Saturday, April 07, 2012

Pensamientos about Chicano writers

by Rudy Ch. Garcia

With exceptions, being a writer is one of the loneliest occupations anyone can undertake.

Hours, days and years go into producing stories or articles, with the prospect of success maybe as far as decades away. I don't know what the statistics are on how many people take up writing and later discard it, but it wouldn't be surprising to hear it had some staggering number of those who give up on it.

I'm one who left writing for decades, but then returned for more decades of lonesome work. Writing alone is inherent to the occupation. The solitary feelings come from not seeing your works out in the world and being read by others.

Of necessity then, writers' goals include getting their works published, but given how infrequent this may happen, that can't be the immediate goal. Maybe writers have a lot in common with gamblers who hope to win The Big One. Both types can have distant hopes that they maintain through their daily passion or addiction to the "game."

. . . . . .

Aspiring writers who latch onto publishing as an immediate goal can transform into frustrated artists who yell at their kids and wives, see fault in others' writing, and eventually drop the whole idea, especially if publishing of their work doesn't soon appear.

That's how one of the most common questions from non-writing people, "Why haven't you published it yet?" can get under the skin of writers. If only my friends and family knew how difficult getting published was, they'd never ask this question.

In that sense, aspiring writers have a lot in common with artists who draw, paint or scupt; they're both hoping to be discovered; in the writer's case, preferably by a publisher with hard-copy imprints, not just E-published works.

. . . . . .

Being a Chicano writer in a Blanco-dominated market adds to the solitary feelings that are intensified from a publisher's rejection letter. One can't help wondering, sometimes, if a Blanco writers gets as many rejections. Assumedly, they do.

. . . . . .

When the field of work is narrowed further to fantasy and science fiction, the chances of getting your work published narrow even further. After all, as everyone knows, Chicanos don't read much fantasy and it's assumed they read even less sci-fi. When you write such short stories or novels with Chicano characters, your appeal to a publisher is further limited, because publishers may think that a Chicano sci-fi character could only work as a minor character, except in a case like Avatar where Neytiri is photoshopped into an indigenous role or Michelle Rodriguez plays human Trudy Chacon.

Publishers, like movie directors, worry that a Chicano or minority character might not appeal to the majority Blanco audience. And then, or course, they know that Chicanos don't read sci-fi, so there's no audience appeal there, either. At least that's the assumption.

Then along comes someone like Junot Diaz with his The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, disproving all the assumptions, winning literary prizes hand-over-fist, and becoming a big best seller. Diaz's characters Oscar de Leon or Yunior de Las Casas who turns out to be the narrator, are Dominican-national characters who decidedly appealed to the Blanco audience. [Curiously, among other things, Oscar is obsessed with sci-fi and fantasy novels.]

Bless Me, Última by Rudy Anaya is considered the best-selling Chicano novel and has sold less than 200,00 copies in the four decades since its release. Oscar Wao sold a quarter of a million in 2009, alone. Both figures speak to aspiring writers, some of whom would cut off their left index finger to achieve one tenth of those numbers.

When an aspiring writer gives up on new stories, revising other stories or submitting works to publishers, he likewise has given up where Rudy Anaya and Junot Diaz persisted. Rudy and Junot's world is the same lonely writing world that every aspiring writer resides in; theirs becomes not so lonely when they leave their desk or computer and venture outside to hear what others think of their work. Otherwise, it's the same.

. . . . . .

No matter the nationality, the genre, the decade or the success, writing is essentially what it always has been. Lewis Carroll was driven to write his outrageous fantasy novel about Alice. Back in the 1860s, he must have seemed out of place to publishers because twenty years later it wasn't even considered a popular children's story.

On the other end of the spectrum, Ernest Hogan's Cortez on Jupiter (1990), called a minor sci-fi masterpiece by some, was never marketed to success and disappeared for decades. His Chicano Pablo Cortez character became a casualty of the East Coast publishing mire. (It is now available as en E-book here.)

Writers write. If they give up on it, they go into the past-tense, even if they have hard-copy laurels to rest on. Write, rewrite, revise, edit, submit, send out, get rejections, repeat the cycles. And every once in a while, letters that read, "Your work has been accepted."

. . . . . .

That's our world. It's not for everyone. Only for those who can thrive in its lonesome environs. Not worrying about immediate publication. Writing for the passion. In some cases, the recognition will come.

Es todo, hoy RudyG



Funny how non-white characters are still treated like "aliens" by the publishing and entertainment industries. Minority - though I'm not sure that term rings true in a globalized culture - writers might as well be writing science fiction. Big time publishing has always treated me like an illegal alien. And people wonder why Chicanos keep getting lost in metaphors.

Aging Ophelia said...

@Ernest-- too true. Entertainment is always an industry of tiny sips, little tastes to get used to so-called difference, despite the reality that we're a world of immigrants, mixing together more each day.

As for the post, well, there's nothing I detest more than that question, "What have you published lately?" How well it proves that people aren't interested in what you're doing as much as what you've finished. Myself, I like seeing another writer's process laid out, and continuing.

Peace, Mari