1. Please tell us a little about your background and your book, Death at Solstice.
I have always considered myself fortunate to have been born in Jaltipan, a small tropical village in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. There, people stimulated and promoted both the creation and performance of poetry and music, together with the art of storytelling. I was also lucky to be a daughter to parents who believed in educating the two girls in the family equally well as their six sons. My father used to tell 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.” My parents expected my sister and me to excel in school. We did.
The German composer Wagner once said that the reason-for-being of music is poetry. I totally agree. When poetry and music join, they become a song, one of the most powerful of human expressions. Then, of course, there is narrative, the story, which can be just as powerful as the song. You can see why I thank my lucky stars to have been born in Jaltipan and into my family in particular. But I did not start writing poetry or stories until I was twenty-four years old, already living in Berkeley, California, where I’d moved after getting married. I was going through a divorce, had a young child, no family here, and very few friends. I began to write mostly to express the overpowering emotions that accompany such a painful event in our lives, to make sense of my world as an immigrant, expressing my daily experiences in a language that wasn’t yet my own. But one day I transcended the personal and my poetry moved into the realm of the universal. I knew then that I was a poet and that I had always been a poet. Except for teaching and motherhood to various degrees, nothing else makes me feel whole and content as writing.
I write my poetry in Spanish, my children’s stories in both English and Spanish, and my novels in English.
Death at Solstice comes as the culmination of my forty years as a writer. It is the fourth of the Gloria Damasco mystery novels. Gloria is now considered the first Chicana private detective in American literature. By that, I believe critics mean that Gloria is the first fictional detective to be deeply rooted in Chicano/Mexican culture in the U.S. Eulogy for a Brown Angel, Cactus Blood, Black Widow’s Wardrobe--Each of the mystery novels deals with various aspects of the history and culture of Mexicans in the U.S. and in particular in California.
In Death at Solstice, Gloria Damasco is hired by the owners of the Oro Blanco winery in California’s Shenandoah Valley, in the heart of the legendary Gold Country, to investigate the theft of a pair of emerald-diamond earrings rumored to have belonged to Carlota, Empress of Mexico. But she finds out that there’s so much more than the theft of the family heirloom. A gruesome murder and the disappearance of a young woman considered by many to be a saint, mysterious accidents, threatening anonymous notes, and the sightings of a ghost horse thought to have belonged to the notorious Gold Rush Era hero-bandit Joaquin Murrieta soon have Gloria struggling to fit together all the pieces of this puzzle before someone else is killed.
2. What actress would you choose to play the main character, Gloria Damasco?
Hmm!! … Let’s see. There’s Jennifer Lopez, who’s had roles as a policewoman and a woman who trains to defend herself from an abusive husband… Not sure about J. Lo. Jessica Alba? She’d have to toughen up a little… Hmm, hmm…You got me. But maybe, after you read Death at Solstice, you might have a suggestion or two or three for me! Deal? And we’ll see if Gloria likes it.
Truth is there are so many more great Latina actresses playing a variety of good roles on TV as in commercial movies. However, detective stories, as opposed to police procedurals and thrillers, are good reads but very difficult to script for TV or large-screen films. The reader follows the private detective as she uncovers the clues that might lead to the murderer and his/her motivation for the deed. It’s good fun for us readers but rather a slow process for an audience that is used to a lot of action in films. But, hey, reaching for the “stars” and dreaming is fun anyway. So here’s to dreams come true one day!!
3. What’s the biggest obstacle you face when writing and how do you overcome it?
Someone wisely said that the most difficult part for a writer is to keep his/her butt on a chair long enough to get the writing done. True. For thirty-one years I was a full-time teacher in the Oakland Public Schools’ Neighborhood Centers Program. Teaching is not an eight-to-five job, for those of us who are passionate about it. Lesson planning and classroom instruction already demand a great deal of our time and energy. In addition, it involves a lot of paperwork, which is taken care of at home in the evening and on weekends. If we throw caring and responsible parenthood in the mix, we end up victims of battle fatigue. That alone would be enough reason not to write. And in the case of many women, who must work to support or help to support the family, it is. You have to be stubborn and determined, and learn to function with only a few hours of sleep every day to get any writing done. And forget having a social life for long periods of time.
During those years I was a teacher and mother, I could only write from five to seven in the morning, before I went to work. But I did, every single day. Why? Because writing is what keeps me breathing, living, and what helps me make sense of the world. Now I am a woman of privilege. I retired from teaching in 2005. My son is on his own and doing well. I have a pension that provides enough for all my basic needs. I can write any time, day or night. And I do. I am indeed blessed!
4. Who are your favorite authors? Is there a book that has most influenced your writing?
Throughout my life I have had many favorite writers and poets. In Spanish, my first language: Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Pablo Neruda, Garcia Lorca, Juana de Ibarbouru, Alfonsina Storni, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Rosario Castellanos, Elena Poniatowska, Juan Rulfo, Luisa Valenzuela, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Laura Esquivel, among many others. In English, my second language: Shakespeare, Milton, Virginia Wolf, Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Bob Dylan, Sylvia Plath, P. D. James, Elizabeth George, Sara Paretsky, Sandra Cisneros, Rudolfo Anaya, Manuel Ramos, Helena Maria Viramontes, Nicolasa Mohr, Jo Ann Hernández, to name a few. And then, there are the classics of Greek and Roman literature, and of French, Italian and German literatures. (Sorry, but you ask for this alphabet soup)
Almost every book I read influences me, teaches me. It’s simple. Just as teachers learn their trade from other teachers, so do writers and poets learn their craft from others writers and poets. Without reading, I cannot hope to grow and develop, to be the best writer and poet I can be.
5. What books do you have in the pipeline?
I have taken a break from writing long fiction. Writing long fiction is like being married with children. Writing poetry, on the other hand, is like having a love affair—all those delicious feelings, etc. So I’m going back to my first love, poetry. I hope to have enough poems soon to put together another collection of poetry. I am also working on a series of personal essays: The Orphan and the Bookburner. And I have a couple of ideas for children’s books.
Gracias for your interest in my work. Abrazos.
More Tour Stops:
Nov 30 Unloaded
Dec 1 Latino Book Examiner
Dec 2 Behind Brown Eyes
Dec 3 Julia Amante
Dec 4 The Sol Within
Dec 7 Chasing Heroes
Dec 9 Book Lover Carol
Dec 10 Heidenkind's Hideaway
Dec 11 Musings
To enter to win a signed copy of Death at Solstice:
+1 Comment with a valid email address
+4 for asking the author a question in the comments
+2 for linking to this contest (tell me where)
+1 for being/becoming a follower
BONUS GIVEAWAY! The person that comments the most blogs on each blog in this tour will receive a collection of all four books in the Gloria Damasco series at the end of the tour.