Books · Writing & Writers

Storyteller & the Storytellers

My desk looks nothing like this

It’s a little pretentious of me to call myself a writer, which is why I usually note that I’m a reader who happens to write. Though, doesn’t that define a writer? Anyone who states they are a writer but don’t like reading is a poseur and should be stripped for their pen and paper immediately. Writers read to learn, to understand the trade, to better themselves. They draft countless times before they’re ready. Those who hate reading are probably cursed with Jack Kerouac‘s “first draft, best draft” idealism. Well, I got news for them: You’re no Jack Kerouac.

If anything, I think of myself as a storyteller. Not only because I’m in love with dying arts – except journalism, but that’s because you all brought it upon yourselves for filling up columns with bullshit – but because of the first storyteller I met, my grandfather. The name Guillermo Pequeño wouldn’t ring any bells unless you lived in Donna, Texas back in the sixties, during the year he was responsible for growing the first bale of cotton. He was a hardworking man who taught me that it was important to believe in what you did and work hard for what you have.

Like most grandfathers, mine stated he met Poncho Villa – whether he sought him out or rode with him depends on what version of the story you heard. But the one that stuck with me was the story of the man without a face, which I’ve adapted into a Lovecraftian tale a few years ago. My grandfather didn’t write any of his tales down, and I was too young to even think of memorizing all of them.

If anything, my grandfather is responsible for my obsession with books. While I never saw him once pick up a book in his life, during the short years that I knew him – and from my recollection, the only book in the house was an over sized, Spanish-translated Bible that acted more like a living room center piece and a set of outdated encyclopedias written in English – his storytelling led me to the world of literature. Starting off like many kids do, I read everything in popular culture. I hid away in these fictional world to hide from the ugly – later, when I matured, the worlds I’d turn to would start looking more like the one I left behind. Whenever I write something – well, something serious, anyway – it’s his voice that I seek within my mind. It’s a fading memory. I can still trace his features in my head, the rough five-o’clock shadow of his face, his worker hands when shook would only offer a tight grip that you tried to get away from. But his voice, I cannot remember unless I shut out all other thoughts.

Even now as I’m typing this, I imagine the hulk of his body standing behind me. Eyes scanning the screen of a computer, wondering why I’m doing this. “It’s because of you,” I’ll say.

I officially became an English major eight years ago when I entered college, but I believe I was one before that – excuse the grammatical errors here, I rarely even check my blogs, these are just streams of consciousness to get the muck out and the gears turning. Like any young romantic, I was churning out poems ever since I could remember. They were bad, of course; although they garnered a lot of attention from the female population – heaven knows why as nothing amounted from their love for whatever I spewed out.

My focus in my college days was American literature – preferably contemporary, but you don’t get to have it your way, even in college – and creative writing. At the beginning, there was only one creative writing course – not class, course – taught by a few professors. Originally, I wanted to take my only class with José Skinner but wound up taking it with René Saldaña, Jr. instead. Not that René wasn’t as good as Skinner, I just liked the way Skinner taught, having taken American Novel with him the semester before.

In Saldaña’s class, I called upon my grandfather to help me write the more serious tales like “David,” which was published a year later in UTPA‘s literary magazine, Gallery, in which I was an honorary mention. In the tale “When Rain Means Death,” I mixed my knowledge of pop culture with that of my grandfather’s voice, creating what I know now as my own voice.

That following summer, I enrolled in the Creative Writing Institute that UTPA held – still does as far as I know – where the guest writer was a man named Richard Yañez. “Reading Nietzsche Naked” was the piece I worked on, though it was called “Teeth,” or something like that then. With the help of both instructors/mentors and a class of would-be writers, I managed to capture my own voice and use it with force.

The English department added more creative writing courses, which I signed up for, by the end of my college career. I took them with José Skinner and Emmy Perez. They taught me what they could, and I adhered to what made sense to me. I make use of my knowledge when I do write, which is rare these days.

I joined several poetry/short story circles in the area, even started one as people turned to me for the next move. I’ve been called a staple in the poetry community by one fellow writer, though the modest side of me states there are far more important people out there who are overlooked and ignored, whose thunder was stolen by others who mimicked them, stole their ideas. I’ve made friends and I’ve made enemies. And I’ve even gone into hiding, waiting to make my next move in the creative community. They’ll do just fine without me, and they’ll greet me when I do resurface again, with new material and thoughts.

And I think one of my many reasons for wanting to join an MFA program – be it the one offered at UTPA or any other college that would have me – is the need to have others hear my stories, and the urge to aid others find their voices. I may become a writer one day, or I may become an agent, an editor (Krist forbid!) or I might head into the publishing world. For now, I am content on being a storyteller.