Friday, July 27, 2007

Aaron A. Abeyta ... y más

Manuel Ramos

Aaron A. Abeyta is a Colorado native and professor of English at Adams State College. For his collection, Colcha (University Press of Colorado, 2000), Abeyta received an American Book Award and the Colorado Book Award. Abeyta's other titles, both from Ghost Road Press, are a collection of poetry, As Orion Falls (2005) and a novel, Rise, Do Not Be Afraid (2007). Abeyta is also the recipient of a Colorado Council on the Arts fellowship for poetry. He lives in Southern Colorado where he can remain close to his family and culture, both of which greatly influence his work. Abeyta was born in 1971.

I recently met Aaron through the auspices of El Laboratorio, an exciting new literary project featuring several Colorado-based writers, and he agreed to answer a few questions for La Bloga. Now that I have read his novel I am even more pleased that I was able to do this interview. I think Aaron is a talented writer and that his voice is unique and adventurous: very much Southern Colorado (El Valle de San Luis, actually), and very much in touch with the passions of the Valley gente.

One reviewer of your novel said that the prose is "beautifully rendered" and that each chapter stands alone as a long poem. I agree about the beautiful prose. Do you think of your book as poetry? And I guess I am curious about why a poet would write a novel.

I never considered the book to be poetry, but I did make a very conscious effort to make the book image driven and lyrical, both of which are two of the building blocks of poems (and fiction too, at least the fiction I like to read). So, in that regard, I guess the book has qualities of poetry.

I think it’s a bit odd, however, that the reviewer stated that each chapter was a long poem; that was not my intent at all, but I can’t say that I was upset by those comments; I took it as a compliment.

As for why a poet would write a novel, that’s a very good question. I don’t really know, definitively that is. I do know that I sat down to write one day and it came out as prose (which is typically the way I begin all my poems, i.e. long hand, full margins, get all the ideas down and then go back and cut and cut). The difference this time was that I pretty much left the cuts out of it and went back the next day and wrote another chapter. All in all, I wrote a chapter each day and the novel actually wrote itself, sort of consuming my every thought. I literally dreamed about sequences and characters. I just followed the impulses that came to me. The reviewer mentioned that the village was the character; she alluded to Faulkner in this regard. It was the village of Santa Rita that got me writing in the first place. It is a real place that I loved as a kid; you can’t go there now without permission. The place is completely private and the road in is locked shut by an iron gate. When I saw the gate I knew what I wanted to write about, but the particulars seemed to somehow take care of themselves.

Another reviewer compared your novel, favorably, to Gabríel Garcia Márquez,noting that Santa Rita, the setting for your book, reminds one of Macondo, García Márquez's fictional Colombian town. I was taken by the elaborate levels of characterization, the creative imagery, and the non-linear approach to the narrative. Where did all this come from? In other words, what is the inspiration for your style of writing?

I learned early on, mostly from my abuelo, that a story is a living thing. I don’t ever remember hearing a story that began at A and ended at Z. I didn’t grow up with typical plot structures as a model. My mom didn’t read Mother Goose to me, or anything of the sort. I tell people that and they look at me like I was abused, as if to say that my parents not reading to me was some sort of 20th century crime. I never felt deprived, however. Everyone around me told great stories, and those were my bedtime stories. For example, my abuelito would tell a story and then a few weeks later I would hear the same story from the sheepherder and they were remarkably different, yet essentially the same. The teller of the story was always the heart, the information the blood and the listener the soul. I try and remain true to this model, not only in the novel but in all my writing. I guess my people were born of circles because that’s the way we still communicate.

As for the imagery and characterization, the imagery has always been a matter of paying attention to things around me, little things. I specifically look for things that most people wouldn’t notice and make a mental note to somehow use that somewhere in my writing. The characters, many of them, were based on real people, but a lot of them were dreamt or hybrids of classical literary figures and real people. For example, and I hope I don’t tip my hand too much with this, Nomio is based on some very real people in my life, but the name Nomios is another name for Hermes. Apollonio is Apollo, but he is also human in that some of his characteristics are based on people I grew up around. All in all, every name, well most of them anyway, are allusions to real, literary, religious or historical figures. The names were my way of developing characters that were already familiar but without making them too obvious; they were also a way of paying tribute to all of my influences. Sorry for the long answer. I got carried away.

I think the novel is complicated in the sense that the layers of characterization and interwoven stories require a reader's undivided attention and a commitment to pay attention to the details. This is not a criticism. I think your cast of characters at the beginning of the novel hints that you may agree with me. Do you?

The cast of characters at the beginning was not really my idea, per se. My publishers wanted a family tree, like the one that Gabriel García Márquez used at the beginning of 100 Years of Solitude. The problem, however, was that the characters weren’t from the same family. There would have been about 6 or 7 family trees. As a compromise we decided on the cast of characters option. If it would have been up to me, and in the end I guess it was, I think I would have left the character list out, but since the names of the characters are very traditional and therefore not common we (the publishers and myself) agreed that we should provide some sort of assistance to the reader. I know that one reviewer took exception with this and even hinted at there being too many characters for such a “thin” book.

To answer your question though, I really did want the book to be accessible on a lot of levels. I wanted each story to stand on its own but also to be part of a bigger whole. I wanted allusion to play a major role in the book, but I didn’t want the reader to feel obligated to look everything up. Therefore, yes, I suppose the book is complicated, but I would also hope that on the most basic level it is also as simple as listening to a story being told.
Aaron's website is He wanted me to make sure folks know that his books can be found at bookstores, through Ghost Road Press, and at online outlets such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Thank you, Aaron.

... y más
Abiquiú Studio Tour
There’s a nice article (Georgia On Their Minds) in Lexus Magazine (yes, that Lexus) about the annual Abiquiú Studio Tour, a unique art festival in the heart of New Mexico. Each October for the past 13 years the collective of more than 60 artists opens its work spaces and homes to visitors who are bound to be charmed by the wide-ranging vision and diverse mix of painting, etching, sculpture, weaving, and many other formats. Included in the article are short interviews with several of the artists such as Leopoldo Garcia, described as “a ponytailed Vietnam veteran with a linebacker’s build and a voice that rasps and burbles like a cabin-cruiser at low tide,” and Barbara Manzanares, a weaver who says that her mother always told her “if you learn to weave you’ll never be hungry.” October is one of the best months to spend time in New Mexico and this festival sounds like a perfect way to spend that time. Abiquiú and the Ghost Ranch are indelibly linked to Georgia O’Keeffe as the places where she found inspiration and solace. You can read more by jumping to this link.

José Latour on Selling Culture
The International Association of Crime Writers’ website now offers articles by members. Included in the lineup is an article by José Latour, entitled The Influence of Promotion on the Entertainment and Cultural Markets. Here are a couple of paragraphs from the article:

“Ninety- and one-hundred-year-old copies of newspapers and magazines from the U.S., France and Spain prove that books were reviewed frequently, but publicity and advertising were almost nonexistent. Until the 1910s, perhaps the 1920s, the number of copies a book sold and the attendance at cultural events were mostly the result of reviews and word of mouth. Most publishers saw themselves as purveyors of culture; they didn't want to lose money, but making money was not their raison d'être. Bookselling was considered a very dignified way of making a living.

“A hundred years later books are merchandise in the marketplace. In fiction and non-fiction alike, publicity and advertising are determinant. In mass-market fiction, promotion is indispensable. The big chain stores have a single purpose: to make money. Independent publishers and booksellers, among whom, it seems, many idealists continue to exist, also depend on good- and best-sellers to survive.”

The entire article is here.

Rocky Mountain Book and Paper Fair
The 23d Annual Rocky Mountain Book and Paper Fair will be held at the Merchandise Mart in Denver on August 3 and 4. Over 75 dealers will have on hand “an outstanding collection of books and vintage ephemera for sale” including maps, art and photographs. The press release notes that some of the items on display or for sale include first editions of John C. Fremont’s report of his first three expeditions and his role in the conquest of California (sounds like right up your alley, Sol); L. Frank Baum’s Glinda of Oz; John Arrowsmith’s map of the Republic of Texas, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men; and Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Get many more details here.



Daniel A. Olivas said...

Fine post and excellent interview. Yet more books for me to buy!

msedano said...

thanks, manuel, for so much info. dang, now i gotta decide which to do first, sign up for that studio tour or buy abeyta's novel.

maybe one day we can all talk about prose that gente call poetry.

Anonymous said...

Great interview of someone who sounds like his work is worth reading. Will check him out.

Is there any room in that Lexus for another hitchhiker to Albiquiú?


Lisa Alvarado said...

Manuel! Many thanks for this piece on Abeyta! As someone who's written poetry and fiction, I liked hearing about the seamless flow of one into the other....I'm interested in a clean, crispness in poetry and a certain poetic quality in fiction.

(You think, Lisa?) : )

I also related to Aaron talking about the mysteriousness of the process...For me, what comes, where it comes from, isn't so much a conscious choice, but being open to having something speak inside of you.