Guest Columnist Jesús Nazario Q&A With Antonio Ruiz-Camacho
Editor's Note: La Bloga reviewed Barefoot Dogs in August. Today's guest columnist, Jesús Nazario, met with Mr. Ruiz-Camacho at the recently concluded Texas Book Fair.
By Jesús Nazario
When Antonio Ruiz-Camacho was earning his Bachelors degree in Mexico, he never saw himself as a full-time fiction writer. Writing was something he did for fun, not a profession. Instead, he saw himself working on changing the world as journalist.
So he did.
For over 18 years, Ruiz-Camacho worked as a journalist voyaging through (at least) three countries, declaring various titles and positions along the way. In 2004 after many trials, tribulations, and successes, Ruiz-Camacho became one of the 110 daily settlers who move to Austin to work for a Spanish language newspaper. Little did the Toluca native from Mexico know that his move to the “live music capital of the world” would eventually help him write his first book.
Antonio Ruiz-Camacho recently published Barefoot Dogs, a collection of stories on forced migrations as a result of violence in Mexico. Ruiz-Camacho’s short story bundle provides a combination of interwoven anecdotes and surrealism, all sardine-packed in a 160-page book to create a fast-pace environment that promises an inside look at the complexity of forced migrations – exclusively from the unorthodox lens of highbrow elites. The book, published in March of this year, is his first fiction book published by Scribner’s.
In Ruiz-Camacho’s debut book, all the short stories are interwoven by one central event: the forced ‘disappearance’ of a wealthy patriarch.
With an ever-increasing surge of violence in Mexico, Ruiz-Camacho’s book is more relevant than ever, bringing a fresh take on how even Mexican elites can be forced to migrate from Mexico due to the country’s unstable conditions.
On the eve of a warm weekend sun, when books were repackaged into cardboard shelters and the waning human traffic had marked the end of Day One at the Texas Book Festival in Austin, La Bloga sat down with Ruiz-Camacho to discuss a plethora of topics, starting with why he decided to write about violence in Mexico, to when Ruiz-Camacho knew he was going to be a fiction storyteller.
Let’s start with an origin question. When did you realize you were going to be a fiction writer?
I never considered becoming a writer, but many years ago, when I was an editor for a local newspaper I was suddenly unable to write as freely as I used to when I worked as a reporter. This new sensation came to me and I realized I was meant to be a fiction writer. Up until then, I was someone who was always busy doing something else on the side.
Your new book thematically deals with violence in Mexico and how that affects all Mexican citizens. How would you describe the Mexican public’s reaction to your new book?
When I went to Mexico last week to release a Spanish translation of my book, I had one reporter begin a question with “this is not a criticism.” He then asked me, “What do you think about writing about violence in Mexico from the comfortable position of living abroad?”
So to me it’s been interesting because people in Mexico have been more territorial about the book than in the U.S. As if it were a matter of who’s entitled and whose right it is to write about Mexico.
Do you think not living in Mexico for the last ten years has made the Mexican public question your moral authority to speak on Mexican issues?
I was always curious if they would question if I had the moral authority to speak about violence in Mexico. But the thing is that violence in Mexico has existed long before I left. Growing up, I knew stories about people who were ‘disappeared’ or were victims of extortion. Ever since, this new wave of violence that’s struck Mexico has haunted me, so I had to write about it.
The stories your book deals with are mainly from the perspective of Mexican elites. That’s really different. What influenced that decision?
The Mexican elites are used to ruling the country yet things get so bad that even the government fails to protect them. These people who are privileged all the time suddenly have to reinvent themselves. The way their world of elitism is just trashed and hit with this unexpected experience of immigration and exile was really interesting to me. I wanted to explore that through my characters. It was also a nice challenge to infuse humanity to these characters who thought they had it all.
What’s the process of creating a set of characters then?
It usually starts with a striking image, and for a long time I thought it was a condition that would magically go away. It’s funny because now that’s how I work. These weird images come to me and if they continue to come to me – to haunt me – then I write them down.
What are some takeaways you hope your readers get from your book?
I hope that if someone reads the book that they think about waves of violence, not just in Mexico but everywhere, in a different way. Also, if in any way what I write helps someone think twice about their own prejudice about Mexican immigrants – that would be great.
About our Guest Columnist
He is currently studying at The University of Texas and lives in Austin, Texas.
Northeast Los Angeles
Triple Features For October La Palabra Reading Series at Avenue 50 Studio
|Cynthia Guardado, Michelle Brittan Rosado and Liz Gonzalez|
Ninety-degree weather at the end of October is a normal California Fall. Almost as normal, it was the fourth Sunday of the month, and that normally means a La Palabra Hosted by Karineh Mahdessian celebration at Northeast Los Angeles' cultural soul, Avenue 50 Studio.
|Karineh Mahdessian welcomes the audience and ensures the readers honor the time frame.|
Mahdessian, victim of a roller skating mishap, worked the house irrepressibly despite the clunky black boot walking cast that slowed the popular emcee's gait but not her spirit.
|Wyatt Underwood, Elsie Vega|
|Elisabeth Adwin Edwards, left; Kimberly Cobain, right|
Mahdessian began the event with Open Mic. The popular La Palabra, and its counterpart series hosted at Avenue 50, The Bluebird Reading Series, encourage emerging voices to take the floor and share up to five minutes' work. This month, Mariella Sanchez performed for the second time in her writing career.
|Left to right: Brian Dunlap, Gloria L, Mariella Sanchez|
Poets travel from throughout the LA basin to join La Palabra Open Mic. Writers and poets enjoy the warm sense of community that has long been a feature of Avenue 50 readings, as well as enthusiastic audiences.
At one time La Palabra and Bluebird were among the only shows in town, on the Eastside. Now regular poetry readings take place across the eastern part of town, from Alivio Open Mic in Bell hosted by Eric Contreras, to Hitched, which moved from the Westside's Beyond Baroque to El Sereno, hosted by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, to Uptown Word in North Long Beach, hosted by Liz Gonzalez.
La Palabra Hosted by Karineh Mahdessian this month featured work by three poets, Michelle Brittan Rosado, Uptown Word's Liz Gonzalez, and Cynthia Guardado.
Michelle Brittan Rosado
When the box I lower beside me triggers enough
weight, the seatbelt light blinks passenger
passenger passenger on the dashboard. Later,
the beams of the headlights will pass over you
waiting in our driveway, to help bring inside
what belonged to me, when I lived with someone
else. He gave me the partial list over the phone,
his voice was as strange to me as the furniture
I saw daily for years, the room foreign
in its new arrangement, shelves leaning
into the wall, couch facing away from the door.
On the floor of his apartment, I picked through
the artifacts that say how it was then: a dress
that no longer fits, books I'd made plans to read
and never did. Meanwhile, he boiled water
on the stove in his kitchen, and we drank tea
after I was done, the objects contained and taped
over. As he walked me to my car, the neighborhood
darkened by increments, the sidewalks like lines
drawn between any two points at night. But now,
you carry this in your arms over the broken
porch step. In our room, this fits beneath the bed.
shiver as she
lights a candle
on the altar to save
daddy's soul charring
in purgatory A good father
not a good man Cheated on
mama His biker buds say he
picked up his cracked head Got
on his knees Recited the Act of
Contrition Police report states
they found him under the
front tire Inside she
aches God never
|Liz Gonzalez' grandfather, Sax, 2d from right, and his band|
toured the San Bernardino region in the years before WWII
Thank you, Liz Gonzalez, for sharing "Catholic Death" with La Bloga. Still photography cannot communicate how effectively Gonzalez reads this significant poem.
Thank you, too, Cynthia Guardado, for sharing "How Women Grieve," a powerful poem of arresting imagery.
How Women Grieve
By Cynthia Guardado
Huddled into a cold corner of the shower you whimper,
you howl like a woman who has a burden of hunger she ignores.
You let it drain. The heart in your belly pulses behind your ears,
the place where you hide everything you are afraid of. The throbbing
has been quietly whispering all the words you fear. And thats when
you scrub the hardest, your skin the only thing you can really clean.
You wash yourself raw as if the cells carried absorbed memories
It’s always the surface we polish but what of insides, the kind that gather
like crustaceans that prey on our linings, that eat what is dead?
And bleach cannot cure us, and ammonia cannot blind us, and shame
continues to hide in your eyes. How can we repair the thing we can never
reach, the grief that grows inside the darkest corner of our guts,
the thing that suffocates us like the pulmonary embolism that fills our lungs
with blood? But we drain and there beneath the ring is the clog, the filled brass artery,
where we dispose what we want to shed. But it crawls back up from beneath
your feet returns from the hole you’ve been digging. You are submerged
in water yet your mouth is so dry, and swollen tongue confusion fills you,
the kind only the desert can understand. You hang onto yourself
and you cup your own face because only you can love you like this.
Photographer's note. Fotos taken with a Canon 70-300mm lens, hand held, ambient light. With the heat, the open portal was the best way to maintain acceptable comfort levels for the enthusiastic audience. Photography against a bright background can bedevil exposure and often adds flare or fuzzy edges.
I take numerous fotos during the set-up period to determine the best fixed setting. For this La Palabra session, I set the Canon T2i to 1/200 f/5 at ISO1600. This produces adequate depth of focus to accommodate a speaker leaning and moving toward and away from the lectern, while keeping distant object suitably out-of-focus. Note Liz Gonzalez is blurry while two rows of audience are sharply focused.
Ekphrastic California Poetry Magazine Launches Mid-November
Mt. San Antonio College creative writing professor, John Brantingham, Writer-in-residence at Pomona's dA Center for the Arts, announces a call for poems for publication in a new on-line poetry magazine, Ekphrastic California. November 15 will see California Ekphrastic's first issue.
Brantingham writes he seeks "poetry with some kind of California connection (however tenuous). If you are a Californian or you've stepped foot on California or there is a French painting in a Californian museum and you wrote a poem about it". He adds, "special consideration will be given to poems about street art and living artists."
Consult Ekphrastic California's' Submissions Guidelines for details. English language and bilingual/code-switching poetry is welcome. Editor Brantingham doesn't read Spanish and hence cannot consider work only in Spanish or another language. The editor acknowledges the limitation and calls for someone to launch a Spanish-language magazine dedicated to ekphrastic poetry.
Currently, Brantingham plans to publish one poem per day. If submissions allow, Ekphrastic California may go with two a day.
La Bloga asked Brantingham for his long view on the new poetry magazine. He says, "What I'm really hoping for is to highlight the voice of new poets along with established poets and that we look at the spectrum of art. It's fine if we have art featuring the old masters, but I'm much more interested in street art and the work people sell in little cafes and magazines.
"I'd like to see the murals in Pomona discussed and pop-up galleries in Long Beach.
"Ekphrastic California should be a celebration of what's happening now to reflect the wide diversity of voices and vision in California. The arts are a conversation that the world is having about culture, religion, and history. I want everyone to be a part of that conversation."
Hinchas de Poesía 17 Now On-line
La Bloga friend Yago S. Cura emailed just as La Bloga was being put to bed to share news of the new edition of Hinchas de Poesia.
The seventeenth issue of Hinchas de Poesía, the digital codex of Pan-American writing, is live & on the air.
In this issue we feature work from In Like Company: The Salt River Review & Porch Anthology, edited by James Cervantes, our foreign correspondent, who also served as guest editor for this issue. Work from the new anthology includes poetry by Michael Burkard, Ed Harkness, Sheila Murphy, Sam Pereira, Carlos Reyes, Tad Richards, Mary Ruefle & Pamela Stewart; fiction by Donna Vitucci & Avital Gad Cykman. Other poets include T.R. Hummer, Arturo Desimone, Rony Nair, Brent Goodman & Mary Lee Bragg; fiction by Michael Díaz Feito & Philip Garrison; artwork & commentary by Gray Jacobik, Laura Jensen, Lynda Schor & John Gilgun. Cervantes has dished up a boffo issue which you're sure to enjoy. In Like Company is one of the better anthologies to appear in quite some time & we urge our readers to get a copy before they're all sold out.