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More from Belinda Acosta...

August 14, 2009
So, Belinda's touring for her first novel--Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz. She's sharing a few words with you lucky ducks... Read on!

I was born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska. I get my Tejana creds from my mother, who was raised in deep South Texas. My father is Mexicano (San Luis Potosi—ajua! That’s Mexican for “Woo-Hoo!”). I’ve been living in Austin, Texas, since 1985 or so. I began writing like most writers, I suppose—because I loved to read. Also, I’m not good at anything else, except for acting, which I made a living from for about ten years before I returned to school to get my BA and subsequent MFA in writing from the Michener Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

On books and influences:
My two writing heroes are Flannery O’Connor and Harper Lee. I have great respect for Lorna Dee Cervantes, Wendall Berry, Sandra Cisneros, Julia Alvarez, Helena Maria Viramontes, Lorraine Lopez, Alex Espinosa, Luis Alberto Urrea, Manuel Muñoz, and many others. When I was younger, I was trying to mimic O’Connor, which is hilarious—a Midwest Chicana going southern gothic? But I love that I tried. Ultimately, what I take from all the writers I admire is an appreciation for the beauty of their prose. I revel in a well-written sentence, a lovely image, and words that make you want to lift them from the page and examine them like tiny stones. I like to think that all of them influence me in some way, but that somehow, I’ve happened upon my own style. I hope I’ve outgrown my mimicking days. For one thing, I don’t have time! But I also think it’s a common thing among young writers. Except for those few savants out there, I think writers spend a long time in their journeyman years, experimenting, mimicking, reading, writing, failing, waiting, giving up and finally learning what kind of writer we want to be.

On characters and plot:
When I was contacted about writing a series on quinceañeras I had just reviewed Julia Alvarez’s nonfiction book, Once Upon a Quinceañera for The Austin Chronicle. So, the subject was in high on my radar. What intrigued me about the subject was similar to what intrigued Alvarez, I think: What does it mean to be a woman today? Is there something about the Latina experience that is unique? Why have a ritual to mark this “passage”? Where did the tradition stem from? And on and on and on. I find it amusing that I did not have a quinceañera, I had never been to one prior to writing this book, and I don’t have any children. I do know, from first hand experience, how complicated the relationship between mothers and daughters can be. Part of what makes Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz stand out is that it focuses on that relationship—the good and the bad, hopefully, with heart and candor.

On research and quinceañeras:
I did some online research and read a couple of earlier books on the subject. Julia Alvarez’s book (mentioned above) was one. The other was a collection of short stories, Fifteen Candles, edited by Adriana Lopez. I went to my first quinceañera mass early in the writing process, in addition to attending a quinceañera fair in San Antonio, and another one recently here in Austin. Plus, it’s amazing what you can learn by striking up a conversation with women at the nail salon. I remember sitting there, waiting for my nails to dry, when another woman joined me. For some reason, I thought she would have something to say (maybe because I’ve worked as a journalist for 12 years and I’m used to asking strangers all about their business). So, I followed my hunch and asked her straight up if she’d had a quinceañera. She didn’t but she launched into this tale about her niece’s ceremony, how her daughter was recently a dama, and the plans for her own daughter’s quinceañera. It was great! The ritual has some common themes, but people always—always—make them their own. I think that’s the part I’m waiting for—to hear what made the quinceañera unique to their family.

Quinceañeras have been celebrated here and throughout Latin America for ages. I think what may wane are the more spectacular expressions of the ceremony in urban settings. The quinceañera, and especially the quinceañera mass, is still very important to some Latino Catholics. So, I don’t see the fundamental ritual dying anytime soon.

Thank you, Belinda, for sharing your thoughts! And I sure hope this ritual doesn't die out at all--there are some traditions that are definitely worth hanging on to!

Check out the tour post for my review, and a giveaway!


bermudaonion said...

Belinda sounds like a lot of fun! I love that she tried to imitate Flannery O'Connor too!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Thanks for the interview - how interesting! And how true about nail salons, and beauty parlors, and the like!

Gaby317 said...

Great interview! I really enjoyed this book, too.

Nicole said...

Good interview. I was raised in Lincoln, NE too. My folks still live there and I move to Omaha.

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