Friday, March 10, 2006


Manuel Ramos

Writing Stories and a Few Samples
Storyteller's Conference
Los Dichos Moms

I decided a while back to focus on short-story writing for a stretch, as opposed to concentrating on trying to finish another novel. Although I haven’t set the short fiction world on fire, I managed to publish a couple of stories last year and I anticipate a few more this year. Eventually, I would like to have a deep, representative collection of shorts that can sit on the shelf with my other books.

The thing about a short story is that the obvious is true but that doesn’t make it easier. A short story has to get to the point quickly and effortlessly. The best advice I ever heard about writing a short story is "start late, leave early." Easier said than done. What writer doesn’t want to indulge the details? To eschew subtlety for in-depth development? To expose the back story and the epilog, to wrap everything up in a neat, tidy package of setting, conflict, climax, resolution? The best short stories, in my opinion, rebel against these tendencies and snapshot the human condition in one quick frame, not an entire reel. In this type of fiction, the role of the reader is essential - fill in the gaps, put the pieces together, jump to the writer’s conclusion. However you want to say it.

Of course, what I am saying applies to how I write or how I want to write. We all know that the only rule in writing is that there are no rules (well, except for the one that says you can’t call your fiction a memoir even if Oprah likes your book.)

My short story, Bad Haircut Day, appeared in CrimeSpree Magazine (#9). I’ve put it up on the web in case you want to read it and haven’t found a copy of the magazine. You can read it here. Even though this story was published, I can see that it does not satisfy my vision. Oh, I think it’s a good story, don’t get me wrong. I have confidence in my writing, every writer has to, at least in public. But now that Bad Haircut Day has "cooled off" and I can look at it with some dispassion, I can see that it didn’t start late enough, and I might have been able to leave a bit earlier. Please keep in mind that, for me, writing is never finished. There is no such thing as a "final draft." One of the most difficult exercises for me is to read through one of my earlier books. That can be excruciating for a guy who is never comfortable with his finished work.

A story that I think is closer to what I wanted to write is Dancing At The Lido, which was published back in 2001 in a slightly different version. If you care to, you can read that one here at this link. In all honesty, I think this story ended up very close to achieving the concept I had in my mind when I started to write it. My latest stab at short fiction (working title: No Hablo Inglés) also "feels" good to me, in terms of realization of my vision. That story isn't published yet, so I haven't posted it anywhere.

Speaking of cuentos, I heard from Jerry Rodriguez that his story, Under A Puerto Rican Sky, is up over at the online Nat Creole literary magazine. Jerry’s story is here. Meanwhile, Steven Torres has a story at Coffee Cramp Magazine entitled Chaos, 2099. Steven’s story is here. By the way, Steven has a different take on writing short stories, which you can read on his blog, the Crime Time Cafe, in his recent post entitled Short Story Composition - A Myth. Steven is the author of the Precinct Puerto Rican series, the newest one (Missing in Precinct Puerto Rico) is due this fall. Jerry’s first novel will be published in 2007. And, to further quench the short story jones, my blogging partner Daniel Olivas has The Plumed Serpent of Los Angeles/La Serpiente emplumada de Los Angeles in a bilingual format at The Southern Cross Review. Daniel's story is at this link.

There are probably a gazillion websites that feature short fiction - Thrilling Detective and Hardluck Stories come to mind, but that's just me and my appreciation for well-written crime fiction. Anyone know of sites that specialize or feature Chicano short stories?

The 31st Rocky Mountain Storytellers Conference is set for April 28 and 29 at the Broomfield Auditorium in Broomfield, CO. The website is

This year's conference will have a Storytellers Showcase on April 28 from 7:30 - 9:30 PM. The featured storytellers are Pam Faro and Zarco Guerrero. Here's part of the blurb from the email announcement:

"Pam's warmth, humor, and energy will bring everyone into the storytelling circle. Telling professionally since 1988, her multicultural folktales, bilingual Spanish-English cuentos and stories with guitar bring delight, create community, and grow imaginations.

Come and listen to Zarco's musical stories of the legendary Lalo Guerrero, Mexican-American singer, song writer, and Grammy winner. In an intriguing and provoking way learn about the culture of Mexico in these bilingual parodies."

This Showcase is free, open to the public.

I came across an article about Los Dichos Moms, a group of about 80 moms who read weekly at elementary schools in the San Jose, CA area. According to the Mercury News, Los Dichos de la Casa is a storytelling program where "the main activity is reading from books that reflect life in Latin America or immigrants' experiences in America. Hearing these stories in Spanish reinforces for the children that their heritage is important, the moms say. Hearing the stories read by real moms only enhances the experience." The article mentioned two books by Carmen Lomas Garza as examples of what stories are read to the kids: Cuadros de Familia (Family Pictures) and Making Magic Windows (an explanation of the craft of papel picado). This project not only enhances the educational process for the students but it gets the parents more involved in the schools, so much so that there is now consideration that the nickname might have to change since dads have expressed an interest in doing some reading. Sounds good.

The aforementioned Steven Torres is running a contest where the winner gets a critique and editing recommendations on a work in progress. Steven explains his contest like this on his blog: "Did I forget to mention a writing contest on my website? Just go to the homepage and the very first item, no scrolling, will lead you to the contest. Essentially, you send in the first page or so of your manuscript for me to judge. If you win, I'll contact you, and you can send forty-nine more pages, and I will provide you an in-depth critique. To win, all you need to do is make me want to read more. Simple." More detail on Steven's website including the entry form - deadline is March 31.



daniel olivas said...

i liked this post much. as a short story writer who is barely beginning to write a first novel (that happens to be a series of interlocked short stories!), i bristle at those who say that the short form is lesser, in some way, to the novel. borges never wrote a novel, right? i view short stories as being similar to poems...each word takes on added importance because there are so few used. that is, there can be truly great novels where whole sections could be cut out without hurting the work as a whole. not so with a great short story. excellent post.

Manuel Ramos said...

Gracias, Daniel. I appreciate your comments. I hear occasionally that the art of short-story writing is dead, in North America at least. I don't believe that. The business of publishing short-stories may be something else. Thank goodness for small presses and the Internet. Coincidentally, I just heard that my story No Hablo Inglés has been accepted for publication. More on that later.

Anonymous said...

I too liked the auto-critique aspects of your post, Ramos. A longer piece devoted just to this would have been nicer, since I'd have liked to have seen excerpts and such as examples of your views, but nevertheless, it was good writer-introspection.

As a hardly published writer who did the same--devoted a year to writing only short stories, of which only one was accepted--I have to agree with you and Olivas about the complexity of the short, versus the novel.

Great post and hope to see more of such from Bloquistas.


Jose said...

I enjoyed your posting about the short story. I feel that it is time to start a chicano ezine. As a regular la bloga visitor I feel that la bloga is the site with the convocational power to start one. So I am calling you guys to start one. I'm sure it would be a great success. I hope you hear my calling.