Jon Marcantoni: The power and potential of literature

Jon Marcantoni

 

What is literature to me? I think every art has its distinct advantage in the way it chooses to express itself. Art is based on the senses, can we feel it, touch it, taste it? Art has to excite has to excite us, it has to move us, not only to enjoy the experience, but to be challenge by it, to act in accordance with the message of that particular work. Painting is pure visuals, same with still photography, it tells the story of mankind through a still life that speaks not only to that moment but to that particular state of being. Moving photography, film or video, is the great visual representation of God that exists. There is something holy in film, it not only captures a still life, but an entire movement. It creates worlds, characters, in real and imagined time. Filmmaking is truly an act of God, that is, creating man and nature and space and time, all to suit a story. Music, by using sounds, can manipulate my mind in such a way that I time travel, to my past, to my daydreams, to moods and moments that defy linguistic expression. Music is the primal scream, communication without words, that much like a painting or a photograph, captures a moment and analyzes the emotional weight of it. Dance is the manifestation of music, it is the joining of the audible and the physical, giving form to the sounds that captivate us, that we wish to understand but also kind of fear, and through the dances that emotional turmoil resolves itself by taking the chaos of sound and controlling it in movement.

What then, is literature?

Literature is the ultimate art. It uses language to manipulate time and capture humanity and nature, and to create, literature creates in the same way that film does, it lingers on moments like a painting, it creates rhythm and then contains it through grammar, it uses language to define the undefinable. It also, and here is where literature has the real advantage, not only creates worlds but it creates personalized worlds. Whereas the world created on film is definitive, literature creates an experience that changes according to whomever is reading it. It is a representation of the scientific theory that states that for every choice there are multiple realities where a person has selected each choice. The book you and I read may have the same blueprint, but the characters, the locations, the meaning, means different things to us. No art is as fluid as literature, as undefinable, because it is an experience that relies on your personal experience and preferences to influence the world it creates.

And this is why I feel it is important that we as writers not limit ourselves. It is very easy to get in the mindset of being safe or generic in order to attract publishers. I’ve certainly done it, and it is a tendency I fight against. There is a difference between adhering to a style and the rules of that style and altering your very voice to fit a supposed expectation imposed upon on us through literary journals and interviews with publishing professionals about what they look for in a book. Art cannot breathe in this environment. Literature has the potential to inspire, to engage, to change the world, why settle for mediocrity just because it might help you sell a book?

But the desire is clear and logical, we want to be successful, financially and artistically. We want this crazy habit of writing to support us and our families so we can dedicate every day to it. But maybe, just maybe, if you let yourself be yourself, and write what you love the way you want to write it, someone will like it enough to publish it. And if you promote it hard enough, it could be successful, you never know.

While the commercial needs and artistic needs of creating art are unavoidable, we should never lose sight of the great weapon we have at our disposal. To create worlds, to create relationships that inspire, that cause movements, the writers of history have often been associated with revolutionaries and with good reason, because if a book can imagine a better world, then why shouldn’t we? Literature is a weapon, and we should wield it with discern

Interview with Author Lyn Di Iorio

Lyn Di IorioNot only is Lyn a power of example when it comes to writing, she is down to earth and is tireless in her work. I’m very happy to have her visit here today!

Lyn Di Iorio grew up in Puerto Rico and came to the Mainland to attend Harvard University. She teaches literature and creative writing at The City College of New York and The Graduate Center of the CIty University of New York. She is the author of scholarly books of Latino literature; this is her first novel, an excerpt of which won an honorable mention in the 2009 New Millenium Writings Awards Competition.

What is your genre and your intended audience?

I don’t have a specific “genre.”  I generally think of myself as a writer of literary fiction.  That said, however, some reviewers of OUTSIDE THE BONES surprised me by calling it a “mystery.”  It does have a mystery at its heart, but I don’t think it is exclusively a mystery story.

What are you currently writing?

I may be about to contradict what I said above-hah!  I am working on a book that is definitely in the suspense mode.  The working title is THE SOUND OF FALLING DARKNESS and the protagonist is a criminal.

When do you make time to write?

Since I am also a college professor, I try to take advantage of the summer and winter vacations as well as spring break.  It’s hard for me to get much writing done in the course of the semester, but sometimes I will try to do a little on my non-teaching days.

What would you have done differently in your writing life? If anything at all?

I think I would have let my first agent finish submitting my novel as she had intended.  I got cold feet in the midst of the submission process—which can be very grueling—and withdrew the novel from submission.

What inspired you to become a writer?

For one, reading so many great writers.  As a child I loved classic works such as the novels of Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling and so many other writers from all over the world, but I also loved mysteries by Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Dick Francis, and others. When I was a teenager I started reading work by Puerto Rican and Caribbean women writers such as Ana Lydia Vega, Rosario Ferré, and Jean Rhys, which really woke up my eyes to the magical and mysterious world that is the Caribbean.  I was also always really fascinated by the fact that the Afro-Caribbean religions were regarded with fear by most of the people I knew growing up.  Or, on the other hand, people negated their existence altogether.  But the more I discovered about them, the more they fascinated me.  I think, in general and this applies beyond my interest in Afro-Caribbean religio-magical practices, I am really intrigued by surfaces that seem commonplace with little cracks or flaws, and the more you explore the cracks the more you see that the apparently commonplace surfaces are just facades behind which lie completely different realities.

Tell us about your marketing strategy.

I created a website for my book Outsidethebones.com and when we launched the novel at Barnes and Noble in NYC, I did hire somebody on my own—outside of my publisher’s efforts—to do a massive blast about the event by email and through social media.

Does your spiritual or political life influence your writing? If so, how?

My spiritual life very much does, and in a general way so does my political life.  Regarding the former, I’ve always been interested in spiritual practices that allow for contact with the other world in the here and now.  So, for example, my deep appreciation for the way the gods/spirits are conceived of in Afro-Caribbean religious practices such as Santería and Palo Monte led me to create two protagonists in OUTSIDE THE BONES that are very much connected to the spiritual beliefs of those practices.  In my current book, my interest in Christian mystics, such as St. Theresa of Avila, is playing an important role.

What would you like to see in your literary community?

I’d like to see more active publishing of Latino/a writers, and more of an interest in the variety of Latino/a experience on the part of publishers.

-If you haven’t read Outside the Bones, I encourage you to carve some time out and have one of your best reading experiences yet!- Theresa

 

Di Iorio book cover

http://www.amazon.com/Outside-Bones-Lyn-Di-Iorio/dp/1558857036/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1366988178&sr=1-1&keywords=outside+the+bones

 

Latino Boomer Lit

There are about seventy eight million baby boomers. At last count, there are also about eight million Latino baby boomers. This should mean there is a need for mature novelas for the maturing Latino audience. There are different ways to categorize the Latino population and according to statistics (see link below) it seems that most Latino baby boomers (LBBs) are relatively well off. When LBBs are categorized, there seems to be two demographics, non-citizens and those born in US territories that will be under considerable financial strain as they mobilize into retirement.  I am an LBB amongst other things. What does that mean in terms of books? Of interest, of writing, of what literature likes and dislikes will make the choice in a book bought? Where will the LBB place their resources when it comes to reading? If someone is concerned about meeting basic housing costs, are they intent on buying paper backs or ereaders? Do they have a computer?

Mainstream bloggers post about boomer lit. When I googled Latino Boomer Literature all I came up with was “Boom in Latino literature.” Nice when I read about a “boom” but authors and readers differ by geographics, culture, education and, ahem, class. Additionally, when I go to mainstream book stores many of the Spanish books are translations from famous Anglo authors. I don’t mean that there shouldn’t be translations of Anglo author works but there are so many variables that can be discounted.  There is a difference between transferability and generalizability and translated works might sorely miss the mark. Do readers even think about this? Are we so used to reading the experience of “other” that we don’t even realize it when a reference to an American song is made? How many of us had Salsa, merengues and boleros as our background music when growing up? How many Anglos have ever heard of Walter Mercado or Don Francisco? I want to read about them or other popular Latino culture figures next time I open a book.  I may have to include them in my writing. This will ensure that I read about them as I revise, revise and revise.

As a child I read about Dick and Jane and never about Dora and Diego. Are other boomers wondering when their experiences are going to be published? I was fortunate to have my mother bring home Piri Thomas’ work.  His stories of New York City, the subway experience and stories of racism and classism were elegantly told.  His work lit a fire within me. What if she hadn’t? Where would I be as a Latina baby boomer looking for a book I could relate to as I peruse the shelves?

There are celebrated authors who have written about the experiences of South American characters, and ones from Spain, Nicaragua, and yes, Puerto Rico. I voraciously read books about North East urban Latinas and Latinos who have passed dewy eyed adolescence. I want to read the book about the character whose mother and father took a chance and traveled from Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic to the New World of church services on Sunday mornings and Orisha drummings in basements on Sunday afternoons. I want to read juicy stories about the ones who worked in factories and as cashiers and bookkeepers on the East Coast to make a difference in their families’ lives.

Latino baby boomers are me. I am them. Come on folks, share some titles here. We are on the lookout!

Here are a couple of interesting related articles:

http://sunypress.edu/pdf/61041.pdf

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=4&cad=rja&sqi=2&ved=0CE8QFjAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.chicano.ucla.edu%2Fpublications%2Freport-brief%2Flatino-baby-boomers&ei=-ylLUdiqNrGp4APQz4GYDQ&usg=AFQjCNF9cCn74O_hBOib37DkvHvrTRjCow&sig2=gFwU7Tfm_4XnVnRZb0m2tg&bvm=bv.44158598,d.dmg