Friday, June 30, 2023

Convo Between Artist and Author

The following is a random collection of notes that originated in a recent conversation.  Don’t expect a conclusion, nor a cohesive narrative.  These are notes, perhaps for something in the future.


Pancho and Emiliano Converse

I picked the following from a search on Microsoft Bing for the definition of “conversation.”

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a conversation is “a talk, especially an informal one, between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged.”  It is an interactive communication between two or more people where thoughts, feelings, and ideas are expressed, questions are asked and answered, or news and information are exchanged. The development of conversational skills and etiquette is an important part of socialization.

Well, that explains a lot about my poor socialization habits.  I never learned how to make good conversation!  Many people who have been stuck with me for more than fifteen minutes would agree – conversationalist I ain’t.  

Be that as it may, I do talk with people.  A few days ago, I had a short but stimulating exchange of ideas with a local Chicano artist.  Among other subjects, we talked about what it meant to grow up Chicano in the 1950s and 1960s, and that simple beginning eventually (i.e., after the artist and author went their separate ways) got me thinking how the cultural and ethnological vibe I associate with my youth has changed dramatically, and is, in fact, disappearing.  The concept of a Chicano reality (yes, we really did exist) is being replaced with constructs such as Latinx identities and the sociology of migrants and migration. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad trend, it may be unavoidable, perhaps necessary in the big picture.  But I feel like someone should acknowledge the passing of a major historical paradigm. 

During the conversation, the artist and the author deliberated about how their generation distinguished between “us” (“Chicanos, although, for the most part, we didn’t call ourselves that yet) and the Mexicans.  The artist labelled the period when he was coming of age as “before the Mexicans.”  This differentiation was not a negative or discriminatory practice.  It simply expressed the obvious – there was a difference between Chicanos (Pochos) born and/or raised in the U.S., and the (newly arrived) Mexicans that were slowly increasing in numbers but were still a relatively small and invisible group.

Today, immigrant Mexicans (which, in today's world, may mean any immigrant from any country south of the U.S.)  are certainly not invisible or small in number.  Thus, in a twist of conversational logic, the author and the artist were here "before the Mexicans."

Of course, there was no way that Chicanos could have existed in the U.S. “before the Mexicans,” not even in New Mexico populated with Hispanos.  But the artist and the author understood how the phrase was used and what it implied. It was more a term of art than a scientific label, and as such it was not precise and may have been self-contradictory.  

The phrase attempted to highlight the gaps between generations of immigrants, but it doesn't quite fit the situation of my grandfather and me.  My maternal grandfather was as Mexican as one can get, yet by the time I was born he had lived in the U.S. for almost forty years and raised a U.S. family of soldiers and prom queens.  That grandfather fought in the Mexican Revolution in Pancho Villa’s army. He spoke only Spanish even though he understood English, listened to Mexican music only, and told ghost stories based on Mexican myths.  His grandson eventually lived off campus in a house filled with posters of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. The grandson's Spanish was weak, his music choices included José Alfredo Jiménez and James Brown, and his first published piece of fiction was a short story that riffed on the Mexican legend of La Llorona.  

Seems to me that Chicano explains the dynamic of the grandfather and grandson.  I don't think Latinx does.

What does that all mean?



Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction. Read his latest story, Northside Nocturne, in the award-winning anthology Denver Noir, edited by Cynthia Swanson, published by Akashic Books.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Chicanonautica: Quetzalcoatl Attacks

by Ernest Hogan

I was recovering between cataract surgeries, going through movies on my YouTube list. There was Q: The Winged Serpent (1982). Beloved by some -- someone once compared it to my novel Smoking Mirror Blues. I had heard that it gets everything about Aztec culture and mythology wrong. 

On the other hand, it was written and directed by Larry Cohen, a master of schlocky movies.  I also love schlocky movies and the John Waters meme goes: “Get more out of life. See a fucked up movie.” 

And it turns out, it ain’t that bad.

Yeah, Cohen spent no time researching the Aztecs and Quetzalcoatl—he doesn’t know Aztec from Maya, from Huastec from Olmec from Kwakiutl. At one point the plot about a winged serpent being worshiped as a god by the Aztecs and used by a killer is explained in an actual museum using Pacific Northwest First Nations artifacts as a backdrop.


That sort of thing makes me grumble, but this ain’t no big deal high culture Academy Awards statement of Hollywood’s collective self-consciousness, it’s a low budget horror flick cooked up to wrangle quick cash from the Great American Public. They don’t know about PreColumbian civilizations, and don’t care. And those of us who do care are a, if you pardon the expression, “minority.”

Maybe someday my sense of humor will become so warped that I’ll find that sort of thing funny.

As it is, Q delivers the goods of the classic monster movie formula. There’s a monster flying around NYC, swooping down between the skyscrapers, killing people. The pre-digital special effects are charming, but we don’t see a lot of them, because they were expensive, so we get a lot of gritty cops and robber action on crowded Big Apple streets. 

The cops are David Carradine, who starred in the original Kung Fu TV show, and Richard Roundtree, the first blaxploitation hero in the Shaft movies. In keeping with the genre’s traditions, the black guy is killed, and the white guy gets the girl. 

There is one brown character. They must have cleared the Puerto Ricans off the streets for the filming. He’s the bad guy sacrificing New Yorkers and gets less screen time than the monster and comes off more like a raging psychopath than a religious/political fanatic. His motivations are glossed over.


Old school monster movie stuff.

I was reminded of another movie, 1946’s The Flying Serpent. I wouldn’t be surprised if Larry Cohen was “inspired” by it.  In this Producers Releasing Corporation, PRC for short, AKA Poverty Row production, second string horror star, George Zucco, plays a mad scientist who sends a serpentine feathered creature that looks like a cheap souvenir from a border tourist trap to kill people. The twist is he’s an archaeologist, and his victims are getting in the way of proving his theory that the Aztec came from New Mexico. Yes, the Aztlán theory!

The story features Azteca, New Mexico. Matte paintings show ruins the villain thinks prove his theory. There is no such town. There is an Aztec, NM, that does have ruins, but they don’t seem to be Aztec. There are places all over the Southwest/Aztlán named after the Aztecs and Montezuma, because the folks doing the naming couldn’t imagine the local tribes building them.


To give the mad archaeologist credit, a people named the Sinagua by the Spanish left Arizona after the eruption of Sunset Crater in Arizona about a thousand years ago. A couple of centuries later–after all they were on foot–the Nahua/Mexica/Aztecs arrived in the Valley of Mexico. I wonder if they were the same people . . .

Also, it’s been a few decades, so maybe there should be a 21st century version of this story. A Chicano archaeologist with Aztlán nationalist sympathies finds a winged serpent and offers its services to the cause. Of course, there will Latinx law enforcement agents to save the day. 

Or maybe the archaeologist could be the hero . . .

Ernest Hogan is a Chicano science fiction writer who dabbles in guerrilla archaeology/anthropology.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass: The Graphic Novel Paperback

By Meg Medina 

Illustrated by Mel Valentine Vargas 


Publisher: Candlewick (September 5, 2023)

Language: English

Hardcover: 288 pages

ISBN-10: 1536224774

ISBN-13: 978-1536224771


Newbery Medalist Meg Medina returns to her powerful YA novel about school bullying with a dynamic graphic-novel edition adapted and illustrated by Mel Valentine Vargas.


It’s the beginning of sophomore year, and Piedad “Piddy” Sanchez is having a hard time adjusting to her new high school. Things don’t get any easier when Piddy learns that Yaqui Delgado hates her and wants to kick her ass. Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui is, never mind what she’s done to piss her off. Rumor has it that Yaqui thinks Piddy is stuck-up, shakes her stuff when she walks, and isn’t Latina enough with her white skin, good grades, and no accent. And Yaqui isn’t kidding around, so Piddy better watch her back. At first, Piddy is more concerned with learning about the father she’s never met, navigating her rocky relationship with her mom, and staying in touch with her best friend, Mitzi. But when the harassment escalates, avoiding Yaqui and her gang takes over Piddy’s life. Is there any way for Piddy to survive without closing herself off from those who care about her—or running away? More relevant than ever a decade after its initial publication, Mel Valentine Vargas’s graphic novel adaptation of Meg Medina’s ultimately empowering story is poised to be discovered by a new generation of readers.


Meg Medina is the author of the Newbery Medal–winning Merci Suárez Changes Gears and its sequels, Merci Suárez Can’t Dance and Merci Suárez Plays It Cool, as well as the young adult novels Burn Baby Burn and the Pura Belpré Award–winning Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. She is also the author of several award-winning picture books. The daughter of Cuban immigrants, Meg Medina lives in Richmond, Virginia.


Mel Valentine Vargas is a Queer Cuban-American graphic novelist based in Chicago. They hope to draw the kind of illustrations that their younger self, and others like them, could have seen to feel less alone. Mel Valentine Vargas loves singing in Spanish, playing farming video games, and eating lots of gyoza with their friends.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Review: Ana Castillo, Doña Cleanwell Leaves Home

 Michael Sedano

It’s “stories,” the subtitle of Ana Castillo’s recently published Doña Cleanwell Leaves Home. The prolific author’s work of late has ranged from poem to memoir to novel to drawing and painting. Hence, a subtitle helps a reader develop expectations. 

What one expects out of an Ana Castillo story collection is masterful storytelling filled with engaging delightful surprises. Doña Cleanwell Leaves Home is just that: masterful storytelling filled with engaging delightful surprises.

“Masterful” doesn’t mean here’s a textbook approach to short fiction. Masterfully breaking rules more accurately describes Doña Cleanwell. Don’t come to these stories looking for a classic structure and textbook development. These technical elements are all there, expressed in Castillo’s masterfully efficient style by a word, a glimpse at a setting, an idiosyncrasy.

Castillo takes a male voice for the first story, “Cuernavaca”, and features a male character for “Ven.” They didn’t have to be guys in those stories, but maybe I missed something. Women and girls fill out their central roles in “The Girl in the Green Dress, The Night at Nonna’s”, and the title piece, “Doña Cleanwell Leaves Home.” These stories, the characters have to be women.

Prepare yourself for engaging plots and surprise as the raison d’etre. Then there’ll be a lot to think about. The collection opens with Cuernavaca. A son discovers a murder mystery behind a ghost story dating back to his father’s wild youth. Did good old Dad frame his brother? Next, in Ven, a guy mourns his high-achiever sister. Reading her journal, brother discovers sister has a parallel life and the surprise of a lifetime. There’s a horror story, The Girl in the Green Dress Trapped in a frozen library, the girl may never go home again, lured or beguiled by a presence. The night at Nonna’s is a girl’s story. A virgin intends to break all the rules with a willing boy, only to be scared straight by Nonna. Doña Cleanwell Leaves Home is classic Castillo. A girl has to come of age all at once. She takes her first airplane ride, has a menstrual accident, stumbles through a foreign ambiente, and despite a fistfight brawl on a public street, accomplishes her impossible mission to retrieve Doña Cleanwell and take mama home to dad.

To illustrate more deeply the engaging elements in those stories would be to spoil the fun of discovery. The stories have gender and sexual shenanigans, endearing characters, provocative ideas about women’s liberation, tolerance, and home.

Home is where the heart is, so why leave home? Leaving also means arriving and settling elsewhere. What happens elsewhere, stays elsewhere. Is that a measure of freedom, or a needful respite from quotidian events? 

Don’t come to these stories seeking denouement and resolution. Above all, these eight stories address events that happen away from home. Characters go elsewhere, discover the story, get involved beyond their capacity to deal, then exit themselves to return home. What happens after the exit is some other story's denouement, or do such places cease to exist?

Castillo leaves it up to her readers to figure out what happens after the punto final, in the home that was left behind, as well as what comes next. For example, that little niece living in Mexico, or the lover left behind selling cleaning supplies, did the green dress trap that woman forever in that place away from home?

Summer is a comin' in, reading time. Doña Cleanwell travels well, gente. Good summer reading with a "Ana Castillo's done it again," smile on your face.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Coming Full Circle in Twenty Years of Poetry

Melinda Palacio, Santa Barbara Poet Laureate

This column was first published in the Santa Barbara Independent.

Photo by Michael Sedano


The Santa Barbara Writers Conference began last Sunday. The conference has been an important part of my life for the past twenty years. I’ve participated as a volunteer, panelist and workshop leader at the conference. I wrote the poem that launched my writing career those two decades ago, “How Fire Is a Story, Waiting.” That poem that won first place at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference in 2003 became the title poem of my first full length poetry book in 2012, published by Tía Chucha Press. 


The poem is about a memory I have of my grandmother playing with the stovetop’s fire. As a child, I watched her cook and she would tell me stories about her life and our family. One day, she showed me how she could catch the fire in her hand without burning herself. I was mesmerized, and smart enough to realize I shouldn’t try her trick. I had already gotten into trouble for playing with matches and showing my young neighbor how to light a match on the side of the matchbox. To this day, my grandmother’s words, falling into the fire, continue to be a source of inspiration. 


I remember the day I workshopped the poem in Perie Longo’s class. After the workshop, she asked for a copy of the poem. I thought she was going to mark it up and give me suggestions for improving the poem. I had no idea she would nominate me to win the poetry contest at the weeklong conference. However, I do remember the confidence I received as an added bonus. The win encouraged me to try other genres, short stories and fiction. 


Two years later, at the conference, in 2005, I won honorable mention in fiction. But it wasn’t until 2011 that Arizona State University published my novel, Ocotillo Dreams, about the 1997 immigration sweeps in Arizona. Part of the publishing game is showing some sort of track record. In my queries for Ocotillo Dreams, I was able to say I had won first place in poetry at the SBWC and honorable mention in fiction. Every award and publication showed publishers I was serious about my writing career. 


I didn’t have the kind of overnight success that draws people to desire a literary career. My poems and book manuscripts have been rejected hundreds of times. It wasn’t until five years after the breakthrough poetry win that my first chapbook, Folsom Lockdown, won a publishing prize. The Fire poem didn’t make it into its own full-length book until nine years later when Tía Chucha Press published How Fire Is a Story, Waiting in 2012. 


Fast forward to two weeks ago at La Plaza de Cultura y Artes in Los Angeles, I participated in a poetry panel for Tia Chucha Press, the imprint started by former Los Angeles Poet Laureate and author of Always Running, Luis J. Rodriguez. I read from the one copy I have of How Fire Is a Story, Waiting. The book is officially out of print. The good news is Tía Chucha Press is reprinting the book. The title poem is also a song now. I never thought I would add songwriter to my writing resumé but over the pandemic, I became obsessed with learning the guitar and ukulele. Songwriting was a natural next step. I’ve enjoyed incorporating music in some of my poetry readings. In addition to writing new poems, finishing a second novel, my latest project is writing companion songs for some of my poems. I was surprised when I thumbed through my journal, looking for poem ideas and discovered I had a song. After writing the song, I wrote a companion poem for the song. 

Poetry and Songs at the Botanic Garden


This week, after a four-year hiatus, the Santa Barbara Writers Conference returns for its 50th anniversary. I will join the faculty and volunteers and I will be a special guest in Perie Longo’s class and celebrate my 20th anniversary as a returning poet and now Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara. 




How Fire Is A Story, Waiting

Melinda Palacio    



My grandmother caught the flame in her thick hands.

Curled fingers made nimble by kaleidoscope embers.

Fire burns hot and cold if you know where to touch it, she said.


I watched the red glow spit and wiggle as it

snaked down the thin timber, a striptease, 

born out of the festive sound of a half-filled matchbox.


Through orange windows framed by obsidian eyes, I saw the child she once was. 

A little girl who raised herself because her mother had a coughing disease.

Blood on her mother’s handkerchief didn’t stop her from dreaming.

Maria Victoria was going to be a singer with her deep, cinnamon stick voice. 


She watched novelas in the kitchen while waiting for dough to rise.

Her body, heavy with worry for two families and three lifetimes.  She tucked

Mariachi dreams under her girdle. Lullabies escaped on mornings 

warmed by her song falling into gas burners turned on high.


The flame on a stove was never the same.  It had a bad hangover,

didn’t remember the many matches lit when its starter broke down.


My grandmother rolled paper into a funnel, 

stole fire from the pilot to light the stubborn burner on the right.  

Crimson burned blue on the white paper, its folded edges 

curled black like a lace ruffle on a skirt.


The finicky flame can’t comment on its magic.

The thousands of tortillas and pancakes cooked over the years.

How I burned myself roasting a hot dog campfire style.

How a melted pencil smudged under my sister’s eyelid makes her beautiful.


My grandmother noticed the time, almost noon.

She needed to make three dozen tortillas to feed her family of thirteen.

The show over, she blew the match into a swirl of gray squiggles,

snuffed before it had a chance to burn hot on her finger.


Funny, how fire is a story, waiting.



Wednesday, June 21, 2023

2023 Pura Belpré Celebración

Sunday, June 25, 2023

1:00-4:00 PM


Palmer House Hilton

Red Lacquer Room


17 East Monroe Street

Chicago, IL 60603



Pura Belpré Awards honoring Latinx writers and illustrators whose children's and young adult books best portray, affirm and celebrate the Latino cultural experience: 


“Where Wonder Grows,” illustrated by Adriana M. Garcia, is the 2023 Pura Belpré Youth Illustration Award winner. The book was written by Xelena González and published by Cinco Puntos Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books Inc.


Six Belpré Youth Illustration Honor Books were named: 

“The Coquíes Still Sing,” illustrated by Krystal Quiles, written by Karina Nicole González and published by Roaring Brook Press, a division of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group.


“A Land of Books: Dreams of Young Mexihcah Word Painters,” illustrated and written by Duncan Tonatiuh and published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, an imprint of ABRAMS.


“Magic: Once Upon a Faraway Land,” illustrated and written by Mirelle Ortega and published by Cameron Kids, an imprint of Cameron + Company, a division of ABRAMS.


“Phenomenal AOC: The Roots and Rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” illustrated by Loris Lora, written by Anika Aldamuy Denise and published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers.


“Srta. Quinces,” illustrated and written by Kat Fajardo, translated by Scholastic Inc. and published by Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic Inc.


“Still Dreaming / Seguimos soñando,” illustrated by Magdalena Mora, written by Claudia Guadalupe Martínez, translated by Luis Humberto Crosthwaite and published by Children’s Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books Inc.




“Frizzy,” written by Claribel A. Ortega, is the 2023 Pura Belpré Children’s Author Award winner. The book is illustrated by Rose Bousamra and published by First Second, a division of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group.


Three Belpré Children’s Author Honor Books were named:

“The Coquíes Still Sing,” written by Karina Nicole González, illustrated by Krystal Quiles and published by Roaring Brook Press, a division of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group. 


“The Notebook Keeper: A Story of Kindness from the Border,” written by Stephen Briseño, illustrated by Magdalena Mora and published by Random House Studio, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House.


“Tumble,” written by Celia C. Pérez and published by Kokila, an imprint of Penguin Random House.




“Burn Down, Rise Up,” written by Vincent Tirado, is the 2023 Pura Belpré Young Adult Author Award winner. The book is published by Sourcebooks Fire, an imprint of Sourcebooks. 


Three Belpré Young Adult Author Honor Book were named:

“Breathe and Count Back from Ten,” written by Natalia Sylvester and published by Clarion Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.


“High Spirits,” written by Camille Gomera-Tavarez and published by Arthur A. Levine, an imprint of Levine Querido.


“The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School,” written by Sonora Reyes and published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.


Monday, June 19, 2023

Papantla y El Tajín por Xánath Caraza

Papantla y El Tajín por Xánath Caraza


Papantla de Olearte en el estado de Veracruz, México es una joya que si alguna vez pueden visitar no se arrepentirán. Es la ciudad más cercana a la zona arqueológica El Tajín o Dajín en totonaco, uno de los 68 idiomas, que aún son hablados, originarios de México. Entre los señoríos más importantes del Totonacapan, El tajín sigue en pie para que nos maraville y haga sentir la sangre de la vainilla correr por nuestras venas. Digo esto porque esta zona, la de Papantla y El Tajín, es la zona que ha perfumado al mundo. De allí es la vainilla originalmente. Hoy les comparto algunas fotografías de esta extraordinaria zona arqueológica. Además de algunas fotos de su gastronomía y una breve muestra del arte de Teodoro Cano. Gracias, UMKC. Ojalá y las disfruten.

Papantla de Olearte in the State of Veracruz, Mexico is a jewel that, if you can visit at some point, you will not be disappointed.  This city is adjacent to the archeological site El Tajín, or Dajín in the Totonac indigenous language, one of the 68 indigenous languages which continue to be spoken in Mexico today.  Of the most important Totonac indigenous communities, El Tajín prevails so as to astonish us and to feel the blood of vanilla course through our veins.  I mention this as this area of Papantla and El Tajín has perfumed the world.  This is the designation of origin of vanilla.  Today, I share several photographs of this extraordinary archeological site.  In addition, I share various photos of this area’s gastronomy and a brief depiction of the art of Teodoro Cano.  Thank you, UMKC.  Please enjoy.  

Friday, June 16, 2023

Family Affairs

How about a trio of new books dealing with the social relationship that can be life-giving and, often, lifesaving, painful, even brutal, simple and basic, complex and irrational? Talking about family. All kinds of families.  We may think we know what "family" means, but I suspect that the truth is that it means something different to everyone.  These three books bear witness to my suspicion.  They are scheduled to hit bookstore shelves in August.  Just in time because National Family Day is September 26.


Elizabeth Acevedo
Ecco - August 1

[from the publisher]
From the bestselling, National Book Award–winning author Elizabeth Acevedo comes her first novel for adults, the story of one Dominican-American family told through the voices of its women as they await a gathering that will forever change their lives.

Flor has a gift: she can predict, to the day, when someone will die. So when she decides she wants a living wake—a party to bring her family and community together to celebrate the long life she’s led—her sisters are surprised. Has Flor foreseen her own death, or someone else’s? Does she have other motives? She refuses to tell her sisters, Matilde, Pastora, and Camila.

But Flor isn’t the only person with secrets: her sisters are hiding things, too. And the next generation, cousins Ona and Yadi, face tumult of their own.

Spanning the three days prior to the wake, Family Lore traces the lives of each of the Marte women, weaving together past and present, Santo Domingo and New York City. Told with Elizabeth Acevedo’s inimitable and incandescent voice, this is an indelible portrait of sisters and cousins, aunts and nieces—one family’s journey through their history, helping them better navigate all that is to come.


Esmeralda Santiago
Knopf - August 8

[from the publisher]
From the award-winning, best-selling author of When I Was Puerto Rican, a powerful novel of family, race, faith, sex, and disaster that moves between Puerto Rico and the Bronx, revealing the lives and loves of five women and the secret that binds them together.

They refer to themselves as “las Madres,” a close-knit group of women who, with their daughters, have created a family based on friendship and blood ties. Their story begins in Puerto Rico in 1975 when fifteen-year-old Luz, the tallest girl in her dance academy and the only Black one in a sea of petite, light-skinned, delicate swans, is seriously injured in a car accident. Tragically, her brilliant, multilingual scientist parents are both killed in the crash. Now orphaned, Luz navigates the pressures of adolescence and copes with the aftershock of a brain injury, when two new friends enter her life, Ada and Shirley. Luz’s days are consumed with aches and pains, and her memory of the accident is wiped clean, but she suffers spells that send her mind to times and places she can’t share with others.

In 2017, in the Bronx, Luz’s adult daughter, Marysol, wishes she better understood her. But how can she when her mother barely remembers her own life? To help, Ada and Shirley’s daughter, Graciela, suggests a vacation in Puerto Rico for the extended group, as an opportunity for Luz to unearth long-buried memories and for Marysol to learn more about her mother’s early life. But despite all their careful planning, two hurricanes, back-to-back, disrupt their homecoming, and a secret is revealed that blows their lives wide open. In a voice that sings with warmth, humor, friendship, and pride, celebrated author Esmeralda Santiago unspools a story of women’s sexuality, shame, disability, and love within a community rocked by disaster.


John Manuel Arias
Flatiron Books - August 29

[from the publisher]
A lush and lyrical debut novel about a Costa Rican family wrestling with a deadly secret, from rising literary star John Manuel Arias

Costa Rica, 1968. When a lethal fire erupts at the American Fruit Company’s most lucrative banana plantation burning all evidence of a massive cover-up, the future of Teresa Cepeda Valverde’s family is changed forever.

Now, twenty-seven years later, Teresa and her daughter Lyra are still picking up the pieces. Lyra wants nothing to do with Teresa, but is desperate to find out what happened to her family that fateful night. Teresa, haunted by a missing husband and the bitter ghost of her mother, Amarga, is unable to reconcile the past. What unfolds is a story of a mother and daughter trying to forgive what they do not yet understand, and the mystery at the heart of one family’s rupture, steeped in machismo, jealousy, labor uprisings, and the havoc wreaked by banana plantations in Central America.

Brimming with ancestral spirits, omens, and the anthropomorphic forces of nature, John Manuel Arias weaves a brilliant tapestry of love, loss, secrets, and redemption in Where There was Fire.



Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction. Read his latest story, Northside Nocturne, in the award-winning anthology Denver Noir, edited by Cynthia Swanson, published by Akashic Books.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Chicanonautica: Report on Papí Sci-Fi’s Ancient Chicano Sci-Fi Wisdom

by Ernest Hogan 

The Palabras del Pueblo Writing Workshop is over. I taught Papí Sci-Fi’s Ancient Chicano Sci-Fi Wisdom. It caught me by surprise. I learned things, as I hoped. It’s taking me a while to process it.

For one thing, the students were a lot older than I had expected. And a lot further along as writers. Except for one eighteen year-old, they were all teachers at the university level.

Maybe the “ancient” scared away the younger generation.

And it turns out there is a real need to talk about writing while Chicano. Who'da thunk it?

I did write a story before the class (two weekends, online) ended. It was on the subject of Chicano vs. Latinx, that kept coming up, and I’ve been feeling the need to say about it. And plea for us all to get along, as well as keep our identities. And I made it funny.

It all ended with a wild, spontaneous, free-for-all brainstorming/jam session. Ideas flying around, bouncing off everything. What should happen when creative minds, especially Chicanos, gather.

We did talk about staying in touch, conspiring about future events and progress. This is just the beginning of Chicanofuturism, or whatever we will end up calling it. 

In a way, I hope we don’t come up with a name, a movement, and all that. I’d prefer it just be what we do, and that it goes on forever. Let the academics of the future sort it out, meanwhile, on with the wild ride!

It looks like there will be another Palabras del Pueblo workshop later on in the year. Stay tuned for details.

Meanwhile, the deadline to submit to Chicanofuturism: El Porvenir, Ya! Has been extended to July 1st. Get to it, gente!

Ernest Hogan is recovering from cataract surgery, experiencing changes in vision . . .