Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Paring Down


In November, Ryan and I attended a special screening of The Silence of the Lambs at UCLA. After the movie, Anthony Hopkins did a Q&A with the audience. He wasn't what I expected. He wasn't the intellectual Brit, nor the grumpy Brit. He was equal parts hippy, artist and craftsman. One of the recurring themes in his answers about acting, his life and his painting was to reduce, do less and practice the discipline of holding back. He said that as a young actor he always went big with his voice, his gestures and his reactions to his peers. But age and experience taught him that paring down his approach to character and story allowed him to efficiently dip into the vast unconsciousness that fuels all of us arty folk.

And then he gave us a demonstration. Just like that he became Dr. Hannibal Lector - his voice changed, the light in his eyes glowed and he stared out at all of us like we were an all-you-can-eat buffet. When one woman squealed - trust me, I had my back pressed against the seat - he seemed to take a breath and then transform back into Anthony Hopkins. He made his point that by portraying Hannibal simply, he could access him just like that.

Since then, I've been paring down in my own creative life. I'm writing books with no expectations other than to enjoy the process and discovery of writing. Rather than chat endlessly about my life on this blog, I prefer to talk about my peers and learn from them. Next month, I'm moderating a panel of my fellow authors at the Los Alamitos-Rossmoor Public Library and will give them the stage.

It makes sense right now for me not to be seen nor heard. But I want those of you who have supported my books and are looking forward to future books to know that I value your support. I hope that when The Ballad of Aracely Calderon is ready to step out into the world, we will come together again though that book. In the meantime, please enjoy the authors and artists I will spotlight here on the blog.

Much love and blessings to you in 2009!

Best,
Mary

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Between the Pages With Christine Fletcher




Some of you know that I did NaNoMo last month to finish my latest WIP. About three days into it I discovered Christine Fletcher's novel, Ten Cents A Dance. Upon reading the excerpt on her website, I had to have it. But my rule when writing, especially a first draft, is that I don't get to read novels. I made her book my reward when I reached "the end."

It's not a great way to live but now you know why I write my books so quickly.

As soon as it arrived, I tore into it and rarely came up for air ... except when the Little Dude ate crap from falling out of his wagon. Anyway, we've all used the saying, "a guilty pleasure" and I've resolved to abolish it from my lexicon because pleasure and rewards after a hard day's work shouldn't inspire guilt. A pleasure such as Christine's novel makes me remember what its like to be a reader again and why I got into this business in the first place.

So I was stoked when she agreed to my crazed fan email/interview request. Please welcome Christine Fletcher!

Chica Lit: As writers we always have a particular idea that simmers in our heads. Ten Cents A Dance was inspired by the story of your great aunt. How long had you had the idea for a story about taxi dancers and when/how did it come to life?

Christine: Five or six years ago, I had the idea to write a novel based on my great-aunt’s life. They say every writer has a half-finished novel abandoned in a drawer, and that one is mine. I just couldn’t make it work. But while trying to write that book, I did some research on taxi dancers. I was fascinated to learn that many of the younger dancers kept their jobs a secret while living with their families. I kept wondering: how would a teenaged girl get away with that? And for how long? Once I made those questions the focus for a novel, the writing really took off.

Chica Lit: Ruby is one of those characters who truly felt alive as I read her story. Did she shock and surprise you during the writing of the story and do you think you'll continue her story?

Christine: Ruby constantly surprised me during the writing of the book. I remember vividly one scene which played itself out in my head--it was almost like watching a movie, and I was typing madly, trying to keep up with the action--when suddenly Ruby did something so completely unexpected that I actually said out loud, “Oh no, you did not!” It was a perfect Ruby move, but when I sat down to write the scene, I had no idea she would do that! Moments like that made her an enormously fun character to hang out with.

At the moment, I’m working on another historical novel with different characters. But Ruby is near and dear to my heart, and I may take up her story again at some point.

Chica Lit: Did you research before writing the book, or during and in between revisions?

Christine: All of the above! As I mentioned earlier, I'd done some research on taxi dancers beforehand. But most of the research happened during the writing. I would get to a certain point and then I’d have to find out what a black-and-tan club might have looked like. Or which radio shows were popular in 1942. So the writing directed the research to a large extent…although occasionally, it happened the other way around. That was how the policy kings ended up in the book. I was looking for information on urban crime in the 1940s and came across a reference to this enormous gambling empire in Chicago. It not only filled a niche in the story perfectly, it eventually provided material for an entire subplot.

The danger with research, at least for me, is that it’s easy to start obsessing. At one point I was driving myself crazy trying to find out if chicken was expensive during the war. Some references said yes, others said no. My older relatives either couldn’t agree or couldn’t remember (yes, I was even asking family members!) I finally came to my senses and realized the price of chicken in 1942 was not going to make or break the book. So I cut out that detail and immediately felt my sanity returning.

Chica Lit: The relationship between Paulie and Ruby is fascinating and yet, as an adult woman, made me cringe because I knew the games he was playing with her. How did Paulie's character evolve and what do you hope readers will take away from Ruby's experience with him?

Christine: Most of us are familiar with the guy who thinks he’s smarter and tougher than anybody else around. From the beginning, I knew Paulie was that guy. And I knew Ruby would fall for him, because I’ve been that girl. It’s the age-old question: Why do girls go for bad boys? People say, “How can she be so blind? Can’t she see how terrible he is for her?” They don’t understand that being with him makes her feel good. Especially at the beginning, in that heady, romantic time. These guys talk a good game, and she feels special because he could have anyone but he chose her. (Of course, the real reason he chose her is because other girls won’t put up with being manipulated and bullied, and she will--but she doesn't realize that). Ruby is smart and savvy for her age, but Paulie knows just how to play her. I wanted readers to experience what that dynamic feels like from the inside. How easy it is to get caught up, and how hard it is to get out.

Chica Lit: I read that you have a day job as a vet. When do you write? Do you think you'll write full-time?

Christine: I work part-time two days a week. The other five are for writing (and everything else in life!) I mostly write in the morning (and try to push until mid-afternoon if I can) three to four days a week.

Right now it’s not financially possible for me to write full-time. If it ever does become possible, though, I’m not sure I would. Writing is such an isolating activity. In one sense, that’s not a problem for me, because I’m terribly introverted--I love quiet and solitude. But I’ve found that too much solitude makes me a bit wobbly, as if I’m out of step with the rest of life. My day job keeps me rooted in the real world, and I think ultimately that helps the writing. There’s something tremendously grounding about working with animals. They take life as it comes, for better or worse. I’ve learned more from my patients than I could ever have imagined, and I’m not sure I’d give that up, even if all my books become runaway bestsellers. (Not that I’d complain if that happened, mind you!

Chica Lit: What's next for you and what was the best book you read in 2008 and why?

Christine: Next up is another historical YA novel set during World War II. I’ve discovered that what I really love is dropping characters into situations way over their heads, then seeing what happens! So I’m doing that again in this book, and I’m having a blast.

The best book I read in 2008…that’s a tough one, because I read several I adored. But I’d have to say the best was A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. I read the first three pages in the bookstore and was immediately enthralled. It’s a big, multiple-family epic set in India in the early 1950s. Lata's family is looking for a "suitable boy" for her to marry...only Lata has ideas of her own, and thereupon hangs the tale! The author carried me through 1400+ pages, four families, a few dozen characters, I don’t know how many plots and subplots…and somehow never confused me or lost my interest. The book made it onto my "desert island" list, and that’s the highest recommendation I can make!

Chica Lit: If you're behind on your holiday shopping like me, and you have a teen on your list who loves books, you'll be the coolest aunt/uncle when you give Ten Cents A Dance ... even if you're wearing a dorky reindeer sweater. You can learn more about Christine's books at her website.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Me Inside


My new favorite song is Weezer's "Pork and Beans." When you've spent nearly three years on a story about mariachi (uh, that would be me in case you're wondering and yes, I've written other books, too!), one must find hope in that being yourself, no matter how wacky one us, is the only way to be.

Click here and pay attention to the karate guy who realizes his nemesis isn't that terrifying.

Or, read the lyrics:

They say i need some rogaine to put in my hair
Work it out at the gym to fit my underwear
Okaley makes the shades to transform a tool
You'd hate for the kids to think that you've lost your cool

Imma do the things that i wanna do
I ain't got a thing to prove to you
I'll eat my candy with the pork and beans
Excuse my manners if i make a scene
I ain't gonna wear the clothes that you like
I'm fine and dandy with the me inside
One look in the mirror and i'm tickled pink
I don't give a hoot about what you think

everyone likes to dance to a happy song
with a catchy chorus and beat so they can sing along
timbaland knows the way to reach the top of the charts
maybe if i work with him i can perfect the art

Imma do the things that i wanna do
I ain't got a thing to prove to you
I'll eat my candy with the pork and beans
Excuse my manners if i make a scene
I ain't gonna wear the clothes that you like
I'm fine and dandy with the me inside
one look in the mirror and i'm tickled pink
I don't give a hoot about what you think

no, i don't care
i don't care
i don't care
i don't care
i don't care
i don't care

Imma do the things that i wanna do
I ain't got a thing to prove to you
I'll eat my candy with the pork and beans
Excuse my manners if i make a scene
I ain't gonna wear the clothes that you like
I'm fine and dandy with the me inside
one look in the mirror and i'm tickled pink
I don't give a hoot about what you think

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Writing Rule Questioned

Bootleggers Caught After Car Chase from Art.Com

If you attend a Q&A with an author - famous or not - inevitably an audience member will ask how the author finished her book. The author will answer along the lines of: butt in chair, fingers on keyboard; or, (my favorite) you can't fix a blank page.

It's all great advice but here's the rub: sometimes you gotta get your butt off the chair and leave the keyboard for a pen and notebook and go out into the world. A reporter can't write a story from her desk. My best interviews almost always happen face-to-face because you can hear the inflection of the person's voice, you can see it in their face and the way they move their body. And when they can see you, typically they'll open more than they would on the phone or God forbid, email.

I finished my NaNoMo book Friday, November 14th at 250-odd pages. (Clearly more work needs to be done to whip it into readable material.) One of the biggest challenges of writing a story, especially one that takes place in 1926, is experiencing it as much as possible. I've jotted down notes from conversations with my grandma, listened to oral histories in library archives, studied maps and read through newspapers. My imagination can only fill in so holes.

One of the best times I had writing the book was a sequence when my heroine smuggles alcohol across the Mexico border. But I could feel myself hesitating when describing the car she was in. I've never riden in a 1920's era car much less sat in one so when I read about the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo - where on Sundays you can ride around in a historic car - I realized that manna comes in different forms from heaven.

At this museum you can sit in a 1937 Piece-Arrow towncar and imagine you're Jean Harlow driving down from the Holmby Hills to work at MGM Studios. Or, you can sit behind the wheel of a Ford Model A and realize how much we take for granted with today's computerized, air-bagged, power-steered cars.

When you're stuck in the middle of your book, or you're thinking of revisions to a finished manuscript, I recommend that you get yourself out into the sun (it won't hurt, I promise) and experience what you can of your characters' lives. It works for me.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

Friday, November 14, 2008

NaNoMo with Kelley Armstrong



In 2005, Kelley Armstrong wrote a book during NaNoWriMo. She had been published in adult fiction but decided to take a new direction with her writing. Her gamble paid off and now she shares her tips and experiences that resulted in a new YA series that launched this summer with The Summoning.

Chica Lit: How did you prepare for NaNoMo 2005?

Kelley: Oooh, that's reaching back a bit far for me. I would have had an outline--when I want to write fast, I need to know where I'm going. Oh, and I remember that I cleared my plate of other work and told my agent I was doing NaNo, so I'd be "off-line" for a month. I haven't had that luxury since (I'm doing NaNo now and have edits for my main series coming in the mail right now) But it was nice to be able to have that first NaNo clear.

Chica Lit: On those days when the blank page glared back at you, how did you just keep writing?

Kelley: Butt in chair, hands on keyboard. I make myself sit and write anything until it starts to flow. And I give myself permission to write crap. I can always go back and edit or delete it, but I can't work with a story that exists only in my mind. It has to be on the page.

Chica Lit: At the end of NaNoMo, how many words had you written?

Kelley: In 2005, it was over 60,000. The last two years, it wasn't much more than 50,000...namely because I can't clear my plate the way I could back then.

Chica Lit: And then you revised and revised and revised ... how did you sell The Summoning?

Kelley: Well, it was a little bit easier for me, already being published in another area. The Summoning is young adult urban fantasy, and I have an adult urban fantasy series. I'd had the idea for The Summoning for years, and had been talking it over with my agent when, within a few months, she got a couple of cold calls from editors saying that if I ever decided to try young adult, they'd like to see it. Perfect timing! So I decided I'd give it a shot for NaNoWriMo. I got most the first draft done that month...and I immediately knew I could do better. I liked the characters and the basic plot, but saw a lot of problems too. So I put it aside for about a year. In late 2006, I rewrote the first act, and my agent took that, along with a synopsis, to the publishers, where it sold. Yes, that sounds incredibly easy, but I spent many, many years doing the whole query-rejection cycle, so I know how lucky I am to be able to bypass that now.

Chica Lit: What will you be working on this month?

Kelley: This month I'm doing the third book in the trilogy that began with The Summoning. What I learned from my first NaNo is that writing fast works for me. I can immerse myself in the story and push forward without stopping and second-guessing anything I wrote the day before--I don't have time to! So for the past three years, I've managed to arrange my schedule so I'm always in first-draft mode during NaNo. This year, it worked out perfect and I was able to start the book Nov 1st.

Chica Lit: Check out the website for Kelley's exciting series at www.chloesaunders.com. For excerpts and insights in to all of her books, visit Kelley's main site at www.kelleyarmstrong.com.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Between the Pages with Gloria DeLa Torre-Wycoff


Back when I was in high school, my mom worked with F. Scott Fitzgerald's niece. When Mrs. Reneau discovered how much I loved her uncle's books - I carried his collection of short stories in my backpack - she let me read a book she had written about her father, Vice Admiral Clifton Sprague.

What I remember most about her book - other than Mrs. Reneau's memory of Scotty Fitzgerald and her French nanny coming to the dinner table in evening wear - was the way she referred to her father as "daddy." It was a little strange because this was a man who was one of the first to open fire on Japanese planes on the morning of December 7, 1941.

(Ironically, the same week Wonder Woman first appeared as a comic strip!)

Anyway, writing about your parents can be tricky business. When I met Gloria DeLa Torre-Wycoff at the California Comadrazo earlier this year and saw the cover of her book, I bought it without hesitation. In Scarred by Scandal, Redeemed by Love, Gloria tells the story of her mother, Maria DeLa Torre, a young woman who grew up in the priveleged household of her uncle and aunt in Mexico City. But her parents who had fled for the U.S. during the Revolution called her back to live with them and Maria entered a different world in the barrio of East Los Angeles circa the 1920's. At the age of 19, Maria was pregnant by her brother-in-law and then banished from her family.

Even though her love for her mother is apparent, Gloria steps back to show Maria's strength and weaknesses; her mistakes and her triumphs. It's an extraordinary book about a single mother who in spite of a life of poverty and humiliation, leaves an enduring legacy of love. Please meet Gloria DeLa Torre-Wycoff.

Chica Lit: When did you start writing this book and why?

Gloria: I actually began writing this memoir in 1997. Although I didn’t consciously realize it at the time, the seed for this book was planted on the day my mother died in October 1993. I had asked my daughters to call family and friends to let them know of her passing, and that we would mail details about the funeral. During the phone calls, one of my daughters came to me upset and frustrated because a family member on my father’s side had reacted sarcastically to the news about my mother and referred to her own mother’s death 60 years earlier. Because of the vulnerable state of our emotions at that moment, my daughter and I agreed to just “let it go” and talk about it another time.

I began writing random notes about my mother which took the form of a poem of sorts about the tender, lonely nurturing of a single mother – lovingly breastfeeding her babes, picturing my mother, alone with her infant. (These writings became the book’s Dedication). I also developed a list of all the places we had lived, beginning in 1927 when Ruben was born, until 1950, when I married. It took quite a while to tie this information together because we had lived in so many places. I wanted this to be as accurate as possible, so I mailed a copy to my brother, Ruben in New York City. He appreciated it, made a few changes and interesting comments. This list served as a guide for me, an outline for writing the book.

In 1997 when my husband and I moved to Orange County, I was planning to retire and decided it was time to write something for my children about my mother - their Nana –and for my grandchildren and great–grandchildren. My intention was to write something to serve as a loving legacy for my family. I would write it, print it out, take it to Kinko’s and have it set in a nice binding. And that was it. But the more I thought about it, and the more I wrote, the more my husband encouraged me to develop it into a book. This is when I realized that it was time to write a book in honor of my mother.

Chica Lit: Would she have approved?

Gloria: I believe she would have approved, or rather, she would have agreed, especially if she could have seen the finished creation. Mama and I had implicit trust in one another. Also, knowing it was written as a loving legacy for her grand-and great-grandchildren, yes, I believe she would have approved. She would have loved the photographs!

Chica Lit: I'm curious ... what happened to your father after your marriage? You never mentioned him again after that chapter.

Gloria: The last time I mentioned my father was on page 237 in a discussion with my nephew about my mother being perceived as passive. She was not passive, rather, she was unobtrusive. Back to your question: the last two chapters were devoted primarily to the memory of my mother. Not mentioning Ezequiel was not intentional; he simply no longer played a role in my mother’s life once Ruben and I had married. I stayed in touch with him until he died in 1976. He and his 2nd wife were fond of my children, liked my first husband - no negative vibes…

Chica Lit: How did you mother feel about your father after all was said and done. Did she resent him or did she still love him?

Gloria: She always loved him. I don’t recall being aware of overt resentment from my mother toward my father. Her attitude, her actions told me she accepted her responsibility for her part in their relationship. Although there were times when I did sense her great disappointment, sadness and sorrow where my father was concerned, but she rarely talked about it. She never blamed him for her situation. I’ve conjectured that she may have acted out her resentment when Ezequiel remarried because that was when she began seeing other men.

When he died in 1976, I took her to his funeral in East Los Angeles; she was greeted by some and ignored by others. It’s a vague memory for me. The next day, after I had gone to his burial, I went to see my mother and she had taken out a formal handsome photograph of him and placed it on a shelf in her front room. In later years it “disappeared” otherwise it would have been in my book. To repeat, yes, I believe she still loved him.

Chica Lit: One of the most poignant moments of your book is your mother's regret over leaving Mexico. How did she not let her regrets get the best of her?

Gloria: Leaving Mexico was a major turning point for her. She was a young 18 and had lived a relatively affluent, albeit lonely lifestyle in Mexico City as a result of living with her aunt and uncle. According to my cousin, when she first came to the U.S., my mother was not happy and hated living in East L.A. Unfortunately, she did not stay in touch with her aunt and uncle ~ probably because of her relationship with Ezequiel.

My mother often reminisced about her early life in Mexico City with some regrets, but she didn’t allow them to consume her or to dwell on them. My mother had an innate ability to adapt to life’s changes even under the harshest of circumstances. One of my reader’s wrote in her Reader’s Review: “…such a profound story of a woman who lived life on life's terms.” And that’s what she intuitively learned to do at an early age; she learned to accept what life dealt her. She was not without regrets, yet didn’t blame others for her situation. She had moments of depression, sadness, longing - probably for my father to re-enter her life…

Chica Lit: I'll never forget when you told me that your mother's story is one of the oldest stories in the book. Why do you think her tale is so prevalent among our mothers and grandmothers' generations?

Gloria: Two sources have made me aware that my mother’s story was not unique. My first source was the local library when I became curious about the term “illegitimate births.” I could only find census data beginning in 1940, but it was enough to indicate that “births to unmarried mothers” have grown exponentially since then. In 1940 there were 90,000 “Illegitimate Live Births to Unmarried Mothers” and in 2006 there were 1.6 million “Births to Unmarried Mothers.”

The other source has continued to be more personal and anecdotal; it evolves after I do readings and presentations of my book. This is where I hear very moving, touching stories, often from young Latinas/Chicanas who buy my book and tell me tearfully, proudly about their unwed mother’s or grandmother’s who struggled to raise their children; or they tell me about themselves as single, unwed mothers struggling to get through college to make a life for themselves and their children. I’ve also been approached by older women, mostly Mexicanas/Latinas, who have stories about their husbands, grandfathers. In fact, my very special friend/colleague of 20 years, told me (after reading my book) about her father having a relationship with her mother’s (his wife’s) younger sister who had his child. Sound familiar?

Chica Lit: What do you hope the younger generations of Latinas will take away from reading your book?

Gloria: My hope is that they will recognize and take away the experience of the great power of mother love which endures beyond any other love. It is my hope that this book carries a motivational message for Latinas of all ages – unwed mothers in particular - who struggle with family and with bettering their lives. I hope they take away the message of the value of education; the richness of reading; the gift of encouraging young children to read at an early age. As she struggled to learn English, my mother discovered the public library and literally opened the doors to the wonderful world of books for us - her young children. No matter how poor we were, we always had access to library books – and they were free!

My hope for the younger generations of Latinas is that that they recognize that there is no shame in giving birth as an unmarried mother. The shame is when the attitude of others – family in particular - see this chosen birth as shameful act. The shame is also when a child born out of wedlock is treated as “less than” by family members, by the school system, by society.

My greatest hope is that the younger generation of Latinas will ultimately be inspired to make wise choices for herself and for her future.

Chica Lit: To order a copy of this amazing memoir, please visit Gloria's website.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Prize

The other night when the image of Barack Obama as our 44th president flashed on screen, I thought it was a technical glitch. The music had cut out and there was a stretch of silence that usually comes when someone in the control room hit the wrong button. But then Tom Brokow appeared and he assured us that yes, we had a new president.

Some people wept with joy, others shouted and danced. Our neighbor blew off fire crackers in the street and I saw Ryan wipe a tear or two off his face (and he didn't even joke that it was dusty in our living room). However, I couldn't move. My throat was tight and my eyes a little misty but I couldn't feel my face from the shock. I'm not much of a crier. I'll do it in private or at the movies, but when everyone else falls apart around me, something snaps inside me and I'm the one passing around the kleenex box before going into the ktichen to make tea.

Ever since Tuesday night, I've been struck by moments of such intense emotion especially when writing. It freezes me in place. I'd like to cry just to flush it out of my system, but before I can it just settles back down, waiting in its dark corner to get me again. In fact I'm coming out of it right now after having written a scene between Anna and the man she loves. Not much is happening on the surface. But they're face to face, half lit by a dim lamp. She's crossed an emotional ocean to realize that even though she loves him, their life together is not to be. Oh I wish I could share it but half the sentences don't have periods and I've probably misspelled their names.

I wasn't sure I could tap into the intensity of what is happening inside her. I thought I'd maybe get it in the third draft but it came out of nowhere. I felt the same way when I wrote the scene between Tamara and Will on the Queen Mary, and again in Switchcraft when Nely and Aggie watch the ending of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

I used to think that the ultimate prize you'd get as a writer was the publishing contract and then the big check that came in the mail. Don't get me wrong; they're pretty cool and I'd like to sign another contract in the future. But the real prize are these moments when the emotion and the honesty is almost too much for you to handle. In a way, you don't just write a scene or a book; you create an experience. Like Tuesday night, we didn't just elect a president; we made good on the promises of the Declaration of Independence.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that
among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure
these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers
from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish
it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles
and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to
effect their Safety and Happiness.

I don't know about you, but rereading those words in light of what happened earlier this week gives me chills.

Maybe I will go have that cry after all.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

NaNoWriMo With Shelley Adina



Last November, Shelley Adina needed to kickstart a book that was coming due to her publisher. Find out how she used NaNoMo to make her deadline on her upcoming release, Be Strong and Curvaceous!

Chica Lit: Please tell us how you prepared for NaNoWriMo.

Shelley: I was contracted for book 3 in the All About Us series, Be Strong and Curvaceous, due that January, and I was behind on it because of work on previous books. So a November kickstart was perfect timing for me. To prepare for the experience, I outlined my book in advance. To do that, I got the characters nailed down and wrote out a clear series of events that would put external and internal pressure on my protagonist. These pressures caused her to change, so that in the black moment "crunch" at the end of the book, she had resources within herself to do what she could not have done at the beginning. With this narrative line in mind, and a clear theme (the power of courage), I was ready to write on November 1.

Chica Lit: On those days when the blank page glared back at you, how did you just keep writing?

Shelley: It's hard, no doubt about it. But what helps me is to go over my synopsis again, to remember the book's theme, and to read over the previous day's work and give it an edit pass. This seems to prime the pump, and the words start to trickle in. When they don't, I go for a walk. Or eat chocolate. That works, too.

Chica Lit: At the end of NaNoMo how many words had you written?

Shelley: I got about 30,000 words, I think. It wasn't the NaNo goal of 50,000, but it was half a book!

Chica Lit: And then what happened after NaNoMo?

Shelley: I then had six weeks to write the second half, which was completely doable. The first 100 pages are always the hardest for me. Once those were behind me in the NaNo process, I could keep on rolling until "The End."

Chica Lit: What will you be working on this month?

Shelley: I'm working on The Chic Shall Inherit the Earth, the sixth and final book in the series. I already had the synopsis completed and approved by my publisher (it has a few edgy elements that had to get the green light first). I know my protagonist's character arc, and the key events are all mapped out in my head. November is all about the writing ... and then I'll be celebrating the release of Be Strong and Curvaceous, in bookstores everywhere in January!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

NaNoMo Day 2: 2750 words

So much for doubling yesterday's word count! This is what happens when I write on my laptop with its high-speed Internet and email access. Dangerous stuff. Tomorrow I'll be on the road with the AlphaSmart so we'll see what happens.

Nonetheless, I wrote some of the hardest scenes in the book. It's the middle of Act II when my heroine makes her major emotional transition. I can't say more or else I'll give it away and considering that this is a first draft, it'll probably change.

Mrs. V asked in the comments of my videoblog if this is a fictional or nonfictional story. It's a paranormal women's fiction with roots in family lore. I've been inspired by my great grandmothers, Eduvijen Holguin Melendez and Inez Mendez Vasquez, and my grandmothers, Margaret Castillo and Maria Mendez. My character, Anna Vazquez is a mix of my grandmothers' rebellious and independent spirits, and Great Grandma Vazquez's ironclad strength. Another character in the book is my Great Grandma Eduvijen. When I get my act together, I'll scan their photos and post them on the blog. But don't hold your breath.

Election Day

My dad sent me this video last night. HIGH-larious!

But seriously, the right to vote is no joke and it came at a high price. Our grandmothers fought for us in the 1920's. Our ancestors whether they marched against the British, arrived on a ship, walked through Ellis or Angel Island, or crossed a border have fought for the right to vote.

Don't be a loser. Don't let the old lady in this video call you a motherf&#%!er. Go out and vote and score a free coffee at Starbucks.

Monday, November 03, 2008

NaNoMo Day 1: 3750 words


Today was my first day of NaNoMo and I logged in 3,750 words or 15 manuscript pages. For inspiration, I studied this photo that I found on eBay, of all places. She captures who my character, Anna Vazquez, will become at the end of the story.

Tomorrow I hope to turn in 20 manuscript pages, which will put me up to my normal speed.

Onward!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Love From The Love Coach

Listed among the 50 Best Chick Lit Blogs is:

Chica Lit. Mary Castillo blogs about various novels with an emphasis on her peers’ accomplishments. Keep up with the latest in Chick Lit that might not be front and center at the chain book store.

Thanks, Love Coach!

A Writer in the Kitchen

When I found out I was pregnant, every single mom I knew told me not to wish for anything more than ten toes and ten fingers. They advised me that I'd get what I got and I'd love the little stinker anyway. Well, the Little Dude has proven them correct. He, and this is so painful to admit, is a picky eater.

My brother is a picky eater and if you've read Hot Tamara and remember her brother Memo, you can see why this is disturbing. So I have to be clever in the kitchen to get my Little Dude to eat protein. He won't eat chicken; an occasional McNugget is as daring as he'll go. He might nibble on a cheese burger. Good thing we're not kosher because the only meat he'll eat is bacon, ham and other pork products and as we all know, too much of that and he won't fit through the front door. But strangely he loves broccoli and spinach. The rub is that if I offer broccoli too much, he'll get tired of it. (Hmm and I wonder why I feel like a hostage sometimes?)

Recently at my brother's celebration lunch (he graduated from the Federal Fire Department Academy), the Little Dude discovered miso soup with tofu, seaweed ... the works. He ate my bowl and my grandma's bowl. Giddy with the discovery that we had one more item that was acceptable to his palate, I made miso soup for him a week later- the packaged kind but with real tofu pieces and spinach to replace the seaweed. He refused it without even tasting it.

Yesterday felt like a real fall day. The leaves tumbled across the lawn and the air was fuzzy with the dust and dirt kicked up from the wind. As we were putting out a "fire" in the garage, the Little Dude asked for soup for dinner. This was a really big deal. He never makes requests for dinner. Remembering the miso soup disaster, I asked if he'd like scary, slime soup. He's all about Halloween and my gamble paid off when he eagerly threw down his fire helmet and ran to the kitchen. With that in mind, I tried Straciatella soup from Giada de Laurentiis' book, Giada's Family Dinners">Giada's Family Dinners. It's basically Italian style egg drop soup. As the Little Dude and I donned our aprons, I told him a story that the Blob's mama makes him this soup so he stays blobby.

A quick aside: The Blob is one of his favorite "bad guys" from the book, The Monster Museum. Unfortunately, this really cool children's book is out of print but if you can find it, get it!

So we got cooking. The Little Dude pulled out some baby carrots for me to cut and saute with one finely diced shallot. (This isn't in the recipe but when I can, I put as much veggies as I can into his food.) He watched me pour in the chicken broth into the hot pot and then carefully he selected three eggs, which we then whisked with parmesan cheese, basil and parsley. One of awesome things about cooking with a three year-old - aside from the mess - is how ordinary things become extraordinary. As I poured the egg mixture into the simmering broth, his eyes sparkled and he made his ghostly, "whoooo!" sound as the eggs transformed into transparent sheets. We then renamed it, "ghostie soup."

Sure enough, he ate two bowls of ghostie, blob soup. He even had me make a bowl for the Blob and Sally (his imaginary friend from The Nightmare Before Christmas). With the sky turning violet and cars driving home after work, I ate one of the best soups I'd had in a really long time.

Monday, October 27, 2008

This Is Why

I "cast" Joan Collins as Isa's guardian angel in In Between Men. This picture says it all!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Between the Pages with Lorraine López


One day Selina McLemore asked me if I'd like to add points to my karma. Who can say no to that? She sent me a copy of Lorraine Lopez's book, The Gifted Gabaldón Sisters. I made a grave error of cracking open the book when my husband was away because once I started it was very hard to put it down to play fire fighter with the Little Dude. (When you've played fire fighter as much as I have, dude, it's cruel and unusual.)

Anyway whether I get good karma points or not, I'm really happy to introduce you to Lorraine and her beautifully written story of three sisters who are each gifted with a power by their late housekeeper, Fermina. This story is not what you'd expect and so without giving too much of the story away, please enjoy my Q&A with Lorraine.

Chica Lit: How did you learn of the story of your grandfather?

Lorraine: We always knew that our paternal grandfather was adopted. For as far back as I can remember, my mother talked about this, but she never disclosed the circumstances of his adoption. It wasn't until I was an adult, with children of my own, that two of my aunts told me who he was and why he was adopted in response to my questions about him. No one discussed this openly with me before this time, but I knew there had to be a story here. By the time I asked about his origins, things had relaxed some with regard to notions of propriety, and people were more open to acknowledging, even taking pride in their indigenous roots. My aunts readily told me that my grandfather, their father, was the biological son of his adopted father's brother and a Pueblo woman who worked as a servant in the family home, something they would have never dared to admit a decade earlier.

Chica Lit: Did you know that it would inspire a novel?

Lorraine: In the moment, I didn't necessarily see this information as inspiration for a novel. It took me a few years to think this over and to think about the woman who had given birth to him and to his sister before I could articulate the information in a fictive way. It was the women--his mother and his sister--who moved and inspired me. My grandfather was extremely lucky to have been adopted by this childless couple of some means. Due to an accident of birth--because he was born a male--he lived a life of relative privilege as the son of property-owning Hispanos in Central New Mexico. Unfortunately, his mother and his sister had very different lives.

Chica Lit: Also, what happened to his sister?

Lorraine: I was told that she was sent to an asilo de huerfanos, literally an asylum for orphans, or an orphange, though in those days, these institutions were more like asylums than sunny places where childless couples found children to adopt. Basically, they were warehouses for unwanted infants and children.

Chica Lit: Do you feel that Latinos will always be at odds with our indigenous ancestors?

Lorraine: I believe this is changing for the better. I think it's a good sign that people who once considered the circumstances of my grandfather's birth and adoption to be too scandalous to discuss can now speak candidly about such things. That my very conservative family is ready to dismantle the denial and finally honor the complexity of our heritage is a terrific step in the right direction.

Chica Lit: You're published short stories in literary journals and with small presses. How different was it to work with a large publisher?

Lorraine: Working with a large publisher certainly has its advantages. My book is more accessible than my first two books ever were. Friends and family members are calling and writing to let me know that they're seeing it in bookstores. Whereas, unless ordered on-line, my earlier two books were and still are challenging to find. Nevertheless, I miss the intimacy and personal connection I had with Sandy Taylor of Curbstone Press. Sandy, who passed away last winter, was a great man. He was resourceful, imaginative, talented, and extremely well respected and well loved in the independent publishing industry. I'm certainly grateful for the benefits of working with a large press, but in my heart, I'm still a Curbstonista, and I miss Sandy terribly.

Chica Lit: Please tell us how you sold your book.

Lorraine: I responded to an on-line call for book proposals sent out by an editor of what was Warner Books. She liked my proposal and asked to see the manuscript, which she also liked, but she urged me to find an agent. With the help of my friend and fellow writer, Tayari Jones, I found an agent at Dystel and Goderich, and the deal was made. Of course, this is the short version that leaves out the two editors, two agents, two publishing houses (Warner was sold to Hachette Book Group USA--Grand Central Press), and the three years it took from the time the manuscript was first accepted until the book came out this month.

Chica Lit: What are you working on now?

Lorraine: Right now, I'm at work on a first-person narrative about a Latina woman named Marina who is on a quest for spiritual enlightenment and inner peace, despite the fact that she has no affinity for enlightenment and no aptitude for peace. Her goal is akin to a tone deaf person's desire to become a concert musician. I am having a great time writing this voice. It's bawdy, outspoken, indignant, funny, and sad. I like when a character acts out in startling ways, and I'm discovering that Marina is full of surprises.

Chica Lit: The Gifted Gabaldón Sisters makes a great book club read! For a sampling of questions and an excerpt, go here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Prop 8: Something Wicked This Way Comes

"Go Gay Hair Spray" from Art.com

Is it something in the water? Or, is the economy really driving people crazy? I don't know but I have to get this off my chest.

Here in California we have Prop 8 on the ballot which if passed, will ban same sex marriage in our state. Recently, I've seen commercials in support of the bill showing parents awkwardly dealing with their school age children coming home and asking about men marrying men and women marrying women. The supporters of this bill are terrorizing gullible parents - who must really believe that all gay people live in San Francisco - into thinking that Prop 8 will force public schools to teach children about same sex marriage.

Here's the thing: schools have already been teaching kids about same sex couples to combat discrimination. If you don't believe me, read this article.

But listen up because a greater wickedness this way comes - and its not that your kids will turn gay because they talk or read about it in class - it is that one in four kids will not graduate from high school. Statistically under our current education system, your kid stands a greater chance of not graduating than you did. Check it out.

But conservatives would rather focus on the non-issue that children will somehow be contaminated by the legal acceptance of same sex marriages. Mark my words if Prop 8 passes, it will become the most anti-American, anti-civil rights law in existence. It will be on par with the Jim Crow laws that in some states forbade people of different races to marry.

I grew up with a gay aunt and a gay uncle. I remember their partners coming to Thanksgiving and Christmas and it wasn't a big deal - at least not to me. In fact, the only difference I perceived was that instead of children they had small dogs. I grew up to be an educated, tax-paying, Fourth-of-July-flag-waving American. To the date, the only crime I've committed was that I smoked a cigarette in my grandma's bathroom and as much as I wish I could blame that on someone else, I can't fault my gay aunt or my gay uncle.

I hope that people will calm down and really think about what they need to protect their children from. Rather than fret about what people are doing in the privacy of their own homes, why not evaluate your child's education? Or, God forbid, sit down and help them with their homework and thereby show them the value of an education?

If you don't agree with me, oh well. If you do, fight on.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Project Reina



If you click on the video you will see the face of HIV and AIDS. The CDC reported in 2001 that African-American and Latina girls, ages 13-19, accounted for 84% of AIDS cases; women ages 20-24 account for 78 percent.


I'm a very proud hermana of Project Reina, a group of Latina and African-American women who are dedicated to keeping our younger sisters free of HIV/AIDS. Founded by Gina Ravera, who co-stars in ER and The Closer, Project Reina has one mission and that is to get the following message to girls everywhere: Cherish and protect yourself and you will save your life.

Today is National Latino AIDS Awareness Day and I hope if you have daughters, nieces, sisters or god daughters (Latina or not) that you'll remind her every day of how special she is and how much she is loved. It's not enough for us to preach condoms or abstinence; we need to continually build up their self esteem from childhood through adolesence by reminding them how much they matter to us and to the world. And then we need to show it.

When I was in the third grade, some boys chased me into the girl's room, threatening to rape me or squeeze my tits. Not only was I terrified but I also didn't get to finish my lunch.

The next morning after I asked my mom what rape meant and then spilled out what had happened, she took off work and marched her way into the Principal's office. I saw my mom grow ten-feet tall and breathe fire and smoke when that unfortunate man accused me of being at fault. She then got those boys suspended for a week - oh it was beautiful -and thrown off their swim and Little League teams. I didn't know it at the time, but she was sowing the seeds of my self worth. Sure, I went on to make some pretty dumb mistakes and frankly, when I read the current statistics of STDs and HIV/AIDS I realize how easily I could have accounted for those numbers. But I've never doubted that I was entitled to success, respect and dignity through dedication and hard work and I credit my mom, my Grandma Margie and the many female role models who came into my life at various times. (I also never cried in public or at work but that's another story.)

You know I'm not big on waving my politics for all to see. In fact, I've been accused of complacency because I don't talk about politics on my blog. However, I think we can all agree - conservative and liberal and irregardless of gender or race - that our little sisters are worth taking care of.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fires in CA

I'm interrupting our regular programming to ask for your thoughts and prayers to go out to the fire fighters who are battling the blazes out here in California. My dad is on-call and my brother, who is now with the Federal Fire Department, may be deployed if more fires break out. Last night, the Santa Ana winds died down, but its still hot and dry out there.

Thanks for your time and energy and now please enjoy my Q&A with Diana Rodriguez Wallach!

Between the Pages with Diana Rodriguez Wallach


I think it was the end of spring when Diana Rodriguez Wallach contacted me through MySpace and told me about her upcoming YA release, Amor and Summer Secrets. This is not just her first book but it's also the start of a whole new life for this former business journalist.

Chica Lit: Please tell us about your series starting with Amor and Summer Secrets?

Diana: When I started this series, I wanted to write a multi-cultural novel from the perspective of a girl who didn’t quite identify with either of her parents’ cultures. My main character, Mariana Ruiz, is half-Polish and half-Puerto Rican, like I am. But I don’t think it really matters what your specific background is in terms of enjoying this series. In my opinion, Amor and Summer Secrets speaks to all people (and specifically teens) who can relate being torn between two very different ethnic groups. It’s a very American story.

That said, Amor and Summer Secrets tells the story of when Mariana’s father ships her and her brother off to Puerto Rico for the summer to live with relatives they’ve never met. She doesn’t speak Spanish, nor does she appreciate the culture. All she wants is to be back in Philadelphia celebrating her best friend’s Sweet 16.

And though the trip wasn’t what she wanted, Mariana does eventually open up. She makes friends with her cousin Lilly, she helps plan a quinceanera, and she meets her first love. All this while unleashing a secret her family hid on the island more than 30 years ago.

Chica Lit: When your wrote your first book, how did you transition from business reporter to novelist?

Diana: I actually don’t think the two fields are that unrelated. Having a job where you write all day, every day can only help improve your skills—whether you’re writing about business or for children. Additionally, in journalism you’re taught to be succinct. You don’t bury your lead, and you don’t add in a lot of purple prose. I find writing for YA to be somewhat similar. We’re trying to maintain the attention of teenagers, so you often don’t find a lot of long-winded passages. Not to mention, when you work for daily publications, you learn to write a lot of copy very quickly. This definitely contributes to the speed and ease in which I write today.

Chica Lit: In your bio, you said your agent signed you right away but that book has not yet sold. Were you disappointed and how did you overcome it to write Amor and Summer Secrets?

Diana: Of course. I was incredibly disappointed. Who wouldn’t be? But, truthfully, that initial submission was a whirlwind. I started querying in June and by July 4th, I had signed with an agent and my book was on submission. The day after it went out, we got a call from an editor (I won’t say the name, but I still remember it) swooning about how much she loved it. My agent thought it was a done deal, and then the whole thing fell apart. Apparently, the publisher didn’t feel the same way.

But I think I needed that to happen. Rejection is a part of the game, and every author has to learn how to take her lumps. But we keep writing. That’s the point. I didn’t stop when the success wasn’t immediate, and if I had, I would have never written Amor and Summer Secrets and I wouldn’t be published today.

Chica Lit: Please tell us about where you were when you got "the call" that your book had been picked up by Kensington?

Diana: I love sharing this story! Amor and Summer Secrets sold quickly. It was submitted to Kate Duffy at Kensington on a Thursday, and by the following Tuesday, I got THE CALL. It was Fat Tuesday. I was at Mardi Gras.

My husband, Jordan, and I had spent the morning catching beads from parade floats in New Orleans. We stopped into our hotel room for mere minutes (to dump the 50 pounds of beads we were carrying) when my cell phone rang. It was my agent.

I was wearing a sequined mask with feathers and my favorite strings of gold, purple and green beads that I had caught during the trip. (On my website, there’s a photo of me on the phone with my agent during the exact moment I got the news.)

Let me just say that there is no better place on Earth to be when you get good news than Mardi Gras. There was an actual parade going on outside of my hotel room. I hung up the phone and spent the rest of the day dancing in the French Quarter with hundreds of costumed strangers and drinking hurricanes at Pat O’Briens. It was amazing.

(Editorial note: for all the details click here!)

Chica Lit: Now that you're writing full time, what challenges do you face? (I ask this because when I started writing full time, I wasn't as disciplined with my time and then I had a baby!)

Diana: That’s an interesting question, because truthfully the biggest challenge I’ve faced is from friends and family thinking “working from home” means I don’t have a real job. Seriously. I wrote three books in one year, and I still have people who ask, “What do you do to fill your time now?” They think I sit around watching soap operas.

The reality is I’m a workaholic. I work much harder now than I ever did when I had an office job. Those jobs ended at 5 o’clock, whereas my writing process can go until midnight. It’s a rare day I turn off my laptop off before 11 pm. Whether I’m writing, editing, promoting, blogging, setting up events, updating MySpace, etc., there’s a lot of work that goes along with this profession. But the beauty of it is, when you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel like work. Plus, it’s nice to wake up and be in charge of deciding what I’m going to do that day.

(Editorial note: Amen to that!)

Chica Lit: Do you enjoy being a writer?

Diana: I love it. I write a lot on my website about how I didn’t always know I wanted to be an author. And that’s true. But the entire time I was working as a journalist, I had a nagging feeling inside me that there was “something else” I should be doing; I just hadn’t figured it out. When I sat down to write my first novel, it flowed naturally, it didn’t feel like work, and I knew I had finally found “it.” Everything clicked.

Chica Lit: What's next and what are you working on now?

Diana: The sequels to the series, Amigas and School Scandals and Adios to all the Drama, will be released in November 2008 and January 2009, respectively. I think readers are going to be really happy with how the story plays out—at least I hope so!

Also, I’m currently working new YA project. It’s a complete departure from what I’ve done in the past—lots of spies, suspense, fight scenes and, of course, a love triangle. I’m really excited about it. Plus I get to travel because I’m setting some scenes in Europe. The character is a lot of fun—all about girl power. I hope to have it ready for the publishing world soon!



Monday, October 13, 2008

Thank You Phoenix

Here I am with Kathy Cano Murrillo (the fabulous Crafty Chica) at the booksigning event last Friday at the National Hispanic Women's Conference. We shared, we laughed and I made sexual references in my speech about the power of a writer ... you had to be there.

Thank you to the organizers of the event for not just having us, but also for gathering 2,500 Latinas under one roof to inspire one another. Also, I send a very heartfelt thank you to our bookseller who sold our books with enthusiasm.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Portrait of an Author Who Should Be Writing


To those of you diligently return to this blog even though I haven't updated it in like a week or so, thank you. I don't know why you put up with me. I must be funny or sexy. Or, maybe you enjoy laughing at me versus with me.

Anyway, the Little Dude murdered my laptop last week when he picked up it (the kid's strong, I tell ya) and then threw it down on the floor. I had to do the mental equivalent of stop-drop-and-roll to keep from drowning him. The wireless card was busted and the bus drive that housed it was knocked off the motherboard and y'all know what that means. Best Buy happened to be having an awesome sale and yesterday, I picked up a brand new HP laptop with a case and wireless mouse for $700. (See, there's a silver lining to our world's financial crisis.) Never mind that I really could've used that $700 to buy things like oh ... groceries, gas and the Little Dude's pull-ups; I got a great new laptop!

Even though I haven't been blogging, I have been writing. For the first time I'm drafting the synopsis of a new book before I write it. Usually I dash off an outline and plunge in and then rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. But since this story takes place in 1926, I kinda need to know the lay of the land. This new character is really pushing me to get started and her circumstances have infected me to the point where I have to sometimes stop myself and remember that I'm me and she is make believe. I tend to have this problem with all of my characters but this one is "special." Next week I'll be starting on page one and won't stop till I get her out of my head, or to the end ... whichever happens first.

By the way, did I mention that I've lost 17 pounds since I started working out in April? I have biceps and best of all, the muffin top has vanished! Unlike someone we won't name, it took me three years to get back to my size six jeans. I have this woman to thank:



If you're looking for a safe way to lose some extra lbs and upgrade your well-being, this works, mija. The best part is watching your body get strong and your clothes get bigger. At first the weight just dropped off (I lost eight pounds the first two weeks of using the video), but then I noticed the weight loss slowed down while my extra waistlines disappeared. Also, I don't have shoulder and lower back pain like I did before I worked out.
So that's all for now. Tomorrow I fly out to Phoenix for the National Hispanic Women's Conference. I'll be doing a panel thing with Alisa Valdes Rodriguez, Kathy Cano Murillo and Ann Marie Gonzalez at 2 p.m. and then a booksigning afterwards. If you're going to the conference, or you work by the Phoenix Convention Center and want to step out for a coffee, come on over and say hey!
Cheers,
Mary

Monday, September 22, 2008

Random Thoughts on Gardening and Writing

Image from Art.com

Last week the Little Dude and I did some serious gardening. We tore out a bunch of overgrown, rosemary bushes that revealed something resembling lavendar that had been smothered to death. We encountered peril in the form of black widows the size of quarters, pincher bugs and nosey neighbors. We weeded, tilled the soil, planted irises, daffodils and calla lillies and when that wasn't enough, we mulched it all.

You'd think I'd have a rockin' garden after all that toil but not so much. You can see the mounds where the iris rhizomes promise to break through the soil in triumph. But that won't happen till the spring. Ditto on the daffodils. The callas are a little limp from the shock of relocating under the pine tree and I won't see a flower until March if we have a warm winter.

The Little Dude was happy having flung dirt every which way. I was scratched, sweaty and sore but hopeful ... kind of like how I feel looking at the outline of my next book. Like the garden, there's not much to look at. I once showed the outline of Switchcraft to my agent and she immediately called me expressing much concern that there wasn't a book in it. I explained it was an outline, you know, like the charcoal sketches that Michelangelo did detailing hands, feet and I think a nose or two of the characters he'd eventually painted onto the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. My explanation was met with tense silence. It was a tough road but as you know, it all turned out okay for both Michelangelo and to a lesser extent, Switchcraft.

Anyway, I got to thinking that us gardeners and writers have to have a lot of patience and a lot of hope to pull it off. We have to look at the bald spots and churned up soil and imagine the the gray-green spires of the irises and their ruffled flowers. We have to hope that the vulnerable seeds will work their magic in the dark soil. Even when their brave, tender bodies break ground, we fear some careless shoe will crush it. Of course, there's work to be done in the watering, feeding and weeding; a garden, nor a book is possible without work ... sometimes very tedious and repetitive work.

So keep that thought in mind when you hit page 200 and wonder if maybe you oughta go back and rethink this idea. Or, when you get revision notes from your agent/editor/critique partner on the eighth draft of your book. In other words, when you're this close to giving up, remember that gardens and books are only as good as those who tend to them. Wimps need not apply.

Okay, I admit that I wrote that more for my benefit than yours but if it works for you, cool. If not, sorry. I'm sure my buddy Margo Candela is blogging about something much more interesting than I am.

But if you have little people running loose in your house, may I recommend the following? The Little Dude gives it two thumbs up.



Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Between the Pages With Margo Candela




Margo Candela was standing on a street corner in downtown Phoenix when I picked her up. We had lunch. We had a few laughs. We then did our thing at the Celebrating Chica Lit panel at the National Hispanic Women's Conference. I distinctly remember when someone asked us how we balanced writing with our family lives. Margo is not one to mince words. She took that mic and said, "You make the time. If it's really that important, you just do it."

With her third book, More Than This now in stores (it is a Target Breakout book!) and a fourth on the way, Margo has the goods to back up her convictions.

Chica Lit: What was the biggest challenge in writing More Than This?



Margo: In More Than This I got explore the ‘what if’ period before anything actually happens. I also wrote it from two separate and alternating male and female perspectives. Usually I write about what happens after the relationship implodes from a single perspective. I was forced to step out of my comfort bubble, plus it’s a love story. But I figured if I was going to do it, I was going to go all out.

Chica Lit: Do you feel that you accomplished what you set out to write?

Margo: My intention was always to write a love story between two people who don’t meet. Some people want a nice tidy ending but for me it was more interesting to see Evelyn and Alexander, the main characters, as individuals, not as a couple. I wrote the book I said I was going to write and it was published. I think that’s pretty wonderful.

Chica Lit: When do you know you're done with the book? Do you miss your characters?

Margo: When I start a book I always know what’s going to happen at the beginning, in middle and at end. The work comes with filling in the gaps in-between. Sometimes situations or locations change, characters evolve but my basic points usually remain the same. I really haven’t had a chance to miss any of my characters. I’ve gone from book to book, by the time one is out, I’m in the middle of the next one. My hope is to take a bit of a break this fall and enjoy what I’ve accomplished. Maybe I’ll even read my own books, because I haven’t since I turned in the final profs. Is that bad?

Chica Lit: Does writing get any easier with each book?

Margo: Yes and no. I just turned in my fourth and I became an spaced-out incoherent zombie for a while. I work well with outlines, they keep me on track, and I find them reassuring since they tell me where I should be and where I’ll be going. For the book I just finished (How Can I Tell You?, Touchstone, Summer ’09), I didn’t have one and it made life not so fun for a few months. I’ll be outlining the hell out of my next project. Lesson learned.

Chica Lit: More Than This has been out for almost a month. What has surprised you about the readers' reactions?

Margo: Readers have been very supportive. It made me realize I should have written a love type story a lot sooner. When my editor, Sulay Hernandez at Touchstone, told me Target had picked it up as a Breakout Book because the buyer loved the story, I knew I’d done something right.

Chica Lit: Do you enjoy being a writer?

Margo: Some days I do, some days I do a lot of laundry and sighing. That being said, this is by far the best job I’ve ever had. I’d like to branch out in my writing but this is what I’d like to do for the rest of my life.

Chica Lit: When did you know you were a writer?

Margo: I was applying for my first passport years ago and when I came to the line that asked for my occupation, I put down writer. Just like that. No second guessing myself or trying to justify it. It was a great feeling once I realized what I’d made that mental leap.

Chica Lit: I heard that you just turned in your fourth book. What is it about or what
can you tell us at this point in the process?

Margo: After More Than This, I wanted to focus on a single first person perspective again. How Can I Tell You? tells the story of how Raquel Ortiz makes a royal mess out of her life and then tries to pretend nothing has changed. She goes as far as to fake going to work so her family doesn’t find out she’s been forced to leave her dream job. A line from cover copy of my next book reads that I’m “a writer who thrives on creating morally ambiguous situations in her novels” and I’d have to say that’s pretty accurate. She’s not going to do the right thing and things may not work out for her, but it’ll be a fun ride.



Margo and I will be appearing together along with our fellow authors Jamie Martinez Wood and Sandra Lopez next month. Check out the details at my Events page and get your signed copy of More Than This.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Behind The Scenes With Ruth Livier

(From left: Ruth Livier, Alejandro de Hoyos and Marlene Forte)



I'm not sure how I found Ylse. I was poking around MySpace and there it was and when I watched the first episode, I was hooked. It's a comedy with bite. Ylse unabashedly pokes fun at the hypocrises of Latinos and especially women in the entertainment industry. Incredibly, Ruth Livier, creator/producer/star agreed to make an appearance here on Chica Lit.

According to her bio, Ruth is best known as a series regular on Showtime’s groundbreaking drama Resurrection Blvd for which she won the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, the Viva Los Niños award from the March of Dimes, the Breakthrough in Entertainment Industry recognition from Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante and the NAMIC Legacy Award. Among her guest-starring and recurring television credits are: Mission Road, Haunted, NYPD Blue, According to Jim, Becker, King of the Hill, The Pretender, Beverly Hills 90210, Soldier of Fortune, Profiles and Reyes y Rey.

Chica Lit: What was the inspiration for Ylse and please share your journey in bringing it to the web?

Ruth: Ylse is the result of the intertwining of many things. First, as an actress, I just had to start laughing at the number of times I went out for the role of the "stereotypical Latina" and 99% of the time the character’s name was "Maria." A beautiful name but, you know, that as a writer the names we baptize our characters with are important because their names are a reflection of their personalities. So, that’s what was amusing…this idea that we’re all the same…we are all Marias.

I live in the world of "show-business" so I wanted to write something I knew…and I decided on the talk-show setting because I thought it would lend itself beautifully to inviting guest-stars from both the Spanish & English speaking worlds. You know; bands, authors, actors, politicians…I thought it would be a flexible setting.

Also, I wanted to write something that reflected my reality, from my, as you call it wicked (LOL!) point of view which to me was not a matter of Language; it was a matter of culture. This is what I strive for; writing from the gut. People are smart. One smells honesty 10 kilometers away!! English, Spanish, Spanglish….who cares? Just focus on being real….speaking your truth…that’s what I tell myself anyway.

Which brings me to the second part of your question/and your next question….the journey and decision to bring it to the web.

Well, I’d never been produced as a writer. This is my first finished piece; ever. So, I thought, the chances of being taken seriously…as "an actress who thinks she can write"…LOL…AND on top of that convince anyone…that there is this HUGE sleeping giant of a bilingual/bicultural audience…that I am a member of…! Well, I thought it would be smarter to put all of that energy into actually producing YLSE. Then, I would have something to show. And the response we have been getting so far…OMG has been amazing!

Chica Lit: How did you decide to make it a web series?

Ruth: These new technologies…the access we have to "world-wide" distribution via the web…How could I not make it into a web-series!! And my producing partner and YLSE director, Joe Camareno, is heaven sent. This man is smart, talented, easy to work with, we get each other’s sense of humor…and he had produced a web-series with other friends (Pasiones Obsesionantes…I participate as an actress in that show)…so he had the web experience and the creative vision that just worked perfectly for YLSE. He came on board and we invited our talented, brave friends to work with us and we all just got it done.

Chica Lit: Girl, you have one wicked sense of humor. Are you always this witty or more serious in your "real life"?

Ruth: LOL! Thank you for the great compliment!! I think I’m much more serious in real life…I used to be shy…LOL "used to be." I was happy being left alone with a good book (still am) but, I quickly learned that if I was going to find work as an actress I had to get over it…fast.

Chica Lit: So did you get started as an actor and did it prepare you for writing and producing your own series?

Ruth: Yes, absolutely. I started working in theater in my native Guadalajara when I was ‘en la secundaria’ there. Scripts and books and stories have always been a huge, huge part of my life. I love a good story…I find myself reading a good book slower and slower as the chapters go by…because I don’t want it to end! But, yes….being around scripts and writers and artists most of my life…I hope that helps make me more objective when it comes to my work as a writer. One recognizes good writing immediately…(I’m hooked from page one of Switchcraft BTW…and it is sexy & hot…can’t wait to get to know these women!!!)

[Editorial note: oh stop, you're making me blush!]

Chica Lit: Ahem. So which was your first passion: writing or acting?

Ruth: Uuuh, good question I want to say acting…because that’s how I started…that’s how I set foot into the arts…and I love it…but, I’ve also always wanted to be a writer….it just took me longer to write something I was finally brave enough to share.

Chica Lit: How long will YLSE run and when will we get a new episode?

Ruth: There is something new up every Friday Ylse.net , YouTube or iTunes. One week it’s a webisode, the next week a ‘behind the scenes’ interview then the following Friday another webisode…and so on. We shot a total of six webisodes (in 2 ½ days…we had to with our budget.LOL)….but, we are gearing up for another twelve webisodes for season two!!!! This time with a writing team which includes, I’m thrilled to say, Herbert Siguenza from Culture Clash!

Watch Ylse episode 1:




Monday, September 08, 2008

The Way We Were



This weekend I threw a baby shower for my bestest friend, Jen Mahal. (Look at us from my wedding in 2000 ... weren't we dishy?) It's a real moment of truth seeing the shy girl you met in high school drama class become a mother. As I looked across the table at her, I wondered what happened to the girls we were? Firmly ensconced in our thirties, we're now wives and mothers; professional writers and journalists. It's safe to say that we're officially adults and yet speaking for myself, I don't feel like one.

I certainly don't dress like one as evidenced by this photo taken at the San Diego Burn Run in July:

I'm beginning to suspect that like F. Scott Fitzgerald's Benjamin Buttons, the older I get, the less mature I become and you know what? I like the person I see in the mirror. She makes me laugh. She doesn't get all het up over saying stupid things, or not appearing cool because she now knows that "cool people" are, in actuality, boring people who wouldn't know a good fart joke if it came out of their own ass.

As we get older, our lives get harder and yet, it doesn't help if you become hard. This past January I had to find a new agent and embrace that my writing had changed, rather than try to replicate what I'd been doing with my past books.

If I had allowed the experience to harden me, I don't think I could've kept going. If I hadn't learned to roll my eyes and channel anger into action, I wouldn't have found my way out of the darkness. This summer I revised The Ballad of Aracely Calderon (again), I spent a lot of time with my family and published a feature story looking back at the life and career of Ritchie Valens (yes, I got to meet the Donna!); I profiled Jay Hernandez from Hostel in Latino Future and Jose Aponte, director of the San Diego County Library. Next month, I will see my very first cover story in Rise Up magazine about the civil rights case, Mendez v. Westminster. From the emails I've received, my story on biracial Latinas in LatinaVoz helped some readers understand the racism they've experienced from their own families.

I never would've had these adventures if I'd kept plodding along doing the same thing. This fall, starting with Ylse creator and star, Ruth Livier on Tuesday, I hope to introduce you to more women who are daring, playful and brave.

Best,
Mary

Meet Mary This Fall

Thursday, August 28, 2008

HIGH-larious

If you haven't seen the web series, Ylse, dude, you are missing out!

Office workers beware: this is not work-safe viewing unless your boss called in sick and you have ear phones.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Stop What You're Doing

and check out what we get in February 2009 ... eeeee!!!

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