Friday, January 18, 2013

Poetic License.

by Melinda Palacio
My Official Poetic License

            A friend recently asked me where I draw the line in terms of my poetic license and boundaries between fiction and non-fiction. My short answer was met with, 'I thought you said you made it up?' On today's La Bloga, you get to hear my long answer.

            Yes I did make it up! In Ocotillo Dreams the narrative through line or story is completely made up, but I felt free to borrow from my own life. Poetic License. For example, I really did live in Chandler, Arizona during the 1997 INS sweeps. I strove for historical accuracy and was proud that the 2012 International Latino Book Awards gave my debut novel honorable mention in the Historical Fiction category, in addition to the Mariposa Award for Best First Book.i

            Since Valentine's day is coming up next month, I will admit that I moved to Arizona for love and not because I had the foresight to predict that a horrendous event would lead me to write a book, as one blog which shall remain unnamed claims.

            I gave my main character the quality of being a San Franciscan and having lost her mother in her twenties; both details were taken from my own life. I admit that while I lived in the desert, I had this longing for San Francisco and really did feel as if I had left my heart in San Francisco. I used to listen to Tony Bennett sing the song just to feel a bitter taste of nostalgia.

            OcotilloDreams was a novel, not a memoir. I often remind readers that my main character, Isola, is not me. She looks different from me and has a completely different relationship to her mother than I had. I borrowed details about their questionable relationship from day time talk shows. The novel is fiction and I allowed the creative juices to saturate the story.

            Non-fiction is more rigid, thanks to those first three letters. I understand that non-fiction and memoir sets up an automatic contract with the reader that relies on the author sticking to events that actually happened. Authors can get into big trouble and piss off people like Oprah, have their book awards taken away, and in the case of Jonah Lehrer, have their best-selling books pulled from the shelves when they start confusing fiction with memoir or fiction and biography.

            Poetry is where the rules and borders are sketched in sand on a windy day. Some of my poems are direct transcriptions of events or conversations, while others are complete whimsy and play, such as 'disconcerted crow,' published in Pilgrimage Magazine and How Fire Is a Story, Waiting. The poem is about an actual crow that I can see from my office window, but the idea that the bird morphs from wearing a bird suit to being a child and then an old man is pure fun. In 'Water Mark,' I imagine an entire childhood in New Orleans, even though I grew up in Huntington Park, California. Poetic license allows you to roll language on your tongue, spit the words out, and hear them crash on the page.


Saturday, January 19, I will be presenting both How Fire Is a Story, Waiting and Ocotillo Dreams in a long awaited Ventura book signing at Bank of Books, 748 E. Main Street, Ventura, CA 93001 at 1pm.

Sunday, January 20, Words on a Wire at 11:30 am. There were some technical difficulties with my visit to the show, including a gas leak and my not having a land line. 

Thursday, January 24, Poetry Flash Presents Francisco X. Alarcon and Melinda Palacio at Moe's Books in Berkeley, 2476 Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley, CA at 7:30 pm.

Monday, January 28, Reyna Grande and Melinda Palacio at Reader's Books, 130 E. Napa Street, Sonoma, CA 95476, at 1pm.
Reyna Grande and Melinda Palacio 
In case you haven't heard the fabulous news...
Reyna Grande's memoir, The Distance Between Us, is a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Come and toast Reyna at our wine country book signing January 28.

Tuesday, January 29, UC Merced's 34th Chicano Literature Author Series with Melinda Palacio, January 29, from noon to 1:15 at COB 113.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for showing your "Poetic License" and sharing the moments and movements that you drew from to create your stories. I hope your poetic license never expires!

Thelma T. Reyna said...

Aptly written! Thanks for reminding us of the differences, Melinda. When I used to teach high school English, I taught my students about a literary criticism concept called "biographical fallacy." Readers too often assume that the "I" in a narrative is the author himself/herself, or that the narrative is about the author's own life. Not so. It's an easy confusion to make.