First place for fiction, Kay Snow Literary Awards
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“Magical Realism" for another one hundred years. This heartfelt debut is a cinematic vision, a wonderfully entertaining, accessible story that is sure to win over critics and readers of contemporary fiction.
“JOSE BUILDS A WOMAN" is written in the sensual tradition of magical realism. With lush prose and dry humor, Baross captures the fluid boundaries between life and death. The multi-layered saga revolves around the impenetrable passions of Tortugina, the doyenne of bad love, Gabito, the beautiful and jealous octopus diver and their son, Jose, a boy obsessed with marrying a nun.
Ursula K. LeGuin says:
“What a romp. Let Baross take you for a wild ride through an extravagantly carnal Mexico of the imagination." UrsulaKLequin.com
“Jose Builds a Woman is one of the most magical and beautiful and honest novels about men and women, lovers, mothers and sons, about life and death, that you’ll ever be privileged to read. Baross has a gift for tender beauty on the page. I can’t remember when I last enjoyed a book this much"- Molly Gloss, author of Jump Off Creek
“Baross writes with a big beautiful new voice, exuberant and full of gritty earth and bright skies. Tortugina is a heroine for the ages-her story is about a commitment to love and honor and self-respect against all odds and along the way it’s a wild trip to the Mexico of our dark northern dreams. At the end, you not only want to cheer for Tortugina, you want to stay". -Joanna Rose, author of Little Miss Strange
“Sexy, enchanting, funny and well-told, Jan Baross spins a marvelous tale filled with fantasy and passion. I loved it."
-Iris Rainer Dart, author of Beaches
Radio Interview about Jose Builds a Woman with author Jan Baross:
Q: I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like this. It’s so hyper-imaginative. Where did it all come from? Were you on drugs?
JAN: (Laughs) Just coffee. Lots of coffee. It never occurred to me to write a novel. I had been preoccupied with screenwriting. And then one afternoon, a dark and stormy afternoon in Spain, I was stuck in my hotel room with nothing to do so I decided to write the first chapter of a novel, just to see what it felt like.
I chose a story I’d read in the National Inquirer about a Mexican man in Tijuana who built a five-story woman and lived inside her with his wife.
I typed out the title, Jose Builds a Woman, but I couldn’t get inside the head of a young Mexican man. So I decided to write from his mother’s point of view. Then, the words just poured out. It became one of those experiences you hear about, like channeling. Each time I got to the end, which was a long haul, I had become a better writer so I started all over again. I wrote for ten years. Then on my birthday I made myself quit. Shortly after that, I got an agent and a publisher.
Q: Did you enjoy the process?
JAN: I’m happiest when I’m writing. The publishing process made me anxious. But I was thrilled that they used my painting for the cover. They also gave me a great editor and book designer. I could complain about their lack of marketing but that’s an old tune most authors sing.
Q: Throughout the book you’ve got metaphors about life and death, birth and rebirth all connected by love. Would you say your book is about love?
JAN- Yes. The road to love is so tough that all the characters die in some sense to be reborn into the relationship they really desire. Love is the most transformative thing a human can do. I also show what happens when characters shut out love like Jose’s great grandmother. She died cursing her family and had to come back from the grave to find her redemption.
Q: Speaking of redemption, you’ve got the rapist, Miguel, finally marrying the woman he loves. She’s a nasty piece of work. You’ve got your characters winning and losing at the same time.
JAN: Good point. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. That helped in working out the scenes.
Q: About Tortugina’s wedding night, losing her virginity on the camel. There’s a lot of wonderfully weird and sometimes frightening sex in your book.
JAN: One of the most difficult things to write is an original sexual culmination in the relationships of the characters. That sexual moment has to be emblematic of all their conflicts and desire for each other. And also integral to some odd location like the back of a camel. I worked on that camel scene forever. My former writing teacher, Tom Spanbauer, said that our job as writers was to find new ways to say things.
Q: I think you did. And the plot, all those twists and turns? A lot of them I never saw coming.
JAN:I discovered the story as I wrote it. I am used to writing screenplays so I focused on a strong plot with lots of action. I’d write Tortugina into impossible situations without any idea initially how to get her out. The plotting reminded me of my early years watching Flash Gordon serials. I’d leave the movie theater wondering how he’d survive until next Saturday.
Q. I was blown away by your sensual language, especially your description of Tortugina’s village inhabited by the descendants of circus freaks.
JAN: To get me into a sensual frame of mind, I read Pablo Neruda every morning. As for the circus, many years ago in Mexico I did see a strange, threadbare little traveling troupe. Behind their make-up, their decrepit animals and their ancient routines, it was all turning to dust. Even the children looked a hundred years old. For some reason they fascinated me. That was the inspiration, but of course, my characters are their exuberant descendants.
Q: Let’s talk about the ending of the novel.
JAN: I didn’t have an ending, not for years. That kept the possibilities open, but I didn’t know where I was headed. I think hacking my way through the uncertainty helped in creating unexpected twists, especially for the end. I don’t want to give the ending away, but it is the inevitable culmination of Tortugina’s life that pays off on the last page. I thought it was a happy ending, but some readers told me they cried at the end. I love it when people have a completely different take. They make it their own story.
Q: One last question before the break. Do you consider your novel a comedy or a tragedy?
JAN: Both. I tried for a balance of the human animal as ridiculous, tragic and resilient.
Q: I would agree. You managed that fine balance. Thank you for sharing your wonderful book, Jose Builds a Woman.