Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Review of Mañana Means Heaven by Tim Hernandez

It's not very often that an important new work about Jack Kerouac surfaces, but that is exactly what we can anticipate with the August 29 publication of Mañana Means Heaven by award-winning author Tim Z. Hernandez. I had the privilege of reading an "advance reading copy/uncorrected proof" thanks to the University of Arizona Press. In Mañana Means Heaven, according to the back cover, Hernandez "weaves a rich and visionary portrait of Bea Franco, the real woman behind famed American author Jack Kerouac's 'The Mexican Girl'" [from On the Road and also appearing as a short story by that title in The Paris Review in 1956]. We all know how book covers can exaggerate, but this is one time when it's quite accurate: Hernandez does a brilliant job crafting an engaging and creative counter-narrative, fleshing out Kerouac's self-centered story about Bea Franco (the fictional "Terry") with details from his own imagination, experience (he grew up in the same geographical area and culture as Bea), and, his research into and interviews with Bea Franco herself.

Mañana Means Heaven is a mesmerizing story. There is no need to be a Kerouac fan or know anything about Kerouac in order to enjoy the novel thoroughly. If you happen to be a Kerouac fan, you will be especially thrilled. Interestingly, Hernandez takes a page out of Jack's own handbook and writes Mañana Means Heaven in a roman à clef style, seamlessly weaving together fiction and facts to present a compelling story. Using well-honed descriptive powers, Hernandez gives us an intimate look at the several weeks (described it as fifteen days in On the Road) Kerouac spent with Bea in southern California, particularly emphasizing Bea's perspective. Having grown up in similar circumstances, Hernandez is uniquely able to paint a vivid and realistic portrait of the characters as well as the settings and culture that provide the context for the story.

Kerouac fans will know that the story consists of his meeting Bea (the fictional "Terry") on a bus bound for Los Angeles, and then embarking on a love affair leading them from Bakersfield to L.A. to Sabinal (real-life Selma) and points in-between, from sleeping in a cheap hotel to a tent in a campo, from drifting aimlessly about to working at a back-breaking job harvesting cotton (grapes in Hernandez's version). Hernandez carefully avoids inventing interior dialogue for Kerouac, leaving that to Kerouac's own portrayal. When he does need to fill in actions or comments by Kerouac, they are believable. For example, after Kerouac leaves for New York, Bea is about to write a letter to her now-distant lover:
While staring down at the blank sheet of paper she thought about what Jack once said, back in Los Angeles, how the gods had created words for every situation under the sun (p. 203).* 
I can hear Kerouac saying something like that.

Hernandez is especially adept at presenting Bea's perspective, evidenced by this passage describing their initial time together on the bus:
Over the next few minutes Bea continued to steal glances at him from the corner of her eye. She couldn't help but think of how wrong her first impression of him had been. At the diner, slumped over the counter scratching into his paper, he came across awkward, troubled almost. But now, sitting here beside him she could see that he was nothing of the sort. There was a sensitivity about him, a timidity disguised beneath a layer of denim and tobacco smoke. Nothing like the men at the campo or in the fields, who, upon hearing of Bea's troubled marriage, often tried luring her with sweet talk of money and sexual escapades. Perros. The kind of men who bunked a dozen to a tent and stayed up talking about the women they'd balled in their short and lonely lives (p. 31).
Hernandez spends 162 pages fictionalizing the time Kerouac spent with Bea, a story Kerouac presents in a scant 19 pages in my copy of On the Road.  This gives an idea of how much Hernandez embellishes the story with his own insights and experience as well as information from his research into Bea and his interviews with her. Whereas Kerouac provides no details on what happened to Bea after he left for New York City (he merely mentions her with regret a couple of times), Hernandez spends 44 pages on Bea's experience after Kerouac's departure, including her going to Denver, living in a hotel and working as a waitress in order to look for Kerouac, who had written her that he'd be there (you'll have to read the book to see if she found him). This section of the book includes four actual letters from Bea to Kerouac.

There is an 11 page Afterword describing Hernandez' fascinating odyssey researching Bea and ultimately finding her living one mile from his home! He was able to interview her multiple times with the assistance of her son, Albert, and daughter, Patricia. Bea turned 90 during the period of time when the interviews took place. This section includes pictures of Bea and Al from 1942, Al circa 1950, and Bea and sister Angie from 1947. When I first read Hernandez' description of his elation on finally finding Bea on September 11, 2010, it brought tears to my eyes. This is certainly related to my own obsession with Kerouac, but it is also evidence of some powerful writing.

One clever device employed by Hernandez was opening the book with a description of his last interview with Bea on October 13, 2010 and closing the book with a slightly different description of the same interview. The first entry acted as a teaser yet didn't give away the show, plus the two passages nicely demonstrate that narratives have an infinite number of ways to be presented, depending on the writer, the audience, the purpose, etc.

In On the Road (Penguin Books, 1976), Kerouac describes Bea using the word mañana:
"Sure, baby, mañana." It was always mañana. For the next week that was all I heardmañana, a lovely word and one that probably means heaven (p. 94).
Unless I missed it, Hernandez never makes the connection between mañana (which literally means "tomorrow") and heaven explicit like Kerouac does, but he does make it implicitly clear in the narrative.
However an adult decided to use that word, there was one thing little Albert was sure ofthe word itself carried weight. But for all the times he'd heard it uttered, spat, or mumbled, in that moment, cruising up the long, dark road, when it came from his uncle's mouth, mañana, it no longer sounded like something a person just said. No, in that moment, it sounded like a possibility, a promise of things to come (pp. 188-189).
For me, the true measure of a book is my reaction when I read the last word. In this case, mine was, "What? No more? I want to keep reading about Bea's life!" Such was my level of involvement with the story. I highly, highly recommend this book whether or not you are a Kerouac fan. With Mañana Means Heaven, Tim Z. Hernandez has created an important entry for the Kerouac canon that also stands on its own merits as a well-crafted novel about love and loss. Bravo.

*All excerpts from from Mañana Means Heaven by Tim Z. Hernandez © 2013 Tim Z. Hernandez. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Upcoming review of Tim Z. Hernandez' Manana Means Heaven (and author guest blog)

Faithful Daily Beat followers will remember me posting on May 16, 2012 about an upcoming book (pictured below), Manana Means Heaven. It's about Bea Franco, the real-life Terry (the "Mexican Girl") from Jack Kerouac's On the Road, written by award-winning author Tim Z. Hernandez. I'm currently reading an advance copy and will be posting a review soon. In addition, Tim is going to write a guest blog for The Daily Beat in September and we may be able to orchestrate a book give-away. Based on my read so far (five chapters), I'm sure our readers would love to add it to their collection, and it's available for pre-order on Amazon.

Learn more about Tim at his website,, and stay tuned.

Jack Kerouac followed me on vacation

We've been on hiatus here at The Daily Beat while traveling in Arizona and California, making a conscious effort to leave the everyday life behind and enjoy "vacation." Nevertheless, Jack Kerouac followed me on my travels as I ran into this in a Flagstaff used bookstore and, not owning it, had to fork over the $9.95 asking price.

Conversations with Jack Kerouac was edited by Kevin J. Hayes and published in 2005 by University Press of Mississippi. Hayes was (is?) a professor of English at the University of Central Oklahoma, and in this book he pulls together such various pieces as Mike Wallace's 1958 interview with Jack, a 1958 San Francisco Examiner interview, Al Aronowitz's 1959 piece, "St. Jack (Annotated by Jack Kerouac)", Stan  Isaac's "Playing 'Baseball' with Jack Kerouac" from Newsday in 1961, the Ted Berrigan 1967 Paris Review interview, and several others (10 in all).

I haven't read it yet, and most if not all of these pieces will be familiar to the loyal Kerouacian. I don't think I've read either of the Newsday interviews by Val Duncan (1959 and 1964). In addition, it contains an interesting introduction by the editor which you won't find anywhere else. The Kerouac included Kerouac chronology is standard fare.

Don't pay $9.95 (plus tax) for it unless you want to support your local used bookstore: I see a used copy on Amazon for $2.57.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


I'll be traveling for the next 10 days so it's likely I won't be posting anything here on The Daily Beat. See you when I return.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Rallying support for a Jack Kerouac stamp

It's a shame that Jack Kerouac is not featured on a U.S. postage stamp despite efforts that have been underway since 1994. The most recent attempt is a letter from a couple of Massachusetts state legislator and Lowell residents to the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee sent on June 10. If you want to contact the committee to lend your support, they can be reached by snail mail at:

Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee
c/o Stamp Development
U.S. Postal Service
475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Room 3300
Washington, DC 20260-3501

Click here for an article from the Lowell Sun about past efforts.

Below is the text of my letter (being sent today):

Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee
c/o Stamp Development
U.S. Postal Service
475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Room 3300
Washington, DC 20260-3501

Dear Committee Members:

It is my understanding that you are in receipt of a recent letter signed by Massachusetts state legislators and residents of Lowell, Massachusetts requesting that American author Jack Kerouac become the subject of a U.S. postage stamp. I write in full support of their effort.

From my review of the stamp subject criteria, it appears that Jack Kerouac meets all of them. In particular, he is without a doubt a person of “widespread national appeal and significance.” Today, 44 years after his death, his numerous books sell hundreds of thousands of copies annually. His seminal novel, On the Road, is routinely included on “Top 100” lists published by reputable organizations such as the New York Times. The novel was the subject of a recent movie featuring a number of Hollywood stars such as Kristin Stewart, Garrett Hedlund, Viggo Mortenson, and Steve Buscemi.

Each year, hundreds of people from all over the country (and the world) make a pilgrimage to Mr. Kerouac’s hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts to honor his memory by visiting his gravesite and other landmarks such as the home in which he was born and the schools he attended.  There is a strong Kerouac presence in Lowell’s National Historical Park exhibits, and Lowell established the Jack Kerouac Commemorative Park in 1988. Other parts of the country also capitalize on Mr. Kerouac’s appeal and significance. For example, in January 2013 the San Francisco Public Library held a panel discussion about Mr. Kerouac featuring celebrities such as Peter Coyote, the noted actor. Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado is the home of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, founded in 1974, and there is an on-going writer-in-residence program housed in one of Mr. Kerouac’s former residences in Orlando, FL (called The Kerouac Project).

If you walk into any bookstore in the United States, you will find Mr. Kerouac’s novels for sale. Signed first editions of his novels sell for thousands of dollars. A Google search on any particular day will yield new articles, blog posts, etc., about Mr. Kerouac. Finally, Mr. Kerouac has a strong social media presence. The Jack Kerouac Facebook group boasts almost 2,500 members from around the world and Mr. Kerouac is mentioned on Twitter many times a day.

In summary, Jack Kerouac meets the stamp subject criteria and would be a welcome addition to the roster of famous Americans on U.S. postage stamps. I hope you will look favorably on this request and I look forward to hearing about your decision. Thank you in advance for your consideration.


Dr. Richard Dale