Do you need to read in order to write? Claro qué si! Poets should fill themselves with the works of poetry and other writers. My advice for young poets is to read what’s available in the contemporary landscape. Later they can begin to study the grand masters such as Flaubert and Turgenev.
Were you a “good student” in school? Claro qué no! I graduated from Roosevelt High School with something like a 1.6 GPA. But while in high school I discovered the works of Hemingway, Steinbeck, Jules Vernes, Robert Frost and Thornton Wilder. In short, I was already thinking like a poet, already filling myself with literature.
What was your major in college? I graduated from Fresno State College in 1974 with a B.A. in English.
Do you speak Spanish? Sometimes.
What do you like to do? Read. It appears these days I don’t have much of a life because my nose is often stuck a book. But I discovered that reading builds a life inside the mind. I enjoy biographies and novels and reading in Spanish. Also, I like theater, tennis, basketball, traveling (especially London) and working in the garden…sometimes.
Who are your favorite writers? Thomas Berger, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pablo Neruda, Carson McCullers, Richard Russo, John Galsworthy, Walter Mosley, James Crumley, Richard Ford, Christopher Durang, David Mamet, H.E. Bates, A.R. Gurney, Nicky Silvers, Martín Espada, Robertson Davies, Elmore Leonard, and Bill Shakespeare. My favorite Faulkner novel is The Light in August. My favorite poem is Christopher Smart’s “My Cat Jeffery.”
Have any of your stories been made into moves? Yes, I had a short story of mine called “The No Guitar Blues” made into a short film. A have a few nibbles of interest from film directors. But, alas, the phone remains dead. Hollywood is not calling.
Where do you get your ideas for your novels, stories, and poems? I’m also a listener. I hear lines of poetry issue from the mouths of seemingly ordinary people. And, as a writer, my duty is not to make people perfect, particularly Mexican Americans. I’m not a cheerleader. I’m one who provides portraits of people in the rush of life.
When writing, do you revise? Yes, all writers revise and almost all writers have friends who look at his or her work. My first reader is my wife; poor thing, I bother her almost daily as I beg, “Carolyn, could you please look at this masterpiece?” Of course it’s not a masterpiece, but a way of getting her attention.
What’s the favorite book you have written? Jesse, a novel set in the early 1970s and about two brothers. I also enjoyed writing my novel Poetry Lover.
What is your favorite novel written by someone else? It might be The Feud by Thomas Berger or it might be Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. My all time favorite—it’s a tough call—is Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.
Do you have a favorite movie? No, I don’t. But I can tell you my wife’s favorite movie—“Babe.”
Do all your writing projects get published? No, I have written several picture books that were just awful, and I have written a middle grade novel that was too violent for its own good. I put them away, and sometimes I burn the poetry I feel is no good.
Do you teach? No
We hear that you have a library named in your honor? Yes, this is at Winchell Elementary School in Fresno.
What is your highest honor?In Kennesaw, Georgia, there is one wonderful teacher who named her dog after me. She apparently loves my work. The dog is named Soto. Apparently he is one goofy dog.
Do you often go back to Fresno? Almost monthly. I have friends and family there, and I like to kick around its streets, sucking up the ambiance. For me, it’s important to stay connected to your hometown.
Do you see your friends from childhood? No, I’m sorry that I don’t. Friends, as you may know, sometimes disappear. Mine did.
What are you working on now? Adult poetry. I just completed a book of poems called Human Nature; it was a nine months of hard work. Still, it may be a year before it comes out. Publishing, my dear readers, is very slow. But due this spring is a collection of love poetry for middle-grade students called Partly Cloudy: Poems of Love and Longing. If you’re in love or wish you were, get this book.
What kind of car do you drive? A 2007 Saturn. I like it because the power windows work!
What was the worst car you ever had? A 1961 Rambler. It was a gas saver because I spent most of my time pushing it!