Thursday, December 28, 2006

If you haven't read my books yet...


I have a suggestion for you.

But first let me say this ... I live on a budget and don't have tons of time to try out as many new authors as I'd like. Of course, I'd appreciate it if you bought the books outright because that's how I make a living.
So that's why I'm telling you about BooksFree.com. It works like Netflix where you can rent books and have them delivered to your house. If you haven't read In Between Men, Hot Tamara or Friday Night Chicas yet, check this service out or go to your local library. (By the way, if your library doesn't carry my books, drop me a note and I'll bug the librarian to add it to their collection!)

Cheers,
Mary

Friday, December 22, 2006

HE WALKS!

I can't help but share the news that the Little Dude took his first steps yesterday! You'd think he was the first human to accomplish walking but I'm so proud!

And yet, I'm terrified every time he takes off. It wouldn't be overdoing it if I wrapped him in bubble wrap, now would it?

Rascal the pug is greatly dismayed that he has to run for his life when the Little Dude goes after him.

Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Authors I Will Read in 2007


I swear this is not a plug for my own work! I just had to show off this gorgeous cover. (Ahem) But if you want to buy the book, it will be in stores May 2007.

Now onto the business at hand ... this is a partial list. I didn't do repeats from my Top Ten because you already know I love them, and I have a room full of gifts that need to be wrapped before this weekend.

6. Margo Candela will make her debut with Underneath It All next month. Read her. You won't be disappointed!

5. The Rest Falls Away by Colleen Gleason, in Hollywood-speak is "Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Jane Austen." Ever since I found her on MySpace and then read the teasers about her new book, I've been anxiously waiting for this one to hit stores next month.

4. Anne Mallory and I met as brand new Avon authors back in 2004. But having read her historical romances, I know she's going to be a best seller and I'll have the bragging rights to say I read her back when. (And that we were bought by the same editor!) Unfortunately I have to wait till August 2007 when her next book, What Isabella Desires, is released. But I won't ask Avon for an ARC or a freebie. Yes, I will purchase it from my favorite bookseller!

3. Sonia Singh's Goddess for Hire came out two years before my first book and after I read it, I wondered why Avon Trade bought me. I mean, I wasn't as good as her! (Author insecurity is a terrible thing.) So when Josie Brown got us together to tour the Hard Rock Cafes, I was a little intimidated. But then after one drink too many at the Hard Rock Cafe in L.A., (it was my first night out without my then five month-old baby and husband) I blurted to Sonia that she needed to start writing more explicit sex scenes because she never showed us what the guys look like naked. It was one of those make or break moments where you could end up with a drink in the face or a laugh. Sonia laughed and we've been buddies ever since. Having said that, even if Sonia continues to toy with us in her next book, Ghost,Interrupted, I'll still read it!

2. Marsha Moyer is in the pantheon of my all-time favorite authors. After reading her first two novels (The Second Coming of Lucy Hatch and The Last of the Honkytonk Angels), I was crushed to discover that her third book had not been scheduled for release. But just the other day, when I went to her website to see what she was up to, I realized there is a publishing God. Her third book, Heartbreak Town is coming in June 2007! Read the first two and you will be mesmerized.

1. Sacha Boutros is a jazz musician not an author and since this is my list, I figure I can fudge the rules a bit. When I was writing the character of Sela from "Till Death Do Us Part", I could only hear her voice for the longest time. Usually I see my characters first and then hear their voices. But it made sense that Sela (who is a struggling jazz singer and musician) had a very clear, distinct voice. Later when I heard Sacha on MySpace, I went very still like a ghost had just walked into my room. She sounded just like Sela. If you read "Till Death Do Us Part", I highly recommend that you do so with Sacha's gorgeous serenade.

Cheers,
Mary

Monday, December 18, 2006

Top Ten Books I Read in 2006


In Between Men got a great review from Trashionista! She compared me to Jennifer Crusie!!!
And what did I do in return? Stole Trashionista's idea for a Top Ten list. So here we go:

10. When you find a book with a heroine named Cynthia Lopez who is aided by two fairy god-fathers, you can't pass that up. Berta Platas cracked me up with her romantic comedy, Cinderella Lopez that was at times bitter, spicy and then oh so sweet when Cyn kicked some evil step-sister ass in some bitchin' high heels.

9. I don't know what I was thinking by leaving Most Wanted by Michele Martinez on my TBR pile for a year. What an idiot! I picked it up and couldn't put it down till the end. And because I read it so fast, I had to reread it for the parts that I missed. If you love mysteries, New York and a tortured heroine who is a federal prosecutor, new mom and caught between two sexy, imperfect men, then check out the first book in the Melanie Vargas series.

8. When I mentioned that I love Emily Brightwell's Mrs. Jeffries Mystery Series to my editor, she just about fell out of her chair with delight. She described Emily perfectly, "She's the coziest of the cozies!" The latest book, Mrs. Jeffries Appeals the Verdict was the most complex and suspenseful of the series. Emily had me wondering if Mrs. Jeffries and her crew would actually solve the case. I won't say more other than if you want a book to keep you warm during the winter months, Emily has more than 20 Mrs. Jeffries mysteries to keep you occupied!

7. The Devil In Winter by Lisa Kleypas is one of those stories rich with turbulent emotions and an unrepentant hero paired with a wounded, yet resilient heroine. I used to be one of those people who scoffed at historical romances until the owner of New and Recycled Romances insisted that I try one of Lisa's books. I immediately saw the error of my ways and I'd say that 75% of my keeper shelf consists of historicals, especially those by Lisa.

6. Even though I read Match Me If You Can by Susan Elizabeth Phillips last summer, I reread it again a few months ago. (What else can a girl do when she has to wait so long for Susan's next book?) Anyway, Susan Elizabeth Phillips always makes me forget that I'm reading a book. The characters are so vivid they're almost real. Just when she cracks me up, Susan turns around and smacks me upside the head with a scene that is so emotional, I'm suddenly crying. In public, no less.

5. When I first heard Reyna Grande read at the Chica Lit Conference in Miami, I was in awe of her. She is truly a storyteller and one of the most humble people I have ever met. Across a Hundred Mountains is one of those stories that stick in the memory. Even though there is ugliness and horrific tragedy, there is also salvation and grace.

4. If you read my blog regularly (read the post from 1/15/06), then you know how I feel about Do They Wear High Heels in Heaven by Erica Orloff. If I say anything more, you'll think Erica and I are lovers.

3. I'd always noticed A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly on the book shelves but for some reason never picked up till last week. Couldn't put it down, even when the Little Dude found some knives and began throwing them at Rascal. (That didn't really happen, by the way.) Jennifer's crystal clear prose and especially her heroine, gave me courage to plump the depths of a character who has been popping into my head.

2. Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin is another book that I've raved about on this blog. As I go down this list, it gets harder to explain why I love these books so much. The best I can do is say that they make me forget about being a writer; I can be a reader with them. But when I've reached the end and the writer in me wakes up with excitement, eager to stretch out of my comfort zone.

1. This summer my family went to Carmel for a week. My mother-in-law and I had numerology and aromatherapy readings done at Pilgrim's Way Bookstore and Garden. While waiting for my numerology appointment, I found Thich Nhat Hanh: Essential Writings. Among other things, I had been wrestling with issues about someone whom I had thought was a friend but turned out not to be. This book helped me to realize that this person's behavior was a mirror of my own negative traits. It was a very profound, very liberating lesson to understand that the people who "challenge" us are often our most profound spiritual teachers. That is, if we open our eyes to the lesson.

Every time I open the pages of this book , I feel as if my eyes are opened anew and it will be one of the books I'll reread in the final days of this year.

Cheers,
Mary

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Big Tease


Check out the teaser of my upcoming novella, "Till Death Do Us Part" that will appear in the anthology, Names I Call My Sister!

Again, thank you all for your thoughtful comments and emails. By the way if Francoise were here, she'd want me to tell you that she was Gypsy Rose Lee (above) in a former life.

Cheers,
Mary

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Waking Up


Yesterday we had to let go of our little girl pug, Francoise. She had been hit with a very aggressive form of intestinal cancer. It was time to end her suffering. She was six years old.

Most of the morning I sat with her in the sun next to her favorite lemon tree, reassuring her that we loved her, we would take care of her brother, Rascal and the Little Dude and that it was okay for her to go. It was a beautiful, sad day because I don't know about you, but most of my days are a blur of activity and worrying and thinking. They're like dreams on fast forward.

But as I scratched Francoise's fuzzy ears next to the lemon tree, and then later, placed my hand on her head while the vet administered the euthanasia, I've never been more awake, more in tune with the present moment. And I'm so happy, so privileged to have helped someone I loved to let go.

I still tear up when I see Francoise's leash and harness by the hall door, or when I think about how she'd sit with her hind legs spread-eagled. But then the tears ebb when I see Rascal and the Little Dude come tearing around the corner, off to carry out some mischief. (Last night I caught them trying to get into one of the toilets.) I remember to live in the present, to go running after them without any thought about what I should be writing or what I should be doing. Francoise taught me that. She was a wise little soul.

Friday, December 08, 2006

This morning when I checked my horoscope, I had no idea that it would actually come true.

It said:
One of your most admirable characteristics is that even when you feel like
giving up, your internal drive keeps you going. Someone gives you a boost today,
and you find that with some encouragement, your creativity takes off.

Well with two weeks of not writing, waiting for responses on my proposals and a box and a half of books I couldn't sell, I had sprouted an ugly case of the mean reds. Had I risked too much by writing full-time? Do I have what it takes to become a profitable, much less best-selling author? Gee, maybe I should look into getting a real job.

But when I hauled my boxes to the mail box center, one of the guys peeked inside and saw my book. He took one out to read the back cover and a lady standing next to me happened to see it. She asked what I wrote and when I showed off Hot Tamara and In Between Men, she told me to sign one copy each and then handed me cash for both books!

I was so flustered. Now that I think about it, I hoped I spelled my own name right! When I sat in my car and processed what happened, I had one of those quiet moments where I could actually feel the words, thank you.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Okay so I updated my business plan, wrote all of my web content and even finished half of my Christmas shopping. For the last week, I've been on full-time, Little Dude duty so my husband can make his deadline. And still no word on the proposal sitting on my editor's desk, or the proposal with my agent. What is a girl to do when the Little Dude is at toddler class with daddy and she already mopped the kitchen floor?

But then I remembered a Japanese proverb. "Where there is no wind, row."

I have this new idea that has been filling up the pages of my notebook. I think the idea is sound enough to take it on a maiden voyage. So this morning I fired up my trusty character bio document, ready to work and then, nothing. The characters chickened out on me. But I'm persistent. Just ask the Little Dude when he's 18.

I then grab The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders. As I'm reading, it's like my characters poke their heads in the door to see what I'm up to; why I'm not shouting at them to get their asses in here.

They're coy, but I'm patient.

Slowly, sometimes shyly they open up. When we reach an understanding, it's time to write an outline and then the first 100 pages that will become the proposal that goes off to my agent. A rewrite here and there and then if I did my job well (and I'm lucky), I get the greenlight to write the entire book. Characters always save the juicy stuff till I'm well into the story, but that's okay. We have to build trust and surprise is that unexpected but delicious flavor in a well-seasoned dish. Will, from Hot Tamara, taught me that.

Now in case you think I'm a freakin' nut case, I'm not. Well, maybe a little. You kinda have to be with a job like this.

Cheers,
Mary

Monday, November 27, 2006

How I Would Giveaway $1,000

Today, Oprah featured some of her guests who received $1,000 to help others in need. She called it her favorite giveaway and it got me thinking what I would do if I had an extra $1,000 laying around.

Well, I'd go to my alma mater and find two students who can't afford to go home for the holidays. Not only would I buy their tickets home, I'd also help them buy gifts to bring to family and friends. I can't tell you what it feels like to show up with no gifts for your loved ones. There are no words, especially when they have been so generous and you have nothing to give back except a "thank you." That was me for all of my college career and the gifts that I did bring home were those I had to put on an ever-increasing credit card debt.

Now let's say I had $2,000. I would go to Girls, Inc. to get a list of materials they needed and then come back a few hours later with a van-full of stuff. This is why I'm selling signed copies of Hot Tamara and In Between Men on eBay. You can buy as many copies as you'd like, give me the names of people you would like for me to sign it to and then get it time for the holidays. Not only will you give a fun gift, you'll also give the gift of empowerment, education and opportunity to the young ladies who come to Girls, Inc.

To purchase a personalized copy of Hot Tamara, go here

To purchase a personalized copy of In Between Men, go here

Happy Holidays,
Mary

Thursday, November 23, 2006

How To Survive Your Best Friend's Baby

There are periods in our lives when it feels like everyone you know is getting married. But just when you think, "thank God, no more wedding invitations"; your friends procreate.

When you’re still single, or you’re married and nowhere near babyville, how do you cope with your best friend’s pregnancy and baby? I’ve been on both sides of the coin: the clueless but well-meaning friend, and now the new mom, which is why I created this new blog, How to Survive Your Best Friend's Baby. I want to bridge the gap so there's no more "us" or "them." There's just us girls who want to keep our friendships strong and long-lasting.

Check it out and spread the word!

Monday, November 20, 2006

And now I bring you a game we call...

Good and bad.

Yesterday I had a living room picnic with good family friends and we played a game called, "Good and Bad." We took turns saying the good things that happened to us. But we were only allowed one bad.

Only recently have I been able to look at the books I couldn't sell as good things.

For the record: I'm 4 out of eight (four published out of the eight I've written ... the novellas count as half a book).

Anyway, I've come to realize that the four unpublishable books are not wasted efforts. They're my organ donors.

For example, the scene when Isela dances with Sebastian in "My Favorite Mistake", came from a book I wrote six years ago. Isa Avellan's storyline in Hot Tamara served as the back story for In Between Men.

This morning, as I was thinking about a problem with a new story idea, the answer popped out of my subconscious. I realized I could finally use a part (my most favorite part) of Baby You're The One in this new story.

When Baby didn't sell, I grieved for weeks. Thinking it would be my triumphant entre into young adult fiction, the experience really shook me up. I questioned if I'd be a one-hit wonder. But now I see that one bad thing has given birth to so many good things. It restores my trust that things happen only if they're supposed to. Now I hope that when this new idea is fully born - with a fully functional donated body part - you'll finally get to read it.

Knock ... knock ... knock! That's was me knocking on wood ... just in case.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Mary

Currently reading: Pop! by Aury Wallington (it's like she snuck into my 17 year-old self and excavated all the things I'll never tell my mom ... read it!)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Well, the proposal is in...

...and now I wait.

But that's a good thing! I can now focus marketing the new books and all the stuff I had to keep at bay while I wrote a proposal for a paranormal young adult novel (that I hope will become a real book someday). Hey wait a second ... I can go shopping! I can read another book without the sound of mu subconscious revving in the background! Even better, I can sleep through an entire night without waking up from a dream about my story.

Ahh the quiet when the writer is not writing.

Not that it will last for long. I have this thing about writing a historical and now that I have stumbled upon an idea for a mystery series, the itch will get worse. I can already hear the heroine whispering in my ear.

So much for shopping in peace.

And then there's my character, Isela Vargas from Friday Night Chicas. That bitch won't shut up about getting her own book. Every time a reader asks what happens to her, Isela's right there impatiently sighing at her nails.

There goes the quiet pleasures of book reading.

I'm beginning to suspect that writers never retire. We die at our keyboards.

Currently reading: The Girl's Guide to Witchcraft by Mindy Klasky (awesome!) and Mean Girls Grown Up by Cheryl Dellasega (sobering)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

"It's not having what you want...

...it's wanting what you got."

- Sheryl Crow, Soaking Up the Sun

When I was up on stage at the Head to Toe Women's Expo in San Diego, I talked about my rocky and rewarding road to publication. I've always been an ambitious soul with long lists and five-year plans of all the things I wanted to achieve before I died. But when Hot Tamara came out in February 2005, I realized that success can be very traumatic. Instead of celebrating, I worried about the things that weren't happening - why wasn't I on the New York Times list, why was so-and-so on The Today Show, why oh why oh why. It wasn't a pretty place to be. But then I had moments of clarity like when five really wonderful women came to my booksigning in Phoenix, Arizona. Those moments were fleeting until I wrote a book titled, Baby You're The One.

No one would touch it. Never mind that I had been on TV, that Hot Tamara was Cosmo's Red Hot Read, etc. For months all I could think about was the book that would not sell. But then Sheryl saved me with that line from her song (see the title of this entry). I realized that my success traumatized me because I forgot to be grateful for it. Once I counted my blessings - and I mean, I wrote a list about twenty-five pages long - I came back to life. To me, entitlement and ingratitude are like cinderblocks chained to all of your limbs, and when they throw you off the boat, you sink right to bottom. But gratitude unchained me and I wasn't limited by all this "why not me?". I saw unlimited possibilities.

So I want you to know that I was humbled to be at the Expo Friday afternoon. I didn't go just to sell my books; I went to give something of myself to the women who took the time to listen. I think authors get really caught up in what our agents, our publishers, our publicists and our booksellers don't do for us. I'm telling ya, knock it off. I'm not suggesting we become stagnant or passive. Rather, we need to be actively grateful for what we have, and actively responsible for what we want.

I'd like to say thank you to Rosemarie and Debbie and their team who put on an amazing event and allowed me to attend. Thank you to my family and friends who cheered me on even though I actually contemplated hiding in the girls' room! Thank you to everyone who listened to my presentation, who came up to my booth and who purchased my books. I hope my personal story and my fictional stories at the very least, gave you a good laugh.

Mary

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Whatcha doing this weekend?


I"ll be road-trippin' with the girls to the San Diego Head to Toe Women's Expo on Friday, Nov. 10th. If you happen to be in town, you don't want to miss this expo (even if you can't come see me)! Starting Friday the 10th and running through Sunday the 12th, it's a day of pampering, shopping, cuisine and more, just for us girls.

But if you want to see me (hint hint!) I'll be on the Style Stage at 1:30 p.m. with a booksigning to follow.

And because I love you, I have twenty free passes. If you want a pair for you and your best gal pal, email me so I can get them in the mail.

For all the details go here.

Friday, November 03, 2006

How To Thrive in the Month of NaNoWriMo


It's National Novel Writing Month and participants have one goal and one goal only: to write 50,000 words before midnight of Nov. 30th. If you want my advice, here it is:

1. Write in the voice that God gave you. Forget about grammatically correct sentences that would please your seventh grade English teacher (it worked for Dalton Trumbo). Forget about writing the Great American Novel (there is no such thing). But how do you know what your own voice sounds like? Well if you had a really juicy bit of gossip, how would you write it in email?

2. It's not about writing about what will be good enough to sell; it's about getting under the skin of your characters and finding out what they'll do next. Trust me, the cool thing about being an unpublished author is that no one has any expectations. You don't have to worry about deadlines, what your agent or editor will think, orders and sales numbers. You have complete creative freedom. I'm grateful for my success and all the challenges that come with it. But I'm telling ya, enjoy the freedom while it lasts.

Then again, if you're Stephen King you can do whatever the hell you want.

3. Do not banish a new idea that comes out of left field. That's a sign that your characters are taking over the book and that is when it starts to get juicy. To read my personal experience, go here.

4. TiVo or video tape your favorite shows. You'll need something to get you through re-runs in December anyway.

5. Keep up the momentum. Writing can be like exercise: when you skip one workout, it takes a month to go back.

6. If you commute to work, carry a tape recorder or notebook to capture those bursts of inspiration. I wrote an estimated one-eighth of Hot Tamara in my reporter's notebook while working for the LA Times.

7. Remember NaNoWriMo's motto: quantity over quality! Just write. Don't go back and agonize over every word. Tell your inner editor and critic to shut up and let the storyteller in you thrive.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

And she seemed like such a nice girl...

I tagged Sonia Singh last week thinking she had a blog, but alas, she doesn't. So she's now the very first Chica Lit guest blogger!


5 (Really REALLY) Interesting Things About Me
by Sonia Singh

1. When I was an infant I was dropped on my head. Thankfully, I suffered no lasting damage. Thankfully, I suffered no lasting damage. Wait. I’m getting a sense of déjà vu here.

2. I lived in Bombay, India for two years trying to break into the Indian film industry (Bollywood) as a screenwriter. Never mind that I didn’t have any contacts and couldn’t speak a word of Hindi to save my life. Seemed like a fun idea at the time. Although now I look back and wonder what possessed me to drop everything and move to the land of tigers and Taj Mahals. Maybe it had something to do with being dropped on my head?

3. I support the environment but also drive an SUV. I suppose the fact that I’m a walking contradiction could be due to my being dropped on the head as an infant, or perhaps because I live in the OC. The SUVs roam free around here like cattle.

4. When I was working as a bookseller at Borders Books & Music, I received a phone request to page a customer on a busy Saturday afternoon. The customer’s name? Hugh G. Reksion. [Sound it out] I paged the customer several times before my manager leapt across the information desk and grabbed the phone out of my hand. It was only then that I noticed the startled looks of customers. And yes, I do watch The Simpsons. What can I say? When you’ve been dropped on your head as an infant…

5. I dropped out of High School for three weeks my senior year. My parents were in Europe and I was alone except for an older cousin who would sleep over at night and leave for work very early. One morning I woke up and didn’t feel like going to school and since there was no one to make me go…Not surprisingly, I didn’t feel like going the next day either or the day after that. So, yes, I am a High School dropout. Any surprise? I was dropped on my head, okay?

Sonia's next release, Ghost, Interrupted is coming out January 2007. She is the author of Bollywood Confidential and Goddess for Hire. Her website is www.soniasingh.com.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

In Honor of the Day of the Dead

I don't believe that life ends when we die. I think some of us stay behind to make sure our loved ones are okay; or poke back in to see what's going on. And certainly there are many other reasons why spirits linger but the point of this blog is to focus on the positive aspects of being a ghost because on the Day of the Dead, we remember our loved ones who are no longer a phone call away. I'd like to tell you about the ghost I grew up with.

Her name is Mary and she and her husband built my mom and dad's house after World War II. My parents were 20 years old when they bought it for $19,000 in 1973. Mom was more than six months pregnant with me when they moved in. Eventhough grass and weeds grew up through the floorboards and there were bullet holes through some of the walls – the previous tenants had a run in with the police – Mom said it felt like the house welcomed them.

As Mom and Dad settled into the house, they started hearing voices from the hallway. Dad would be out back and hear mom holler, “Mike!” He’d run inside only to find that she hadn’t called him, or that she wasn’t even home. One night Dad woke up from a sound sleep to see a woman standing at the foot of the bed. When he got up, she was gone.

When I was three, my mom found me talking in someone in her closet. I told her how I met the nicest lady whose name was Mary and who had a daughter named, Mary Anne. By that time my mom knew the story of the previous owners and my invisible friend wasn't my imagination.

One day Robert went to work and died of a massive heart attack. His widow, Mary, was stricken with grief. The neighbors told my mom that she would scream his name in the middle of the night. One morning her son found her dead from an overdose in the master bedroom.

The only encounter I can clearly remember of my nice lady friend is when my mom had to help our neighbor. (I think she fell down.) Mom locked me and my then baby brother in the master bedroom with the TV. A lady opened the door and told me that she could no longer visit with me. But she would always watch over us and protect us.

When I was in high school, our ghost started acting up by slamming doors, turning lights on and off and even touching us. So I did some research and found out where she was buried. We took flowers and there was a photo of her and her husband on the gravestone. The woman who came to me in the bedroom when I was a little girl, was the same woman in the photo.

There are lots of other stories I could tell you about Mary, but it would take all day and I can hear my Little Dude waking up from a nap.

Oh wait, there's one quick story about my Great Grandma. She died 21 years ago this past Saturday. One night when the Little Dude was really little, he had a tough time going to sleep and I was beyond exhausted. I remember trying to rock him to sleep but he wouldn't stop crying. Crying myself, I said, "Grandma, please help me." The room got really warm and just like that, the Little Dude settled down into a deep sleep. I know she was there with me that night and every now and then I can feel her with me; especially when the Little Dude is pushing my buttons and I'm holding onto my patience with both hands!

Now I really have to run but I like the celebrate Day of the Dead by remembering my loved and remembering they're always with me.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween Honeymoon Memories


Six years ago Ryan and I honeymooned in Salem, MA. I dressed up as a scary doll and he was Freddy Kruger (sigh). You should've seen the look on the line of women in the ladies' room! I don't think any of my costumes have frightened more people than the scary doll. As soon as I can, I'll find and post a picture.

Anyway, my honeymoon was the most romantic week of my life. It confirmed that I'd found the one person who wouldn't think I was weird for wanting to take a moonlit walk through a cemetary, or go traipsing through a haunted house or watch a scary movie through the narrow spaces between my fingers. The night before Halloween we walked to The Lobster Shanty for dinner in the pattering rain. As we walked by the cemetary, I sighed and tucked my arm through his and said, "I'm so happy I found you."

Six year later, I feel the same way.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Why I was always It!?!

Turns out that I was tagged by Erica Orloff and didn't know it until now when Dana told me. I was always It because I'd space out on the playground and then get, well, tagged. You know, we really never change.

Okay, so the deal is to write five interesting or unique things about me. Here we go:

1. I grew up in a haunted house
2. I went to Salem, MA for my honeymoon
3. My little girl pug is named after Picasso's mistress and Paloma Picasso's mother, Francoise Gilot
4. When I was in the underground bath in Bath, England, I looked up and saw a Roman officer walk up a set of stone steps. My mom remembers me going on pause and then suddenly turning to her to ask, "did you just see that?" I've never been a heavy drinker or drug user in case you're wondering
5. Oh and while we're on the subject of ghosts, I was once in the Whaley House with my mom and we looked into the children's room to see a rocking chair start moving. The rooms are sealed off by glass partitions and the windows are bolted shut. (Cue in eerie music)

Whew. I now tag:

Alyson Noel
The Writer's Vibe
Jennifer Apodaca
Jenna Petersen
Sonia Singh

Thursday, October 26, 2006

What do you think about this?

I came across a story that Borders is allegedly refusing to stock a young adult novel with sexual content. The novel in question, Pop! by Aury Wallington is the story of a 17-year old girl who embarks on a quest lose her virginity. Admittedly I have not read the book, but as a strident defender of our First Amendment, I can't say that I agree with Borders' decision. If they're willing to deny themselves and the author potential sales, would they be willing to deny customers under the age of 18 the right to purchase a romance novel, for example, because it portrays consensual sex between a man and a woman?

By the time I was 15 never mind 17, I had already read novels by Jackie Collins, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Anne Rice, Stephen King, Danielle Steele, Isabel Allende, Raymond Chandler, etc. I had read stories with violence, murder and rape. I also read stories in which people fell in love or doggedly sought truth or stood up to right a wrongdoing. I think I turned out okay and when my Little Dude grows up to read adult literature, I won't mind it if he reads to satisfy his curiosity about life. Hell, I'd rather he read about it than go out and do it and then post pictures of his adventures on MySpace.

What do you think?

Oh and here's a link to the original story.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Pod Person


Much good news to share. First, my novel, Switchcraft has been formally accepted by my publisher. What this means is that I get paid and my publisher likes it enough not to ask for their money back. Remember when that happened to Joan Collins?

Second, my interview with Nancy Marmolejo, founder of the award winning Comadre Coaching, is now posted on her podcast. I listened to it yesterday and realized I need to do something about all the "ums" I use in interviews and presentations before my gig at the San Diego Head to Toe event on November 10th.

Sorry but that's all I've got for today. I finished the first draft of act I of my WIP and now I'm slowly torturing myself to death by drafting a synopsis.

Mary

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

¿Que what?

A few months ago when I was at the Catalina Magazine party in L.A., I met a really cool woman who is a marketing guru and pug mommy. Whenever I talk to someone whose first language is Spanish, I know that sooner or later they're going to hate me. Or, pity me. Frankly, I don't know which one is worse.

No matter what we're talking about - cuisine, travel, books, people we work with - the conversation always boils down to The Question: "¿Hablas español?" I try to draw out the moment before I answer. There is a friendship at stake. But then I must answer no and the light in their eyes switches off and the conversation, no matter how engaging it had been, is over.

But this woman threw me for a loop. Her reply was, "Oh. So anyway, do you want to see a picture of my baby?"

I was fully prepared with my apology and explanation my mom had been advised to stop speaking Spanish to me by my first grade teacher, etc. But she didn't care, didn't judge. It was a momentous moment!

And still, I've thought about it on and off ever since until today when I started this entry. Spanish whispers to me from my subconscious because I can pick up the gist of a conversation or a song. But it is rooted in my soul. When I hear the guitarron or the chorus of Volver Volver, my soul stirs even though I had to read the English translation to fully understand the words.

But do you want to know the craziest thing? My Little Dude loves mariachi! I played Guadalajara for him and he went nuts, bouncing up and down while clapping his hands and screaming. (He can't quite pull off a grito, but give him time.)

If Mariachi can excite a fourteen month-old who - if you want to get technical about it - is half Mexican, a quarter Irish and an eighth German and an eighth Hungarian; then perhaps the spirit of Spanish is stronger than actual words. It is the umbilical cord that connects us to the revolutionaries, the conquistadors, the Aztecs and the Mayans; it is rooted in and thrives from the soul.

Am I a broken link in that history just because I rely on my trusty, Making Friends in Mexico to understand Spanish? Are my stories, my son a discontinuation of these people?

Nope. Nada de eso.

(Translation: Not at all.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

My New Favorite Book


In a sincere, elegant voice, Author Gabrielle Zevin creates an extraordinary story about the life that continues after we die. I'm so excited having found this book that I can't describe it without gushing, so I stole this from the author's website:

Elsewhere is where fifteen-year-old Liz Hall ends up, after she has died. It is a place so like Earth, yet completely different. Here Liz will age backward from the day of her death until she becomes a baby again and returns to earth. But Liz wants to turn sixteen, get her driver's license, fall in love, go to college . . . How can she let go of the only life she has ever known and embrace a new one? Is it possible to grow up while getting younger?

Okay, I'm back and I just realized something. The last time I blogged about a book, it was Erica Orloff's Do They Wear High Heels in Heaven? I'm not obsessed with death. In fact these novels aren't really about death; they are about life and love.

Anyway, I do read and enjoy other books. But these stories lit the fire in me; they made me forget all the things I know about writing (not that I'm a Shaolin master of writing or anything, but you know what I mean) and just fall into the story. I even teared up at the end and gave the Little Dude a kiss.

I'm tellin' ya man, some of the best writing is happening in young adult. If you're looking for something fresh and thought provoking, get this book.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Practical Magic


If it wasn't for this six-sided Ms. Manicure nail file and buffer, I would never keep my ass down at my desk. When I hit a wall in the writing, or my characters chicken out and won't go down those dark places where the emotions are raw and dripping, I reach for my nail file rather than leave my computer. Not only do I work my way around the wall, or work up the courage to venture into the dark places, my nails look fabulous!

Oh and then I discovered Ulta Spa Renewal Hand Rescue Cream. If you want to treat yourself, Ulta is having a sale!

So what practical magic do you use to stay in your seat?

Mary

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Nov. 10th Is Play Hookey Day


Yes, you read it correctly. I am declaring Friday, Nov. 10th as Play Hookey Day! You know you've earned it so if you're in San Diego, make it count by playing at the San Diego Head to Toe Women's Expo. Think great shopping, prizes and oh yes, my books!

I'll be there to talk about the gifts of failure (if you want to find out what they are, you have to show up!) and finally meet some of you guys! My presentation starts at 1:30 p.m. and I'll sign copies of In Between Men and Hot Tamara. (They'll make great stocking stuffers, hint hint!)

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Shadow Selves


Tell me if this is how it works for you, too...

A story doesn't come together for me until I know and love my villian, or as I like to call him or her, the antagonist.

I'm in the character bio stage of a new story. After one rather spectacular stumble last year, I leared not to start writing a story until I know my characters inside and out. I have a three-page questionnaire that I complete on all of the major players, but the one that brings it all together is the antagonist. If I don't love him or her, and I mean in a "love thy enemy" sort of way, then the story almost always falls apart on me.

In my mind the antagonist is not only the heroine's shadow self; she is also my shadow self. You've probably also read that the antagonist is really the heroine of his or her own story. But I have to feel true kinship with my bad girl, just as I do with my heroine to get them to talk to me.
For example in In Between Men, one of Isa's defining qualities is her kindness. Even though she hates her ex-husband, even though the very thought of him arouses murderous impulses, she would never bad mouth him in front of her son. And trust me in that book, Carlos (her ex) gives her many reasons to. But where Isa is kind, he is cruel. Where she puts others first; he is selfish.

You get the idea. And while Carlos is one bad hombre, I not only understood him; I've been in his shoes. I've acted out on my anger. I've said things I shouldn't have said. The same goes with my new antagonist. But she's even closer to me; she's the darker side of my teenaged self. In some ways, she will help me forgive myself for some of the things I said and did. In other ways, she'll fulfill the fantasies I had against some of the not-so-nice girls I went to high school with.

Either way, I can't wait to see what will happen once I get to the actual writing.

Heh heh heh.

Mary

P.S. This was inspired by Pema Chodron's book, Start Where You Are.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

My new publicity plan


...is to slap Paris Hilton.

In the silence of having finished Switchcraft, I'm now preparing content for my website and planning to promote Names I Call My Sister; e.g. I'm torturing myself as to how can I get lots and lots of buzz about my new books. But then I saw an article on the AP that some chick slapped Paris Hilton and voila! I have the perfect plan. (insert wicked laughter)

I'll have a t-shirt made with the cover of my book and then wait outside a club where Paris is hanging. Even better, I should lay in wait for Lindsay ... oh no wait, Eva Longoria because she allegedly dumped what's-his-name and everyone's talking about her and we can work in that whole Latina angle. Anyway, just as the papparazzi spring into action, I'll do one of those Nacho Libre flying leaps and then me and my book cover will be all over the place: PerezHilton.com, Access Hollywood, CNN ... you name it.

Yeah, I'll probably end up in jail on an assault and battery rap but then I'll have added mileage when Gloria Alred escorts me to court.

In case you think I'm serious, I'm not.

Mary

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Postcards from New York

Here is a not-so-great photo of HarperCollins Publishers.

This is Times Square. I liked the clouds over the buildings.

Behind those trees, across the street from the World Trade Center, is the church where George Wasington was inaugurated. Mom commented that this is where our country was born, but then just five years ago, reborn. There is a palpable silence, a respect that doesn't exist anywhere else in the city but here.

Back from New York!


A new moon was breaking when I arrived in New York last Monday.

The only time I sat down this past week in New York was in a cab, watching The Color Purple and riding the Grey Line tour through Manhattan. The first day I dropped mom and our friend, Georgia off at Martha Stewart Omnimedia. They didn't get to meet Martha herself, but they did see her office and cooked in the Everyday Food kitchen.

I walked uptown to meet my editors, Carrie Feron and Tessa Woodward for lunch and stopped to change to my shoes at the Hilton New York. As I walked through the doors and then sat in the lobby, I remembered how I had pitched Hot Tamara to Avon's editorial staff three years ago. I never felt fear like I had that day. But I was determined because I was starting to doubt that Hot Tamara would be published, never daring to imagine that I would arrive at a place where I'd be planning my fourth release! It was a moment when I stopped fretting about goals I hadn't yet achieved and realized how far I've come from being a shy little girl from National City, to a published author on her way to have lunch with her New York editors.

I still get chills.

When I arrived at Harper Collins, I was warmly greeted by Tessa and Carrie. I also met Publisher Liate Stehlik, Pam and Sherry from Publicity and Adrienne from Marketing, all who made me feel very welcome. When I send off Switchcraft, I know it is going to a place where it will be loved and nurtured.

The next day, I did my first ever New York booksigning in the original Barnes & Noble store. When I walked up to the front counter with the two copies of Hot Tamara they had in stock, they seemed perplexed when I asked if I could sign them. The manager told me that authors usually come in through the backdoor with their "people." I told him that my people were on the boat to the Statue of Liberty.

For lunch I met up with my agent, Jenny Bent. She put a little seed in my head about possibly dipping into my old projects file and dusting off a historical I had written nine years ago. But first I have to write my mariachi story, then a sequel to Friday Night Chicas and then a ghost story ... in short, I need to hire a nanny and a housekeeper. But damn, I have a great agent!

After lunch, I sped back to Times Square to see The Color Purple. If you ever have a chance to see this play, SEE IT!!! Oh my God. I laughed, cried, got angry ... you name it. Plays usually put me to sleep but when intermission arrived, I wanted to hurry it up to see the second act.

So now I'm back and have tons of stuff to take care of ... like finish my book!

Cheers,
Mary

Friday, September 22, 2006

Special News Bulletin


Monday I'm leaving on a jet plane to New York! Mom and her friend are meeting La Martha, yes that Martha as in Ms. Martha Stewart. I'm tagging along to meet with my editor and agent.

On Thursday the 28th, an essay of mine will be posted on the Daily Blog at Avon Fan Lit. Check it out and if you have questions or comments, I'll answer them the next day.

Besitos,
Mary

P.S. For those of you who watch The Office, do you think Jim will move back to Scranton and try one more time to win Pam's heart? Will Pam's former fiancee win her back? Or, will Pam make the first move? I'm dying to find out!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

If you ever wondered...

what the life of an editor is really like, check out this three-part blog by Lucia Macro, executive editor at Morrow/Avon.

Day in the Life Part 1
Day in the Life Part 2
Day in the Life Part 3

After reading it, you may not be so bitter that it takes forever for them to get back you on your submission! Well, you can only hope.

Mary

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Chica Lit Book Club

We're an all-inclusive group of writers and readers. We don't bite, unless you're a meanie. Since none of you who read this blog are mean, you should be fine!

Check it out at http://groups.myspace.com/chicalit

And if you want a great read, check out my fellow Friday Night Chica, Caridad Piniero's new release, Sex and the South Beach Chicas!

Best,
Mary

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Girls Who Wear Make-Up

It wasn't until I turned 30 that I began wearing make-up. Only on the rare occasion during my 20th decade would I smack on full war-paint. I hated shopping, always bought shoes in black or brown, wore the same accessories with every outfit and rarely did my hair. I was a shiny-faced, frizzy haired, blah-dressed mess who - swaer to God - didn't know what a Manolo Blahnik was.

I reasoned that I was too busy with studying, working and writing to waste time on such feminine foolishness. I wanted to cultivate my brain not my look. But when I showed up to work in my boring shoes, black pants and button-down shirt that didn't quite fit, I felt ungainly and awkward around girls who wore make-up.

But then I turned 30 and became one of those girls. I bought red high heels to wear with my white and red cherry dress that became the dress Will admires in the second chapter of Hot Tamara. I went to a hair stylist on a regular basis, rather than pop into a Fantastic Sams when I was bored on a Sunday afternoon. I truly crossed the the threshold when I bought make-up, Bare Escentuals to be exact, and actually wore it on a fairly regular basis. (I have really oily skin and this is the only foundation that doesn't wreak havoc on my skin!) Suddenly I no longer felt imtimidated by women who wore scarves and used handbags that coordinated with their ensemble. I felt like my outside reflected my inside.

When I wrote about this transition through Isa Avellan, my heroine of In Between Men, I wondered if I was breaking the rules of chick lit. But then on second thought, I realized I didn't care and wrote it anyway. So it was really cool to find Amanda Maria Morrison's keen and flattering review of IBM in The American-Statesmen. She said, "It's easy to root for Isa, a devoted mother and champion of immigrant rights who nevertheless has 'always been the girl with the books pressed to her chest, eyes on the ground.'"

Hurray!!!

And then she added: "In order find her inner vamp — who appears in ghostly visitations as Joan Collins — Isa pays a visit to La Diosa Salon, where her comadres perform an emergency hair-and-makeup procedure. With a wink toward magical-realist fiction and telenovela drama, Castillo describes the post-op moment in which 'every eye in the salon was wide with astonishment and chests rose and fell with excitement upon seeing a miracle' — Isa in eyeshadow."

God, I'm shameless in that I love a great review.

Thanks, Amanda!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Chick Lit and 9/11

This morning Google Alert dropped this column off in my in box: Is the Chick-Lit World Ready for 9/11 Plot?

Reading it set off a flurry of thoughts about my own work and the brouhaha over the question if chick lit was dead.

When I look back at In Between Men, I sometimes wonder if I missed an opportunity with the storyline about Alex's brother. I hinted that he was serving in Iraq and at the lowest point in the story, they receive news that he might be dead. Should I have gone into darker waters with the brother and his wife, June? Would my readers have put the story down because they didn't want the stuff they see on the evening news? Or, would the brother and June upstage Isa and Alex?

But then I thought about the interview my agent, Jenny Bent gave two months ago that set off a firestorm among chick lit authors. In the article, Jenny quoted a book buyer who told her that chick lit sales were down and it was officially dead. Well, are sales down because it is no longer relevant? Do we need to shake things up and tackle, for example, a 9/11 plot? Five years later, are we ready as readers and authors?

I'm now thinking that there will be a sequel to In Between Men, but with June and Alex's brother. Could there be a happily-ever-after between a man who almost died in Iraq, and his wife? In my fictional world, the answer is an emphatic yes. I deal with the stuff on the evening news by writing stories that end happily ever after. Otherwise, the sheer overwhelming number of problems and heartbreak would cripple me. Perhaps that makes me a sell-out or an annoying optimist. But when millions of readers pick up books like mine, I must not be the only one.

Still, I'd like to know what you think.

Best,
Mary

Monday, September 04, 2006

A Business Plan For Writers

Marcela Landres interviewed me about my business plan in her September newsletter. If you think it’s not for you, think again if you want to be a successful novelist (e.g published more than once).

Here are the parts of my business plan model that I discussed in Marcela's interview:

Mission Statement: think of this as your calling to writing as opposed to, "I want to be a NYT bestselling author and makes tons of cash." Are you writing to entertain women, to inspire African American teens, to bring justice to the bad guys? Your mission is what inspires your work.

Reader profile: My first draft of this section was inspired by one of my more memorable rejection letters. The agent wrote that she did not imagine Hot Tamara finding a place in the competitive marketplace. But I did. I imagined a young women; she could be Latina, white, Asain ... didn't matter. Anyway, this young woman had a job, a car, maybe she shared an apartment with friends or a boyfriend or she was married. My link to her was that she loved books and she wanted a story and a heroine who had similar issues like her. I pictured her on her lunch break, sitting at a table under a tree reading my book and wishing she didn't have to go back to her desk because she was dying to know what happened next.

Once I sold Hot Tamara into the competitive marketplace (sorry, couldn't stop myself), I did my homework. I stopped women in bookstores, read articles about book sales, hunted down Latina sororities and networking organizations ... you name it. And I still update this profile because I want each new book to find more of these readers.

Goals/Strategy: Before I sold my first book, this section had my top ten list of agents, my B-list, etc. I had their names, their recent sales (culled from PublishersMarketplace.com and acknowledgements from books I thought were similar to mine) as well as the dates when I had sent my query and its status. Like I said I'm not a Virgo, just a hard-working Capricorn with a one-track mind.

When I sold and then continued to sell books, this is where I keep track of my proposals and projects. Also, when I'm slugging it out with one project and get a new idea, this is where I'll put that idea so it stays out of my head. But strategy has become the most important piece of this section. This is how I keep track of my communication with my agent; how I plan to promote my next book; and how I plan updates to my website.

Otherwise, I'd forget and drift aimlessly and not be able to write and you would never discover if Tamara and Will have children. Opps, did I let that one slip? So sorry.

heh heh heh

Oh come on, you know I love you!

Going back to the topic at hand, even if you're not yet published, consider creating your plan now. It will only make your queries and proposals stronger. But even more important, it can be a souce for inspiration when that rejection letter appears in your mail box, or when you can't write another word of your work-in-progress.

Best,

Mary

Monday, August 28, 2006

A mess of ickiness

I know I had no business going there but I was poking around the reviews of my books and found the nastiest, mean-spirited review I’ve had so far. The reviewer seemed so angry at having read my book, it was as if I’d gone to her house and pooped on her lawn. I’ve read some really awful books in my day but I never took them personally. I just figured they weren’t my cup of tea and moved on.

And then I found a blog dedicated to hating Rachael Ray. Apparently if you hate her, you can join and talk crap about her all the live long day. Why would anyone want to spend time and energy being mean?

I could pretend not to understand where they’re coming from, but sadly I do. I’ve been jealous of writers who have had more success than I have. I’ve had that, “why-not-me?” feeling when I read about someone’s six-figure deal in Publisher’s Weekly. And yes, I’ve read books by people I know and thought, wow, that wasn’t so great! But I would never, ever talk crap about them, or go on Amazon and tell potential readers that someone’s work was a piece of trash. Perhaps the difference between me and mean people is that I know how much of a writer’s soul goes into her work. I know what it takes to become someone like Rachael Ray and I don’t begrudge her for all of her hard work.

Well, I feel much better having gotten that off my back. By the way, if you hate my books, it's cool. I probably wouldn't like yours if you had actually written one. (evil laughter)

By the way, as soon as my editor approves my new novella, "Till Death Do Us Part," I'm going to record a mini reading on this blog.

And if you haven't yet, check out Avon Fan Lit!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

I couldn't have said it better...

than Dana Diamond did on her blog, A Writer's Best Friend.

She talks about fear and putting it perspective. It's a must-read!

Mary

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Avon Fan Lit Is Here


Look! They used Isa to be their spokesmodel!

It's finally here! Today is the launch of the Avon FanLit event from HarperCollins Publishers. Visit this link to join bestselling authors and thousands of fans in the creation of an original romance e-book.

Early Birds can win shopping sprees from Saks!

Sign Up Now for a chance to win one of many shopping sprees from Saks worth up to $1,000! And be sure to check out the other amazing prizes, including:

  • An in-person meeting with an Avon editor;
  • A $5,000 Fox TV development deal;
  • Plus Borders Gift Cards, signed copies of Avon books, and galley copies for upcoming books months in advance of release dates

If you sign up today, you can vote on your favorite Story Premise which will decide the overall direction of our novella.

Starting September 7th, each week you will be able to write and submit chapters, vote on player submissions, and discuss everything that's happening in the forums. Plus, chapters from the weekly winners will be included in an Avon FanLit e-book.

Join Avon authors and editors for this one-of-a-kind event!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Make 'Em Cry!

For you writers out there: have you ever written a scene that made you cry? I have, but this time it was worse than ever. I couldn’t stop. Hell, I couldn’t see the damn screen! But I had to keep going because the sociopath/writer in me hissed, "this is good … this will make it better!"

You see, this scene involved a mother having to leave her child. Now that I have my Little Dude – who is a year old! – books, movies, TV shows and even commercials that portray children are now filled with emotional landmines. My husband is just as bad. There’s a Duracell commercial about a battery small enough for deaf child’s hearing aid. And then they show his face light up when he hears rain for the first time. (See? I’m already choking up just thinking about it.) Last night when that commercial came on, my husband was choking back his tears.

However, when my editor told me she teared up while reading one of my scenes, I puffed with pride. Making a reader cry - especially an editor who's probably read it all - is even better than making her laugh.

Sick! And yet, satisfying to my ego.

So I have to ask, what scenes in books and/or movies have made you cry?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I thought chapter 12 was hard...

Revisions to Switchcraft (working title, TBR July 2007) were humming along nicely until I hit some detours in chapter 12. Chapter 13 had a few bumps but nothing major. Chapter 14 was a smooth, empty highway and then I spun out on black ice at chapter 15. Pieces flew everywhere – some dialogue here, some action over there and a storyline that's now DOA. The real stuff is somewhere in the mess. If I look close enough I can see where the pieces fit together.

Sigh. You’d think after six books (three of which will never see the light of the day...they were "learning experiences"), I’d have this book-writin' thing figured out. But Switchcraft is my greatest challenge because it is my most emotionally true story. There is so much of my real feelings in these characters that it’s scary to think that you’ll be reading it! With each book, I’ve had to stretch and push and fight to pull the story out of my head and onto paper. But this one keeps asking for more each time I sit at my desk.

I’m probably making a bigger deal than it really is ... I’m not complaining! To quote That’s Queen Bitch To You: “I don’t suffer from insanity. I enjoy every minute of it.”

P.S. If you're curious as to what the hell I'm talking about, follow this link to my Let's Talk letter.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

One more photo!


Okay, back to work.

Mary

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Essence of Latinas (more photos!)

One of my early inspirations is Sylvia Mendoza (far right), author of The Book of Latina Women. Between us is Reyna Grande, author of Across a Hundred Mountains. I should be jealous of her - actually all of these talented women - but they are all so humble and unassuming person that I can't be that low.


And this is Yvonne Delarosa, who will be co-starring in Shark with James Woods. Isn't she gorgeous?

By the way, I read in In Style Makeover that your arms will look slimmer in photos if you pose with your hand on your hip. Now that I look at these photos, I shouldn't give up the gym any time soon

Essence of Latinas LA

Last night I partied at Catalina Magazine's Essence of Latina mixer at La Vie L'Orange in West Hollywood. (Thank you to Volvo, Deloitte, Southwest Airlines and Eden Natural Foods for sponsoring the event!)

You know what I love about mixers with Latinas? There's none of that stand-offishness you encounter at most networking mixers. Latinas seem to greet each other like we're all related!

So here I am, looking sass-eh with Cathy Areu, founder of Catalina Magazine and author of Latino Wisdom.


The fabulous La Vie manicured and massaged everyone to the sounds of Karina Nuvo (right). Standing between us is Lara Rios, author of Becoming Latina in 10 Easy Steps.

For some reason, Blogger would only allow me to upload these two photos, so I'll be back with more!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Carmel

I'm back from spending a week in the charming, fairy-tale cottage in Carmel that I'm fairly sure was haunted. We had two sunny days and in Carmel, a sunny day is a gift from God. Gold drips down from the pines and the ocean is transformed from slate gray to a searing blue. Even though the fog drifts through the trees like ghosts and gangs of racoons are likely to accost you on the street, we try to visit every other year because it is our spiritual home.

We spent a lot of time at the Secret Garden and Pilgrim's Way bookshop on San Carlos across from the Carmel Art Association. Together with my mother-in-law, I cleared the Buddhist section of all their books.

From all the exertion of walking up and down Carmel's hilly terrain, we rewarded ourselves with a lot of food. But the best was dinner at Piatti Locali on Sixth and Junipero. We loved the food and our server, Jesse so much that we went twice. The first night, I had chicken risotto which was like comfort food on a gray, chilly night. Ryan had a rich, meaty rigatoni bolognese topped with fresh ricotta cheese. The Little Dude dined on sweet peas and bananas ala Gerber. Grandma insisted that he have a taste of whipped cream from daddy's chocolate mousse. Eventually we had to restrain her or else we'd never sleep that night.

But what brought Ryan and me back to Piatti's the second night - grandma went on a date with the Little Dude - was Jesse. He reminded me a lot of my brother in looks and he was so unpretenious and friendly ... the kind of person you could invite over for a barbeque with all the kids. When I ordered the veal scallopini, Jesse steered me away from the grilled polenta and towards the garlic mashed potatoes. The light lemon and caper sauce melted on my tongue and the veal was deliciously tender.

Ryan devoured his cannelloni stuffed with ricotta, veal and mushrooms. Conversation pretty much died when the food arrived. Even though we were physically incapable of more food, we enjoyed a creme brullee that had a touch of lemon to lighten the flavor. I'll be wearing the potatoes, the bread and calamari fritti on my hips for awhile, but if I close my eyes and breathe deeply, I can still taste that meal.

But you wonder, did I get any writing done? Yes, I did. I fought a war with Chapter 12 through five drafts in a space of three days. Many lattes and cinnamon twists were consumed in the process but damn it, chapter 12 bowed to my will. Sigh. Now I have chapter 13 to face. I swear this book will undo all of the hard work I've undertaken to get into my size 8 jeans.

Mary

Thursday, July 20, 2006

DUDE!!!


Forget if chick lit is dead or cyclical or whatever ... Wonder Woman has a stamp! Wonder Woman has a stamp!

Actually she has two.

We can buy them on Friday and in order to obtain the sacred relics, we have to get a sheet with those other dillweeds like Superman and Plasticman. But I don't care because Wonder Woman is here fightin' for our rights in her satin tights!

Best,

Mary C. who wins hands down as the biggest nerd of all time

Monday, July 17, 2006

Selling Lemonade in a Business Suit

Did you see the Good Morning America story about the 11-year old kid who runs his lemonade stand while wearing a business suit? Ethan Esparza of Minneapolis, MN was making $5 a day selling lemonade in a t-shirt and shorts. But when his mama told him to switch up to a suit, he started making $30-40 a day.

Well, it got me thinking about the upcoming RWA National Conference in Atlanta and how there are always those poor souls who show up to their pitch appointments in either (a) the historical/western costume, (b) the dress their chick lit character would wear to Pure in Vegas, or (C) the velvet hooded cloak over black jeans and an "I believe in magick" t-shirt. I'm really sorry if this is offensive, but I'm saying this with the hope that you will not be uh, hindered by your fashion choices.

So here it goes. Ahem. Me me me.

When you walk up to the table where your first-choice agent or editor is waiting, do so in an outfit that makes you feel confident, strong and professional. If a business suit does the trick, go for it. But a healthy compromise are jeans, a dressy top and light sweater (hotels are always freezing). As an author, you're a professional artist/writer/whatever. But you're not a celebrity or a character. If you don't believe me, I am promising you that I once talked to an editor about this same phenomena. She said that when someone pitches to her while dressed in pajama bottoms, bunny slippers and her headlights on high beam, it's very difficult to take that writer seriously.

Bottomline: if you mean business, look the part.

For those of you who are not attending RWA Atlanta, I wrote "The Anti-Conference" for OCC RWA's Slice of Orange. By the way, I won't be in Atlanta this year. I'm revising Switchcraft (working title of my July 2007 release) and vacationing with the hub and the Little Dude.

Vaya con Dios,
Mary

Monday, July 03, 2006

When Does Wonder Woman Show Up?


I saw Superman this afternoon and it was cool. For once Lois Lane actually saves Superman and there's a Really Big Secret that I won't even hint at. But throughout the movie, even during the most tense moments, I kept thinking: so does Wonder Woman show up?

I'll give you an example ... or three. When the plane carrying the space shuttle plummets to earth, Superman tries to steer the plane by holding a wing. Wonder Woman would've figured out that the uneven distribution of weight would've ripped it off and lost precious time. When Kitty - Lex Luther's sidekick - acts as a diversion to Superman, Wonder Woman would've seen through the cheap feminine wiles and used the lasso of truth on her.

But what really felt like a missed opportunity for me was the ending when Superman passes out and lands in Central Park. That would've been awesome if Wonder Woman swooped down and caught him.

Okay, are you shaking your head at me? Now come on, all the boy superheroes have gotten their movies. Spiderman has a trilogy. Batman has had his movies. (What was the last one ... the fourth in the last ten years?) X-Men, Ghost Rider and- No, Catwoman doesn't count because it was unwatchable.

When do us women get a superhero we can cheer for? When does the female protagonist of a superhero movie get to be the one who saves instead of being saved? I really want to see how Princess Diana defies her mother to become the Wonder Woman of the Amazons.

If this post ever finds its way to Joss Whedon, please Mr. Whedon, please give us the Wonder Woman we deserve.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Taking the Long Way Around


This week I went back to my mariachi story with the critiques from my agent. I had been avoiding it to be honest with you. Reading my work gives me the willies but I force myself to do it and eventually I'm pulled back into the story. But it's worse when you have someone's constructive, albiet critical opinion replaying in your head. (I wonder if that's what it is like if you're a porn star and have to watch your work?)

Anyway, my writing process is not the most efficient. No matter how much character work I do or outlining, it takes a draft or three to figure out what is holding me back from the core of the story. In the case of the mariachi story, I had this boyfriend character who appeared in the first three chapters and was then never heard from again. I should've known because he always bugged me. Was he too much like Ruben Lopez from Hot Tamara? If he was going to work, I had to figure out a way to bring him back into later chapters but then that would slow the story down and-

Finally, I did away with him. And that one simple act led me down the secret staircase into the marrow of my characters. I love and hate it when this happens. I love it because it makes my job easier; hate it because I have a tendency to walk around the house like a ghost not hearing my husband ask me what I want for dinner.

I'm beginning to think that I take the long way around into my stories because I fear losing myself to the characters and the story. I know that sounds very arty-farty. But with every single project I always start one way - for example with In Between Men, I had Isa's ex suing her for custody and that draft was a real downer! But somewhere in the journey, I find the secret door in the floor that takes me somewhere entirely different.

So I'm about to go back in and see where I end up. This blog is my of delaying the inevitable. Sigh. Don't you hate being honest with yourself? Well, I'll try my best not to post this and then go to the Food Network to look up recipes.

Mary

Friday, June 23, 2006

Nurturing My Inner Bitch

So the other day a friend of mine emailed me, stricken with worry that she was becoming a bitch. I thought about that old nursery rhyme, "Sugar and spice and everything nice, that's what little girls are made of!"

When I was in the fourth grade, there was a sixth grader named Angela who was bold, brassy and mean. On a Wednesday lunch period, she called me out for calling her a bitch. (Amy Cole sold me out to her cousin who was a minion of Angela ... bitch!) Anyway, even as Angela threatened to kick my ass after school, I secretly envied her for all of her bitchy glory. I wondered what was in her that I lacked. What gave her the balls to just ask for what she wanted and then expect to receive it? (She once ripped off my friend's black lace glove - it was Madonna's Lucky Star period - in the middle of recess and never gave it back.)

Well, it took me 30 years to stop trying to be full of sugar and everything nice. I learned to let my spice - the inner bitch - speak up when my nice-girl self wanted to make everything, well, nice.

I didn't go completely to the dark side. But I went just far enough to - wait for it! - stand up for myself. If I don't want to talk to a "friend" who only calls when she wants something, I don't call her back, much less do her another favor. If someone makes me wait an hour for her to show up for an appointment (without a reaonable excuse), I go home. And when some unfortunate soul calls me out, I walk out and let him or her 'splain themselves.

Would I have done any of those things when I was in my 20's? Hell, no. However, the phone doesn't ring as much anymore. My email isn't as robust as it used to be. If I were going to throw a Fourth of July party, I wouldn't have as long a list as I might have just a few years ago. And that's fine with me. When my phone rings, it's almost always someone I love chatting with, or when I have email messages, I smile as I read them rather than wonder how I can tactfully get out of having to (a) reply or (b) do the favor they want. Last night when I got together with some girlfriends, I kept thinking that I was the luckiest bitch in the world to have friends like them.

But don't worry. I'm still polite as my mama taught me to be and I'm considerate to the elderly, children and animals. But poop on me or my family and my inner bitch will come roaring out of the bottle to shove it down your throat.

I hope you get better acquainted with your inner bitch. The required reading is That's Queen Bitch to You, followed by You Say I'm a Bitch Like It's a Bad Thing!

Cheers,
Mary

P.S. Angela never did make good on her ass-kicking threat. But the last time I saw her, she was five times her size pushing a baby stroller ... bitch!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Built Castillo Tough

When I was in the seventh grade I entered National City's annual fourth of July talent contest. Tap dancing to "Swing Swing Swing", I made it through the first round but then lost out to some guy who somersaulted around the stage in a full body, red sequined unitard to Prince's "I Would Die 4 U." The shame melted my guts. I was embarassed in front of my friends, my entire family ... hell, the whole damn city!

But my dad made me sit down in the bleachers to watch the fireworks show when I really wanted to go home and cry. He knew that I prided myself on never letting anyone see me cry. I cried in school only once when a kid named Jesus ran over my fingers in kindergarten.

My dad and I had that kind of dynamic from the very start. When I was six months old and refused to sit up, he spent an entire morning propping me up again and again while I screamed at him. Mom said it was the clash of the titans in her kitchen. Whenever I veered down the path of least resistance, Dad was there to turn me in the other direction.

But when I look back on that night, I also remember thinking that there was no better refuge than my dad's arms. And with the eyes of a 32-year old woman who has had her share of failures on the road of life, I now see what dad had been trying to teach me and this quote from Million Dollar Baby (courtesy of the International Movie Database), sums it better than I could:

"If there's magic in boxing, it's the magic of fighting battles beyond endurance, beyond cracked ribs, ruptured kidneys and detached retinas. It's the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you."

Thanks dad.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

What happens after Hot Tamara

Hey everyone I wanted to let you know that I wrote a short short story, Mother of the Bride for OCC RWA's Going to the Chapel blog series. This is about Tamara's wedding but don't think this will be the last you'll hear from the Contreras family. Stay tuned!

Enjoy,
Mary

Monday, June 12, 2006

When in Old Town San Diego

Spent the weekend with the fam down at the old homestead. As usual, when mom and I get together, much eating and shopping is done. But this time we went to an awesome, AWESUMMMM cafe called the New Orleans Creole Cafe. It is across the green from the haunted Whaley House. (Believe me, it's really haunted, or enchanted as I was old.)

After lunch, the Little Dude conked out in the stroller and we stopped at the New Orleans Creole Cafe for breadpudding and coffee. I had a latte and mom had a mocha. Magnifique! But no ghost sighting. Bummer.

Saturday afternoon we dragged my dad and the pugs to the patio and feasted on red beans and rice (me), roast beef po' boy (mom) and chicken jambalaya (dad), all washed down with sweet tea. The sun burned off the murky clouds and the wind was cool with the scent of lavender, bee balm and the pepper trees. But we didn't stop at lunch. We savored rich, moist red velvet cake with whipped cream cheese frosting that melted on the tongue. Mom had the pecan pie that was sweet and buttery in a crisp crust. There are no words.

New Orleans native and co-owner, Mark Bihm told me, "We look real pretty when we're young but we love to eat and get real big when we're old." Friends, that meal and future meals will be worth the price of the liposuction I'll need after my second baby.

But back to what I said about the Whaley House ... yes, it is haunted. Why do I know this? One rainy June day, many years ago, Mom and I were upstairs looking into the childrens' bedroom. The rooms are sealed off by plexiglass and the windows are shut. But I happened to notice that a miniature rocking chair with a blue-eyed doll sitting on it began rocking (swear to God!). I tapped mom's shoulder and pointed. Her mouth formed a perfect "o." We never felt threatened. We felt as if we happened to look over our shoulders, we'd see a woman in Victorian dress standing behind us. So without a word, we went downstairs and I don't think mom has been back since then. If the Little Dude hadn't fallen asleep, we might have ventured back upstairs. But breadpudding in whiskey sauce suited us just fine.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

She Walks the Walk


I'm supporting fellow author, Jenna Peterson as she walks 60 miles in the Breast Cancer 3-Day walk. She is also raising $3500 for breast cancer research through an online auction of critiques, advance release copies and signed books starting Monday, June 5 and ending June 12. Every penny will go to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and the National Philanthropic Trust to fund breast cancer research, education, screening, and treatment.

If you're an aspiring author, consider bidding for a critique of the first 50 pages of your manuscript by me. (I promise to be gentle.)

If you're a reader, bid for a signed copy of In Between Men. (If you've already read it, think about bidding on it as a gift to someone you know and love.)

Check out all of the auction items at http://www.passionatepen.com/auction.htm

Go Jenna!

Torn Up About "The Break Up"

I saw "The Break Up" with my husband and our couple pals last night. Mixed feelings. On one hand it was a very good movie; Vince and Jen played successfully with the dark side of their personas. And yet, we left disturbed. My husband and I talked about the issues that push male and female buttons. This movie pushed all of them: how women play games rather than just say what they really want; how men get aggressive in a fight and fight to win even when they're wrong.

Like us, a lot of couples probably left that movie talking about people they know who are just like those characters. Fewer saw those characters in themselves.

However, I digress. This movie won't do well at the box office next week because the previews promised one thing, but the movie delivered a completely different experience. I think that's the biggest problem with movies today. First, there are way too many writers in the writing room and what was once a strong screenplay, got diluted. Second, some movies try to be everything and then forget what they were needed to be. In this case, there were moments of ridiculous comedy (ala Wedding Crashers) and then it took a screeching turn into searing drama.

From one writer to another, I recommend you watch it and take those lessons back to your desk. As a movie viewer, wait for the DVD.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Where the hell have I been?

Dude, if I could tell you, I would. Okay, I'll try.

Have you ever had a period in your life when there's just too much happiness? It's a three-hundred foot wave off the coast of Hawaii that sweeps you into a tumbling reel and then dumps you on the sand when it swoshes out to sea kind of happiness. I'm not complaining, nor trying to figure out why or how. I'm just in awe.

Two weeks ago I flew to Miami and kept flying on the energy of 70-plus writers, filmakers and readers. After writing two anthologies with them, I finally met the Friday Night Chicas: Berta Platas, Sofia Quintero and Caridad Pineiro. While we chatted or I heard them read their work, I couldn't believe I was hearing their voices or looking into their eyes after so many email conversations.

And don't get me started about Alisa Valdes Rodriguez. I confess that I was a little frightened at the prospect of meeting her. Not that she's scary in a bad way; she's scary smart and I thought that I'd have to say all kinds of smart things for fear that she'd think I was a nimrod. But then there was a moment at the last dinner when some very brave authors took to the mic and performed or read their works in progress. There was one who was so vibrant, hilarious and heartbreakingly obscene (dude, her stuff was on!), that I happened to look across the room and meet Alisa's disbelieving and delighted eyes. And then I figured it out. Alisa, in spite of her success, taking on a-holes on CNN, etc. is just another girl. An amazingly generous and loving one; one that I'm so priveleged to call a colleague and friend.

I could go on but I won't. Well, just a little bit more. There are two new stars on the horizon and their names are Caridad Ferrer and Reyna Grande. Reyna is in touch with the universe with her novel, Across a Hundred Mountains. Listening to Cari read from her upcoming release, Adios to My Old Life felt like she'd read my diary when I was seventeen and full of impossible dreams.

And then after returning from Miami, I prepared for my bestest friend's wedding. There's something so special about seeing someone you love walk down the aisle on the arm of the man she loves. Her uncle spoke during the ceremony and his words have stuck with me ever since, "Don't grant judgement; grant safety."

By the way, I'm loving the new CD by the Dixie Chicks. When they were Bush-whacked for (gasp!) speaking out against the war, I went out and bought all of their CDs in support. Now they're back and this CD has weight. It amazes me that some Americans forget we have a First Amendment right to criticize our elected officials. (But they sure got off on fighting for "democracy" in Iraq, didn't they?)

Okay, I concede that everyone is entitled to an opinion. (I'm granting safety!) Some are just not as informed as others.

But wait there's more! Yesterday, my husband found out that his screenplay won the UCLA Professional Screenwriting Program Contest. This is the second screenplay he has ever written and I am so very proud of him.

While I was reeling and reveling in all this happiness, I finished my proposal! After another spit and polish, I'll send it off on Tuesday with the hope that it will get picked up (gotta feed the Little Dude, you know) and then in a year or two, find its way into your hands as a complete novel.

Off to work...

Cheers,
Mary

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