Introduction to Volume 5

The search, the trip, the obsession with finding some knowledge – these themes have provided fodder for wonderful stories through history – from the Odyssey to Star Wars, Sherlock Holmes to Frozen.

These themes also wind their way through many of the dozen stories in this latest volume – Volume 5 – of Tell Your True Tale: East Los Angeles.

Sylvia Castañeda spent 20 years seeking the disappeared children of her grand-aunt before she found what happened to them – and she tells that story here.

Felecia Howell tells of the search for commonality that led her to Liberia as a Peace Corps. Much the same search sent Miguel Roura to Mexico as a college student. Susanna Franek discovered an emerging Los Angeles, from her post as an ad saleswoman for La Opinion newspaper. In sixth grade, a Chinese girl growing up in South L.A., Jian Huang seeks, and finds, a friend, finally. Celia Viramontes tells the tale of a Zacatecan bracero searching for his family’s sustenance in Nebraska.

Sarah Alvarado contributes a terrific story of her deceased aunt, murdered as a teen, and Sarah’s own search for some connection to her. C.J. Salgado, a TYTT veteran, tells the story of what knowledge a battered toolbox provided about his father.

Cecelia Flores tells of her time, in the 1970s, when she worked as a taxi dancer. With her third TYTT story, Fabiola Manriquez relates a tale of change in East L.A. Jasmine De Haro writes of the recollections she has of her father, who believed she was a witch. Rita J. Ray tells us of schoolgirl dress made for her by the grandmother who saw her through childhood.

Finding the stories in small moments is one goal of this workshop. Another goal is to turn those nonfiction stories into tales that read like fiction. I believe the stories in this volume do that. But read and decide for yourself. I think you’ll find it all the more wondrous that they were produced by people who, for the most part, had not written much prior to this.

This fifth volume of Tell Your True Tale: East Los Angeles is the largest so far.

We have benefitted from the visionary sponsorship of the good folks at the L.A. County Library, who have this time around also funded an online editing service. This service is for writers who have finished two or three TYTT workshops and want – need – editing more than anything else. It allows us to continue to open space for new writers into the workshops, while editing the veterans as they continue to pump out great narrative.

We add sponsors this time around as well: The Los Angeles Review of Books and Eastsider L.A. have signed on, helping promote the workshops on their websites. Many thanks, folks!

Once again, I thank Daniel Hernandez, director of the Chicano Resource Center at the East L.A. Library, where these workshops have been held, and who was adventurous enough to allow them to first take place back in 2013.

Mary Yogi has been hugely helpful with the digital presentation of TYTT at the library’s website.

Thanks to Jesse Lanz, interim director of Adult and Digital Services for the library system, for his cheerful and energetic support of these workshops.

Eric Franco Aguilar, a TYTT alum, designed yet another terrific cover, his fourth for us.

Enjoy this fifth volume of Tell Your True Tale: East Los Angeles stories. Also, check out the county library’s page dedicated to the project: http://www.colapublib.org/tytt/

Then remember, we hope you’ll come write a story of your own.

Sam Quinones

Introduction to Volume 4

Stories from the fourth Tell Your True Tale workshop at East Los Angeles Library

We live in distracted times. We are pulled from quiet contemplation by social media and our phones, by our commutes, by demands of job and family.

But it is in the small, often quiet moments in which the depth of our lives can be examined, and where beautiful stories can be found.

One such story is in this volume, written by Susanna Whitmore Fránek. Susanna proposed to write about a torn photograph of her great-grandparents and the journey that discovery sent her on. This was her third Tell Your True Tale workshop, and we find her embarking on the ambitious project of telling the stories of her life growing up as a rebellious kid in the San Fernando Valley.

One point along her trip is the simple discovery of that photograph.

That’s one thing I love about the Tell Your True Tale workshops, now in a fourth iteration at the East Los Angeles Library. Over and over, writers find wonder in the smallest moments. That’s what this volume, especially, is about.

Sarah Alvarado, a TYTT newcomer, contributes a terrific story of one day with her father in San Bernardino.

C.J. Salgado, a TYTT veteran, tells the story of the last day he spent with his grandfather, a former Bracero from Michoacan, on the beach in Santa Monica.

Alex Chi, another newcomer, tells us the powerful tale of his recovery from a near fatal illness.

A writer new to TYTT, Anika Malone, writes of a night she spent with some people she believed were her friends in the Pomona Valley.

Olivia Segura contributes her third tale about her father, a former Bracero, this time about his discovery of the big city of Los Angeles.

Second-timer Fabiola Manriquez tells of watching a woman whom she tutored emerging from years of drug and gang life.

Brian Rivera is back with his third story, this time of a visit to El Paso and the recollections that inspired.

Finding the stories in small moments is one goal of this workshop. Another goal is to turn those nonfiction stories into tales that read like fiction. I believe the stories in this volume do that. But read and decide for yourself. I think you’ll find it all the more wondrous that they were produced by people who, for the most part, had not written much prior to this.

Once again, I thank Daniel Hernandez, director of the Chicano Resource Center at the East L.A. Library, run by the L.A. County Library system, where these workshops have been held, and who was adventurous enough to allow them to take place. I thank, as well, Susan Broman, formerly head of Adult and Digital Services for the county library system, and now at the Los Angeles Public Library. Thanks to Jesse Lanz for his support of the Tell Your True Tale workshops.

Eric Franco Aguilar, a TYTT alum, designed a terrific cover, his third for us.

Enjoy this fourth volume of Tell Your True Tale: East Los Angeles stories. Also, check out the county library’s page dedicated to the project: http://www.colapublib.org/tytt/

Then remember, you’re welcome to come write a story of your own.

Sam Quinones
www.samquinones.com
samquinones7@yahoo.com

Introduction to Volume 3

One of the exciting times in the life of a writing-workshop instructor comes in watching the stories of new authors emerge.

Usually, this takes discussion, talking about a story possibility. Some stories are obvious; others not so. Often writers aren’t aware that even the tiniest moment can yield a stunning tale. So you wrangle over them, talk them out, parse out their details. Then, usually, a moment occurs when the writer sees the story and all it might be.

I love that part of it. Then they throw themselves into the piece. As they write, then rewrite, their stories peek from the shadows and come to life like photographs, slowly adding detail until a full portrait of an event emerges.

That moment comes at different times with each writer, as it should.

For Jose Nunez, who wrote the story, in this volume, of his trip one night as a kid down the two-block street on which he grew up, it arrived fairly quickly. The trip seemed 20 minutes in his life at first, but as we talked about it during our first workshop, it was clear that the two-block walk was a chance to tell stories of the people who lived along the street.

For Louie Flores, the realization, I think, came when I urged him to tell us – What’s it like to jump from an airplane for the first time? This was a couple meetings into our workshop. He may have been feeling some writer’s block, so I told him, just tell us how that was. Louie grew animated, remembering wafting down through the clouds that day decades earlier. He felt, he said, like sitting “in God’s front yard.” His story is included here.

The storytelling project I call Tell Your True Tale is now in its third volume out of the East Los Angeles Library, thanks to the generous support of the L.A. County Library system.

The narratives here, from new writers all, reflect that excitement for storytelling and the wonder that accompanies watching a great story unfold; indeed, four writers – Louie is one – are repeat TYTTers.

Another, C.J. Salgado, tells the story of his mother, and why she came north from a small Michoacan village all alone.

A writer new to TYTT, Araceli Lerma, recounts the story of meeting the woman whose family home she purchased.

Newcomer Fabiola Manriquez tells the story of meeting Cesar Chavez when she was 11 at an East L.A. parade.

Susanna Whitmore, also a TYTT vet, tells the tale of meeting her future husband, Ondrej Franek, in Czechoslovakia.

Brian Rivera is back with his second story as well, this time of a visit to a legendary soccer stadium.

Once again, I thank Daniel Hernandez, director of the Chicano Resource Center at the East L.A. Library, run by the L.A. County Library system, where these workshops have been held.

I thank, as well, Susan Broman, head of Adult and Digital Services for the county library system.

Thanks also to Eric Franco Aguilar, a TYTT alum, who designed the cover of this volume, as he did Vol. II.

Enjoy this now-third collection of Tell Your True Tale: East Los Angeles stories. Also, check out the county library’s page dedicated to the project: colapublib.org/tytt

Then come write a story of your own.

Sam Quinones
www.samquinones.com
samquinones7@yahoo.com

Introduction to Volume 2

The story of an almost-blind Czech child and that of an East L.A. boy fascinated with Albert Einstein. A girl running off to Mexico at 16 to marry a man she can’t understand. A gang member painting a mural to his barrio. A bracero coming to save the crops during World War II and a young man helping a friend cross the U.S.-Mexico border. A woman dying alone with her memories and another haunted by spirits.

These are the stories you’ll find in this, the second volume produced by eight new authors in my Tell Your True Tale writing workshop at East L.A. public library.

The thin volume you hold in your hands grew from an experiment tried in 2013. Daniel Hernandez and I began discussing a speech I had coming up at the Chicano Resource Center, which he directs, at the library.

I’d been doing these workshops occasionally over the previous five years. Up to that point, however, all had been connected to a speaking engagement at a high school or college – and one parochial elementary school. I had more than 50 stories up on my website (www.samquinones.com).

I designed the workshop to demystify writing by getting people writing stories from their own lives, or those of people close to them. This, I’ve found, is an effective way to teach some of the basics of storytelling, of getting people to begin to think like writers while, just as important, getting them energized to write. From there, I focus on interviewing, on finding the details that propel a story forward, on the importance of editing and rewriting, of finding a strong beginning and an even stronger ending.

I proposed a writing workshop at the library. Nothing like it had been tried at the library, as far as Daniel knew. But why not?

So in the fall of 2013 we gave it a try. The experience from that first six-week workshop was exhilarating, watching new writers find confidence and, from that, energy for the endeavor of translating a story from their minds to the page. The volume of seven stories it produced was a sublime mosaic of life in East Los Angeles, produced by people, most of whom had never published a word before that.

So, with the support of Susan Broman, chief of Adult and Digital Services at the Los Angeles County Library system, we tried it again.

We put out the word and eventually eight writers and I met over six Saturdays in the fall of 2014. Together, we discussed stories they might write. Then we talked about how they might structure them; how they might start them, end them, what new information they needed. As weeks passed and the stories took shape, we discussed how to pare them to the essentials and thus unleash their true power. I edited them, then I edited them again. They rewrote their stories, then rewrote them again – because writing is really rewriting. In rewriting, a writer learns the craft.

Six workshops later, we have this second volume, beautifully designed by one of the writers, Eric Franco Aguilar.

The stories you are holding are terrific tales, simply told. Yet the simplicity with which the authors present them belies the work they’ve put in to make them so. This is the point of the True Tale workshops: strong, clear writing takes some work. It requires discussion, rewriting. It bids the writer become a reporter, and discover the excitement of finding new facts, new details, new ways of understanding.

It is as exhilarating as birth – watching a story come to life, often in a shape the writer hadn’t imagined at the outset.

In her second Tell Your True Tale story, Olivia Segura recounts her father’s time as a bracero in a community in northern California during World War II when more than a hundred workers took sick.

Brian Rivera chronicles the trip some friends took to Tijuana to help another, recently deported, cross back into the United States.

Susanna Whitmore remembers the brief encounter with Mexican immigration officials as she was running away to Mexico to become a child bride.

Julio Navarro has forged the story of his aunt, a woman haunted by spirits while living an otherwise typical suburban life here in the United States.

Louie Flores tells us of his participation in painting the mural to Varrio Nueva Estrada, the gang he belonged to at the time.

Eric Franco Aguilar writes of the last days of his aunt in a room as she remembers the bitter and the sweet.

Ondrej Franek explains what life was like growing up in a Czech communist boarding school for “almost-blind” kids.

C.J. Salgado remembers his fascination with Albert Einstein and the possibilities El Genio offered to a boy growing up in East L.A.

None of this would be possible without the support of the Los Angeles County Library system, and, in particular, Susan Broman. I also thank Daniel Hernandez, for his willingness to take a risk on an idea that hadn’t been tried before.

We hope to do more workshops, both at East LA public library and at other branches of the country library system.

Meanwhile, enjoy these stories, in the second volume of Tell Your True Tale: East Los Angeles.

Then come write your own.

Sam Quinones
www.samquinones.com

Introduction to Volume 1

I wouldn’t have blamed Daniel Hernandez for being skeptical. Daniel is the director of the Chicano Resource Center at the East L.A. Library, run by the L.A. County Library system.

Over the summer of 2013, he and I were talking about a speech I was to give at his center on my two books of nonfiction stories about Mexico and Mexican migration.

But then I veered off topic. How about a writing workshop to go along with it?

I’d been giving my workshop, Tell Your True Tale, to classes at high schools and community colleges for a few years by then. I had 50+ stories up on my website (www.samquinones.com).

I designed the workshop to demystify writing. I get people writing stories from their own lives, or those of people close to them. I told Daniel I found this an effective way to teach some of the basics of storytelling, of getting people to begin to think like writers while, just as important, getting them energized to write.

From there, I said, I focus on interviewing, on finding the details that propel a story forward, on the importance of editing and rewriting, of finding a strong beginning and an even stronger ending.

The TYTT goal, I told him, is true stories that read like fiction.

Every workshop I’d done had gone very well, but they’d all been in classrooms.

I’ve been a storyfinder and storyteller most of my adult life. I was hankering to do a workshop far from the classroom.

East L.A., I figured, had to be packed with people – nonstudents, working people, family folks — who had stunning stories to tell, but who might not recognize them as such, might not know how to get them started, and might be intimidated when it came to writing them.

Bless Daniel Hernandez’s heart, he agreed.

We figured we’d try an experiment. We’d advertise that I was to give a writer’s workshop for people who wanted to get moving on a writing project but didn’t know how, or wanted to improve something they’d already done.

Nothing like it had been tried at the library, as far as Daniel knew. But why not? Libraries need to become centers for conversation about writing and storytelling. They need to bring new people in.

Would anybody come? Would the stories be worth reading if they did? We didn’t know.

I’m a fan of Chalino Sanchez, the legendary slain corrido singer, whose life story I told in my first book. Chalino promoted his own cassettes by taking them around to bakeries, butcher shops and swap meet vendors – a very DIY fellow, Chalino was.

So, like Chalino, I took posters around and put them up in the windows of bakeries, a grocery store, East LA College, and a café or two. I put them on walls on Cesar Chavez Boulevard, and wrote to several blogs and ELAC instructors.

At my speech in early November, we promoted the workshop, urging people to attend.

Then I figured we’d done what we could. I waited for the day to arrive.

Ten writers attended that first Saturday, as curious as I was about how this was going to work. We sat together under the dome in the Chicano Resource Center as I explained the project. There were questions, doubts maybe. A few faded away. But very quickly the writers who stayed found what I thought they’d find: amazing stories in their own lives, and the lives of people close to them.

They set about writing them as we met to talk out the stories. How they might start them, end them. What new information they needed. How to pare them to the essentials and thus unleash their true power. I edited them, then I edited them again. They rewrote their stories – because writing is really rewriting.

The results, a couple months later, are fantastic. From these first-time authors come stories of some of East L.A.’s working- class icons: A vet, a janitor, braceros, a bus rider, a mariachi, an anxious lover separated by a border.

Andrew Ramirez tells about what happened to his father in Vietnam and, at the same time, what was happening to his father’s family back in Los Angeles.

Celia Viramontes recounts the story of her grandfather, a bracero, and the simple act of kindness that it took to lift his spirits when they were at their lowest, and he was far from family.

Jacqueline Gonzalez-Reyes finds a poignant tale in an afternoon with a janitor.

Joanne Mestaz has a story of an encounter with two strange folks and life on the bus.

Manuel Chaidez writes the story of how he met his future wife, and gained a confidence he never knew he had.

Diego Renteria is a former mariachi with a tale about an unforgettable gig at a family’s house on Christmas Eve in South Gate.

Olivia Segura tells us the story of her father, a bracero returned to Mexico City, encountering his own estranged father when he was least expected, and most needed.

The stories in this book are the best to come out of the workshop. They’re beautiful tales, simple and thus powerful – just the kind I hoped would come from the experiment.

We’re looking to expand the workshop, find more funding and other venues for it.

Meanwhile, enjoy these, in the first volume of Tell Your True Tale.

Then come write your own.

Sam Quinones

www.samquinones.com

samquinones7@yahoo.com