Happy 2014 to You and Yours!!

2013 has been a year that has changed my life forever. Magical and brutal. I learned far more than I taught. I recieved far more than I gave. For every highlight, many bruises. Each bruise a very real blessing. Looking forward to 2014, I gave myself only two concrete goals: 1) To find a permanent teaching position at a University. 2) Learn to let go. In truth, I worry about making any resolutions at all. This time last year I promised myself I would not fill my plate with so many projects and responsibilities, but looking back I realize how laughable that is. Here is a shortlist of some things I was involved with this past year:

1) Began an effort to raise $10,000 for a memorial headstone, which included letter writing and organizing a benefit concert
2) Released two books
3) Traveled to approximately 17 cities across the U.S. promoting both books
4) Facilitated approximately 22 interviews around the plane crash book project, including one fortunate interview with Pete Seeger (click here for archived blog post on this)
5) Attended Bea Franco’s funeral service only two weeks after she held a copy of Mañana Means Heaven in her hands (click here for archived blog post on this)
6) Met with the Woody Guthrie Center archivist regarding my research around the plane crash
7) Became a mentor for Prescott College’s low res MFA program
8) Wrote two grants to help fund this work (received none)
9) Taught poetry to local teens at Boulder High School
10) Wrote external reviews for three publishers
11) Transferred both of my children to a new school
12) Made a long overdue and vital reconnection with family
13) Found myself constantly asking, “How did I end up here?”

As the new year begins, I have been meditating on this photo. Mostly because it recently re-emerged in our family a few weeks ago. It was taken in the fields of Wyoming in 1974, the year I was born. I am on my father’s back while he and my mother are working. They were only 20 years old at the time. Neither had ever made it past the 9th grade. They were young and scared, but driven by fierce ambition. I like to think that while they were looking forward, into the future, I was there, bound to them, with my eyes on the past. And it only occurs to me now, as I write this, that maybe this is how I “ended up here.”

Peace to you all in this coming year. Let us continue the work of strengthening our ties, through art, dance, poetry, music, and the sharing of stories!

You can contact me at: tzhernandez@yahoo.com

Mañana Means Heaven Blog Tour Kicks Off

Dear Friends,

The “Mañana Means Heaven Blog Tour” kicks off this Monday with a great interview by Kerouac scholar and author, Stephanie Nikolopoulos. Starting Monday, six different blog sights (see links below) will be posting interviews, excerpts, never before seen photos of Bea Franco, audio clips and other cool tidbits about the book over six days. This is an opportunity to learn more about Bea Franco, and get access to material that was not included in the book.

Manana Means Heaven Blog Tour:

Monday, September 16 | Stephanie Nikolopoulos, http://stephanienikolopoulos.com/blog/
Tuesday, September 17 | The Daily Beat, http://thedailybeatblog.blogspot.com/
Wednesday, September 18 | La Bloga, http://labloga.blogspot.com/
Thursday, September 19 | The Big Idea, http://www.jasonfmcdaniel.com/
Friday, September 20 | The Dan O’Brien Project http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com/
Saturday, September 21 | Impressions of a Reader http://www.impressionsofareader.com/

Book Tour & Readings

FYI, the east coast leg of the book tour begins as of next Wednesday, September 18 in Easthampton, Mass. After that I go to NY for the book release party at La Casa Azul Bookstore, and then on to the Brooklyn Book Festival. Please click here for all dates and details. Thanks again for supporting and I hope to see you at these events!

MMHBook Cover

Contact Tim Hernandez: tzhernandez@yahoo.com or 303-437-9435

UNIVISION & HISTORY MAKING

If you watched part 1, part 2, or part 3 of Univision’s Special Report “Tragedia Sin Nombre,” and then you found yourself sharing the story with others, then you are making history. If you are reading the Tulsa World article or listening to the California Report, or NPR’s Tell Me More, and then you turn around and mention this story to a friend, you are making history. If you are a teacher using this story to illustrate a subject or point in the classroom, you too are making history. The more we share this story the more it becomes an irremovable thread in our collective experience. Please share far and wide. My hope is that my book spills far out, off the pages and into the streets, kitchens, classrooms, road trips and intimate spaces, wherever there is a discussion about what it means to be human.

Lance Canales and myself, the memorial benefit concert, April 18, 2013

Lance Canales and myself, the memorial benefit concert, Fresno, California, April 18, 2013

NOTES ON PROCESS OF “ALL THEY WILL CALL YOU” THE BOOK

One of my earliest mentors once told me that in order to find a poem we must live in the “non-poem.” In other words, those little spaces, rhythms, failures, joys and triumphs, the stuff our lives are made up of is where we find poetry and stories. But we have to be in it, really in it. Makes sense, right? But I can’t tell you how easy it’s been for me to forget this simple truth lately. As I dive headlong into the writing of my Deportees book, people too easily become characters, lived stories sway to and away from fact, letters to loved ones read more like narrative peaks and valleys, such to the point that I frequently catch myself digging out a photograph from my research files, just to prove to myself that I didn’t make up the image in my mind’s eye. That it does, in fact, exist. This is a whole new realm for me. For the past 15 years that I’ve been writing seriously, I’ve grown accustomed to generating material from my own creative impulses, my own slippery ideas and fancy distortions. This time, for this piece, I’ve resigned myself to the role of witness. Just as this is a book of witnesses. What the children on the ground who lived in that Canyon witnessed. What the prisoners who got their hands dirty that morning witnessed. What the media witnessed. What the landscape itself witnessed. The mountain range, and the airplane, what they witnessed. What Woody and Martin, and those closest to them witnessed. What we are now witnessing. For the last two and a half years I’ve carried around a small, very small, digital recorder. So a lot of this process has been transcription. Also, some of what the Nicaraguan poet, Ernesto Cardenal dubbed Documentary-poems, or Docu-poems, have been employed here. I guess Kerouac referred to a similar process he called “sketch-writing, or sketching.” Something like chronicling the found language and images as objectively as possible, quick and without too much thought. Free of all “fancy distortions.” Or in the words of Steinbeck, free of “my own authorial warp.” I’ve even dipped back into Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s “True Perception: The Path of Dharma Art,” because I see this approach to writing somewhat in line with his concept of “non-aggression,” or rather, a “non-aggressive art,” as in “all things a symbol of themselves.” I remember taking a workshop with Ruben Martinez, author of “El Otro Lado” way back in 1996, and he said something along the lines of “If you write about things as they are the metaphors are already there.” He might’ve been more poetic than that, I’m sure. But here I am now, doing my best to allow these voices, 65 years later, to speak on their own accord. And I cannot express to you how fantastic, challenging, and yet frightening this whole process is. As of right now, the book is shaping up to look like a textual documentary; language, interviews, photos and letters. I’ll try and post a few excerpts down the road.

Interviews in the Interim

I was recently interviewed by a small UK publication called the Beat Scene. The publisher was interested in my research on Bea Franco and so he asked me a few questions, and I believe the article was just published in the latest print issue. If you’re interested in reading the full article, click here. Before you read it though, it might be worth noting that in the last paragraph he had written “So let us hope that this book does make it into print.” While I don’t make it a practice to correct reporters, especially ones who are promoting my work, I’m not exactly sure why he wrote that. Especially since the book, as he states in the very next sentence, will be published this fall. For this reason alone I blackened that line out.

Alice Braga as Terry Franco in the film "On the Road"

Alice Braga as Terry Franco in the film “On the Road”

Also, I’ve recently been approached by a few reporters and other folks who have some interest in Bea Franco’s story as it relates to the Beats. One thing I feel I should make clear is that I am by no means a Beat scholar, nor has this ever been my intention. From the start of this project my focus has been on Bea Franco, her life, her story, and her point of view. I understand that her significance is tethered to Jack Kerouac, however, his side of the matter is out there, and has been for years. Above all else, this has been my only purpose, to get Bea Franco’s life story out into the world. This is precisely what I’m trying to convey in this recent video interview I did with Great Valley Stories as well. Click here if you’d like to see the interview.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First Draft: Bennington College

On the cusp of the New Year I can’t help but feel excited that 2013 will finally see the publication of my novel, Mañana Means Heaven. For this reason I went back and found one of the first journal entries I wrote as I was about to embark on this project.

First, I need to set it up by mentioning it was sometime in 2008, after I had already been quietly contemplating the idea for this book project on Bea Franco for over a year, that I decided to return to college to get my MFA in Writing & Literature. It was at the urging of two close friends of mine—the brilliant and fearless memoirist Irene Vilar, who wrote The Ladies Gallery, (about her grandmother Lolita Lebron who shot up the U.S. House of Senate in 1956 in the name of Puerto Rico’s liberation), and her equally brilliant husband, Daniel Grandbois, whose book Unlucky Lucky Tales was recently released by Texas Tech University Press—that I decided to attend the Bennington College Writing Seminars in Vermont. They had both attended there. In fact, without my knowing it was Irene who made the initial contact on my behalf, so you can imagine how surprised I was when out of the blue I got a call from Bennington College explaining to me the admissions process. I enrolled and for the next two years I would return to that campus—ten days in June and ten in January—and use that solitary time in those lush green and often snowy mountains to write.

Knowing I would have to fly from California (and later Colorado) out to that part of the country every six months, I decided to time my visits to the New York Public Library accordingly. I would go a few days in advance to spend time at the Kerouac archives, before taking a train up to my residency. Thankfully my good friend Jason Mc Daniel lived in New York and was able to put me up, not to mention, later actually transcribe some of Bea’s letters for me.

As a father of 3 children, writing at home is almost impossible, to put it lightly. It typically means having to wait until the kids are asleep and using the time between 9 pm and 1 am to get any work done. So for me each residency at Bennington meant I had approximately 240 hours (24 hours per day x 10 days, give or take a few hours a day for lectures and workshops) of precious and vital alone time to write. A large portion of the first draft of my book was written while at Bennington, an experience I’ll always be grateful for. It’s funny now, looking back at this entry, thinking I had it all planned out so perfectly, unaware of how many twists and turns lay ahead of me.  Below is the entry I wrote in my journal during that first residency.  Please note that it may have typos, as I didn’t edit it, just plopped it from my file onto this here post.

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June 13, 2009, Bennington College

What an idiot I’ve been to have waited so long to get serious about this book. Don’t know what it is for sure about wanting to do the research more than the creative impulse of writing. Research is like a vortex, an addiction, hard to kick. I looked back at my earlier journal entries, all the research and talks I’ve had with other writers and I see that it’s been at least ten months since I wrote, “THE BOOK STARTS NOW!” To think if I had written at least five pages per week by four weeks each month would come out to 20 pages per month, which would mean I’d have around 200 pages typed by now. And this doesn’t include the longer riffs I know I would’ve written just by sitting down and doing the work. Fuck, I really need to FOCUS! The other books are screaming for my attention too, but I feel like I can’t get serious about either of those until I’m done here. I’ve been living with this story in my mind’s eye and in my day to day thoughts and a part of me says I need to write at least the first draft while still living in the central valley. That should be justification enough to leave the other two books alone for now. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be in the valley either, it’s possible we’ll be gone by next summer, back in Colorado by then. And if I’m going to leave by next summer I’ll have to have written at least the first draft by next May. Wait. May is plenty of time, too much time actually. That’s eleven whole months to write the first draft. No, I’ll give myself until my birthday, February 16 to write the first draft. Yeah, that’s still eight whole months away. And this can’t be/ shouldn’t be no measly little draft either, no, this one has to go the distance. At least, the first draft. Fuck audience, forget about all that, just a long inspired thread of all the things I know and have dug up in these past two years of envisioning the whole scenario. The first draft will be me putting down all of the colors of my palette, and all the tools that I pull from will go down into this first draft too. The first draft should have three versions for every description and image, for every scenario, so that I have three at least to choose from by the time I’m done. And then I’ll come back around with the second draft, and this will be mostly about chopping back, about selecting the gems from each page, each line, and throwing out the rest, the useless images and rants that I’ll include in the first draft. Yes, the first draft will be for me and my eyes only and truly. The second draft is where I’ll begin to shape the story. The first draft will be the flaccid flesh of the story, the casing. The second draft will be the bones, the framework that begins to hold up the body. It will also be where I begin to put some order to the chapters, order to the whole composition. This second draft will also include more accuracy, but not much, this wont be my concern so much, but at least some. The second draft will take me from February until June, five months, yes! That’s enough time. Perfect in fact. Right around the time of my June residency here. And then, if I can bare it, I’ll take at least a month away from looking at the work. I’ll print it out and stow it away somewhere, somewhere out of reach. I wont do anything else this month on it. No peeking or writing or journal entries about it either. A clean break. I’ll try my best to get as far away from the work as possible, so that when I return to it, it will appear fresh and brand new to my mind and thus I can look at it from that perspective. Maybe I can get to the other books at this time. After the month is up the third draft will happen. This should be around August. And then the third draft will be the FIRST REAL DRAFT! Here is where I’ll tighten up the language and begin to look for words and phrases and moments that would be more consistent with the time period. Make sure every single word uttered sounds like it would be uttered in that time from that specific person. Make sure all of my references are authentic and true to the era as possible. I will begin to look for images too, to include in my final manuscript. Images of what? Why the need for images? Images that will lend to the overall mood of the story, to the period itself. So, they could be images of an old hotel in Fresno or in downtown L.A., something that looks like where Bea and Jack might’ve stayed. Images of old “Mextown” L.A. or images of the tent city in Selma, the Palomar Club in Fresno, Chinatown, or other such images that will echo the story and mood of this time and place and people. The third draft will also include the actual letters of Bea Franco at the end, after the epilogue. They will also include small captions at the bottom explaining what they are, when they were written, and by whom. The third draft will take me 2-3 months to complete, which means I should have this done by fall, around say, October. In the interim, I will have stashed it away once more for at least a month if not two months, and then in January I’ll return to it for one last glazing over. This fourth and final glazing over will be purely to catch any regrets, so that later I can’t say to myself, Well damn, if I had at least one more chance to go through it….blah blah blah. It should be done around the time I graduate. It’ll be my best attempt. In the end, that’s all I can try for.

Invisible Characters

Three years after Jack spent those impressionable weeks with Bea, he completed the first draft of his book, “On the Road.” Of course, the book wouldn’t land a publisher until six years later, in 1957. What isn’t usually conveyed in the lore that has become Kerouac, is that during these six years his book racked up countless rejections. It wasn’t until a man named Malcolm Cowley, who was an editorial consultant with Viking Press at the time, and a friend, suggested Jack get a couple of excerpts of the book published, as a way to get his foot in the door. Jack followed his advice and in 1955 had a small section published in a journal under the title, “Jazz of the Beat Generation.” But even with this now under his belt, it wasn’t until 1956 that his big break would come. It happened when the section about his relationship with a woman named “Terry,” titled “The Mexican Girl,” which took place in California’s San Joaquin Valley, was accepted by The Paris Review. The story garnered rave reviews, and shortly after was also acquired for the Best American Short Stories of 1956 anthology. It wasn’t until after publishing this story that “On the Road” was finally accepted by Viking Press, and the rest, as they say…

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Given the relevance that “The Mexican Girl” story had in Kerouac’s career, little has been known about who “Terry,” or Bea Franco, really was. Because she was from a family of migrant farmworkers, many scholars suspected she was from Mexico, and that’s likely where she returned. A possibility which seems more like a convenience than based in any evidence. With Bea Franco out of the picture one could speculate all they wanted without ever being held accountable for their claims. The same can be said for Esperanza Villanueva, the Mexicana who was the heroin junky of Kerouac’s book, “Tristessa.” Except in her case, she really was from Mexico, a Chilanga to be exact. And what about John Fante’s Camilla of “Ask the Dust?” What was her memory of their time together? How do we know that in the end she simply walked out into the desert never to be seen again? I mean, isn’t that what we’re told about the lost women of Juarez? Novels like Monique Truong’s “Book of Salt,” a look at Gertrude Stein’s life with Alice Toklas, taken from the perspective of Stein’s Vietnamese cook, Binh, hold extreme value. Even today, we find ourselves eating at a great restaurant, maybe sushi or (insert your favorite here), and chances are the people behind the food are a part of that invisible population. When was the last time we wondered about the lives of the workers who supply our Hotel rooms with new bed sheets and towels? They make it possible for us to live out our daily narratives, when all along, they have a narrative of their own, as equally compelling and vital. This is where my interest is. On lifting the veil of the “invisible characters.”

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As for the upcoming movie, “On the Road.” Pictured here is a photo of Alice Braga, the Brazilian actress who is portraying “Terry Franco” in the movie, which is due to hit theaters everywhere in January 2013. (Side note: Alice’s famous aunt, actress Sonia Braga, also played a farmworker from the San Joaquin Valley once too. It was a made for television mini-series called, “A Will of Their Own,” where she portrayed a UFW activist named Jessie de la Cruz.) In this photo we see Alice, or “Terry” used in a promotional poster for the film. The Director of the film, Walter Salles, said that prior to making the film, he too had taken the same road trip described in “On the Road.” Along the way he said he met with various people who were a part of the book and interviewed them to get an authentic sense of who they were, and of the time. Of course, Bea Franco was never contacted. When I ask her today about what she thinks of this film coming out, and how she feels about her image being portrayed on the big screen without her consent, she simply shrugs. She scratches her arm and grins, then shuffles to the back part of her house for a quick smoke. I’m hoping to catch the movie with her and her son Albert. If this does happen, I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

 

*“Mañana Means Heaven,” my novel of historical fiction based on Bea Franco’s life is due out in Fall 2013 with the University of Arizona Press.