Monday, June 03, 2019

A few thoughts on adapting “The Courtship of María Rivera Peña” for the screen

Nineteen years ago, a small independent press based in Pennsylvania—sadly now defunct—published my first book, a novella titled The Courtship of María Rivera Peña (Silver Lake Publishing). The story is loosely based on the migration of my paternal grandparents from Mexico to Los Angeles in the 1920s and follows the courtship, marriage, and family life of the cook Beto and the beautiful waitress María. Three years later, a longer, second edition was published under the same name but with a slightly different cover design. I am now exploring with a publisher whether we can publish a 20th anniversary edition that would include a scholarly introduction.

That little book served as catharsis—therapy, if you will—as I struggled to help my wife and son through their grief arising from what was then the fifth of what would eventually be seven miscarriages my wife would suffer. One miscarriage was enough for me, but my wife is strong and stubborn and really wanted to give our son a sibling (I won’t get into our discussions about adoption, but suffice it to say we did not go that route for various reasons).

But that book also proved to be something more than therapy: the writing floodgates were opened and over the past 19 years, eight more books followed. And that’s not counting the two anthologies I edited and co-edited, and the myriad number of essays, author interviews, short stories, and poems that appeared in publications as diverse as La Bloga, The New York Times, High Country News, El Paso Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, Los Angeles Times, Jewish Journal, and dozens of literary journals. I was a writer despite making my primary living as an attorney.

As I try to get my first little book back into print, I have attempted to bring it to life in a different form, this time as a full-length screenplay. Last year, I discovered a lovely online literary journal titled OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters (aka O:JAL) that publishes not only fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, but also art in all its forms including the dramatic arts such as drama for the stage and screenplays. After admiring the work that O:JAL published, I decided to submit my script. Many months later (about eight), I received news that it was accepted for publication. After a few more weeks of waiting, it was published several days ago. You may read it here.

I don’t know if my little book will ever make it to the big (or small) screen. But I do know that I have tried to offer a view of Chicanx life in Los Angeles through an accurate, authentic, and honest lens. And if my script is ever produced, it will require the hiring of dozens of speaking parts for Latinx actors. That, by itself, would be a nice thing, indeed.

I’ll keep you posted on what happens. And since I am a native Angeleno, I have every right to dream in celluloid. It’s in our blood, no?

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