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.


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!


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!


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

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...