Thursday, December 3, 2009

Interview with Lucha Corpi

Today we have a special treat. I've gotten the opportunity to interview author, Lucha Corpi about her wonderful books.

Lucha Corpi, a woman, a Hispanic, an immigrant and a mother, has always found herself breaking down barriers in both life and literature.

Her initial writing forays led to the exploration of poetry in Spanish as an o
utlet for her creativity. In 1970, she received a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship for poems later included in Palabras de mediodia / Noon Words (Fuego de Aztlán Publications, 1980; bilingual edition Arte Público Press, 2001). Her first collection of poems appeared in Fireflight: Three Latin American Poets (Oyes, 1976), and a third poetry collection followed: Variaciones sobre una tempestad / Variations on a Storm (Third Woman Press, 1990).

After her first collection of poetry appeared, Corpi experienced a long and personally worrisome poetic silence. To ease the tension, she turned to prose, penning several award-winning short stories. In 1984, she wrote her first story in English and her first English-language novel, Delia's Song, was published by Arte Público Press in 1989.

In 1990, Corpi was twice honored: she was awarded a Creative Arts Fellowship in fiction by the City of Oakland, and she was named poet laureate at Indian University Northwest.

The publication of
Eulogy for a Brown Angel: A Mystery Novel (Arte Público Press, 1992) was the culmination of a life-long dream. The novel won the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award and the Multicultural Publishers Exchange Best Book of Fiction. Corpi holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from UC-Berkley and an M.A. in World and Comparative Literature from San Francisco State University. A tenured teacher in the Oakland Public Schools Neighborhood Centers Program for 30 years, she retired in 2005. After reading her interview, Feel free to ask Lucha questions or leave a comment. Lucha will award a copy of DEATH AT SOLSTICE to one lucky blog reader who comments today. Be sure to also follow her tour all week and leave comments else where. The person with the most comments will be eligible to win the entire Corpi book collection. Now, lets start the interview.

Lucha, can you give us a brief overview of your last three books and tel
l us how your current book relates to those?

I write detective novels, four in the Gloria Damasco series: Eulogy for a Brown Angel (1992), Cactus Blood (1995), Black Widow's Wardrobe (1999), and the recently published, Death at Solstice (2009). Each of the novels highlights various aspects of the history and culture of Chicanos/Mexicans and Latinos in the U.S., and in particular in California. These aspects are always integral to the plot. However, each of the novels stands on its own and may be read separately.

Eulogy for a Brown Angel: Gloria Damasco and her friend, Luisa Cortez, find a murdered a child, his small body defiled, during the 1970 National Chicano Moratorium (on the Vietnam War) protest march and subsequent riot in East Los Angeles. Gloria is deeply impacted by the death of the child, and she begins a search for the murderer. It leads her on a trail of international conspiracy and bloody vengeance. Before long, two other people are dead. Gloria is determined to piece the mystery together, no matter how long it takes her. The mystery comes to its hard-hitting conclusion eighteen years later in the Napa Valley, California's wine country.

Cactus Blood: Visions of striking rattlesnakes and a crucified woman haunt Gloria Damasco's dreams. Who is the naked woman she sees tied to a cactus cross? And who would do such a horrible thing? What role does a young undocumented Mexican girl, dying of pesticide poisoning and with ties to the United Farm Workers movement, play in the death of one of Gloria's poet friend, the disappearance of another poet, and the death of a third person? Is the naked woman tied to a cactus the next victim? Gloria races against time as the intensity and poignancy of her visions compel her to follow the trail of a ritualistic killer to save the life of the woman on the cactus cross.

Black Widow's Wardrobe: Gloria Damasco, a widow, and her mother and daughter take part in a street procession during the celebration of The Day of the Dead, in misty San Francisco. Soon after, they witness the bizarre abduction of a young woman and the attempt on the life of notorious convicted murderer, Licia Lecuona, otherwise known as Black Widow, and an heiress to a fortune. Gloria is hired by Black Widow's good friend and manager of her estate to find out who wants Black Widow dead. Her investigation takes her from the fog-shrouded San Francisco Bay Area to the remote sunlit peaks of the Sierra de Tepoztlan near Cuernavaca, Mexico, and perhaps, she fears, back in time to a mysterious and violent encounter as ancient as Mexico itself.

Death at Solstice, just published, Gloria is hired by the Chilean owners of the Oro Blanco winery in the California's Gold Country, to investigate the theft of a family heirloom, a pair of antique diamond and emerald earrings rumored to have belonged to Mexico's Empress Carlota. But she soon finds out there's more to the case than stolen jewelry when a young woman believed to be a saint disappears and her nurse is found dead. Gloria follows the alleged Death at Solstice arrives as I enter and celebrate my 40th year as a published poet and writer.

Wonderful! I love your settings and use of real historical events as the b
ackground for the mysteries. So, what has been your motivation to write this series?

I fell in love with the detective story when I was a girl in Jaltipan, Veracruz, Mexico, hiding and reading the crime page--la pagina roja--of the regional newspaper. Although for the first two decades of my writing career I wrote and published only poetry (written in Spanish and published bilingually) and short fiction, I dreamed of writing a mystery novel one day. Eulogy for a Brown Angel was the fulfillment of that dream. But what can I say--I grew addicted to the writing of mystery stories. I enjoy the challenges it presents. Since the publication of Edgar Allan Poe's The Purloined Letter, the detective story has changed little. It is a plot-driven long or short story, leaving room for little more than the solution of the crime. The challenge--the art--for any crime writer is precisely to find ways to offer much more than the unraveling of the plot or bringing to justice those who have broken the law, thus finally restoring the social order. My novels follow some, many or all of the conventions, traditions and structural demands of the mystery genre. They are solid, fast-paced mysteries, but they are also multilayered. Yet anyone reading them will immerse themselves in Latino/Mexican American culture and history and become aware that what we share in common--our humanity and the human condition anywhere and everywhere in the world and together in the U.S.--makes us more alike than different. That is the beauty of reading bicultural and/or multicultural literary works.

Will there be another book in this series?
What are your plans for the future?

I have begun researching topics and other motifs that I believe belong in a new Gloria Damasco mystery novel. The research for any of my novels takes almost a year, and I like to complete it before I sit down to do the actual writing of the book. In the meantime, I continue writing poetry and working on a book of personal essays, The Orphan and the Bookburner, which combines selected memoirs to illuminate those events and people that have formed and informed my poetry and fiction, but also lead beyond my personal experiences to larger themes, such as the nature of justice, the education of women, colorlines, bilingualism and biculturalism, and the quest for meaning and destiny, among others.

I wish you great success with your work, Lucha. Thank you so much for stopping by. I enjoyed our online chat. Besos!



  1. Good morning, Julia. Thank you for hosting me today. I will be available for questions and comments at 11 a.m., 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. (PST) California time. Gracias, again. Lucha Corpi

  2. Hi Lucha, Hi Julia. How exciting to have the first and for a long time, the only Latina Mystery writer in the country. Probably in the world. Wow!!! what a tag to have for a writer. Sensational. I asked this before and with all your research into types of healing and occult thinking, did all this convince you that psyhic powers really exist? Do you find that you have some power like your protag? well if you do, can you give me the lottery numbers for next week?!?! I'll split it with you!!!!
    Jo Ann Hernandez
    BronzeWord Latino Book Tours

    visit my new book tour website.

  3. Thank you Julia, and hello again Lucha.

    Lucha: Is there a link between the Gloria Damasco series and your other novels? Also is there a link between the novels and your work in other genres?

    All best,
    Joseph Morales

  4. Julia, thanks for an excellent interview with a gifted writer. Lucha, I think your first name is an indicator of what every author faces... struggle. That becomes even more true when the author is Hispanic -- and a woman. Congratulations on your well-earned success. You are an inspiration.

  5. Great to have you Lucha!! I'm honored and so impressed with your background at Berkley. I didn't post your entire impressive bio, because I wanted to get to the interview and focus on your books, but it must have been very exciting to be part of he Chicano movement when it was building in the 1960's. I can see how they shaped your books.

  6. Julia, thank you so much for hosting Lucha! Lucha, thank you so much for your insights on being the first of a kind and sharing your Latino culture through the novels that you write.

  7. Unfortunately, for you and me and my dream of an organization devoted entirely to making it possible for all Latinas to market their books worldwide,I have no way to know the lottery winning numbers, Jo Ann. I have consulted the stars countless times for the winning combinations, to no avail. One of these days... But Gloria Damasco can't make such predictions, either. Estamos fritas las dos. She's a clairvoyant and I a poet.

  8. Hi Joseph. Not really. Francisco X. Alarcon, great poet and good friend, after reading my first novel and first work in English, said that I had a knack for mystery and mood. Interesting that at the time I was already considering writing a mystery novel. But other than that, I don't really see any link between Delia's Song and Eulogy for a Brown Angel. I think most poets will agree with me that poetry comes from a very different part of the mind than narrative. The writing of a children's picture book might be a bit similar to the writing of a poem or a short narrative. Very hard to tell a story in two languages in less than 15 pages, because a picture book has to be no more than 32 pages and that includes the illustrations, first and foremost.

  9. Thanks so much, Raul. I have a friend who always teases me about my name. He calls me "Struggle of the Body." Yes, it is very hard for Latinos and Latinas to be published. It is indeed a struggle. But I have no doubt that "our Golden Age" will come.

  10. Thanks for hosting me, Julia. I enjoyed your interview and all the other comadres at the teleconference. I'm right now reading for a fiction award coming up in April, 2010. But as soon as I finish that,I'll be reading your work and Caridad's.
    And hi, Caridad. Gracias for your kind words and I look forward to reading your work. Fascinating.
    The 60s at Berkeley. A time of great turmoil, excitement, and high hopes for the future of Spanish-speakers in the U.S. Some goals were realized then, others were left for the next generation to take up. Sometimes, I am quite sure we've made progress in all areas, and at others, I feel that there's just so much more to do. All we can do is to keep trying, to never give up. Trite but true.

  11. Hi there, Lucha,

    When did you start reading mystery novels?

    I was wondering if you read Agatha Christie when you were young?

    Reading her novels at age 11 was a turning point in my life. From that moment on, I loved reading and decided I wanted to become an author.

    Mayra Calvani
    Latino Books Examiner

  12. Hi Mayra. Actually, the first book I read as a child that wasn't a school text was a children's version of The Arabian Nights, a gift from The Magi--Los Reyes Magos--when I was seven. Scheherazade was my constant companion for many years. I have the adult version now, and I still enjoy it greatly. Later, I did read Agatha Christie's mystery stories, although people around me frowned on my reading them. It was okay as long as I also read mythology, poetry, etc. My mom was reading Wuthering Heights (Cumbres Borrascosas), but she hid the book in her trunk. Like la pagina roja, I always found that book and read it. By then I was fourteen. I couldn't see why there was such an objection to my reading it. Stefanie Meyer's (sp?) Vampire saga would have definitely been a no-no when I was growing up. But I digress.

  13. I discovered The Arabian Nights in my mid teens. I was enthralled by it.

    Did you enjoy Sherlock Holmes Stories? Gosh, I was such a fan.

    Not a lot of people know that I took a 2-year correspondence course in 'Investigaciones and Detectivismo'... when I was 14! I still have the diploma framed on the wall.

    I was a strange kid LOL

  14. Oh, Mayra, how wonderful... And you've kept your diploma all this time. Not strange at all! I wish I had taken some courses, too. Now, I have to ask the experts and double check I get it right. Have you ever written a detective story? I get the feeling you have, or perhaps should.
    I loved Sherlock Holmes, too. I remember reading The Hound of the Baskervilles and being so scared, maybe because I read them at night after doing my homework. And... what's the name of that other story...the one about the locked room and the serpent? Goodness...Time to read them again!

  15. Hi, Julia and Lucha.

    Lucha, I was wondering if you've thought about writing a mystery book for children? When my oldest was younger she was in love with Edgar Allen Poe (and still is!) and Agatha Christie. I loved that she loved reading and found a whole other fascinating world through literature, but the nightmares were rough on all of us. We finally discovered a series titled "Sammy Keys", but I know as a Latina she would have loved to read a more age-appropriate mystery about someone she could better identify with in terms of culture and heritage.

    Following your tour this week has been such a treat for me! Lucha, you are so open and honest and I, personally, appreciate what I have learned from you.

    All the best,

  16. Hi Anna. It's been my pleasure and I have learned a lot from all of you, plus getting such intelligent questions from all of you and your readers.

    Yes, nightmares are the worst part not just reading Edgar Allen Poe. Funny that when I was writing short stories, not mysteries, I used to have awful nightmares, wake up in the middle of the night screaming. Would you believe that since I started writing mystery novels I sleep like a babe. I guess a little murder in black and white can and will do wonders for one's sleep.

    I was in Houston recently and talked to Sarah Cortez, a wonderful poet, who's also a cop and has been a guest lecturer at U of H there. She edited an anthology: Hit List: the Best of Latino Mystery. It is for adults. But she tells me she's now in the process of putting together an anthology of mystery stories for young adults. She asked me to contribute a story and I might just do that. I might invite my granddaughter Kiara to co-write it with me. She loves writing.

  17. Does your daughter write? A good way to exorcise the little beasties, demons and ghosts. Would you two be interested in writing a story for Sarah's anthology? Let me know. I'll be glad to put you in touch with her.

  18. Sorry. I was reading and lost track of time. But I'm here.

  19. Gracias, Julia, for hosting me today. I had fun getting to know you and everyone else a little better. I felt as if I were among old friends, among family. Buenas noches, todas y todos. Abrazos. Y hasta la proxima.

  20. Thank you for the reply, Lucha. I'm sorry to reply so late, but I was with my daughter at basketball practice and am only (finally) getting home.
    My daughter does write and very well. She has already written a few stories and illustrates them as well. She hopes to get them published. She has had two poems published.

    We would love to be included in Sarah's anthology. When I read your response to my daughter she beamed with excitement and is already thinking of just the right mystery!
    Please do forward my info to Sarah Cortez.

    Thanks again for all that you have shared and done for all of us this week!

  21. Thank you all for your wonderful posts. Lucha, very honored to have you. The winner of Death at Solstice is Anna Rodriguez. Congratulations Anna!

  22. Thank you, Julia! I am excited and look forward to receiving Lucha's autographed novel!

  23. Congrats Anna.

    This is a new series to me but sound very good.

  24. Hi :)
    Thank you for sharing here today. I enjoyed learning more about her & her writing.
    Happy Holidays,