When Tomas Moniz, the author of the new novella Bellies and Buffalos, was in New York City a few years ago, he stopped by the mammoth American Girl doll store on Fifth Avenue. His youngest daughter had begged him to visit, part of her campaign to snare one of the pricey dolls.
Moniz was astounded to see the store’s tearoom, where not only girls – but their dolls — were served actual tea.
“That was actually the impetus of the story, the experience of seeing them actually serve tea to dolls,” said Moniz, who will celebrate the publication of his book tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Pegasus Books at 2349 Shattuck St.
Moniz, 46, is best known for his award-winning zine, Rad Dad, which looks at parenting from a radical perspective – i.e. from queer parents, poor parents, political activist parents, and from parents of color. His own essays, which often touch on drugs, drinking, and teenage sex, offer a strong critique about conventional and mainstream views on raising children.
Bellies and Buffalos is a departure from that perspective. It is a touching story about Sonny Gutierrez, a pudgy high school counselor from suburban San Jose, who goes on an unexpected cross country trip with the 20-year old pregnant Julia Camarone, who has recently split up with her boyfriend. The pair meet when Sonny goes to the American Girl doll store in New York to pick up a doll for his young daughter, only to find that Julia is holding the only one left of that model in the store. They form an alliance and decide to drive together to Denver. Sonny hopes to connect with his long lost son, whom he has just discovered was not given up for adoption, as he had been told. Julia hopes to return to her parents’ home. Along the way there are escapades with police, the robbery of a Git-N-Go store, the story of the decline of a brand new suit, and musings on burps and bowel movements.
“I wanted to write something entirely different than my normal style, so not something in the first person, not something explicitly about politics, and something that didn’t have a lot of sex in it, or drinking,” said Moniz, who lives in south Berkeley and has three children. (The youngest is in high school.) “I wanted to write something tender.”
He succeeds. Bellies and Beasts, which is published by Los Angeles based publishing collective Black Hill Press, is about the relationships we form in life and those that have formed us. It is also about living in the border zone. Sonny was born in the San Jose barrio, the son of a single mother, but lives in a modern suburban house when the novel opens and has moved into the middle class.
“He came from this particular neighborhood that he felt both a part of and excluded from,” said Moniz. “This border area – I think it is a powerful place.”
This is a busy time for Moniz. In addition to the publication of his first novella, he recently raised $4,000 to covert his Rad Dad zine into a glossy magazine. He is joining forces with Ariel Gore, the publisher of Hip Mama magazine. The two will come out with the first issue in January 2014. He is also helping to organize the East Bay Alternative Book and Zine Fest, which happens at Berkeley City College on Dec. 7.
In fact, Moniz values collaboration so highly, he has refused to be the center of attention at his own book party. He has invited Michelle Gonzales and Soma Mei Sheng Frazier to read as well.
Moniz will also do a reading from Bellies and Buffalos on Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. at Nick’s Lounge, 3218 Adeline St. Berkeley.
Lyrics & Dirges: A new Berkeley reading series (10.19.10)
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