"Chicano writers from El Paso are the most progressive, open-minded, far-reaching, and inclusive writers of them all."

Octavio Romano

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Interview with Mike Padilla author of The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina + El Paso Writer Updates: Olga Garcia, tatiana de la tierra, Oscar Martinez, blog updates



Mike Paddilla is the author of two books including his most recent, The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina (St. Martin's Griffin), and winner of several awards including the University of California -Irvin Chicano Latino Literary Award and an Artist Fellowship from the California Arts Council. 

His book of shorts stories, Hard Language was published with Arte Pubico Press. Among his favorite writers are Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, Henry James, Ray Carver, and Fyodor Dostoyevky. His website is at: www.mikempadilla.com.

Ray Rojas (RR): Mike, what was it like growing up in Oakland?

Mike Padilla (M): I actually grew up in San Leandro, a small town just south of Oakland, CA. It was a mostly middle-class, suburban existence. We were a fairly culturally-assimilated, Americanized family. Unlike my siblings, I grew up speaking English almost exclusively, because by the time I was born my parents – especially my father – had put Spanish on a back burner. He felt that Spanish was getting in the way of his ability to run his business, so not that much Spanish was spoken at home.

San Leandro was mostly white at the time, which is interesting to me now looking back on it, because I don’t remember the town of my childhood being quite so homogenous. I do remember that whenever my Spanish-speaking relatives from Los Angeles and Mexico would come to visit, our household came alive in a way that other households in our neighborhood didn’t.

I have particularly fond memories of the women who came to visit, and all the laughter and joking and swearing they brought with them. Those women inspired some of the characters in The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina.

RR: What can you tell our readers about your latest book The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina?

The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina is a novel about a group of Mexican American women living in California’s San Fernando Valley, and what happens when the pressures of career and romantic relationships start to take a toll on friendships that you thought were going to last a lifetime. 

I’ve always been fascinated by this topic, which I now realize has cropped up in my other work as well. How do friendships evolve, and what are the forces that cause people to drift apart, or come back together again as friends? The heroine of the story has a romantic interest, but it’s the courtship of friends with each other that’s at the center of the story.

Cantina is a comedy, which is very different from my other writing. I didn’t set out to write a comic novel, but as I worked on the story, the characters kept doing funnier and funnier things. 

What I’d thought was going to be a serious drama turned into something completely different. It was a refreshing departure for me. I just went with it.

RR: Your last book was an award-winning collection of short stories. Is a novel the natural progression for a writer after s/he publishes a short story collection? Are all short story writers aspiring novelists?

M: I published my story collection, Hard Language, in 2000. For me, it was a natural progression to move to a novel. I’ve always had a fondness for the longer form, especially the kinds of novels where you feel compelled to keep turning the pages – where, even though it’s late at night and you have an early morning meeting that you should be getting rest for, you just can’t help yourself from reading just one more chapter to find out what happens next. 

Someday I’m sure I’ll write short stories again, but right now I feel like I’m deep into the novel form and loving it.

RR: What differences did you find in putting together a collection of short stories than in putting together a novel?

M: Each form seemed to serve up different frustrations and rewards. With short stories, which I think are in many ways more challenging to write, I had the satisfaction of seeing how it all ends in 10 or 20 pages. With the novel, I really had no idea how it was going to end until the last 25 pages or so. Each form requires a different kind of patience.

For short stories I had to learn patience for the process of craft and re-crafting until the story works in all the ways I wanted it to, and that can mean dozens and dozens of drafts. For the novel I had to learn patience for simply not knowing where it was all going, to suspend my desire for control and accept uncertainty.

Another difference I had to adapt to in writing the novel was overcoming plot problems. There’s simply less plot in a short story, but with the novel, every few chapters I’d write myself into a corner. It would take some time and a lot of help from other people to untangle that knot I’d created.

There were times when I really thought to myself, “Now I’ve done it. I can’t fix this, the story’s just not going to work.” But there was always a solution.

RR: In an interview with UCLA Today, you described creating characters into a short story and then later using them for a novel. Is this a process that you use?

I didn’t plan it, it just kind of happened that way.

The short story that gave birth to some of these characters wasn’t a very good story. Many people who read it said it felt more like the beginning of a novel. So I thought, let’s see if I can make that happen. I developed the characters more and added new ones.

The story they came from was set in the San Francisco Bay Area. When I moved to Los Angeles, the characters came with me and I set the novel in the San Fernando Valley.

I think using the characters from a short story for a novel was a one-time thing. The novel I’m working on now, a family drama set in the early ’70s, is a fresh set of characters. I’ve really enjoyed creating something in the longer form out of nothing.

RR: You've gone from Arte Publico Press to an agent and a New York press. Do you think you'll ever go back to a small press as some other successful writers have?

M: I certainly would be open to publishing again with Arte Publico, which was a wonderful experience, or with another small press. It’s a matter of finding the right publisher for the right book. I have no doubt that my story collection, Hard Language, was a right fit for Arte Publico, just as I feel very confident that St. Martin’s Press is the right fit for Cantina. 

In both cases the editors and their marketing teams were wonderful to work with, their advice was spot-on, and their encouragement and enthusiasm couldn’t be beat. In that regard I think I’ve been incredibly fortunate.

RR: Mike, we have just finished another decade in Chicano Lit (2000-2009). What did this decade give to Chicano(a) literature?

M: I have been trying to play catch up on a long list of Chicano and Latino novels that stacked up in my queue while I was writing Cantina, and one thing that is most striking to me is how there are Latino and Chicano writers in just about every imaginable genre – from crime fiction to chick lit to graphic novels.

At the same time, I’m seeing is that there is more and more fiction from the last ten years embracing characters of mixed ethnicity and mixed cultures. As an example, I recently read Irete Lazo’s wonderful The Accidental Santera.

Here is a novel about a scientist who is of both Mexican and Puerto Rican descent, adopting a religious tradition, Santeria, which came out of Cuba and has African roots. How’s that for multicultural? And how would you classify it? Latina novel? Chicano novel? I’m not sure you can. And I think that’s a great thing. It reflects our country today. The old classifications are coming apart and reorganizing in new ways.

RR: What recommendations can you give to up-and-coming writers?

M: Find a workshop or writing group that is smart and tough, and don’t let go of the people whose critical skills you respect the most.

Learn to listen. It’s one of the best skills you can develop. That means listening to the inner voices that guide you in your writing and help you solve problems, and to the voices of others who offer criticism and advice. The more a piece of criticism irritates you and the more forcefully you want to reject it, the more likely it is that it contains at least some small kernel of truth worth paying attention to.

Pursue your writing with all the passion you have, bit also try to be humble. Writing is important, but there are other things, other jobs, and other achievements in the world that are more important.

RR: With exception of works by yourself, is there a work (poetry, short story, novel, etc.) by a Chicano(a) writer we should be giving attention to?

M: Check out Michael Jaime-Becerra’s work if you haven’t. His writing is pretty fantastic. His story collection Every Night is Ladies Night blew me away.

RR: Can you describe your “day job” for us? How do you make the balance?

M: The paycheck that covers my rent and groceries come from UCLA. I write communications materials and funding proposals for the university. I would love to just write my own stuff all the time, but the reality is it’s very hard to make a living by just writing novels.

I’m not sure I’m all the good at achieving balance, however. I tend to throw myself into writing for periods of time at the neglect of other things, then try to course-correct before things get out of control.

RR: What is the worse job you've ever had?

M: I probably shouldn’t answer this, as I don’t want to offend any of my previous bosses or coworkers.

RR: What are you watching on TV nowadays?

M: I’m completely addicted to Breaking Bad. I love edge-of-your-seat storytelling like that with well-developed characters that get themselves into really tights spots. I also recently discovered Friday Night Lights, another wonderful character-driven drama, and Nurse Jackie, which is funny and disturbing at the same time.

Thanks to Mike Padilla for this interview!



Change your shoes?

Check out UTEP MFA alumna Olga García Echeverría blog post on La bloga:

Do These Shoes Make Me Look Illegal? A Night of Spoken Word and Creative Resistance. It speak of a reading event where her and fellow UTEP MFA aluman tatiana de la tierra will read.

Do These Shoes Make Me Look Illegal?

Poetic Chanclazos By:
tatiana de la tierra
Erika Ayon
Michael Medrano
Olga García Echeverría
Olivia Chumacero

Slide Show of Arizona's National Day of Action:
Claudia Rosas

DJ Music (OMG, For Reals!)
Barrio Snacks
& Other Ghetto Goodies

July 17th, 2010
7-9 PM

UCLA Labor Center
675 S Park View St
Los Angeles CA 90057-3306

$5 Donation(no one turned away for lack of funds)

All proceeds go to Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca's Family

Show me the data!!!!! Say Oscar Martinez 
El Paso Native and University of Arizona history professor Oscar Martinez's comments about AZ Governor Brew's statements that all immigrants are drug mules, continues to be quoted by various news organizations.
"I believe today, under the circumstances that we're facing, that the majority of the illegal trespassers that are coming into the state of Arizona are under the direction and control of organized drug cartels and they are bringing drugs in," Brewer said.

"There's strong information to us that they come as illegal people wanting to come to work. Then they are accosted and they become subjects of the drug cartel," she said. 
"Unless Gov. Brewer can provide hard data to substantiate her claim that most undocumented people crossing into Arizona are 'drug mules,' she must retract such an outrageous statement," said Oscar Martinez, a University of Arizona history professor whose teaching and research focuses on border issues. "If she has no data and is just mouthing off for political reasons, as I believe she is doing, then she must apologize to the people of Arizona for lying to them so blatantly."

Read more from this Tulsa World article "Arizona's governor says most illegals are drug mules."

Blog updates

A few blog updates to tell you about. C.M. Mayo posted Small Mistake Mango Sucking Whirlpool and Jesus Rafael Gonzalez posted a 4 of july poem.

Poetry slam 

I've got news hear and there that our local team went to the national poetry slam competition. More news on this later this week.

Tigre and Salinas 

I wrote Reyes Cardenas to see if he had a copy of Free, Free At Last by Tigre Perez. He said he ransacked his garage looking for his copy that he might have one and if so, he'll send me a photo copy so I can review it. If any of you have a copy and would like to send up a short review, we'll post it. It would only be fair to post a review of Luis Omar Salinas' Crazy Gypsy and Los Cuatro, so same goes for Salinas' book or Los Cuartro. Contact us at rayerojas AT gmail.com.



We added several new links: J.L. Navarro's blog, Joe Jimenez's blog "God Bless the dead."  We fixed the broken link for Josefina Escajeda.  We also added the "Writers at UTEP" links on the left side of your browser. We've also added links for Anthony Vigil, Cecilio Garcia Camarillo, J.L. Navarro, Joaquin Zihuatanejo, and an bunch more.

We also added an El Paso literary events list to your left.


The link we share with you today is: Veterans for Peace.

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