Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Q&A with Robert Joe Stout

Robert Joe Stout's books include Hidden Dangers, an examination of Mexico-U.S. relations and the conflicts they've generated including drug commerce and immigration. Two volumes of poetry have appeared recently, Monkey Screams from FutureCycle Press which includes poems from Vietnam, Mid-America and Mexico, and A Perfect Throw. A new novel, Where Gringos Don't Belong, narrates the challenges faced by a young American and his novia in strife-torn southern Mexico. Previous novel are Running Out the Hurt (available on Kindle) and Miss Sally. Nonfiction books still in print: Why Immigrants Come to America and The Blood of the Serpent: Mexican Lives.
An acknowledged baseball aficionado and the father of five children, he currently lives in Oaxaca, Mexico. His essays, commentaries, short fiction and poetry regularly appear in literary and commercial magazines and journals.




Where Gringos Don't Belong: Early in the evening of November 25, 2006, George Bynum, the protagonist of Where Gringos Don't Belong, leaves his Mexican novia Patricia among anti-government protest marchers in the city of Oaxaca, Mexico and returns to his apartment to finish a report for his employers, the Rural Development through Education Center. Before he can finish, his cell phone rings. "They're attacking! Killing..! They won't...stop!" Patricia's voice rings in his ears. He rushes out, hoping to find her, but blinded by teargas from a federal police assault trips and has to be helped to safety. He and several others, including a young woman named Claudi Auscher, make their way back to George's apartment. Claudi, who defines herself as "a Mexican Jew gypsy bitch rebel" joins George in his efforts to reestablish contact with Patricia, who has been flown to a maximum security prison along with other innocent victims of the militarized purge. George and Claudi are fictional characters but the events in which they've become embroiled are based on the actual political and social upheavals that reverberated through Oaxaca from November 2006 through April 2007.




1.   What inspired you to write Where Gringos Don't Belong?

I came to Oaxaca as a freelance journalist during the violent repression of a teachers’ union-led protest and witnessed tear gas attacks, military interventions and indiscriminate arrests and wanted to do something more than journalist reports and essays.

 

2.   Can you please describe the relationship between Claudia and Jorge?

They were thrown together by a police assault and become involved in seeking the release of and aiding those arrested, an involvement complicated by Jorge’s novia being among those imprisoned. Jorge’s loyalty and feelings of guilt collide with the attraction he feels for Claudia and she for him, creating frustration, tension while simultaneously deepening the feelings for each other.

 

3.   What are some of the main issues that you explore in this book and why did you explore them?

Conflicts like the repression of protests or war deeply affect everyone, not just participants, altering lives, allegiances, values. I experienced this in Oaxaca and wanted to put a human face on it, deal with it from the point of view of persons thrust inadvertently into a maelstrom of events that they had no way to anticipate.

 

4.   What was the development process like when writing this book?

Creating characters means living with those characters, becoming them in a sense, letting them grow, letting them deal with their circumstances logically and emotionally. I began knowing what I wanted to achieve but the personalities developed as the first events described led to others that I hadn’t planned ahead of time.

 

5.   What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

An awareness of how violent confrontations change the lives and values of those who become involved willingly or unwillingly and how emotions—love, anger, frustration—respond to the challenges and changes.

 

6.   What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?

Writing—creating—is both a search and a process of discovery, a process that provides a great of satisfaction. As with many professions one gets caught up in frustrating details—editors, finances, deadlines, misunderstandings—that one has to deal with but the writing process itself is wonderful. 

 

7.   Who are some of your favorite authors?

D. H. Lawrence, Wallace Stegner, Richard Wright, Dostoevskii, Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir.

 

8.   If your book would be turned into a movie, who would you imagine playing the part of the main character? (Actor can be ANYONE, living or dead.)

An American equivalent of Tom Courtenay? Or young Johnny Depp.

 

9.   Are you working on anything right now?

By profession I’m a journalist as well as a novelist and poet and I always have a variety of things I’m working on. I publish a lot of political and social commentary and have a new book of poems, Monkey Screams, that’s just been released.

 

10.And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?
Greater distribution in translation, particularly of contemporary writers whose political and cultural perceptions are creating excellent novels, nonfiction narratives and cinema and who have limited followings even in their home countries.

 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Review: WHO’S JU? by Dania Ramos

Justina ‘Ju’ Feliciano and her fellow seventh-grade sleuths are on the case! A sneaky vandal has damaged scenery from the middle school drama club production and the newbie detectives must catch the culprit before opening night.

But Ju faces a completely different kind of mystery when a genetics assignment forces her to investigate the cold hard fact that her frizzy blonde hair and amber eyes don’t match the shades of brown that run in her family. This is one case she wishes she didn’t have to solve. Only there’s no escaping the Blueprint of Life Project, so Ju searches the attic for family documents she needs to complete her schoolwork. Instead, she discovers strange clues that make her wonder if her parents are keeping a huge secret.

Ju’s amateur sleuthing and a confrontation with her parents finally lead to the cold hard facts about her past. And even though her life changes forever, she’s still the same mystery-loving girl she’s always been.



Reviewed by: Celia
Rating: 3.5 stars


Review: Justina (or “Ju”), a precocious 7th grader with a crafty mind. With her two friends, she joins a club for young sleuths that meet once a week and solves mysteries throughout the school. The mystery: Who vandalized the school? Clues are splayed throughout the book as Ju tries to put the pieces together while, at the same time, contending with school work and family obligations. Of course, the greatest mystery of all concerns her own DNA. Who is Ju, indeed?

Characters and language are amusing and simply rendered specifically for targeted audience. Certain areas lagged a bit with superfluous, childish banter, which would be relatable for today’s youth; however, I felt that some of it didn’t really push the story forward. I enjoyed the inquisitive collaboration of the little detectives. It almost reminded me of those cryptic mysteries on Where on Earth is Carmen San Diego? In fact, Ju is a regular “Harriet, the Spy.” She’s reserved but also daring. Kids would surely like her.

Overall, I thought the book was well-written and easy to relate.  

Smart and fun, this book would be a good read for any pre-teen youngster.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Q&A with Dania Ramos



Dania Ramos is an award-winning playwright whose plays have received productions and readings at professional theaters in New Jersey and New York City. As a teaching artist, she's helped children of all backgrounds share their stories through creative writing and theatre. She lives in northeastern New Jersey with her husband.


WHO'S JU: Justina ‘Ju’ Feliciano and her fellow seventh-grade sleuths are on the case! A sneaky vandal has damaged scenery from the middle school drama club production and the newbie detectives must catch the culprit before opening night.

But Ju faces a completely different kind of mystery when a genetics assignment forces her to investigate the cold hard fact that her frizzy blonde hair and amber eyes don’t match the shades of brown that run in her family. This is one case she wishes she didn’t have to solve. Only there’s no escaping the Blueprint of Life Project, so Ju searches the attic for family documents she needs to complete her schoolwork. Instead, she discovers strange clues that make her wonder if her parents are keeping a huge secret.

Ju’s amateur sleuthing and a confrontation with her parents finally lead to the cold hard facts about her past. And even though her life changes forever, she’s still the same mystery-loving girl she’s always been.







1.      What inspired you to write Who’s Ju?

When I started writing Who’s Ju I was working as a teaching artist, leading residencies in creative writing and theatre for middle school students. I was spending a good deal of time around pre-teens and they were the inspiration for some of the characters and events in the story. Those middle school years are truly a time of finding where you fit in and I think the novel reflects that journey of self-discovery. I also had a ton of fun writing the backstage drama case, which came from my love of whodunit mysteries.

2.      What was the development process like?

The first few drafts of Who’s Ju were completed during graduate school under the guidance of two excellent mentors. I’ve also had some great critique partners over the course of several rewrites (spanning eight years!) Outside feedback was crucial throughout the revision process. A few times I let the manuscript sit for several months so I could work on other projects. I’m a big fan of taking time away from a piece of writing. It’s easier to spot changes that need to be made once you come back with fresh eyes.

 

3.      Did you relate to the main character, Ju, in any way? If so, what?

Ju has movie nights with Papi and, like her, I also used to watch classic films with my father. My favorites were the Sherlock Holmes mysteries starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. I also remember being terrified to fall asleep after seeing the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. To this day, I have a fondness for so many of those old movies my father introduced me to.

Another thing I share with Ju is that we were both born and raised in northeastern New Jersey. Her fictional hometown, Dolton, is based on a combination of a few different communities in my area.

And I can relate to Ju wanting to become a sleuth! Although it never went past a daydream for me, I think Ju could be a detective one day.

 

4.      What are some of the main issues that you explore in this book and why did you explore them?

Identity and trust are both explored throughout the novel. Ju starts off thinking she knows her place within her family and at school. But she’s soon forced to question who she is and what defines her. At home, Ju faces a lingering doubt when she suspects that her parents might be keeping a secret from her. She also comes to recognize the importance of loyalty when her friendship with Ig is in jeopardy.

Identity, trust, family, doubt, loyalty—these are universal and lifelong issues that children must navigate to figure out how they want to exist in the world. I felt it was important to tackle them in an honest, real way that kids could relate to.

 

5.      What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

I hope my readers recognize how social labels can be tricky—sometimes they are useful or a source of pride, other times, they’re limiting. I also hope readers understand that there are things that defy categorization—they simply are what they are—often those are the truest and most important aspects in life.

 

6.      What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?

I love being able to share the wild stories in my head…and there are a lot of them! I’m not a fan of writing the dreaded synopsis.

 

7.      Who are some of your favorite authors?

Julia Alvarez, John Irving, Junot Diaz, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Judy Blume…and few playwrights: Jose Rivera, August Wilson, Henrik Ibsen.

 

8.      If your book would be turned into a movie, who would you imagine playing the part of the main character? (Actor can be ANYONE, living or dead.)

Fatima Ptacek would make an excellent Ju. She was featured in the indie film, Tio Papi and is the current voice of Dora in Dora the Explorer and Dora and Friends: Into the City!

 

9.      Are you working on anything right now?

I’m currently working on book two of the Seventh-Grade Sleuths series. It’s told from Ig’s point of view and incorporates his love of astronomy. I’m also revising a young adult fantasy novel and a horror short story, both set in Puerto Rico.

 

10.  And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?

My hope is that we’ll see more narratives that reflect our various cultures and backgrounds—indigenous folklore, the immigrant experience, tales rooted in Africa and Europe, stories of people born and raised in the states—they all deserve to be heard and passed on to future generations. I also hope the day comes when our voices are considered part of mainstream society and not separated out on bookstore shelves. Latinos are woven into the fabric of American life and it’s time for literature and other forms of storytelling to reflect this.

Up next: A review of Who's Ju?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Q&A with Lily Iona MacKenzie

Born in Edmonton. Raised in Calgary. Currently living in the SF Bay Area. A high school dropout and a mother at 17, in my early years, I supported myself as a stock girl in the Hudson’s Bay Company, as a long distance operator for the former Alberta Government Telephones, and as a secretary (Bechtel Corp sponsored me into the States). I also was a cocktail waitress at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco; briefly broke into the male-dominated world of the docks as a longshoreman (and almost got my legs broken); founded and managed a homeless shelter in Marin County; co-created THE STORY SHOPPE, a weekly radio program for children that aired on KTIM in Marin County; and eventually earned two Master’s degrees (one in Creative writing and one in the Humanities). I’ve published reviews, interviews, short fiction, poetry, travel pieces, essays, and memoir in over 150 American and Canadian venues. Fling!, one of my novels, was published in July 2015 by Pen-L Publishing. Bone Songs, another novel, will be published in 2016. My poetry collection All This was published in 2011. You can learn more about me at my blog: lilyionamackenzie.wordpress.com.


FLING: When ninety-year-old Bubbles receives a letter from Mexico City asking her to pick up her mother’s ashes, lost there seventy years earlier and only now surfacing, she hatches a plan. A woman with a mission, Bubbles convinces her hippie daughter Feather to accompany her on the quest. Both women have recently shed husbands and have a secondary agenda: they’d like a little action. And they get it.

Alternating narratives weave together Feather and Bubbles’ odyssey. The two women travel south from Canada to Mexico where Bubbles’ long-dead mother, grandmother, and grandfather turn up, enlivening the narrative with their hilarious antics.

In Mexico, where reality and magic co-exist, Feather gets a new sense of her mother, and Bubbles’ quest for her mother’s ashes—and a new man—increases her zest for life. Unlike most women her age, fun-loving Bubbles takes risks, believing she’s immortal. She doesn’t hold back in any way, eating heartily and lusting after strangers, exulting in her youthful spirit.

Readers will believe they’ve found the fountain of youth themselves in this character. At ninety, Bubbles comes into her own, coming to age, proving it’s never too late to fulfill one’s dreams.






1.     What inspired you to write Fling?

I think it began because I was curious about my mother’s mother, someone I had never met. My grandfather, a former Scottish schoolmaster, had immigrated to Calgary, Canada, hoping to find a better life there for himself and his family. Meanwhile, WWI broke out, and his wife and four kids couldn’t join him for seven years. When they did, my grandmother couldn’t adjust to the brutal winters or to her abusive husband. After being there a year, she moved out, refusing to put up with my grandpa’s meanness, and became a housekeeper for a wealthy family. The story is that her boss took her to Mexico with him. She never returned. I wanted to try and recreate what life might have been like for her once she left Canada, and that then brought in a number of other characters that inhabit the novel.

 

2.     Can you please describe the relationship between Bubbles and Feather?

As with many mothers and daughters, it’s a complex one. Abandonment is a theme that runs through all of the female characters’ lives in Fling! That sets up a dynamic of mistrust and recriminations. These things surface in the novel as each woman comes to a new understanding of her relationship with her mother.

 

 

3.     What was the hardest part about writing this book?

Finding the right voice. When I first started working on the novel, I wanted to write a lyrical narrative, but the characters refused to be portrayed in that way. They were feisty, zany, comical. So I had to adapt my approach to their stories by letting them show me the way. The results are what Lewis Buzbee, professor of creative writing in USF’s MFA program, calls the madcap journey of an aging mother and her adult daughter from cold Protestant Canada into the hallucinogenic heart of Mexico's magic, where the past literally comes to life.  Every page is a surprise…”

 

4.     What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

Deeper insight into the complexities of family dynamics. Every family is different, of course, but each one has secrets and buried stories. Bringing those things to the surface can be healing, just as they are in a good individual therapy or psychoanalysis. As Lionel Trilling has said, novels read us as much as we read them. So I would hope that readers of Fling! might come to some new understanding of themselves. Also, some characters in the book are searching for the fountain of youth, and my belief is that it exists in the imagination. Without a fertile one, we are already dead.

 

 

5.     What inspired you to be a writer?

I don’t think I was inspired to be a writer because that suggests a level of choice.  I am a writer.  Writing chose me. It’s as necessary to me as eating. If I don’t write, I’m cranky and irritable. Ask my husband!

 

 

6.     What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?

I love entering new worlds and exploring new characters and making unexpected discoveries as a narrative unfolds. I never know where a work is going. It’s totally spontaneous. That’s the fun and adventure of writing. But it’s also one of the more difficult parts because I have to trust each time that material will surface, and I will eventually have a story to tell. The other thing I love about writing is revision. To me, that’s where the real writing happens. I already have something tangible to work with, so the fear of not finding my way is lessened.

 

 

7.     Who are some of your favorite authors?

I have so many that I’ll never be able to cover them all here! I love the Norwegian novelist Per Petterson and have read all of his books. I’ve also read most of Gabriel Marquez’s work. One Hundred Years of Solitude found me at a time when I needed a model for the magical realism approach that seems natural to me and inhabits much of my work. I love that book and return to it often for inspiration.
In another mode, Roberto Bolano, a Chilean writer, has also inspired me. He diverges from the more familiar magical realist vein and creates his own genre. I’ve read most of his books now, and they construct a world that seems like a parallel universe to ours. He also steps beyond the usual fiction boundaries, violating our expectations of how a novel should unfold or end. I’m always entranced by his work.
And I haven’t mentioned W.G. Sebald yet, another writer who died far too young. He’s also invented a new genre, a hybrid novel form. Again, I’ve read all of his work, and I’m stunned by it.
I’m sorry that all of these authors are men when there are so many female writers I love as well. How can I not mention my countrywoman Alice Munro? Or Irish writer Anne Enright. I’ll read anything she writes because of her sharp wit and illuminations of contemporary life.

 

8.     If your book would be turned into a movie, who would you imagine playing the part of the main character? (Actor can be ANYONE, living or dead.)

No actors come readily to mind, I’m afraid. Bubbles and Feather and all the rest are so distinctive to me that it’s difficult to imagine someone being able to inhabit their characters.

 

9.     Are you working on anything right now?

It’s hard to describe a latest project since I’m usually working on more than one thing simultaneously. I’m revising my novel Bone Songs that will be published in 2016. I’m also working on a novel whose focus is Tillie, a younger version of the main character in another novel of mine, Freefall: a Divine Comedy. Its title is Tillie: A Portrait of a Canadian Girl in Training. There’s a novella I’m about two thirds of the way through, The Sinner’s Club.  And I have several short stories in process.

 

10. And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?

Since my fiction has been so influenced by the Latino sensibility (I haven’t mentioned here all of the Latino writers that have helped shaped my work), I can only hope that it will continue to flourish. It has such distinctive voices. I’ve already mentioned Roberto Bolano, but there are many more I could name if there were the space. I think each Latino writer I’ve read is unique in his/her approach to narrative and offers a rich vein for readers to explore.

 

 

 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Q&A with Isandra Collazo Rivera



Raised in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, Isandra Collazo Rivera is a self-proclaimed citizen of the world. She's an enthusiast of international cuisine and foreign music, devoted to learn from other people's cultures, and sharing their life stories with the purpose of breaking down the walls of fear and prejudice.

She'd majored in Foreign Languages and Tourism with the goal of becoming a tour guide one day, but all of her plans changed when she felt a calling to serve the community within her Caribbean Island, as well as beyond its beautiful, white sand beaches. Committed to help bring change into the world, Isandra is now a Christian missionary, human rights defender, orator, and philanthropist.

With her debut novel; Across the Border: Interview with a Refugee, she hopes to raise awareness on many social issues happening today, and that way inspire others to raise a voice for those in need.





1. What inspired you to write Across the Border: Interview with a Refugee?



While living in the Netherlands, I met several individuals of different countries who spontaneously shared part of their life stories with me, particularly their testimonies of how they abandoned their countries of origin due to wars, persecution and lack of opportunities, and of the challenges they encountered abroad. However, it was when I listened to the story of an Iraqi refugee, when I knew that I had to write a book about what I saw and experienced with each one of them.





2. Did you relate to the main character, Isabel, in any way? If so, what?

 
I definitely relate to Isabel in many aspects, seeing that most of her experiences in the Netherlands were actually my own. But in terms of personality, we are a little different.




3. What was the hardest part about writing this book?

 
I would say that the hardest part was to remain neutral when describing the persecution of Christians in the Middle East from Samir’s perspective. It is not always easy to remain “politically-correct” when you write or speak about these type of subjects, or when you feel somewhat obligated to criticize a particular religion or culture.




4. What are some of the main issues that you explore in this book and why did you explore them?

 
The book explores several issues and situations that occur to diverse immigrants while living within a modern society. However, the main issues discussed in this novel are the persecution of Christians in the Middle East (particularly towards the Assyrian nation), and the dangers that refugees encounter when fleeing their war-torn countries. I explore them because they are happening in this day and age, in a rather relentless and brutal manner.





5. What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

 
Apart from being captivated by Isabel and Samir’s escalating intercultural romance, I hope readers will become aware of the hardships and tribulations refugees face when trying to reach a safe haven. I also hope they learn the importance of uniting in solidarity with those who suffer discrimination and persecution, to learn of the different social causes, and realize that integrating with people of other cultures and beliefs can be both culturally and spiritually enriching.




6. What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?

 
The creative process is invigorating and exciting, especially when you write down those lines which give you chills no matter how many times you read them. That would be my favorite part. On the other hand, my least favorite part is the fact that the creative process itself can be very lonely. In order to write, I’ve had to isolate myself more than I ever imagined.




7. Who are some of your favorite authors?

 
I enjoy Paulo Coelho’s novels for the quick way they transport me to other places. I have experienced that also with Dan Brown’s work, as well as Isabel Allende’s novels. I can’t be too specific when it comes to choosing an author, but I will grab anything that I find intriguing and compelling. At the moment I’m reading some of Brian Weiss’ work, never imagining that I would be into the “past life regression” subject. It is quite amazing. And next in line is a memoir by Camilo Mej√≠a as his testimony as a sergeant in Iraq; another obsession of mine.




8. If your book would be turned into a movie, who would you imagine playing the part of the main character? (Actor can be ANYONE, living or dead.)

 
Isabel’s look was inspired on actress Angelica Celaya. When I first saw her playing “Zed” in the Constantine series, I knew she was the one. So if there’s a movie, I will move heaven and earth to get her to play Isabel. As for Samir, that’s tricky. No one can be Samir except for Samir himself, the real-life one, because there are two essential attributes he possesses that are difficult to match; his deep, heavily-accented voice and his gaze. However, I’ve thought about a few actors that could portray the mysterious Iraqi quite well; Manu Bennett (For his epic role in Spartacus), Tamer Hosny, and Turkish actors Engin Akyurek or Burak Ozcivit.




9. Are you working on anything right now?

 
Definitely. I’m working on the sequel of my novel, as well as on the Spanish edition. I am really looking forward to completing the series, but also to seeing this first book translated into many languages.




10. And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?

 
I feel that Latino literature focuses a lot on identity, social criticism and nationalism. When it comes to our community there’s always a tendency to write mainly about these particular subjects. Surely that’s a good thing, for it shows that we strive to highlight our history and our social battles. No matter what the genre may be; fiction, non-fiction, poetry or any other, controversy is somehow present in Latino books. And it should be, because as writers we want to make an impact on our readers. So I truly feel that Latino literature has been inspiring throughout the years, and lately it’s been heading towards new horizons, for example; LGBT literature. This may not be my cup of tea, but it’s “the new thing” nonetheless, and there’s a huge market for it.