On Glossaries and Italicizing

Author and creative writing teacher John Gardner contends that "the most important single notion in the theory of fiction" is that of fiction or storytelling as a "vivid and continuous dream" (The Art of Fiction, 97). The vivid part is easy to figure out: make an image of your story for the reader. Throw in details where details are necessary; for for the concrete, the tangible. That movie in a reader's head, right?

As to the "continuity principle" of Gardner's theory, this is a bit messier. He states that "the reader should never be distracted from the image or scene," presumably a vivid image or scene (98). Implied in this statement is that whatever would distract the reader is the result of something the writer did or didn't do or did poorly. "[T]he sensitive reader shrinks away a little, as we do when an interesting conversationalist picks his nose" (99). Get the picture?

So, a good story should be able to carry itself because it is a good story. But what if the writer of that good story uses Spanish? At a reading for my first novel, The Jumping Tree (2001) I was asked by a girl named Rachel why I wouldn't use a glossary of Spanish terms like Gary Soto does in his work. I debated wether to tell her the truth, academic though the answer might be, or to give her some stock answer. I went with the truth: that back in my day reading Shakespeare in high school, if I didn't know the meaning of a word, the teacher would recommend I crack open a dictionary and find out for myself. Shakespeare didn't provide readers with a glossary of his English. I added that I did include context clues as to the meaning of words and phrases, so a reader shouldn't find herself completely lost.

But actually did give it some thought during the writing of the book: a glossary at the bottom of the corresponding page or at the end of the book, or not at all? I went with the last choice--none at all. And mostly because when I am in the middle of a good story and the author uses a language foreign to me the last thing I want to do is to interrupt the flow of the story, the continuity of it by turning to the end of the book, finding out what a word might mean, then try to get back into the groove of the story where I left off. I can well find the very spot where I dropped away, but it's unlikely that I get back into the emotional groove. If a word or phrase knocks my reader away out of the flow, then shame on me, but normally I try to think through my use of Spanish: is is necessary, is it authentic in use, is it smooth?

I don't italicize either, mostly. I grew up in the U.S. speaking both Spanish and English, and so by default both are U.S. languages. Neither foreign to me, a U.S.-born citizen, as the user of them. I will use italics when in a conversation a character who is not a U.S. citizen speaks his or her language and it is a foreign language to the narrator. So if Rey's Mexican grandmother in The Jumping Tree speaks Spanish, in that case I would italicize. When Rey speaks Spanish to his best friend, Chuy, both of whom are U.S. citizen, then no italics. It's that simple. Or that complicated. Take your pick.


 So, two years have passed since my last post, but what wonderful two years they've been! For one, I've been promoted to Professor, the pinnacle for an academic. I've documented this experience, which has not been a clean one, in a book chapter I co-authored with former student, now-colleague Dr. Elizabeth Stewart. The title of our chapter is titled "When a Single Song Just Won't Do: The Mixtape as Research Methodology" found in DeHart & Hash's Arts-Based Research Across Visual Methodology: Expanding Visual Epistemology (Routledge, 2023). But I've made it to this level and trying to make the best of it. If folks on the path think it's about publishing or perishing on the way up, it doesn't end with promotion and tenure or promotion to full. The expectation to keep publishing only increases. We become, in a sense, show windows: national visibility and recognition become paramount. So we keep writing and publishing. What changes is that I finally get the opportunity to write what makes me happy. Sure, in a college of education, I'm still a social scientist, or what passes, very loosely for one, so I write up my research.

But now, I'm experimenting with arts-based research and writing. Two titles forthcoming in this vein, both poetry collections. The first is called Eventually, Inevitably: My Writing Life in Verse (Arte Público Press/Piñata Books, 2023), pictured here: 

Originally slated for an October print date, it will be out toward the end of December now. So a book for the new year? The book captures the story or stories of how I grew into the writing business, dating back decades prior to my own birth, if you can believe it. But mostly, it's autobiographical poems about writing and how it is all around us, if we're paying attention. One could argue that this is not an arts-based research title since I didn't originally set out to write it as such; but it is non-fiction, and it recounts with some research pieces, a piece of my life and my learning. It's not a hill I would die on, though.

The next book is very much an arts-based research project. It is another book of poems called Strangers in Our Own Land: A Poetic Autoethnography (FlowerSong, 2024). Here's a link to the brilliant independent press run by Edward Vidaurre in case you want to support it financially and or sign up for their newsletter (https://www.flowersongpress.com/). Not listed yet, my book tells of my fears of deportation growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, a very visceral fear I experienced every time we drove to San Antonio or Houston to visit family and had to verify our U.S. citizenship at the Checkpoint (including this last Thanksgiving traveling with my two youngest kids, telling them a mile or two away from the Border Patrol checkpoint in Falfurrias to answer "Yessir" to the agent when he asked if we were citizens; my son later told me he was about to say "Yessir" when he changed his mind last second and said instead, "Yes ma'am."). I also write about how perhaps my fear, though real, was nothing compared to the fear illegal immigrants feel as they make the trek here, and the other, more real fear of being stuck in the trailer of an 18-wheeled truck in the Texas heat, no A/C, the oxygen running out, in utter darkness listening to what very well could be the last breath of that boy who took a spot next to you after climbing in, the dream turned nightmare.

I also published my 6th and last installment in the Mickey Rangel Mystery series. This one is titled A Case is Still a Case (Arte Publico Press/Piñata Books, 2023) , and like the other five, this one is bilingual in the classic flip format: you can never go wrong on what language you choose to read it in as there is never a language designated as the primary one. If you don't want to read it in English today, simply flip it upside down and backwards, and you are now reading it in Spanish. In this last story, online-certified PI Mickey Rangel has to come to grips with the fact that detective work is not gender-specific. It's a job that girls can do, too, and sometimes a job they can do better. 

I also found homes for other academic pieces. Following is a list:

"The Many Ways of Sources: Giving Voice to the Research Data" in Rigorous Poetics: Poetic Inquiry in Action Across the Hemispheres. Willmington DE: Vernon Press. (2024). 

"Degollado’s THROW: Nepantla: New Name, New Self" in Malo and Hill (Eds.) Oxford Handbook of Young Adult Literature. New York NY: Oxford University Press. (2024). 

With Stewart, E.  "In Search of the Aesthetic: An Arts-based Approach to Writing Up Our Research" in Lesley, Saldaña, Smit, and Jung (Eds.) Liminal Spaces of Writing in Adolescent and Adult Education. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.  (2022).

With Stewart, E., Lesley, M., and Beach, W. "Perspectives in Cultivating a Qualitative Researcher’s Identity" in A. Zimmerman (Ed.) Developing Students’ Scholarly Dispositions in Higher Education. Hershey, PA: IGI Global. (2022).

I also published the following poems:

"Scrubbed of My Own History." English Journal(2023).

"Happy." In Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong (Eds.), What Is a Friend? (2022). 

Lastly, I collaborated with singer-songwriter and educator Jordan McEwen on a DocuPoetry research-art project called The Story of Boxing in WTX where we interviewed a few folks in the business and took photos, marrying the visual with the text to create some riveting visual poems. 

All in all, a busy and productive couple of years. And now, with more time to dedicate to the old blog.


All This While

 In all this while I've not posted (2019), I've gotten a lot done: for one, I've published a bit: some fiction, some academic material, a few blogs. I've continued to teach at Texas Tech University in the College of Education (I've put in my dossier for promotion to professor; will hear news at the end of February/beginning of March); I've co-edited an academic book that should be out this coming year (working with my colleagues at TTU); I've edited a YA anthology of poetry on body image called I SING : THE BODY (FlowerSong Press); and I've completed and submitted the sixth installment of the bilingual Mickey Rangel, Boy Detective series, tentatively titled A CASE IS JUST A CASE. I've also completed a manuscript called EVENTUALLY, INEVITABLY: MY WRITING LIFE IN VERSE, A MEMOIR that is out for consideration. I also laid some flooring throughout the house. Ain't that something! I'm sure I've left out a few items.

I've also gotten sick with COVID-19. It was a bad 10 days, and months later I still get winded, though that might be because I'm old and out of shape. It was the strangest time. I was good for the first part of the quarantine, up and about, though I knew not to do too much because a man I knew who'd been sick felt a bit better and decided to go out to work in his garden; he wasn't better, really. The stress took a toll and unfortunately, he ended up in the hospital, where he died. So I took it easy, even when I felt okay. Once it hit, though: boy oh boy! It was bad with my sense of smell gone, though I could still taste. Body aches like nobody's business. But staying in bed hurt, too, so I'd sit up some during the day, and I drank a lot of cranberry juice mixed with water. In that time, a friend from church died from it. So you can imagine the panic in the middle of the night, praying hard to just take my next breath, and my next, and my next. 

Anyhow, I'm back. and I'll keep posting some. About reading, writing, poetry, images and the like. I remember enjoying this blogging when I first started, and I did a lot of it.


On Cultural Appropriation

Recently on Facebook, I was criticized for not knowing what cultural appropriation is. A friend had posted a side-by-side shot of Princess Leia and a Mexican soldadera, showing how Leia's two side buns had been inspired by the woman revolutionary, confirmed by Lucas years prior. A fellow commenter called it cultural appropriation, and I disagreed. Her response: you clearly don't know what cultural appropriation is. But I do. And Leia wearing the side buns which were inspired by the soldadera is not an example of it. One honors, the other exploits. It's that clear. And for this person to call it appropriation means that she would claim to know Lucas' intent, which is ludicrous because she can't know the heart of a person.

So, what's the test? How does one know it is exploitation versus a simple use of, an inspiration from, an attempt to honor, right or wrong?

I think it's easy: does the use of a hairstyle (that I've actually had a hard time finding more examples of) come across as Lucas "knowing" or "getting" what it is to be a soldadera? In other words, does he use the image/icon in such a way that it comes across as him "being" on the inside or from the inside? Or does he use it simply as an image influenced by? Does he speak about its use as expert despite being from the outside, a know-it-all? Or does he say, instead, "I was going through some images of women warriors and I came across this one of a Mexican woman revolutionary and I thought, 'Cool, just what I was looking for'"?

Now, there is also this other thing: the misuse or misrepresentation of a culture, which is not appropriation but another sort of mistake that an author or illustrator will make. And again, we have to deal with his/her intent. Usually, the intent is innocent: he/she wants to be more representative, more diverse in the work. It's a two-edged sword. Do it, do it wrong, pay for it. Don't do it, the writer is bigoted. These these are not evil people we're dealing with in the publishing industry, though. They just don't know, or don't realize that they don't know. I'm among them. I've gotten called at least once, before publication, I made the correction, and it didn't harm the integrity of the story nor of my work as a writer (thanks, David Bowles for speaking up that one time). To do it well, I need to check with others in the know if I'm going to write a Black character into my story, or a First Nations character. Though I do believe that there are universal elements to our stories--that we all know great happiness and great sadness, that we all experience love and hate, that we feel anger and joy--I have discovered that we don't all express them or experience them in the same ways. And sometimes, a culture's expression or experience is distinct, and I need to honor it. For me to write that into one of my stories without really understanding it means, at best, I'm doing it superficially, at worst, I'm doing it wrong, and the one who suffers is the younger and more impressionable reader from within that culture; the other from without, too, suffers.

I do think we have allowed ourselves to become too soft, in need of safe spaces too quickly over the years. We are too sensitive about almost everything. That a writer elects not to make reference to another's culture because we're likely to get called on it is censorship of the worst kind: self-censorship. I choose not to write something because I'm scared that there will be pushback is a bad thing. I'm not saying we need to lighten up, let things go, let writers and illustrators off the hook. But we cannot take offense at everything like this woman on Facebook did with this image of Leia and the soldadera or with me disagreeing with her. This diminishes the more serious and legitimate work that other folks are doing.

One last thing: these books are out there: those that abuse or exploit a culture, and those that misrepresent. I would recommend to fellow teachers to, on occasion, use them with our children in the classroom as opposed to avoid them. Instead of shielding our children at every turn, we need to teach them how to distinguish between a book that gets it right and one that fails miserably. We need to teach them how to be strong that way, to look at a text critically and how to be critical of it. We need to teach them to stand up for and against these major errors in curriculum. More importantly, we'd be teaching them to become independent and strong. To themselves know when and how to do so. That's what I want for my own kids. And for others' too.

Michael READS!

I've met Michael a few times over the years, from when he was a little kid to more recently at the book festival his mom put together in south Texas (which is an awesome event and as long as I'm welcome, and I can travel down, I am SO there!). This time was special meeting him again: he's older, he loves books (he better: his mom's one of the best librarians and reader ever!), and he doesn't shy away from talking books, or talking to adults about books (which will be a gift to his ELAR teachers and lit professors), so, when I first arrived in Edinburg late evening (9ish?) gathered in the area where they serve breakfast was a bunch of writers and librarians, and among the bunch was Michael, who'd set himself apart somewhat, off to a corner, reading none other than The Jumping Tree. He was close to finishing when I said hello to him. "Tell me what you think when you're done," I might have added. I've met plenty of readers over the years who are excited to talk to a writer of a book they've read, and that's cool. Their teachers always say it's a great thing for them to meet the author. I wonder, do these readers know how awesome it is to meet our readers! And, do they know we're just as anxious to meet them as they us? And cooler yet when we get some good one-on-one time. And with readers (I mean, the engaged ones, right, who don't need to be coerced into the act of reading but do it for the goosebumps, for the edge-of-their-seats feeling, for the laughter, the near-tears, etc.), man, what a moment for a writer because we get to really and truly discuss our work and their work in reading. Michael, you call my book one of your faves for the year. You're one of my favorite readers in the world over a lifetime!

Read Michael's reviews at http://margiesmustreads.com/2017/01/michaels-top-5-books-2016/#comment-11074.

On Glossaries and Italicizing

Author and creative writing teacher John Gardner contends that "the most important single notion in the theory of fiction" is that...