Monday, May 05, 2008


Jack Lopez is a native of Lynwood, California, in what he calls a “working-class suburb of Los Angeles.” As an adolescent, he moved to Huntington Beach, California, and was greatly influenced by the burgeoning surf culture. In between his undergraduate studies and graduate school, he spent time in Hawaii where he surfed, in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains where he skied, and in southern California on the coast where he sailed.

To subsidize this lifestyle he has worked at ski resorts, in a sailboat factory, on a farm, in a brewery, in a cannery, and has built custom homes. He eventually earned an MFA degree from the prestigious writing program at the University of California at Irvine.

Lopez’s stories and essays have been in literary magazines such as The Massachusetts Review, Blue Mesa Review, Quarterly West, and in important Latino anthologies including Iguana Dreams, Pieces of the Heart, Mirrors Beneath The Earth, Currents from the Dancing River, and Muy Macho, to name a few. He is the author of Cholos & Surfers: A Latino Family Album, an essay collection, and Snapping Lines, a story collection. Lopez is a professor of English at Cal State Northridge, where he teaches creative writing. He is recipient of the 2008 Creativity Award bestowed by his university.

Lopez’s latest book is the young adult novel, In the Break, published by Little, Brown. The novel revolves around Jamie who has a violent fight with his stepfather and decides it’s best to leave town until things settle down. Jamie, his best friend Juan, and Juan’s sister, Amber, head south to Mexico to help Jamie hide out. As Lopez explains, “[a]long they way, they search for the perfect wave, find romance, experience tragedy, and their own sense of peace among the waves.”

Lopez kindly agreed to sit with La Bloga and answer a few questions about his latest novel and to discuss writing in general.

OLIVAS: When did you discover surfing?

LOPEZ: I first heard about surfing when I was in elementary school, fourth or fifth grade. When I was in the sixth grade, I bought my first Surfer Magazine. It was called Surfer Quarterly back then; I wrote an essay about making my father take me to a store that carried it ("Of Cholos & Surfers," which has been in print since it was first published in 1996).

OLIVAS: When did you discover writing?

LOPEZ: Writing came to me much earlier than surfing. I learned to read at an early age because I was sickly. For many, with reading comes writing. I wrote poems and such in first and second grade.

OLIVAS: When did you decide to write about surfing?

LOPEZ: I never made a conscious decision to write about surfing. I never went, “Okay, I’m going to write a story about surfing now.” My writing process is such that I either hear something, not literally, but hear a sentence maybe, or I see something, an image, say. Then I go.

OLIVAS: Many people view surfing as a “white” sport. How do you respond to that view?

LOPEZ: Are Hawai'ans white? The ones I’ve known aren’t that “white,” whatever that means. I suppose the statement is a comment on the top surfers, etc. Or possibly a comment upon who lives by the sea. In California predominately affluent people live by the ocean because housing is so expensive here. One doesn’t usually associate Latinos or blacks with affluence. To get on the WCT, the World Championship Tour, the contest circuit that Kelly Slater has won eight titles on, is incredibly hard to do. The surfers begin competitive surfing in elementary school, sometimes, and certainly by middle school. The circuit is sanctioned by the NSSA, and this is the domain of high school surfing. To be on the high school surf team and surf every morning as your P.E. class is how a surfer gets really good. Then he or she gets sponsored and goes to all kinds of exotic places and surfs even better waves. There’s a whole progression for surfers to get on the “Tour.” The process starts in high school, as is the case for most athletes. The high schools in Boyle Heights and San Bernardino don’t field high school surf teams. Furthermore, I don’t see Latinos and blacks moving in large numbers to Monarch Bay in south O.C. Until more people of color surf at an earlier age, nothing will change.

Having said the above, I’d like to point out that Bobby Martinez and Timmy Reyes are on the world tour, ranked 8th and 13th respectively. Shea and Cory Lopez are well-known pros. And Gerry Lopez… Inkwell Surf and Sport is sponsoring black surfers to compete in contests. So things are changing, and, as it is with meaningful change, it will be slow.

One more thing. Surfing, at least in the water, was one of the few endeavors that I’ve done in which it didn’t matter what your race was; it only mattered what you could do while in h2o. On land, of course, things tend to be different.

OLIVAS: When did you start writing In the Break? How did you find a publisher?

LOPEZ: I worked on In the Break for about three years. My agent sent it out, and it was rejected about ten or eleven times. After more than a year it was taken. From that point there was a two-year turnaround until it appeared in print.

OLIVAS: Do you have a writing routine?

LOPEZ: I'm a morning person so I write in the mornings. But I can write other times as well. I write any chance I get. By the way, "writing" doesn't only occur in front of the typewriter or computer or whatever. Some of my best writing is done when I'm not writing--when exercising or pondering or brainstorming or reading, even.

OLIVAS: What was your path to becoming a creative writing professor at Cal State Northridge?

LOPEZ: I wrote and worked and wrote and worked for years. I didn't seem to be making any progress, so I decided to go to grad school. I was fortunate to get into the MFA writing program at UC Irvine, where I learned so much about writing and publishing. Having the degree helped me to get a teaching position.

OLIVAS: Any advice for beginning writers?

LOPEZ: Fill up a lot pages! Many, many years ago when I was having trouble writing, I remember the advice my older brother gave me. "Well, he said, "you take out a pencil, get a piece of paper, and start writing."

OLIVAS: Who are your most important literary influences?

LOPEZ: Way too many to name. I've been influenced all along the way and still am, and it's part of an ongoing process. Further advice to beginning writers: read everything you can get your hands on.

OLIVAS: Mil gracias for spending time with La Bloga.

Rigoberto González, writing for the El Paso Times, reviews Fred Arroyo’s debut novel, The Region of Lost Names published by the University of Arizona Press. He notes, in part:

Arroyo has written a unique love story, which tackles larger issues such as the plight of the immigrant, the sacrifices of social mobility, and the disorientation of gender expectations. But the engine that pushes this moving story forward is the heart -- Ernesto's and Magdalene's, the two young heroes who must contend with the disenchantments of entire generations of their people, and who have the strength to surpass them.

◙ NEWS FROM THE UCLA CHICANO STUDIES RESEARCH CENTER: In conjunction with UCLA Professor Alicia Gaspar de Alba’s “Chicana Lesbian Literature” class, Chicana photographer Laura Aguilar will screen her video Untouched Landscape and discuss the use of body, memory, and landscape in her work. Her talk will be on Tuesday, May 20, 3:00–4:00 p.m., in the CSRC Library (144 Haines Hall). The screening is co-sponsored by the CSRC, the César E. Chávez Department of Chicana/o Studies, the Department of Women’s Studies, and the Center for the Study of Women.

For more information on this talk and to learn more about UCLA’s CSRC, visit the Center’s website or email the Center. UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center • 193 Haines Hall • Box 951544 • Los Angeles, CA 90095-1544 Campus Mail Code: 154403 • Tel: (310) 825-2363 • Fax: (310) 206-1784.

Daniel Alarcón proudly announces that the Virginia Quarterly Review's "South America in the 21st Century,” a collaborative issue with Etiqueta Negra, has been awarded a 2008 National Magazine Award for Best Single Topic issue. He thanks everyone at Etiqueta, at VQR, and all the writers, artists, journalists, poets, photographers, and translators who helped make this happen. Take a peek at the issue here. Also, for a full list of winners, go here.

Los Angeles Times columnist, Al Martinez, offers a new post on his blog where he gives us a brief history of nudity. He notes, in part:

Ever since Adam and Eve discovered that there was more to life in the Garden of Eden than picking apples, the world has become obsessed with nudity. It began with curiosity, segued to intense interest and then blossomed into lust, where it remained for a good many years, sweeping the world’s continents and finally ending up in America where it was forbidden. Puritans believed that nudity equated with sex, which was also strictly forbidden outside of Christian marriage, although a few managed to work it in on the side.

◙ All done with my 2008 Cinco de Mayo post. If you want to know more about this holiday, take a peek at this informative Los Angeles Times interview with that most famous of Mexicans, Gustavo Arellano. So, until next Monday, enjoy the intervening posts from my compadres y comadres. ¡Lea un libro!


Ann Hagman Cardinal said...

Thanks Daniel! This is a great interview and I'm ordering "In The Break" right away. It seems like a fabulous book that my eleven year old won't think is "random" and that I can enjoy too. There is not that many YA novels that boys are attracted to (and I'm always looking for Latino works) so this is an ideal choice for us.

Daniel Olivas said...

Thank you, Ann. This is why we write for La Bloga!

McKenzie Reidinger said...

1. I found it very interesting that Jack Lopez was into so many water sports and was also a writer.

2. Jack Lopez really inspired me to become what i want to become without having to feel pulled back by other people or the community.

3. I was very impressed on how he continued to try and inspire people by his story. Jack Lopez has really inspired me to start writing more.