On December 13th, I will be participating in a Holiday Blog Tour organized by Icess Fernandez of Writing to Insanity, and I have promised to post something special and holiday related on the blog–no spoilers!

The next blogger on the tour is poet and storyteller, Thelma T. Reyna, who has agreed to an interview. 

You recently published both a book of short stories, The Heavens Weep for Us and Other Stories, and a poetry chapbook, Breath & Bone. For those who haven’t read them, can you
tell us about them?
The Heavens Weep is a collection of 12 short stories, mostly set in Texas and California, where I grew up and where I presently live, respectively. My characters are old, young, rich, poor, immigrant and American, women, men, educated and illiterate…but they all have this in common: Most of them are dealing with a loss or setback that’s causing them to grieve, or reflect, or reinvent themselves. Their courage is uppermost. I also surprise my readers in most of the stories, revealing the situation from different perspectives, and concluding in an unexpected way. I believe that, in real life, we often judge people and their circumstances, though we don’t know the “back story,” the whole truth. Our judgments might be different if only we knew. My stories reflect this.
Breath & Bone is a collection of 21 poems. A book reviewer called them a “terrain of moments, some physical, some emotional, some symbolic.” They focus on love, death, family, nature, and relationships. Many of the poems, as well as many of my stories, were inspired by personal experiences. Others stem from folks I’ve seen or heard about. Everyday life, everyday people: this is what my writing is about.
Your work is quite socially conscious. Is there one thing (or two things or many things) that you hope your readers will be more conscious of after reading your books?
One of my first aims as a writer is to depict the universality of humanity: the fact that people, despite our cultural and socioeconomic differences, share the same fears, hopes, dreams. I want a well-educated, economically-comfortable reader in a California mansion to read one of my stories about a poor Mexican-American in a downtrodden Texas town, for example, and be moved to tears by the struggles and courage of this “other.” I want my readers to empathize with my non-mainstream characters, some of them immigrants, to understand their losses, and to admire the resilience and courage of these people, who are perhaps very different from themselves.
Speaking generically about our world, I firmly believe that the best hope for global peace and prosperity is for us to clearly identify and embrace our commonalities across nations, across continents, and focus on nurturing those, versus focusing on what separates us. In a small way, I want my writing to help bridge divides, to help people understand and accept how humanity, how the human spirit, is much more alike than distinct.
In an interview with the Latina Book Club, you mentioned that Toni Morrison and Ray Bradbury have inspired you. Would you like to talk more about that? I’m curious about how you came into conversation with these two writers who have such different and distinct voices.
My reading tastes are very eclectic, and I think that goes back to my 16-year-career as a public high school English teacher in Pasadena, California. As a Latina, I’m sensitive to the importance of ethnically-diverse literature, so my curriculum always included as much representativeness of different cultures and voices as I could find. This appreciation of diversity has carried forward into my post-teaching reading tastes.
Ray Bradbury, internationally famous sci fi author, is a school staple, a modern classic. I’ve seen him lecture at least five times, starting when he was in his 40’s and, most recently, now that he’s in his 80’s and confined to a wheelchair. At these lectures, I had the opportunity to chat with him briefly about his stories. I taught his books for many years. His poetry is amazingly lyrical, bursting with imagery that takes your breath away.
I learned about Toni Morrison from one of my colleagues, a lovely African-American lady who had also taught English. We were school administrators at the time, and we liked to talk about literature when we could. She gave me a copy of Toni’s famous book, Beloved, and the rest is history, as they say! I’ve read several other books by Toni and am definitely impressed. Of course, Toni is a Nobel Prize-winning author now, and I was very happy when she won the Prize.
Despite their differences regarding culture, voice, and genre, Ray and Toni are both highly poetic in their prose. They write metaphorically, sensuously, and the reader can practically taste, smell, hear, touch what they’re describing. (I didn’t say “see” because every writer has to be able to visualize for us.) It’s their very high literary quality that appeals to me. Unlike commercial best-selling writers, Ray and Toni don’t just tell a story. They make us feel it with their words’ beauty.
One of the things that struck me almost immediately about your poetry and your fiction is how lyrical it is. Is music part of your process?
Thank you! No, I’m not a musical person, though I played the clarinet in school bands and can read music. I don’t listen to much music. Growing up in a large family in Texas, we didn’t have music as a regular part of our lives. But poetry was my first love as a budding writer; and it, along with short stories, was my favorite genre to teach. So I learned a lot about the mechanics and qualities of poetry, and I guess it was inevitable that traits of poetry would meld somehow with my fiction as my writing evolved.
On December 14th, you’ll be sharing something special on your blog for the Holiday Blog Tour. Can you give us a hint about what we can expect from you, or would you prefer to keep that under wraps?

I’ll be blogging for Icess Fernandez on her blog, Writing to Insanity. It’ll be either a short-short story or an essay, two genres I enjoy writing. With Icess’ permission, I’ll subsequently re-post the piece on one of my own blogs, either American Latina/o Writers Today or The Literary Self.
I’m really looking forward to meeting new writers and connecting with those I already know and admire on Icess’ book tour!