Acclaimed author speaks at SMC

Gilbert Gaeta is a struggling, working-class Latino father who is raising his 13-year-old daughter, Ana, while working as a fork-lift operator. He struggles to save money for a wedding ring for his girlfriend Joyce, so they can marry and move in together, and Joyce can escape from her abusive father. Ana is being bullied regularly at the local laundromat and begs her father to buy a washing machine and dryer. Gilbert is torn between buying the ring for Joyce or the laundry machines for Ana.

These characters are from the novel "This Time Tomorrow" by Michael Jaime-Becerra, who spoke at Santa Monica College last Wednesday to discuss his writing and career.

In a packed lecture hall, the crowd applauded as Jaime-Becerra began discussing his journey to becoming an author.

Jaime-Becerra grew up in El Monte, California and graduated with a Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing from University of California, Riverside in 2001, according to the school's website. He is currently working as a associate professor in the creative writing department at UC Riverside.

Jaime-Becerra rose to prominance in 1996 when his early poems and short stories were compiled in a collection titled, "Look Back And Laugh." He followed up with a second collection of short stories and poems, "Every Night is Ladies Night."

During the lecture, Jaime-Becerra spoke of the family struggles that the main characters have to endure in "This Time Tomorrow."

His debut novel was the finished product of seven years' worth of hard work.

"Sometimes I had written entire chapters and realized that my story had not progressed to where I wanted [it] to, so I had to redo it," he said.

Jaime-Becerra's novel has won two Best Book Awards, one from the San Francisco Chronicle and one from the Washington Post.

During the Q&A; portion of the lecture, Jaime-Becerra explained what inspired him to write his novel.

He said that his traditional-strict Mexican upbringing influenced his story. He and his wife were raised similar to the characters in his novel. "You don't move out of your parents' house until you're married," said Jaime-Becerra.

Even though he works both as a professor and author, writing is his primary passion.

"I enjoy both, however writing is harder, but more rewarding," said Jaime-Becerra. "Teaching is very comfortable for me as it comes naturally."

Writing novels has always been a dream of his since he was young.

As a child, Jaime-Becerra's parents would often take him to the library to read books. "They didn't care what I read as long as I was reading," he said. This inspired his early passion for writing.

The biggest influence in his career, however, was 1980's Los Angeles Dodgers star pitcher Fernando Valenzuela.

"I remember watching the '81 World Series as a kid and seeing him perform at that level at such a young age, that I felt like I could be the best at whatever I chose to do."