story?
I lived the story. A famous Latin American author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, wrote that you have to live in order to tell the story. Writing this book was like writing in my own personal journal.

Adal: Where did you get all this information?
I got the information while I was walking, taking buses and crossing borders. The journey was scary and exciting at the same time. Scary because you never know what can happen on the road and exciting because I was going to see Mamá and escaping war. Every moment was recorded in my mind.

Lesley: Did you really need to cross the border when you were young?
Yes, because we did not have the right papers to fly to the United States. My family was poor in my country and the only way to come to the United States was to cross three borders.

Questions from several kids:
Do you like sad or happy endings?
I like happy endings because at the end of every book, I want to know that the main character will be fine or that there is hope to accomplish his/her dreams, but sometimes sad endings teach us valuable lessons. We can always learn from positive and negative experiences.

Do you ever write scary stories?
Yes, I do! In college I wrote the short story Blood Tears. A group of theater students loved my story so much that they created a play. It was great to see my story in action.

Writer/writing questions
Lesley: What made you interested in writing?
My mother’s uncle Jorge Buenaventura Laínez, a Salvadoran author, inspired me to dream that I could be a writer in the future. Also, every time I read a book, I am transported into a new world where anything can happen. Tío Jorge is the seed of inspiration and the books are the water that nurture my imagination.

Alan & Ruben: How did you become a famous writer?
Thanks for thinking that I am famous . I submitted my stories to many publishers. Some publishers said no, but I did not give up. Piñata Books said yes and published my first book, Waiting for Papá.

Alex: when did you start to write books?
I wrote my first poem when I was seven years old. In high school and college I wrote many stories such as Blood Tears. When I became a teacher, I started to write children’s stories.

Marianay: How does it feel being an author?
It is great to know that my books are reaching many hands and that entire families are enjoying them.

Other questions
BrianC: Do you have a special writing room? Did someone help you write this?
My special writing room is always a library. I write better in a silent place and the library is perfect because I am surrounded by books. I write my stories but my editors help me to edit them when they are ready to become books.

Brisa: What do you like to read?
I love memoirs and books that are based on real stories. Also, I like to read fantasy and adventure books.

Sarahy: Did you ever treat something like a person, like the personifications in your book?
Yes I do! I always say beautiful things to my computer because I need it to write my stories. When I am looking for something, I always say “Beautiful and wonderful _________. Where are you? In this way, I always find what I am looking for.

muchos saludos,

René Colato Laínez

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Get It Written & Published. Poets Read Their Stuff. On-Line Floricanto

Michael Sedano

Power of the press, goes the old adage, belongs to the person who owns the press. Fans of Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes swear that’s true. Democrats and fair-minded people swear at that truth, but stand impotent as one after another owner of newspapers, television and radio stations, magazines, slides toward the dark side.

In book publishing, the power of the press takes on a highly elaborated form. it’s obviously never sufficient to have a great story, scintillating writing, characters with voice and ethos. A writer needs an agent, an agent needs a conecta with insiders at a publisher. With those magic ingredients, a writer might get work looked at. Only after the process meanders along—unless you’re a celebrity or the child of a half-term Alaska governor—will a publisher deign to green light a project.

Poets have always known the surest, if not only, route to an audience is small publishing, self publishing. Likewise, novelists and short fiction writers have begun to discover enhanced access to power of the press. Not through ownership but through contracting with “on demand” publishing businesses who, for a fee, can convert a computer file into a gleaming paperback with ISBN number y todo.

Self-publishing, however, comes at a price. Agents and publishers liken a self-published manuscript to a kiss of death for that work. One publisher, speaking to the National Latino Writers Conference, spoke clearly: publishers do not want a work that has a history of self-publication. In other words, don’t do it. Other critics of self-publishing like to draw blood, referring to such books as literary SPAM. Ouch.

But there may be a change in the wind. Recently, a representation firm, Dystel & Goderic, announced it will lend a hand, for a fee, to their stable of writers curious about entering the self-publishing game via e-books as opposed to physical books: what we are going to do is to facilitate e-publishing for those of our clients who decide that they want to go this route, after consultation and strategizing about whether they should try traditional publishing first or perhaps simply set aside the current book and move on to the next. We will charge a 15% commission for our services in helping them project manage everything from choosing a cover artist to working with a copyeditor to uploading their work. We will continue to negotiate all agreements that may ensue as a result of e-publishing, try to place subsidiary rights where applicable, collect monies and review statements to make sure the author is being paid. In short, we will continue to be agents and do the myriad things that agents do.

It may be a huge leap from a represented e-book to a self-published paperback. Then again, maybe not. La Bloga-Tuesday welcomes guest columnist Jose Rodriguez, a self-published novelist, to discuss the experience and satisfaction of being one’s own publisher.

Guest Columnist: Jose Rodriguez. Being a Self-Publishing Writer

In the days of paper books those presses that catered and still cater to authors who published their own work were called vanity presses. The adjective meant that the author’s work was not up to snuff and had been rejected by the well established book printers in New York city thus the author, acting on his own vanity, had decided to pay from his own pocket to have his manuscript printed.

Today, with the advent of indie presses, self publishing ebook web sites and hand held electronic readers, the monopoly once held by New York publishers is starting to fade. This is the same phenomenon seen by the music industry where an indie band can put their music out on the web and get an audience and make some money while bypassing the record companies.

But make no mistake; self publishing still has a stigma attached to it; many think that a self published author has to be subpar otherwise he or she would have a literary agent and a contract with a big house, plus a nice cash advance.

I’m a self published author who has never snagged an agent or a book contract. I could blame the shortsightedness of the publishing industry, bad luck, my own lack of persistence (even though I have enough rejection slips to wall paper my whole house), or perhaps an utter lack of writing talent. The fact is that I have no agent but I have drawers full of manuscripts, and I’m still writing more.

Janis Joplin sung on Me and Bobby McGee that freedom is just another word for nothin' left to lose, so with that in mind, I took the plunge and self published some of my work in ebook form. In this blog I will talk about my experiences with, a web site that allows authors to publish anything they want in an ebook format. There are other sites that also offer that service and it is worth your time to explore these other options but here I will stick to because that is who I work with and my experiences with them have been rather good.

Click here and take a look at this page.

Here is me and my stuff. I paid nothing for this web page and I paid nothing for my ebooks. That right there is a good incentive for any aspiring author to get into electronic self publishing. Smashword’s business model is a simple one: indie authors self publish their manuscripts, create an author’s page and link that page to their own web sites, Facebook or Twitter, all that for free. You set the price you want to charge for your work and Smashwords takes a small cut with each paid download and that’s their profit. In my case I give my writing away for free so nobody makes a cent (sorry Smashwords).

Why free? Because I’m more interested in getting people to read my stuff than in making money. Thank God I have a full time job that pays the bills. To charge or not to charge has implications: Smashwords books can also be accessed by the Sony’s Reader Store, and the Apple book store but the catch is that the last two want to see a minimum price of $0.99 per book because they don’t want to waste time with freebies. Sony has my free stuff as you can see here.

Not bad for an unknown author who has no agent. I’m in the Sony catalog; take that New York! And it cost me nothing (thanks Smashwords). I want to tell you the good things about self publishing:

• You self publish what you want when you want. No bouncers at the door telling you that your writing “doesn’t fit our current needs.”
• You set your price.
• You have the ability to update or remove your work and reset your prices and personal page at will.
• Smashwords will automatically and for free translate your manuscript into the most common ebook formats. They will distribute your work beyond their site to big hitters like (If your books are not free).
• You set your web presence.
• Smashwords keeps track of downloads and allows readers to post reviews.
• If people download and pay for your stories you make money.

Of course, there is always the other side of the coin and you must be aware of these things:

• You are wholly responsible for the quality of your writing and the formatting of your manuscript. Smashwords are not line editors, book doctors or a critique group. Before you upload anything it must be edited, re-edited, impeccable, error free and the best you can do. You got one chance to impress readers so don’t blow it with a half ass manuscript. I cannot stress how important it is that you do a professional job when you put something out there. I’m amazed at some ebooks where even the synopsis has grammatical blunders; if an author cannot write a short description of his work, is he going to write a decent book? Probably not.
• Strictly follow the formatting guidelines for the web site you are writing for. These guidelines ensure that your manuscript looks good in a hand held ereader or a computer screen. The simpler your formatting the better off you are.
• You are one among many; you’re an unknown face in a crowd. Just because you put something out there doesn’t mean that fame and fortune will follow. There is that dirty “M” word, marketing. Putting your ebook out there is just the first step on a long climb up a steep and slippery mountain.

While I’m still waiting for fame and fortune I have had thousands of downloads and a few good reviews. This beats having the manuscript sitting in a dusty drawer but it doesn’t mean a book deal or that I can quit my day job.

Follow Janis Joplin’s advice (actually it was Kris Kristofferson who wrote the song) and go for it; after all, what you got to lose?

Poets Reading 1
Alburquerque Tonight! Voz, Palabra, Sonido

Click the poster for a grande view
Poets Reading 2
La Palabra, Plus, At Avenue 50 Studio

Los Angeles' most vibrant art and poetry space, Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park, hosts the every 4th Sunday series, La Palabra. La Bloga had the opportunity to attend the June fête.

Poet-host for the afternoon, Luivette Resto, performed only Emcee tasks. Lástima. Nonetheless, the Sunday 26Jun event made another superb afternoon.

The tacos were ready in advance. Tacos? La Palabra regularly does not have a tacquera on duty serving tacos de lengua, carne asada, pollo; aguas frescas; salsas ricas y chilosas. Take your pick or all of them. Many gente thus enjoyed a snack prior to sitting down for the first event, Open Mic.
Mari Werner took the mic for a pair of quietly meditative pieces. This was Mari's first visit to La Palabra. Her low-key delivery offered a suitable contrast for La Palabra's featured poet, Fernando D. Castro.
Castro, an architect for a public agency, read from his collection, "Redeemable Air Mileage." He began with a evocative piece on la Habana's Malecón, filling the piece with lively onomatopoeia of the sea brushing against the sea wall.

A highly animated, energetic reader, Castro's work, laced with satiric asides and pointed humor, glows under the spotlight he shines upon his word through accomplished oral skill.
Fernando invited his guest, Jonathan Osborn, to perform the final reading of the afternoon. Osborn mounted a rich reading in east Indian dialect of an entertaining work, made all the more so by Osborn's skilled oral interpretation.
La Palabra's afternoon reading, in other words, offered a clinic in reading your own stuff. In a most useful, though perhaps questionable strategy, Castro distributed copies of "Redeemable Air Mileage" allowing audience members to read along with the oral presentation.

Castro prefers a long line heavily laced with dependent clauses and allusions that the printed text helps elucidate. The questionable element came when Castro retrieved the chapbook from the audience, informing them they could keep it in exchange for twelve dollars. In an awkward moment, most returned the publication, now folded and perhaps soiled from taco-holding hands.

The tacos, condiments, and wine were provided as part of the day's final event.In a beautifully conceived idea that technology mucked up, Isabel Rojas Williams and friends mounted a Skype-call with Jose Antonio Aguirre, a Los Angeles architect in Mexico studying mural conservancy.

The slideshow played "live" at Avenue 50 Studio, with Aguirre narrating via Skype. Frustratingly, signal delay had the speaker asking "what slide is up now?" and calling out "next slide" when, live, the projection screen displayed the next one.

The presentation centered around fused glass set into concrete or stone substrates, with a small portion--as the presentation concluded--devoted to painted murals. I hope Williams and the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles tame their technical gremlins and bring back the presentation in a more consumable and audience-friendly form.

La Bloga On-Line Floricanto June's Ultimate Tuesday

Summer has come in, lude sing damn you, Arizona. Alabama. Georgia. Who's next to prove that knuckle-headedness is its own reward? Undocumented workers who fled Georgia were laughing with empty pockets and ample schadenfreude when locals, discovering farm labor too exhausting for such delicados, walked off the job after picking a few buckets. The rest of those farmer's crops rot on the ground. What rotten shame.

So it goes. The Facebook group, Poets Responding to SB 1070, is not walking off anyone's rancho. In fact, the poets continue to work for free, last week submitting over 50 poems for consideration. Francisco X. Alarcón and the moderators submit these five poets' work for this final Tuesday of June 2011:

1. "Border Inquest Blues" by Odilia Galván Rodríguez

2. “No Consolation for Lidia” by Norma Liliana Valdez

3. "My Land—Not My Land" by Nancy Green

4. "Open the Borders" by Graciela Vega

5. “The Pass-Through Behind Robert's House" by Andrea Mauk

Border Inquest Blues
by Odilia Galván Rodríguez
at what crossing
could my poems
become bread
or water to offer
a people
the thousands
who cross so many
miles of misery
perched on trains
like birds
with clipped wings
who only fly
in their dreams
but decide to search
out the promise of
a better life at any cost
which of my
careful word choices
make a difference
to scorched tongues
that can no longer
even form a whisper
let alone cry out for help
in a desolate desert
there are no
flights on 747's
for a people
with only prayers
without papers
thick with words
that legitimize them
in an illegal world
full of legalized criminals
that form tempests
to tease out fear and
who year after year
think up new ways to hate
at the same time taking
even a person's last breath
if it benefits their profits
at what checkpoint
do my words become
more than arrows
sharp in their bite
or mere criticisms of the "Right"
still not hitting the target
or putting an end
to this war

no consolation for Lidia

by Norma Liliana Valdez

triple digit

insatiable rivers

desert canyons

empty bottle

scrubland coyotes

abandon Mother

hand identified

silence ruptures

My land—Not my land

No one owns Mother Earth;
only she can own herself,
restore herself, renew her being.

Hurried steps travel south then north,
greet fire burning in the hearts of the people;
travelers sing without fear of a land that knows them well.

Our spirits cross mountains and valleys,
travel to new beginnings,
gather beneath surviving trees,
breathe the healing evening breeze,
caress the scent of ancient roses in bloom.

At night, the land dreams of eternal movement,
sleeps beneath a watchful moon etched in endless desert sky;
flowing birds nest, revive the dream at dawn--
distant shadows murmur “Adiós.”

Gentle streams guide the journey to other realms during prayer:
“Sacred Mother, nourish our beings, nurture our souls, lead us home.”

Nancy Lorenza Green
Written June 11, 2011 during Odilia Galvan’s workshop at the Our Spirit...Our Reality Conference

Open the Borders

by Graciela Vega

Europe opened the borders to itself
German families reunited
when the walls went down
Atzimba lighted her flame
then each candle on her altar
she whispered
saints speak to the Congress
guardian angels
maybe soon she could soothe
her mother's wrinkled skin
Open the border America
to yourself
or write laws with dignity
Amir wondered when people
would stop second guessing him
hadn't he sworn allegiance to the USA
hadn't he translated in Iraq
half of his family buried
the other half
maybe soon he could hug his wife
A long journey from El Salvador
Anna waited for her child
to be born
a cry
one push
a country where any child could dream of becoming President
a cry
one push
warm milk
a child and a dream born
Listen to the guardian angels
Open yourself America to yourself

The Pass-Through Behind Robert's House
by Andrea Mauk

Robert's house is gone now,
wouldn't even know it had been there
hidden in the shadows of the downtown skyline
except for the block fence on the side,
two feet tall
spray painted "725 South."
Doesn't matter.
I remember every detail,
etched in my artist's eyes,
from that day I took a walk.
Behind Robert's house,
beyond the ball and socket fuses,
the stalled out DeSoto
his sister's dog used to jump in and out of,
was a two story apartment,
which had been boarded up for
I don't know, maybe forever
because it was posted "unsafe."
Don't ask me how it got that way,
it looked sturdy as anything,
and in the middle of the moss-green structure
was a pass-through to the alley:
to another world.
I wanted to paint a heart
on that shaded archway of brick, R.G. + A.M.
and come back all grown up
to see if it survived
better than we did. I never guessed
that when I arrived, there'd be
nothing left that I hadn't carried
inside of me.
How could I have walked the alley
all by myself? I don't think you
call that brave because
everyone knows that bad things
can happen to young girls in alleys,
but I did it,
I walked it on the way to the
Kim's Market to buy a Suzie-Q.
There were tiny structures,
patched tin-roofed storage sheds,
looked like kids had built them as castle-forts,
postage stamp apartments, holes in the walls
covered with cardboard,
the sound of sizzling, the smell of manteca,
beans frying until they danced their skins off,
and la música de la Norteña
serenading the abandoned chow mein container
from Dirty Mary's,
garbage strewn across the alley,
a sea of jewels, shimmering broken glass.
How could they live? The twin beds
almost wider than the houses. And
through the open windows that
inhaled and exhaled the gritty Phoenix
heat, I heard conversations flying,
joyful laughter escaping into the world.
My mouth fell open, my eyes grew wide
back there in the alley, on the fringe,
amidst invisible spaces
in houses that nobody would believe existed
if I tried to explain,
there were people who smiled and made the best of it.
How could that be? Don't they need something,
something more? Air conditioning?
Cable TV? An address?
At times I tell myself
it was just a dream, but
I know it was real because
I touched it, left fingerprints.
The memory still lingers,
comes creeping back to me
in the middle of the night, when
my heart flutters and cold sweats attack,
when my eyes spring open
to a sea of inky darkness.
First comes the percussion of spattering grease
then the strumming of guitars,
ballads going out to
the ones they left behind
en el otro lado.
I wonder sometimes if people still live back there,
mostly I question how we let them,
or if Sheriff Joe ever rode in on his pink-saddled horse
and gathered them up in the name of justice.
I suppose
I really wasn't that brave because
I never went back to check.


Odilia Galván Rodríguez

photo credit: Dan Vera

Odilia Galván Rodríguez, is a poet/activist and healer. She has been involved in social justice organizing and helping people find their creative and spiritual voice for over two decades. Odilia is a moderator and one of the founding members of Poets Responding to SB 1070. She also co-hosts "Poetry Express" a weekly open mike with featured poets in Berkeley, CA.

Norma Liliana Valdez

Norma Liliana Valdez arrived to California from Mexico in her mother’s pregnant belly. Her poetry seeks to disentangle the tradition of women’s oppression and pain through the personal intersection of the psyche with the page. She is an alumna of the Voices of our Nations Arts Foundation (VONA) writing workshop for writers of color and the Writing Program at UC Berkeley Extension. Her work has appeared online in The Acentos Review, As It Ought To Be, La Bloga, and Spiral Orb. She holds a Master’s degree in Counseling from San Francisco State University and works with first-generation, underrepresented students as a community college counselor.

Nancy Lorenza GreenNancy Lorenza Green, M.Ed. is an Afro-Chicana teaching and performing artist from El Paso/Cd. Juárez Mexico who uses music, creative writing, photography and spoken word as mediums of communication and cultural education. Nancy is the author of Crucified River/Rio Crucificado, a collection of poems published by Mouthfeel Press that focus on the murder of over 500 women in Cd. Juárez and the deaths of thousands of men, women, and children who have died crossing the border.

Her poetry and photography have been published in BorderSenses, Chrysalis, Mujeres de Maíz Zines, Mezcla, and soon to be published in the Sowing the Seeds anthology. She has recorded four music CDs. Nancy has performed at the Border Book Festival and has presented at the VSA Arts International Conference and the Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum. Nancy is a member of the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture and Juntos Art Association.

She can be reached at 915-564-9218 or visit her webpage.

Graciela Vega-CarbajalGraciela Vega-Carbajal is a mother, educator, cultural worker and artist. She lives and works in Watsonville, California where she invests time with her students and her community. Originally from Purepero, Michoacán, Mexico and the third generation to migrate to Watsonville, Graciela enjoys remembering and practicing cultural traditions from Michoacán like egg confetti decorations, knitting, crocheting, story telling, restoring saints and painting.

She has recently completed training with the ISMKEE Institute Teachers as Makers in the DIY Challenge designing curriculum for the Open Educational Resource Commons focusing on the Rights of a Child and reflective writing curriculum. As a writing teacher, Graciela Vega believes in writing with a purpose whether it is regarding current events that impact the lives of her students or writing with a global perspective.

In March of 2011 Ms. Graciela Vega ended a one-year co-directorship with the UC California Central California Writing Project. Through her leadership she helped the UCSC CCWP move their Summer Writing Institutes to a more accessible location. Last summer the writing institute was held in San Juan Bautista where teachers from the tri-county were able to apply and attend. Through collaborative efforts the writing institute recruited a heterogeneous group of teacher writers featuring Gabriella Gutierrez y Muhs as a keynote speaker in our closing ceremony.

In 1974 Graciela was brought to Santa Ana, California and year that would change her life and lives of her family forever. She still remembers the promise she has yet to fulfill of bringing a petaquilla (trunk) of nail polish to her relatives in Purepero. Her mother Serapia Cendejas blouse artesana was her first teacher who taught her to discern colors from periwinkle blue to sky blue, tender green and Mexican flag green. Each color had a story associated with it. While her mother cross-stitched and put embroidered blouses for traveling salesman, Graciela remembers pricking her finger and attempting to learn to cross-stitch under the Michoacan sun. Little did she know she would come to use her color knowledge on canvas at Scripps College studying Studio Art and studying cinema. In 1993 Graciela Vega-Carbajal majored in Film /Video Production and Gender and Feminist Studies at Pitzer College.

Knowledge of colors and the strength of stories helped Graciela survive the culture clash she encountered at school as a new immigrant. Upon her arrival to Santa Ana, California she remembers her supportive elementary teachers at Lincoln Elementary and her fourth grade teacher but she remembers the challenges presented by being a “WAB or wetback” or being a resident without a green card. Along her schooling, Graciela met many supportive teachers who inspired her to dream of obtaining a college education. In 1982 her family moved to Watsonville with her maternal grandparents, there she learned to appreciate the strong work ethic by young teens, mothers and fathers in the fields and canneries. In high school, Michael Sullivan and Gabriella Gutierrez Muhs invested their energies and mentored Graciela in organizing and writing.

After completing her undergraduate work, Graciela began teaching for Center for Employment Training, a non-profit in Watsonville immersing her students in Business English and teaching writing for the General Education Diploma. She received her teacher credential from CSU Monterey Bay in 1997 and then when on to study for a Masters of Education.

Ms. Vega continues to work with local students and their families to bring positive change to their lives whenever possible. “Despite all the problems that present themselves before us we must be the light that shines for our students, we must create spaces in our classroom where students can hold on to hope and continue to believe in their dreams,” closes Graciela Vega.

Andrea Garcia MaukAndrea Garcia Mauk grew up in Arizona, where both the immense beauty and harsh realities of living in the desert shaped her artistic soul. She currently calls Los Angeles home, but has also lived in Chicago, New York and Boston. She has worked in the music industry, and on various film and television productions. She writes short fiction, poetry, original screenplays and adaptations, and is currently finishing two novels. Her writing and artwork has been published and viewed in a variety of places such as on The Late, Late Show with Tom Snyder; The Journal of School Psychologists and Victorian Homes Magazine. Both her poetry and artwork have won
awards. Several of her poems and a memoir will be included in an upcoming anthology, Our Spirit, Our Reality. She is also a moderator of Diving Deeper, an online workshop for writers, and has written online extensively about music, especially jazz, while working in the entertainment industry.

Monday, June 27, 2011

I hate my name

A teen struggles with the meanings of the name she was given

By guest author Estella González

I hate my name. What the hell does Lucha mean anyway?

“To fight,” my grandmother Merced tells me.

“To kick ass,” my Tía Suki once told me.

But really, it’s just a name most people make fun of. George, my boyfriend, tells me I should change it to Lucy, just like he changed his name from Jorge to George. But everybody’s always known me as Lucha.

“Que Lucy ni que nada,” Merced told me when she overheard me talking to George on the telephone. “Your mom gave you that name and you have to stick to it.”

Actually, Merced gave me my name. I know this because Tía Suki, on her last-ever visit to Merced and me, told me. We were sitting in the kitchen. I remember because I was near death with the flu and was just getting over it. Tía Suki had promised to make me a caldo de albondigas. And I remember feeling hungry for the first time in a week when I smelled the meatballs cooking in the thick soup.

“Ay Lucha,” Tía Suki said. “More and more you’re looking like Merced.”

Great, I thought. Not only do I have a crappy name, now I’m starting to look like an old hag. Merced is the last person I wanted to look like, ever.

“Is the soup ready?” I asked Tía Suki. “All Merced ever makes for me these days is Spam and eggs. Or beans.”

“Ya mero,” Tía Suki said lowering the flame and dipping her big spoon into the soup. “Merced likes her albondigas right away too.”

I just wanted to eat and go back to bed so I could dream about George and his beautiful hair and eyes. When Tía Suki put the bowl in front of me, the albondigas soup steamed up into the ceiling with its peeling paint. I didn’t wait for Tía Suki to serve herself before I started slurping up the hot broth. The more meatballs I ate, the better I felt.

“Just like Merced,” she laughed, looking at me. “You know she’s the one who named you.”

I just looked down at my albondigas, a big brown blob in a sea of rice, cilantro and potatoes. I kept eating.

“She named you after your mom left Don Pedro,” Tía Suki said and then gulped down the rest of her soup.

Merced had told me about Mom and Don Pedro, this guy Mom had met at El Yuma Bar. She ran off with him to Bakersfield without telling Merced. He had been way older than Mom, but I think that’s why she liked him, because he was old and quiet. Not like Merced, skanky and loud. But they hadn’t lasted, and soon she was back, dragging me back from Bakersfield.

“But she hadn’t named you yet,” Tía Suki told me, handing me a tortilla. “She just called you ‘muñequita.’ I kind of liked that.”

I tried to finish my albondigas quickly so I could go to bed with my thoughts of George, but Tía Suki’s voice was low and deep and crawled into my ears then into my brain. Before I could finish, she told me that one day, when she had come to drop off some yerbas from her garden, she had found Merced and her neighbor, Rufina, in the living room, singing to some ranchera singer.

“Lucha Villa,” Tía Suki told me. “Merced and Rufina were singing ‘Amanecí en Tus Brazos.’”

Merced was holding a picture of Leandro in one hand and me in the other. Yeah, pura novela shit, but I believe it. She’s been hung up on that guy for so long, I don’t think she’ll ever get over him.

“Lucha still sings,” Tía Suki went on. “Not as good as Lola Beltrán, but she is good.”

“She still sings,” I said rolling up the last tortilla in my hand. “Good.”

“And beautiful, too,” Tía Suki said. “Long black hair. Brown skin.”

I stopped eating. I knew what Tía Suki was trying to do and it wasn’t going to work. No way was I falling for that Chicano pride crap. I knew better. That shit was over. This was the ’80s, and I was an American. So over the soup I whispered “Lucy” and watched my breath and steam float up into the peeling paint. Next year, when I started at Roosevelt High School, I would start using my American name, just like George. I would make the teachers remember my name and soon, I knew, Merced would call me Lucy, too.

[Estella González is a writer from East Los Angeles who has had work published in Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature (Bilingual Press), and literary magazines such as Puerto Del Sol and Eleven Eleven. She will be reading an excerpt from her as-yet-to-be-completed novel sponsored by the Pasadena Writing Project on Thursday, June 30, 7:00 p.m. at the Armory Center, 145 North Raymond Avenue. This story first appeared in the Pasadena Weekly.]

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Excerpt from Nice Rodriguez' "When You're Six"

It’s midnight and you’re alone in bed. You think you see your dead neighbor peering in your bedroom window. Your neighbor has grown large black wings and you get terrified by her sharp fangs. You’re shaking in bed. You see her body divide at the hips and her torso flies toward you. Do you scream? No! You’re six years old and already, you know you’re a butch, because you always wait for the banana fritter girl. You close your eyes and if the creature is still there when you open them, you stare back at her until you frighten her away. You can’t be scared. You’re a butch! You have to be brave. Someday, the banana fritter girl will entrust you with her life and you can’t be a coward. You know that even when you’re only six.

Sometimes you play rough and hurt yourself. Do you head home howling because you have big booboos on your knees? No! Six-year old butches are already tough. When your wounds ripen and your Mama presses out the pus, do you cry for her to stop? Never! You close your eyes and blow on your wound. When a fly lands on it, you smack it dead. When your tooth starts aching and your Mama tells you the pain will go away by itself, do you hold it against her? Certainly not! The other girls will writhe in pain and cry “Wa-wa-wa” the whole day. You go to your room and make yourself well. You drop perfume into the cavity, lie down in bed and stare at the ceiling watching the hanging lizard who, like you, sees the world upside down. Your gums and cheek will swell and your breath will be putrid. Your Mama will say she doesn’t have money for the dentist but that won’t matter. You know that pain will always be your twin because you’re different. Being a butch is a pain in the ass. Even at six, you know that.

Your Mama says you can be Julie Andrews, but not Elvis Presley. Do you believe her? No! You wear your brother’s jacket and turn the collar up. You put your father’s big-buckled belt around your waist and don his black socks which look like Elvis’s boots. And you sing “Love me Tender” for the banana fritter girl. When people stare at you because you’re Elvis gone wrong, does it bother you? No! What people think doesn’t matter to butches. Even at six, you don’t care.

Since no one plays with you, you bother and tease a stray cat. You call the kitty, “Pss, psss. Meemeeng Cat. Psss, psss.” She turns out to be a butch and bites you. Do you tell Mama you’re dying of rabies? No! You’re not even supposed to be out. Nice girls ought to be taking naps. And you know you’re going to get rabies, and the doctor has to inject your back with rabies shot, nine times. And you take care of yourself, like always. You put crushed garlic on your wound and keep your mouth shut because butches keep secrets. And they are not afraid of anything, even death.
At six you tell yourself, “Wish I were dead. Wish I were dead.” And you wake up another day and you don’t get rabies. And you wake up still a butch. At first you think you just caught the butch fever because you ate too many banana fritters; that you will be well like the other girls. But you wake up still a butch. And you wake up another day and you’re still a butch. You take aspirin and break it into two just like how Mama does it when you have a flu. And you pulverize half of the tablet with a spoon till it gets powdery, then you add sugar and take it with water. And you wait till you get well from the butch fever. And you wait and wait. And you wake up still a butch. And you wake up another day, and you’re still a butch. And you wait for the banana fritter girl. And you wake up still a butch. And you turn seven, and you’re still a butch.

You can find the complete version of "When You're Six" and other wonderful, engaging, queer-erotic, Philippina-Canadian tales in Rodriguez' collection of stories, Throw it to the River (Women's Press).

About the author: Nice Rodriguez is a CPA-turned-research-writer. Her fist writings were trade and stock market reports published in Manila's top business newspapers. When labour unrest hit these papers, she tried feature writing in entertainment and lifestyle magazines. After oppositionist Benigno Aquino was shot dead, she created and drew Marcial, a daily anti-Marcos comic strip that was published in Mayala (Freedom). She became a photojournalist at the outset of the People Power Revolution in the Phillipines that toppled the twenty-five Marcos dictatorship. She studied painting at the University of the Philippines. Before migrating to Canada in 1988, she was an assistant section editor of the Philippine Daily Globe. She now works as production artist at Toronto's Now Magazine. Her stories have appeared in Pieces of My Heart and Afterglow: More Stories of Lesbian Desire.

The Grandest Gardener of Texcoco

With so many pieces of fiction being posted by other Bloguistas these past weeks--here and Here or HERE y aquí--I thought I oughta add to the pile.

Here's the opening to a novella I'm completing that I call "The Enigma of the Grandest Gardener of Texcoco." It's an historical fantasy set against the background of what is known of the history, culture and peoples of the Valley of Mexico, fifty years before el pinche Columbus started the illegal European immigration. It's got nagual animal-spirits, gardeners who use enchantment, a tragic princess and, yes, Tezcatlipoca--one of Ernesto Hogan's favorites. Monsters and mayhem, demons and deities, yes, and even a strange bit of romance.

Of course, if you know of an editor or publisher or agent looking for a unique 20k-word cross-over story, let her or him or me know.

es todo, hoy,


The Enigma of the Grandest Gardener of Texcoco

In the course of the 16th Century subjugation of the Mesoamerican civilizations, Spanish soldiers and priests destroyed nearly all of America's manuscripts and every single library. Most of the peoples' lore was lost, including the magical, and the range and depth of that knowledge remains a mystery. Among other achievements, their wondrous gardens like Xochimilco and Texcoco were fabled even by the invaders. If only we knew all of what these cultures created. . .

[the Tezcozinco Imperial Gardens, Texcoco. 1445 A.D.]

When space opened up on the next bench, Menq smiled and gathered his cotton quimilli bundle that had come undone. He re-rolled it and secured the strap; safeguarding its contents was critical to his interview today and would spell the difference between common failure and glorious achievement. Satisfied with a thumb-tapping to check the tightness of his small huehuetl drum, he shuffled over onto the seat warmed by previous occupants.

Alerted by its master's stirring, his nagual dog-spirit Roorootl rose from napping to stretch its leg and back muscles. It shook off the metallic flakes of gold that always snagged in its predominantly white coat when it slept. With every shake, the large emerald-hued spot on its back fluctuated between the ethereal and corporal dimensions of time/space, making the dark oval blur, then resharpen and brighten.

Roorootl found a new location immediately by its master, giving the man's ankles several licks to reaffirm their bond that would span the mortal's entire life. Of course, Menq's ankles stayed dry, since the nagual's tongue and saliva possessed no substance in the Valley of the Mexica.

"Only three more benches to go, Roorootl," Menq merrily commented to the creature, as if that wouldn't mean more hours of tedium. Though no substitute for a wife and family, his dear nagual's companionship had given him much support. Menq knew he'd likely need both to make it through this day.

Since dawn, Menq had endured his time here by also relying on his self-discipline and sense of duty. That's how he'd memorized every square foot of the entry to the Imperial Gardens courtyard and could close his eyes and describe the major patterns in the plastered lime that coated the unassuming walls with tezontle-graveled pumice. A sign posted there prohibited "Picietl poctica", which was fine by him; using the mystical smoke would've just morphed the time into days, anyway.

"How are you, Caretaker Menq?" He didn't remember the name of the fellow gardener who'd greeted him, so he just waved back.

In contrast to his lauded title Caretaker, everyone simply called him Menq, since the twenty-five characters in his proper name Menqtlapantehuizcalcuhtli that his zealous father had blessed him with were a marathon in articulation, even for the highly educated. So long and detailed, the tongue twister matched the love and guidance his doting parents had given him.

From the age of six, Menq had yearned and studied to become a great gardener. That he would tend someone else's garden in the Valley of the Mexica--like those of the royal families of Tlaxcala, Texcoco or the Aztec's Tenochtítlan--was exactly what he prayed for, what he applied for today, a greater challenge than any xochitlas he ever maintained. In truth, he hadn't picked gardening as his nonequixtil, the life-passion he'd forever carried. The plants themselves had chosen him and repaid his devoted nurturing in curiously special ways. Like in his earliest experiment . . .


"Menq, what've you been doing out here so early in the morning, Son?" his mother called out. "You need to get ready. You don't want to be tardy for telpochcalli."

The boy hoped to finish his work with the plants before obeying her, though a dutiful son he was. He simply was following the Elders' Precepts for six-year-olds to acquire a love of labor. "So that I do not spend my time in idleness, and to avoid the bad vices idleness tends to bring," he rotely mumbled.

But Menq also knew that the tiniest bit of sloppiness could break the spell he'd put on the root splicing. "Just one more minute, Nantli." He forced his inexpert stubby fingers to attempt the delicate interlacing of the transplant's rhizomes around and through the nodes of its new neighbor.

It wasn't made easier by his nagual spirit Roorootl making digging motions like an armadillo burrowing for its life. Although the nagual pup's ethereal paws couldn't physically connect with dirt, he did interfere when the large molcajetl-shaped emerald spot on his back blocked the view, the otherwise white coat specked with black eyes and snout.

His supernatural birth-partner had already learned to transmit thoughts into Menq's mind. But Menq too had to improve communicating his needs to the spirit, since naguals accompanied one throughout life, though never visible to others.

After nestling his creation with dark loam, Menq evenly sprinkled the topmost layer and whispered the reassuring quitemoa phrase to both xitómatls so they'd know that their new partner would indeed seek the other out as friend.

"Nantli, I finished joining these two xitómatl so their baby fruit will grow blue instead of green."

"But xitómatl is supposed to be green!"

His eyes beamed toward her, as much with his joy that he'd invented a new form of life, as from the heartening burst of energy the grateful bushes emitted to envelop his small body. "I know. But they told me they needed my help, and it will make them so much happier!"

Unlike his nagual who spoke directly into his mind, plants sent feelings of love or hate, or sensations like heat or sweetness, or dreams or visions to connect with Menq. Sometimes they utilized all three. This message had been simple: love + warmth + blue + tiny fruit. In less than a decade he'd learn to translate more complicated information coming from his gardens' residents.

"Blue xitómatl! Pray that Tezcatlipoca doesn't strike you blind for doing better tricks than him. Come, get the math and science amoxtlis you studied last night, so you won't be late."

In time, Menq honed his knack for originality, often guided by the plants or flowers communicating their preferences to him. The symbiotic relationship sparked a dream most commoners never aspired to. That would culminate the day he arrived in the Tezcozinco Gardens courtyard. . .

– fin –

Friday, June 24, 2011

Low-Tech Writer

Melinda Palacio

I am a low-tech writer. I prefer pen and paper, instead of keying directly into the computer. Even when I compose a long and important email, I prefer the fluidity of ink across the page. If life were slower and less hectic, I would lean over a fountain pen instead of liquid gel, roller or ball point. However, I don’t have time to fiddle with refilling the ink cartridge or cleaning the ink stains off my face and fingers. What I do have time for is rewriting. After the second or third revision on paper, I’ve memorized what I will later type into the computer. People who know me often wonder how I read my own handwriting. My initial quick fire writing is illegible even to myself. The hieroglyphic letters are clues to what I have written; my handwriting is that bad. At least someone figured out I needed glasses by the time I was ten years old.

The best part of using low-tech pen and paper is the lack of distractions. Email and facebook friends don’t ever pop up when I’m alone with my notebook. I also keep my iphone in a different room when I sit down with my notebook and write a new scene or poem. Learning how to turn off email and internet distractions is essential when composing. I used to think that multi-tasking was something to be proud of. I kept a separate computer screen open for instantly responding to email. When there were more minutes spent on responding to tagged photos and requests for friends and linking in to a net that threatened to strangle me, I decided that all that stuff could wait. I don’t need to respond to emails and phone calls instantly just because I can. I need to be writing and working instead. I hope all my friends and friends of friends will catch on and let social networks figure out some other way to make money. Thanks to good ole paper and a writing utensil, I can write without wi-fi and cell phone distractions.

Another paper essential for longer work is my timeline on a large, blank piece of art paper. On the far left end of the paper I write the word Beginning, in the middle of sheet I writer the word Middle and toward the far right end of the paper I write End before a final hash mark. As I finish chapters, I add them to my timeline. This piece of paper gets rewritten several times, each iteration adds more colors and converging story lines. However, I still have the original drawing pad of twenty-four 18 x 12 inch sheets from writing my last novel. Something tells me I will need to buy another large pad before my second novel is finished.

My timeline is a paper version of the clothesline (another low technology) Fanny Flag uses. I heard Fanny Flag speak at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference several years ago and she says uses index cards and clothespins on a clothesline. The old fashioned devise is apropos to the folksy setting in her famous book, Fried Green Tomatoes. The clothesline is great for a visual person who wants to physically handle their manuscript.

I’ve heard of writers who keep everything in their head before going to the computer. I’ve also heard of writers who take the high- tech road and use a spread sheet to organize their narrative’s timeline, but this is way too complicated. Why take a program, designed for data and numbers and use it for fiction? For now, I'll stick to my drawing pad. A piece of paper is easy to lose, even if it is 18 x 12 inches. I have a digital photo backup on my phone. In a future installation of low-tech writer, I'll share more tips on how to integrate low and high technology in writing.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Chicanonautica: Confessions of a Bullfight Fan

As a clumsy, near-sighted, dyslexic guy I was never much into sports, but I always liked bullfighting. It might have something to do with ethnic pride. It could also be a literary link, with that other guy named Ernest. Or it could just be something about blood glistening in the sun.

I must admit, I get a thrill at the look of shock on a Joe Typical Sports Fan’s face when I tell him that, no, I don’t follow football, basketball, or baseball, but I do enjoy bullfighting. Ever see a guy with hamburger residue rotting between his teeth turn into an animal rights activist?

It’s also fun the way bullfighting makes liberals intolerant of other cultures, and conservatives speak of abolishing traditions. Ah, sweet iconoclasm!

I’m lucky to live in an age when I can watch bullfights almost every day, from the comfort of my own home, even when Spain no longer puts them on television.

Yes, technology has done it again. A Web connection is all you need for more bullfighting news and videos than you can keep up with. Just get on on their Toros tab under Cultura. Bullfighting videos can be found at,, and TorosTVPeru on livestream.

YouTube is also a good source, but you should use Spanish in your searches. Online, there is a language barrier: Most of the stuff in English is from the “antis.”

And don’t think this is all machismo. Some of my favorite bullfighters are women. Want female heroes? Look up Milagros Sánchez, Hilda Tenorio, Conchi Ríos, Mari Paz Vega, and Noelia Mota.

The problem is, it’s so hard to have a reasonable discussion about this subject. Hysterical reactions kick in. Suddenly, there are all these screaming pseudo-naked vegetarians covered in fake blood running around.

But bullfighting is art, and culture, and tradition that will leave us poorer if we don’t take it into the future.

It’s also all about spirituality, though in this land where such things are divorced from blood, guts, tits, and ass, people just don’t see.

One American writer who did see was Richard Wright in Pagan Spain: And the matador in his bright suit of lights was a kind of lay priest offering up the mass for thirty thousand guilty penitents.

And later: It is the conquering of fear, the making of religion of the conquering of fear.

Like the modern tradition of the horror film, only the blood and death are real.

Seeing a bullfight makes me feel up to any task I may have to do during the day. A great one makes me feel that anything is possible. It’s called inspiration.

I’ve written and sold two science fiction stories about bullfighting: “Tauromaquia” (Science Fiction Age, July 1995) and “Frank’s Tricer Run” (Science Fiction Age, May 1997). Both published thanks to editor Scott Edelman.

I have a mad vision of a science fiction novel about bullfighting, in which a female matador goes on a spiritual quest through corporatized religion, genetic engineering, and space travel. The publishing world as it exists now would never touch such a thing, but change is in the air.

And the vision, like the bullfight, is compelling.

Ernest Hogan is working to get his novels released as ebooks, and waiting for la Fiesta de San Fermin.