Clubhouse Chat: Carmen Baca

Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. For those of you who are not a member won’t be aware that the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit the clubhouse is via membership or an invite to the clubhouse tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation I’ve had with a guest over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, about their work in progress, or latest book release. I’ll be talking to all sort of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers.

Welcome to the Clubhouse Tearoom, Carmen. I’ve ordered a high tea for us.

Thank you, Paula, and for inviting me over for chat today.

It’s good to have you here. May I start by asking you when you first began your writing journey what drew you to your chosen genre?

Well, I was in my mid-30s when a wooden box and many religious artifacts came into my care. The contents that box which had been locked for most of my life inspired my first book. So it’s not so much the genre that drew me to write as it was the need to tell the story. Because it’s a true life story, I wrote it in first person through regionalism, and that’s how both my voice and my brand emerged. I use regionalism to write historical realism, horror, mystery, murder mystery, speculative fiction, among a few other genres.

Regionalism, in case your readers don’t know, is portrayal of the history, people, places, events, geographical area, dialect, religion, culture and all that comes under it. Using regionalism in my tales is my strongest suit. Readers who shared my childhood experience identify with many elements in my books and short stories; readers who know nothing about my people become acquainted with us through my stories. What I would like to be able to change about my writing is my voice. I tend to write like an elder of a bygone era. I’ve successfully changed that voice in a couple of short stories, which is why I’d like to master the skill and have the voice match the genre.

Carmen Baca

Tell us a little about latest writing project. Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?

My current project was inspired by one of my most loyal readers. She told me once that she’s saving my books for her grandchildren to learn about our culture, specifically the traditions which have begun to die out. Cuentos de Bella, my current book, is an Alice in Wonderland type of adventure, but my main character, Bella, encounters her ancestors and the paranormal spirits and supernatural creatures of our culture’s folktales and legends on her journey. I’m excited that I found a story-telling method which allows me to incorporate so much of my culture. From giants, dwarves, shape shifters, and a serpent to our famous ghosts, la Llorona and Santa Muerte, Bella meets them all. In the process, she (and my readers) learns so much about the culture her own parents have neglected to show her as integral to her humanity.

Certain customs, superstitions, proverbs, wives’ tales, even explanations of our unique dialect are told by the characters themselves, so they become the teachers of their own story. It’s my first attempt at YA, which will make this one more genre I’ve published. Everything about this project excites me.

Choosing only five of your favourite authors, (Poet, Playwright, or Screen writer). Can you list them in order 1 begin the top of your list and say how have they influenced your writing?

I think you know I taught English for years, so there were at least a few hundred authors in my syllabi for grades 6-14 throughout that time. The few favorite authors who have influenced my writing the most are Shakespeare, Milton, Yann Martel, Rudolfo Anaya, and Faulkner.

Shakespeare’s treatment of death, particularly in Hamlet, influences how I address the subject in my works. Milton adds to that because of several concepts I borrow from Paradise Lost regarding the unholy trinity and the importance of man’s conscience. Yann Martel blew me away with the conceits he uses in description and by his use of logos and pathos in Life of Pi. I often emulate his style in my own writing. Rudolfo Anaya, specifically in Bless Me, Ultima and Zia Summer, taught me how the elements of regionalism can influence any story, no matter the genre. William Faulkner’s use of the strange, the bizarre, and the macabre through a communal narrator, like in “A Rose for Emily,” is something I strive to do sometimes, so he influences my voice. It’s fun to figure out how to tell the story from the townspeople and make them accept there are things in life we can’t explain.

 Were any of your characters inspired by real people?

That’s a yes for many of them, but not all. Some of the adolescents are based on my cousins, friends, and myself at that age, even my students sometimes. Many of the middle-aged and the elders are based on my own ancestors and those of my community or my own family. My first book is about my father’s initiation into his own father’s religious brotherhood, a fraternity which exists to this day in certain parts of the world, but which is slowly dying out of my own Hispanic community in northern New Mexico. The box I mentioned earlier held the records of this brotherhood, with rules which were submitted to the bishop of NM during the 1850s. The majority of the cast of characters in that book are people I knew and loved. When I write non-fiction, those have all been about me so far.

What did you learn when writing your book or story? In writing it, how much research did you do?

There is always a little to a lot of research I do, sometimes before, more often during, the writing. That first book El Hermano, required that I read the old Spanish documents left by the Elder, el Hermano Mayor, who was my dad when the fraternity disbanded. My mother’s scrupulous records, prayers, and hymns provided more much needed information, and my memories and google provided the rest. Like inventions I didn’t want to include unless they were true to the time period of 1928. Because all my books and most of my short stories take place anywhere from the late 1800s to the 1970s, I constantly research products, songs, trends, slang, etc. My fourth book required much research before I started since I wanted to include the great Alaskan earthquake of 1964. I found a great blog by survivors which showed me exactly how to write about a seismic event I’ve never experienced. Because subplots brought in former New Mexico outlaws, I also had fun learning about our most notorious, including women. My most recent book about a Quinceañera was also a learning experience about the symbolism of the young girl’s gifts and the entire event from preparation to execution.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

When I was working, I rarely found the time to write for myself. Most of the writing I did for most of my life was for academics, either as a student or as a teacher. Once in a while between lesson planning, grading, etc., I found spare moments to write, so I began a memoir based on my adventures in teaching. I retired in 2014, published in 2017, and discovered a love for creative writing. Since then, I’ve been writing for at least 4-5 days a week, 4-5 hours each session. All I need is my favorite beverage—water—and my iPad with a wraparound keyboard which is what I use 98% of the time for writing and marketing. I have a really fun time writing, playing with photography to make my promotional materials, and doing everything that comes with writing, publishing, and marketing.

How do you select the names of your characters? Do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?

The names have been easy so far. I use the old names of my culture most often since those are among the characteristics which are dying out from my cultural history. As for the characters themselves, because I don’t plan my writing projects—no outline, no character sketches, etc.—I see my characters in the settings of their worlds as they develop like a video playing in my mind. The elements of characterization emerge as I write, and the characters come to life by facing the obstacles of their stories. Some characters, like Santa Muerte or la Llorona, I know very well from having heard tales about them in my youth. I give them unique qualities which make them mine though, qualities not in our original tales.

What was your hardest scene to write?

The hardest scene to write for me was in the first book, a respected elder passes on during Lent, and his death serves as symbolic due to the element of the resurrection. I cried through the entire chapter using memories of my own father’s passing and the new brothers’ tribute to him (all the others had died before he did). The words to our funeral prayers and the doleful hymns of the services are somber enough to bring anyone to tears. Incorporating them into that scene and the scene depicting Christ’s death was agony.

How long on average does it take you to write a book or story?

My first six books have taken approximately two months to write from beginning to end because (contrary to advice by most writers) I edit as I write. The skills I learned as an English teacher make be hyper aware of every word or sentence structure I use while I’m writing, so my manuscripts come together expediently. I’m also an editor, so that makes me a better writer too. Short stories are much easier. Those can take anywhere from several hours to 4 days, depending on the word count.

Thank you for joining me today, Carman.

For more information on Carman’s writing and books click on this link: http://plu.us/cbacacreations

It you want to find out more about Clubhouse Member’s Books don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops too.

2 thoughts on “Clubhouse Chat: Carmen Baca

Add yours

  1. Carmen is so immensely talented that it’s always a treat to learn more about her life, her inspiration and her writing process. Thanks go out to both Paula and Carmen for this great interview!

    Like

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