Saturday, May 28, 2005

Albuquerque Finds

Santiago Pérez
National Latino Writers Conference

Santiago Pérez
In a recent post I talked about a train trip to Albuquerque. While spending a few days in a town that my wife and I appreciate more each time we visit, we came across an artist I immediately liked: Santiago Pérez. I saw his work in an exhibit at the National Hispanic Cultural Center and I was duly impressed. Pérez works in different genres and styles. Here's a detail from one of his gothic fantasies or his "magical paintings" as he calls them.

The stories that the paintings portray are weird, wacky and wonderful, and apparently were written by the artist. If you are unfamiliar with the artist, as I was, you can see some of his work on his website here and also on this site. Two of my favorite pieces are Aztec Pilots Search for Quetzalcoatl and First Aztec on the Moon.

National Latino Writers Conference
Speaking of the National Hispanic Cultural Center - it was the site for the third National Latino Writers Conference, a conference I confess I didn't know anything about but that this year featured Rudolfo Anaya, Lucha Corpi and John Nichols, and many other poets, screenwriters, and fiction writers. Information on the NHCC site says that "nationally recognized authors, agents and editors will conduct workshops and participate in panel discussions on fiction, poetry, screenwriting, playwriting and memoir. All those who attend will have the opportunity to have three individual appointments with agents, authors and editors." The conference was held May 19 -21.

In New Mexico my wife picked up Chiva by Chellis Glendinning (New Society Publishers). This book is about the heroin epidemic in Chimayó, N.M., and the community's struggle to clean up. I haven't read the book so can't comment on it but the facts behind the book's topic are disturbing. The legend of the holy dirt at the Chimayó mission is well known here in Colorado and New Mexico and the area was famous for its healing and spiritual nature long before the church was built. Here's a bit of the town's history from the Chimayó website -

"Believed to be built on sacred earth with miraculous healing powers, the legendary shrine El Santuario de Chimayó is probably the most visited church in New Mexico. The crucifix which began the original shrine still resides on the chapel alter, but for some reason its curative powers have been overshadowed by El Posito, the 'sacred sand pit' from which it sprang. Each year during Holy Week thousands of people make a pilgrimage to Chimayó to visit the Santuario and take away a bit of the sacred dirt. Pilgrims walk a few yards or a hundred miles. Many claim to have been cured there of diseases, infirmities and unhappiness. The walls of the sacristy are hung with discarded crutches and before-and-after photographs as evidence of the healing."

More recently, Chimayó has had the highest per capita rate for deaths from overdoses in a state that leads the country in this category.

Glendinning is a Chimayó resident who has written four previous books including Off the Map: An Expedition Deep into Empire and the Global Economy, which won a National Federation of Press Women 2000 Book Award. Her 1977 Honda Civic won 3rd place in Chimayó's Santiago/Santa Ana Fiesta low-rider car show in 2001.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Olivas Joins La Bloga

Over on La Bloga, where the boys hang out, Daniel Olivas has signed up for a tour of duty and already has started posting, changing the color of the drapes and moving around the furniture. The blogeros welcomed him with open keyboards and I think La Bloga is on to something with the "community approach" to blogging. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, a little bit more of this, a little bit more of that. . .

La Bloga focuses on Chicano Lit, which is good, but really there is no limit to the topics, as long as they relate to la cultura (music, films, art, food, etc.) News, reviews, some short fiction, announcements, calls for submissions - it's all on La Bloga.

Now I've got to figure out what to do with this blog.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Deborah Santana - Space Between the Stars

From the Tattered Cover (Denver) website:

Time: Wednesday, June 1, 2005 7:30 PM
Location: Cherry Creek
Title of Event: Deborah Santana - Space Between the Stars: My Journey to an Open Heart
Deborah Santana, best known for her thirty-year marriage to music icon Carlos Santana, will discuss and sign her memoir Space Between the Stars: My Journey to an Open Heart ($24.95 One World). In this beautiful, haunting memoir, Santana shares for the first time her early experiences with racial intolerance, her romantic involvement with musician Sly Stone, her adventures in the freewheeling 1960s, and her spiritual awakening founded in the Civil Rights movement. This book is also available as an abridged audio CD ($29.95 RH Audio), which contains original music from Carlos Santana, and classic songs from Deborah’s father - the legendary blues guitarist Saunders King.
Request a signed copy:

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Gil's All Fright Diner - A. Lee Martinez

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.
"Something Evil (that's with a capital E) is stalking Gil's All Night Diner in Martinez's terrific debut, a comic horror-fantasy novel. Heading the delightfully eccentric cast are buddies Earl (aka the Earl of Vampires) and Duke (aka the Duke of Werewolves), who are looking for a place to eat as they drive through Rockwood, a small desert community besieged by cosmically weird stuff. Soon after stopping at Gil's Diner, the pair help Loretta, the formidable owner-operator, fend off a zombie attack. Determined to do the right thing, the two supernatural misfits take on further challenges, such as trying to prevent Tammy (aka Mistress Lilith, Queen of the Night) and her loyal but dumb boyfriend, Chad, from ending the world. The fast-paced plot is full of memorable incidents (e.g., a ghost and a vampire fall in love; a Magic 8-Ball becomes a message vehicle for trapped spirits) and such wonderful observations as 'this whole undead stuff sounds good on paper, but it ain't all it's cracked up to be.' Fans of Douglas Adams and Joe R. Lansdale, who supplies a blurb, will happily sink their teeth into this combo platter of raunchy laughs and ectoplasmic ecstasy. (May 11) "
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Latino Crime Spree

Hate-mongers and racists have come out in force recently here in Denver. Their vitriol is directed at undocumented immigrants, the Spanish language and Latinos in general. There are days I get depressed as hell. It's reached a point so low that a big problem for some folks is that a high school yearbook has some Spanish (and English) - in a school that is 87% Hispanic.

I was going to write an essay entitled "What's Really Changed?" but decided that was a step backward.

I'd rather note that Crime Spree Magazine #6 is about ready to hit the streets and, under the guidance of Jon Jordan, the magazine pays tribute to Latino Books Month (May) by having an article on Latino detectives written by Steven Torres in Spanish (the English version is on the web). Jon Jordan is a very cool fella - knows crime literature in depth, has an unabashed love for books and respect for writers, and supports writers and their works in tangible ways - Crime Spree being one of the most prominent. Muchisimas gracias, Jon.

Steven's article, El Detective Latino - Vida en el borde, The Latino Detective - Life on the Border, had its genesis in a panel that took place at Left Coast Crime in El Paso earlier this year, and he does a very good job of connecting the dots among the books of Michele Martinez, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, his own novels, and a couple of mine. I think it is a great follow-up to an essay I wrote a few years ago (The Postman and the Mex: From Hard-Boiled to Huevos Rancheros in Detective Fiction) and that you can still find on my website.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Nightmare Alley

How about this for a summer read? Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham was published in 1946. It was controversial, shocking, and unforgettable. The dark tale of carnival life in the United States was boosted to even more notoriety when the movie appeared in 1947 starring, in a role strictly against type, Tyrone Power, fresh off his huge success in The Razor's Edge. The novel became a cult classic and when The Library of America collected books for its Crime Novels series, Nightmare Alley appeared in the volume American Noir of the 1930s and 1940s, right along such quintessential American Literature as The Postman Always Rings Twice (James M. Cain), They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (Horace McCoy), and I Married a Dead Man (Cornell Woolrich).

The book tells the story of Stan Carlisle, a man who rises to the pinnacle of con man success as the Great Stanton, magician and mentalist, and then falls to the depths of depravity, degradation and "geekdom." What more could you ask for in the good ole summertime? Those traveling carny shows come around every summer and this is a great way to celebrate the side show life.

The version of the book for the summer is the 2003 graphic novel adaptation by Manuel "Spain" Rodriguez. The renowned underground comics artist is probably best-known for his Trashman comics, but his adapatation of Gresham's novel is right on the mark. Gresham's sordid and doomed portrayal of the "American dream" finds a fitting home in Rodriguez's detailed and crisp artwork, almost too much for the reader to soak in all at once. I found out on this website that Rodriguez was born in 1940 in Mexico, grew up in Buffalo, NY, and in the 1960s hung out with R. Crumb and other underground comic artists in San Francisco. According to the Introduction to the graphic novel, Rodriguez spent seven years working on the adaptation, on and off. The book was published by Fantagraphics Books, which also publishes Los Bros Hernandez.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Summer Reading

I've been asked by a local newspaper for a recommendation for summer reading. I have a couple of ideas but would be interested in others. What book would you suggest to someone who says, "I need a good book for the summer"? Read into that phrase whatever conditions you want. Thanks for any suggestions.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Cocaine Chronicles

This may be news to some of you - I have a story in the recently published anthology The Cocaine Chronicles, edited by Jervey Tervalon and Gary Phillips. This collection kicks and, as you might guess, the topic lends itself to stories that just won't let go of the reader. Phillips and Tervalon have brought together some excellent writers and I don't hesitate to recommend it, even if you pass on my story. The piece by Detrice Jones, Just Surviving Another Day, will blow you away (no pun intended), more so because this is the author's first published story, it was written while Ms. Jones was a student in Tervalon's class at UCLA, and it's based on her own life experiences.

The publisher is Akashic Books, an adventurous outfit doing some unique publishing projects under the guidance of Johnny Temple. For example, Akashic published Adios Muchachos by Daniel Chavarría, which won an Edgar Award. Here's some of the publishing blurb for Adios Muchachos:

"The first suspense novel in English-translation by internationally acclaimed Uruguayan mystery writer Daniel Chavarría, Adios Muchachos is a dark, erotic, brutally funny romp through the sexual underworld and black-market boardrooms of post-Cold War Cuba."

You can find several good reviews of the Cocaine Chronicles on the web and I suggest you also listen to the NPR interview of Tervalon and Phillips, which is archived at this link. And visit Gary Phillips' website.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Southwest Chief

Last week I rode the Southwest Chief, the Amtrak line that connects Chicago and Los Angeles, although I only rode from Lamar, CO to Albuquerque, NM, and back. Here's a photo of the Chief climbing Raton Pass (courtesy of the Crewten web page):

On the way south, the train announcer gave us details about the Santa Fe Trail, the Dick Wooten Ranch, Glorieta Pass, and so on. He directed our attention to a gravemarker near the Wooten Ranch - the Cruz Torres gravesite. His story was that the tombstone simply said, "He stole the payroll." I don't think that's right - here's a link to a picture of the tombstone. This epitaph says, "Murdered" and something about the 1st N.M. Cav.

On the return trip, a couple from Farmington, NM who were riding the train from Albuquerque to somewhere in North Carolina told the story of how Raton Pass got its name. According to them, travelers along the old Santa Fe trail were overwhelmed? disgusted? amazed? by the numerous marmots along the trail. Somehow, the marmot population transposed into generic rodents (in the minds of the pioneers), and eventually the area was known as Raton Pass.

On the way back our fellow passengers included an Amish family, a group of tough-looking young men with buzzed hair and tattoos who seemed bored more than anything else, and a large group of African-American youth and older women, going up north to Chicago.

The trip in both directions was a quiet, peaceful journey that included gray overcast, a snowstorm, rain, clear sunny skies and the beginning blooms of mountain wild flowers and cactus blossoms. In terms of wildlife, I didn't see all that much from the train except for a small herd of antelope north of Santa Fe and in Southeast Colorado a group of buffalo. My only complaint was that I couldn't read in the swaying train - can't read in cars or busses either.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Olivas on Aldama on Islas

The Elegant Variation has posted Daniel Olivas's review of Dancing With Ghosts by Frederic Luis Aldama. The review's conclusion certainly speaks highly of the book and the job done by Aldama: "Islas was plagued with self-hate and was often moody, manipulative, narcissistic and unpredictable. Yet he could be brilliant, gentle, soft-spoken and, above all, generous. Aldama succeeds in synthesizing the disparate elements of Arturo Islas to produce what doubtless will become a seminal biographical study."

Friday, May 06, 2005

Lorna Dee on Luis Cervantes

Lorna Dee Cervantes pays tribute to her father Luis Cervantes over on her blog. You should read it - she does a much better job than I ever could. Here's the beginning of one of her blog posts on the admired and beloved artist who passed away April 27:

"Luis Cervantes: 'All I Know Is That I'm an Artist & I'm an Indian'
Lorna dice: Don't believe everything you read in the newspapers. He would not want to be remembered as a muralist, although he painted murals, and though he was the other eye in the co-founding of Precita Eyes Muralists, he considered Susan to be the Master Muralist. He was a fine arts artist, and probably one of the first postmodern artists, having come to it under siege in Antwerp, and in the sense that his art by it's very nature resists classifications, hierarchies & hegemonies. He would have spoken up, right away, interrupted the speaker had she or he called him a 'Chicano' artist. 'Call it what it is,' as he put it the last time I spoke with him, 'I'm Mexican and I'm an American (a certified WWII war hero) so I guess that makes me a "Mexican American", and that other guy over there, well, you'll just have to ask him where he comes from and where he's at.' (hearty laughter)."

Lorna Dee has posted several different pieces about the artist. It's quite a tribute. And, you can read more about Cervantes in the San Francisco Chronicle obituary.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Luis J.Rodriguez in Denver

The Tattered Cover Book Store gushes about the upcoming appearance of Luis J. Rodriguez at its Cherry Creek store. Here's the blurb from the Tattered's website:

"Luis J. Rodriguez, the author of several critically acclaimed books, including Always Running, The Republic of East L.A., and Hearts and Hands, will read from and sign his new novel Music of the Mill (Rayo). In this stunning literary achievement - with a power and scope in the tradition of John Steinbeck and Theodore Dreiser - Rodriguez has captured the soul of a community and a little-known era in America's history in an epic novel about love, family, workers' rights, industrial strife, and cultural dislocation."

May 9, 2005 7:30 PM

Sounds like an event that should not be missed.