Thursday, July 31, 2008

Noticias and End of July Goodness

I'm thrilled to announce that Teatro Luna has settled into their brand new home in beautiful Logan Square on the northwest side of Chicago! The teatro is housed in the St. Luke's Church of Logan Square - a fabulous place with a strong focus on the arts and community building. The upcoming offerings include:

- Monthly workshops, free and open to the community.
- Professional development series - sliding scale for actors, writers, directors, and designers looking to expand their skills and network.

- Writing and Performance Classes - sliding scale.

- A new Reading Series, featuring staged readings of new work by Latina/o playwrights.
Stay turned for more information and a schedule.

Teatro Luna is located at the corner of Francisco and Altgeld, just a few blocks from the Logan Square Blue Line Stop.

St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Logan Square
2649 North Francisco Avenue · Chicago, Illinois 60647

Mailing Address: PO Box 47256, Chicago, IL 60647

Check out las hermanas at the Goodman Theater's Latino Theater Festival on August 13th. You can catch a preview of our fall show
JARRED: A HOODOO COMEDY by Tanya Saracho JARRED is a hilarious look at what happens to a woman when she turns to santeria, brujeria, and hoodoo after a terrible break-up. She's got her boyfriend in a jar: now what?

For tickets visit



Goodman Theatre 170 N. Dearborn St. Chicago, Illinois 60601 Box Office: 312.443.3800


Chicago Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble

Thursday, July 31: 6:30 PM


And from La Bloga friend, Denise Chavez

portrait by Raquel Valle-Sentíes

The Writing Women's Lives Conference in Santa Fe was a wonderful gathering of creative women. We wrote corridos with Elena Diaz Bjorkquist and Consuelo Luz set them to music. Page Lambert gave a powerful workshop on nature and place and wrote an incredible corrido about a beloved mare. Susan and Denise Abraham from El Paso also gave a talk on their young adult novels. Thank you, talented mujeres!

I completed my Corrido Cat Cycle, writing El Corrido del Gato Consentido (The Corrido of the Spoiled Cat) to my cat, Kuki. I met many new writer friends and visited with Natalie Goldberg, Sally Bingham and Anne Hillerman, also dear BBF Friends, Don Usner and Adalucia Quan and her family and a friend from NMSU days, Maria Montez Skolnik.

We had a party at my sister's
new house and Estevan Rael-Galvez, State Historian, joined us. I'm back home now and busy with Center activites and still working on my novel!!

Upcoming events to take note of:

August 8 and 9: The Way Out West Book Festival in Alpine, Texas. Featured writers are Elmer Kelton, Kinky Freedman, Benjamin Alire Saenz, Sarah Bird, Bobby and Lee Byrd, Denise Chavez and others. This is the first ever Alpine festival. It is a great setting and wonderful town. Check their website at:

August 31: The John Barry Award for Fiction in Spanish has a deadline of August 31. They are looking for the best short story written in Spanish in the U.S. or Candada. Prize is $1,000.

Sept. 13 and 14: 16th of September Fiesta on the Mesilla Plaza. We will be selling books in our booth. Come and hang out as we hang out! We will need volunteers for shifts on Saturday from eight am until midnight and volunteers on Sunday from noon to 7pm with help breaking down after 7. Fiesta hours are from noon to midnight Saturday and noon to 7pm on Sunday.

Take a two hour shift and listen to great music and eat as many quesadillas
as you can and help us sell books! We had a great Cinco de Mayo booth and plan on having one as well for Dia de Los Muertos.

September 26-26: Writing From the Creative Heart, a weekend long writing workshop with Denise Chavez. Reserve your place now as the workshop is limited. Call me at 575-496-2351, for more information or email me at Cost is $90 for BBF members and $100 for non members.

October 25: The Great Southwest Book Festival at the El Paso Public Library. Contact Mike Payan, Senior Librarian and Event Coordinator for booth and festival information at:

NOW: Sally Meisenhelder from Amigos de Las Mujeres has informed us that Casa Amiga in Juarez is in financial difficulty and needs help. If you know any donors or foundations that can help, please contact Amigos at:

Stay tuned for a Care and Evaluation of Out of Print Book Workshop with John Randall later this fall, a reading by Jesus Tafoya and Rosario Sanmiguel in Spanish from their new books, both incredible writers from Juarez/La Frontera.

Dr. Tafoya teaches at Sul Ross University and Dr. Sanmiguel at La
Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juarez, also the 4th annual Tamalada/Tamal making workshop at La Cocina Restaurant in Mesilla Park. We hope to have a celebrated food writer join us. Stay tuned!

We are also working on the Pooch-athon with a reading from Cristina Garcia's new children's book, The Dog Who Loved the Moon.

Other than that, we are drying out from many rains and loving this cool weather. Hang in there, chile!

Best wishes,

Denise Chavez

Lisa Alvarado

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Interview With Author Carmen Tafolla

René Colato Laínez

Hola Carmen, thank you for this interview for La Bloga.
Who inspired you to write?
My mother was a person with very little formal education, but a great ear for a story, and a great memory for people's stories. My grandmother was a storyteller, as were several aunts. And SO, it turns out were my GREAT-grandparents. Listening to the stories of my familia and my barrio was where I first learned to love the art of storytelling, and to respect the power of a story... orally, with all the magic of unwritten centuries behind me... Stories get more powerful when they are refined through the telling, generation after generation....

I was very, very young when I began to dream of writing stories down, preserving them, polishing them. They were our history, and they were our alma.

-As a child what was your favorite book?

We didn't have a lot of books at home, a Spanish-language Bible, a hymnal, a book about medicine (I thought! It was called La Santa Doctrina, so I figured it had to do with Doctors and Medicine...) But when I was about 5, my parents started one of these a dollar-a-month Childcraft Series offers, and the first volume was "Childhood Verses, Rhymes, and Fables." I can STILL see those pages and remember the stories! So, between that and the Old Testament and the leyendas told orally, I had plenty of exciting stories to start off with. When I was 10, the city finally put a library on the "West Side" (the Mexican side) of town, and then my Mom would walk me weekly to check out five books, the maximum they'd let me check out at a time. I never discovered Dr. Seuss or Madeleine L'Engle or Garcia Marquez or Winnie the Pooh till I was in college! And then I fell in love with books all over again.

-Tell us about your new books.

I have two children's books and one adult book out this year.

What Can You DO with a Rebozo? (Tricycle, 2008) is a colorful, imaginative picture book beautifully illustrated by Amy Cordova and targeted at children under 6. It celebrates an icon of Mexican culture through the eyes of a little girl who sees its versatility, but invents some uses of her own! I want to show little girls (and boys!) that they can use one thing for many purposes, and that sometimes the funn---iest games come from using our own imagination!

Then, That's Not Fair: Emma Tenayuca's Struggle for Justice, co-authored with Emma's niece, Sharyll Teneyuca, is a picture book biography for children 6 and up, based on the courageous Latina civil rights leader from the 1930s, who at the age of 22, organized and led 12,000 pecan shellers in a strike that represents the first successful mass action in the Mexican-American struggle for political and economic justice. Our adult biography on Emma is nearing completion, but this children's book is the first book ever published on her, and it is a really beautiful volume by Wings Press, illustrated by Terry Ybanez and designed as a tribute to those brave pecan shellers who were starving to death and still had the courage to hope for a better world for their children. Even the endpapers are pecan-colored!

And, just last month, Wings released a collection of my short stories, which I just presented at The International Conference on the Short Story in English, held in June in Cork , Ireland . The title The Holy Tortilla and a Pot of Beans, a feast of short fiction, kind of says it all – it’s about the holy and the miraculous, as well as about the mundane, most common, underappreciated blessings, like a pot of hot, homemade beans.

- Where did you get the idea for What Can You Do With A Rebozo? Do you have many rebozos at home?

Rebozos are one of my most useful clothing items. I live in San Antonio, where the weather might be 100 degrees and sweltering one minute, then walk into an air-conditioned building and just freeze till you're blue. Or it might drop 40 degrees in three hours. I also travel a lot, so a rebozo is a very useful and versatile item to help me deal instantly with weather changes and different levels of formality. It has served me as a coat, a muffler,a fan, a head scarf, PLUS, it rolls up into a tiny corner of the briefcase! I have three BIG boot boxes at home, each with a different range of colors!

In 1992, 500 years after America discovered Columbus lost on a beach, my publisher was looking for art for the front cover of my upcoming poetry book, Sonnets to Human Beings. I recommended Cata Garate, who had a whole series of oil paintings of women in rebozos. When the book came out, Sally Andrade was so stunned by the cover she asked if U.T. El Paso could exhibit Cata's whole series together with poems of mine. We did, but then one thing led to another and soon, Cata and I were at work on a coffee table book combining art, poetry, and the story behind this universal symbol of Mexican womanhood. That book will be out soon from Wings. But the idea of the rebozo's versatility soon had me "cooking on" a children's picture book and developing a spunky little Chicanita protagonist, 4 years old, who could come up with crazy, imaginative uses for her Mom's rebozo! What Can You DO with a Rebozo? just came out of Tricycle this spring, sparked a series, and the follow-up book What Can You DO with a Paleta?, is due out from Tricycle Press in Spring of 09.

- The Holy Tortilla and a Pots of Beans is full of culture and magical realism and each story tells a message. What was the selection process for the stories included in the book?

In this very blase, over sophisticated, materialistic world, where emotions are corny, human decency is looked down on as "political correctness", and everything is assessed in "measurable" terms, I wanted an emphasis on those things that lie BENEATH the skin, and outside the realm of the price tag. I wanted to select stories that filled that dimension between the stark simplicity of the Holiest things we encounter to the absolute magic of the everyday objects around us. That's why the title is not just "The Holy Tortilla" (too pious and above us) but also includes a normal, everyday Pot of Beans...

If the stories can help elevate to the holy the simple, daily values, customs, strength and beauty of nuestra gente, then I'll have done justice to the people, the everyday readers to whom this book is dedicated.

-You write for many genres. What is the difference between writing for children and for adults?

Actually, children are more demanding readers. Adults will kind of assume that SOME place in the book, there'll be something good that they might appreciate or learn from. But children-- if you lose them on even ONE page, they want to get up and go do something else. So, writing for children demands distilling every word, polishing every action, eliminating ALL excess baggage. It's almost harder than writing poetry!! But the reward-- is in the power and authenticity of what's left. If you reach children, (and I expect good children's lit to be timeless, so I want to reach children now and three generations from now), then you've hit something authentic.

- What is your message for inspiring writers?

A very long time ago (I must have been 10 or 12 years old) someone told me that to get a PhD, you had to write a book called a dissertation, and it had to be on a topic NO ONE had ever written on before. I immediately felt impatience and despair, and thought that if I didn’t hurry up and get grown up fast, like tomorrow, all the topics would be used up and there wouldn't be anything left to write about! For a long while, I thought that was true, lamented the fact that by the time I grew up, all the good storylines would be taken, all the topics explored, all the interesting devices invented already. Boy, was I naive!

Now, I tell young writers, there is NO ONE on the face of the earth who can see the world in quite the same way you do, nor who has had quite the same combination of experiences and emotions. You are unique, your voice is a necessary part of the puzzle, without which we are deprived of the full richness of the human experience. So don't worry about how you compare to others, don't follow anyone else's example, nor anyone else's rules, invent your own rules, and then master them! It is the essence of art, to reach deep into what comes from your own soul, and then turn yourself over to it, follow, explore that path. Learn from others, but also learn from that quiet voice whispering to you, that knows when you have not quite written it as well as you know it could be written. Write who you are, but trust yourself, and your art, to grow beyond your own boundaries.
For more about Carmen, visit her website

Meet Carmen This Sunday

The Museo Alameda
Tricycle Press
and MANA de San Antonio
invite you to join them in

“What Can You DO with a Rebozo??”

The Museo Alameda invites the public to a Family Day!
Children’s Costume Contest and Book Party
for Carmen Tafolla’s latest children’s book,


Beautifully illustrated by award-winning artist Amy Cordova, this picture book aimed at 3-5 year-olds, celebrates the versatility and practicality of this icon of Mexican womanhood, and encourages young children to explore the delightful territories of their own imagination.

Sunday, August 3, 2008
12-4 pm

101 S Santa Rosa Ave
San Antonio, TX 78207
(210) 223-5820

Hands-on activities for Children, 12-1, and 1:30-4:00
1:00 Program:
*Foklórico dances by the famous Champion family dancers *a storytelling session by award-winning author Carmen Tafolla
*a fun demonstration by San Antonio’s Hermanitas, showing styles for the elegant, practical, and fun-costuming uses of rebozos, for adults and children

*Children’s Costume Pageant & Contest (age 10 and under) with prizes for
-The Most Creative Use of a Rebozo,
-The Silliest Use of a Rebozo,
-The Most Adventurous Use of a Rebozo,
-the Most Colorful Use of a Rebozo
-the Most Elegant Use of a Rebozo
-the Scariest Use of a Rebozo

Costume Contest award-winners will each be given a free copy of the beautiful hard-cover book. One lucky family will receive the Grand door prize of a four-book collection of books by Carmen Tafolla, including her brand new collection of short stories, The Holy Tortilla and a Pot of Beans.

1:45 Presentation of Contest Awards
2- 4 Booksigning by Carmen Tafolla

All exhibits open to the public.

Books by Carmen Tafolla available in the Museo Gift Shop

Macondo Libre

If you missed last night La Palabra Eléctrica, come tonight for another great Macondo night, La Palabra Tremenda. In the tradition of Mexican Lucha Libre where good conquers evil, our writers fight for political and social issues. In Macondo Libre, writers will showcase fighting moves that will take your breath away!

Don’t miss the ultimate challenge, la Palabra Peligrosa, a literary fundraising event where nationally acclaimed poets and writers wrestle the truth out of the official story and reclaim it with a night of powerful readings and music. This dramatic lucha poetry slam will include performances by the poet Ai; poet, writer and NPR commentator Andrei Codrescu, Sandra Cisneros and musical performances by the father/son team George/Aaron Prado, the Krayolas and other special guests. All proceeds from the event will benefit Our Lady of the Lake University and the Macondo Foundation. At last, the word wrestlers are here. ¡Que viva Macondo Libre!

La Palabra Tremenda
Featuring: Macondo Writers and Special Community Guests
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
San Antonio, Texas
Our Lady of the Lake University
Providence Hall, West Social Room [PWSR]–the Red Room–at OLLU at 7 p.m. Admission: Free

Carolina de Robertis
Ignacio Ramos Magaloni
Tatiana de la Tierra
Amelia ML Montes
Angie Chau
Ben V. Olguín
Erin Bad Hand
ire'ne lara silva
Leslie Larson
Lorraine M. Lopez
(15 minute intermission - The Krayolas)
Maria Limon
Miryam Bujanda
Pat Alderete
René Colato Laínez
Rosalind Bell
Trey Moore
Wendy Call

La Palabra Peligrosa
Featuring: the poet Ai, Andrei Codrescu and Sandra Cisneros
Friday, Aug. 1, 2008
San Antonio, Texas
Our Lady of the Lake University
OLLU at Thiry Auditorium 8:30 p.m.
Admission: $25 Donation per ticket at the door

Macondo Foundation
The Macondo Foundation is a not-for-profit organization that organizes and hosts an annual workshop for professional writers. It originally began as a writing workshop around the kitchen table of poet and writer Sandra Cisneros in 1998. Since then the workshop rapidly grew from 15 participants to more than 120 participants in less than nine years. The foundation also has a writer in residency program and continues to grow in its outreach to writers. As an association of socially-engaged writers united to advance creativity, foster generosity, and honor community, the Macondo Foundation attracts generous and compassionate writers who view their work and talents as part of a larger task of community-building and non-violent social change.

For more information about the Macondo Foundation check our web site

Los esperamos

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Review: Forbidden Stories of Marta Veneranda

Sonia Rivera-Valdés.
NY: Seven Stories Press, 2001.
ISBN-10 1-58322-047-X
ISBN-13 978-1-58322-047-4

Michael Sedano

One reason I avoid back cover blurbs is I like to let a text speak for itself. Moreover, I’m often disappointed when high expectations meet a lesser actuality. Yet, I received a gift from an unexpected source, and, on opening the package, find myself turning a book around in my hands, ritually reading the book jacket while signaling my surprise and pleasure at what sounds like a scintillatingly lurid piece of fiction.

The gift is Forbidden Stories of Marta Veneranda, a 2001 collection of ten translated stories written by U.S. Cubana Sonia Rivera-Valdes. A gift to me from an enthusiastic reader, I have mixed emotions in approaching the book because of the back cover blurbs comparing this collection to Anais Nin. “Makes you forget the world around you . . . in human behavior-that which is not sanctioned by society," I’m promised. Nin is pretty hot, I think, but then comes the toughest promises yet. "Slyly heretical . . . most important book of stories since Joyce's Dubliners". By now my head is spinning. Can this book possibly meet such rising expectations? I thank the giver and promise her I'll put it at the top of my "to be read" stack.

Good things come to those who read, and now that I’ve read the nine stories, ten if you count the "Explanatory Note" as a fiction--which I do--I understand the blurbers’ hyperbolic enthusiasm. The stories, it turns out, are feminist, gay erotic literature. How was I to know? The characterizations “gay” “erotic”, absent from the back cover blurbs though perhaps obviously implied in "Forbidden" and the goddess Venus referent, strike me in the opening paragraph where Rivera claims her stories mask identities of true confessors of hidden shameful secrets. The shame, Rivera explains, comes not from criminality or social sanction, but "the way he or she has perceived and experienced it". So it sounds like hot stuff.

The buildup promises more than Rivera's translators can deliver. Or it might be that Rivera never put in the heat, and this is a fully complete translation.

Many of these stories mix hetero and homo sexuality with gay abandon. A woman first discovers she thrills at hairless skin when she kisses a body with passion. An older woman rejects a younger out of age, but relents in the end, leaves New York to Havana and the bedroom of her young friend and the friend knows all the words. A woman meets a Kama Sutra expert who entertains her for a weekend. The woman regrets he will not abandon his gay partner for her, but she expresses gratitude to know hers is the biggest yoni the Kama Sutra expert has seen. And stuff like this. Passionate. Funny. Weird. Sad.

The stories flow with economy and directness. Years and momentous events go by in the spaces between paragraphs. One sentence the character's a struggling factory worker screwing the boss to protect a co-worker's job, the next page she's a college graduate. Sensations, of course, control erotic literature. Here, sharing the thoughts and feelings of her characters, Rivera excels. The story of the enormously fat woman with the yeast infection and kidney problems that give a room-permeating stink provides a vivid reading moment. I wonder how the Spanish expresses the man's arousal as the fat woman slyly seduces him by spreading her huge thighs to fill his eyes and nose with her essence. A few stories later, Rivera refers to the same woman in so mundane a sentence that a reader is advised not to read the book in public, to avoid having to explain the surprised laughter. Or perhaps one should.

Rivera’s heterosexual stories aren’t entirely straight. Here the author blends sexuality with violence against women. I appreciate Rivera's restraint in avoiding the stronger treatment elected by other writers, America's Dream for one, although the dull relentlessness of one woman's story numbed me for a while after finishing the story. Yet, that afternoon I remember asking myself, "Self, why is that woman so stupid?" I don't think that's unkind, but perhaps the only response I'm capable of.

Rivera's translators have made her impressive. She's won awards so she may be. Her tales provide diversion best taken a few pages at a time. For example, I read Marta Veneranda over a month’s time, at lunch each day, a few pages at a time and much as I look forward to getting back to other activities, I regretted having to, as this meant closing the cover until another day. But I thought also, "Big deal. Exposés -- especially sex exposés-- should be more graphic, more exciting." I think of the sex in Villanueva's Naked Ladies for example, and regret Rivera's understatement. I had hoped for lurid prose and got elegant writing instead. Still, when I see "forbidden" I want forbidden.

Seven Stories Press makes it easy to sample the work, as you've noticed if you clicked on the links in the above, or the link in the title of this column. You'll find a Google Books-like fascimile of the work by visiting the publisher's website, or clicking on the links noted.

I hope others will find this collection and share their response, as I'd be interested for a broader point of view. I’m guessing a woman will approach the stories with a different purpose and a different opinion from a sixty-something man.

A ver.

Gente, there goes the final Tuesday in July 2008! Tempus fugit, carpe libros. In comes August, a wedding anniversary and birthday month.


La Bloga welcomes your comments and responses to this and all columns. Simply click the Comments counter below and write away. La Bloga welcomes guest columnists for those with extended remarks, or your own reviews of books, arts events, and related ideas. To discuss your invitation to be our guest, clicking here is the first step.

Thania Muñoz's Final Post on La Semana Negra '08

Exclusive reports from Crime Fiction's international big-bash by
our roving reporter.

The closing ceremony of
La Semana Negra, was held July 20 at 12pm in the biggest tent. It was rainy, and although Poniente’s beach was muddy, a lot of Gijoneses were present to make this as special as previous days.

Paco Taibo, II started the ceremony with a speech commenting on all the struggles that the organization of La Semana Negra has to go through every year to bring this event to the city. He thanked the city of Gijón for its unconditional support and acknowledged that although every year there are complaints about the noise, people, trash, and more, the number of people that attend proves to the city and to the few complainers that La Semana Negra is all about bringing literature and people together, about having a good time with family and friends.

This year around a million people attended, and 51,000 books were sold. This shows the popularity of the event, and how even though our societies are changing, books and literature are still an important part of our lives. After the mayor, Taibo II, and city officials finished their speeches, the traditional “Rufo” prizes (La Semana Negra’s mascot--a black, chubby, figurine) was given to the persons who play a big role in the organization, security, planning, etc. in making La Semana Negra a successful ten-day event.

Since this is my last post on La Semana Negra I would like to highlight what I believe were some of the most incredible moments in Gijón. This is not a ranking, only a biased list of what I believe made these ten days so unforgettable.

1. The beautiful Asturian city of Gijón and its great weather. Not too hot, not to cold. Although they were warm days, a swim in the ocean freshened people right up, and the rain only made the city more beautiful because it would only last a day and the next day the city was sunny with clean and shiny streets.

2. The Taibo family. They were always present at the events and offered you their help, smiles and good sense of humor. Paco Ignacio Taibo, II dedicates three months of the year to the planning of La Semana Negra, and anyone can definitely notice the love he puts into it. Twenty-one years don’t go unnoticed. His wife Paloma Saiz and daughter Marina also play a big role and deserve recognition: Thank you!

3. The invited writers. The list of writers is very long, but I would like to highlight Cuban writers, Amir Valle, Lorenzo Lunar and Rebeca. Not only excellent writers, but also wonderful people.

4. The Colombians,
Mario Mendoza, and Nahum Montt, who called themselves “the grandkids of Gabriel García Márquez”, who “unlike his sons, don’t owe him anything.” Their thriller and detective fiction about Colombia, a clear and non-magical realistic picture of this South American country.

5. The interview and everyday conversations with
Rolando Hinojosa, an intelligent man and as Daniel Olivas calls him, “one of the maestros.” His advice, not only journalistic but also academic, and most importantly all he had to say about the years he has attended La Semana Negra, made me work hard every day, take notes, record the literary sessions, and hope that one day I will become as smart as him. Truly an inspiration.

6. The every-day 5:00 tertulias at the main tent, where you could learn everything about the writers: from their writing techniques, their geeky side, to what they drink and eat when they write. And also deep conversations on evil vs. good, monsters in literature, etc. There are not a lot of places where this still happens, or if you know where it does, please let me know.

7. The book presentations, where you could hear a writer present their book, answer questions, sign books, and have conversations with readers afterward. A very intimate experience where people have the opportunity to take pictures with the writers and maybe even ask them out. I swear I didn’t try this.

8. “La velada poética”-Poetry night. An incredible night with world famous poetas José Emilio Pacheco, Joaquin Sabina and Luis García Montero. There is something about a room full of people eager and anxious to listen to their favorites poets. The hour or so that the poets recited was a surreal experience, definitely one of the main events of La Semana Negra. So if after reading so much about La Semana Negra on La Bloga you decide that it's surely worth making such a far away trip next year, believe me--the poetry night will be worth all your dollars spent. You can check out a really good video of this event on YouTube.

9. The night dedicated to
Ángel González. The poetry night, held Friday the 18th will be marked in the history of La Semana Negra as the night Gijón remembered and paid loving tribute and respect to a great and dearly loved poet.

10. The Semana Negra book, food, and jewelry tents--the free spirit and relaxing attitude of the people and the event itself; the smell of churros accompanying you as you go around the tents trying to find that particular book you know you can only find in Spain; watching families spending time together; walking around the fair or sitting on the sand reading a book.

I would like to thank La Bloga, especially Daniel Olivas for all the support and RudyG for posting my reports (cropping pictures, editing, and much more), and to all the people that have been reading and commenting on them (Norma Landa Flores, always the first and sweetest). It has been a great experience being La Bloga’s “roving reporter” and attending La Semana Negra itself. Here is my email for questions, concerns, and whatever else comes to mind: thaniamunoz AT

Saludos desde Los Angeles,

I love La Bloga!
Thania Muñoz

Monday, July 28, 2008


Los Angeles Times:

My wife and I are distressed by the reports concerning the Times' plans to scrap the Sunday Book Review and downsize it to a few pages in the Calendar section.

While we understand the economic difficulties the Times and other print media are suffering through, the Sunday Book Review is not only a joy to read, but represents, in many ways, the cultural and intellectual health of our city.

I grew up in a working class neighborhood near downtown Los Angeles and my parents knew that the way their five children would make it in this world was through education and books. My parents introduced us to such writers as Mark Twain, Miguel de Cervantes, Willa Cather, and Ernest Hemingway. My fondest memories concern our frequent visits to the public library. Because of this emphasis on reading, my parents planted the seeds for their children's success. Four of us finished college, and three of us went on to earn advanced degrees. The schools represented in our family include Stanford, UCLA, Harvard and Loyola University. My parents went through tough economic times but they never denied us our dreams. Today, I'm a government lawyer and the author of four books of fiction.

Instilling in us the love of books was key to this success. My wife and I have filled our house with books which has been a perfect environment for our teenage son. In fact, he has been working on a novel and has written some very beautiful poetry.

We urge you to reconsider your decision regarding the Sunday Book Review.

Thank you for consideration.

Daniel A. Olivas
West Hills, CA

[If you wish to write to the Times regarding this issue, you may send your e-mails to: and For up-to-date news on the Times’ apparent collapse, visit Kevin Roderick’s LAObserved.]

◙ Award-winning author Montserrat Fontes has a new website. Fontes is the author of First Confession and Dreams of the Centaur, winner of the 1997 American Book Award for Fiction. Fontes is currently working on her most important novel to date, The General’s Widow. Her next appearance is at Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa, November 5-7, 2008.

◙ Interested in Latino urban literature? If so, visit Urbano Books.

◙ Mil gracias to Thania Muñoz for her wonderfully vibrant and informative reports from La Semana Negra these last couple of weeks. If you missed Saturday’s post, go here. Thania is back in Los Angeles now and I’m sure her head and heart still back in Spain.

◙ Over at the San Antonio Current, Gregg Barrios writes about “stellar boxing cards promoter Tony Padilla…” Check it out.

McCain Snubbed Arizona's Hispanic Flyboys.

◙ Gustavo “Ask a Mexican” Arellano is getting rave advance reviews for his forthcoming memoir, Orange County : I've Been Taking Notes (Simon & Schuster). Go here for the complete story. More on Arellano's book soon.

◙ Nicholas Thomson of the San Francisco Chronicle writes about the untimely passing of Alfred Arteaga, a celebrated poet and professor of Chicano and ethnic studies at UC Berkeley, who died July 4 of a heart attack at a hospital in Santa Clara. Arteaga was only 58. Thomson’s piece, which includes one of Arteaga’s poems, notes, in part:

Professor Arteaga was considered a pre-eminent academic in postcolonial and ethnic minority literature studies. He was well versed in Shakespeare and studied the Renaissance.

He combined his knowledge of Western thought with a fascination for indigenous traditions in the Americas to teach his students about contemporary Chicano literature's influence on American culture and write poetry that juxtaposed different cultural ideologies, according to a statement from the university.

He was a prolific poet who conjured up philosopher kings in postcolonial America, ensnaring both his characters and their landscape in the web that he called the "fabric of language," the statement said.

◙ Tomorrow, 826 Valencia will host a discussion of Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives. Speakers will include Peter Orner, Dave Eggers, along with Daniel Alarcón and other guests. WHERE: 826 Valencia at 19th Street in San Francisco. WHEN: Tuesday, July 29, at 7:00 p.m. NOTE: Space is limited, so registration is recommended; RSVP to NOTE: 826 Valencia opened its doors to the public in April 2002 and, since then, it has enlisted help from hundreds of qualified volunteer tutors eager to teach students in the area. 826 Valencia also has seen the interest in its programs — from teachers and students in the area — steadily increase. 826 Valencia is thrilled to see the nod of approval from the community as it strives to provide free services to Bay Area teachers, students, and families. To see how you can help, visit here.

◙ All done. So, until next Monday, enjoy the intervening posts from my compadres y comadres at La Bloga. ¡Lea un libro!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Mom Was a Punk Rocker

This year I turned 45. One day you find yourself at a wedding, dancing in the cool way you always have, and all the sudden you are a roaring geek and an embarrassment to your children. And, of course, they do not hesitate to point this out. Well, I was feeling kind of depressed about all this, so I went out shopping. Retail therapy, you know. As it turned out I had an incredible experience at the mall that day (yes, the mall…when’s the last time you heard that out of someone over the age of 13?).

I was in one of my favorite stores, one of those retail chains that carry merchandise geared towards today’s cool and disenfranchised youth, when I saw a Ramones' Rocket to Russia t-shirt on the wall. I stood there, sighed, and said to myself, “Now THAT was a great album!” Just seeing it got me reminiscing about my New York City punk rock adolescence, and I asked a store employee if they carried the CD. The multiply-pierced, fuchsia-haired sales girl laughed, and said, "The Ramones? We've been sold out for weeks! They come in and go out the same day.” Perplexed, I went on to ask if she thought the record store might have it in stock (See? I gave my age away right there! "Like, what’s a 'record' lady?"). She looked confused (or maybe it was just the way the chain that went from her nose to her ear was pulling her cheek), and finally replied, “I don’t know, but you might try the music store three doors down, you might luck out.”

So off I go, determined to get the damn CD and continue my trip down memory lane. I swept the store's rows and rows of digital media with my eyes, and headed toward the Pop/Rock section. I thumbed through the R's. Nothing. I asked the frighteningly young sales clerk with, yes, a lip piercing, where I might find the Ramones, and he said "Oh no, you wouldn't find them in the pop/rock section, we have a new "Punk/Ska" section!" (New?) He brings me over to the area in question, and my eyes fall on the cover of the Sex Pistol’s Never Mind the Bullocks. I reminisce out loud that this was the record I bought with my first paycheck from Woolworth's when I was 14. He got this glazed look in his eyes and said, "You have this on vinyl??? This is a CLASSIC!" Then he picked up a copy of Rocket to Russia as if it were the Holy Grail and said, "Do you know they are coming out with a tribute album to the Ramones?" Since I was not really interested in the lead singer from ColdPlay singing "Sheena is a Punk Rocker" I tuned him out and said, "Oh, great."

I was feeling rather old as I brought the over-priced "retro" CD to the check out and placed it on the counter. I grabbed some headphones from a nearby rack and asked the other incredibly young man behind the register if they had any sturdier ones for my 9-year old. At this he glanced down at my CD purchase and asked incredulously, "Your nine year old is into the Ramones??" and I say, "Oh no, that's for me, I was talking about the headphones." "You're into the Ramones? Cool!" He seemed so impressed I went on to say, "Yeah, I saw them three or four times in the late 70's." At this point his jaw hit his chest and he gasped, "You SAW THE RAMONES LIVE???" Enjoying this I added, "Yeah, in Central Park for $7.50" He didn't even have words for that, he just sputtered "Central Park???" and I went on to list who I had seen live that year, Blondie, Elvis Costello...I thought he was going to have a seizure, and he looked at me with glazed eyes as if I was a celebrity.

All of the sudden as I stood there basking in the young man's awe--all 45 years of me--I felt that maybe this growing older thing wasn't so bad. I used to say that the definition of middle age was when the music of your youth comes back in style as "retro," and here I am. On the way home I turned up the Ramones and remembered the nights of CBGBs, Max's Kansas City, and the Mudd Club. After the clubs closed in the wee hours, we would stumble out blinking at the sunrise with our spiked hair, fishnet stockings and leather motorcycle jackets, and go home and change into our Catholic school uniforms and go straight to school, smelling vaguely of rum. "Well," I smiled to myself, head bobbing to "I Want to be Sedated" as I drove down interstate 89, "I may be middle-aged, but I guess I'm not so uncool after all."Recently, my son unearthed some photographs of me taken during my punk days, and he was clearly impressed. “Mom! You were so young and cool!” To which my husband replied, “Yeah, and when someone tries to insult you by saying ‘Your Mom wears combat boots!’ you can say, ‘Yes, she did!’”

Saturday, July 26, 2008

La Semana Negra’s last days

Exclusive reports from Crime Fiction's international big-bash by our roving reporter.

I’m back in Los Angeles,
La Semana Negra ended! There was a lot going on during the final days, but I’ll try to summarize them in two posts.

One of the most important events happened on July 19. At the yell of, “Weimar for everyone,” the 21st Semana Negra gave away 1,000 book sets dedicated to giving voice to writers who opposed the Nazis during the 1930’s and 40’s. The set is an incredible black edition with a big, thick gold “W” across the box. It's composed of two books, one is a selection of texts by German writers who, because they opposed the Nazis, were silenced and as a consequence their literature is not well known--writers such as Gustav Regler, Ludwig Renn, Bodo Ushe, and Marchwitza Kisch even wrote continuously during those years.

As Carlos Fortea said, “I think we owed them this recognition and this rescue from oblivion. . . I wouldn’t call this poetic justice; instead, I want this to be an act to rescue their literature. These people have the right to be on these pages.” Other writers such as Bertolt Bretch and Anna Seghers also deserve acknowledgment for their work during that time, but their case is different since they did gain international recognition.

The second book is dedicated to stories told from different perspectives but with the same setting, by contemporary writers. Paco Taibo II and forty other writers illustrate this period of history with photography, comics, or short stories, among others. At the event in the main tent of La Semana Negra, the stage was packed with writers and other artists who participated in the making of the book. Taibo II wanted to give each recognition for their work, from taking the time to doing it for free.

Since this was a free book, a gift from La Semana Negra and Pepsi, the tent was full and everyone was trying to get to the front, because although there were 1,000 books, there weren’t enough for all the people. Talking to people, I found out why everyone was so anxious and desperate to get to the front. But of course at the beginning they weren’t too obvious. I also wanted to get the free book, so I got there an hour early and got a comfortable chair at the front.

From asking the staff and people around me, I found out that every year people get wild. They push, throw chairs or even hit people to get to the front for the free book. Since there are a limited number, people know that if they don’t in a sense get a little rowdy and pushy, they are not going to get one. For some this is almost unthinkable, because the book is a Semana Negra tradition and they have been collecting them for years.

I think this a great tradition. I think there is nothing better than collecting books and of course reading them. But the conversations about how “last year people were taking the books from each other” and “people got on stage and wanted more than two!” (the rule is you can only get one) got me very scared.

But the story that seemed the most funny and scary at the same time, was that last year the organization decided to keep the books in the big brown boxes and designated people to pass them out. Well, this didn’t turn out as planned, because people were fighting for the boxes with the staff and the old lady who I previously mentioned actually fought Taibo II for one of them. As Marina Taibo (Taibo II’s daughter) told me, “she was crunching her teeth and pulling the box with all her strength. It was quite scary.” Even though I would have loved to see this, this year’s organization would try to avoid this sort of thing.

All the books were spread out on stage. After introductions and thank-you’s, Taibo II and Angel de la Calle, one of the contributors and the director of “A Quemarropa” (La Semana Negra’s newspaper) gave the ok for people to come on stage to get the book. At the beginning people came up in an orderly fashion. I did so by only taking two steps, but as soon as people saw the books were running out, they forgot their manners and started pushing.

Not that I’m complaining, but to properly illustrate people’s behavior, after I got my book and was making my way to the rear of the tent, my shins were hurt by chairs people were trying to get them out of the way. I screamed (not too loud though) and made it out alive with just a few bruises. This year didn’t get as wild as others, which made everything so much better and enjoyable, although my shins don’t agree.

After the books were distributed, the contributors went to another tent where they had set up tables, and the writers signed the books. An endless line, but that made the free book even more special--thirty-two contributors in total! Some writers signed on the page of their story, the comic’s artists drew on them and others simply gave you a quick smile and signed on the first page. After an hour and half, they finally ended and marked their time in history, which in my case, will never be forgotten.

Don’t miss the last post of the incredible Semana Negra,

Thank you to all who have been keeping up with my posts!

Saludos desde Los Angeles!

Thania Muñoz

Friday, July 25, 2008

¡Ay, Cisco! Libros y Música


Death and the American Dream
Daniel Cano

Daniel Cano is the author of Pepe Ríos (1990) and Shifting Loyalties (1995), and is a professor of English at Santa Monica College. Death and the American Dream takes place in 1915. Pepe Ríos lands a job as a Spanish-language reporter in Los Angeles, thanks to the wealthy husband of a former lover. The time is alive with political intrigue, as the news is filled with stories about Hearst, Darrow, Flores Magón and Zapata. Ríos wants to find the truth about his best friend's death, but can he deal with the threat to his new life and a possible revelation about his past life? The publisher says this is a "tantalizing and suspenseful" novel filled with journal entries about the character's former existence in Mexico and his dreams for the future.

The Captain of All These Men of Death
Alejandro Morales
Alejandro Morales, a novelist and professor of Chicano/Latino studies at the University of California, Irvine, and recipient of the 2007 Luis Leal Award for Distinction in Chicano/Latino Literature is the author of several biographical novels in which he tells the fictional story of a character's life using historical events. He has published a total of seven books. His newest is The Captain of All These Men of Death. The book is the story of Roberto Contreras, a victim of tuberculosis in the 1940s who is committed to a sanatorium. The publisher says: "Amid his relapses and recoveries he meets a series of women who have a profound effect on his life: a mysterious French doctor, a captivating patient, and a sinister acquaintance from a Los Angeles barrio. Meanwhile, a hospital newsletter delivers articles describing the various ways in which tuberculosis patients have been treated throughout history -- cared for humanely or ostracized, alienated, and administered barbaric medical treatments. The author equates these practices to heinous modern-day medical experimentation and the superstitious pagan practices of witchcraft and Satanism in California barrios."

The Cisco Kid: American Hero, Hispanic Roots
Francis M. Nevins and Gary D. Keller
The publisher says: "This book expands on Francis Nevins's 1998 book, The Films of The Cisco Kid. Retaining the original's thorough, chronological study of the filmic Cisco Kid cycle and its in-depth analysis of the Cisco phenomenon, The Cisco Kid adds a Hispanic sensibility to the history of the character in United States film. Despite the Cisco Kid's initial creation outside the Hispanic world by such mainstream writers and filmmakers as O. Henry and Webster Cullison, by 1929, with the first Cisco sound film In Old Arizona, this fictional character was endowed with a Latino persona that it has retained in mainstream American culture and in Hispanic culture within the United States and elsewhere. Including film stills, lobby cards, and posters, this lavishly illustrated coffee-table book is sure to delight anyone interested in the Cisco Kid."

The Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators is sponsoring its annual Manuscript Critique for authors of Young Adult & Children's literature.

Full details and instructions for formatting and submitting a manuscript for critique can be found on the Conference website at this link. Submissions must be received by July 30, 2008 for consideration. To participate, you must be a registered attendee of the Fall Conference.

Manuscripts will receive a written critique and a one-on-one appointment with a published author, an agent or an editor.

This event will be held September 20-21, 2008 at the Qwest Learning and Conference Center in Lakewood, CO. Please visit the website for the Conference details and schedule, and to register for the event.

August 7 - 10

This year’s lineup…

Aug 7—Noche Tradicional featuring Tony Silva and Trio Xochitl

Aug 8—Noche Alternativa featuring ¡FUGA! and Izcalli

Aug 9—Summer Pachanga featuring Nueva Sangre, Zydematics, and ¡FUGA!

Aug 10—Mariachi Tardeada featuring Mariachi Vasquez, Mariachi San Juan de Colorado, and Mariachi Real del Oro con Lazaro

Plus, exciting live and silent auctions every night, featuring hotel getaways, spa treatments, sports tickets, and the finest Chicano artwork from throughout the Southwest. Don’t miss the best party of the summer. Tickets are $10 – $18. Complete Festival Pass is only $35! Comadre group discounts available each night. Purchase in advance and save up to 15% on Saturday and Sunday tickets! Call us now: (303) 296-0219

El Centro Su Teatro: 4725 High Street, Denver


Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Taste For Bones

Murder One: A Writer's Guide to
Mauro V. Corvasce and Joseph R. Paglino

I realize I have a morbid taste for bones--a guilty pleasure, to be sure. I find myself fascinated with the way evidence forms a code to be deciphered in order to understand the horrible, the devastating. In trying to develop believable scenarios of homicide for a possible novel, I needed texts that describe complicated forensic material in accessible language, suitable for the writer/criminalist wannabe. Murder One is a great resource in that regard.

Written by two investigators for the Monmouth County, New Jersey Prosecutor's Office, this text gives a clear cut overview of different kinds of homicide, appropriate investigation techniques and evidence collection. Both Corvasce and Paglino have been in law enforcement since 1978, and have an excellent handle on presenting information to the general public. The chapters of the book are organized into the following sections:

• familial murders, usually triggered by simmering feuds
• gang murders, from contract hits to drive-by shootings
• organized crime hits, and the psychology and code of behavior within crime families
• business and financial murders, directed to silence whistle-blowers
• the rising trend in vehicular murder • crimes of passion, their triggers and underlying motivation • cult murders, serial murders and the details of real-life investigations

The authors also delve into legal definitions, forensic terms and definitions and the basic structure of initial homicide investigation; allowing reader/writers to explore opportunity, motive, use of weapons, and details at the scene of the crime. Interspersed throughout is the authors' commentary, reflecting their own case files experiences. Since I plan on describing more than one unholy execution,
I was excited to get the corporeal goods necessary to get the right take down on paper.

Body Trauma: A Writer's Guide to Wounds and Injuries
David W. Page

Dr. David Page has extensive trauma surgery experience, and is currently an associate clinical professor of surgery at Tufts' Baystate Medical Center. In Body Trauma, what happens to organs and bones maimed by accident or injury is the subject matter of this detailed, yet easy to read book. This text reveals in simple, but descriptive language the following:

• The four steps in trauma care
• Details of skull and brain injuries
• What the Glasgow Trauma Scale is, and why it's important
• Specifics of both penetrating and blunt injuries, especially as it relates to head and neck trauma. • The "dirty dozen' dreadful, but survivable, chest injuries
• The effect of blunt trauma, puncture and bullet wounds on abdominal organs

While at some level, this kind of immersion seems like overkill, (no pun intended) I feel like I have to capture a large amount of information to best make the story hold together and seem believable. Mind you, I'll have to edit and delete passages because there's too much information, that's how much I was able to glean from these resources.

I'm fascinated by my own ongoing interest in this kind of take on mortality and the reductionist perspective that certainly is bound to it. It's a seeming contradiction for me, whose own poetry tries to focus on spirit and its power to animate and heal.

I think it has something to do with embracing the concrete aspects of mortality--the frailty of the body, the effects of violence. As I write fiction with these themes, I make a certain sense of them that may be a crime novelist's conceit--to make sense of the irrational, the terrifying, the unspeakable.

Lisa Alvarado