Mrs. Vargas and the Dead Naturalist is a collection of 14 stories set in Mexico and the Southwest. Written in the tradition of magic realism, each is a story of transformation from one reality to another. They are arranged roughly in chronological order from adolescence to old age (and beyond). Like the Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska, I have tried to tell the stories my characters would tell if they were writers. Most of the protagonists are women, some weak, some strong, but ...
Mrs. Vargas and the Dead Naturalist is a collection of 14 stories set in Mexico and the Southwest. Written in the tradition of magic realism, each is a story of transformation from one reality to another. They are arranged roughly in chronological order from adolescence to old age (and beyond).
Like the Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska, I have tried to tell the stories my characters would tell if they were writers. Most of the protagonists are women, some weak, some strong, but all driven by their connection to a power far more compelling than the restricted circumstances of their lives. Science fiction writer Joanna Russ told me my stories were important because I am writing about women whose stories would otherwise not be told.
I write about a culture in which miracles continue to flower in neglected inner courtyards, and old women grapple with the devil or converse with angels. Because these stories are difficult to classify by genre, they have appeared in magazines ranging from Calyx, a Journal of Art and Literature by Women, to Isaac Asimov's Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Half of these stories were published separately, and two nominated for the General Electric Young Writers Award.
This brief collection of short stories set in Mexico and Southern California exudes a seemingly effortless charm, piquing the palate with a modicum of Latin-style spice. Alcala understands the necessary understatement of magical realism. In one tale, a mild archbishop leaps off a balcony on impulse and soars above the village, waving to those below. He is particularly pleased that no one can smell his foul body odor from the distance. Many of the stories are mysteries of sorts, pivoting on unexpected, ironic turns of events yet moving methodically toward resolution. A fortune teller reveals the immediate future to a wild young man. ``You are going very fast . . . with a powerful man, a dangerous man . . . holding you against your will.'' When the youth angrily demands his money back, the police are called, drugs are discovered and the prophecy comes true. Other stories describe family traumas: a wife mistakes her husband's lust for gold for an affair with another woman; one of two elderly sisters visits with the dead and spends leisurely hours in purgatory. This is Alcala's first book, by turns touching, entertaining and surprising, and uniquely her own. (July)
Kathleen Alcala is a writer whose trilogy on nineteenth century Mexico was published by Chronicle Books. Her work has received the Western States Book Award, the Governor's Writers Award, a Pacific Northwest Bookseller's Award, and a Washington State Book Award. A co-founder and contributing editor to The Raven Chronicles, Kathleen teaches at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts on Whidbey Island, a low-residency program. She was recently deemed an Island Treasure by the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council. Kathleen received an Artist Trust/Washington State Arts Commission Award for work on her book, Cities of Gold. She is a member of Los Nortenos writers group. Her work has been produced for public radio, and she co-wrote, with director Olga Sanchez, a play based on her novel, Spirits of the Ordinary that was produced by The Miracle Theatre of Portland, Oregon. Kathleen is the author of a short story collection, MRS. VARGAS AND THE DEAD NATURALIST, and three novels: Spirits of the Ordinary, The Flower in the Skull, and Treasures in Heaven. Her collection of essays, The Desert Remembers My Name is available from the University of Arizona Press, and her previous books are all available in paperback. Her latest story appears in SEATTLE NOIR from Akashic Books.