Category Archives: Author Q&A

Meet storyteller Joe Hayes, the man behind “La Llorona”

Halloween is approaching, and that means many storytellers will be weaving the famous Hispanic scary story of La Llorona, the weeping woman who drowned her children and looks for them along rivers and canals. The folktale, especially popular in Texas, has many versions. Storyteller Joe Hayes turned that story into a book, La Llorona/The Weeping Woman, in 1987, and it has gone on to sell more than 300,000 books for Cinco Puntos Press. Hayes grew up in Arizona, where he learned Spanish from his Mexican-American friends. Hayes has written more than three dozen children’s books that are written in English and Spanish.

Q: Why are people so intrigued by the tale of La Llorona?

There are really three aspects to the character of La Llorona. First, she’s a threatening character you have to look out for, especially if you’re a kid. This by far the best-known aspect. Many people know of her in this role, without knowing the tale behind it, or knowing only the detail that she drowned her children. And then there’s the legendary tale of her. It’s a legend because it’s widely accepted as factual. Finally, there are the many stories of personal experiences involving La Llorona. In my version in The Day It Snowed Tortillas (a collection of his short stories), I include all three aspects of her. And I think these three facets of La Llorona combine to make her so intriguing. Children are fascinated by a vague threat, and even more so if there’s a safety valve, a way to avoid the threat: Stay inside at night. The theme of a mother who kills her own children is widespread in folklore. It’s such a violation of the natural order, that people can’t quite get it out of their minds. And a character who is perpetually mourning and seeking forgiveness also has a strong hold on the imagination. Finally, so many people swear they’ve seen or heard La Llorona, that children can never quite declare that they don’t believe the story. There’s always that sense of “I don’t really think it’s true, but…but…”

Q: The story has many different versions. How did you adjust it to your book version?

I just started telling the story several decades ago, combining things I had heard as a kid with my own imagination. Over the years, the listeners helped me refine the story by the way they reacted to it. The printed version is somewhere between the way I started out telling and how I now tell it. I always tried not to glorify the violence that’s inherent in the tale, but refused to abandoned the essential fact that she drowned her children. I can’t stand some of the contemporary versions that turn La Llorona into a helpful character, or say that she didn’t actually drown the children. They rob the story of it’s mythic quality. The story, at least my story, of La Llorona is highly moralistic. It’s a teaching story.

Q: As an Anglo man, what has appealed to you about communicating through different cultures?

I have always believed that stories belong to those who honor and care for them. Years ago when I first started tellling stories, I knew that the story of La Llorona needed to be perpetuated. No other storytellers were telling it. So, without reasoning why, I just started telling the story. That’s changed now, of course. Many people tell it. I now realize that I’ve been able to make a greater contribution, both to Hispanic and non-Hispanic children, by not being Hispanic than I could ever have made were I Hispanic. It’s opened minds to the fact that words are for everyone, ideas are for everyone. The human family is one big round circle, not a lot of separate straight lines.

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Filed under Author Q&A, Children's Books, Classic Books

Meet novelist Lyn Di Iorio

Some people fear Afro-Caribbean religions. But Lyn Di Iorio is intrigued by them – so much so that her first book, Outside the Bones, focuses on the mysterious practices. Her novel was released last month by Arte Público Press.

Di Iorio, who was raised in Puerto Rico, teaches English with a focus on Caribbean and U.S. Latino literature at The City College of New York and The Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

She received her bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, her master’s degree from Stanford University and her Ph.D. from The University of California at Berkeley. 

Q: Tell me about your book, Outside the Bones.

Outside the Bones is a provocative tale of love, murder and mystery steeped in the Afro-Caribbean religio-magical practice of Palo Monte. When the irrepressible, street-toughened, but ultimately tender-hearted main character, Fina, falls in love with her upstairs neighbor, Chico the hot trumpet player, she does what any ghetto bruja would do–takes his picture intending to put a spell on him.  Her spell misfires and two strange women competing for Chico’s favors show up. Fina then ups the ante by asking the powerful Spanish Harlem Palero, Tata Victor Tumba Fuego, for help. All too soon Fina finds herself involved with a spirit whose quest for revenge can’t be stopped. Mixing humor, eroticism and Afro-Latino/a spiritual history, Outside the Bones takes readers on a rollicking, hair-raising, and ultimately redemptive journey through New York City’s Upper West Side, Central Park and Puerto Rico. Fina finds answers that uncover the mystery behind a murder but, more importantly, reveal things about her past she had never suspected.

Q: What inspired you to become a writer?

For one, reading so many great writers. As a child, I loved classic works such as the novels of Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling and so many other writers from all over the world, but I also loved mysteries by Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Dick Francis, and others. When I was a teenager, I started reading work by Puerto Rican and Caribbean women writers that really woke up my eyes to the magical and mysterious world that is the Caribbean. I was also always really fascinated by the fact that the Afro-Caribbean religions were regarded with fear by most of the people I knew growing up. Or, on the other hand, people negated their existence altogether.  But the more I discovered about them, the more they fascinated me. I think, in general and this applies beyond my interest in Afro-Caribbean religio-magical practices, I am really intrigued by surfaces that seem commonplace with little cracks or flaws and, the more you explore the cracks, the more you see that the apparently commonplace surfaces are just facades behind which lie completely different realities.

Q: You’re a professor specializing in Latino literature. What can we do to encourage more people to read Hispanic literature?

Well, I think the publishing world needs to recognize that there is a large population of Latino readers with diverse tastes and interests and that they may not be tapping that diversity. Some Latino readers don’t want to read books that are about growing up Latino because they feel they know that, they lived it; they want to read mysteries, for example, not coming of age stories, and would like to read mysteries with Latino characters or that have strong Latino ambiences. I also think that works by Latino writers should be taught not just in Latino and Caribbean literature classes, but in all kinds of literature classes ranging from American literature to classes with more thematic focuses.

Di Iorio is making several appearances in support of her book, including Oct. 24 at the Barnes and Noble in New York City’s Upper West Side. Click here for more information.

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Filed under 2011 Books, Author Q&A, Fiction

Meet novelist Guadalupe Garcia McCall

The seeds for Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s career as a novelist began in school, when her teachers encouraged her to become a writer. McCall’s first young adult novel, Under the Mesquite, was published earlier this month by Lee & Low Books.

McCall was born in Mexico and grew up in Eagle Pass. She is working on a second young adult novel and her poetry has been published in several literary journals. She also works as a junior high English teacher.

Q: Tell me more about your book, Under the Mesquite.

Under the Mesquite is a novel in verse, which came about because my editor, Emily Hazel, came across a small collection of poems I had submitted to Lee & Low. The poems were nothing more than small vignettes, glimpses of my life on the border, but Emily loved the poems so much she asked if I would work with her on turning the collection into a book. I agreed and thus began a three-year journey. Through several revisions, Emily and I decided to make it a work of fiction to allow for more freedom in the creative process.

Under the Mesquite is the story of Lupita, a young Mexican-American girl living the American dream, trying to fit in, dealing with normal teenage angst, until she learns her mother has cancer. The news devastates the family, but Lupita is determined to do whatever it takes to help Mami get better, and that includes taking on the role of parents while her parents travel to Galveston for her mother’s treatments. Unfortunately, life gets harder and harder, and Lupita’s journey is long and painful. However, because she is strong in love and faith, Lupita learns to cope and ultimately survive this difficult time in her life.

Q: What inspired you to become a writer?

Both my parents were an inspiration to me. They were hard-working people, with little education, so they always stressed education for us. My parents wanted great things for each and every one of us. They always made sure we saw how special and talented we were. From an early age, they looked for and fostered our “qualities” or talents.

However, my teachers played an integral role in my desire to become a writer. My third grade teacher, Mr. Hernandez, read a story I wrote in Spanish and asked me if I was going to become a writer. That planted the seed. Then, in high school, Ms. Garcia and Ms. Urbina were convinced I had the talent to become published. Even Ms. Moses, my mentor and math teacher, wanted that for me. I’ll never forget that she gave me a Writer’s Digest book for my high school graduation. I have all my wonderful teachers to thank for this beautiful dream I am living. They planted and nurtured the seed within me. All I had to do was believe them.

Q: What Latino/a authors have been your biggest influence and why?

There are so many authors I admire. I love Sandra Cisneros and Gary Soto and Julia Alvarez. As far as fiction is concerned, the author I love reading is Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I love his One Hundred Years of Solitude. I’ve read and reread that book so many times, and yet, every time, it feels like the first time because there is so much depth to that book. Someday, I want to grow up to write just like him. However, I am especially fond of Pat Mora, who has such beautiful lyrical poetry for children. I love her Dizzy in Your Eyes. She is my inspiration and my idol and “Dia de los Ninos” (her celebration of family literary) is close to my heart.

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Filed under 2011 Books, Author Q&A, Fiction, Young Adult Books

Meet journalist Edgar Sandoval

In his 1982 song “Allentown,” Billy Joel sang about a town that factory workers were leaving to find new opportunities. Since then, Latinos have immigrated to the Pennsylvania city and make up 25 percent of Allentown’s population. New York Daily News reporter Edgar Sandoval wrote about the change in the community in his 2010 book, The New Face of Small Town America.

Sandoval, who grew up in Zacatecas, Mexico, has worked for The (McAllen) Monitor; the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and The Allentown Morning Call before working as a general assignments reporter for the Daily News.

What inspired you to write the book The New Face of Small Town America?
I wrote most of the book without knowing it as a reporter for The Morning Call. I was hired to write a comprehensive look of the Latino community of Allentown, Pennsylvania, and its surrounding areas. Years later, while working as a reporter in South Florida, I met a literary agent visiting New York and she liked my stories, which were written in a narrative style. I tuned them into essays and wrote several new ones for the book. The result was The New Face of Small Town America published Penn State Press. It was all a pleasant surprise.

What kind of reaction have you gotten?
Most of the reaction has been positive, especially in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I have also been pleasantly surprised to see my book has been added to prestigious university libraries, such as Rutgers, and positive feedback from some newspapers and blogs. Of course, there were a few not so upbeat reviews. But, that’s the biz.

What Hispanic authors/books have inspired you?
Since I was a teen, I always admired many Latino writers like Victor Villasenor and Sandra Cisneros. Both are so inspirational and such genuine people. I never thought I would meet either in person. I remember when I met Villasenor during one of those NAHJ (National Association of Hispanic Journalists) conferences. He sensed my less that bright aura and made me scream, “I believe in myself,” in the middle of the crowd. I made sure to wave from afar from that day each time I run into him at such events. Then, through a friend of mine, I met Sandra Cisneros when I moved to New York a few years ago. I was a bit nervous walking up to the party where Sandra was a guest. Immediately, she made me feel at ease when she handed me a fan and said, “I like you. Fan me.” I have seen her a few times after that and it’s always hard to believe I’m talking to Sandra Cisneros!, and she’s so down to earth to me. She treats me like a regular person, unlike that waiter at Red Lobster.

 

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Filed under Author Q&A, Non-Fiction

Meet Screenwriter Alvaro Rodriguez

Alvaro Rodriguez is the pen behind a border-set exploitation film, a frenetic kids’ movie and a vampire western, among others.

Rodriguez co-wrote the screenplay for this year’s hit movie, Machete, as well as 2009’s Shorts, and 1999’s From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter. An avid movie buff, he is also presenting classic Mexican movies at film festivals this fall in the Rio Grande Valley, where he grew up and now lives.

Rodriguez, a University of Texas at Austin graduate, worked as a newspaper reporter before embarking on his screenwriting career. He is a cousin of Robert Rodriguez, who directed El Mariachi, Grindhouse, and Spy Kids.

Q: How has the success of Machete and other Rodriguez films helped other Hispanics? Will this encourage Hollywood to look at more Hispanic screenwriters?

A: Machete was a moderate success — it certainly created a buzz and looks to spawn a sequel or two, so that’s a positive thing. I’m hopeful that it will encourage more Latino-driven movies to be made, and frankly, they’re out there and they’re coming soon. I don’t attribute that to Machete itself, but to the time being right for more Latino-themed stories and Latino storytellers getting recognition and making films. I think you also have to acknowledge the success of the Spy Kids series of films that Robert wrote and directed as something that opened doors and made entry seem possible.

Q: What can be done to encourage more Hispanic screenwriters?

A: The most encouraging thing for young Hispanic writers and screenwriters out there right now is knowing that a market exists for their work and it is the mainstream. Look at the films we’ve had this year — everything from Lionsgate’s No Eres Tu, Soy Yo to Chris Weisz’s A Better Life, not to mention the success of shows like Modern Family. There is a market for these stories out there, and there are new voices coming to the table all the time. It’s important, too, to tell a good story. “Write what you know” isn’t physical advice but emotional — tell a story with a deeper sense of your own personality and voice.

Q: What Hispanic authors/books have inspired/influenced you?

A: I appreciate stories that are tapestries, labyrinths and sometimes seemingly simple tales that hide a deeper truth, everything from Jorge Luis Borges to Dagoberto Gilb, from Juan Rulfo to Oscar Casares. I recently read a book of bilingual short stories written by David Bowles and Angelica Maldonado, The Seed (Absey and Co, 2011), which was very rich and personal. I’m editing a book of border-set “noir” stories to be published by Valley Artistic Outreach in 2012. Also, I’m presenting a classic Mexican film from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema in September at the Cinesol Film Festival and at the Museum of South Texas History in October — another rich vein of fascinating material from which to gain inspiration and insight. Hispanic writers can gain so much by looking south of the border to the art and literature of Mexico and beyond. The issues and ideas those writers and filmmakers are exploring have so many correlations to what we experience and what inspires us today.

 

 

 

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Filed under Author Q&A, Movies