Friday, December 06, 2019

2020 TBR

The year 2020 promises much, as the future always does.  In fact, I feel like the theme song for the year should be I Can See Clearly Now (20/20, right?) 

What do we have to look forward to?  Well, how about a conclusion to the impeachment drama engulfing politicians with rancor, bluster, and lies?  Or, better yet, an end to the American nightmare known as the Trump presidency?  And we can all hope that something will finally be done about gun violence and climate change. (Too much to hope for?)

On a personal note, I'll be traveling again to promote my writing.  First stop will be the Tucson Festival of Books in March -- warm desert nights and cool literary conversations. I might even finish the next Gus Corral novel that I'm working on.

And, guess what?  A new year means more new books that we should be reading.  To start off, here are a handful (five) of titles that just might find their way into my carry-on bag.  Check out these lit happenings.


Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick:  Stories from the Harlem Renaissance
Amistad - January 14

[from the publisher]
In 1925, Barnard student Zora Neale Hurston—the sole black student at the college—was living in New York, “desperately striving for a toe-hold on the world.” During this period, she began writing short works that captured the zeitgeist of African American life and transformed her into one of the central figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Nearly a century later, this singular talent is recognized as one of the most influential and revered American artists of the modern period.

Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick is an outstanding collection of stories about love and migration, gender and class, racism and sexism that proudly reflect African American folk culture. Brought together for the first time in one volume, they include eight of Hurston’s “lost” Harlem stories, which were found in forgotten periodicals and archives. These stories challenge conceptions of Hurston as an author of rural fiction and include gems that flash with her biting, satiric humor, as well as more serious tales reflective of the cultural currents of Hurston’s world. All are timeless classics that enrich our understanding and appreciation of this exceptional writer’s voice and her contributions to America’s literary traditions.

Isabel Allende
Ballantine Books - January 21

[from the publisher]
In the late 1930s, civil war grips Spain. When General Franco and his Fascists succeed in overthrowing the government, hundreds of thousands are forced to flee in a treacherous journey over the mountains to the French border. Among them is Roser, a pregnant young widow, who finds her life intertwined with that of Victor Dalmau, an army doctor and the brother of her deceased love. In order to survive, the two must unite in a marriage neither of them desires.

Together with two thousand other refugees, they embark on the SS Winnipeg, a ship chartered by the poet Pablo Neruda, to Chile: “the long petal of sea and wine and snow.” As unlikely partners, they embrace exile as the rest of Europe erupts in world war. Starting over on a new continent, their trials are just beginning, and over the course of their lives, they will face trial after trial. But they will also find joy as they patiently await the day when they will be exiles no more. Through it all, their hope of returning to Spain keeps them going. Destined to witness the battle between freedom and repression as it plays out across the world, Roser and Victor will find that home might have been closer than they thought all along.

A masterful work of historical fiction about hope, exile, and belonging, A Long Petal of the Sea shows Isabel Allende at the height of her powers.

Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
Harper - January 28

[from the publisher]
“You were not a ghost even though an entire country was scared of you. No one in this story was a ghost. This was not a story.”

When Marcelo Hernandez Castillo was five years old and his family was preparing to cross the border between Mexico and the United States, he suffered temporary, stress-induced blindness. Castillo regained his vision, but quickly understood that he had to move into a threshold of invisibility before settling in California with his parents and siblings. Thus began a new life of hiding in plain sight and of paying extraordinarily careful attention at all times for fear of being truly seen. Before Castillo was one of the most celebrated poets of a generation, he was a boy who perfected his English in the hopes that he might never seem extraordinary.

With beauty, grace, and honesty, Castillo recounts his and his family’s encounters with a system that treats them as criminals for seeking safe, ordinary lives. He writes of the Sunday afternoon when he opened the door to an ICE officer who had one hand on his holster, of the hours he spent making a fake social security card so that he could work to support his family, of his father’s deportation and the decade that he spent waiting to return to his wife and children only to be denied reentry, and of his mother’s heartbreaking decision to leave her children and grandchildren so that she could be reunited with her estranged husband and retire from a life of hard labor.

Children of the Land distills the trauma of displacement, illuminates the human lives behind the headlines and serves as a stunning meditation on what it means to be a man and a citizen.

Francesca Flores
Wednesday Books - January 28

[from the publisher]
Good things don't happen to girls who come from nothing...unless they risk everything.

Fierce and ambitious, Aina Solís as sharp as her blade and as mysterious as the blood magic she protects. After the murder of her parents, Aina takes a job as an assassin to survive and finds a new family in those like her: the unwanted and forgotten.

Her boss is brutal and cold, with a questionable sense of morality, but he provides a place for people with nowhere else to go. And makes sure they stay there.
Diamond City: built by magic, ruled by tyrants, and in desperate need of saving. It is a world full of dark forces and hidden agendas, old rivalries and lethal new enemies.

To claim a future for herself in a world that doesn't want her to survive, Aina will have to win a game of murder and conspiracy—and risk losing everything.

Full of action, romance and dark magic, book one of Francesca Flores' breathtaking fantasy duology will leave readers eager for more!

Louise Erdrich
Harper - March 3

[from the publisher]
Thomas Wazhashk is the night watchman at the jewel bearing plant, the first factory located near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota. He is also a Chippewa Council member who is trying to understand the consequences of a new “emancipation” bill on its way to the floor of the United States Congress. It is 1953 and he and the other council members know the bill isn’t about freedom; Congress is fed up with Indians. The bill is a “termination” that threatens the rights of Native Americans to their land and their very identity. How can the government abandon treaties made in good faith with Native Americans “for as long as the grasses shall grow, and the rivers run”?

Since graduating high school, Pixie Paranteau has insisted that everyone call her Patrice. Unlike most of the girls on the reservation, Patrice, the class valedictorian, has no desire to wear herself down with a husband and kids. She makes jewel bearings at the plant, a job that barely pays her enough to support her mother and brother. Patrice’s shameful alcoholic father returns home sporadically to terrorize his wife and children and bully her for money. But Patrice needs every penny to follow her beloved older sister, Vera, who moved to the big city of Minneapolis. Vera may have disappeared; she hasn’t been in touch in months, and is rumored to have had a baby. Determined to find Vera and her child, Patrice makes a fateful trip to Minnesota that introduces her to unexpected forms of exploitation and violence, and endangers her life.

Thomas and Patrice live in this impoverished reservation community along with young Chippewa boxer Wood Mountain and his mother Juggie Blue, her niece and Patrice’s best friend Valentine, and Stack Barnes, the white high school math teacher and boxing coach who is hopelessly in love with Patrice.

In the Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich creates a fictional world populated with memorable characters who are forced to grapple with the worst and best impulses of human nature. Illuminating the loves and lives, the desires and ambitions of these characters with compassion, wit, and intelligence, The Night Watchman is a majestic work of fiction from this revered cultural treasure.



Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction. His latest is The Golden Havana Night (Arte Público Press.) 

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Chicanonautica: The Father of Chicano Science Fiction Gets Older

One of the advantages of being the Father of Chicano Science Fiction is that I'm still seen as a young troublemaker. It kind of goes with the territory. Mixing rasquache and sci-fi tends to result in things that send shockwaves into polite society.

Or maybe they’re waves of disgust? No matter. 
The transformative effects are what I’m after.
Maybe that’s why New York is afraid of me.

You’d think that now that I’m 64 I wouldn’t be a threat, but I still have weird shit growing my brain. It keeps me dangerous.

I never considered myself a cyberpunk, but my age and the times have stuck the label on me. People have asked me about the Chicano cyberpunk movement. At the time I wasn’t aware of any.

Some revolutions happen in retrospect.

It would be nice to be some kind of literary elder statesman, but that just doesn’t seem to be in the cards. Maybe it’s all for the best. I seem to be a universal outsider (even among Chicanos). I’ll always be a Chicimec, a barbarian, and alien invader sneaking across borders.

If I had a dime for every time I was only brown face in the room . . .

I actually feel comfortable in this role. I’ve accomplished a few things. My books have been praised, and written up. I keep getting called a genius, which keeps my ego afloat.

If for some reason, I couldn’t publish any more, I’d feel like done something significant with my life.

But then, people keep wanting to publish me.

And I keep getting these weird ideas.

One thing I wanted to do was to finish my novel Zyx; Or, Bring Me the Brain of Victor Theremin--which is about a Chicano science fiction who has lost track of where his life ends and science fiction begins--by the end of the year. I’m steaming ahead on it, but I don’t think I’ll finish it by New Years Day 2020. I write more and more, and the end gets farther away. It’s what get for being so creative.

I’m sure to have a big, hulking chunk done, though, and I’ll keep going, finish is, even if it is a little late.

I have to do it. It’s one of the novels I want to write. Years ago, I gave up on trying to write what the publishers are supposed to want, what the so-called experts say will sell. My experiments in trying to go commercial all go terribly wrong, so I’ll write what’s chewing away at my brain.
If I can finish these books before I croak (don’t worry, I’m in great health, but who knows how many decades I have left), I’ll be happy.

Maybe when I’m gone, they’ll cause trouble from beyond the grave.

A good attitude to have while going into a new decade while the world is looking so apocalyptic it’s not funny.

Ernest Hogan knows where his life ends and the science fiction begins. At least that’s what he says.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019


By Jorge Argueta

*ISBN-13: 978-1-55885-889-3
*Format: Trade Paperback
*Ages: 10-15
*Pages: 96
*Imprint: Piñata Books

Ten-year-old Jimena Pérez loves life with her parents in El Salvador. They sell fruit at the market, just like her grandmother and great grandmother did. “Fruits / are a blessing / like you, Jimena,” her mother tells her.

But one day a group of boys threaten her friend Rosenda at school. “You know / what will happen / to your family / if you don’t join us.” Jimena’s parents, afraid gangs will try to recruit her too, decide she must go to the United States with her mother. She is excited and fearful, and doesn’t want to leave her father, friends and dog Sultán. “I felt sad / the way fruit looks / when it’s past ripeness.” By bus, train and on foot, mother and daughter make their way north, until one night, bright lights fill the sky and men in green uniforms rip Jimena from her mother.

Imprisoned with children from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, Jimena and the others cry for their parents. One boy repeats over and over, “My father’s name is Marcos / He is in Los Angeles.” A box full of books brings her some solace, reminding her of the ones donated to kids at the market in El Salvador. “The letters kiss me / like my mama’s words / like my papa’s words / I am a little bird / Nothing can stop me / I can fly.”

In this poignant narrative poem for kids ages 10-15, award-winning Salvadoran poet Jorge Argueta movingly captures the fear that drives so many Central Americans to flee their countries and the anguish created by separating children from their parents at the US border. Putting a human face on the millions of people who flee their homelands each year, this book will help young people understand the difficulties of migration and leaving behind all that is dear.

“Argueta tells the story of 10-year-old Jimena Pérez, who unexpectedly journeys from her home in El Salvador to the U.S. Told in a sequence of short poems first in Spanish and consequently in English, this poignant story introduces Jimena’s home through her senses. A poignant, sincere, empathetic glimpse at family border separation.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

JORGE ARGUETA is a prize-winning poet and author of more than twenty children’s picture books, including Una película en mi almohada / A Movie in My Pillow (Children’s Book Press, 2001); Guacamole: Un poema para cocinar / A Cooking Poem (Groundwood Books, 2016); Agua, Agüita / Water, Little Water (Piñata Books, 2017); and Somos como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds (Groundwood Books, 2016), which won the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and was named to USBBY’s Outstanding International Book List, the ALA Notable Children’s Books and the Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices. His poetry collection, En carne propia: Memoria poética / Flesh Wounds: A Poetic Memoir (Arte Público Press, 2017), focuses on his experiences with civil war and living in exile. The California Association for Bilingual Education honored him with its Courage to Act Award and his trilingual picture book, Agua, Agüita / Water, Little Water, won the inaugural Campoy-Ada Award in Children’s Poetry given by the Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española. A Pipil Nahua Indian, Jorge is also the founder of The Library of Dreams in his native El Salvador, a non-profit organization that promotes literacy in both rural and metropolitan areas. Jorge divides his time between San Francisco, California, and El Salvador.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Anaya. Old Men. Death, Dying, Sorrow.

Michael Sedano

After my wife's diagnosis of dementia of the Alzheimer's type I sent myself into a spiral of shock, sorrow, suffering, endurance and all-around general aporia. It didn't help I was disabled from both shoulders and I was totally unreliable in event she fell. And she fell a lot.

She went to live in a locked door memory care unit, then had surgery for an infected leg. Five weeks in a superb skilled nursing facility and Barbara regained alertness and energy. She walked steadily and confidently. I healed and have strength in my arms again. I brought her home.

Nothing's going to change. Alzheimer's is a "progressive" disease. Aporia is worse than mere depression. It's helplessness mixed with keen awareness of why, aporia blends sorrow suffering irresolution into one nauseating bundle. It is what it is.

Enduring this mishmash of peccant humors wears you down, aguantando doesn't help, don't just stand there and take it, find places to keep growing.

 Aguantar doesn't work. I remind myself I know that, after painful experience. I remind myself also that pain and misfortune are universal. Reading how others passed into and through profound loss creates time you didn't know you had, when a reader gets lost in contemplating her or his own experience like those reflected through words, realizing "it's not just me."

For myself, early in our diagnosis, I read stuff to fit the mood and our progression, poets like Donne and Hopkins, poems like "Invictus," and "Do not go gentle". Caregivers I know delved deeply into nonfiction, medical and neurological books and resources.

One book I recommend to all, now in the hour of our suffering, or out of interest in literary fulfillment--but you'll need it one day--is Rudolfo Anaya's The Old Man's Love Story. Own your own copy and read it regularly. It's important.

Here's a link to the publisher's direct-sales website. 

Back in 2016, Jesus Treviño and I took a roadtrip to Alburquerque to interview Rudolfo Anaya on his most recent books at the time, including this important contribution to United States letters. We had fun. Anaya had read my review and affirmed my view of it. I had to restrain myself from a Sally Field "he likes it!" moment, but that added to the fun. I excerpt the interview addressing The Old Man's Love Story to conclude today's colum. Here's a link to a Latinopia video from that interview.

To begin today, I resurrect my review from 2015 of the story. La Bloga's first review is Manuel Ramos' review of The Old Man's Love Story in the May 17, 2013 La Bloga-Friday (link)

From La Bloga-Tuesday, February 10, 2015 (link)
Rudolfo Anaya. The Old Man's Love Story. Norman: U Oklahoma Press, 2013.
ISBN: 0806146486
Michael Sedano

Everyone dies. My grandmother died. My mother died. I died. In Rudolfo Anaya’s The Old Man’s Love Story, the old man’s wife has died. How do you go on after death? What of your own? Where do dead souls go?

The widower struggles with grief, memory, and life after death. This is Anaya’s own story--he pulls no punches--but elects to tell this deeply personal story from the safe distance enabled by a third person narrator.

The third person voice allows the mourning man to step outside himself to address an audience, organize the events and relate what happened to a character called “the old man” as he goes about resolving the consequences of life and death.

In this voice, Anaya crafts a barely-controlled narrative of his own roiling emotions, enriches the text with literary flourishes, allusions, motifs, and keen detail, ultimately presenting a meaningful look at death, grief, and living. Beyond its profundity, The Old Man’s Love Story is a scream of pain you need to hear.

It’s not a fun read. Some readers won’t be ready for The Old Man’s Love Story, especially younger people who see themselves invincible. Nor will those with a low tolerance for cultura “get” it. The book deals with issues those people haven’t dealt with, they have no skin in the game. So it goes.

Near death experience patients like me, readers in serious infirmity, and generally, gente aware of cucui and other spirits are ready for The Old Man’s Love Story. It won’t haunt you but starts a conversation that’s probably overdue. Carpe diem. The old man is not afraid of dying but frustrated at everything he’s going to miss.

The old man has spirits in his life and many moments of communion. New Mexico cultura informs the old man’s spiritual and metaphoric view with cloud formations, water, land, soul, various people’s gods. He views his own memory as thrusts from a hellenistic muse whom the old man names Memoria.

The old man's wife speaks to him, offers comfort, and urges him to go on living. He cannot summon her but with a sense of normalcy accepts her presence whenever she appears. “Magic realism” outsiders might term such moments in the narrative. For the old man, and Anaya, conversations with the wife are the most normal things a grieving man does.

Grief comes with memory. Random events and artifacts trigger memories of courtship, travels, life together, her personality, having sex. Each memory fills the old man with pain at her absence magnified by his understanding of the finality of this emptiness. Because grief and memory intertwine but are not the same, the widower finds himself unable to unravel the tangle. He cannot control memory and his grief is inconsolable.

As the old man’s suffering persists unabated, a reader begins to sense thoughts of suicide in the old man’s struggle, notes of surrender that would leave writer and reader deadened with depression. No one wants to read that. Yet, a fleeting thought, a word here, a conclusion there, Anaya sets the reader on edge, the outcome for the old man in no way assured.

As the book begins, with the old man’s bereavement finding its first expression, it comes with a sense of excitement for the dead wife’s next self:

Her journey into the world of spirits was a new adventure, but damn! He knew nothing of that world! He could only imagine it! Like imagining heaven. He worried. Was she okay? What if she lost the way? But she loved adventure. It was part of her nature. Now she had entered a country of spirits, from which no one returned.

Her spirit had lingered a while. Shortly after she died he had seen her walking down the hollyhock path. Dressed in a flowing Mexican skirt, the bright colors she loved, and a white blouse, stepping as lightly as an angel. She had turned and looked at him. 43

But the old man struggles with being separated. His wife’s disappearance from his garden, the hollyhock path, their time, has made his life chaotic, him irrational. At one manic point he surrounds himself with photographs, lies on the floor a shaman willing her back from death, Mictlán, the other side, wherever, just come back. Therapy doesn’t help.

He seeks refuge in reasoning and science. The old man learns about brain chemistry and the brain’s engrams, the loci of memory. He is not consoled that surgery or time will erase memories. Once the memories are gone, she is gone. The old man desperately needs the life memory sparks in him, memories don’t hurt all the time. He persists until he can answer ill-understood questions.

He questioned his own concept of the spirit world.
“It’s not out there,” he whispered. “It’s in me. The world of spirits is my memory—I am the world of spirits!”
Why was he surprised? He had searched for the meaning of life and death, the knowledge that was the bedrock of so many cultures, the truths written in esoteric gospels, a faith held in the human heart since the beginning of time.
He had known this all along. One of his characters, an old woman on her deathbed, had told a child, “I will live as long as you remember me. I live in your memory.” 130

Anaya arrives at this consolation for the old man via a stream-of-consciousness narrative that spills freely out of the writer. The loose style that flows from idea to idea looking for a logical connection can pose a challenge to inattentive readers. This is the way the man’s mind works, how a writer thinks. It’s best to pay attention.

The constrained rambling style of The Old Man’s Love Story stands in tribute to Anaya’s late wife, who was the writer’s editor. The writer is allowed free rein on this manuscript. Anaya seems to be telling his readers, this style is appropriate to this occasion so she’s letting me slide on some of my excesses and more abstract ruminations.

Students of Chicana Chicano Literature will find The Old Man’s Love Story illuminating for its insights into elements of the writer’s life and career. Readers curious about Sonny Baca’s heightened spirituality across the four novels of that series see its origins in the author’s lifelong relationship with spirits and spiritual practice. Anaya accepts that La Llorona frightened him as a boy, perhaps in the guise of grasping ramas in the bosque, but that was La Llorona pulling his hair in the darkness.

Writers will note Anaya’s sense that his characters spring sui generis from their own dimension. Just as spirits are, characters are.

And it’s true, that was his background but the more he wrote the more he felt the pull of the spirit world. The voice of the story was not completely his. He was moved to write the tragedies and comedies of those characters who came to visit him. 54

It’s that sense of spirits and literary characters that lets the grief-stricken mind lose itself in beauties of a garden path before a moment later seeing his dead wife pulling weeds. He’s comforted by their conversations, her advice about getting a girlfriend, helping him close doors and open others in efforts to define the old man’s loneliness and depression, and find a way onward.

Which he does. That is not a spoiler but a final reason to read The Old Man’s Love Story. The last handful of pages, when the issues have reached what resolution exists for one man, sparkle with vision. The old man finds his respite not in a particular spirit but the spirit of life itself, and with that final rainbow along the hollyhock path the old man understands.

His ancestors had come and stayed to raise crops in the land of the pueblos. We worked hard, the old ones said. Our backs broke and our hands were stained with blood. But one afternoon lived beneath this sky provides enough beauty to fill our souls for another day’s toil. The earth provided, the sky rewarded. 168

Order The Old Man’s Love Story from your independent bookseller or via the publisher's website.

NDE Addendum. Anaya's speculation about whether, and what the other side is like are right on. The other side is there. I saw it last July during emergency surgery. I returned with the ancestor's message on my lips, struggling to share it. "Sage" they said without speaking. "Burn sage" I finally said when I found voice. The old man's conversations with his wife don't surprise me but I envy them. Souls cross back and forth for important reasons. In early January I was certain an upcoming surgery--a consequence of July's--would kill me again, this time for sure. In December I was saying good-bye to people, cooking last meals, doing uncharacteristic things, walking on eggshells. One morning I smelled my dad's smell in bed next to me, felt him holding my hand--my dad never held my hand tenderly or otherwise--and in the instant felt assured I would live because he told me, again without speaking. A few days later I went through the operation easily and near painlessly.

Excerpted from La Bloga-Tuesday August 9, 2016 (link)
Interview with Rudolfo Anaya: The Old Man’s Love Story and The Sorrows of Young Alfonso.
Michael Sedano, with Jesus Salvador Treviño

Jesús Treviño and I arrived at Rudolfo Anaya’s house mid-afternoon and spent several delightful hours videotaping (link) while we chatted about Rudy’s four most recent publications, Poems From the Rio Grande, Randy Lopez Goes Home, The Old Man’s Love Story, and The Sorrows of Young Alfonso. . . . 
This interview transcript picks up in mid-conversation. We had been discussing the connectedness between three novels, poetry, and how themes, images, and ideas recur and parallel one another in Anaya’s career and especially these most recent publications. As the Latinopia video illustrates, Anaya reflects on the soul, creativity, and his body of work.

•mvs: The themes are coming back, like you say, it’s a cycle. As a preamble, a couple questions on The Old Man’s Love Story. Some people say writing is a form of therapy. Was The Old Man’s Love Story a therapy for you?

•RA: Was The Old Man’s Love Story therapeutic for me? Absolutely. The Old Man’s Love Story is about grief, and my wife had just died, I was going through grief. A woman came here, you know they have grief counselors. She gave me pamphlets, that didn’t do it for me. Some people said get into a group that is talking about grief. I thought, no my grief is too personal. I don’t want to talk about it, to other people. And so I started writing, using the tool I have used all my life, writing. What I know best was the way to express my grief, was to write about it, was to write these passages that the old man goes through. Yeah, that’s therapy.

•mvs:The old man wondered before his wife died, what she saw. He’s in a part where he’s talking about soul and how imagination is pure, like the soul is pure. Have you found out what the old man’s wife was seeing before she died, was it soul?

•RA: We’ve been discussing the idea of soul, the idea of essence. And I have written many places, “The creative imagination is the soul.” My and yours and everybody’s imagination that creates is soul. Soul creates. And on a personal level, in The Old Man’s Love Story, I would say that my wife was a very creative person. She was very intelligent very loving. She was into reading esoteric stuff that was very interesting, building up her soul. That’s what we all do, we build soul. We build soul. Like a brick at a time. Absolutely, she was building, she still is.

•mvs: The soul is eternal. In the hollyhock garden the old man spoke with her soul in the hollyhock garden. He was looking for it. Can one produce that communion by looking for it, or does it simply appear because it appears?

•RA: For me the communion with my wife is always there. It’s not that I ask for it, it’s just there. The scene in the garden, the hollyhock garden, I can take you to the back yard where I have a little ramada with grape vines and a nice swing. And I’m sitting there, and my wife appeared. And she started walking down. In June I have beautiful hollyhocks out there, beautiful; the whole garden is full of color. And she started walking down the hollyhock path and that's when she turned and told me she was going. So she knew all along. We know all along. It’s not a secret. Some of us don’t pay attention to our soul, to our creative imagination.

What did Wordsworth say, “this world is too much with us, late and soon getting and spending, little we know that is ours.” Getting and spending, and not paying attention to that which is ours, the soul. And it’s always there. It’s like I am sharing something with you very personal. That my wife is always with me. She is in this room, she’s in the photographs, she’s in the chair that she loved to sit in to read. On and on, it doesn’t go away.

And it gets better when I’m gone and I go to her. Then we’re gonna take a trip. The first trip we’re gonna do is take us to Mazatlán. We loved the beach in Mazatlán. We loved the people. We had such good time. We already made a deal, the moment I’m gone like that, vamonos, we’re gonna fly to Mazatlán.

•mvs: It’ll be a good trip.
•RA: Oh man, la playa de Mazatlán, the gente. Beautiful.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Mamá’s Advice

One Hundred Years of Solitude • 1st Edition • Gabriel Garcia Marquez • UK First

A short story by Daniel A. Olivas

            As she stepped into the warm Los Angeles morning, María remembered what her late mother, Concepción, told her each night at bedtime since María had turned thirteen: “Mija, when you kill a man, you must find the weak spot that all men have and make him suffer pain as he has never suffered before.”
At this point, Concepción would always lean close, her hot, moist breath smelling of café con leche and cigarettes, to add: “Don’t forget to look straight into his eyes when you do it, otherwise his death will have no meaning.”
And María, without fail, would always ask her mother, “What will I see in his eyes, mamá?”
And also without fail, almost as if it were a strange dance that they had rehearsed each night for many years, Concepción would pull back and exclaim: “You will know when you do it right, mija!  You will know it as you know your own name.”
            An hour earlier, María had stood in Rigoberto’s den, walls filled with books collected throughout the years, as Rigoberto gently turned the unblemished pages of a rare, inscribed, first English translation of Gabriel García Márquez’s magnificent novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude.
“How did you find this?” Rigoberto had asked in amazement, too afraid to lift his eyes from the book lest it disappear into the ether like so much smoke.
María remembered how she had looked down at her Latin-American Studies professor, a man three decades her senior, a brilliant man, winner of too many awards, tenured at a prestigious university, a man who preyed on beautiful, promising undergraduate students such as María.  She had stood before this man, in silence, waiting for him to look up at her, into her eyes, the way he never seemed to do when they were alone in his bedroom.  Finally, María’s refusal to answer forced this great man of letters to turn his face upward, toward this young woman whom he assumed would be but a titillating footnote in his life.
Their eyes had finally met.  María then pulled the long, glistening knife from her purse.   Rigoberto’s eyes widened.
And as she walked down the sidewalk, warmed by the sun, she smiled because she finally understood her mother’s advice, fully and completely, as well as she knew her own name.

[“Mamá’s Advice” first appeared in PANK and is featured in The King of Lighting Fixtures: Stories (University of Arizona Press).]