Thank you, Charlene Wilson, for making me this week’s Highlighted Author.
Archive for the ‘Publishing’ Category
I am very curious about what’s in the water, or the air, in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada. Or maybe Jamie Sharpe and Deborah Lisoway would be unique wherever they chose to live. But it’s in the Yukon that they publish The Associative Press, apparently entirely self-financed, with no institutional support.
There was always something mysterious about them. The journal itself shows no address and neither does the website. It wasn’t until I ordered a back issue from TAP and it came in the mail that I found out they are located in the far North. And who was Jamie Sharpe? Every person on the masthead was depicted with the same almost I eventually learned was Jamie’s grandfather. And where did the bizarre illustrations come from?
When I ordered a back issue, I soon saw why they had turned my own flash fiction down. The short prose pieces they do publish are much weirder and more inventive than anything that comes out of my head. Very very cool. But last year, they accepted and published a couple of my poems. Seeing my poetry in print would have been enough to make me happy, but Jamie and Deborah also invite contributors to choose the recipient of a Kiva microfinance loan. Just ahead of my own trip to Bolivia, TAP paid for a loan to a group of Bolivian women.
Then, this month, ECW Press–which does not stand for Extreme Championship Wrestling, but is instead one of the most highly regarded independent presses in Canada, published Jamie’s own book of poetry, Animal Husbandry Today. Deborah wrote me: “I’ve bought up enough copies to send to anyone who wants one to read/review/prop up a wonky table leg.” Even a volume of poems won’t save my table, but I said YES! , and I got to see what Jamie really looks like, discover he was the one all along creating those strange drawings as his style is instantly recognizable in the illustrations printed in the book…
and I’m once again pondering what’s in the water up there. Jamie fits a Dada-like sensibility into precisely structured lines. His contemporary drunks and vandals, roller rinks and bowling alleys coexist with an erudite historical consciousness. My own personal taste? The three “Equilateral Poems” in which he experiments but grounds his poems in observed (invented) experience. Maybe my favorite:
Productive [imagine white space here!] Means
“The whir of fabric,
at such speed, cancelled
thought. For others this
sound haunted sleep, while
Aura spent a week’s wages
on an industrial fan,
placing it next to her cot,
replicating work’s perfect
emptiness in dreams.”
* * *
Oh, I promised you Hell.
Alan Kessler and I crossed paths–must be 20 years ago–at Vermont College’s MFA program. I remember him well and how his fiction probed the darkest places a human being can go. So maybe it’s no surprise that after all this time when he sent me a paperback copy of his novel, A Satan Carol, I found him still exploring what’s worst in us. (Alan had contacted me when Wild Child brought his book out in Kindle format but I don’t have a Kindle. Had to wait for a real book.)
In this novel, all Satan wants is an annual birthday card and damn, as I read, I was ready to strike the Faustian bargain and send him one. The human characters are greedy and vulgar and awful even without his promptings while their heroism is revealed to be hollow and self-serving. Satan’s machinations fail not because of human goodness but usually due to bad timing and random happenstance. I have to admit I didn’t understand all of what Alan was saying about free will but I loved it when the bible made Satan hungry and he ate the Annunciation.
Alan is apparently a happily married father of happy children, but as I told him, if a reader has a moral compass, his dark and twisted tale will keep the needle spinning.
So, a blog post that’s not about prisons or politics. Till next time.
tatiana de la tierra now lifts away from the earth: tribute to a friend
When she was a little girl, at a time long before I knew her, tatiana de la tierra had a different name, and she stopped speaking. She went mute. By the time we met in 2010, tatiana had grown into her energy and her courage and her power and her free, uncensored tongue. tatiana said whatever she felt, believed, wanted to say. That doesn’t mean her words were ever cutting or cruel. She was funny and honest and out there, a voice of joyous and uninhibited liberation.
We met after The Blessing Next to the Wound was published. tatiana was going to review it for La Bloga but before she wrote anything, she wanted to interview Hector Aristizábal and me. The book upset her, reminding her of events from her own past she would prefer to forget. She wanted to know from us why Hector would want to probe the pain in his life, his arrest and torture, his brother’s murder, and more. tatiana, like Hector, emigrated from Colombia.
She, too, had trauma and violence in her past, but she preferred to heal herself in spiritual ways and put the pain behind her. It was not her way, though, to say someone else was wrong. With her openheartedness and ever alive curiosity, she wanted to understand Hector better, not to criticize or condemn him.
That day, tatiana performed some of her poetry for us, her rollicking, funny, wild celebrations of women’s bodies and lesbian love. She revealed herself a force of nature.
I came away from our meeting with her Chibcha Press book, Píntame una mujer peligrosa, and a new friend.
tatiana invited me and Hector to her apartment in Long Beach–a magical space with ritual objects and her extensive collection of folk art and books and record jackets from all over Latin America. And the two beautiful cats, Shakira and Mojito. tatiana was was initiated into Munay-ki and in a ritual ceremony she invoked for us mystical bands of protection.
Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a believer, but I was glad tatiana had spiritual protection, this impressive goddess of a woman who was struggling with kidney disease and dialysis (which didn’t stand in the way of her trekking to ecoaldeas in Colombia or shamanic trainings in both Americas or drumming on full moon nights in the mountains in Altadena) and her beloved brother’s murder and her difficult father’s recent death.
And she began to look at those wounds. tatiana began to write her own memoir and send me chapters. They should be published and read and the only reason I’m not posting them here is so that on-line publication won’t stand in the way of Olga Garcia, her literary executor, shepherding them into print.
Last year, she seemed to be at a low point. She was laid off from her library job. The IRS decided to audit her. A long distance relationship fizzled. Then she met Cristy McMahon. Cristy, who loved tatiana with all her heart. What joy to see tatiana so happy.
The diagnosis of cancer came soon after. It spread through her whole body like quicksilver. To her bones. Tumors popped out everywhere, you could touch them bulbing against the skin of her arms. Inoperable.
Taken onto the plane in a wheelchair, tatiana traveled alone to a healing center in New Mexico where she lay naked on a buffalo robe in the wind and sun. This was not the first time in her life that doctors had told her she was terminal and yet she had gone on living. So while she began to make final arrangements–writing her will; arranging for her archives to go to UCLA–while her mother flew in from Miami to be with her and aunts arrived from Colombia, tatiana said she was refusing to die.
Hector and I visited her in the hospital after the colostomy which was done not in hopes of a cure but to keep her a little more comfortable because of the large tumors blocking the passage and causing excruciating pain. She looked so healthy and joked around about her colostomy bag with her accustomed lack of inhibition and good cheer and told about the new apartment she was moving to–on the ground floor, to make life easier–it was tempting to believe she would be all right.
Maylei Blackwell contacted tatiana’s friends and family with an invitation. On Thursday, July 12, we gathered for a healing ceremony at the home of Qween Hollins in Long Beach, a place where the LGBT community gathers for non-patriarchal spiritual practice, where we were saged and then went down steps carved into the earth, into the pit–”the womb of Mother Earth”–with a fire pit in its center. About 25 of us took our seats. Above us, trees and towering sunflowers, and a light rain fell.
Qween Hollins is gifted and absolutely genuine. She led the 2-hour ritual which, though many of us hoped for healing and cure, we understood the ritual was aimed at leaving the outcome open and letting the spirit guide tatiana to wherever it was she was meant to be. At one point, tatiana transformed before my eyes to a 5-year-old little girl. She just grew younger and younger, a look of total trust and innocence.
Then, inside the house, we were joined by her mother and her aunts. tatiana, exhausted, had to lie down on the bed. We shared food and then tatiana got off the bed and sat with Cristy beside her and we presented our gifts of poetry and memories. So many people simply adore tatiana. they have been so inspired by her courage, not just in how she has faced the pain, but they have felt liberated by her refusal to censor herself. tatiana had taken down the necklaces that used to hang over her bed and had them in a basket so everyone could take one.
True to tatiana’s spirit, there was a lot of laughter and sexual commentary. Her mother spoke in tribute not just to tatiana but to her community. “Everyone has heard of witches, but you don’t know they really exist and you’ve never actually seen one. To me, that’s what lesbians were. I couldn’t believe it. But I’ve learned that you have been mother to my daughter and sisters to my daughter. When she first had her kidney disease, I told her to come home where I could take care of her and she said, no, I’m staying here. Then I came to visit and I saw you are her true family. I love you all and I consider you my family and I’m proud you are part of my family. Thank you for loving my daughter.”
Once everyone had a chance to speak, we lit candles, tall white candles that burn for seven days and we placed them in the center of the room on two trays and spoke our intentions.
Qween invited tatiana’s mother and aunts to lead us in prayer. This was so open of her because I’m sure she knew where those prayers would go, back to patriarchal religion, but she showed the women this respect. tatiana’s mother asked the Lord for blessings and to care for and comfort tatiana and ended it in Jesus’ name, and the aunts led us in the Padre Nuestro.
We sang De Colores and an African song that Qween taught us.
tatiana said she was exhausted but happy.
I did not see her again. The apartment was crowded and hectic. Family, and Cristy. I didn’t want to intrude. On Monday, though, Maylei suggested I visit but told me to text first. I don’t have a cell phone, so I phoned instead. tatiana could barely speak she was so weak. she was too exhausted for a visit then but said she would call me back the next day, Tuesday, if she felt stronger. Instead, Tuesday afternoon, July 31, I got word that she had left us. The world is diminished.
* * *
Gore Vidal also died on Tuesday. These words of his apply so well to tatiana de la tierra: “Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”
* * *
Tatiana’s memorial service will be held on Saturday, August 11 at 2:00 pm at Forest Lawn Cathedral Chapel, 4885 Cherry Avenue, Long Beach, CA 90807
The family requests that no floral arrangements be sent. Instead, friends and family are welcome to bring loose flowers that everyone will arrange together.
My guest blog for All Things Writing, thanks to Mary Ann Loesch. (also, the link is here.)
The master is gone. I’ve been thinking about Ray Bradbury all week and I’m sure you have been too. Is there a writer or a reader anywhere who does not respond to Fahrenheit 451?
In Bradbury’s novel, not only are books burned but newspapers disappear due to public indifference. People are instead entranced with their “parlor walls,” the flat screen TV’s that Bradbury imagined back in 1953 that can now represent the internet and Wii and all the virtual worlds that have usurped the role of books. But to me, the “walls” carried me back to the immigration detention center where I was a volunteer interpreter for people held for months, even years, awaiting their hearings. Books and magazines were prohibited while TV sets blared at full volume all day.
And I thought about a friend who was convicted at age 16 for a stupid youthful incident in which no human being or any living creature was injured in any way. After being sentenced 35-years-to-life, he spent a year in solitary, supposedly for his own protection–and inmates in solitary were not allowed to have books. A wonderful person on the outside Xeroxed entire novels and put three double-sided pages in the mail every day, in envelopes thin enough that they would not be confiscated. Reading novels in 6-page installments was what kept my friend sane.
I have other true stories like this and it has always been a struggle to get any of it into print. (Talk about censorship: the media is barred from California prisons and detention centers.)
But Ray Bradbury was able to offer a scathing critique of our society and see it not only published but a bestseller. David Ulin, Los Angeles Times book critic, suggested perhaps writing genre fiction–in Bradbury’s case, science fiction–gave an author more freedom.
Yes! I thought of my late friend, Ted Gottfried (aka Ted Mark), who wrote dirty books from the Sixties up until around (coincidence?) 1984. Ted believed teenage boys were gonna learn about sex from porn and he wanted them to learn healthy attitudes, especially respect for women. In the Man from O.R.G.Y. series, Steve Victor travels the world solving sexual problems, always taking the advice of his feminist girlfriend, Stephanie Greenwillow. Along the way, Ted’s books addressed every controversial issue of the day. As long as there was arousal material on every page, the publisher didn’t care if Ted expressed his opinions.
Ted’s porn career came to an end when smut went visual: dirty movies and then the internet. As Bradbury understood, you don’t have to burn books to make them disappear. I wish Ted could have still been writing books during the era of AIDS. He could have saved lives by making safe sex very sexy.
I think Ted would have enjoyed my new novel, Nobody Wakes Up Pretty, which Edgar Award winner Domenic Stansberry described as “A sexy, funny, tender-hearted puzzler about a young woman sifting the ashes of America’s endless class warfare.” And I realized my NYC noir–my genre novel–says more about race and class and says it more overtly than anything else I’ve had published.
Is genre the only way to write uncensored fiction? Maybe it’s just that you can’t write a genre novel without telling a good story. And when you tell a good story you have freedom.
Thank you, Gina Frangello and Leah Tallon for featuring me and an excerpt from Nobody Wakes Up Pretty. Here’s the link
I just stumbled across a review of The Blessing Next to the Wound, one I’d never seen before.
And this also introduced me to a new blog: Gloria’s Mind
About Everything, Nothing and Maybe a Few Interesting Things
It made my day. I always hope to reach readers who wouldn’t ordinarily think about the subjects I’m writing about. This review moved me and so I’d like to share it.
* * *
Green Books Campaign: The Blessing Next To The Wound
Posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 | 1 Comment
This review is part of the Green Books campaign. Today 200 bloggers take a stand to support books printed in an eco-friendly manner by simultaneously publishing reviews of 200 books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. By turning a spotlight on books printed using eco- friendly paper, we hope to raise the awareness of book buyers and encourage everyone to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books.
The campaign is organized for the second time by Eco-Libris, a green company working to make reading more sustainable. We invite you to join the discussion on “green” books and support books printed in an eco-friendly manner! A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.
The Review: I do not really enjoy reading books with political and historical themes. I find the text too cumbersome. I skip past it and read something that is more useful for me at the moment. So, I was surprised to see, The Blessing Next To The Wound, by Hector Aristizabal and Diane Lefer, when it arrived at my home. I opened the package and I was sure I didn’t order it. I emailed Raz from Eco-Libris to let them him know I was either sent the wrong book or that I ordered a wrong book. Maybe it was a subconscious mistake. Hector Aristizabal taught me mistakes can turn out to be a good thing.
When it happened: I was making dinner one night, just a few days after receiving, The Blessing Next To The Wound. The food on the stove had a few minutes to sit on the stove to finish cooking. My office is right next to the kitchen (makes for poor eating habits) and so; I noticed the book sitting there on my desk unopened. It wasn’t the authors’ fault a mistake was made and it takes a lot of work to write a book. I kept looking at the book… The picture of the man with the blindfold over his eyes and the title really peaked my curiosity. Why was this book even on the Eco-libris list?
So, I turned the page to the introduction and began to read. When the timer on the stove beeped notifying me that dinner was ready to serve I looked the corner of the page to bookmark it and I realized I was several pages into reading this book by the time the timer on the stove went off. I was hooked and I knew I was. So, when Raz from Eco-libris returned my email, I let him know it wasn’t a problem after all. This was turning out to be a good read. It was a good read. It was a very good read.
There is something humbling about reading about a man living through poverty, political crisis, torture, abortion of his own children, and deaths of two of his brothers that really make a book like this amazing and well worth the read. Though keeping the dates, times, and names of a few places took a lot of note taking it was everything between the lines that I took in. This was truly and inspiring tale about taking something from the bad and using it to heal others as well as oneself. Hector did just that. He used his acting abilities and his psychotherapeutic know-how and then used it to help people heal. In the end he finally began to use these skills to help himself too.
The Blessing Next To The Wound is printed on recycled paper
Wow – that happened sooner than expected. Both the print edition and the Kindle version are now out. You can click here to order.