Posts Tagged ‘Latino fiction’

photocroppedcortezsarahA proud Houstonian, Sarah Cortez is a cop, poet, short story writer and editor of the award-winning nonfiction work, Windows Into My World, a collection of short memoirs written by young authors. She was kind enough to take time from her busy schedule to answer my questions about her work, editing, and the creative process.

Thanks for this interview, Sarah. How do you combine your personas as cop, poet, freelance writer and editor when you sit down to write?

When I sit down to write, the leading persona is that of poet. By that, I mean that the foremost goal – in whatever genre is at hand – is creating a piece that accomplishes that genre’s goal in an economy of language and an elegant style. Added to this, of course, are considerations of subject matter and tone – which draw heavily on my experiences as a street police officer. I see the world from a blue collar perspective. This change has come about even though I grew up in a white collar environment and worked in the white collar corporate world for fourteen years before going into policing.

Were you an avid reader as a child?

As a child, I absolutely couldn’t wait to learn the magic of letters and words. My mother was a classroom educator and she started teaching me letters and words before kindergarten. In fact, I remember with great fondness her sewing on her sewing machine the binding for books she made for me using the large, beautiful photographs from Life magazine. Both my parents read a story with me every night before bed – what a treat that was! Once I was older I devoured all the adventure stories in the library.

After reading one of your poems, I can’t help feeling that the ‘toughness’ required to being a police officer is reflected in your tone and imagery. Tell us a little about how your creative process. Do poems flow out of you in a stream-of-consciousness manner? Do you edit and re-edit a lot?

In terms of creative process, this is how I work on poems. The first line will come to me, usually when I’m doing some mundane, repetitive task like driving. I always write it down immediately. It’s a gift from the subconscious. This first line establishes the rhythm of the poem. I call it “the music of the first line.” Later, when I have time I continue writing the poem, from that first line. As I write, I experiment in the usual way any good poet does, e.g. I change line length, stanza length, vocabulary, sentence structure, punctuation, etc. During this period I am also looking at what the poem is trying to become, i.e. the main focus of the poem. After many edits and experiments – maybe, at least ten version of the poem – I’ll get to what I consider a “first draft.” This is the version I will type on the computer and print. (I do all the previous work by hand.) From this “first draft,” I will continue revising the poem. A very few poems come together in less than a year. Sometimes there will be just one word that isn’t perfect and it may take years of thinking about it to find the exact word to fit. I remember poet Olga Broumas saying for one of her powerful poems that it had taken seven years to find the final verb that completely and absolutely makes that poem come together.

What about your process editing short fiction?

I was first published in short fiction because love of it is what led me to begin taking creative writing courses. In addition, my years of experience editing memoir had given me a lot of knowledge dealing with those mechanics that the two genres have in common: narrative, pace, tone, dialogue, characterization, moving back and forth in time. I’ve had no less an author that the amazingly prolific and talented, American Book Award winner Joseph Bruchac compliment my editing of his short fiction. (Please see my website www.poetacortez.com for other well-known writers’ endorsements of my editing skills.) I consider editing a vehicle for also educating the beginning writer, so I try to explain my choices so that a beginning writer will also be supported in their gaining of additional skills. Typically, an editor does not have to explain choices to an experienced professional writer – they understand immediately.

Lately you have been conducting workshops for young adults based on your book, Windows Into My World: Latino Youth Write Their Lives. Tell us a bit about this book.

The original idea for creating an anthology of short memoir written by young (high school and college-aged) Latinos came to me because there was nothing on the market. There were plenty of books with middle-aged Latinos/as writing about being young, but there was nothing with young Latinos/as writing about being young. (In memoir, this change in perspective radically affects the writing.) Through my own teaching of high school Latinos I knew how desperately such a resource was needed. One of the greatest joys as I travel around the country meeting with teachers, librarians, community educators, and graduate students teaching composition is that they all say, “Thank you! We need this book to help us reach our 02students.”

What’s on the horizon for you?

Thank you for asking about my current projects. I am collecting writing from police officers to create an anthology of voices to tell America who we are. Most of the next several months will be spent traveling to book launch events around the U.S. for HIT LIST: THE BEST OF LATINO MYSTERY. We have events in New York City, Denver, Texas, California, etc. The positive response to the book is overwhelming. I am also still participating in events to help people learn about WINDOWS INTO MY WORLD: LATINO YOUTH WRITE THEIR LIVES.

Thank you, Sarah!

To find out more about Sarah’s work, her upcoming public appearances and read samples of her poetry, visit

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Déjà Vu
By Mayra Calvani

Standing on the sidewalk of the Boulevard del Valle, Amanda looked towards the sea. The splash of the waves against the rocks below resonated in the air. She could taste the salty tang sharply on her tongue, feel the cool breeze tousling her hair. She hugged her arms to stop the goose bumps.
Tonight Old San Juan vibrated with a magical quality. Twinkling multi-colored lights and shimmering garlands adorned shop windows and balconies. Christmas trees glowed from inside the flats that lined the street.
Amanda admired the sea a little longer; it was late and she had to go home. She and her husband were giving a party. They always did on Christmas Eve. She was stalling and she knew it, though she didn’t know exactly why.
Abruptly someone bumped into her. She turned to see a little boy running down the street. She froze for a second before realizing what had happened—he had stolen her handbag.
“Hey!” she said, running after him. “Come back here!”
A sensation of unreality grabbed her. She saw the little boy running in slow motion, his dark curls floating behind him as if there were no gravity. An intense feeling of déjà vu shook her to the core. She had to catch up with him. She had to stop him!
“Stop!” she shouted, breathless.
Everything happened in a matter of seconds. The boy glanced behind his shoulder just as he tried to cross the street. A fast approaching car was coming in his direction. Amanda reached for the boy’s shirt and pulled him harshly to the sidewalk and away from the street. The boy struggled against her, but she held on, a wave of relief flooding through her.
“Stop that. The policeman will see us,” Amanda said, her eyes on the strolling officer across the street. Oddly, he looked bored, as if he had not noticed anything unusual.
The boy relaxed under her grip and for the first time she had a chance to look into his face. He had shoulder-length curly hair and large brown eyes surrounded by thick lashes. Under the streetlight his chestnut curls glowed. He couldn’t have been older than eight. In spite of his arrogant attitude, he reminded her of a cherub.
“What do you think you were doing? Trying to get yourself killed? That car almost ran into you!” she said.
“Are you going to have me arrested?” he said, lifting his chin.
Amanda glanced at the officer, who was now far away. She sighed. “Are you going to give me back my bag?”
Looking oddly calm, he gave her the bag.
“Thank you,” Amanda said drily.
“Can you let me go now?”
Amanda realized she was still holding on to him. Confusion and fear filled her being. She didn’t want to let go.
“I’m not going away,” the boy said enigmatically.
Their eyes locked momentarily.
“Oh… all right…” She let go. “What’s your name?”
“Why did you try to steal my bag?”
His small, thin shoulders lifted in a shrug. “Why do poor kids steal rich people’s bags?”
She decided to ignore his wisecrack. “You should go home. It’s late. Your parents must be worried.”
“Nah, they never worry.”
They began to walk side by side.
“Let me bring you home.”
“I don’t want to go home. There’s always too much fighting in there.”
“It’s Christmas Eve. I bet your mom is preparing a nice meal.”
“I don’t want to go home,” he said coldly, stopping her in her tracks.
Amanda looked at him. She was not ready to say goodbye. “Well, do you want to come to my house? We can have something to eat together.”
“Do you live in a mansion?”
“You could say that.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“I have a dog,” Amanda said.
His expression brightened. “What’s his name?”
“Noah. Well?”
Alfonsito seemed thoughtful as he stuffed his hands inside his pockets and resumed his walk. “I’d like to meet Noah.”


At Amanda’s home the party was at full swing. Guests in sophisticated attire were gathered around the pool with drinks and cigarettes in their hands. Some couples danced. Others ate by a long buffet table. Aguinaldos poured out of hidden speakers.
Amanda led Alfonsito to the back of the garden and towards the back door of the kitchen.
“Do you know all these people?” he asked.
“Yes and no.” She halted momentarily to look at the guests. “My husband is an important man. These are mostly his co-workers.” Her voice had turned sad, bitter. “ I’ve always been sort of a hermit.”
“What’s that?”
“I like being alone.”
“My husband is a very important man.”
“So you said.”
They looked to the kitchen as a large blond dog stormed out the door and dashed into their direction.
“Noah!” Amanda said, smiling for the first time that night. “Come here, boy! Let me introduce you to someone.”
She bent over to stroke him and scratch him behind the ears. Alfonsito laughed as he joined in the petting. Noah whimpered as if he couldn’t have enough of Amanda’s affection.
“Let’s go inside,” Amanda said.
She led him to a table at the far end of the kitchen, while the servants continued their duties on the other side of the room. After bringing an assortment of food and pastries to the table, Amanda sat across from Alfonsito. Noah lay at her feet, his tail still swaging from contentment.
“Go ahead, eat,” she said.
“Aren’t you going to eat?”
“I’ll just have a drink,” she said, lifting a glass of wine as if in toast.
Watching her drinking, his expression turned sad. “Do you have any kids?” he asked.
She shook her head. “I’ve always wanted kids, but I can’t have any.”
“Oh…” He began to eat. “Hmm… I had forgotten what this tasted like.”
“Guineitos en escabeche is one of my favorites, too. Doesn’t your mom make it?”
“Not lately.”
After Alfonsito finished eating, Amanda said, “I probably should bring you back now. It’s late. Your mom must be worried.”
Amanda leaned over to stroke Noah, who had started whimpering again as if sensing her parting.


Amanda and Alfonsito stood by the door of the small house which was his home.
Alfonsito looked somber. Amanda was about to knock when he stopped her and said, “Don’t. Let’s just go in.”
Inside the small living room there was no Christmas tree; no lights or garlands or poinsettias.
A woman sat alone in the dark, her back to them. She had something in her hands.
Alfonsito took Amanda’s hand and together they approached the woman until they stood over her shoulder.
“Don’t cry, Mami,” he whispered.
“What’s that in her hands?” Amanda asked.
Then she saw it. It was a photo of Alfonsito.
Amanda turned to him, the floor shifting under her feet, the room swirling around her. She opened her mouth, but no words came out.
“I died one year ago,” he said.
Amanda took a step back. “No…”
She moved away from the crying woman and away from Alfonsito. His big eyes shimmered with emotion as he extended a hand towards Amanda.
“Come. I’ll show you,” he said.
“You can’t be dead. You’re here, with me, talking to me. You just played with my dog, ate at my kitchen. You can’t be…”


In the late hour the Old San Juan cemetery was cold and windy and Amanda could hear the waves crashing against the rocks below.
“Where are you taking me?” she said.
Now it was his turn to hold on to her. “You have to know, Amanda. You have to let go.”
She shook her head, tears flowing down her cheeks. “You’re going to show me your grave, is that it?”
His small hand pressed tighter around hers, his nails digging into her.
“There,” he said, pushing her in front of a tombstone.
She read her name engraved on the stone and covered her face with her hands, while all her life, all the memories rushed through her mind until that last very moment. “No! No! No!”
“Think about it. Why is it that no one can see or hear us—no one except Noah? How do you think we moved from here to your house without a car?”
“You have to let go,” he said.
“No!” She fell to her knees, wallowing in the knowledge, guilt and pain.
“You’ll be here forever without freedom or peace until you forgive yourself. Look at me, Amanda.”
Her sobs weakened as she looked up at him.
“It was not your fault that I tried to steal your handbag. You had to run after me. It was not your fault that I got ran over by that car. You’ve punished yourself enough, drowning in alcohol and pills. Why did you take so many pills that night?”
“It was an accident…”
“I know.”
“I never meant to kill myself!”
“I know.” Then he said, “I forgive you, Amanda. This is why I’ve come here. Tonight.”
They were quiet for a long time. Amanda stood up and looked around her. Would she smell the sea again? Play with Noah? She felt scared and lost.
“What now? Where do I go?”
Alfonsito took her by the hand. “Let me show you the way.”

The End

©2007, 2008. Mayra Calvani / All Rights Reserved. This story may not be copied nor printed in any form without permission from the author.


Déjà Vu
Por: Mayra Calvani

Amanda miró hacia el mar desde la acera del Boulevard del Valle. El estruendo de las olas contra las rocas resonaba en el aire. Sintió el gusto del salitre en la lengua y cómo la brisa fresca le alborotaba el pelo. Cruzó los brazos, tratando de darse calor.
Esta noche, el Viejo San Juan vibraba con una cualidad mágica. Los balcones y las vitrinas de las tiendas estaban adornadas con guirlandas de parpadeantes luces de colores. Por las ventanas de los apartamientos que daban a la calle se veían los árboles de Navidad encendidos.
Amanda se quedó mirando el mar durante un rato más. Era tarde ya y tenía que regresar a casa, a la fiesta que ella y su marido ofrecían, como todos los días de Nochebuena. Se estaba atrasando y lo sabía, aunque no podía precisar porqué.
Fue entonces que alguien chocó contra ella. Se dio vuelta para ver a un muchachito que corría calle abajo. Se congeló por un momento, antes de darse cuenta de lo que había sucedido – ¡le había robado la cartera!
“¡Oye!” le gritó, mientras le corría detrás. “¡Vuelve acá!”
Tuvo la sensación de algo irreal. Vio, como en cámara lenta, que el niño corría, con sus rizos oscuros flotando detrás, como si no hubiera gravedad. Una extraña noción de “deja vu” le sacudió las entrañas. Tenía que alcanzarlo. Tenía que detenerlo.
“¡Para!” le gritó, ya sin aliento.
Todo sucedió en cuestión de segundos. El muchachito miró hacia atrás, hacia ella, justo cuando empezó a cruzar la calle. Un auto se aproximaba hacia él a toda velocidad. Amanda lo agarró por la camisa y le dio un halón que lo devolvió a la acera y lo alejó de la calle. El muchacho trató de zafarse, pero ella lo tenía bien agarrado. Una sensación de alivio la invadió toda.
“¡Deja de luchar! El policía se va a dar cuenta,” dijo Amanda, mirando al oficial que caminaba por el otro lado de la calle: parecía aburrido, como si no hubiera notado que pasaba algo raro.
El muchacho dejó de forcejear y por primera vez ella lo miró a la cara. Tenía el pelo rizo y largo hasta los hombros. Sus ojos, grandes y castaños, la miraban desde debajo de unas pestañas muy largas. La luz de los faroles de la calle le sacaban un brillo rojizo a sus rizos. No podía tener más de ocho años. A pesar de su actitud arrogante, le recordaba las pinturas de los querubínes.
“¿Qué estabas haciendo? ¿Querías que te aplastara ese carro? ¡Por poco te arrolla!”, le dijo.
“¿Vas a hacer que me denuncien?” le preguntó él, con un gesto de desafío en la cara.
Amanda miró al policía, que ya estaba lejos. Suspiró: “¿Me vas a devolver mi cartera?”
Con una tranquilidad algo extraña, el muchacho le tendió la cartera.
“Gracias,” le dijo Amanda, secamente.
“¿Puedes soltarme ahora?”
Amanda se dio cuenta de que aún lo tenía agarrado por la camisa. Sintió una mezcla de confusión y temor. No quería dejarlo ir.
“No voy a salir corriendo,” le dijo el muchacho, enigmáticamente.
Los ojos de ambos se encontraron.
“Bueno,… está bien …”, dijo ella y lo soltó. “¿Cómo te llamas?”
“¿Porqué trataste de robarme la cartera?”
El muchacho alzó los hombros pequeños y huesudos. “¿Porqué es que los niños pobres les roban las carteras a la gente rica?”
Ella decidió ignorar la respuesta arrogante. “Debes regresar a tu casa. Es tarde”, le dijo. “Tus padres deben estar preocupados.”
“No, ellos nunca se preocupan.”
Empezaron a caminar uno al lado del otro.
“Deja que te lleve a tu casa.”
“No quiero ir a casa. Siempre hay pelea allí.”
“Es Nochebuena. Seguro que tu mamá está preparando una cena especial.”
“No quiero ir a casa,” repitió él, y su frialdad la dejó, a su vez, fría.
Amanda lo miró. No quería despedirse todavía. “¿Quieres ir a mi casa entonces? Podemos comernos algo juntos.”
“¿Vives en una mansión?”
“Sí, es una especie de mansión.”
“No tengo hambre.”
“Tengo un perro,” le dijo Amanda en tono tentador.
La expresión del muchacho cambió. “¿Cómo se llama?”
Alfonsito se quedó pensativo. Metió las manos en los bolsillos y siguió caminando. “Me gustaría conocer a Noé.”


Cuando llegaron a casa de Amanda, la fiesta estaba en su apogeo. Los invitados, muy bien vestidos, conversaban –con tragos y cigarrillos en las manos- alrededor de la piscina. Algunas parejas bailaban. Otros hacían fila ante la larga mesa del bufé. Por los altoparlantes escondidos salía la música de aguinaldos navideños.
Amanda llevó a Alfonsito hacia el patio trasero, donde estaba la entrada de la cocina.
“¿Conoces a toda esta gente?” le preguntó él.
“Sí y no,” le contestó ella mientras se detenía a mirar a los invitados. “Mi marido es un hombre importante. Casi toda esta gente trabaja con él.” Su voz se ensombreció y adquirió un tono amargo. “Yo siempre he sido una especie de ermitaña”
“¿Qué es eso?”
“Me gusta estar sola.”
“Mi marido es un hombre muy importante.”
“Ya lo dijiste.”
Cuando estaban llegando a la cocina se abrió la puerta y un enorme perro de pelo castaño claro salió corriendo hacia ellos.
“¡Noé!” lo llamó Amanda, y sonrió por primera vez esa noche. “¡Ven acá! Quiero presentarte a alguien.”
Se bajó para acariciarlo y le rascó la cabeza tras las orejas. Alfonsito reía y lo acariciaba también. Noé daba grititos, como si estuviera ansioso de que siguieran mostrándole tanto afecto.
“Vamos a entrar,” dijo Amanda.
Llevó a Alfonsito a una mesa que estaba en un rincón de la cocina. Los sirvientes siguieron en sus tareas del otro lado. Amanda buscó una bandeja de pastelitos y dulces y se la trajo al muchacho. Se sentó frente a él y a sus pies se tiró Noé, moviendo el rabo a todo lo que da.
“Anda, come,” le dijo ella.
“Y tú, ¿no vas a comer?”
“Me voy a tomar un trago,” contestó, mientras levantaba una copa de vino como si fuera a brindar.
Él la miró con cierta tristeza. “¿Tienes niños?” le preguntó.
Ella dijo que no con la cabeza. “Siempre he querido tener hijos, pero no puedo tenerlos.”
Cuando Alfonsito terminó de comer, Amanda le dijo, “Ahora te voy a llevar a tu casa. Se ha hecho tarde. Tu mamá debe estar preocupada.”
Amanda se bajó a acariciar a Noé, que empezó a llorar como si se diera cuenta de que ella se iría.


Amanda y Alfonsito se detuvieron ante la puerta de la casita donde vivía él.
Alfonsito estaba serio. Amanda iba a tocar la puerta cuando él la detuvo y le dijo: “No toques. Entremos.”
La salita era pequeña. No había adornos navideños: ni árbol, ni luces, ni guirnaldas ni pascuas.
Una mujer estaba sentada en la oscuridad, dándoles la espalda. Tenía algo en las manos.
Alfonsito le cogió la mano a Amanda y juntos se aproximaron a la mujer hasta que pudieron mirar sobre su hombro.
Alfonsito suspiró. “No llores, Mami,” le dijo bajito.
“¿Qué tiene entre las manos?” preguntó Amanda.
Y entonces vio. Era una foto de Alfonsito.
Se viró hacia él. Le pareció que el piso se estremecía bajo sus pies, que la habitación daba vueltas en torno a su cabeza. Abrió la boca pero no le salieron las palabras.
“Yo morí hace un año,” dijo él.
Amanda dio un paso atrás. “No…”
Se alejó de la mujer que lloraba y de Alfonsito. Los ojos grandes del muchacho brillaron de emoción mientras le tendía a Amanda una mano.
“Ven. Te llevaré,” le dijo.
“No puedes estar muerto. Estás aquí, conmigo, hablándome. Acabas de jugar con mi perro, de comer en mi cocina. No puedes estar …”


A esa hora de la noche en el cementerio del Viejo San Juan hacía frío y soplaba el viento. Amanda oía cómo las olas chocaban contra las rocas.
“¿Adónde me llevas?” le preguntó ella.
Ahora le tocaba a él sujetarla con fuerza.
“Tienes que saber, Amanda. Tienes que dejarte ir.”
Ella negó con la cabeza. Las lágrimas le corrían por las mejillas. “Me vas a llevar a tu tumba, ¿no es eso?”
Su manita apretó la de Amanda; las uñas del muchacho se le metían en la carne.
“Allí,” le dijo, empujándola hacia una lápida.
Ella leyó su propio nombre grabado en la piedra y se cubrió el rostro con las manos. Toda su vida, todos sus recuerdos le pasaron por la mente, incluso los de aquel último momento. “¡No! ¡No! ¡No!”
“Piénsalo”, le dijo él. “¿Porqué es que nadie nos puede ver u oir—nadie con excepción de Noé? ¿Cómo piensas que nos movimos de aquí a tu casa sin un auto?”
“Tienes que dejarte ir,” le dijo él.
“¡No!” Ella cayó arrodillada. La sobrecogían los recuerdos, la culpa, el dolor.
“Te quedarás aquí para siempre sin libertad y sin paz hasta que te perdones a ti misma. Mírame, Amanda.”
Los sollozos de ella disminuyeron cuando lo miró.
“No fue culpa tuya que yo tratara de robarte la cartera. Tenías que correrme detrás. No fue culpa tuya que me arrollara aquel carro. Te has castigado bastante, ahogándote en alcohol y píldoras. ¿Porqué tomaste tantas píldoras esa noche?”
“Fue un accidente…”
“Lo sé.”
“¡Nunca quise matarme!”
“Lo sé.” Entonces él le dijo, “Yo te perdono, Amanda. Por eso he venido aquí esta noche.”
Permanecieron callados durante un tiempo. Amanda se puso de pie y miró a su alrededor. ¿Volvería a oler el mar? ¿A jugar con Noé? Se sentía asustada y perdida.
“Y ahora, ¿qué? ¿Adónde voy?”
Alfonsito la tomó de la mano. “Yo te enseño el camino.”

***This version appeared in Revista Domingo, El Nuevo Dia newspaper, December 2007.
©2007, 2008. Mayra Calvani / All Rights Reserved. This story may not be copied nor printed in any form without permission from the author.

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