Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Guest-blogger Daniel Olivas: 5 Influential Writers in "Latinos in Lotusland"

I'm a big fan of Daniel Olivas's, for his writing, his generous and entrepreneurial spirit, and his blogging--- yes, he blogs, too, every Monday for the excellent La Bloga (Chicano, Chicana, Latino, Latina literary news, views & more). His latest book is Latinos in Lotus-Land: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature, (Bilingual Press), which includes stories by Jennifer Silva Redmond, Rigoberto Gonzalez, and--- well, I'll stop now and let Dan have la palabra. Over to you, Daniel!

In spring of 2005, after receiving a “green light” from Bilingual Press, I set upon the waters of the Internet the following call for submissions:

“I am editing an anthology of short fiction by Latinos/as in which the City of Los Angeles plays an integral role. I am interested in provocative stories on virtually any subject by both established and new writers. Stories may range from social realism to cuentos de fantasma and anything in between. Los Angeles may be a major ‘character’ or merely lurking in the background. I'd like to see characters who represent diverse backgrounds in terms of ethnicity, profession, age, sexual orientation, etc.”

What happened next both surprised and delighted me. My call for submissions quickly spread like a happy virus through the Web, showing up on numerous literary sites, personal blogs, and even on the home page of the Department of Urban Planning at the UCLA School of Public Affairs. With the exception of several pieces I solicited from authors I knew, submissions started pouring in over my virtual transom from writers who found my call on the Web or learned of it through an e-mail from a friend, agent, or writing instructor. It was almost overwhelming. After making some tough decisions (I received more than 200,000 words of fiction and whittled it down to 115,000 words), I chose the pieces that make up Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature (Bilingual Press, 2008) .

Though I could sing the praises of all 34 authors whose short stories and novel excerpts are included in the anthology, under the tough guest-blogging rules of Madam Mayo, I must focus on five. So, here are five contributors to the anthology who have been important influences on my own fiction writing:

John’s contribution to the anthology is an excerpt from his novel, The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gómez. This book moved me to such an extent that it became one of the primary inspirations for my first full-length novel, The Book of Want, which is being read by a press right now. In fact, his protagonist, Amalia Gómez, makes an appearance in my book.

#2. LUIS ALBERTO URREA One of the most beautiful novels in recent memory is Luis’s The Hummingbird’s Daughter. After I reviewed his novel for the litblog, The Elegant Variation, I hounded Luis for a story. The man is very busy and crazy with travel. But Luis finally sent me a searing short story entitled “The White Girl.”

One of my favorite genres is the cuento de fantasma, stories steeped in the supernatural. Kathleen is a master of this genre and so I bugged her for a story. She sent me the creepy “Do You Know the Way to the Monkey House?” which is not really a cuento de fantasma but, rather, a plausible story that shows that real life can be stranger than the fantastical.

Without a doubt, one of my favorite short story collections is Helena’s The Moths. Her honest, poetic but often brutal language permeates my own fiction…I don’t pretend to reach Helena’s literary heights, but I try. So when her agent, Stuart Bernstein, offered Helena’s story, “Tears on My Pillow,” how could I refuse?

#5. LUIS J. RODRÍGUEZ Luis has emerged as one of the leading Chicano writers in the country with ten nationally published books in memoir, fiction, nonfiction, children’s literature, and poetry. One of my favorite books is his collection, The Republic of East L.A. I asked him if I could use a story from that book, a story entitled, “Miss East L.A.” He said yes but I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Luis’s agent, Susan Bergholz, for making it all work out.

--- Daniel Olivas

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