Thank you to everyone who stopped by The Sol Within this week to read my interview with the incredibly talented artist Carolyn Flores of Flores Originals!
I am so thrilled to have hosted her this week and to get to know her because I discovered such a beautiful soul and spirit. By the comments that were left, it is very evident that Carolyn has a tremendous spirit that shines through in all of her art work which touches the souls of those who view it!
I want to remind everyone that Carolyn has some very affordable creations that are great and original gifts for the Holidays. Please continue to follow Carolyn on FaceBook or her blog Mi Vida Loca so that you are sure to be updated with her upcoming events and the art that she is producing in 2010!
Also, if you enjoyed this interview, please stop by as I am working on many other interviews as we begin a new year! I will continue to try my best to inspire the readers of The Sol Within!
I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all of the comments this week. A special thanks to The Fancy Chola for stopping by and making us laugh with her "behind the scenes" stories. I loved it!
Before I reveal the winner...I must extend a truly heartfelt thank you to Carolyn for allowing me to host her and her work this week! I became a fan of your work and your blog many months ago, and after working with you this week...I can honestly say that you are one of the most gracious people I have ever met! May you and your family continue to be abundantly blessed!
To all my readers, followers, and visitors, I wish you a wonderful Holiday season filled with love, health, happiness, and lots of family and friends to share the days with!
AND THE WINNER IS...
Leticia Werner, please be sure to contact Carolyn or myself with your address so that your prize can be mailed off to you!
Wishing you dreams to fulfill and the inspiration needed to do so!
About six months ago I came across a blog name that intrigued me...Mi Vida Loca. I soon came to learn that this blog is beautiful, witty, family-centered and inspiring! The owner of the blog is an artist from New Mexico sharing the details of her adventures as a wife, mother of three, and all around very busy Latina trying her best to pursue her dreams of being the passionate artist that she knows she is meant to be!
Some of you might recall that in my very first post I paid a little tribute to the owner of Mi Vida Loca, as well as, the artist and owner of Flores Originals. I found her art to be so captivating and awe-inspiring that I soon became a follower of her blog and often found peace in my day by scrolling through her art work as if I were in a museum.
I had the opportunity to interview some talented authors recently and have been contacted by several more to interview them in the upcoming new year. I have been blessed to be able to promote my fellow Latina/os and their passion for what they do. However, before I continue with any other interviews I wanted to bring the readers of The Sol Within the Latina, artist, woman that has inspired me for some time...Carolyn Flores!
Please enjoy my interview with Carolyn. She has graciously offered to raffle off an art piece for one lucky reader who leaves a question or comment for her.
Please, please click on everything you can because you will want to see as much of her work as possible. Her work is clean, beautiful, and vibrant. She is a true artist and I just know she has a long and successful career ahead for her!
Anna: Thank you, Carolyn, for visitingThe Sol Withintoday! When did you know you wanted to become an artist? What does it mean to you to be a Latina artist?
Carolyn: The first time I knew I wanted to be an artist was probably around age 8 or 9. I remember I was sitting on the floor of my Grandparents living room watching the Flintstones (my favorite cartoon), my Mom had sketched all of the characters while I was watching the show. I didn’t know she could draw. I was dumbfounded, she was really good! My Grandpa said, “Maybe one day, you’ll be an artist”. That was a revelation to me. I could be an artist? That’s all I wanted to be from that moment forward! I have always loved to draw.
I am proud to be a Latina artist! My life is surrounded by my Hispanic heritage and it is what inspires me. When I first started painting I had painted a woman and her skin was my color, a delicious chocolate brown (jaja). I was told by someone that her skin was the wrong color and I needed to work on that. At first I was discouraged and my Best Friend said, “Why is her skin wrong? It’s the same color as yours, is your skin color wrong?” I opened my eyes, I realized my art, is exactly that, MY art! And from that point on it was going to tell the story of my life, my family, my heritage and everyone I love. I feel it’s my duty to share all that I have been blessed with, with the rest of the world.
Anna: When did your career as a serious artist begin and what was the first piece you ever sold? What is the current price range for your work?
Carolyn: My career as a serious artist only began January of 2008. This is when I decided I was going to see if my art was good enough to be accepted to the Contemporary Hispanic Market, one of the largest art shows here in New Mexico. I was so nervous that day. The process is a lot of waiting. You don’t know if you’re accepted for at least a few weeks. I finally got my results in and they have accepted me the last two years as an alternate. This is a very successful show for me I have met people from around the world such as Europe, France, Mexico, India, Jamaica and more and of course around our own USA. I have hardly left New Mexico so this is exciting to me. I really enjoy seeing repeat customers. Although I don’t really like calling them “customers” I feel like the people who buy my art are purchasing important pieces of my life. So to me they are more than just a customer, they’re more of a friend a Flores Original patron, but definitely more than just a “customer”. The very first piece of work I sold was 2007 of November. It was a saw blade and I painted winter scenery on it using oil paint, and it was sold for $20.
My original work ranges from $45 to $800.00. But I like to have items available for everyone. I incorporate my art into anything and everything, from bottle cap bracelets to jewelry boxes, light switch covers, wallets, necklaces, greeting cards, ornaments and so much more. I want everyone to be able to afford a Flores Original. These items range from $2-$75.
Anna: Who or what is your inspiration for your work?
Carolyn: My husband Ray is my main inspiration, because without him I really wouldn’t be able to do any of it. I have 3 children and I am a stay at home mom, which a lot of people don’t realize is a full time job in itself! When I am preparing for a show, my husband goes into super husband mode and helps with dinner and the kids. If I am working with wood, he’s my guy! He is learning right along with me, he is an electrician not a wood worker, so between us we have made some pretty funky things, but we have improved together. My inspiration comes from my family, friends and this awesome state of New Mexico. Inspiration also comes from the feedback that I get from shows, people have so many opinions, comments and compliments and yes even the critics inspire me! I do enjoy incorporating my family and friends into my pieces. Sometimes you will find hidden images in my work. Usually if I don't show the onlooker they never notice. The hidden image I like best is 3 tiny foot prints; this represents each one of my children Pablo, Marielena and Lorena Flores.
Anna: We always hear of the "starving artist", have you ever encountered this and if so, what advice would you give to other artists wanting to pursue a career in art, but are currently struggling financially?
Carolyn: I wish starving artist meant that I could lose weight in the process, ah que suave, I’d be so thin (jaja)... Yes, I have been a “starving artist” which means basically I paid the employee’s wages at the art supply store, just to keep on painting. No matter how scared I have been at times to try a new show or gallery showing, my love for art just keeps me going! When I first started out, I was so scared to be called “an artist” (I know it sounds funny), sometimes in this business, (just like any other) you run into the snotty artist. These artists are the ones who give you passive aggressive compliments. These artists used to intimidate me. I needed a new way of thinking. I told myself over and over, an artist is a person who creates passionately from their heart. I won’t ever let anyone tell me I’m not an artist or put my work down, I can’t stop them of course, but I definitely won’t believe it! My advice to other artists wanting to pursue a career in art, is to always take a chance. There will always be people out there to knock you down a peg and criticize your work, but in the end the art, and opportunity to create, will outweigh the struggles. If you love what you do, build a strong wall of passion around you and no one can knock it down. I am inspired by God, my faith, other artists and family, and friends.
Anna: Writers are always told to have "thick skin" and not to take the criticism personally. As an artist and crafter, have you ever read or overheard criticism of your work that surprised you or hurt you? What did you do? How do you overcome it to create again?
Carolyn: Yes, the second year that I participated in the Contemporary Hispanic Market, I started to hear criticism. I participate in a lot of Dia de los Muerto (Day of the Dead) shows. One of my largest pieces is a Marilyn Mon-Muerto. I like to have humor in my work; she is a very sexy Skeleto (skeleton). So, I stood outside my area where the public was. I heard things like , "I know that "stuff" is supposed to be happy "stuff" but Marilyn Monroe was an icon, and to portray her as a skeleton is just awful." or "That's horrible, look at that!" or "Oh My Gosh (roll of the eyes)", I used to think I would fall over and die if someone criticized my work. I’ll tell you why, when I first had to go take my art in front of a panel of judges for the first time, I felt as if I were going to be sprawled out in the nude on a table while they judged me, not my work, me! However, I didn’t die; in fact it did the exact opposite. It drove me, I was so excited! I made people feel something, and as an artist that is my goal. I heard comments that were good, bad, shocking and uplifting. This is not to say that criticism has never hurt me, it has, but luckily I am surrounded with so many people who support me and feed my artist ego...(Jaja)... I have wanted to quit so many times, I can be a weird emotional artist. The worst is when you get painters block. I had it for 3 months one time; I thought I would never paint again. And then one day inspiration hit! Thank God!
Anna: What has been the most meaningful piece that you ever created and why? Did you sell it or do you still have it?
Carolyn: I am heartbroken over a piece that I will regret selling for the rest of my life. I had a piece that my Grandfather and I made together. My Grandpa made me a special frame, the painting fit into the frame like a puzzle piece. This piece was featured in our local paper, my first interview. I loved this piece, but I sold it for a mere $200 to a very nice woman who is an author and resides in Sweden. Although my painting got a good home, I still regret selling it. I got desperate to make a sale, at a slow show, and my consequence was losing a very special piece.
Anna: What artists, living or deceased, do you admire? What artist/crafter living today would you like to collaborate with if you had the opportunity?
Carolyn: Oh I love this question. All of the artists that I admire are indeed alive! The coordinator and artist of Arte de Muertos, Mr. Hank Estrada is someone I admire. He has such a drive and is passionate about this show that he has created and continues to work hard to put it together for us. He has carefully traveled to pick out handfuls of artists that are amazing. He has also managed to bring us together like a family. Hank is always researching and working on ways to make the show better. He cares about all of us artists and when we have other shows, he is always there to support us! I feel so blessed to be a part of this family and for this I really admire Hank.
Another artist I admire whole heartedly is Pamela Enriquez Courts. She is so amazing, her work really inspires me. Her religious art is very heartfelt and beautiful. Her Muertos are stunning and I am in awe at the combination of costumes and backgrounds that are brought to life with the metallic paint that she covers her canvas with. She is one of the greats! She is not only an amazing talent, but also one of the nicest and most generous people I know. .
Another great artist that I admire would be Cathy Ashworth from Cat Box art studio. She is an artist from California, when I first stumbled upon her art on vacation; we were visiting the famous Olvera Street. I immediately fell in love and had to contact her to tell her how much I loved her work. She is also a very nice soul. Brandon Maldonado, hands down is another favorite of mine. I do not own a piece of his art “yet” I hope to be able to own at least a print one day. However, I do have his book that contains some prints of his works. I could live in his paintings; I really think he is amazing. Antonio Garcez, is another favorite of mine, he is one of New Mexico’s award winning authors. The collections of stories in his books are just amazing. I admire Antonio because his passion for his work is found in everything he does.
I would also like to mention Christina Medrano from the Fancy Chola. Her mind is boggling. Her ideas and sense of style are like no other. She invented the “Patron Pin-up”. She actually has one called “Carolyn, the Patron Pin-up of Artists” She has the patron pin-up of Latin girls, sassy girls and so much more! I admire her for her unique style; I think her ideas and creativity are just awesome!
There are so many other artists that really inspire me as well such as Scott Garcia, John de Jesus, Richard Trujillo, The two Gringas, Michelle Tapia, Michelle Padilla, Alex Chavez and so many others.
I would love, to collaborate a triptych piece with Cathy Ashworth and Pamela Enriquez; I think this piece would be amazing. The themes in work are similar but at the same time so different, and I would love to see how the combined creativeness would turn out. I think it would be amazing.
Anna: Who is your target audience? What do you aim to accomplish with your art? What do you want your children to always remember about you and your art?
Carolyn: My target audience would be people who are young at heart, and possess a love for life! Sometimes these people teach me something I didn’t know about my own piece! I feel that I have accomplished what I have always wanted, and that is to earn a living from something I love doing. I love to paint.
I want my children to always remember that I had a dream and I followed it. I had a fear and I overcame it. They are my inspiration, and I hope they always follow their hearts. I think when you are happy with what you do your whole family is happy. I hope my children will always follow this philosophy! My oldest daughter always tells me when she is an artist, we're going to change the name from “Flores Originals” to “Flores Origi-Gals” I can't wait for that day!
Anna: What would you ultimately like to see happen with your career? Your own store, museum exhibits, teaching classes, etc.?
Carolyn: Two things I would ultimately like to see, one being my studio actually starting and getting finished. Right now I have the plans and I am working on getting it started. I have many patrons who ask me if I have a studio and I sadly have to answer no. They want to come see all that I have or something in the works. I currently work out of my home and have no space for all of my works to be displayed so this studio will be ideal. When the studio is complete, and I am not participating in shows, I will have a place for the public to view my work at any time.
I would also love to start traveling outside New Mexico to show my work. I think that 2010 will be the start of this. Next March of 2010 in San Antonio, Texas at the Centro Cultural Aztlan, I will be participating in a large show that will only feature three artists, me being one of them! The show will be called Carolina Flores x 3. The show will start March 5, and continue through out that month.
Anna: What does creating your art do for you that nothing else in your life- family, people, relationships, books, music, traveling, etc. - cannot or has not done for your soul within?
Carolyn: It does so much for me. It’s a very intimate process almost like a prayer. Painting for me is a way of expression, I am not a verbal person and I used to be horribly shy, but art has allowed me to be expressive, and confident. I would like to add a special thanks to a friend and Flores Original patron Mr. Wesley Starr from Florida, who had followed my work since I first started selling paintings on eBay and is still with me now. Thank you Wesley for your support and friendship!
Anna: Thank you for being here today, Carolyn! Your work is beautiful and inspires me! It has truly been an honor to host you and your wonderfully crafted Flores Originals art on The Sol Within. I wish you the very best in life, with your family, and with your career as an artist!
Don't forget to leave a question or comment for Carolyn Flores and you will be entered to win the oval acrylic painting on wood, approx. 8"x5". Winner will be announced Friday, December 18th.
(Photo at right)
If you aren't the lucky winner today, don't fret, just visit Flores Originals and place an order at Carolyn's etsy store (online). You will find bottle cap bracelets and earrings, prints, paintings, light switches, and so much more! Still in search of that perfect Holiday gift...give an original piece of art! Carolyn tells me that she is holding a sale at this time and don't forget to order soon to ensure that you'll have your art in time for the Holidays!
Take a stroll through the Flores Originals slide show! Some of Anna's favorites: El Chingon, La Chingona, Aye los Flores, La Grenuda, Metoteras, Taco Tuesday, Senorita, Madre del Sol, and the bottle cap bracelet in the intro post! Marilyn Mon-Muerto is pretty cool and so are her Frida jewelry boxes!
Happy Holidays and happy Flores Originals shopping!
Wishing you dreams to fulfill and the inspiration needed to do so!
~the sol within~
Supporting Latino arts and those who create it!
We all know that the Holiday season is rapidly approaching. I grew up feeling that this is the most wonderful time of the year! Now, I make sure that my children feel the same. We have been attending many wonderful Holiday parades, tree-lightings, and other family-fun events. Last weekend, one of the parades honored the many men and women our beautiful country has sent far away to fight the wars on our behalf. I fought hard to hold back the tears from running down my cheeks. I think of the soldiers so far from home, living in a completely foreign place. Meditate on that word for a moment, "foreign". If there is something foreign in our bodies, it usually makes us ill and we seek medical help to assist us in ridding ourselves of this pain. Our own American brothers and sisters cannot rid themselves of this foreign trouble until they finish their duty! They feel obligated to successfully complete this duty to their country all while missing out on the Holidays, birthdays, and the many other family moments that happen throughout the year.
I come from a long line of military men and women. During the week of Thanksgiving, my family attended the funeral of one of my great-uncles. He served in World War II. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and shared stories like none I've ever heard before! Just like my Abuelo, whom I've blogged about before, my great-uncle was also buried with a 21-gun salute.
I was asked some time ago by editor and author, Jo Ann Hernandez, to write about my personal story for a blog that is dedicated to the blogger's daughter, a young woman on the front lines!
Here is my article: Military Mom by: Anna Rodriguez Each time it happens I wonder how she can do it, but I know she has to do it. I don’t think I could, but I do recall feeling that I wanted to do it for my family and for my country. It was on the afternoon of September 11th, the day had brought so much confusion, astonishment, worry, fear, and by the afternoon…anger! I remember commuting my child home from school that day, a thirty minute drive at the time, and feeling the American pride as motorcyclists, waving the American flag, blew past my American-made truck where I had the American flag flying proudly from my antennae for all to see as we drove down the highway. I recall hearing the fright in the voices of all the local radio disc jockeys. They had been up to their usual antics the day before, but now our country was in this numb and wide-eyed confused state of sheer shock!
For many days after the terror I contemplated the idea of joining the air force. I was angry! I was angry that this country I loved so much was no longer the same place it had been. I was angry that my Grandfather, uncles, cousins, and countless other family members and friends already fought for this beautiful country and now we are no longer feeling safe in our own homeland! I was angry that I had a beautiful child that was now a part of a country that could have catastrophic and horrendous attacks occur in our own backyard.
My father had served in the air force when he was first married and I was even born on an air force base. I have all the photos of my baby-hood posing with my dad dressed in his fatigues or dress blues. American pride was something that I was raised on. I was taught at an early age to take my voting privilege very seriously. I do and it is something that I have instilled in my children. Therefore, all of my emotions from September 11th turned into anger that made me want to fight for the love and pride of this country…my home and my family’s home!
I looked into my options and learned that many young Americans had felt the same way I did. After the uneasiness of what was to come and the amount of questions that my child had for me on a daily basis, I decided that I needed to continue to be a good and loyal citizen, but I couldn’t leave my little child. I just couldn’t have done that. I was glued to the television and watched and cried for all of the young Americans who departed from the clutches of their parents’ arms. Many of the fathers knowing all too well, from their service during the Vietnam War, the violence that awaited their children. I saw all the husbands hugging their wives so tightly each of them nearly suffocated; the daddy’s that kissed their little girls gently and gave their sons the nod as if to say, “You’re the man of the house now, son. Take care of your mom and siblings.” Then, I saw all the news footage of the women who left: married women, mothers, and single mothers. They were all leaving this country, the comforts of their homes, and…they were all leaving broken and worried hearts behind. I knew in my heart that I wanted- maybe even needed- to do something to show my appreciation for what these brave heroes are doing for all who reside in the United States. I just didn’t know what I could do.
Years passed and we are still fighting a war, and some might even say we are fighting several wars in many places. It doesn’t really matter to those who have someone “over there”. The fact is they are not here- at home- and they aren’t even in their own homeland. I have had cousins and acquaintances “fight in the war” and we’ve even prayed for them weekly at church. I’ve seen our local soldiers depart and return and I’ve seen the local news reporters outside the homes of those who did not make it back. Still, I didn’t know what my part would be.
My daughter’s junior high years were suddenly upon us and with it a new friend was made when she transferred to my daughter’s school. Laurie was in a grade younger than my daughter, but they played on the same school basketball team and soon became fast friends! Laurie’s mom would pick her up after practices, dressed in her army fatigues. We soon talked and I learned that Sgt. Jackie, a single mother, had five children: two high school boys, Laurie, and a seven year old son, and a two year old son. Our girls were similar in age and our babies were the same age. We live near a base therefore, we’ve met many military parents over the years, but we were not as close to any as we became to Sgt. Jackie’s family.
Shortly after the basketball season began we noticed that Sgt. Jackie had not been to games in quite some time. When I asked my daughter about it she informed us that Sgt. Jackie had been deployed to Afghanistan. She is gone for months at a time and the kids are left with friends, the youngest boy stays with his babysitter’s family. The eldest son must carpool the younger kids to school and pick them up from day cares when he is done with his high school basketball practice at the end of the day.
This is where I found the service that my family could do. We, along with another school family, have become Laurie’s second family whenever her mother is deployed. We have a place for her to sleep, stock up on her favorite foods, and my husband even stayed up well past 1:00 a.m. one Sunday night, as we’d do for our own children, to help Laurie finish a school project. We have a bag of Laurie’s clothes in our home and it is not unusual to do a load of laundry and find a sock, t-shirt, or pajamas of Laurie’s in the mix. Sgt. Jackie’s younger children became our own children and we love them as such.
Sgt. Jackie has been deployed many times over the years and can be gone for weeks to months at a time, but with no family in-state, she must rely on help from trusted friends.
Sgt. Jackie’s children are pretty tough and resilient. They are happy and make friends easily. I love the energy that Laurie brings to our home. She jokes and teases with me as I do with her and my other children. She is fully aware that this is her second home and when she is here we can often find her rummaging through the refrigerator at midnight for a snack. I bring her lunch as I do for my own and I deal with school issues on her behalf as her own mother would do if she were here…and not “over there”!
I can’t even begin to fathom the strength that Sgt. Jackie has to have in order to leave her children each time and to allow herself to fully focus on the challenges she faces. I don’t know how her children are able to cope, but they do, and they do it well. I know they miss her immensely, but they know that their mommy is a true American hero! And for that we are all very grateful and blessed! Copyright 2009
If you are a knitter or you can crochet, please consider sending some items to the troops this Holiday season to keep them warm! Visit A Mom of a Daughter Soldier blog for more information!
May there be peace...finally! May God bless the troops and bring them home safely!
Wishing you dreams to fulfill and the inspiration needed to do so! ~the sol within~ Anna
Give it a listen. The songs that inspired this post are:
~Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy by Bing Crosby and David Bowie
~Do they know it's Christmas? by Band Aid
~Home for the Holidays by Perry Como
~I'm a Long Way from Home by Shooter Jennings
~America the Beautiful by Ray Charles
~Waiting on the World to Change by John Mayer
~Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revival
For Lucha Corpi, art has always meant activism. As a woman, a Hispanic, an immigrant and a mother, she has always found herself breaking down barriers in both life and literature. Corpi was born in 1945 in Jáltipan, Veracruz, Mexico, a small tropical village on the Gulf of Mexico into a community that fostered creativity, performances and an appreciation for music, poetry and storytelling.
In 1964, she married and moved with her husband to Berkeley, California, a city in the throes of the students' Free Speech Movement, which ignited the most turbulent decade in the history of the University of California-Berkley campus. It also coincided with the inception of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement in the southwestern United States.
Following an emotionally devastating divorce in 1970, Corpi found herself alone and in pain, with no family except her young son Arturo and very few friends. She turned to writing simply to get hold of her feelings, to face her contradictions and keep chaos at bay.
Her initial writing forays led to the exploration of poetry in Spanish as an outlet for her creativity. In 1970, she received a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship for poems later included in Palabras de mediodia/Noon Words (Fuego de Aztlán Publications, 1980; bilingual edition Arte Público Press, 2001). Her first collection of poems appeared in Fireflight: Three Latin American Poets (Oyes, 1976), and a third poetry collection followed: Variaciones sobre una tempestad / Variations on a Storm (Third Woman Press, 1990).
During that same decade, Corpi resumed her university studies which had been interrupted by her marriage and supporting her husband while he studied. The UC-Berkeley campus provided an excellent forum for her political activism. Among other pursuits, Corpi was one of five founding members of the Aztlán Cultural, an arts service organization that years later would merge with Centro Chicano de Escritores (Chicano Writers Center). She also joined the Comité Popular Educativo de la Raza, an organization of parents, students and teachers in Oakland that sought to establish bilingual child care centers and other programs in the city's unified school district.
After her first collection of poetry appeared, Corpi experienced a long and personally worrisome poetic silence. To ease the tension, she turned to prose, penning several award-winning short stories. In 1984, she wrote her first story in English and her first English-language novel, Delia's Song, was published by Arte Público Press in 1989.
In 1990, Corpi was twice honored: she was awarded a Creative Arts Fellowship in fiction by the City of Oakland, and she was named poet laureate at Indian University Northwest.
The publication of Eulogy for a Brown Angel: A Mystery Novel (Arte Público Press, 1992) was the culmination of a life-long dream. The novel won the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award and the Multicultural Publishers Exchange Best Book of Fiction. Cactus Blood (Arte Público Press, 1995) is Corpi's second mystery novel featuring Chicana detective Gloria Damasco. Hispanic culture, the United Farm Workers movement and other social issues texture a suspenseful search for a ritualistic assassin. The publication of Black Widow’s Wardrobe (Arte Público Press, 1999) rounded out the trilogy known as The Gloria Damasco Series. Fans disappointed that The Gloria Damasco Series has come to an end can turn to Corpi’s first mystery novel in a new series, Crimson Moon: A Brown Angel Mystery (Arte Público Press, 2004). Weaving the student movements at Berkeley, a serial rapist within the government’s ranks, a militant Chicano brown power group in Denver, and even the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico, Corpi has once again penned an intriguing thriller that revisits one of the most disturbing chapters for the American psyche: the civil rights struggles and student revolts during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In addition to poetry and mystery novels, Lucha Corpi also writes for children. In 1997, she published her first bilingual picture book, Where Fireflies Dance / Ahí, donde bailan las luciérnagas (Children’s Book Press), and The Triple Banana Split Boy / Diente dulce (Arte Público Press) in 2009.
A tenured teacher in the Oakland Public Schools Neighborhood Centers Program for 30 years, she retired in 2005.
When I created The Sol Within, it was with the intention to inspire other aspiring writers to fully commit to following their dreams. Along the way on my journey, I also hoped that I may find some inspiration to keep me in pursuit of becoming the writer I know is within this soul! Over these past four months I have been incredibly blessed to meet those that have inspired my soul and my writing! I have learned a lot about myself and about others, thus far. However, I know that this particular project will be a highlight in my career that I will forever remember fondly! Thanks to Jo Ann Hernandez, of BronzeWord Latino, I had the incredible opportunity to interview the talented Lucha Corpi...the "Grand Dame of Chicano Mystery!"
My only regret is that the interview was not done in-person and that each reader of The Sol Within does not get the chance to sit and meet Lucha Corpi in-person. But, I am certain that you will become as intrigued and admire her as much as I do, because Lucha's beautiful spirit will leap off of the screen and you will discover, for yourself, Lucha Corpi's incredbible soul within! Now, it is with great honor that I invite you to sit back and enjoy my interview with Ms. Lucha Corpi...
Anna: Why did you choose to write a mystery novel and when did you realize that the mysteries should become a series – one novel would not be enough to tell all about Gloria Damasco?
Lucha: When I was a young girl, growing up in a very small tropical town in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, I fell in love with the detective story by reading “la pagina roja,” the crime page of the regional newspaper. It happened that I started grammar school at age four and was able to read well by age seven. At about that time, my father had a cornea transplant and was unable to read the newspaper so he asked me to read to him from it. I loved doing that for my father, whom I loved very much and who has been one of the most influential people in my life. He would let me choose from any page or section of the newspaper. But, of course, he would not allow me to read from the crime page. He would remove it, fold it and put it in his shirt pocket to dispose of it later. But he didn’t destroy it. So I always found it, hid in my favorite place, and read it.
La pagina roja contained all sorts of graphic details about knifings, accidents, brawls in the red light district and gaming parlors, shootings, etc. And talked about subjects I didn’t quite understand. But after awhile I began to lose interest in these kinds of graphic depictions of violent events, and became fascinated with stories where it was obvious there was “an intelligence” behind the crimes. Someone had taken the time to plot against, to steal from, rob, or murder someone else. Also there was always a police officer or an amateur detective—a busybody—who would take up the investigation of the crime and solve the mystery, or not. This is the basic mystery detective story, whether the investigation is conducted by an official or amateur detective. This is the kind of crime novel I write and love.
Later, I read many of the Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie stories in translation, and began to dream of penning a mystery story myself. But it wasn’t until 1990 that Gloria Damasco walked into my dream and I began the writing of Eulogy for a Brown Angel, my first mystery novel.
Up to that time, I had already considered writing a trilogy: Eulogy for a Brown Angel, Cactus Blood, and Black Widow’s Wardrobe. Now I have five mystery novels, though Crimson Moon is not one of the Gloria Damasco novels. Death at Solstice is. It is a very special book for me as it has come out this year as I celebrate the beginning of my writing career (as a poet then) forty years ago, and my association with Gloria Damasco for almost twenty of those years.
Anna: In Library Journal a review of your book, Death at Solstice: A Gloria Damasco Mystery, states, “Corpi has constructed a twisting storyline that confounds her intelligent detective and the reader at every turn. This will please readers looking for a fast-paced tale with a Hispanic cultural background.” As a Latina writer, is it a conscious effort you make to write about stories centered around Latina/o main characters? If so, why do you feel this is important for you to do?
Lucha: Yes. By the time, I plotted Eulogy I had read many mysteries as well as articles by mystery authors on the writing of crime fiction. I became familiar with the conventions of the mystery story. But I wasn’t interested in writing a conventional mystery. I wanted to write mysteries that highlighted the history and culture of Mexican Americans, of characters, including detectives, who were deeply rooted in the culture, and aware of our history in the U.S. as I was.
The conventional mystery story, since its inception with Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Purloined Letter,” has been a plot-driven story. The art of the mystery story resides on the author’s ability to carefully and seamlessly incorporate other aspects of life, such as historical, cultural and socio-political issues that confront those communities written about, without detracting from a fast-paced tight plot. I was very happy when I read the Library Journal’s review of Death at Solstice, because it means that I have done my job well.
Anna: I read that you moved to Berkeley, California from Mexico in the ‘60s, endured a painful divorce in 1970- leaving you alone with your young son Arturo. Through it all, you have received many awards and honors, became a successful author and poet, a tenured teacher in Oakland, California, and successfully raised Arturo who is an associate professor. What advice can you give to Latinas- of any age- who may be currently struggling in their lives, but might be holding on to a glimmer of hope that they can still achieve their dreams?
Lucha: I feel quite fortunate to have been born to parents who believed in educating the girls in the family as equally as the boys. My father was fond of telling my sister and me that “when you educate a man, you educate an individual. But when you educate a woman, you educate the whole family,” and that the “education of (his) grandchildren began with my sister’s and my education. My sister and I were expected to excel in school. And we did.
I also learned from a very young age that having been born with a talent for doing something, be that writing or any other kind of endeavor or enterprise, is only a small percentage of what is required to make your dreams come true. Lots of hard work is involved in making a dream come true. But it is not impossible. I came to this country with little knowledge of English, but with a great desire to learn it, to communicate and be able to fend for myself in a new culture, expressing daily in a language that left the taste of salt and tears on my tongue. A language not mine yet.
Five years after my arrival in Berkeley, the fabric of my life was slashed by a very painful divorce, and in need of mending. I became a single mom, the head of the household. But I was determined to do whatever was necessary to do well by my son and myself. I always speak about the next few years after my divorce as “my lean years in Berkeley.” It was hard to hold a 30-hour job as a bilingual secretary on campus and carry 12 college units per quarter, while being a caring and thoughtful mother and writing poetry. But it was the writing of poetry that kept me together during such adverse circumstances. I wrote poetry, almost in a manic way, every night because I felt that if I stopped writing I would also stop breathing. It was then I discovered that writing poetry was only for me. And I accepted for the first time in my life that there was nothing wrong with doing something that wasn’t meant for the benefit of others, but for me alone.
We women tend to think that taking care of ourselves is wrong, that we fail those we love or care for us. But it isn’t so. As much as I thank my parents for teaching me that my son’s education began with mine, I am more aware now that I am also an individual and that doing something for myself as well is not selfish on my part but necessary and fair.
Every human being is born with the potential for creativity in any chosen field. This applies to women as well and perhaps more so. My only advice to Latinas of any age is to devote time to fulfilling their own dreams, to be determined and disciplined about it, even if they only have an hour a day to dedicate to that pursuit. Self-motivation is a key factor in the pursuit of anything worth having, for us adults, as it is for children, and essential to succeed at what we do, were born to do, or find pleasure in doing. The personal reward is immense, something that no one else can take away from us, ever!
Anna: I grew up in Northern California and know the Oakland area well. How did your experiences with your Latino students in Oakland affect the writing that you had within your soul? Is there any particular incident or child that really affected a particular writing project of yours?
Lucha: Everything I experience, everything I read affects my writing. My students and my fellow teachers have inspired characters in my stories. For a while I wrote stories and poems for Houghton Mifflin, among other publishers, to be included in their Spanish elementary readers. The children and the parents in “El rio de los recuerdos/The River of Memories,” (published in Houghton Mifflin’s Banderas) were fashioned after my students and their families—Cambodian American and Mexican American families.
Oakland is a multicultural city, where over eighty major languages are spoken every day. But what makes Oakland unique is that most neighborhoods are integrated. That means that anyone’s neighbors are people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, all sharing common ground. It is a situation that requires daily acceptance of others who are different from us. But acceptance is only possible if we acknowledge the ways in which we, as human beings regardless of background, have in common and try to understand the differences among us. Conflicts arise, nonetheless. And they walk into Oakland’s public schools, especially middle and high schools every day.
Still, I am happy to live in Oakland, precisely because of its multiculturalism and multilingualism. And I keep very close to my heart the dear wish that we succeed in Oakland as a multicultural community, because then, there is hope for the rest of the country, perhaps then for the world as well.
Anna: As a retired bilingual educator, what do you feel is needed to inspire more Latino children and adults to read more books? (to keep them in school)
Lucha: As a teacher, I realized that the most difficult task for me was to inspire my students, to teach them the critical skills necessary to succeed at whatever they chose to do, so they could be their own person not just follow what others dictate for them or victims of circumstance. It is in these aspects, the hardest to achieve, that teaching becomes an art not just a job.
So that my students would love reading, therefore writing—its twin—I have always read to them, no matter the age, and as I once read to my son and now read to my grandchildren. By the time I suggested that they read to me and to others, they did not find such a job difficult or a cause for embarrassment. In experiencing the comfort and pleasure of being read to, of listening, they also found pleasure in reading to others. From that to reading on their own there was but a short step, but still a leap to writing their own stories, which then would be read to others.
Nothing in teaching is easy or short. Educating a human being, younger or older, is always hard constant work over an extended period of time. I have always been passionate about teaching as much as about writing. Thus, it was difficult to retire in 2005 after 31 years because I wanted to devote all my time to writing. While I was a full time teacher and a single mom and head of household, the only time I had to write was from 5 to 7 a.m. but I wrote every day, a schedule difficult to keep up with as I grew older.
Although I don’t regret my decision to retire, and feel that I have earned the right to write full time now, I still miss the classroom very much. So I am now planning not only story-reading sessions for elementary school children through the local neighborhood libraries, but also offering writing workshops for small groups of girls, whose teachers identify them as budding writers.
Anna: What has writing given you that nothing else-people, experiences, jobs, relationships- has ever been able to give you? Why do you believe that is?
Lucha: Personal satisfaction and the desire to live each day fully. I’ve also found out that when I’m the most bored, I become the most creative. Then I know that I also write to entertain myself. If I find that something I’m writing bores me, I am certain it’ll be boring to anyone who reads it. I guess I believe like Cervantes that literature must entertain before it does anything else. So I go back and re-write.
When I write I want for nothing. Everything makes sense, and everything is possible. I need writing like I need my coffee and the milk and sugar in it every day, nourishment, like the air I breathe, the books I read to keep my mind always young, faith to help my spirit endure.
I once wrote in a poem that “Nothing is fixed or perpetual/not rain/or seed/or you/or I/or our grief/in this world that is bleeding/because we’re forever cutting paths/opening our way along unfamiliar roads/conquering the fury of oblivion verse by verse.”
I also write because I want the best part of me to endure long after I’m gone from this earth.
Anna: Ms. Lucha Corpi, it has been an honor to feature you and your novel, Death at Solstice: A Gloria Damasco Mystery. I admire what you have accomplished in your life, as well as with your writing. Thank you for making The Sol Within a stop on your book tour! I wish you all the best with your writing.
Lucha: Gracias, Anna, for having me and Gloria Damasco, and for your very thoughtful questions. It has been my pleasure. Thanks again. Happy Holidays to you and your readers!
Death at Solstice is the final novel in the Gloria Damasco mysteries. If you leave a question or comment today on The Sol Within, you will be entered into a drawing for an autographed copy of Death at Solstice! Plus, Lucha Corpi will be available to answer any questions that the readers have for her. Lucha Corpi is also generously giving away a collection of all four of the Gloria Damasco books to the person that visits and comments on the most blogs throughout the Latino Virtual Book Tour. If you don't win a copy of the book today or win the set of books at the end of the tour, don't fret, just click on the title at the beginning of this post and order your copy from Amazon!
I am a wife and mother. I am a Latina writer finally taking the leap into the writing life I have always dreamed of! Thanks for visiting and joining me on my journey to discovering what this wife, mom, and writer can do when I tap into my sol within!
Thank you for stopping by and checking out what I am up to. I am a very passionate person, especially when it comes to children! I have been working on a series of children's books and am embarking on the next phase of my life~ my writing! It is a passion of mine! I will discuss my journey of seeing my dreams become reality and whatever else happens to be going on in my crazy life! Most of all, when you visit I hope that you can relate and find some inspiration to follow your dreams...painting, crafting, sewing, knitting, sketching, photography, sculpting, writing, music! Whatever your talent is- just do it! Be inspired and inspire others through your work! A huge part of my inspiration comes from music! I love a lot of different music. When I hear a song it often inspires a story for me to write. Someimes it is completely new and sometimes it is from something that I have lived. Either way each story is inspired by music I love and it is born from deep within my soul! Check out the songs that I feel relate to my post and let me know what songs inspire you! Don't forget to leave me a message or comment. I'd love to hear from you! Let me know what you are working on so that I can let the readers know. It's all about supporting one another, chicas y chicos!