Friday, June 18, 2010

Condor Book Tours-On Place: A guest post by Silvio Sirias, author of Bernardo and the Virgin

Silvio Sirias is the author of Julia Alvarez: A Critical Companion, Bernardo and the Virgin and Meet Me Under the Ceiba.  He has been listed as a Top Ten Latinos to Watch and Read in 2010 by Latino Stories 
I've read and enjoyed both Bernardo and the Virgin and Meet Me Under the Ceiba, and among other things, one of the most striking aspects of both novels for me was Sirias' use of setting, which comes off almost like a character itself.  The fields of Cuapa and dusty back roads of La Curva and Pio XII, seem to add more of an experience than a description of a setting.  A common theme in reviews of both novels has been the special touch that Sirias uses to bring the places of his novels, and Nicaragua as a whole, to life.

Because I was deeply touched by the sense of place in both novels, and because of my hunger for knowledge as an aspiring author, I asked Silvio to share some words about what role a place has within a story.  
Of course, as always, I was humbled when he accepted, and now I'm thrilled to share his thoughts with you.

*Note* Friday June 18th concludes Silvio Sirias' book tour of Bernardo and the Virgin with Condor Book Tours.  On June 18th there will be a live chat with Silvio Sirias from 7-8pm EST at Condor's Author Chat Salon.  Please join us in a literary discussion and overall celebration of literature and culture!
And Then There’s the Question of Place . . . 
by Silvio Sirias

If you're intimate with a place, a place with whose history you're familiar, and you establish an ethical conversation with it, the implication that follows is this: the place knows you're there. It feels you. You will not be forgotten, cut off, abandoned.-Barry Lopez, “A Literature of Place”

      Place is a crucial element in the work of most novelists.  It is impossible to consider Gabriel García Márquez, for instance, without taking Macondo into account; or to ponder on the contribution of J.R.R. Tolkien while leaving out Middle Earth; or to examine Anne Rice and bypass New Orleans. 
The notion of place has been a crucial element of my fiction, thus far.  In my life, there are two places that have played a significant role in shaping the person I am today: Los Angeles, California, my birthplace, and Granada, Nicaragua, the community where I spent my adolescence.  But I couldn’t have grown up in two more dissimilar locations.
      Los Angeles, even in the early 1960s, was a massive, chaotic web of urban sprawl.  Culturally, nevertheless, the city was on the cutting edge of media developmentan enterprise that Americans ravenously consume and continue to export throughout the globe. 
On the other hand, Granada, like the rest of Nicaragua, seemed a century behind the times.  And although I had an acute awareness of my birthplace—to this day you can drop me anywhere in the greater Los Angeles area and I’ll able figure out where I need to be—something about Nicaragua, about Granada in particular, made me feel a sense of intimacy and of belonging that I had never experienced in California. 

      Perhaps it had to do with the size of the community back thenthe entire city of Granada could fit into Dodger Stadium and there would still be twenty-thousand empty seatsOr maybe the true reason I developed such an intimate conversation with Nicaragua is because of a familial callingOnce, while interviewing the Chicano writer Rudolfo Anaya, I asked him why he has never lived anywhere other than New Mexico.  To this, he answered, “New Mexico . . . has the feel of my ancestors.  Their spirits are here.  They speak to me.  If all this is happening and I live in a spiritual place, why would I leave?”  At once I understood what Anaya meant, and I still believe that he’s especially blessed because he hasn’t been forced to uproot himself like so many of us today
In Nicaragua, I did hear my ancestors speaking, telling me their stories.  Perhaps that’s why I became a writer—to honor their spirits. 

      Both of my published novels—Bernardo and the Virgin and Meet Me under the Ceiba—are set in small Nicaraguan towns.  What’s particularly important about this, I believe, is that my writing has never really been about the landscape, but about the people that inhabit it.  And small towns are fascinating—and I lived in a few—because every person shares with others the big and the small that make up our lives

      That experience of a shared unity—with the implicit drawbacks as well—although confining, makes it possible for a person to experience the oneness that is humankind.  And this feature facilitates my work as a writer—the small town is, in essence, an omniscient narrator, the voice that knows all. 

      I often wonder what the Los Angeles novel inside of me is—a novel where I can explore the role this extraordinary city has played in my life.  I certainly hope I can soon discover the answer.  It’s a challenge I wish to tackle.  And although I won’t have the spirits of my ancestors to guide me along the way, perhaps the diverse choruses that make up the complex human map of my birthplace will come to my aid, helping me to establish a creative dialogue with the city that gave me birth.  But until then . . . small towns in Central America will do.
A big thank you to Silvio for sharing these thoughts with us.  Many readers of this post will undoubtedly have been following the Bernardo and the Virgin Book Tour, which concludes today.

Silvio will be stopping by today to answer any questions or comments you may have.  So please leave a comment!  One random winner will be chosen from the comments to receive a beautiful woven craft piece and change purse that use the techinique Mola, by indigenous Kuna artisans of Panama.

 If you have been moved to purchase your own copy of Bernardo and the Virgin, please do so through Condor Books (an Amazon affiliate).  100% commissions made on sales through Condor Books will be donated to Unicef's Gift of Storybooks which sends culturally-appropriate storybooks to children around the world.  
Please also consider supporting an Independent Bookstore by purchasing through Dulce Bread and Bookshop


  1. Thanks for being here today, Silvio!

    A question for you:

    Are you constantly aware of your surroundings? Of the essence of a place, even when not in active writing mode?

  2. Hi Nilki and Silvio!

    It is always,a pleasure to read you.

    Creo que definitivamente, el hecho de residir en diferentes lugares nos aporta una perspectiva más amplia de las cosas, nos enriquece en todos los aspectos como seres humanos, si es que sabemos aprovecharlo, lógicamente.

    Ahora bien, para aquellos lugares que no tenemos la posibilidad de acceder...físicamente...existen maravillosos libros en los que vemos reflejados el alma del autor, su visión, percepción del lugar, la gente, etc.
    Vos nombras a Tolkien, puedes trasladarte a la Tierra Media, aunque no exista realmente.

    Gracias Silvio, por transmitirnos la esencia de las tierras centroamericanas. Y que gusto sería escuchar su voz, sobre lo que las tierras norteamericanas le han transmitido.

    Saludos Silvio y Nilki, un fuerte abrazo!

  3. Romina, gracias! Siempre es un placer oír de ti. Estoy completamente de acuerdo que "el hecho de residir en diferentes lugares nos aporta una perspectiva más amplia de las cosas, nos enriquece.."

    Gracias por visitar!

  4. Silvio and Nilki,
    thank you so much for this thoughtful piece on Place! I really appreciated stopping to think about the role of "place" in the context of my own life. Thank you for sharing your words and perspectives as always. -Seema Clifasefi

  5. Con aprecio y gusto de haber tenido la oportunidad de participar en este gran tour literario. Un fuerte abrazo para los dos, Nilki y Silvio.

    Nos vemos esta tarde.

  6. Thank you Seema, for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

    Likewise, Teresa es un gran gusto poder promover su negocio tan necesario, ese del independent bookstore! :)

  7. Whoa, where did this morning go? Watching too much soccer, I think.

    Anyway, thank you, Nilki for the wonderful job Condor Books has done organizing this tour. You are fantastic and I pray other writers soon discover you.

    Romina, mil gracias por su apoyo, y concuerdo con usted en que los libros, particularmente las novelas, son una manera excelente de conocer otros mundos. Me conmueve que mi obra la haya transportado a Nicaragua.

    Seema, thanks for your visit. And I am delighted my thoughts on place have led you to reflect on this topic so vital in defining who we are.

    Y, Teresa, el placer ha sido todo mio.

    I will take an opportunity to think about the answer to Nilki's question. Be back shortly.

  8. Ok, Nilki's question was:

    "Are you constantly aware of your surroundings? Of the essence of a place, even when not in active writing mode?"

    I wish I could tell you that, yes, I am always terribly aware of my surroundings. But I'm not really. In fact, I'm a rather distracted person. But I do observe the human element of a place if I find the place interesting.

    However . . . when I am in writing mode I kick all my senses into hyperdrive. With the help of a notebook and a camera I record the place I intend to write about. I jot down every scent, every sound, the texture of a tree, or a rock, the flavors of fruits or foods, the topography of the land. The five senses are a writer's best tools for bringing a place alive. It's really as simple as that.

  9. I love this topic - how place (location) can be another character in a story. I am so excited to have how Silvio encompasses these elements into his stories. Being an LA resident, I, too, find that there is a lot of character to the city. I am now so interested in taking a trip to Nicaragua, after I read your books Silvio! Congratulations to you for getting your stories out there, and congratulations to Nilki for making sure those stories get out there! Great blog!

  10. Hi, Diana,

    Thank you so much for your encouraging words. I hope you can make it to Nicaragua some day; it is a lovely country with lovely people.

    And, yes, I am fortunate to have Nilki on my side.


  11. Silvio, I guess it's not so much surprising as it is intriguing that you photograph a place extensively. When you're back at your desk, or hamaca, do you create some sort of a board with all your photographs and notes to look over?

    Which leads me to a more intrusive question--what does your work space look like when you are in the midst of a novel? Is it neat, organized and tidy or is there material everywhere, in seeming disarray, yet you can always find what you need?

  12. Hi, Nilki,

    I keep all my materials in a couple of folders. My most important tool at the beginning, during the research stage, is a steno notebook--the kind reporters in films always have. (To use this has become a superstition for me.) They're very portable and I carry one with me everywhere for several weeks during this time.

    My board, in essence, is a very large artist's drawing pad, with good quality paper. Here I develop the preliminary outline, then the general outline, and then the chapter by chapter outlines. These last ones are very detailed and I jot down everything I will need to know to write a chapter. What I love about this large pads is that I can see the entire novel or chapter at a glance.

    My work area is the dining room. For some reason I am most focused there. Since my wife is a neat-freak I am not allowed to keep things in disarray, which is my natural style. At the end of a writing day I have to put everything tidily away.

    Every writer needs to develop habits that keep him or her happy and productive. There is no magic, just fine what works best for you.

  13. Nilki,

    You are wonderful. Best of luck with Condor Book Tours. Every writer should have such help.

    And to everyone who participated in this great tour, a million thanks.

    Happy readings,


  14. Thank you, Silvio! And also all the readers who left a comment. Your support is so appreciated!


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