Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Blogueras Forever: Alvarado Reviews Cardinal. Living Room Floricanto Vincent Cooper.

Wonder Woman is Puerto Rican or Ann Dávila Cardinal has a new novel!!!
Lisa Alvarado

*Editor's Note. La Bloga welcomes former weekly columnists Lisa Alvarado and Ann Dávila Cardinal to today's pages.

Ann Dávila Cardinal is a force of nature.  I met her when I was trying to harass then Vermont College's admissions to let me finish my B.A. at the ripe old age of 38. I remember sitting in her office, feeling all at once at home. She got me. And more importantly I got her - her grit, talent, dedication as a writer.  I got my degree and was lucky enough to stay in touch after graduation.

But wait! There's more! Through Ann's keen eyes and ears she contacted me and Jane Alberdeston  Coralin about a call for Latinx YA. Through that we wrote Sister Chicas together and once again, Ann's broad reach helped us find an agent and publisher.

I remember a conversation we had back in the day where Ann put it to the universe that she wanted to write a novel... and folks, this is one amazing read from an uber-talented hermana, whose grace, literary chops, and other worldly work ethic has born more fruit. Below is a brief description from her publisher and our conversation about the acclaimed new novel.

From the Publisher: 
Five Midnights by Ann Dávila Cardinal is a modern take on the El Cuco myth that is bound to be loved by many. With a narrative that’s well-paced and intriguing, the author builds a world that utilizes a story passed down through generations since the Spanish Colonization of Puerto Rico and Latin America.
Javier Utierre and Lupe Dávila are trying to find out who (or what) killed two boys in San Juan, and along the way uncover an old magic based on the aforementioned myth. As Lupe and Javier become embroiled in the chase for the murderer, their adventure grows more nebulous. The mystery introduces us to some colorful side-characters who give us pieces of the ultimate puzzle, such as Papi Gringo, one of Javier’s childhood friends who’s become a sort-of Bad Bunny personality, and Izzy, another one of Javier’s friends but also Lupe’s elusive cousin. All the characters add to the story’s sense that everyone knows or is connected to each other, which is essential when writing about Puerto Rico; there’s always a feeling like you know somebody who knows somebody within Puerto Rican culture.

What would you like to say to La Bloga’s readers about Five Midnights?
You mean beyond that I hope they will read it? 😊 I guess that I’ve always been fascinated with the legend of El Cuco, and how the threat of supernatural forces is used to try and get children to behave. And that though he is called different things, a version of him appears in pretty much every Latin culture, which tells me either this tactic has worked for generations, or that parents resort to desperate supernatural threats when feeling powerless (yes!). My hope is that I captured the spirit of this myth, and the spirit of Puerto Rico.
Briefly describe your protagonists and what you see as the point of connection for readers.
Lupe Dávila is a sixteen-year-old Gringa-Rican from Vermont whose mother took off when she was little, and she is left struggling with life with an alcoholic father. This particular summer, her father ships her off to his brother’s home in Puerto Rico for the entire season, where she gets in involved in a mysterious murder case. Lupe is a fighter who takes zero shit from anyone but doesn’t let anyone close either. Being of mixed ethnicities and from a broken, drunken home, she struggles with fitting-in in either place, something which I think will connect with many readers.
Javier Utierre is a smart and kind almost-eighteen-year-old from a middle-class city near San Juan that has been badly affected by the economic issues on the island. As people left his neighborhood, drugs moved in, and he found himself caught in the net of addiction. But thanks to a priest he connected with, he’s been in recovery for two years. But when a childhood friend is brutally murdered, he is forced to face his past and the hand he had in creating the darkness he has been running from. Javier is a young man facing some bad choices he made, something most of us must face at one point or another in our lives.
Usually, there is more than one message in a novel. What is the major message in Five Midnights? What are the other takeaways you would hope for readers?
What I hope is that it helps shine light on certain issues, the major one being addiction, specifically that though most of what we hear are stories of drugs affecting certain socio-economic classes, in reality it affects us all. And that though it is mostly a love letter to Puerto Rico, I strove to show la isla in a realistic light (I mean, other than mythic monsters traipsing around). The beauty and the struggles as it was written pre-Maria when the island was already suffering. And finally, that if you don’t fit into one neat little box on a census, you still fit in with the community you make.
Talk about your own evolution as a novelist -from being co-author in Sister Chicas to your current book. Describe the ways you found helping hands, as well as what barriers you had to address.
Helping hands? Like, I didn’t know how to write a metaphor until you and Jane Alberdeston Coralin taught me? 😊 I learned so much working with you two on Sister Chicas, especially since you both are poets. Such beautiful language. Then I earned my MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and my craft deepened and deepened thanks to my faculty advisors. But we knew so little of the business then, we were flying blind. We did well despite that, but since then I’ve built a community of writers who are at different points in their careers so I can draw on their knowledge, and then pass that on to younger writers. The first time we got an editorial letter, we felt as if we’d done something wrong. Now I know that those letters are what brings out the best in the book, that you should hope for at least two so you are certain the work is where it should be. I’m a dreamer, so there was also a thickening of skin, a tether to expectations. The work is still joyous, but I’m more realistic about the outcomes.
What is the importance of YA literature from your point of view as a writer and a member of academia? How does what you do for a living impact your life as a writer?
Oh, it is through my job that I fell in love with young adult literature. Years back, I sat in on a lecture in our MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults (WCYA) program by Sundee Frazier—brilliant writer, lovely human being—who talked of craft and representation, and I remember my blood pulsing faster and faster through my body, it was all I could do not to jump to my feet and cheer. I’d never heard someone talk about craft like that, with an eye always on the reader, on the responsibility of shaping young minds. It adds an entire level to the craft of writing, an additional depth of meaning. And my job of counseling writers into VCFA’s programs only feeds my hunger. I get paid to talk to writers all day long, it doesn’t get much better than that! And each conversation inspires me. Truly.
In working with you on Sister Chicas, the idea of representation was central. How is representation on the micro and macro level an element in Five Midnights?
In Five Midnights I tried to represent my own story, and those of my family. Though Lupe has a lot of me in her, so does Javier, and Marisol. In this novel my frustration and anger at how Puerto Rico has been treated came out in the character of Marisol. And the intense bond of island family. As someone who did not have the best situation at home, the caretaking of my family in Puerto Rico was invaluable. It made me who I am today. And my love for my uncle Esteban, who always made me feel cared for, something a child of an alcoholic/addict thirsts for. So in addition to representing my own experience teetering between the two worlds, I hope I captured what being una Boricua means to me.
Particularly at this historic juncture, what is the significance of Puerto Rican literature and visibility? Who influenced you? Who continues to influence you?
Oh, this one made me tear up. I have lived on a steady diet of Latinx literature most of my life, studied Puerto Rican literature at Columbia, read everything I could get my hands on from Manuel Alonso’s El Jibaro (written in 1845) to Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro’s recent work. And the Dávilas have produced a number of writers, from my great-great uncle Virgilio Dávila to my cousin Tere Dávila who manages to write award-winning books while running an advertising agency. I feel…not the pressure of this legacy, but rather the buoying. Does that make sense? Can buoying even be a verb? But it is my wish that more work of the island is translated and released via traditional academic and commercial publishing venues on the mainland. There are so many brilliant mainland writers of Puerto Rican heritage, but not much work of the island-based writers coming this way. I’d love to see a bridge built, so all these brilliant works can go both ways.
Talk about literary fiction and genre fiction. How do you see the categories? Are the distinctions useful? What’s your observation about the intersection of literary fiction/YA/Latinx fiction?
Oh, girl! Now you know I’m pulling out my soapbox now! You know this is a passionate subject for me. I was going to get a t-shirt made for AWP that read “Genre is not a four-letter word!” But these days I’m beginning to realize that this division and judgement is dated. Younger generations of writers just don’t have these prejudices anymore, I mean, Colson Whitehead wrote a zombie novel, and George Saunders…well, that’s all I need to say: George Saunders. Victor LaValle, Carmen Machado…these are all literary writers who write speculative fiction. I predict that this classist perception of genre as “less than” is going away. And really, as far as I can tell that bias hardly ever existed in YA literature. Almost all our WCYA faculty have written some genre work, and there just isn’t that judgement when you’re writing for young people. There is so much depth that can be carried along with a magical storyline. If you don’t believe me, read All of us With Wings by Michelle Ruiz Keil, or The Storm Runner by J.C. Cervantes. Gorgeous, elegant work, with so many layers.

Tell us something not in the bio.
From the age of four to about six or seven, I slept with the sheets wrapped tight about my neck to prevent a vampire biting me in my sleep. I am the youngest of five children, a span of sixteen years between my oldest sibling and me, and so I was dragged to all kinds of movies. My mother also had a huge crush on Bela Lugosi (never did get that one) and so I saw Dracula at about four years old. I loved horror but had so many nightmares that I had to take preventative measures. Must have worked since I never did get bitten. 😉

Living Room Floricanto At Casa Sedano Welcomes SanAnto's Vincent Cooper
Michael Sedano

A few years back I actively coupled a goal of taking the perfect public speaker photograph with another goal of photographing every raza and allied poet on the Eastside reading their own stuff. That's almost the same foto, que no?

Public speaking--I call it Oracy--is equivalent to Literacy and Numeracy as fundamental competencies of a civilized person. I think in Aristotelian terms. The third century pagan held it would be unthinkable in his 'hood for someone to be unable to defend themselves with a sword. Equally unthinkable, Aristotle said, that a person would be unable to defend themselves with their words. And when people started agreeing with that notion, people became civilized.

Aristotle was thinking the courts and the agora, but the point applies to one's writing. An effective reading is the writer's way of honoring not just the composition but the labor of creation. Don't do a crummy reading but give your words the respect all that work earned it. In short, it's not enough to write it, fulfill the process by reading it aloud well.

The Living Room Floricanto, and its al fresco variant, the Backyard Floricanto, is a way to celebrate Oracy, take fotos, and bring poets to the pad, since Barbara and I don't get around much any more. It's much more, of course. The Living Room Floricanto is fun. My gosh, as today's fotos show, we did an open mic then enjoyed our featured guest. After that, a hootenanny broke out.

As the Emcee, Michael Sedano leads off the Open Mic with two minutes of creative  non-fiction. Sedano introduced the guest with the second-longest drive, Santa Barbara-NOLA's Melinda Palacio.

Melinda introduced Steve Beisner, wearing orange marking his opposition to gun violence.

Steve, a La Bloga Guest Columnist in the past, introduced Viktoria Valenzuela, Vincent's poet-wife.

foto:Concepcíon Valadez

Viktoria had the pleasure of introducing Living Room Floricanto At Casa Sedano's special guest,  fellow Veteran, San Antonio's Vincent Cooper reading from his recent publication, Zarzamora.

Melinda brought her Fender Montecito model Ukelele, a beautifully crafted instrument with mother-of-pearl inlay and mirrored finish. And what a tone! In the fotos, I have a great posture because I'm leaning back to hear those plunking chords and get into the beat.

Steve is a professional musician. I appreciate his tolerance with my poorly-disciplined fingers. We played some Irving Berlin, Lennon-McCartney, Sabor a Mi. The most wondrous event happened when guest Angel Guerrero sang a capella in a clear powerful contralto.

No comments: