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An Interview with Ricardo Moran


Ricardo Moran’s writing has been published or is forthcoming in Beatific Magazine, Cider Press Review, Midwest Quarterly, Perceptions Magazine, East Jasmine Review, The Seattle Star, and Willa Cather Review. Ricardo is a member of the Nebraska Writers Guild; serves on the board of San Diego Writers Ink; and works as a content writer. He currently lives in Albania, enjoys traveling, and learning how to say “good morning” in as many languages as possible. Learn more on his website.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

Since I was a kid, I always wanted to see what was outside of Imperial Valley, a small desert community near the Mexican border where I grew up. Since I didn’t have the money to travel, I wrote stories at an early age to imagine who else I could be. In the 70s, I watched lots of Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek. Books such as Where the Red Fern Grows and James and the Giant Peach were some of my favorites.

And because border life was always in flux with the languages, the cultures, of two countries constantly interweaving, sometimes clashing, sometimes melding together, music had a strong impact. I learned English by listening to my mom’s 8-track tapes: Janis Joplin, Cher, Neil Diamond, Abba, along with the classic Mexican ranchera artists like Pedro Infante and Vicente Fernandez.

And in everyday life, Mexican Catholicism framed the entire experience. At its core, relatives would tell stories of how the physical and the spiritual worlds connected at an atomic level. Every day, you were told that you could feel signs from the other side, trying to help you, or trying to warn you of something tragic.

I hadn’t thought of putting these poems together until one night when I started to list them and organize them, I saw that there was a story, several stories that could be told. I write fiction as well and I looked at each poem as a scene in a story. And at some point, after reorganizing them for weeks, is when the story of moving step by step from hell to heaven emerged.

What inspired you to start writing this book?

I hadn’t thought of putting these poems together until one night when I started to list them and organize them, I saw that there was a story, several stories that could be told. I write fiction as well and I looked at each poem as a scene in a story. And at some point, after reorganizing them for weeks, is when the story of moving step by step from hell to heaven emerged.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

The book’s title, Not Quite Heaven, was easier after I had put together the narrative for the collection. Some of the pieces have a strong Catholic flavor told through a magical realist perspective. The title reflects the variety of stories in the book. I decided to include the pain point illustrated in several of the pieces, that feeling of being just outside of a safe space and not being able to find a way in. To sit in that discomfort, this I felt would allow the reader to identify with the poetry even more. Life is mixed. You can have a happy ending, but one that has an edge to it, that has some life lesson for you. It isn’t done until its done.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

This was a tough one. I would say that everyone who reads it will have their own soundtrack as they move from poem to poem, defined by their life experiences.

The ideal would be if Morrissey could sing a ranchera.

So, in the first half of the book I would say, it would be a four-layer cake of “Tu Solo Tu” sung by Selena with Morrissey’s “Every Day is Like Sunday” running in the background and “Smile” (the Orchid and Hound version) serving as the period at the end of that long, sad, sentence. Then followed by Olivia Newton John’s “The Rumour.” All of these songs share the same perspective of being so deep in an abusive relationship, but not quite ready to recognize it.

At the book progresses and hope begins to emerge, other songs would include Marren Morris’s “My Church” and Paper Lace’s “The Night Chicago Died.”

And as it becomes evident that the world is slowly shifting from a dystopia to a utopia, but not without a fight from the dying dystopian forces, Paulina Rubio’s “El Ultimo Adios” would fit perfectly.

The soundtrack picks up speed and hope with Cinderella’s “Shelter Me,” while the finale would be “A Brand New Day” by Diana Ross from The Wizz soundtrack.

In the beginning, there is this thick, heavy melancholy feeling of depression, desperation and hopelessness that nothing will ever change, and that there’s nothing you can do about it. And I wanted the reader to sit in that, to allow the emotions, whatever they were, to overwhelm, to drench them. By the end, that bondage has been broken.

Describe your dream book cover.

My dream book cover would be a pencil drawing with the Q Anon flag flying at full mast in the background, in top right corner. A sliver of railroad tracks in the middle, in the background. In the foreground, would be a young man leaning against a grey, mottle colored Ford Escort holding a capital letter “O” with a dog’s tail. A suitcase next to him. A phone booth on the left sitting in prairie grass as it juts into a sidewalk with a few dandelions popping up.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

Most of my career has been in working with non-profits including almost 13 years at the American Red Cross in San Diego. I also have a master’s degree in American studies and taught ESL/US Citizenship night classes and worked as a tour guide on a bus and at several museums. The last couple of years, I’ve been working as a freelance content writer for B2B and B2C businesses.

Something that my readers wouldn’t know about me is that I was in Toastmasters for many years. And I am forever grateful as I had some excellent mentors who helped me develop public speaking skills.

I was also active in independent politics in the early 90s and in the summer of 1992, I was a delegate at the Peace & Freedom party presidential nominating convention in San Diego. I was supporting Dr. Lenora Fulani, who was actively building a multi-racial, women-led, gay-led, pro-democracy electoral movement to unite everyday Americans to challenge corporate interests.

What books did you read (for research or comfort) throughout your writing process?

Prior to writing these poems, there were poets and mentors who influenced my perspective and my ability to write what I wanted to write, and it didn’t matter if people got offended. Personally, I don’t feel that it’s a writer’s responsibility to even take it into consideration.

A playwright instructor from over 10 years ago once asked me why I kept censoring the dialogue between my two main characters. She said, “Ask yourself, ‘What is the story your characters wish to tell?'” I always remembered that.

The poets that have influenced me include Hafez for the mystical qualities and the timeless life lessons for humanity. Matt Mason, former Nebraska state poet for drawing out the extraordinary from the ordinary;Billy Collins for his lyrical rhythm and beautiful descriptions;Susan Vespoli for allowing herself to be vulnerable and honest in her poetry;and the Albanian poet Ismail Kadare for taking a moment in time and fleshing out the emotions that underly it.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I hope readers will find something that they can take away and say, “Wow, I never thought about it (whatever it is) that way.” Or, “Hey, the line in this poem I can relate to” and “I like how it makes me feel.” Maybe even apply what they’re reading to a problem they’re dealing with.

More than anything, I hope that readers have fun reading at least one poem, and if they like that one, then they read the next one. I meant for these pieces to be fun to read, to challenge readers, to be honest. If something is not fun to read, then that’s torture and no different from hell on earth. And we’re all striving for some fun, to feel loved and accepted, right? Even, even if it’s not quite like heaven.

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