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Archive for May, 2011

Instant Poetry (Just Add Words!)
Third Edition
By “Laughing” Larry Berger
iUniverse
ISBN-13: 978-1450255523
ASIN: 1450255523
September 2010
52 pages

Purchase HERE.

I was intrigued when I received a copy of this poetry chapbook for review. It isn’t the typical poetry book. The author, ‘Laughing’ Larry Berger, ‘wrote’ or improvised these poems onstage as part of an audience participation free verse sets at coffee houses in Los Angeles in 1996.

It isn’t easy to write poetry, much less improvise it in front of an audience, which is why I was delighted to discover Berger’s wit, imagination, and flair for language.

The verses, some as short as a few lines and some long enough for two pages, explore various subjects and themes, from fun and light to serious and transcendent.

A good example of the author’s lighter poems is “Bubble Gum.” It catches a moment, a single snapshot of pure joy.

Soft and warm between my teeth,
an old lover returns
sweet and tangy inside my mouth.

Over and over she dances,
building evermore desire.

Slowly she turns up the heat,
stoking the fires
until
her passions no longer confinable
She EXPLODES,
releasing the rapture of the moment!

And then
She slides along my tongue
For one
More
Tango

A recurring theme in this work is the idea that modern men are trapped, caged, slaves and prisoners of their own cars and apartments. The following stanza is from “Leprosy.”

Rotting corpses walking down the street
are they really so different from you and me?
They get up, go to work, come home,
all in steel and concrete coffins.

In other poems, such as “Four Thousand Years Ago (The Crack Baby’s Prayer),” the author takes a philosophical look at life, presenting the reader with a grim picture of society, injustice, and the violence inflicted by humans throughout history. Berger uses the symbolic metaphor of rivers red with blood—this metaphor, by the way, is also recurrent in some of his other poems.
Some of my favorite poems in this book are the ones where Berger captures one single moment of happiness in a world where disaster looms in every corner. For example, in “Green Tea Ice Cream,” which is about the prediction that the world will end in 2012, Berger ends the verse with:

Right now
I’ve got my green tea ice cream
I’m happy.

There are a several memorable lines in this collection. This from “Ten Foot Pole.”

Thousands homeless
or out of work, downing
Anti-depressant medication
As that statue out in the harbor
Spreads her legs to the world.

The following, my favorite, is from “Stop Laughing!”

To stop laughing
is to resign ourselves to
coffins of skin!

I’m not sure if Berger meant to leave his best poem for last, but “Cold KFC in N.Y.C.” was definitely the best for me. The poem, which reads like a story, is about a man who has just been mugged in Grand Central:

You see
an hour ago
I was kissing concrete
back at Grand Central
with the barrel of a
.357 shoved into the back
Of my skull.

The man, who has just missed death, goes back to his crummy, cold flat and collapses from terror and exhaustion. Later he wakes up hungry and the only thing left in his fridge is some cold KFC leftovers. Berger ends the poem—and the book—with:

And folks
I’ve got to tell you!
ROAD KILL NEVER TASTED SO GOOD!

Instant Poetry (Just Add Words!) is a collection of forty-eight poems. I was surprised at the author’s creativity, good humor, and, at times, depth about the human condition. Some of these poems were performed on stage along the West Coast and New York and were created in interactive poetry readings. It is a unique and ingenious concept. I don’t read poetry often but I found Instant Poetry engaging and interesting. If you enjoy poetry and would like to try something different, I recommend you grab a copy of this book.

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David Pérez was born and raised in the South Bronx in New York City of parents of Puerto Rican descent. Growing up in the Millbrook Houses in the 1960s and navigating his way through Catholic school comprise much of the storyline for his memoir Wow! (11B Press, 2011). David has written hundreds of published articles for newspapers and magazines and is also a skilled editor. As an actor, he has appeared on stage, film and commercial print. He currently lives in Taos, New Mexico with his wife, poet Veronica Golos, and is the father of two adult children, Belinda and Jase.

Thanks for this interview, David! Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write it?

Wow! is a memoir of a smart, funny and somewhat naïve Puerto Rican boy (me) growing up in the South Bronx in the 1960s, living in the projects and navigating his way through a Catholic elementary school populated by a trio of desperadoes known as the Brothers of the Sacred Heart.

Wow! is not the typical “boy grows up in ghetto, survives despite drugs and violence” story. This childhood reads like an adventure tale with David and his somewhat wacky friends: Julio’s constant queries in Religion class (“What if you only steal bubble gum?”), and Chino’s challenges to authority (“I ain’t afraid of no Brothers of any heart!”). David’s brother George is worried about junkies stealing boxes of potato chips in broad daylight. Mom loves the Funk &Wagnell’s Encyclopedia. Dad has just discovered credit.

I called my book a “memoirito” because of its novella length (128 pages). Its episodic writing style also reminded me of the telenovelas that Latinos watch, or those popular pocket paperback novelas in Spanish with illustrations. Wow! has illustrations too, done by my brother George Pérez, an internationally acclaimed comic book artist. He drew the cover as well.

As far as inspiration goes, I’ve always been a storyteller, whether as an activist journalist, writer or actor—and especially as a father. Seeing my kids become adults so quickly made me think of my own growing up, how cool it would be if I could capture each moment as if with a pause button. Reviewing my coming-of-age eventually resulted in my memoir.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

It was a little of both, actually. My process began several years ago at an Ashram in upstate New York. Reminiscing on what an eventful life I’ve had, I took out a little notepad and began jotting down names of family and childhood friends, names of streets in my neighborhood, memorable events like first dates, each entry only a few words long. I filled several pages and only got to high school!

Months later I took an entry, for instance St. Luke’s or running track, and just free wrote whatever popped to mind. And that’s how Wow! sprang to life. Eventually, I made chapter outlines and began pulling the narrative together. Thus the writing became more structured, more focused, with intent.

How long did it take you to write the book?

My book took about seven years to complete. I wrote it in spurts because there’s so much else in my life that I enjoy doing—spending time with family, going for hikes, acting in community theater, and other freelance writing and editing gig that I regularly get. So by necessity Wow! had to grow organically. My process also included sending sample chapters out to magazines, going to writing workshops for group critique (a must for all writers), and doing public readings, which I enjoy immensely.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

Prior to Wow!, my main writing had been journalism, which I still do. This is a field where you don’t have time for writer’s block. You have deadlines to meet, other assignments waiting to be done. Journalism also requires that you get to the point quickly and concisely, and that’s similar to all writing—at least it should be.

That said, I did have moments with my book when I stared at a blank page for hours, or when I just couldn’t get beyond a first sentence. I struggle with beginnings a lot. It’s important, I feel, to draw the reader in quickly, to get them hooked into your story right off the bat. But since I had no deadlines beckoning, my writing blocks would kick in big time.

In addition, this was about my life. Given my primary training, this was much harder to write than some article about another person or event. Plus I didn’t have a word limit; there was nothing I couldn’t write. I could follow my writing plan or chuck it all together—which I once did, only to find myself frantically combing my computer to retrieve my original chapter outline. No question: Wow! was a challenge to complete. It was fun, yes, but definitely a lesson in how to keep your eyes on the prize.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

Publishing has been interesting; I did tons of research about the various options. I started off by submitting directly to small and mid-sized presses, rather than seeking an agent. There are plenty of quality presses that don’t require an agent, Graywolf and Algonquin, for instance. Anyway, my manuscript was accepted by a small press two weeks after I submitted it; pretty incredible, I thought, and quite the confidence builder! Then I got other “we’re interested” bites from noteworthy presses.

As I was deciding what to do, I met with my brother George at his home in Orlando, Florida to discuss the cover and interior illustrations. He wondered if I should just publish it myself to “make most of the money and maintain all artistic control.” It was an option I was also considering, especially since I wanted to keep the book’s price at $10, a hard thing for a traditional press to accept since they would make little money—and me even less.

Soon afterwards, a friend of mine who’s into the film business discussed with me the idea of starting a press, and having Wow! be their launch book. As she put it, Wow! had cinematic elements well suited to the entertainment goals of her company, 11B Productions. We discussed terms and cemented a deal. Thus began 11B Press. I’m very pleased with my decision.

In terms of advice, the main thing I can offer is that you should explore each and every possibility, and then find out what works for you. At the same time, keep yourself open to the unforeseen and the unexpected. Seek out other writers and immerse yourself in the creative community as much as possible; many doors can open that way.

But all in all, keep things in balance. At a recent “21st Century Publishing” panel held in Taos, New Mexico (where I currently live), I emphasized that everyone has to seek his and her own journey. Why do you want to write? How important is a book to you, really? What other creative things give you pleasure?

Everything boils down to being true to yourself. It sounds metaphysical but it’s true.

What authors or type of books do you read for fun?

I read many different types of books, and since I work part-time at Moby Dickens Bookshop in Taos (25 years in business as an independent bookstore) my reading list is totally out of control. I like books on politics and the economy (the more left the better), science fiction, humor, mystery, world history, science, new age, and memoir. Within this vast list of genres, authors I’ve enjoyed include Arthur Clarke, Chris Hedges, Michael Pollen, Graham Hancock, Elizabeth George, Naomi Klein, Vine Deloria, David Sedaris, and Michio Kaku. Recommended Taos authors include Summer Wood, Veronica Golos, John Nichols, and Frank Waters.

Among the many Latino authors I admire are Eduardo Galeano, Junot Diaz, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, Cristina Garcia, Juan Flores, Julia Alvarez, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Esmeralda Santiago, Abraham Rodriguez, playwright Jose Rivera, and almost all Latino spoken word and slam poets.

Not every book I seek out to read is fun. Yet even when a book is difficult to read because it exposes realities like war and violence and suffering, I still get a keen sense of fulfillment in feeling my worldview expand, in simply knowing. I get a rush out of truth, and good writing always does that to me, no matter what its content.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

I only have a website, which is www.davidperezwow.com. There you can hear audio clips from Wow!, find samples of my other writing, and learn of my editing experience, among other goodies.

Do you have another novel on the works?

Wow II—The High School Years!

Thanks, David, and best wishes in your writing career!

About the book:

Wow!
128 pages
$10.00 print version
$3.99 Kindle ebook

Click on the cover below to get your copy!

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Please welcome my special guest, award-winning Cuban playwright and novelist Teresa Dovalpage. She’s here today to talk about her novel, Habanera.

Teresa has a Ph.D. in Latin American Literature and is the author of five novels, three in Spanish and two in English, and a collection of short stories in Spanish. Her plays has been staged in Chicago by Aguijon Theater and in small theaters in Miami. Her articles, reviews and short stories have appeared in Rosebud, Latino Today, Afro-Hispanic Review, Baquiana, La Peregrina, Letras Femeninas, El Nuevo Herald and other publications. She currently works as a freelancer for The Taos News and the bilingual paper Mas New Mexico. Visit her website at www.dovalpage.com.

Teresa presently lives in Taos, New Mexico, where she teaches Spanish and Spanish Literature at UNM-Taos. Her blog in Spanish, that complements her narrative workshop, is http://dovalpage.wordpress.com/ and her blog in English, where some of her articles are posted, is http://teredovalpage.wordpress.com.

Q: Thanks for this interview, Teresa! When did you decide you wanted to become a writer?

A: Thank you, chica! Now that I think of it, I probably decided to become a writer when I was a teenager. I grew up in Havana during the 80’s and entertainment options were quite limited then—camping out in rustic settings or going to Saturday night parties. I was never the cheez boom bah type (in fact, I was a nerd) and was afraid of snakes so I stayed home in the company of books. After reading thousands of pages, there came a time when I thought, “Hey, I bet I can write one too.” And I began to write…some really awful stories, according to my mother.

Q: Did anyone in your family write or have creative interests?

A: My grandfather used to have long conversations with himself and he often wrote them down. He transcribed them carefully, in dialogues between two characters “Yo” and “Mí mismo” (I and Myself). I don’t know if this counts as creativity, though… I tried to depict a few of his eccentricities in Ponciano, the main character’s grandfather in my novel Habanera, a Portrait of a Cuban Family.

Q: Did you have any struggles or difficulties when you started writing?

A: While I lived in Cuba I didn’t think there would be any opportunity for me to publish my books so I just keep writing for the love of it, por amor al arte. But I knew I would eventually leave the island, which happened in 1996. Once I came to “La Yuma,” as we call the United States, it was quite a smooth road. I didn’t even have an agent when I began, just sent the manuscript of A Girl like Che Guevara to as many publishing houses as I could think of. “Someone is going to pick it up, someday,” I figured.

Q: Did you have any mentors?

A: Pues claro! There are two writers that I greatly admire and consider my mentors, mis maestras. One is Lorraine Lopez, author of The Gifted Gabaldón Sisters and a finalist of the 2010 PEN /Faulkner Award. I always learn a lot about plot development and structure from reading her books. And my fellow Cuban Ana Cabrera Vivanco, currently living in Spain and author of Las Horas del Alma, a brilliant novel that I expect to see translated into English soon.

Q: Let’s talk now about your novel, Habanera, which has garnered some rave reviews. What is it about and what was your inspiration for it?

A: It started as a memoir, but at a given moment I realized I had reinvented history too much. After some prodding from my mother, who called me a liar among other things, I decided to turn it into fiction. It is loosely based on my own family, though I added many events that never happened in reality. (There was no ghost at home, at least that I knew of.) But the characters are inspired in my parents and grandparents who were—and are—a weird and motley crew.

Q: Habanera combines quirky humor with compelling drama. How do you decide when to incorporate humor in this type of novel? Is it a conscious decision or does it come natural?

A: Well, some things that people find funny were never intended to be humorous at all, hehehe…

Q: One of the reviewers wrote: “Dovalpage is a master of quirky, loveable characters, and emotionally resonant narrative.” How do you create your characters and make them genuine? How do you make your prose shine with emotion?

A: In this case, I copied most of the characters from reality so creating “genuine” characters was relatively easy. After all, I knew the models well… As for the emotion part, I try to give as many details as I can, to get inside the characters’ heads and let hem do the talking.

Q: What was your writing process like while working on Habanera? Was it difficult to go back in time and relive that experience?

A: Since I started it as a memoir the writing process was like keeping a journal backwards. I wrote down a series of episodes as they came to my memory (the unfortunate event with the Christmas pig at home, the visits to the cemetery…) But when I decided to turn it into a novel I changed the timeframe, from the 80’s to the 90’s, so I had to go back and rewrite some scenes… In general it was fun to relive my childhood experiences. I could see for the first time how quirky it really was.

Q: Tell us what the revision process is like for you. Do you edit as you write or do you edit later?

A: Both. I edit as I write and when I finish the manuscript, I have someone read the final draft too, particularly when it is in English. Ay, these pesky prepositions! My husband Gary has been very helpful in that respect.

Q: How was your road to publication?

A: It hasn’t been too difficult. After my first novel in English, A Girl like Che Guevara, was published by Soho Press, I had three more novels (in Spanish) published—Posesas de La Habana Posesas de La Habana, (Crazy Ladies of Havana, PurePlay Press, 2004), Muerte de un murciano en la Habana (Death of a Murcian in Havana) that was a runner-up for the Herralde Award in 2006 and El Difunto Fidel (The Late Fidel) that won the Rincon de la Victoria Award in Spain in 2009. It was a little more complicated to find a home for a collection of short stories in Spanish, Por culpa de Candela and other stories, but I finally did. And then came Habanera

Q: What do you love most about the writer’s life?

A: The fact that I can write at home when I feel like it, surrounded by my cats and dogs…And wearing my moo-moo, though I only do that when my husband isn’t around. And most importantly, to hear from the readers, to get the personal feedback that makes all the butt-hours spent in front of the computer worthy. There is a fan of Cuban Literature in Spain who has created a website called La Biblioteca Cubana de Barbarito (Barbarito’s Cuban Library). When I get a message from him or from another reader, I feel in seventh heaven…

Q: What Latina authors have inspired you?

A: Many of them! But I want to mention Elena Avila, who sadly passed away last March. She wrote Woman Who Glows in the Dark, a national bestseller about curanderismo, and several beautiful plays. I used Woman Who Glows in the Dark as a textbook in my Santeria and Curanderismo class at the University of New Mexico and it inspired me to write a book on that topic, 101 Questions to a Curandera, that I am presently co-authoring with an eight-generation curandera, Patricia Padilla. The only thing I regret is not having been able to meet Elena in person.

Q: Did you establish a connection with other Latina writers when you started writing? How important do you think is a supportive community for budding writers?

A: Bueno, we have a very supportive and active community in NuncaSolas! I also have a wonderful circle of Latina writers and we trade first drafts and give each other advice. It is an invaluable help.

Q: What advice would you give aspiring writers?

A: Don’t store rejection letters… I have heard that some writers do it but can’t imagine anything more depressing, plus it seems like bad Feng Shui. And above all, keep writing!

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