Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Charro Claus says: AIII! y FELIZ NAVIDAD!

Maria Hinojosa of Latino USA has a wonderful interview with Xavier Garza about his new book Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid. Xavier is truly himself--puro americano, puro fronterizo--and Maria is delighted. She gets it, she loves it. Xavier talks about growing up in Rio Grande City and his father taking him Christmas shopping. They'd see Santa Claus but he'd be wearing a big wide sombrero. Who is that, Xavier would ask his dad? His father would laugh and say, Why, that's Charro Claus, Santa Claus' Mexican cousin! And just like that the seed was planted in Xavier's heart and mind to some day tell the origin story of the one and only Charro Claus.

And of course in Xavier's story Charro Claus, with his nephew Vincent as his faithful companion and a herd of burros pulling the wagon through the night sky, doesn't have trouble crossing back and forth across the border, no matter how tall they build the fences and walls.

Do you live near the border between Texas and Mexico? Well, don't be surprised if you happen to look up in the sky one Christmas Eve night and see a wagon being pulled by a pack of flying burritos. If you listen closely you might even hear Charro Claus and his sidekick the Tejas Kid calling out for all the world to hear:

“Ándale, Rigo! Go, Jaime! C’mon, Freddie! Dale gaaaaaas, Little Joe! Step on it!”

But on a side note that speaks of the tribulations of Independent Publishing, we've heard from a number of folks that they've had an impossible time finding the book in time for Christmas. In Austin, for instance, the stores were sold out even before the show aired on KUT. This is one more example of book buyers still underestimating Latinos' (especially Mexicans and Mexican-Americans) hunger for books that speak of their roots, their own part of the great American quilt. Not to worry though. We filled plenty of orders through our website and our storefront. Of course, folks in El Paso didn't have to worry. Bookstores here, especially the two B&Ns, called back for more. And of course Charro Claus will have long legs. We don't think we'll even have to wait until next year. We'll be selling the story of Charro Claus all year long!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Cinco Puntos Press at the INDIE BOOKFAIR in NYC, BYRDS at Poetry Project at St. Mark's

This weekend--Saturday and Sunday, December 6th and 7th--Cinco Puntos Press will be exhibiting at the 21st Annual Indie and Small Press Book Fair, thanks to their generosity and support. The 2-day celebration takes place at the New York Center for Independent Presses at 20 West 44th Street. Artist and writer Youme Landowne, creator of the graphic memoir Pitch Black about life and art in the subway tunnels of NYC, will be at our booth both days, and on Sunday she'll be reading and talking about Pitch Black.

Also coming by our booth will be Cuban artist Mauricio Trenard, illustrator of Joe Hayes' collection of Cuban stories, Dance, Nana, Dance / Baila, Nana, Dance

and Christopher Cardinale, illustrator for our upcoming graphic novel Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush, a realization of Luis Alberto Urrea's story of the same name.

On Wednesday night, 8pm, December 10, The Poetry Project has invited co-publishers Lee and Bobby Byrd to read at St Mark's. Lee will be reading from her novel Riley's Fire and Bobby will be reading new poems and from his most recent book White Panties, Dead Friends & Other Bits and Pieces of Love. Cinco Puntos friends Eileen Myles and Elinor Nauen will be there reading their favorite selections from Harvey Goldner's The Resurrection of Bert Ringold.

It'd be great to see friends of Cinco Puntos!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Joe Hayes & La Brigada Artistica: Holguin, Cuba

[Last week storyteller Joe Hayes journeyed to Cuba via Cancún to participate in una Brigada Artistica in the City of Holguín and the surrounding communities. As always, he took with him various supplies that are so hard to get in Cuba, but he also stuffed his suitcase with a bunch of copies of Dance, Nana, Dance / Baila, Nana, Baila, his new collection of bilingual Cuban folktales to give to his friends and colleagues. We all hope that the new Obama administration--besides liberalizing travel and commerce regulations with the Cuban goverment--will work to relieve the strains of cultural exchange and collaboration with the Cuban people. Below is a letter that Joe wrote to Bernard Rubenstein, the head of the sister cities group in Santa Fe. As we blogged before, Holguín and Santa Fe NM are sister cities.]

Dear Bernie,

My trip to Holguín was wonderful. I was able to be part of three brigadas artísticas internacionales. As you know, immediately after the clouds cleared from Hurricane Ike (el ciclón) the Cuban government started sending groups of performing artists out to the most affected communities to lift the people's spirits. This was done in Holguín too. Although the city of Holguín had been hit hard by the storm, it wasn't so badly damaged as coastal communities such as Gibara, Banes and Antilla. One of the main things the Casa de Iberoamérica did in lieu of the Fiesta Iberoamericana was to send out brigadas artistícas composed of holguineros and foreign artists who showed up in spite of the fact that the Fiesta had been canceled. We were the first brigada artistíca internacional! In addition to a very tall and out-of-place norteamericano storyteller, there was a group of dancers and musicians from Spain, two Mexican poets, a Canadian poet, two wonderful young musicians from Brazil, and others I can't remember at the moment.

The brigada occupied two buses. We'd pull away from the Casa de Iberoamérica (two hours later than scheduled, of course) with flags of the various nations flapping on staffs from the windows (no U.S. flag) and a motorcycle policeman in front, light flashing and siren wailing. Of course, after an hour on the highway, the excitement of our departure would be somewhat diminished, but we'd enter the destination community with the siren once again blaring and the buses tooting their horns.

We went to a poor area within the city of Holguín and to Banes and Gibara. Another brigada went out to Antilla, but I had other activities that day.

I've attached a photo of the brigada at a rest stop on the way to Banes.

One evening we had an encuentro with government officials and I was able to deliver Mayor Coss's letter. The presidente didn't attend, so I handed it to the vicepresidente. I spoke of the hermandad that exists between Santa Fe and Holguín and the regret the people of Santa Fe feel at not being able to visit their amigos holguineros more freely. Oscar Lugo, provincial director of relaciones internacionales, attended.

On the final day (Oct. 28), we had an excursion to Bariay, the (disputed) landing site of Columbus. The beach was still strewn with debris and some local men were working at cleaning it up. Alexis Triana (the provincial arts director, whom you surely know) grabbed a hoe from one of the workers and rallied los amigos de la Casa de Iberoamérica to turn their hands to the task and show their solidaridad by helping out. [NOTE: If you go to these photos, in 06Joe is the tall guy in the red shirt and blue shorts and hat.] We all spent an hour or so raking up sticks and tossing logs into a waiting trailer. I must say, the beach looked better when we'd finished.

It was primarily a dia de campo, but it ended with all the participants gathered together for a bit of musical entertainment and the bestowal of certificates of appreciation. I have a certificado signed by Tatiana Zúñiga, the director of the Casa de Iberoamérica to hang on my office wall. Alexis Triana presented me with a token of appreciation to be delivered to Mayor Coss, a plaque bearing a gilded map of Provincia Holguín.

I'm happy to report that the Suñol theatre didn't suffer any damage from the hurricane and that the restoration is progressing. It may be slowed down somewhat by the urgent demand elsewhere for construction materials.

I'm looking forward to future trips to Holguin, and hopefully after next January Santa Fe will be able to have a fuller sister city relationship with our Cuban friends.


[You can watch a Cuban news video of La Brigada Artistica here. But, sadly, Joe didn't make it into the final cut. He was in another community on this day.]

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sherman Alexie on the Colbert Report

Poet and novelist Sherman Alexie (or here)was on the Colbert Report last night. He was great, giving tit for tat, or tat for tit, whichever way you think is best. The folks here at Cinco Puntos are unabashed Sherman Alexie fans. He's fun to read, novels and poetry, Smoke Signals (one of my grandchildren's favorite movies) is a good movie (especially if you in your growing up, like me, had to wrestle with father ghosts), and he's one of those writers who has the wit and desire to reach beyond the choir when he's singing his song. Especially with the book mentioned in this episode of the Colbert Report--The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian for which he won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. It's important that writers of such stature, especially writers of color, are understanding that this is an important audience. And, as Sherman says, the people who are reading the YA novels have minds that are still open.

Besides, Sherman is a good guy. Enjoy.

And thanks to son Andy Byrd for sending along the link.

Monday, October 13, 2008

PITCH BLACK: Don't Be Skerd

I was born to people who didn’t want me and so they gave me away. But I guess the people they gave me to didn’t want me either. No one wanted me. That’s why I ended up on the streets alone and uneducated. I couldn’t read or write. I didn’t know anything and the whole world knew it.

This is the voice of Anthony Horton. Born in 1968, Anthony is a homeless artist who lived underneath New York City. If you want to see his work, you’ll have to walk along the tunnel walls in the darkest parts of the transit system. In 2005, he met Youme Landowne, another artist, there at one of the subway stops and they began to talk. They rode downtown and uptown and downtown again, discussing art and life, and they decided to begin working together. They decided to write a book which would tell Tony’s story. But here was the issue—how do you tell the story of a life that seems so bleak? Or, as Tony might say it, how do you turn your life into art? How do you bring light out of pitch black darkness?

Pitch Black: Don’t Be Skerd is the fruit of the collaboratiom by Youme Landowne and Anthony Horton. And it's the first Cinco Puntos Press graphic novel. Or really, graphic memoir. Besides the trade journals, the primary media attention is primarily local--New York City kind of local. First there was an interview in the Brooklyn Daily by Sam Howe, and then the New York Times ran a nice piece in its “City Room” of its New York/Region section authored by Sewell Chan. The comment string on the NYT piece was interesting, and I entered my own comment to the string:

I am the co-publisher of Cinco Puntos Press. We were honored to have published Pitch Black, the graphic memoir by Youme Landowne and Anthony Horton. Thanks to Sewell Chan and the NYT for the nice article and also to the folks in the comment section who took the time to consider Youme’s and Anthony’s work. I found all the comments very interesting, especially since my own reading is different. From my first reading, even though the book is based on a true life story, I saw Pitch Black as a parable, like, for instance, the Good Samaritan. It’s a simple story. A man and a woman meet at a subway station beneath Manhattan, and, against all the expectations and ingrained fears of our culture, they become friends, with all the ups and downs that any friendship has. First they share their ideas about art. The woman shows the man her artwork. The man invites his friend to see his own art and life he has made for himself in the tunnels. Pitch Black opens the door to a life that many people would not otherwise look at.

Like all parables, the cast of characters and the context could easily be changed. The story could be about a Jew and a Palestinian in Jerusalem, a poor woman and a rich man on the streets of Bangladesh, a Republican and Democrat for God’s sake. Our times, I think, demand such stories. The point is in reaching out across cultural, racial and economic borders to touch and understand another person. And because Ms. Landowne and Mr. Horton tell their story with grace and minimalism, they allow for such a reading as mine. By the way, this is Youme’s second book. The first, Selavi: A Haitian Story of Hope, received numerous awards, including the Jane Addams Peace Award for 2005. She’s a brilliant artist and storyteller. Part of her art is in listening to the stories of other people, especially people who aren’t like her. -- Bobby Byrd

Youme Landowne and Cinco Puntos Press will be attending the Miami Book Fair the 15th and 16th of November. We’ll be writing more about Pitch Black after the festival. And we hope to do a short video of Youme talking about the collaboration with Anthony and the making of the book. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 6, 2008

REFORMA 2008, Benjamin Alire Sáenz & El Paso

JUNTOS @ THE BORDER--the 3rd REFORMA Conference of Librarians--was in our hometown of El Paso, Texas in September. This was an important occasion for Cinco Puntos: REFORMA is the affiliate of the American Library Association that promotes Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking communities in the United States. We are a fronterizo press, specializing in the literatures of the border, Mexico and the American Southwest, with a particular emphasis on bilingual books for children. The librarians of REFORMA have long been supporters of Cinco Puntos. Indeed, we could not have achieved what we have without their support. We hoped to show our gratitude by sponsoring the Thursday night reception in the twin patios adjacent to and atop of the Plaza Theatre complex. It was a wonderful September night, full of mariachi music, good friends, loud laughter and happy chatter. El Paso was able to show off the on-going revival of our downtown. Cinco Puntos also helped to bring two of our important independent publishing colleagues to the exhibits, Groundwood Books and Curbstone Press.

One of our most significant writers Benjamin Alire Saenz gave the keynote at the Saturday luncheon. Ben believes in the importance of such opportunities, and for his talk he prepared a speech entitled "The Writer's Life, A Novena." Below is a youtube clip of the last two parts of that speech. He talks about teaching the art of writing and he talks about living the art of writing.

Cinco Puntos has just published Ben's most recent bilingual children's book--A Perfect Season for Dreaming / Un tiempo perfector para sonar. The wonderful folk-like but surreal illustrations are done by Esau Andrade of Tijuana and San Diego. The book has already received two STARRED reviews, one from Publishers Weekly and the other from Kirkus Reviews. 2008 has been a good year for Ben. He's published two novels, Goodbye to All That, a YA novel from Simon Schuster; and Names on a Map from Rayo/Harper-Collins, both of which have likewise been wonderfully received by national media.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Joe Hayes & Santa Fe's Sister City--Holguín, Cuba

Saturday, September 20, 2-3pm, Garcia Street Books will host a celebration for Joe Hayes' new book Dance, Nana, Dance: Cuban Folk Tales in Spanish and English.

Joe Hayes wrote the following in response to a question about Holguín:

In 2001 the Santa Fe City Council proclaimed a sister city relationship with the city of Holguín, Cuba via the U.S./Cuba Sister Cities Association. It was a time when many U.S. cities were forging such links with cities in Cuba and people-to-people travel to Cuba was quite popular. Excitement for the newly proclaimed relationship was high and several Santa Feans traveled to Holguín, including a group of high school students from Santa Fe Prep. The public library in Holguín proudly features a Santa Fe section containing some 500 books donated by the sister city group.

In September, 2001, on my way to participate in a storytelling festival in Santiago de Cuba, I visited Holguín and discovered that our sister city is a charming municipality with a very vibrant arts community. The city boasts a lyric opera company, a symphonic band, a modern dance troupe and a folklorico dance group, along with many visual and performance artists. There was not a storytelling movement in the city at the time, however. And so in the fall of 2002, along with Elvia Pérez, president of the storytelling branch of the Cuban national union of writers and artists, I went to Holguín to teach a storytelling workshop and helped her establish a local storytelling group.

The storytellers of Holguín are still active, and I am in frequent contact with the members of the group, but the sister city relationship has languished somewhat due to the change in U.S. Government policy toward travel to Cuba. Renewed interest in our sister city is beginning to surface, however, largely due to the efforts of Bernard Rubenstein (santafeholguinsistercities@yahoo.com), and the interest of Santa Fe Mayor David Coss in strengthening our sister city bonds.

In the course of my many visits to Cuba I’ve investigated the folklore of the island and learned a number of Cuban tales. I’ve begun to mix some of these stories in with my usual Southwestern repertoire. The book Dance, Nana, Dance/Baila, Nana, Baila is a bilingual collection of Cuban stories. I’m hoping that its presentation at Garcia Street Books on September 20 will further stimulate interest in our sister city of Holguín. The event will include Cuban storytelling, book signing and a presentation about Holguín and the sister city program.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Storyteller Joe Hayes tells A Spoon for Every Bite in Spanish and English

In this lovely New Mexico tale, a rich man tries to prove his wealth to his poor neighbors by using a new spoon for every bite. In the process, he’s served a pretty dish of come-uppance. Here's how it begins...

A long time ago there lived a couple who was so poor they owned only two spoons, one for the husband and one for the wife. But their neighbor was very rich. His big house was filled with fine furniture, and he was very proud of his wealth and his possessions.

But let's watch Joe tell it in his own way, first in Spanish...

and now in English...

Joe Hayes makes his living telling stories, mostly to school children. If you're interested in contacting him, write him at joehayes@newmexico.com. Or to learn more about Joe, visit the Cinco Puntos Press website and to learn more about the book, go here.

Storyteller Joe Hayes & The Gum Chewing Rattler

Do you believe that rattlesnakes can chew bubblegum? Well, Joe Hayes says he met a gum-chewing rattler when he was growing up in Benson, Arizona, in the desert of Sonora. His mother, when he told her the story, certainly didn’t believe him. She thought he was telling her one his tall tales. You know, the kind of story that’s been stretched so long it doesn’t seem right. But Joe keeps telling the story and kids keep laughing. And some of them believe every word he says—especially the first and second graders. But the older kids, they scratch their heads and wonder if a rattlesnake can really blow a bubble. Just like his mother did long ago before Joe got so tall.

Go visit Cinco Puntos Press online to learn more about Joe Hayes and The Gum Chewing Rattler.

Here is Miriam Sagan's review of The Gum Chewing Rattler in the New Mexico Magazine (April 2007):

Storyteller Joe Hayes is deservedly famous for his tall tales. Take The Gum Chewing Rattler. It starts with the young Joe, growing up in Arizona, just loving to chew bubblegum. Of course, this habit was loathed by his teachers and even his mother, who hated the fact that he forgot to take the offending gum out of his shirt pocket before washing.

But one day, something happened to change all that. Joe meets a rattlesnake. In fact, he steps right on the rattlesnake's tail. Rather than spoil what happens next, you'll just have to read The Gum Chewing Rattler. Suffice it to say, a heroic struggle ensues, with Joe's life saved by the bubblegum. Do you believe it? Well, Joe's mother didn't either.

Cinco Puntos Press has long been producing some of the liveliest Southwestern children's books around. This one is enhanced by dynamic and colorful illustrations by Antonio Castro L., who also is a muralist. His illustrations of a rattlesnake blowing pink bubbles are memorable, as is the story. The book is sure to become a "read it again" favorite.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Crossing Bok Chitto receives 2008 American Indian Youth Literature Award

This year’s Annual American Library Association Convention in Anaheim (June 26 to July 2) was very special for Cinco Puntos Press--The American Indian Library Association (AILA) awarded Crossing Bok Chitto, written by Tim Tingle and illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges, the 2008 American Indian Literature Award for a Picture Book. Jeanne, because of illness in the family, could not attend and we missed her. It would have been nice to see a woman up there among all the other award winners--Chief Medicine Crow for his book Counting Coup: Becoming a Crow Chief on the Reservation and Beyond (Middle School Winner); Sherman Alexie for his book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (YA Winner); and our own Tim Tingle. To the right is a picture of Jeanne, who we missed, and below is a collection of images from the event, plus a short video of the round dance (accompanied by the Red Earth Singers) that concluded the celebration. I have more video of three young people passionately performing traditional dances—Ashkii-Chee Kadenehii (Dinah) doing the Grass Dance, Nanabah Kadenehii (Dineh) doing the Jingle Dance,and Ba’ac Garcia (Tohono O’odaham) doing the Fancy Bustle Dance. All three were very exciting, but I didn’t include them here without permission. If a reader knows how to contact the organizers to get contact information and approval, then I will include those at a later date. The Round Dance, because it was such a communal happening, I thought it was okay to include. At the end of the video you’ll see Tim Tingle accompanying Susan Hanks to the dance, and at the very end is Lee Merrill Byrd waving at me, the videographer, to join hands. I turn off the video, happy to join hands and dance. / Bobby Byrd

The photographs below have Tim with Janice Rice (Ho Chunk), the current president of AILA and Naomi Caldwell (Ramapough Lenape), the chair of the AILA Award Committee. And below that is the video of the Round Dance. You can see other photos of the event at the AILA flikr site.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Claudia Martinez and The Art of Biographical Fiction for Young Adults

Interview with Claudia Guadalupe Martinez, author of The Smell of Old Lady Perfume by Jessica Powers. This interview will appear in El Paso Magazine.

Jessica: Tell me a little bit about yourself—your age, your background, where you grew up.

Claudia: I am 30 so that’s a big milestone. I grew up in El Paso and lived there until probably 18. I grew up in Segundo Barrio. I have three brothers, two sisters, and everybody is older than me.

I went to school in California and studied literature at Claremont McKenna College. I didn’t know too many people going off to school but I had some good teachers and some friends who were ambitious, and I was able to see them [do it], so even though it wasn’t something that was traditionally in my family, I was able to see them go off to school. I ended up going to the school that was the best one and that was going to pay for everything. I didn’t apply to anything closer, really, but I was happy to go. It was a great opportunity to do something that I had always just dreamed of. So I became the first person in my family who graduated from college.

My whole family is still in El Paso except one brother who is a sergeant in the military, but everybody else is still there, so I try to make it out there every year, sometimes 3 or 4 times a year. It gets expensive to travel when you have dogs because you have to board them. Once in awhile I take my dogs with me but they don’t like traveling on an airplane too much. My dogs were all born in El Paso but I brought them out here, so they grew up in El Paso, too.

I tried moving back to El Paso [after college] but I got this opportunity so I worked for a nonprofit there in California—Association of Border Workers, associated with Mujer Obrera. [Then] I had the opportunity to come to Chicago and I’ve been here ever since. Now I work for a foundation, as the Director of Operations and Development at the Chicago Foundation for Education. We basically give out grant money to teachers to foster innovation and excellence within Chicago public school classrooms.

I still have ties to organizations in El Paso like La Fe (Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe). I have a close association with them. They affected me a lot more than the short time [that I worked] at the Association of Border Workers. La Fe is a large presence in my memory of El Paso. My brother had a position there, and I interned there one summer. When I was growing up, that was like the organization. We would go there for the doctor, but when my brother started working there, I just remember that they were doing all these art things, and design, and poetry, and murals, and I think that even though it was [always] part of my community, it was later that I realized [how much I learned from them]. That’s how I realized that nonprofit work was the kind of work that I wanted to do.

Jessica: What inspired you to write The Smell of Old Lady Perfume?

Claudia: My dad passed away when I was eleven. Back then, we didn’t really talk about it. We were kind of expected to be strong and not to burden my mom. When you grow up in a community where you have a lot of older brothers and sisters, they affect how you should act and carry yourself, and I remember them telling us to be mature about it and not be a burden to her and try to be strong, which is not very realistic for a kid that age. We just dealt with it internally, so when I started writing about it, it was an opportunity to deal with it externally.

Part of the healing process when you’re that young, you don’t necessarily feel, you try to actively forget something so you don’t feel so much pain. I had to go back and talk to my brothers and sisters to bring back some of those memories, even the good memories. In suppressing the bad memories, you unfortunately lose the good memories, because those are sometimes easier to lose than the bad ones. So then we finally started talking about it, which we hadn’t done. It was really a kind of a journey. My oldest brother was already an older teenager when my dad passed away, so his memory was clearer than my oldest sisters. They were really instrumental in helping me to remember. I was careful in approaching my mom because I didn’t want to bring back any pain for her.

My brothers and sisters have been really supportive. My sisters read so many drafts of it! I felt bad giving them another draft. It’s this last draft they haven’t read, so that by the time it came out, they would be excited about it. They have been so supportive and so great, I don’t think I could have done this without them. My brothers haven’t read it but they’re supportive in other ways.

Jessica: What do you want readers to take away with them, after reading your novel?

Claudia: I want people to feel like they can have a dialogue with somebody that they might think they can’t have a dialogue with, that they can talk about things that are tough to talk about. Even when something really bad happens, there is something positive. For me, obviously when I was that age, I never thought there was anything positive that could come of my dad passing away. This book is something at least a little positive because it allows me to talk about something really hard and hopefully it will help others to talk about something that was really difficult.

Jessica: What do you hope readers outside of El Paso will understand about El Paso after reading your novel?

Claudia: In my first draft, I didn’t say it was El Paso. I wasn’t sure people would understand about El Paso. But that’s one of the first things that Lee [Lee Byrd, editor of Cinco Puntos Press] and I talked about, was that it should be set in El Paso. Even if people don’t understand about El Paso, this is a way for them to understand it. People are understanding more and more about El Paso, more than we think. When I first left El Paso, I’d mention where I was from, and people were like, “Where’s that?” But now as I get older, I meet people from El Paso all the time or people who have been to El Paso. I think El Paso has more of a presence than we realize. When we’re there, we don’t realize that there’s that presence out there as much as when we’ve been gone for a long time.

Jessica: What’s your favorite moment in the story?

Claudia: One of my favorite moments, when I read the end, I make myself cry, which is really ridiculous because I wrote it. But it does bring back those feelings [related to my father’s death] and it brings a certain closure, which I don’t always want to experience, because when you love somebody, you don’t want closure. For me, that’s something that really strikes me, not necessarily my favorite moment but the striking moment. When it’s Christmas in the story, that’s the moment when they’re all really happy, so that’s what I like to think about.

Jessica: You went through a long process of revisions under Lee Byrd’s tutelage. Can you talk about that process? What did you learn about writing? How did that shape your relationship with Cinco Puntos Press and the Byrds?

Claudia: Cinco Puntos has been really great. When I gave them the first draft, it was a bunch of memories just pasted together. It didn’t have any structure. So Lee Byrd really inspired me and pushed me to make it something more cohesive. I was inspired by my own memories, but I don’t think I consciously was writing for my audience. So I think Lee Byrd really inspired me to write for that audience and to be more careful who I was writing for. I kind of laugh about it now. When I talk about it to people, for me the process was almost like doing an MFA without having to pay the thousands of dollars you would have to pay for it. My interaction with Lee was like having a professor and working on a thesis, and you turn it in again and again until you get it right.

I was very happy about it. It was a learning experience, a difficult experience in a lot of ways. But it was a lot of work. At some point, I didn’t know how I was going to proceed or what I was going to do. I didn’t come into it with any real formal training or writing. I’ve always had a passion for writing since I was in sixth grade, but I didn’t have the opportunity for formal reading. My college didn’t have a writing program. Of course, when you study liberal arts, you study literature, but there wasn’t a creative writing program where I could experiment with fiction, so the closest thing was a creative journalism class and a poetry workshop, but that was the extent of the training that I had had. And so it was a very much a hands-on training, and for that, I’m really grateful to Cinco Puntos. A lot of publishers will just send you a letter that will just say, “Sorry,” or they won’t even send you a letter. For them to have interaction with me as much as they did, and to have pointed me in the direction that they did, I’m very grateful. I don’t think many writers get that opportunity from anybody, really.

The thing is that I wanted to be published by Cinco Puntos. I think I sent it out to two other places, and one of them had asked to see the manuscript but I never heard from them again. At some point, we did have our challenges—Lee Byrd had suggested I send it to others and at that point, I actually sent it out to an agent, who did request the manuscript right around the time that Lee Byrd came back and said they were ready to take me. I knew that I wanted to go with Cinco Puntos Press, not just because they went through the process with me, but because I had sent this to them for a reason.

I feel like I was meant to be published by Cinco Puntos Press. People have their dreams. For me, I wanted to do this and this was who I wanted to publish me. It was because they’re in El Paso, and I was familiar with their work, and I would go into their storefront with my nephews [when I was younger]. I liked their books and the kind of work that they had. I remember actually at some point being in a program where they gave us remaindered books and some of them were Cinco Puntos Press books—you know, books with half a cover. Cinco Puntos is a strong image of El Paso…

A lot of people are jumping on board with young adult books right now but a lot of what is being published is not very serious, and what I mean is that they’re not giving enough credit to their readers. Cinco Puntos Press really does publish quality books and that’s why I’m so grateful to them that they’re going to take that chance [on me] and put something out there that they feel so strongly on and they’re not just jumping on the bandwagon that everybody else is jumping on. I’m happy to be part of that list. I remember going to hear some authors talk about what they had put out and the publishers had wanted them to put in a sex scene—just putting it in to sell. That’s horrible to force that on a writer but that kind of stuff does happen.

Jessica: What do you miss most about El Paso? What do you miss least?

Claudia: I just filled out an expatriate survey about this. The obvious answer would be family and, because I’m in Chicago, weather. I think sometimes as much as people have an impression of El Paso, El Paso is a place that’s really difficult to explain to people. The food there for me is different, so that’s something I miss. The whole environment and the way people carry themselves, it’s different. When you’re here in Chicago, and you talk about finding role models, it’s such a new community that people don’t have role models. But in El Paso, I remember thinking I could be anything and do anything, because you could look around and you could see people doing everything and being everything. People do things that we take for granted in El Paso because people don’t have that same sense of community in other places. Community in general, that’s the way to put it, I don’t think that’s everywhere.

Jessica: Do you think you’ll ever move back?

Claudia: You know what? Yes. I want to, if I could ever just have a job where I could work from anywhere, and make decent money. I guess that’s what I like least about El Paso—it’s not an easy place to make money, at least not for me. And so if I had a lump of cash, and I could choose where to live, I would choose El Paso. I know that I’m going to end up back there.

Jessica: What are you working on now?

Claudia: I’m working on a book that’s Chicago-based. It’s young adult, about a bakery, about the business community and what happens to a predominantly Mexican neighborhood when it’s gentrified. It’s basically about what happens when you have to adapt. Do you adapt or do you fight it? I worked for a non-profit when I first moved here in a neighborhood that was predominantly Mexican and it’s starting to change. There was a lot of economic development and ways where people could find benefit from the changes in the community—do you complain about those changes or do you create something that is going to help you benefit from them? There are so many people you have to fight against and it’s a losing battle. So should you give up? That’s the question I’m trying to explore.

Jessica: Is there anything else you want to comment on?

Claudia: Well, this is my first interview….Oh, I should mention that I’m going to be on a panel at the REFORMA conference with you [J.L. (Jessica) Powers] in the fall. It’ll be my first official thing anywhere—but the nervousness hasn’t sunk in yet. Also, I want people to know that I was born in Juárez and raised in El Paso…I went to Hart School [in Segundo Barrio], which is the model for the school that Chela goes to.

J.L. (aka Jessica) Powers is an author, a historian of Africa and a prolific essayist, book critic and interviewer. She grew up in El Paso and now lives in the Bay Area. You can reach her at jlpowers at evaporites.com. Her first novel for young adults is The Confessional from Random House.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Lee Merrill Byrd does the youtube

Cinco Puntos Press is learning how to do the youtube tango. We bought a little Flip Video camera, Bobby being a sucker for the urgings of David Pogue, the techonut at the New York Times. Co-publisher Lee Merrill Byrd was the first person caught in the trap. She read her essay “Waiting.” The essay discusses how and why she wrote her novel Riley’s Fire (Algonquin Books / A Shannon Ravenal Book, 2006). Shannon Ravenel was Lee’s editor. For each new season’s list, Algonquin puts out a small collection of essays, The Algonkian, in which authors discuss their books. Riley’s Fire is an emotional story, a vision of an alchemical process that began when sons John and Andy were caught in a playhouse fire in 1981. It was a terrible time for us, and both boys are now wonderful men. The essay “Waiting” discusses the alchemy of Lee’s writing the novel.

By the way, this is a preliminary video. We' just learning how to operate the damn thing and so we might get fancier in the near future. I hope so.

The Algonquin catalog copy for Riley’s Fire is as follows:

Riley Martin is a boy whose great curiosity takes him to a place he never imagined and a future that might seem impossible. But impossible is a word that doesn't exist for Riley.

A second grader from El Paso, Texas, he lies in a high hospital bed in the original Shriners Burns Institute in Galveston. He has third-degree burns over 63 percent of his small body and face, the result of his experiment with gasoline from the lawn mower and a match.

But inside that burned body glows a steady spirit.

In this debut novel, set in such an unlikely place, a boy and his parents face the future—his and theirs. Riley's mother has been with him every day since a private plane brought them to Galveston immediately after the accident. His father comes for weekends when he can. The isolated hospital universe, the other children being treated there, Riley's mother's furious grief at her son's disfigurement, and his father's determined support are fictional creations informed by exraordinary knowledge, empathy, and skill.

But it is Riley himself who charms and twists the reader's heart—Riley, a boy so compelling in his innate boyness and buoyancy that his presence transforms the setting, the circumstances, the pain, the loss, even his own expectations.

He is one of those rare beings who embody the human spirit in the act of transcending reality. His story is, above all else, a reward.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Resurrection of Harvey Goldner

On February 7 Cinco Puntos Press celebrated the publication of Harvey Goldner’s selected poems, The Resurrection of Bert Ringold at the Elliot Bay Bookstore in Seattle. Harvey couldn’t make it. He was dead. He died July 4th, 2007, roughly six months before the book was published. Harvey would like me to say it just like that. He would do the same if the tables were turned and I was residing on the other side.

Oh well.

It was a wonderful evening. All of his friends showed up. The open mike poetry scene, the very small press poetry scene, the underground poetry scene, the anti-academic poetry scene, the downtown poetry scene. However you want to call it. His two daughters came, Emily and Amy, tall six foot blonde daughters, one of his sons came, quietly sitting by himself, laughing at his father’s poems. A very good bunch of folks. They got up and read Harvey poems. Funny and wise and thoughtful and beneath the cantankerous humor a truly intellectual and authentic wisdom. Truly one of the best readings I’ve been to in the last several years. Elliot Bay had bought 25 copies and sold those out quickly. I had brought more just in case. They went through 20 more. Quite a good number for a poetry event.

I have written much about Harvey, his importance to me personally and his vision and poetry, on my own blog, but what I want to do here is to thank all the people who showed up, family and fans and friends of Harvey. The celebration was organized by Chris Dusterhoff, Harvey’s friend and publisher at Spankstra Press. Arne Pihl emceed the event, and people from the audience read their favorite Harvey poems. The readers were Chris Dusterhoff, Maged Zaher, Brian McGuigan, Roger Weaver, Arne Pihl, David Fewster, Crysta Casey, J. Glenn Evans, Michael Magee, Emily Goldner, Martin Marriott, Jean Musser, Eli Richardson, Christopher Jarmick. (If I have left anybody out, please forgive me.) J. Glenn Evans brought his recording equipment to document the evening. He produced a show for KSER radio of the event.

We also had a nice post-reading at a bar down the street. The photograph below, right to left standing, are Martin Marriott, Maged Zaher, Chris Dusterhoff, Emily Goldner, me, Amy Wheary-Goldner; and then seated, Adam Hayes (storyteller Joe Hayes son, a radio and video producer who now lives in Seattle), Arne Pihl and his lady friend Kelly. Obviously, I had drunk two porters and one would have been certainly enough. If Harvey had been there, he would have been outside on south Main, leaning his skinny body against a wall and smoking a cigarette, watching the people go by, maybe talking to a homeless guy who bummed a cigarette. He was happiest on the street. He was happiest sober. He had been that way since 1983. You can read about it in his poems.

And remember, buy poetry.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Happy Birthday, Cactus Mary Fountaine

Cactus Mary Fountaine— our hardnosed no-nonsense Lady of Common Sense—turned 50 today. She’s the Cinco Puntos Fulfillment and Warehouse Manager, and she’s been with Cinco Puntos since 2000 or thereabouts. We were still in our house on Louisville Street. Mary also supports Johnny Byrd in managing accounting matters and she has recently moved to a desk up front so she can also manage our retail space. She’s the only person here with two desks.

Once, during a particularly hard month, Mary told me, “Bobby, this business bleeds money.”

“Yeah,” I said, “tell me about it.”

And she did.

In El Paso she’s known as Cactus Mary, a small-business woman who makes and sells wonderful hand-crafted soaps. If you’re here on a Saturday morning during the summer and fall months, please drop by Ardovino’s Desert Crossing for the farmer’s market. Mary, or a cohort, will be there selling Cactus Mary Soaps. Last night, when this picture was taken, the Cinco Puntos gang went out to Ardovino’s to celebrate. Mary had the Chicken Marsala and two glasses of a nice white wine. And today she’s taken her birthday holiday.

Happy Birthday, Mary!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Poop & Caca: What Goes In Must Come Out!

Little kids love stories about poop and farts, right? And teachers for a number of years now have been asking us to publish a bilingual non-fiction book for early readers. It seems like if we put those two things together we’d have a very popular book.

We had listened closely to our teacher friends, but we never found anything we liked. We tend to be particular. We like to publish books we like. Something with a little bit of an edge. But then at the Bologna Children’s Books Rights Fair we saw Le Grande Voyage of Monsieur Caca published by the wonderful French-Canadian independent publisher Les 400 Coups. A little girl eats an apple and the apple descends—with sound effects in English and Spanish—through the digestive system until, sure enough, the human-processed apple ends up being flushed down the toilet. The journey is documented with all the scientific lingo and maps by a fastidious doctor who looks like a wolf.

Bingo! It was perfect!

The book is funny, it’s educational and it’s very kid friendly. Lee made sure. She read it to our three-year-old grandson Baby Ed who was having difficulty thinking “potty” when he was ready to do his business. He loved the book. And for an hour he had a long and serious conversation with his grandma about what his poop looked like. Not soon afterward he was going to the potty on the potty. Good for him, good for us. We were delighted.

Surely this was exactly the kind of book that our teacher friends had been asking us to publish in a bilingual format. But (at least so far) sales have been below expectations. Why? Because teachers are hesitant to teach it. They don't feel empowered enough to use the book. They don't want to get in trouble. This became obvious when we started carting Mr. Poop around to educational conferences like the California Association of Bilingual Educators or the regional library conferences. We watched teacher after teacher pick up Mister Poop. They would read the book aloud, they would laugh and tell their colleagues, “Look at this wonderful book! The kids would certainly get a hoot out of it!” Then they’ll put it down and add with a sigh, “But of course I can’t use it.”

"You can't use it?"

Our naiveté continues to amaze us. Even though kids hear the words “poop” and, if they are Mexican-American, “caca” every day of their lives at home from their moms and dads and brothers and sisters and grandparents, teachers remain very timid about using them as teaching tools in their class rooms. This is especially true in red states like Texas where the achievement tests conservative ideas rule.

Oh well. That’s what happens in the independent publishing world. Our naiveté is our blessing and our curse. We’re proud of the Mr. Poop. We think that someday soon it will find it’s way in the world of early reader books. Meanwhile, we gave one to Baby Ed. He and his parents keep it next to his toilet at home. It's a perfect niche.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Lee Merrill Byrd: An Interview by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Lee Merrill Byrd, the president of Cinco Puntos Press, Inc., is also a novelist and children’s books author. In November 2006 author and children’s literature specialist Cynthia Leitich Smith interviewed Lee for her widely respected blog CYNSATIONS about children's books. Since that interview is still very much current and discusses the history of Cinco Puntos Press as well as others topics relevant to Lee juggling her work as a writer and publisher, we thought it a good place to visit if you’re looking for information about who and what Cinco Puntos Press is. Besides, Cynthia's blog--with its progressive, multicultural perspecitive--is an important source of information, issues and ideas about books for kids. We recommend it highly.

Let's begin by talking about your own novel, Riley's Fire (Algonquin, 2006). Could you tell us about the story?...

For more follow this link to Cynthia’s blog.

P.S. John Byrd, the son of Lee and Bobby, joins his mother in ths photograph. John, who began packing boxes for Cinco Puntos when he was in Junior High School, is now a vice president of the corporation.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

YA Fiction, ALA Prizes, and the Book Business

We are always suggesting to our fiction writing friends, especially Latino authors because of the dearth of YA Latino fiction, that they consider writing young adult novels. If the work is well reviewed, then the books will have a much longer life span. And there’s the added enticement that YA readers are more adventurous readers. A writer is not necessarily singing to the choir. An example of what can happen is Sherman Alexie's first YA novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian which won the National Book Award and should have been more seriously considered for the ALA's Printz Award. Sherman writes with deep understanding and wit about the struggles and confusion and honor of the Native American experience in 21st Century America. Like Barack Obama in the political realm, he represents a new breed of intellectual, especially among writers of color who are not strapped down to an old doctrinaire politics. We recommend the novel highly. For a taste of Sherman, he wrote an interesting piece about being a YA novelist in Publishers Weekly (2/18/08).

Speaking of the Printz Award, Elizabeth Devereaux, the Children’s Reviews Editor at Publisher’s Weekly, has a very interesting commentary (1/28/08) on the children’s book awards given out each year by the American Library Association at their Mid-Winter Convention. These awards are extremely important to the publishers of children’s books. A Newbery or Caldecott or Prinz Award can make a book an instant classic. To be on the selection committee for any of these awards is an honor and extremely difficult work. Librarians will read and review hundreds of books during their tenure on a committee. It’s like taking on an extra full-time job. These folks are obsessed in the greatest good way. For a small independent publisher to be considered, be listed as a finalist or even to win is a special honor which does wonders for reputation. A few years ago, Ben Saenz’ young adult novel Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood was talked about seriously for the Prinz. Although the novel was not among the finalists, a loud and generous buzz went about the convention center about Sammy and about Cinco Puntos. People suddenly knew who we were. The YALSA Committee did select Sammy for the 2005list of Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults. We sold through several printings of the hardback, and sold the paperback rights to Harper-Collins.

And to end this post on a distressing and confusing note, the Borders bookstore chain has been struggling financially and is considering selling itself. One of the suitors is Barnes & Noble. Holy conglomeration, Batman.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Christopher Cardinale goes to Rosario searching for Luis Urrea

This is a picture of the artist Christopher Cardinale at the airport in Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, which is a 25 minute ride from our house in El Paso. (See the note below.) So why am I taking Christopher to the airport?

Because we are publishers.

But that is not what planned. Lee is a novelist, I am a poet. Our disciplines have always led us into particular intellectual and imaginative journeys and more or less defined who we would be hanging with. We continue in these worlds. But back in the 1980s we had to make a living. Our 9 to 5 life was not a happy one, we were technical writers to feed our kids and ourselves, so we decided to try our hand at publishing. It’s been a different life since then. Publishing has required different journeys, equally engaging to the imagination and the intellect.

This is one of our riffs when we talk about publishing: the discipline of putting books together and selling has made our hearts and minds and imagination bigger.

I was thinking about all of this when I drove Christopher to the airport in Juárez. Christopher is a graphic novelist, and he’s going to do the illustrations for a graphic novel, Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush by Luis Alberto Urrea (Fall 2008).

We met Christopher in a roundabout way, the peculiar way that things happen in the independent publishing world. In 2005 we were at the Book Exposition of America (BEA) in NYC and picked up a copy of Wobblies! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World. It sat in a pile of books in our office for a while until our son John, who is now the vice-president of everything here in our offices, started looking through it. He saw Christopher’s work included there and liked it. Then he saw it again on the cover of a Punk Planet magazine. He remembered that we’ve been talking in-house for a number of years about doing "Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush" as a graphic novel. The story is the first story in Luis’ collection, Six Kinds of Sky, that we did back in 2002. John asked artist Youme Landowne if she knew Christopher, and of course Youme said, “Oh, yes, he’s is a good friend of mine. He lives in Brooklyn.” Youme, the artist and writer who published the acclaimed Selavi with us and was working at the time on Pitch Black (to be released in June), lives in Brooklyn too. So John talked to Christopher, he listened to our proposal and he liked the story. So like abracadabra, I’m putting Christopher on a plane to Mazatlán. From there he’ll take a bus to Rosario, Sinaloa. Rosario is the place of Mr. Mendoza’s adventures. This is the town that Luis visited in the summers when he was growing up in Tijuana and San Diego. It was full of cousins and excitement and magical adventures and very pretty girls, the kind of real life adventures that can only happen in Mexico. Christopher, however, didn’t have to go to Rosario, but that’s the kind of integrity that he possesses. He wants to know el ambiente of the place that he’s illustrating. He’s down there now. He’s contacted Luis’ cousin Jorge, and he's been sketching and talking and photographing.

And as I write this I get an email from Christopher titled “Wrapping it up in Rosario”:

Dear Bobby,

They have treated me very well here in Rosario. Beautiful town, kind and generous people. I have a ton of photos and a small stack of drawings. I am going to Mazatlán tomorrow and Los Mochis on Wed. I hope to be back in El Paso by the 16th. I will let you know for sure by the 15th. I gave an interview to a regional newspaper here that is out of Mazatlán. It is called El Debate. The journalists happened upon me when i was drawing in a cemetery. They were working on a piece about tourism in Sinaloa. They ended up interviewing me about our project. The paper came out today. There is a photo, my name is spelled correctly, Cinco Puntos is mentioned as well as Luis Urrea, Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush and more. I am bringing a copy. The article is not on their website because it appeared in the edition for the southern region and they don’t post that on their site.

Hope all is well on your side of the line


NOTE: The ride back from the airport to my house was almost two hours because the U.S. feds in the on-going paranoia have not devised a way for us on the border to live a normal life, going back and forth to our sister city.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Little Boy is Worried about the Size of his What?

In March 2008, Cinco Puntos Press is publishing Little Zizi (978-1-933693-05-7), a picture book for children. Zizi is French, a diminutive for penis—as in peepee. Little Zizi tells the story of Martin, a thoughtful little boy who worries about the size of his penis. The book was written by renowned French children’s writer Thierry Lenain and illustrated by Stéphane Poulin. It was originally published in Canada by Les 400 Coups.

So our friend asked us, “The little boy is worried about the size of his what?”

We like showing our newest book Little Zizi to our friends, especially friends with kids. Every time they begin to read it, they start giggling. The same thing happens with our professional friends—publishers, librarians, educators, reviewers. They can’t suppress their delight. They thoroughly enjoy the book, the whimsy of Thierry Lenain’s tale so perfectly married with Stéphane Poulin’s illustrations, but in the back of their minds (at least, the adult area of their mindss) is the nagging questions, Why is Cinco Puntos publishing this book?

The answer is simple. We enjoy the book immensely. We fell in love with it and we thought it was a no-brainer. Parents were ready for this book. But we heard the question enough that we decided to ask Thierry Lenain why he wrote the book.

Thierry’s response was straightforward. He remembers his own childhood, and he remembers that growing up into manhood is a difficult and sometimes lonely journey. Now, as a writer, he can look around the world. He has come to believe that so much of the misfortune that we read about in the paper comes from the obsession of many men to assert and prove their manliness. Their virility. And now he’s watching his own children grow up. He wrote this book for them. His own little gift to them, to all children, but especially to boys. Relax, he wants to say. It’s okay to be who you are. Accept your body. You may see it as less than perfect, but it is beautiful just the same.

Thierry Lenain’s uncomplicated answer runs against the flow of our obsessed culture. A day spent deleting spam from incoming e-mail should be proof of this. We are choking with worries about the size and beauty of the human sexual anatomy. Making penises longer and bigger and breasts more ample have become big industries. It seems, as a culture, we are ashamed of who we are. Our media produces all sorts of images of violence and sexual innuendo but when push comes to shove, we don’t want our children to know about their sexual apparatuses before they are ready. Whenever that is. Surely a book with so much joy and whimsical frivolity in such a bipolar cultural environment can do only good.

But people still ask us, why?

Well, from a business point of view, we believe that Little Zizi will have decent financial success. It'll probably get some notoriety, some people will love it, others will hate it. There won't be a lot of middle ground. Besides, the book has had success elsewhere. Cinco Puntos purchased the English language rights from the French Canadian publisher Les 400 Coups who published the book for its French audience in France and Canada. In those markets it did wonderfully well. It goes from printing to next printing like clockwork. Besides, Les 400 Coups has sold the rights for Spanish, German, Korean, Danish and Flemish editions.

Except that in the U.S. no publisher wanted to touch it. No wonder. The French are the French; and the world is the world; but us Americans are still Americans, still wandering around in a discombobulated fog of sexual confusion.

And, yes, before we made our offer, we road-tested Little Zizi on our grandson John Andrew. He was seven at the time. I read him the story and showed him the pictures. He had a big-mouthed grin on his face. At one point he asked me, That’s not how that happens, is it? We were looking at the wondrous painting of little girl Anais and our hero Martin sitting on the park bench. Anais has just told Martin that when she grows up she wants to have ten babies. Ten! Martin is looking over his shoulder in dismay. In his daydream he sees ten babies floating down from the skies!

Johnny Andrew’s curiosity was piqued. I said, Yes, that’s how that happens! He asked more questions. I told him he should ask his dad and mom a lot of these questions. My job was to read the book. He got a hoot out of that. We talked some, we laughed at the little dog who followed Martin around and he was delighted to see that Martin won the heart of Anais.

Lee and I figured our own grandson can’t be wrong. We moved ahead with buying the rights and publishing the book.

So ask any man, “When you were a little boy, were you worried about the size of your peepee?” And if he is honest, that man will squirm and he’ll hem and he’ll haw, but in the end he will confess, “Yes, I was worried. It’s one of the things all little boys worry about!”

But let’s not get philosophical. This is a fun book with a happy ending. Yes, Martin and Adrian are vying for the affection of Anais, the sweetest little girl in class. Yes, there is a pissing contest, and, yes, poor Martin loses the pissing contest, but lo and behold, Anais chooses Martin over Adrian, proving once again that love is justice and delicious understanding…

Anais and Martin will surely love each other for a long time.
And when they’ve grown up, they will have lots of children.

At least ten.
Because love isn’t a question of a zizi—large or small.

—Bobby Byrd, February 2008

Saturday, March 1, 2008

LaVerne Harrell Clark, 1929-2008

Monday morning we received a short note from our friend L.D. Clark. His wife LaVerne Harrell Clark died the evening before (Feb 24, 2008) in her growing-up home on Main Street in Smithville, Texas. Besides being a fellow writer, LaVerne was an old-style family person. She wanted to know about our children and grandchildren, all the little bits and pieces of news. It was always an honor to be included in her legendary and very encyclopedic Christmas Newsletters.

I first met the Clarks in 1964 when LaVerne served as the Director of the Ruth Stephan Poetry Center at the University of Arizona. I was a lonely 21-year-old kid who wanted to be a poet. L.D., a novelist and D.H. Lawrence scholar, was a professor in the English Department. LaVerne was an immediate friend, one of those strong pieces of cord that has moved in and out of my life since then. She was a remarkable ethnographer and folklorist, photographer and novelist. Cinco Puntos Press was proud to publish her novel Keepers of the Earth, a tale about a Texas family which is torn apart because of oil and land. In that novel LaVerne was able to enlist her many talents and deep insight of rural east Texas. We also published L.D.’s equally fine novel A Bright Tragic Thing, A Tale of Civil War Texas.

In my heart, LaVerne and L.D. were bookends to a generous love and intellectual affection for the old and traditional parts of our culture. As a couple, they could be fun-loving and cantankerous at the same time. For these many years, they were integral to Southwestern literature from Arizona and New Mexico to Texas. From their days in Tucson, they counted among their friends Byrd Baylor, Keith and Heloise Wilson, Barney Childs, Drummond Hadley, Diana Hadley, Jill and Joe Somoza, Larry Goodell, Paul Malanga and so many others. Added to this are their Texas friends, Texas relatives, the widening circles of writers, ethnographers, historians—this is a huge list of people, who, I’m sure, might want to add them comments about LaVerne here. Please be our guest.

LaVerne loved to sit around at parties and talk and laugh and tell old stories. She had a wonderfully loud and raucous laugh. One night at Joe and Jill Somoza’s house in Las Cruces, L.D. pulled out his beautiful Spanish guitar. I didn’t know it at the time, but besides being a fine novelist, he is a remarkable guitarist with a nice tenor voice. He started singing songs—Mexican songs, Spanish songs, old country and western songs. It was fun. We all sang along when we could. Toward the end of the evening he sang the c&w version of “Help me through the night,” the Willie Nelson version. L.D., a Ph.D. and scholar of English Literature, was more of a stickler for correct pronunciation than LaVerne. Although he too was raised up in rural Texas, he simply couldn’t put the proper twang to the word “help.”

“L.D., damnit,” she kept hooting, “it’s not ‘help me through the night.’ It’s ‘hep me thru the night.’ Don’t you hear me? It’s ‘hep me thru the night.’” We all laughed and L.D. kept playing and singing.

Take the ribbon from your hair, Shake it loose and let it fall,
Layin' soft upon my skin. Like the shadows on the wall.

Come and lay down by my side till the early morning light
All I'm takin' is your time. Help me make it through the night.
I don't care what's right or wrong, I don't try to understand.
Let the devil take tomorrow. Lord, tonight I need a friend.

Yesterday is dead and gone and tomorrow's out of sight.
And it's sad to be alone. Help me make it through the night.

I don't care what's right or wrong, (Yes, I do !)
I don't try to understand.
Let the devil take tomorrow. Lord, tonight I need a friend.

Yesterday is dead and gone and tomorrow's out of sight.
Lord, it's bad to be alone. Help me make it through the night

We send you off with much love, LaVerne Harrell Clark.

The Cinco Puntos Press Blogspot

Welcome to the Cinco Puntos Press blog. We’re really glad that your travels on the web have brought you here. To tell you the truth, we’re a little bit surprised to be here ourselves. If you’d told us some twenty years ago when we first cooked up plans for Cinco Puntos in our house that we’d be meeting anyone out in cyberspace this many years later, we would have been amazed. And we still are amazed, because publishing is one miraculous business, kind of like growing lettuce which, as you can see, we like to do in the late fall and early winter. To watch a book unfold, like watching a beautiful lettuce grow from seed, to watch it find its audience and its life in the hands of a reader is a stunningly miraculous business. We want to share this business with you in all its myriad aspects, and hope that you will, in turn, share your thoughts about publishing and/or about our books with us.

We are Bobby and Lee Byrd, owners and publishers of Cinco Puntos. We started Cinco Puntos Press in 1985 out of our house on Louisville Street. We are a small, very independent publishing company rooted here in El Paso, Texas, not three miles north of the U.S. Mexican Border. We are both writers. We started Cinco Puntos because we wanted more time to write and we found as we have moved further and further into the publishing life, that publishing, like writing, is an act of self-discovery. Every book takes us to a new place. Each book leads us into unexpected intellectual terrains. These are places we might have never experienced without the provocation of new books and the business of making and selling them.

Publishing, like writing and gardening, is an organic process. We don’t know exactly what the book will become when we first see it in manuscript, but in the give and take between us and the author and, as it passes through our hands as editors, and through the hands of the people we work with who translate or design or illustrate the text, it becomes something new, different, and wonderful—a true collaboration.

We come to publishing as writers. We aren’t educators. We think it’s important to note that. Manuscripts are really interesting to us when the writing is amazing or the voice of the author is unique or the book opens up a door into a culture or a people that hasn’t been opened before. Or when the writer is someone whose work we’ve just plain admired over a long period of time. There are so many fine publishers who understand the educational needs of children and what kids should be learning at what age, but that’s not how we approach publishing.

Because we are so deeply involved with the books we publish, they are BOOKS to us, not products, not items. They’re more like children, and when people love them, we are very proud and very pleased. And even when people don’t love them, we still have that sense that they are very good and they give us a great deal of satisfaction.
Our first three books—Dagoberto Gilb’s Winners on the Pass Line; Joe Somoza’s book Backyard Poems; and Joe Hayes’ La Llorona, The Weeping Woman, our best-selling book ever—established a DNA imprint of how we were to grow. These authors were all close friends, they had these three wonderful books, each was very generous to trust us. We wanted very much to be publishers, whatever that meant to us at the time. Our initial ignorance about publishing was not bliss, but it did translate into innocence and energy and curiosity. If we had known what we were getting into back then, we probably would have been frightened away.

But we weren’t. Since those first three books, we have published close to 130 books, each one with its own story. We have moved the business from our home in the Five Points Neighborhood (thus, the name of our press) to Texas Avenue in downtown El Paso. And in 2004 our son John, who grew up packing books for us, came home from Austin to work with us. He’s been vital to our understanding of what Cinco Puntos is and what we are to become.

We are distributed to the trade by Consortium Books Sales and Distribution, now owned by Perseus. We can’t say enough good things about Consortium, about the people we work with, about their professionalism and their enthusiasm for our books, and about all we’ve learned by being affiliated with so many like-minded indie publishers through Consortium. Well, maybe we can say enough and that will be one of the things we talk about: distribution. Because distribution is a big issue for a publisher. And distribution is a big issue if you plan to self-publish.

Certainly, it’s a wonderful time to be a publisher, filled with all sorts of economic risks and intellectual and cultural possibilities. We hope to document our place in this changing environment through this blog. And we hope you will join us, adding comments and sending suggestions for material and links to include in our blog.