Michael Jaime Becerra, associate professor of creative writing at University of California, Riverside, said a sense of place and trust in his characters are the keys to his writing success.
Becerra is himself shaped by the place where he grew up, El Monte in Los Angeles’ San Gabriel Valley, and his writing is a product of the ethnically colored pastoral charm that this bedroom community still retains. “Where you’re from determines so much of who you are and what you write,” he said. And, Becerra advises his UCR students, an author’s writing is most compelling when they are writing about what they know best. “I remember the El Monte of my adolescence,” said Becerra. “The things I was writing about were meaningful to me, things I loved and was passionate about, what I knew and who I was.”
It is this El Monte that anchors his collection of stories, “Every Night is Ladies’ Night” (Harper Collins, 2004) that brought Becerra critical success. It was named one of the best of the year by The Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle and was awarded a California Book Award, the Silver Medal for a first work of fiction.
Becerra’s El Monte also suffuses his novel, “This Time Tomorrow” (St. Martin’s Press, 2010) that he will discuss with Santiago. The Los Angeles Times reviewed “This Time Tomorrow” as the “naturalistic deeply empathetic tale … of an American immigrant dream. Threading his lyrical prose with the hyper-realistic particulars of daily life, Jaime Becerra elevates his struggling East L.A. Everyman to heroic heights.”
In his novel, Becerra’s Gaeta lives with his 13-year-old daughter Ana after his wife, Ana’s mother, has left them. “Still she was old enough to remember the divorce, to know that Linda hadn’t tried that hard to be a mother. After she left for San Antonio, Gaeta and Ana figured out how to wash dishes and make each other dinner. He learned to wrap her birthday presents and she learned to wrap his, and in this way they had gotten by.”
Of authors who have most influenced his writing, Becerra acknowledges Irish author and playwright William Trevor. “There is such an inherent respect for his individual characters,” said Becerra. “It pushed me in my own writing to go forward and more deeply into my own characters and their motivations. He unlocked my own writing with his brilliance, I was so dazzled by the nuanced depth of his style.”
Becerra advises his students to do what he has learned and uses in his writing — “Trust in your characters,” he said. “If you do a good job of developing your characters, presenting their conflicts and challenges and creating characters that your readers can relate to and care about, you’ll be successful.”
Becerra appears at 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 3 for Eduardo Santiago’s Author Series at the INK Bookstore on North Circle Drive. The series is free to the public and is located this year in back of the bookstore.