Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Spotlight on Tim Z. Hernandez and his new novel, “Mañana Means Heaven”

In Mañana Means Heaven, acclaimed writer Tim Z. Hernandez paints a richly textured and nuanced portrait of Bea Franco, the real woman behind Jack Kerouac’s fictionalized Terry, the so-called “Mexican Girl” from Kerouacs iconic novel, On the Road.

Released August 29 by the University of Arizona Press, Hernandez’s novel has already earned high praise from critics. The Associated Press called it “a graceful and melancholy tale” and Booklist called it “entirely fascinating.” The Los Angeles Review of Books said Mañana Means Heaven “is well researched and exceptionally executed and allows Bea Franco to soar with grace beyond Kerouac’s opening chapter of On the Road.

Today, on La Bloga, we’re featuring an excerpt from the novel as part of Hernandez’s blog tour. To see more from his tour, feel free to stop by the other participating sites:


Excerpt from Mañana Means Heaven

Wednesday, October 22, 1947

     The workers couldn’t stop talking about it. Especially that whole first day after it happened. According to the paper, a “wetback” was found strung up in a sycamore tree near Raisin City. From his neck dangled a cardboard sign:


     The Fresno County Coroner confirmed that because nowhere on the body were there bruises or scrapes the only logical explanation was suicide. A common occurrence among braceros. Naturally. They missed their families back home. Depression was inevitable. Fear was constant. The food too bland. A bottle of whiskey was found half emptied nearby. And for Xixto María Martínez, all the signs were there. On this very day his contract was up. As for the brief poem found on his person, the paper offered no explanation, except to say: Mr. Martínez had a way with words. It was imminent now. Xixto dying the way he died was only a suggestion.

    The workers knew this, and thought hard about it as they bent over their vines that morning in a solemn daze. The fields were gray with dew, and each grape wore a thin veil of film so that its sheen was hidden. So quiet were the rows and the shuffling of feet that swallowtails perched themselves on the branches of the vines and plucked the smaller tart grapes at will. And as if things weren’t bad enough, a cold snap was creeping in over Devil’s Ridge from the north and settling down into the valley, sure to cripple whatever bits of fruit were still unharvested.

    That morning, Bea’s hands moved faster than anybody else’s. Box after box was filled and carted off to be weighed and counted, and within seconds she was right back where she’d left off, on the very same tendril, making sure the job was done right and that every last grape was accounted for. She passed other workers as if they were standing still, and for the most part they were. It seemed everyone was busy scratching their heads, worried whether today was the day it would all go down.

    They eyed Jack suspiciously, wondering if the rumors were true. A lechuza they called him. A white owl in their midst. For the most part he got good at ignoring their accusatory glares. But off and on he’d feel something, a pebble, smash against his neck. He shrugged it off and kept his hands moving. Meanwhile, Bea kept saying the words, New York, in her mind. And while her feet were sunk firm in the wet soil, the rest of her may as well have been in a subway, barreling down the spine of Manhattan, a purse slung over her shoulder and both kids clinging to her arms. She thought about what her brother had said. “Five days,” she mumbled to herself, “just five more little days.” She passed the time picturing their new life, imagining the big smell of New York City, and watching the kids monkey around the playground of some brick schoolyard tucked between high-rise buildings. She lifted another box of grapes and hauled them off to be counted.

    Meanwhile, Jack trailed one row back, cutting away viciously with his curved knife all the knots and tendrils that cradled the grapes deep in their clutches. His gaze was stern and removed, and his pink face glowed in the cold. Little Albert nipped at his heels, raking out whatever clusters went overlooked and plopping them down into Jack’s box like the handy assistant that he was. Each time he did this he looked to Jack for approval, or a smile, anything to erase the worrisome look on his face. Jack watched the way the boy handled his knife and shot around the whole field effortlessly, offering a hand here and there, calling out to the other workers in Spanish, whistling the whole way. He was a little man doing big man’s work, and Jack had taken notice that the fields had an army of these little men workers, boys, whose small hands were crucial to the whole operation. Every last one of them wore a defeated mask. And if you looked at them from a distance, he reasoned, you’d think they were full-grown men by the way they stood, hips squared and shoulders back. The only way you could tell the boys apart from the adults was at lunchtime, when they’d all gather around a hole in the dirt to shoot marbles.

    Jack observed this and shook his head, remembering a line from one of the great scribes of this territory, William Saroyan, who said it best about such children of the valley: I was a little afraid of him; not the boy himself, but of what he seemed to be, the victim of the world.

[From Mañana Means Heaven by Tim Z. Hernandez © 2013 Tim Z. Hernandez. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.]


Anonymous said...

Is this fan fiction?

Nancy Reil Riojas said...

Yes, this is fan fiction and Hernandez makes that loud and clear. According to editorial reviews it's beautifully written and captivating, but it needs our reviews - $16.00 at Amazon. --Just to share, a friend, Albert Gomez from Corpus Christi, Tx., told my husband and I a story, "A man fishing off the pier has two buckets of crabs: one with a lid and one without. Another man walks up on the pier to fish and asks, "why do you have one bucket covered and not the other?" The first man answers, "because this one with the lid are Anglo crabs that constantly help one another escape; in this bucket without the lid are Mexican crabs; no worries about them, they just remain in the bucket."

But that's the past, and the help from La Bloga is changing our future; we're helping one another to escape from the bucket.

Daniel A. Olivas said...

Yes, it is a beautiful and powerful novel. I wouldn't call it "fan fiction" because fan fiction usually connotes amateur and unpaid writing from a fan who borrows characters from other sources. Tim is a professional writer who has won many awards. I would simply call it literary fiction, but in the end these labels don't really matter because it's the work that counts. Thanks!

Olga Garcia Echeverria said...

Thanks for the sneak-peek, Daniel. My book list is growing so quickly!

Nancy Reil Riojas said...

Daniel, literary fiction, no doubt! But in regards to Anonymous above who asked if it is fan fiction, how would you directly answer that? Manana Means Heaven is a form of fan fic, (until a new label, name, genre is contrived). But I was looking at the positive side. Fan fiction is building a story around a character who was originally in a different author's narrative. And with permission from the original author, it seems Hernandez created an enticing read, which not only boosts Hernandez' reputation as a great writer but also benefits the reputation of the author who first created the character - - readers will purchase and enjoy Hernandez' book and quite possibly purchase the book which first featured that character. A type of win - win scenario which could not happen in a straight literary fiction novel. Many other great writers, icons, have written fan fic, three are Mark Twain, Shakespeare, Bronte, and they were paid. Just imagine if an author like Hernandez approaches you with the offer of building a narrative around a character in your novel who he envisions would fit in his. Judging from the author's previous works, that would be a great compliment. In whichever categories book retailers place his latest work, I believe that Hernandez can "uplift" the fan fiction labeling/ reputation by showing the literary world how it's done in good taste, and my aim is to buy it, read it, and write a review.