Saturday, August 16, 2014

Chat with author John Nichols. New Mario Acevedo novel.

Con workshop - writing characters outside your culture

This year's Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' Colorado Gold Conference will be held Sept. 5-7, in Westminster [Denver]. Among other panels and workshops, author Mario Acevedo and I will be leading one [Sunday, 9:00am] called "Deep-six the Stereotypes: Writing Characters from Another Culture."

Its description: "How can writers diversify their fiction with vibrant characters from a different culture or background so their writing attracts 21st Century readers? Insights into what hooks / turns off agents when authors write outside their cultural experience."

We envision our audience largely being Anglos wanting to hear about writing non-Anglo characters. Not that I'm an expert, but why is this Chicano author willing to help Anglo writers write about Chicano, Latino, etc. characters? (I haven't asked Mario the same.) There are other questions that could be asked.

Do Chicano authors have a "responsibility" to help Anglo writers--already published more than we are--so that they can succeed even more? Can Anglo writers do a decent portrayal, from their non-PoC perspective and worldview? Questions could go on and on.

They remind me of two hours I spent in the Taos Plaza last month, during the Fiestas. I'd been there before, seen the sites, the festivities, the shops and artwork. That part of our--wife Carmen also went--trip was el mismo. The two hours were totally new.
I had a first edition of Milagro Beanfield War I'd wanted autographed and author John Nichols did that earlier this year. We exchanged surface-mail letters, I sent him my novel, he invited me down and I was to meet him in a café near the Moby Dickens Bookshop.

The Nichols website states, "As of July, I’m 73 years old, my heart is locked in permanent atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure. I'm a walking time bomb ready to have a stroke." So, initially my intention was to do a La Bloga interview of the man who'd authored one of my favorite books about Chicanos, written by an Anglo. Maybe even his last interview.

When I was in the graphic/ad business, my company had produced the artwork for the movie's Denver premier, so besides a reader-author connection, I had remote connection to Nichols' work. The movie starred Rubén Blades, Sonia Braga, Melanie Griffith, Christopher Walken, et al; director Robert Redford; producers Moctesuma Esparza and Redford; Nichols did the screenplay.

If you've never seen the movie, you should. Not only for its humor and its background on New Mexican land/water struggles, but because it's good. For it's time, it was great. A major motion picture laced with Anglo/Latino talent.

After attempting to come up with insightful interview questions to ask Nichols, at some point I gave up. It felt artificial, irrelevant and not what I wanted to do. [Never even took a selfie of us.] I decided to simply meet the man who wrote the novel. Chat. Discuss, exchange stories, maybe laugh a little. Eat and drink (not that Nichols was/is in a condition to down traguitos with me).

At the appointed hour, I expected an old guy with a cane maybe made out of an agave stalk, hobbling or leaping like in the movie poster. The cane was simple and plastic. The man didn't jump around much. We ordered a bite, I'd have a couple of Negras, Nichols, some non-alcoholic drinks. And we began.

Another writer asked me, "What did you learn?" He meant, what great writing knowledge did I take away from the talk. I don't know that I have anything literary to answer to that and am not sure that I should.

In the two hours, I saw/experienced/shared in small ways several things. That Nichols, like on his website, holds family high on his list of achievements and experiences. That he holds Nature and being alone in Nature--something I've written about--high on his list of how we should spend our time on the planet, not only near the end of it.

Then there was his smile. And eyes. Nothing that you'd expect from a casi-muerto. What you'd expect from a twenty-year-old. What you'd expect from a kid starting out in life with crazy expectations and hopes and decades in front of him to accomplish anything he wanted.

I didn't expect his Spanish accent to be so gringoly obvious. My grammar is unschooled; his is in nascent stages of Span. 201, to be kind. But he was unashamed about using it. He didn't blush whenever his fluency fell or vocab was a bit off; he just talked on like a mexicano drinking unas, outside a Texas beer joint. I got over noticing it and just went with our exchange. Of course, I wonder what he heard in my Spanish that might've made him cringe.

If Nichols and I live long enough, perhaps there will be an interview, not necessarily his, or my, last. I don't know that that's that important. [yeah, 3 "that’s" and maybe English isn't my 1st language]

How does my short time with Nichols relate to our upcoming workshop? Mario and I could hope that out of it came some new awareness that in the future could produce the kind of gringos' share of the work that went into the Milagro movie. [No, I don't know what pinche petho developed during its production.] Or encourage a little of the multi-national, multi-talented camaraderie that this country direly needs, not only literarily. If Mario and I reach some in the audience who are/can be such gente, then we'll have done, no milagro, but at least a little progress in lifelike lit.

It took me two hours to shed the nervousness of being one-on-one with a great gringo writer. Should the two of us endure until another meet, I'll have reached the stage of bouncing some of my crazy ideas off him, especially, about death. And what it's probably not. Or story ideas. Or poor jokes. Or introduce my dog to him. Yeah, maybe a little interviewing, por pendejo.

More vampiros

From Mario Acevedo's website, about the upcoming book release of Rescue from Planet Pleasure:
"If you're a fan of Felix Gomez, you know he's got a lot hanging out there. For one, the most bodacious vampiress of all time, his buddy Carmen Arellano, was kidnapped by aliens and she's being held prisoner in deep space. And Phaedra, the ruthless bloodsucking ingenue--now with extra-superpowers--is making good on her threat to destroy the Araneum and take over the undead underworld.

"Felix is not alone in his quest to save Carmen and stop Phaedra. That red-headed whirlwind with a gun, Jolie, has got his back. Also appearing is everyone's favorite down-and-out trickster sage, Coyote, and he's brought along his Malinche...aka La Llorona! Here it comes, a big, hairy story bristling with action, intergalactic adventure, skin-walkers, Hopi magic...all told in tumescent PervoVision. Exactly what you'd expect from Felix Gomez. [La Bloga note: and what you'd expect from Mario]

Es todo, hoy,
RudyG, aka Chicano spec lit author, Rudy Ch. Garcia, Taos tourist and Nichols fan


Anonymous said...

Because of the precision of his Chicana/o characters, I consider John Nichols an honorary Chicano.
- Virginia Alanis, Novelist

Anonymous said...

Congrats on being on the workshop panel, Rudy. Glad to see you very active and thanks for sharing with us. - Thelma T. Reyna,
Poet Laureate, 2014-16, Altadena (CA) Library District; Independent Author; Editor & Writing Consultant