Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tu Ciudad's Book Blog & Why I'm a Big Idiot

Check out how Tu Ciudad's new book blog treated my girl, Margo Candela and her new book, Life Over Easy.

To read the blog click here.

And in other news, I am officially a big idiot. Yesterday at the Gypsy Den, I wrote 15 pages on my AlphaSmart. But when I went to transfer the file onto my PC, I deleted the file. Fifteen pages, people. FIFTEEN! Gone. Forever.

So I had to rewrite them. I have to say, they're better. But I'm still pissed.

Okay, not really. I have no hope of meeting the NaNoMo goal of 50K words unless I write 150 pages by midnight on Friday. Not gonna happen because I'm reading The Right Side of the Wrong Bed by Frederick Smith and nothing is tearing me away from that book! (Darn you Fred for writing such a juicy story!)

You'll meet Fred on the blog soon.

The Little Dude calls!

Night night,


Monday, November 26, 2007

Mary's Favorite Things

If you have a writer in the family or among friends, I've got some great ideas! Pens are great but more than likely a writer has her favorites in bulk. Journals are cool, too, but a writer has very strong preferences as to the size, paper type, etc. Yes, we're a picky lot, which is why I started this list that ranges from $12 to $40. Stay tuned for more ideas because if you're like me, you'll be shopping at the last minute!

Whether you write by hand or keyboard, a writer's most precious tools are her hands. Ulta's Rescue Hand Cream smells like lemons (you know, to invigorate the senses) and it melts into your skin so you don't get that sticky, icky feeling. A little goes a long way! The Warming Hand Mask is great if you have achy fingers and wrists. Slather it on and you're treated to a gentle warming sensation (ahh!). Rinse off and you'll swear that Madge herself worked on your hands! And if you buy it now, Ulta is having a 20% off sale!

When I need some inspiration or words of wisdom, I crack open my trusty copy of Pen On Fire. Each essay is maybe two or three pages, tops, but the content will illuminate the mind and refresh the heart.

I've had The Observation Deck for almost 8 years and it always helps me out of a jam. Basically you grab the deck, shuffle the cards and pull one at random (kind of like tarot cards for writers). A handy guide contains writing exercises and stories about legendary writers.

Stick this warming scarf from Bed Bath and Beyond into the microwave and viola, the chills are gone! I have a neck warmer that I would take to work when I was a reporter. We worked in a building from the 1920's and when a brisk wind swept off the ocean, it funneled through the swiss cheese walls, turning my desk area into a mini-fridge. Even if your friend doesn't work in such primitive conditions, this is a great treat because it also helps alleviate neck and shoulder aches, the malaise of all desk-dwellers.

When I'm in deep writing mode, I have a tough time leaving my book at my desk. But a girl (or guy) needs to relax every now and then. The Umbra Aquala Tub Caddy allows you to read through your manuscript or a book without wetting the pages. There's a handy slot for your wine glass and a place for your tea or coffee cup. What more could you want?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bethany Hiitola Guest Blogs

A frequent reader and fellow blogger at Mommy Writer, Bethany Hiitola has guest blogged at my other blog, My Best Friend's Baby. She tells it like it is in her essay, Motherhood is a Bitch. But it's not all bad; she shares how her friends were her lifelines during and after her first pregnancy.

More than likely this will be my last post for the week. I'm hosting Thanksgiving so there are floors to clean, china to wash, pies to bake and much eating to take place. I hope that all of you are surrounded by the ones you love, even if they're with you in spirit.

Much love and thank you for all your support!


Monday, November 19, 2007

Friday Night at Cantera

Alas, I have no photos to share. I thought the camera was in my bag but it was on my desk!

We raised a lot of money for YWCA's Wise Place and I think there are plans to do it again so I'll keep you posted.

One of the coolest things happened to me. A woman came upstairs where I was hanging out and I noticed her look at my table and then walk away to talk to her friends. She did this a couple of times and even though I smiled, she kept wandering away. So finally, she walks up to me with her friends on either side and says with her voice shaking, "I have all your books. I'm a big fan."

Dude, I almost cried. (But I didn't!) I just stood up, shook her hand and said thank you because honestly, I had no idea what to say. (By the way, what should one say in this situation? I always imagine it should be something elegant and inspiring but I was floored.) Many moons ago, I did the same thing to James Elroy. I wanted to go up to him and yet, I was so intimidated that I couldn't. Finally he picked up a book, signed it and handed it to a guy to give to me.

So it was very cool to meet a fan of my own! (Fan? I have fans?!?! I still can't get over it.)

Anyway, I've been up since 3 a.m. today because someone who shall not be named decided he wanted milk and chips. One day when he's seventeen and sleeping in till 1 p.m., I will be merciless in my vengeance!

But I'm still in NaNoMo mode so I have pages to write. I think I cracked the first 100 pages of the new book. This weekend I stopped keeping track because it was driving me nuts, so I'll update my stats tonight.

I wasn't going to do this but I can't stop myself...

This is the house that is inspiring my new book! I grew up not far from this street and I always asked my parents to drive me by the Victorians (there's a huge mansion across the street from this one) because there was something about them that got to me.

Finally, after twenty odd years, I'm writing a story set in this house. I'm so giddy that I'm annoying myself! So I'll go now.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Woman Who Became Jane Austen

A few months ago, I read a book that made me cry. In public. While I enjoy many of the books I read, many are passing fancies. As a I writer I've learned a trick or two and I can see plot twists and character revelations a mile away. But The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James swept me up and made me forget all about writing. After crying on a flight to Phoenix while reading the book, I emailed Syrie with the hope that she'd agree to a Q&A for the blog. She did and I hope after reading this interview that you'll enter to win a copy of this amazing book!

Chica Lit: When did you come up with the idea for The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen? Has this story been an idea in your head for a long time?

Syrie: The germ of the idea first occurred to me seven years ago, right after watching (for the umpteenth time) the Emma Thompson/Ang Lee movie, Sense and Sensibility and the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth—followed by Shakespeare in Love. I’d read and loved all of Jane Austen’s novels, some many times over, and I remember thinking: what about a love story for Jane Austen? Why hasn’t anyone done that? The idea evolved from there. I started reading every Jane Austen biography I could find. I poured over all of her existing letters. I was disappointed to discover that—according to historians—this brilliant woman, who gave the world such wonderful and romantic stories, never fell in love herself. I simply couldn’t accept that. Wasn’t it possible, I thought, that Jane Austen had a love affair that no one ever knew about?

I was also intrigued by the idea of Jane Austen’s genesis as a writer. According to her sister Cassandra, Austen wrote early drafts of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice in her twenties; how much, I wondered, did those manuscripts change when she revised them years later for publication? What part did real life events play in the development of her stories? When I decided to write this as a novel, I knew the story (since it was a secret romance) had to be told from Jane’s point of view—in her own words—so it became Jane’s journal, recently discovered—The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen. I spent an enormous amount of time researching and developing my story before I felt ready to write it.

Chica Lit: Were you intimidated to become the voice of Jane Austen? What did you do - using an actor's term - to get into character?

Syrie: I was definitely intimidated at first! I knew that, in order for this novel to be perceived as Jane Austen’s memoirs, I had to not only sound like her, but to create a story that was Jane Austen through and through, peopled with her unique roster of characters, and filled with her wit and sense of irony. To “get into character,” I read dozens of Jane Austen biographies, so that I’d know her life story inside out. I researched her era extensively. I watched all her movies. I even took English Regency Country Dance lessons! To “become her voice” (and the voices of her characters), I studied her letters in minute detail, reread her novels, all her juvenilia, and all her unfinished works, over and over and over again. When I finally started writing, her voice seemed to come naturally to me.

Chica Lit: I cried when Jane sees her dream of becoming a writer come true. Were you moved to tears and laughter as you wrote the story?

Syrie: Having suffered myself through all the usual rejections that come with the writing profession, it wasn’t such a huge leap to get inside Jane Austen’s head, and to imagine how she must have felt when her lifelong dream at last came true. I often find myself speaking my characters’ dialog aloud as I write; there were many times when I couldn’t help laughing or crying. Even now, every time I reread the book, my eyes well up with tears when I get to the end.

Chica Lit: Tell me about your career as a writer. You're a working screenwriter. Has your work been produced?

Syrie: My very first screenplay was quickly optioned, and I was hired to write several episodes for a lovely, heart-warming TV series called “Starman.” After that, my screenwriting career took off; I sold nineteen scripts (movies and one-hour dramas) in a variety of genres to Tri-Star Pictures, Fox Family Films, ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX TV. Hollywood typically develops a huge number of scripts that are shelved or put into turnaround. My experience was no exception, but I had a great time writing them, worked with some fascinating people, and five of mine actually got produced; my favorite (in addition to the “Starman” episodes, which have developed a cult following) is the movie “Once in a Lifetime” starring Lindsay Wagner and Barry Bostwick, which first ran on NBC, and now airs annually on the Lifetime Network. (My husband and I even have a cameo in the film.) My favorite script that didn’t get made was a Dolly Parton movie musical entitled “Heavens to Betsy.” I had such a fantastic time working with Dolly on that project!

Chica Lit: How did you select the supporting cast for The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen? Jane Austen-philes will recognize shades of her most famous/infamous characters in your story.

Syrie: Since most writers tend to write about what they know, I looked for ways to project traits and characteristics from the “infamous” characters in Austen’s fiction, onto the people in her real life, as well as the characters I created. For example: based on repeated references in Jane Austen’s letters, her mother was a hypochondriac; Jane created several whiney hypochondriacs in her novels, which gave me a great model to follow. I knew I had to have an odious clergyman, a well-meaning but interfering matron, and a flighty, insipid, self-involved young woman; the fun was deciding when and how to use them.

Chica Lit: What's next?

Syrie: I’m busy maintaining my website at http://www.syriejames.com/ … and I'm researching and writing my next book for Avon: a love story for Charlotte Brontë (another one of my favorite writers.) As you can imagine, I’m having a fantastic time “being” Charlotte!

ATTENTION BLOGGERS: If you would like to review The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen on your blog, email Syrie, mention the name of your blog, and she'll draw the name of the winner! ***Mary goofed and should've told you that the deadline is Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"Just when I thought that I was out ...

...they pull me back in."

Which Godfather movie did that line come from? I don't have a prize. You'll just look really smart in the comments section.

But the spirit of its sentiment applies to me now as I've put the NaNoMo book aside to polish up the mariachi story. My agent read it, loved it, had a few comment here and there and you think that would be good enough for me. But oh no. As a neurotic writer, I had to go back and make sure that its perfect or as close to perfect as it can get.

So if I'm a good girl and quickly wrap up this post, I'll be back to the NaNoMo book on Thursday.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Working Two Jobs with Maria Canals

Photo credit: Disney

Actress Maria Canals likes to think that her role on Wizards of Waverly Place is preparing her to parent adolescents. Her alter ego, Theresa Russo, is the mother of three wizards-in-training. The three teens are trained by their father until one is chosen to be the next wizard of the family. Although Theresa is not magically inclined, she helps them navigate the "normal" challenges of teen life.

"This show is a complete blessing to me on so many levels," Canals said. "It's a funny comedy and as an actor you get all kinds of material that's not very funny. It's a kids show at a time when I have kids."

When she first watched the show with her two daughters, ages four and two, she feared her oldest might get jealous of her on-screen "kids."

"I told her that I'm the pretend mommy and that's my pretend kid," she explained. "I totally underestimated power of pretend, which is what kids do all the time. When she visited set she'd say, 'that's the pretend big kid!'"

Canals began her career when she won a scholarship to the University of Miami. As she went from high school plays to paying roles, she realized acting was something to she could do for a living.

In 1993, she booked a role on the TV series, Key West and moved to Los Angeles. Unlike Hilary Swank, Canals never had to live out of her car.

"I got a great agent and when I moved to L.A., I was prepared and trained," she said. "This business is unpredictable. I was very, very blessed to have worked steadily and there have been wonderful projects – some came and went. You have to love the work."

Married to actor, David Barerra, Canals admits that its tough continuing her twenty year career in acting while raising a family. Recently, she brought her girls and her nanny with her to Toronto where she filmed Camp Rock, a teen musical that will be released in summer 2008.

"My husband and I have the same priorities: we love our work and committed to it but it's not our identity," she said. "I don't want to be one of those people who missed out on this."

Watch Maria in action on Wizards of Waverly Place Friday nights at 8:30/7:30 Central on the Disney channel.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Supporting The Writers Strike (An Eva Peron Moment)

Although I'm not a screenwriter, a writer is still a writer and I support the men and women of the WGA on strike.
There would be no shows, no movies nor the trendy "webisodes", without writers. And yet you don't hear of any who get $20 million per picture. That kind of money goes to the guy who memorizes the lines and walks the red carpet.
Authors have their complaints as well. In my experience, it takes months for a contract to be drawn up, signed and then a few more months later - to add to the suspense - I get a check. I wonder how many people work jobs that compensate them six months to a year later?
Furthermore, what's up with the used book thing? I realize books are pricey but does Amazon have to put the used book price in bold print over the regular price? For TV or movie writers, if a piece is re-run, everyone gets a residual. Authors don't make residuals on used copies of their books because there is no system to track those sales. I agree with the striking writers that they deserve a cut from the advertising dollars a network makes when a show is downloaded and watched online. Too bad, something can't be done for those of us who write books.
By the way, if you support writers, don't watch TV shows for free online. And if you can help it, try not to buy a used copy of my book. I'd much rather you check it out at your library because at least they bought it and give it a good home.
Also, when an author writes a book and then jumps through all the hoops to get it through copyeditting, etc., the publisher doesn't advertise it. Have you noticed that? All the major brands advertise in magazines and on TV, but publishers don't, which is probably why editorial book coverage space is really small if non-existent in most magazines. Occasionally you see an ad for a major New York Times best-selling author but what about all the other writers who are future best sellers? I would think that as a business, a publisher would want a maximum return on every dollar spent to acquire, produce and distribute all of its products.
I'm lucky in that Avon has one heck of a publicity department with professionals who love books and authors. Also, we're backed up the editorial team who have created the Avon Romance blog, which allows us writers to brag about ourselves.
But I'm really, really lucky in that I have a PR, web writing and journalism background and can do a lot of my own promotion. Until I'm at the level of Nora Roberts (who by the way, worked darn hard for the last 26 years to get where she is and deserves every perk she can get!), you won't see me in a commercial between segments of Oprah or Good Morning America. But one day ... oh yes, one day you will!
So now you know how I feel about the strike. But you should also know that there is no other job that gives me greater pleasure than writing. (In other words, I'm one lucky bee-yotch!)
How do you feel about the strike?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Last Night at the East Los Angeles Library

Last night, the East L.A. Public Library hosted a chica lit panel moderated by Margo Candela. I had the honor of sitting up with the likes of Reyna Grande, Sylvia Mendoza and Lara Rios. The place was packed and even though many students received class credit for attending, I could see their excitement and energy. (And yes, we signed tons of books so THANK YOU!)

Hopefully in a few years, I'll be in an audience listening to them talk about their work and their paths to publication!

Me (probably making a bad joke), Margo, Sylvia and Lara. (Reyna was off to the side eating the fabulous sandwiches they had at the event!)

Sylvia Mendoza and Lara Rios

Reyna (hey wake up!), Evita - I mean me! - and Margo.

If you're in San Diego, come on down to Bay Books in Coronado on Thursday, Nov. 8th from 7 to 8:30 p.m. for Switchcraft and the Spicy Mexican brownies!


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Dia de los Muertos

A year ago, Mom brought over a box of my old stuff. Like I need more stuff in a house that looks like Toys R Us stocked for Christmas! But inside were some outfits that my Grandma Nana had made for me. They're stained, terribly out of fashion and smell like moth balls and I have no where to store them. But I couldn't throw them out.

So this morning when I read Kathy's post about Dia de los Muertos, she really got me. I've been thinking about my Grandma Nana a lot lately.

Eduvijen Holguin Melendez was a very quiet, simple woman. She wasn't one for calling attention to herself. During Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter she mostly spent her time in the kitchen. She'd be the last to sit down for the meal, still wearing her apron and jumping up to get what anyone needed.

She was also a very talented seamstress, making extra money by sewing wedding and quinceanera gowns. My Grandma Margie remembers how she'd buy a bolt of cloth and then work through the night making matching dresses for her three girls. I can imagine Grandma Nana's sewing machine whirring with the steady pressure of her foot on the wrought iron pedal. Outside the street would be dark, except for the light of her room glowing againt the mammoth Eucalyptus trees that lined her yard.

If you've read Hot Tamara and remember Senora Allende's shrine with the glow-in-the-heart Jesus statue, that was inspired by the santos Grandma Nana had in her sala behind the TV. When we'd spend the night in the pull-out bed, Grandma would sleep on the lumpy couch so we wouldn't be lonely. But I'd stare at Jesus' heart, wondering if it would start beating like the animatronics in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland.

Even though my Grandma Nana died when I was 11 years old, I still miss her chicken soup and I can still feel the tortilla masa between my fingers. I wish she could've lived to see the Little Dude in action because she would've just adored his big personality. Actually, I know she does love him because I can feel her when she's decided to pay a visit. I bet she still covers her mouth when she laughs at his antics, like she used at mine.

Today, I'm starting a new book and I have her picture on my desk. There's a little sadness in my heart as I write this but there's also a lot more love and gratitude to have had a Grandma Nana like her and to still have her in spirit.