Meet Xavier Garza, author of “Maximilian & the Bingo Rematch: A Lucha Libre Sequel”

Xavier GarzaXavier Garza has turned the Mexican folklore he grew up listening to from his childhood into award-winning children’s books. His newest book, Maximilian & the Bingo Rematch: A Lucha Libre Sequel (Max’s Lucha Libre Adventures), out Oct. 22, is the sequel to Maximilian and the Mystery of the Guardian Angel: A Bilingual Lucha Libre Thriller, which was named a 2012 Pura Belpre Honor Book. His other works include collections of spooky stories — Creepy Creatures and Other Cucuys, Kid Cyclone Fights the Devil and Other Stories and Juan and the Chupacabras/ Juan y el Chupacabras —and the Christmas-themed Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid.

Maximilian&theBingoRematchQ: Tell me about your newest book, Maximilian & the Bingo Rematch: A Lucha Libre Sequel (Max’s Lucha Libre Adventures). 

Maximilian & the Bingo Rematch is the sequel to my first book in the series — Maximilian & the Mystery of the Guardian Angel. The book revolves around Max who is starting middle school. From having multiple teachers, tons of homework, no recess and dealing with eighth graders, Max quickly learns that being a sixth grader isn’t easy. Plus he has his first date ever when he takes Cecilia to the Halloween dance. Plus he has a blast from the past when, much to his dismay, his past actions from the first book come back to haunt him. To top it off he gets caught in between his tías who argue and fight like luchadores, and are vying for the queen bingo trophy at their local church. His uncle, The Guardian Angel, returns too, and he and tio Lalo are wrestling for the world tag team titles.

Q: Your books make great use of Mexican folklore — Lucha Libre, La Llorona and Chupacabras. What inspired you to write these books?

I write for the most part about things I have experienced in my life. I grew up with cucuy stories as a kid, namely books like Stories that Must Not Die and such. I grew up with lucha libre too, El Santo and Mil Mascaras.

Q: What do you hope your young readers get out of your books? 

More than anything else, I hope readers see themselves in the characters in my books. I grew up in the Valley, and such the vast majority of my stories take place in places like McAllen, Edinburg and Rio Grande City. I do this because I want kids to have a sense of familiarity in the stories that they read. Whenever I visit schools I always tell kids that each and every single one of them can write a book — that we all have cuentos, that we need to write these stories down. When they ask me what I think they should write about I tell them write about what you know. Write about what its like to be you. Write about what its like growing up in places like Donna, Mercedes and La Joya.

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Happy National Day, Spain!

Spain, the grandmotherland of Latino literature, celebrates one of its most important holidays Oct. 12 — Fiesta Nacional de España, or National Day. The European country has given the world one of the literature’s finest works and five Nobel Prize winners.

MiguelDeCervantesMiguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), a former soldier, wrote the most famous work in Latino literature — Don Quixote. The 1605 book tells of a man who pursues his wildest fantasies. It gave birth to a word (“quixotic”) and idiom (“tilting at windmills”). It also inspired a ballet and the musical Man of La Mancha, which became a 1972 movie and produced the classic song, “The Impossible Dream.”

LorcaFederico García Lorca (1898-1936) is known for his timeless plays, such as Blood Wedding and Yerma, and poetry that reflected such issues as politics, sexuality, women’s independence and domestic violence that his country was facing. He was later executed during the National Civil War.

José_Echegaray_y_Eizaguirre• Five men have won the Nobel Prize in Literature, the most prestigious prize in the literary arts. They are playwrights José Echegaray, right, and Jacinto Benavente; poets Juan Ramón Jiménez and Vicente Aleixandre; and novelist Camilo José Cela. Twenty Spainards have won the Cervantes Prize, given to Spanish-language writers, ranging from poet Jorge Guillén (1893-1984) to its most winner, poet José Manuel Caballero Bonald.

timeinbetweencover• Contemporary Spanish writers include Maria Dueñas, author of The Time in Between; Juan Gómez-Jurado, author of The Traitor’s Emblem; Javiar Marias, author of The Infatuations; Carlos Ruíz Zafron, author of the popular Shadow of the Wind series; Javier Sierra, author of The Secret Supper and The Lady in Blue.

Sources: Biography.com, Wikipedia, Poets.org

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Classic book review: Manuel Puig’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman”

Manuel PuigBefore it was an Oscar-winning movie, before it was a Broadway musical, before it was a widely produced play, there was the novel Kiss of the Spider Woman (Vintage).

Manuel Puig’s 1976 book may be better known for its incarnations as a Tony Award-winning 1993 Broadway musical, with Chita Rivera and Vanessa Williams in the title role, and Oscar-winning 1985 movie starring Sonia Braga, Raul Julia and William Hurt.

The book takes place in the 1970s in an Argentine prison. Two seemingly opposite men — Molina, a gay window dresser, and Valentin, a political dissident — are stuck together. To pass the time, Molina tells the plots of movies, comforting Valentin while he suffers from physical illness and emotional heartache from leaving his girlfriend.

The book consists mostly of dialogue, and Puig excels at writing conservations that sound natural. But I had to endure Molina’s movie plots that drag on for pages and dryly written footnotes that discuss the history of psychiatry’s view of homosexuality. I confess I skipped through some of these passages.

But Puig conveys their loneliness well, such as in this passage:

“It’s as if we were on some desert island. An island on which we may have to remain alone together for years. Because, well, outside of this cell we may have our oppressors, yes, but not inside. Here no one oppresses the other. The only thing that seems to disturb me … because I’m exhausted, or conditioned or perverted … is that someone wants to be nice to me, without asking anything back for it.”

Then the book delivers a hell of a twist — one of the prisoners may be betraying the other.

Spider Woman is a novel that tackles big issues such as homosexuality and Argentine politics. Some of it was tough to get through, but it’s easy to see how it has endured through the years and in many forms.

puigMore about Manuel Puig: The Argentine author, who was born in 1932 and died in 1990, is best known for Spider Woman, but his other books includes 1968’s Betrayed by Rita Hayworth and 1973’s The Buenos Aires Affair.

Source: I checked this book out of the library.

 This book is part of my series on classic Latino novels. Up next: Jose Saramago’s Blindness.

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In the News: New releases from Zepeda, Garcia and Alarcón

October has arrived, and cooler temperatures mean a better excuse to curl up with a good book. Here’s what going on in the world of Latino literature:

FallinginLovewithPrisonersBook releases:

• Already out: Gwendolyn Zepeda’s newest book is a collection of poetry, Falling in Love with Fellow Prisoners, that details her life in the city. In the children’s book Parrots Over Puerto Rico, authors Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore connect the bird with the island’s history.

Kami Garcia/UnbreakableOct. 1: Kami Garcia’s Unbreakable, which is aimed at readers ages 12 and older, features a young girl who is haunted by paranormal activity.

Oct. 3: Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography finds Richard Rodriguez exploring the role of religion in the world.

Maximilian&theBingoRematchOct. 22: Xavier Garza’s newest children’s book is Maximilian & the Bingo Rematch: A Lucha Libre Sequel (Max’s Lucha Libre Adventures), in which a sixth-grader faces several challenges in life and love.

• Oct. 31: In Daniel Alarcón’s At Night We Walk in Circles, a young man touring with a political acting troupe finds himself caught up in his own personal drama.

Literary magazines:

The third edition of Huizache, the literary magazine produced by the University of Houston-Victoria’s Center for Mexican American Literature and Culture, comes out Oct. 15. The issue will include works by Cristina García, Juan Felipe Herrera, Domingo Martinez and Héctor Tobar. The $15 issue can be ordered online.

Book Festivals:

Oct. 5: Librofest in Houston features Sarah Cortez, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Manuel Ramos, René Saldaña Jr. and Gwendolyn Zepeda.

Oct. 26-27: The Texas Book Festival in Austin includes Monica Brown, Alfredo Corchado, Matt de la Peña, Cristina García, Kami Garcia, Xavier Garza, Manuel Gonzales, Duncan Tonatiuh and Mario Alberto Zambrano.

Writing contests:

The National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies—Tejas Foco is sponsoring two contests for writers who have published fiction in 2013 that relate to the Mexican American experience in Texas. Deadline is Dec. 3.

• The new Angela Johnson Scholarship from the Vermont College of Fine Arts will offer $5,000 to writers of color pursuing the school’s master’s degree in Writing for Children & Young Adults.

Alvaro MutisOther features:

Colombian writer Alvaro Mutis, left, the winner of the Cervantes Prize, passed away last month at age 90. Here’s his obituary from the Associated Press, via the Huffington Post; a remembrance from The Guardian; and an 2001 interview with Francisco Goldman from the Bombsite website.

MananaMeansHeaven• Poet and artist Jose Montoya, a former poet laureate for the city of Sacramento, passed away last month at age 81. The Modesto Bee had a obituary, while the Sacramento Bee featured a photo gallery and an editorial.

• The Los Angeles Times ran an obituary for Bea Franco, the woman who inspired “The Mexican Girl” character in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and the new Tim Z. Hernandez novel Mañana Means Heaven.

MayasNotebookIsabel Allende, whose most recent novel is Maya’s Notebook, talked to The Guardian about her family and her past.

• NBC Latino profiled Monica Brown, author of Marisol Mcdonald and the Clash Bash/Marisol Mcdonald Y La Fiesta Sin Igual.

ThisIsHowYouLoseHerJunot Díaz, whose latest book This is How You Lose Her comes out Oct. 31 in a paperback deluxe edition with illustrations by Jaime Hernandez, has been featured in the Associated Press, Esquire and Salon. He also spoke to NBC Cafecito about his work with Freedom University for undocumented students.

Alisa ValdesPoet and novelist Gary Soto wrote  in the Huffington Post about why he stopped writing children’s stories.

• Novelist Alisa Valdes, left, gave her views on contemporary Latino lit to NBC Latino.

Juan Pablo Villalobos, author of Down the Rabbit Hole, was featured in the latest Granta podcast.

Mario Alberto Zambrano discussed his book Lotería to the Village Voice.

DreaminginCuban• The Cristina García novel Dreaming in Cuban was banned by an Arizona school, according to the Colorlines website. Meg Medina faced problems at one school with her book, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.

• Here’s a cool way to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, which ends Oct. 15 — this literary flow chart from ebook publisher Open Road Media shows great Latino literature selections.

• Publishing Perspectives examined how ebooks were affecting libraries in the Spanish-speaking countries.

Also this month:

• Looking for books for Halloween? Check out these scary stories for children and these thrillers for adults.

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Classic book review: Oscar Hijuelos’ “The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love”

MamboKingsPlaySongsofLoveOn a Saturday night in East Harlem or the Bronx, N.Y., Cesar and Nestor Castillo would perform songs from their homeland of Cuba. Clubgoers would mingle as Cesar sang and played the drums and Nestor performed the trumpet, and life’s troubles would disappear as they danced into the night.

Then the sun would rise and reality would set in.

The lives of the Castillo brothers are depicted in The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (HarperPerennial) by Oscar Hijuelos. Released in 1989, the book won critical acclaim and Hijuelos become the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. And, perhaps more significantly in the realm of pop culture, it became a 1992 movie that made Antonio Banderas a star in the United States.

The brothers immigrated from Cuba to New York in the 1950s. Working by day, they play by night, getting gigs around the East Coast, releasing albums and landing a spot on I Love Lucy.

Hijuelos’ writing comes alive when he describes the brothers’ performances.

“He’d get up on the stage, dancing before the microphone while his musicians took the music forward. The glory of being on a stage with his brother Nestor, playing for crowds of café-society people who jumped, bounced, and wriggled across the dance floor. While Nestor soloed, Cesar’s heavy eyelids fluttered like butterfly wings lilting on a rose; for drum solos his hips hook, his arms whipped into the air: he’d take backwards dance steps, gripping his belt with one hand a crease of trouser with the other, hiking them up, as if to accentuate the valiant masculinity therein; outline of the big prick through white silk pantalones. Piano taking a ninth chord voicing behind a solo, he’d stare up into the pink and red spotlights, giving the audience a horse’s grin. Woman in a strapless dress dancing a slow, grinding rumba, staring at Cesar Castillo. Old woman with her hair coiffed upward into a heavenly spiral, starting at Cesar. Teenage girl, Miss Roosevelt High School Class of 1950, thin-legged and thinking about the mystery of boys and love, staring at Cesar Castillo. Old ladies’ skin heating up, hips moving like young girls’ hips, eyes, wide open with admiration and delight.”

Cesar is the definition of machismo. He almost seems defined by his “big thing” in the book’s frequent depictions of his sexual conquests. He devours sex as much as food and alcohol.

Nestor has a stable family life, but he’s more melancholy and introverted.

“Nestor tried, heaven helped him … After six years in the United States, he was still living with a growing dread of things. It wasn’t that he feared one thing in particular; he just had the sense that things weren’t going to work out, that the sky would fall in and lightning would strike him as he walked down the street, that the earth might open up and swallow him.”

Hijuelos is such a natural and beautiful writer that the book is easy to read, but sometimes it drags on too long. (We get it. Cesar likes to have sex.)

But as the book ends, Cesar realizes how his life has taken a toll on his body and his soul.

“The thing about one’s body coming apart was that, if anything, you felt more.”

And that’s the brilliance of Hijuelos’ writing — he can make you feel like you’re dying or dancing.

OscarHijuelosMore about Oscar Hijuelos: Hijuelos, whose parents immigrated from Cuba to New York, also wrote the books Our House in the Last World, Mr. Ives’ Christmas, Empress of the Splendid Season and Dark Dude. His most recent book is his 2011 memoir, Thoughts Without Cigarettes.

Source: I checked this book out of the library.

This book is part of my series on classic Latino novels. Up next: Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman.

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Happy Independence Day, Chile!

Chile declared its independence from Spain on Sept. 18, 1810. The South American country has a turbulent history — and one of the richest literary traditions in the world.

gabriela_mistral• The only Latina to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, Gabriela Mistral (1889-1956) is best known for her poems that touch on the subjects of children and motherhood, such as in the book Ternura (Tenderness). Mistral is the subject of her own children’s book, My Name Is Gabriela: The Life of Gabriela Mistral, written by Monica Brown.

Pablo_NerudaPablo Neruda‘s (1904-1973) love poems have made him one of the most beloved poets in the world, winning the Nobel Prize. He is featured as a character in Antonio Skarmeta’s Il Postino, which was made into a 1994 Academy Award-nominated movie, and is the subject of Roberto Ampuero’s excellent The Neruda Case, which shows him in the last days of his life as he reflects on his past loves and President Salvador Allende’s government is about to be overthrown.

A._Skármeta• Besides Il Postino, Antonio Skarmeta has written some other memorable works, including the children’s book The Composition, named one of Scholastic Parent & Child’s 100 Greatest Books for Kids, and the play El Plebiscito, a story about the advertising campaign against President Augusto Pinochet that became No, a 2012 Oscar-nominated film.

AllendeIsabel Allende has won worldwide acclaim for her books that depict life in Chile, including The House of the Spirits, Eva Luna, Daughter of Fortune and her most recent novel, Maya’s Notebook.

roberto-bolanoThe novels of Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) — such as 2666, winner of the National Book Critics Award — have become more popular after his death. He also won the Romulo Gallegos Prize for The Savage Detectives.

AlejandroZambra• Winners of the Cervantes Prize, given to Spanish language writers, include Jorge Edwards, Gonzalo Rojas and Nicanor Parra. Other contemporary Chilean writers include Alejandro Zambra, right, author of Ways of Going Home.

Sources: Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica

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Happy Independence Day, Mexico!

Mexico declared its independence from Spain on Sept. 16, 1810. The North American country is the largest Spanish-speaking nation and perhaps the most influential Latin American nation in the world. Its close proximity to the United States has given writers great fodder for literature. Here’s a look at its writers:

OctavioPazOctavio Paz (1914-1998), right, won the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Cervantes Prize for Spanish language writers for his collection of poems, including 1957’s Sun Stone, which revolves around the Aztec calendar and was adapted into a play, and 1950’s The Labyrinth of Solitude, which focuses on his homeland.

Juan Rulfo Juan Rulfo (1918-1986), left, had a tremendous influence on writers, including Colombian writer Gabriel Gárcia Márquez, despite releasing only two books, 1955’s El llano en llamas/The Burning Plain and 1955’s Pedro Páramo. Short story writer Juan José Arreola (1918-2001) is known for his humorous writings, which are collected in the book, Confabulario and Other Inventions.

carlos-fuentes• Novelist Carlos Fuentes (1928-2012), right, was part of the Latin American boom in literature of the 1960s. He is best known for 1962’s The Death of Artemio Cruz, about a dying man looking back on his life, and 1985’s The Old Gringo, the story of an American writer in the Mexican Revolution. He also won the Cervantes Prize.

• Other winners of the Cervantes Prize are Sergio Pitol, a diplomat who described his international experiences and his life in Mexico in his 1996 novel El arte de la fuga/The Art of Flight, and José Emilio Pacheco, a poet and short story writer. Winners of the Rómulo Gallegos Prize include Fernando del Paso for Palinuro de México; Ángeles Mastretta for Mal de amores and Elena Poniatowska for El tren pasa primero.

LikeWaterforChocolate• Contemporary Mexican writers include Laura Esquivel, author of the hugely popular Like Water for Chocolate, and Juan Pablo Villalobos, author of Down the Rabbit Hole. Mexican-American writers include (among many others) Rudolfo Anaya, Sandra Cisneros, Alex Espinoza, Reyna Grande, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Michele Serros, Luis Alberto Urrea and Victor Villasenor.

Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, Poets.org, Wikipedia

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