May 2, 2013
To Save a Son
named for Plath.
I curse the father, Pablo,
lest my son become Pablito.
I choke my own lyrics in hopes
my son’s music will breathe.
I work a school job
to teach him rock.
I can’t face his father,
or my Mexican stories,
novels of love and death:
Virgin of Tlatelolco 1 & 2.
I accept my own border so
my son can dance over.
I lift his heart to the sun
to show I feel stringless
while I am still in chains.
He needs no father—
I catch baseballs, too.
He needs no script—
I write one for him.
The more he needs me,
the better I like it.
He is my story.
September 11, 2012
The first novel I ever read on an e-reader (the Nook with a Glo-light) is Canada by Richard Ford. Here’s my review of the novel, not the e-reader.
A Short Review of Canada, a novel by Richard Ford
New York : Ecco Press, 2012
Ford forces a personality onto his main character that is as contemplative as a sixty year old. I’m not saying he’s trying to fool us with that fact, because he intentionally has the older man telling the story of his own young life as a fifteen-year-old. Ford’s prose is indeed excellent, but all through the book I craved the experience and voice of the fifteen year. So much of the story seems untold. I wanted the younger main character to have emotions and actions not explained away by his mature self of forty years later.
If an author has so pushed his own psyche so far from inner reality, how can we believe his story is true? It’s as if Ford has delivered a good idea about a story, but not the story itself. It’s a steak dinner without the meat or the sizzle, leaving us only a plate, a fork, and a knife laid out in perfect order. It is certainly an order that does not offend, but it also does not tell us the whole truth.
Are we expected to believe that his parents robbed a bank, split him from his twin sister, and sent him to Canada, and he had no anger about that? He could have become a short-fused boy like The Unibomber—or he could have become an enraged genius like Kurt Cobain—or channeled his anger like Van Gogh, perhaps. He only seems to passively accept his exile and one extremely violent act as if he was stunned silent by it. This is not the kind of character I hoped to read—it’s as if the character was there at the scene, but somehow missed the story. Readers are left with the face of the opacity of the surface of it, so we are left to admire the dinnerware and suck on an empty fork.
September 5, 2012
I’m pleased to announce that my friend, Kimberly Elkins’ story: “The Awful Wondering” is now published in the Iowa Review. It’s not available online—you have to subscribe. But you can read some things in the issue here:
Here’s her bio:
KIMBERLY ELKINS’s work has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Best New American Voices, and the Chicago Tribune, among others. A finalist for the National Magazine Award, she received a fellowship from the Houghton Library at Harvard for research on her novel, What Is Visible, forthcoming from Grand Central. A visiting lecturer for the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Hong Kong, she has an MFA from BU and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
September 1, 2012
In TARDY SON, Pid, a fourteen-year-old boy, torn from his Mexican roots and adopted into a white California family, stows away in a boxcar hoping to get to San Francisco. He’s desperate to escape his adoptive father, Danno, and to find his real mother. The abuse from Danno alienates Pid’s mind into two personalities. Pid’s copy of Treasure Island, his journal writing, and his sense of adventure help him escape. Pid doesn’t find his real mother in San Francisco but he does find Japanese and African boys who accept his baseball playing despite his limp and a Mexican woman who loves him like a mother. This gives him a sense of himself enough to reunite his personality, though he is still angry at Danno. This anger brings Pid to steal a motor scooter and return to his hometown to face Danno again. Pid vows to kill him, though he risks arrest and injury. A bloody fight occurs and in the battle he discovers why the lies of Danno hide the truth in the mystery of his heritage. Finally, he must choose whether to stay or return to San Francisco.
TARDY SON, is a semi-finalist for the Faulkner Novel-in-Progress Award. It’s a 76,000-word literary YA novel.
August 6, 2012
My novel, Tardy Son, is a semi-finalist for the Faulkner Novel-in-Progress Award. Tiny whoop.
May 31, 2012
Have a potato. OK, I stayed up all night, so what. But I got the re-writing of Tesora done at about 4:11 a.m. Thanks to Renée Watanabe and Alexandra Vega for the tough criticism that made it possible. It may not be better now, but I like it. I’ll wait a few days or a few hours and edit the whole thing together like a crazy quilt turned into a Grandma’s delight . . . or something. Now I hope some agent will enjoy reading it. That’s the big project next. Thanks for reading all the silly poetry I use to take a break from the speeding 80,000-word train in my life. Keep in touch.
April 20, 2012
My next novel which I call Dead Strings, at this point, has yet to leave the ground, but I continue to mine my own experiences and gut-reactions with modern, rock & roll music for the heart of it. One musician/band who stirs my head, heart, and hips is Nina Diaz and Girl in a Coma. Stirring the heart of Nina Diaz, early in her career, was Alice Bag (of The Bags). Alice, too, is a Latina rocker, who now rocks classrooms with inspiration. This article in the San Antonio Current tells the story. Here’s an excerpt:
“Once upon a time there was no punk rock. No Clash. No Ramones. Sid had yet to meet Nancy. Punk rock had yet to be invented. Little-known to most, one of the inventors of punk rock spoke Spanish, grew up listening to rancheras, and watched lucha libre.” “I started working with the children of immigrants, children who were limited English speakers, just as I’d been when I entered school,” she wrote. “I encouraged my students to question everything and everybody, especially me and any other authority figure.”
Here’s Alice with The Bags:
February 2, 2012
How I Create History within a “Live” Story . . . or How I Create a More Intimate Close-Third-Person Point-of-View
I’m rewriting a novel of mine to try to create a style that brings the reader closer to the heart of my story. The story is told in both first-person and third-person point-of-views, using what James Wood calls the “free indirect style,” which is also called “close third-person.” The problem that arose with the story is that there seemed to be too much distance between the first-person narrator and the third-person narrator. In the first case the reader lives in the action and the mind of the main character. In the third-person case my first draft has the narrator standing well back from the present scene and also standing well back in time (as if he was telling stories from his youth, which he is doing as a device for the tale). This works on some level because it’s a historical novel and the “story” is written from the journals of the first-person narrator. On another level, as the story unfolds, there is a disconnect between the “alive-ness” of the story as told by the first-person voice and the dispassionate voice of the third-person narration. The effect produced in this contrast could be almost one of boredom, I’m afraid—that the third-person voice gets in the way of the story.
For me, it is a lot of work to change a mode of writing I’ve used for many years now. It does not seem to come intuitively. At least not yet. I’m removing any judgmental language and I’m removing anything that relates directly to a time-period outside of the action. Is there anything you do in a novel to relate complex action to its time period without sounding like some documentary narrating voice?
January 13, 2012
When it occurred to me I’d never read Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor, I felt I’d be missing something if I didn’t. I’d read a book of her short stories and saw the movie of Wise Blood long ago so perhaps I imagined I’d read it. I’d never knowingly substitute the movie for the book. It is an amazing book. A minor annoyance is wading through the dialect-spellings she uses, but beyond that the book is a marvelous mix of clear writing and language with its impenetrable yet vivid characters.
Well, the characters are impenetrable at first, but also beautifully whole and unique. Mostly, though, they are as mesmerizing in themselves as mysteries which need solving. She does not supply easy answers for that. Through all this she creates a world both of this world and apart from it. I cannot put it down (except to write this review). The story has so taken root in my head, I couldn’t think of another book to mention from the past year.
December 6, 2011
Maybe Hemingway re-wrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms seventeen or thirty-seven times, I don’t know, but I know the torment when a piece of writing is not right. I’m sure he felt mighty good about having almost finished a novel he knew would be widely read, but also that he would feel mighty bad to think he had written an ending to it that was less than his best. At this point I know that my second novel, Blues Pizza, is not my best (indeed, it is my worst). So I feel compelled to fix it. I’m not sure I can and, as a matter of fact, I can’t seem to fix the first two paragraphs of to fit my best standard. If I can’t fix the first two chapters, the whole novel will be forever laid to rest. R.I.T. (Rest In Turmoil). But for now, I’m taking another chance at giving the novel another chance. I’ve cut 12,000 words and made plans to re-arrange all the rest, but first I’m going to re-imagine and re-write those first two chapters if it kills me (or rather, if it kills the novel). I think I’ve re-written the first two paragraphs about thirty-seven times. That’s not quite enough, but it may be close.
There’s a certain satisfaction in playing a blues song well. To crawl into the back-story of the lyrics, to feel the passion there, and then to translate that into notes that fit feels good. It may also hurt, but it’s a good hurt when the played blues liberates the source of my real blues. It’s worth working for, I’d say. Onward.