I had the pleasure of reading Chiquis Barrón's latest novel, Café Dulcet. Set in the backdrop of Nogales, Arizona, Café Dulcet is a blend of rich characters, culture, drama, and community.
The novel weaves the life of Nena (Ximena Ferrer), a university researcher whose childhood greatly was influenced by the women in the local coffee shop she would frequent, with the lives of the community around her.
Nena's favorite after school hangout was Dona Pilar's Cafe. It was the heart of the community with people coming and going to pick up a cup of jo and learn some new chisme (gossip) or gather new words of wisdom from Dona Pilar as she talked in metaphor's describing people in relation to their respective coffee blends. Mysteries of an unresolved relationship are woven with the drama/tragedy that unfolds within the neighborhood.
You'll want to grab your favorite cup of your favorite coffee or tea, and sink back into a comfortable chair as you read this intriguing novel with unforgettable characters that will have you reminiscing about the chismosas (gossipers) in your own life.
The following are Chiquis’ responses to our Q/A session:
1) When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Interestingly, although writing had always been a part of my life and something that I very much enjoyed doing (e.g. journaling; old-fashion, long letters to friends and family; scholastic and academic writing), it wasn't until my early to mid-twenties that I truly started doing it more seriously and in a more disciplined manner. Of course, at that time I had already received my Psychology degree, was actively in the process of applying to medical school, and working in the mental and behavioral health field so writing, even the more formal version of it that I was engaging in at the time, was still only but a parallel passion, second to my primary aspirations of entering the Psychiatry field. As I continued making my way through the oftentimes disheartening world of healthcare, and as I came to terms with who I was and what I ultimately wanted to accomplish in my life, I kept finding myself going back to the writing more and more. Eventually, without my conscious awareness of when it happened exactly, writing became what I felt most committed to. At the end of 2001, after attending my first writing residency at Vermont Studio Center and having successfully obtained a Career Development Grant from the American Association of University Women, I took a year off to hone my writing skills and pursue my writing full time. That was the moment when I knew that, despite all my other ventures and undertakings, writing would always be what I would go back to. It was then that I truly felt a writer.
2) What gets you through writers block?
Fortunately, I have never experienced a true case of writer's block. My biggest barrier to writing has typically been finding the time to do it alongside all my other work and business responsibilities, not a lack of creativity or ideas per se. When I do find the time to write, however, I admit I do go through an initial period of doubt when I begin to worry about whether or not I'll be able to put in words the many ideas and concepts going through my mind, or whether it's even worth doing, whether anyone really cares. And then I stop myself. I take a deep breath. I clear my mind and just begin typing, penciling or penning away. Stream of consciousness writing is what usually gets me past that initial period of fear. And then the joy of it all, the whole reason why I write to begin with, takes over and nothing else matters. Creative energies begin to soar.
A wonderful mantra for me, applicable not only when it comes to my writing but most other areas of my life, is the quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step".
3) How do you cope with rejection letters?
Again, not to come off as an overly positive, Pollyanna type, but rejection letters have never been that big of a deal for me. I think I'd read so much about the publishing process and how rejection is an integral part of it that I was, in fact, expecting them and considered it almost normal. Many of the rejection letters that I received were standard, stock letters without any personalized information or feedback. But a few literary agents and small publishers were gracious enough to provide constructive criticism which I was very grateful for and found extremely useful. In the end, rejection letters for me have served as an opportunity to tweak and fine-tune my work and the manner in which I'm presenting it.
4) What did you learn from writing this book in particular?
First of all, I learned about the complex yet wonderful world of coffee: from its history and cultivation; to its processing, roasting, grinding brewing and serving; to the enormous role that it plays and the tremendous impact that it has in world commerce and world culture. As I developed the storyline and the characters, another big lesson was the realization that it truly doesn't matter how foreign people's lives may seem: their language, their experiences, their culture, their place in the world. Ultimately, there is always a point of convergence and coffee (or "el cafecito"), with its global, all-senses-evoking qualities, oftentimes serves as that unifying factor.
5) Do you have any rituals you do before you sit down to write?
Other than the "stop myself, take a deep breath, clear my mind and plunge in" process that I described before, I don't currently follow any set rituals before I write. Sometimes, depending on the mood of the piece that I am working on, I enjoy having a bit of background music. While writing Café Dulcet, different versions of "Moliendo Cafe", the song composed by Hugo Blanco from Venezuela back in 1958, definitely helped set the ideal writing ambience for me. Currently, one of the most uplifting and entrancing versions of "Moliendo Café", performed by Santos Bonacci, a Melbourne-based Flamenco/Latin/Jazz guitarist, is set to greet people upon entering my homepage (www.chiquisbarron.com). Also, a hot, glorious latté as I work never hurts.
6) If you could have dinner with any 5 authors at the same time who would they be?
Assuming these can be both living and non-living authors they would be: Ángeles Mastretta, Isabel Allende, Miguel de Cervantes, Benito Pérez Galdós and Jane Austen. I would sit off to the side at the dinner table and observe, just take it all in :)
Book Give Away
Thanks to Chiquis, I am hosting a book giveaway for a free copy of Café Dulcet. To enter, please share below your favorite place to sit and savor a good cup of coffee or tea. The deadline to enter is August 31, 2011, 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be randomly selected and notified by e-mail. They will have 72 hours to get back to me, or alternates will be chosen. Open to residents 18+ of U.S. and Canada only.
I received a copy of this title for my book review and an additional copy from the author for my book giveaway. All opinions are my own. Best of Luck!