Thursday, November 29, 2012

Interview with Chiquís Barrón

As an after-treat, here is a Q&A with the author of Café Dulcet, Chiquís Barrón.


1) What was the inspiration for this story?

The inspiration for Café Dulcet is somewhat multifaceted. Initially, the intention was simply to draw on the parallels between the labor-intensive processes that a coffee bean goes through (from cultivation, harvesting, processing, roasting, grinding and brewing) before it makes its way into cups throughout the world, and the similarly challenging yet necessary growth and development that people go through in order to find their unique flavor and purpose in life.

As I continued to delve into the plot and storyline, however, I realized that a lot of what I was writing was in fact coming from my own personal struggles in search of self-identity, friendship, love and self-purpose. Through both Nena and Ramona's experiences and coming of age, I think I tried to appease many of the inconsistencies and contradictions that I experienced growing up in the geographically, politically and culturally unique setting of Nogales, AZ. It became about stressing the importance of finding ourselves and embracing all the different factors that make us who we are: from our ethnic and genetic backgrounds; to our physical environments and the people around us; to our inevitable life struggles.

2) How did you come up with the title?

I wanted the title to reflect the same kind of heterogeneous and multicultural feel of the coffee beans and people that I was describing in the story. "Café Dulcet" seemed to capture that multilingual feel with hints of Spanish, English and even French. "Dulcet" also seemed particularly fitting since it describes something sweet and soothing that can be experienced through various bodily senses, just like coffee, which appeals equally to the sense of taste, smell, sight and feel.

3) Was Ximena inspired by anyone you know? What about Doña Pilar?

I can confidently say that all of the characters in Café Dulcet, including Ximena and Doña Pilar, are a fictionalized composite of several people I've come across throughout my life. And, of course, there's also a bit of me in each and everyone of them. It is interesting to hear readers tell me that they recognize or identify someone they know in real life with a particular character. Doña Lupita is a big one. I think the connection they make is really a reflection of the universality of certain character-types. Regardless of contextual differences, we all typically know someone who shares enough characteristics with a particular character.

4) What was your writing process like?

Because I have a full-time day job, my writing routine usually takes place early in the morning before I head to work and late in the evening before I go to bed. Although I did not formally write an outline for Café Dulcet, I did keep a somewhat organized set of notes with thoughts, plot ideas, coffee facts and character details. My creative process was really a blend between a loosely defined storyline in the back of my mind and unpredictable ideas, dialogues and plot twists that arise from stream-of-consciousness writing.

5) What was the publishing process like.

Very educational! Throughout my exchanges with both literary agents and publishers, I have had the opportunity to better understand the publishing business. After talking to several agents, editors and other publishing insiders, I decided to self-publish Café Dulcet because it afforded me the creative freedom that I was looking for with the project.

6) What are you doing to promote this book?

Readings, interviews, book giveaways, book festivals, art fairs, blogging and (the biggest leap for me) being more diligent about keeping up with my social network accounts.

7) What are some of your favorite books?

I enjoy reading a wide range of books from classic literature, to autobiographical and historical, to modern day chick/chica lit. I love reading books that are both enlightening and descriptive of a people and their culture while at the same time depicting and celebrating the humor and lightheartedness of life. Some of my favorite authors include Ángeles Mastretta, Isabel Allende, Caridad Bravo Adams, Benito Pérez Galdós and, of course, Esmeralda Santiago, Sandra Cisneros and Reyna Grande.

8) We feel we must ask this: What is your favorite coffee blend?

Trader Joe's has an organic coffee blend that combines spicy Peruvian beans along with mild Mexican beans for a coffee blend that has complex aroma, medium body and a delicious flavor. This blend is currently at the top of my list.

9) Are there any other books in the works?

Yes, two in fact! The first is a novel which (among other things) looks at mental health and the Latino community. The other is a collection of literary narrative, interviews and fine art photography that portrays the lives and images of the U.S.-Mexico border as experienced firsthand by its people. The goal of this second book is to counteract some of the creative deception that has traditionally been used in media and political rhetoric to paint an inaccurate or incomplete picture of our border communities.

10) Do you feel there is a message young Latinas can get from this book? If so, what?

Absolutely. After almost 12 years of working in mental and behavioral health research with Latinas, particularly substance abusing Latina women and adolescents, I know what it looks like when someone feels lost and disconnected from the people, customs and environment around them. I have seen what a broken or an incomplete sense of self can do to a person’s effect and behavior and their ability to make healthy decisions about themselves, their bodies and their lives. I feel that Café Dulcet can serve as a touchstone for young Latinas who are still struggling to find themselves and their place in the world. It can help encourage them to continue discovering, appreciating and embracing all the different flavors and elements that make them unique.

Thank you! We look forward to more news and stories from you!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review: Café Dulcet

Café Dulcet by Chiquis Barrón

Story: Through the metaphorical juxtaposition of two lives (Nena's, the main character, and that of the coffee bean), Café Dulcet is an insightful story that delves into those aspects of life which shape people's existence and give them their flavor and purpose. From cultivation through adulthood, including those defining moments that test inherent natures and strengths, the story follows a closely-knit series of events to create an enchanting, modern drama. Set in the colorful backdrop of the Arizona-Mexico border, with a diverse array of characters complementing Nena's strong yet quirky personality (Doña Pilar, the exotic, local café owner; Ramona, a tall, curvaceous, dark beauty; Alex, the self-serving yet irresistibly handsome, local politician du jour; and Lalo, Alex's hippyish yet beguiling younger brother), Café Dulcet is a reminder that no matter how foreign people's lives may seem (their language, experiences, culture and place in the world), there is always a point of convergence.
Reviewed by: Sandra L.
Rating: 4 stars
“A coffee bean can be gorgeous to look at…so shiny and even that it almost looks artificial, but even the most impressive of coffee beans can taste like shit.” (pg. 1) I must admit that I was intrigued by this line, which was full of character and truth.
It all begins with a detailed history of Doña Pilar and how coffee became a grand part of her life, then it goes on to describe, in scrupulous detail, the process of how the coffee is made.
Recited in the viewpoint of Ximena (AKA Nena,) the story mainly depicted the growing years of a bright girl (Nena) battling curious barriers across the backdrop of the social and political developments of America. She goes on to explain her deep fascination with observing people—their behaviors, gestures, habits, language, and sounds—which led her to a degree in psychology and a PhD, but nothing can compare to the sweet revelation of Doña Pilar’s coffee.
Throughout the book, our heroine takes us on a harrowing back-and-forth journey of her life. In one chapter, she is in her 30’s cutting in line for a bad cup of coffee; and in another, she is a pre-teen hiding in the back of the closet looking up bad words in the dictionary. Most of her memories, of course, revolved around Doña Pilar and her café, a place where she met and interacted with a variety of friends, family, neighbors, and local strangers, but then she would immediately bring us back to the present to her adult years. I must admit that the constant back-and-forth notion was a bit puzzling.  
However, in the midst of all the “time traveling,” I couldn’t help but find Nena to be a lovable and relatable character—focused and ambitious, yet clumsy and naïve. I absolutely concurred with her feeling about the telenovela culture being “a trait that…made us complete misfits and terribly boring conversational partners” (pg. 34)  
The biggest wonder concerned Alex, her childhood friend and biggest crush. What kept those two waiting? What happened when Nena let her guard down? Will they ever make it work?
Nena describes both the excitements and apprehensions of her relationship with Alex well. She put it well when she stated that “another characteristic flavor became muted whenever I was around him.” (pg. 98) It all went back to the mantra: “To love another, you must lose yourself.”
The author shows a great talent in her writing, one cultivated by quiet beauty and strength. She portrays a charismatic tone often found between two friends chatting over a hot cup of—yep, you guessed it—coffee, while her characters are depicted in raw, vibrant colors against the pale, orange dessert of Arizona. You can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Latino Book & Family Festival 2012 Recap

We had a blast at the Latino Book & Family Festival on October 13 on the campus grounds of Cal State Dominguez Hills. So many panels, so many authors, so many books!

Here is a quick recap.

Thanks to all those who participated in an effort to make this event memorable and enjoyable. We came back with a lot of books, and look forward to next year's festival.