The Latina Book Club is proud to welcome author Chiquis Barron to our site.
Whether celebrating a new friendship or love, mourning lost innocence or simply reflecting
on the mystifying intricacies of life, there is nothing like the soothing experience of a properly
sowed, picked, roasted, ground and brewed cup of coffee to warm the coldest of hearts
and invigorate the most jaded of spirits. That is the power of CAFÉ DULCET.
Q: Given your book title, CAFE DULCET, I have to ask, do you like coffee? How many cups a day? How many does Ximena drink a day?
Having grown up in a family of hardcore coffee lovers and drinkers, from the youngest to the oldest member, it would have been difficult not to fall in love with it myself. The one thing that I love most about coffee, however, is the fact that it appeals not only to our sense of taste but to all our other senses as well, thus making the coffee-drinking experience truly dulcet all the way around. Admittedly, I am considered the oddball in the family because I usually stick to no more than a latte or two in a day. Ximena (aka Nena) would have fit in nicely with my family, probably averaging four to five cups in a day.
Q: Tell us about yourself.
Like Nena, I am the second of three children. I was born in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico and have lived in Southern Arizona since the age of five. In addition to my ardent passion for writing, I have a Psychology degree and have worked in behavioral and mental health research at the University of Arizona for almost ten years, currently under the Department of Psychiatry. Being a middle child and having grown up in the crux of the Mexico-America border, I am a natural mediator, peacemaker and a strong negotiator. I love to travel and experience foreign cultures and lifestyles, but also find the sweetest of pleasures sitting back and observing the most minute details in my own family and culture. It is a combination of all these things, including my academic work and the daily dealings of life as a Latina that fuels my writing.
Q: Tell us about your book. How /when did Ximena aka Nena make her first appearance in your life? And why set it at the Arizona-Mexico border?
CAFÉ DULCET is really about learning to identify and appreciate who we are as people and about learning to embrace all the different things that ultimately make us who we are: from our ethnic and genetic backgrounds; to our physical environments and the people we surround ourselves with; to each of our own inevitable life struggles. The "coffee/people" metaphor, and hence Nena's first appearance, came to its full fruition as I sat in a tiny café in Mojácar, Spain, with two other writing residents. One of them made a comment about how the crappiest places usually served the best coffee and the bulb just lit in my head. Despite our various origins, no matter how humble or grandiose those may be, I think we all have the potential to develop into our best and most flavorful selves.
Setting the story at the Arizona-Mexico border was never a conscious decision but something that was pretty much a given for me. Not only is it what I know best, but I found it to be the most fitting geographically, politically and culturally for the story.
Q: You received a Career Development Academic Grant for Creative Writing from the American Association of University Women and writing residency grants from the Fundacion Valparaiso in Almeria, Spain, and from the Vermont Studio Center. What does that mean? What do those residency grants give you exactly? Did you begin your book while doing those grants?
Career Development Grants from AAUW support women who hold a bachelor's degree and are preparing to advance, change careers or re-enter the work force. Special consideration is given to women of color and women pursuing their first advanced degree or credentials in nontraditional fields. Funds are available for tuition, fees, books, supplies, local transportation and dependent care.
Fundación Valparaíso and Vermont Studio Center both offer private studio space, private sleeping rooms, meals and the time (from one to three months) for writers and other artists (including painters, sculptors, photographers, printmakers and musicians) to focus on their craft. Both offer residents the opportunity to share their work through either open studio days/nights, slide-show presentations or readings.
Although the initial concept for CAFÉ DULCET had been lingering in my head since 2001, when I attended Vermont Studio Center, it was during my residency at Fundación Valparaíso that the characters and storylines really began to take shape. I found it amazing to experience the different creative energies and vibes floating in the air in these artist colonies. It was like the creativity channels were just blown wide open.
Here are the links to the writing programs:
American Association of University Women (AAUW): http://www.aauw.org/
Vermont Studio Center: http://www.vermontstudiocenter.org/
Fundación Valparaíso: http://www.resartis.org/en/residencies/?id_content=4956
Q: What is your writing routine? Are you a morning or evening person? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Because I have a full-time "day" job, my writing routine usually takes place early in the morning before I head to work and late in the evening before I go to bed. Surprisingly, this routine works great for me because many ideas, dialogues and plot twists come to me during sleep. There have been times when I've fallen asleep stuck in the middle of a scene and then I wake up the following morning and everything has just fallen into place and I'm able to pen right through the dilemma.
Having said that, I am definitely more of a pantser than I am a plotter. Although I do keep a relatively organized set of notes (which usually consists of a neat pile of fast food napkins with various chicken-scratch notes on them), I'm not one to outline. I guess I am what romance author Susan Shay would call a "KP" or a "Kinda Pantser": a writer who knows the characters fairly well, the story idea, maybe a turning point or two and the ending. The edges are there but the rest is filled in with sheer imagination and will power.
Q: What authors influenced you? Whom are your favorites?
Some of my favorite authors and the ones I have found most influential include Ángeles Mastretta, Isabel Allende, Caridad Bravo Adams and Benito Pérez Galdós. I am also a big fan of Esmeralda Santiago and Sandra Cisneros and, of course, I have a soft spot for classic English authors Jane Austen and Emily Brontë. An unlikely but big influence for me was also Gabriel Vargas, creator of the beloved Mexican comic strip, "La Familia Burrón".
Q: Did you always want to be a writer?
Quite honestly, no. Reading and writing, especially journaling, were things that I always enjoyed, yet it wasn't until my late teens and early twenties that I began to do it with any regularity or consistency. When I began my work in behavioral and mental health research, it was with substance abusing populations at risk for HIV and other communicable diseases. It was a very different environment from the one I had grown up in and, in an attempt to digest and process the oftentimes heartbreaking situations and lives that I was coming across, I began the cathartic process of writing. As I wrote more and more, initially personal essays and later fiction, I developed a stronger affinity for it until it became like second nature to me, an acquired behavior that seemed completely innate.
Q: What are you working on now?
Currently, I am working on my second novel. Again, although, in Shay's words, I know the characters, the story idea, a few turning points and the ending (to a certain extent), I am in the active process of conjuring its heart and soul. One thing that I found myself doing for this second novel that I did not do with CAFÉ DULCET was jotting down a brief synopsis.
Just as many songs have been inspired by literature, and vice versa, most of my story ideas come from popular phrases and adages, mainly from Mexico. Two of those currently wandering about in my head, which I'm sure will play a role in the yet undecided title of this second novel, are: "hacer de tripas corazón", which literally translates to "making heart out of guts"; and "amor de lejos, amor de pen*!jos" which loosely translates into "long distance love is for fools".
Q: Do you have any tips to new authors on writing and marketing your book?
As cliché as it may sound, the three things that I have found to be the most important in my experience as a writer (more so than writing classes, how-to books and seminars) and the ones that I would be most quick to encourage in others are patience, perseverance and persistence. In terms of writing, publishing and marketing I have encountered many obstacles and it has been a combination of these three nouns, along with a good dose of humor and lightheartedness that has kept me treading the path.
Q: What are you reading now?
By recommendation of a good buddy who currently lives in New York City, I am reading THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO by Junot Díaz. I am very much enjoying the hilarious though sometimes heart wrenching undertakings and occurrences in Oscar's life. ♦
Visit Chiquis website, by clicking here.
See Chiquis' latest blog post, by clicking here.
by Chiquis Barron
SUMMARY OF BOOK:
Set in the colorful backdrop of the Arizona-Mexico border and with a diverse array of characters complementing Nena’s strong yet quirky personality (Doña Pilar, the exotic, local café owner; Ramona, a 5’9” tall, curvaceous, dark beauty; Alex, the self-serving yet irresistibly handsome, local politician du jour; and Lalo, Alex’s hippyish yet beguiling younger brother), CAFÉ DULCET is an immediate reminder that no matter how foreign people’s lives may seem (their language, their experiences, their culture, their place in the world), there is always a point of convergence. Coffee, with its global, all-senses-evoking qualities, oftentimes serves as that unifying factor.
Whether celebrating a new friendship or love, mourning lost innocence or simply reflecting on the mystifying intricacies of life, there is nothing like the soothing experience of a properly sowed, picked, roasted, ground and brewed cup of coffee to warm the coldest of hearts and invigorate the most jaded of spirits. That is the power of CAFÉ DULCET.