Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Brokeback Mountain poster from

Didja hear about the shocking new video of Heath Ledger that will air on Entertainment Tonight? I won't watch it because I'll be at a book club meeting with my neighbors. But I when I read the story I wondered if we would remember Mr. Ledger more for his alleged drug addictions than his electrifying performances. When we think of great actors, some of us picture Brando screaming "Stella!", or Clark Gable standing on his side of the "walls of Jericho" while Claudette Colbert dresses in his pajamas. (If you haven't seen It Happened One Night, GO!) Ever since Robert de Niro in Godfather II, I haven't seen an actor use silence more effectively than Mr. Ledger did in Brokeback Mountain. And that was just the beginning of his journey that was cut too short. But when I hear his name, I want to remember him as the youngman with a gravelly voice and a face that could say more than words.

I used to think that artists were selfish people, particularly us writers. We shamelessly steal the quirks and witticisms of strangers we sit next to in restaurants and airports. We mine our family histories or the crime section of the newspaper for book ideas. We hide away from family and friends to write down our make believe and then take off for writers conferences and such to promote our books. Ultimately, we ask other people to fork over their cash for a story.

But thinking about Mr. Ledger and his legacy, I think that actors, writers and artists are the most giving. We rip open our hurts to heal. We uncover truth, we tantalize with our fantasies and we flash our hearts and ideals for all the world to accept or ridicule because we believe in love or justice or the ways of the Force. We are always vulnerable because we like my mentor, Ben Masselink once told me, "The writer's skin must be tough to take the criticism all around him and yet, it has to be sensitive to the world around him."
And yes, we still ask for your money. Although with the amount I've made in the last two years from my books, I would've been much better off working as an accountant.

Last week's BIAW pushed me to write. But today I'm thinking of the legacy my books will leave when I'm gone. I hope my son will crack a smile when he reads the parts where Audrey, the baby, appears in Switchcraft because his antics are right there on the page. I hope my niece and my daughter (if I have one) will know how much I loved my mother when they read Hot Tamara. I hope that whoever reads "My Favorite Mistake" in Friday Night Chicas will think twice about the price of ambition.

What do you hope your legacy will be?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Day Five: Reaching the Goal

"Saint Cast" by Peryber @

Well its the last day of our BIAW. There might be one or two of us out there who will reach the goal, but I can say for myself that I'll probably come in short. If you want to know all the salacious details, join The WIPS where I think most of us are reporting our numbers.

However, I want to say this: be grateful for every word that has come and will come to you. Cherish those words even if they hadn't multiplied or they merely cracked the surface of what you were hoping to express. Why? Because they come from you; they're gifts to yourself and eventually (we all hope) to the readers who want a good yarn.

If you find it hard to sit down to write today because you'll just be adding a few pages to a goal you don't have a prayer in meeting (pointing to self), think on this Japanese proverb:

When there is no wind, row.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Day Four: What do the cards have to say?

Back in September I had a tarot card reading. Some of the predictions came to pass, others I would venture to say were "misinterpreted." (When you spend $40 on that sort of frivolity, rationalizing is a great skill.)

So I went to The Observation Deck and asked the cards what they needed us to know during our BIAW. The card I pulled advised: Study opening lines.

From the book:

You have a world of powerful teachers sitting on the bookshelves in your house right now. Pick up a favorite book and look at the opening lines. Who is speaking? How does the book begin? What has the author done to draw you in? How does the opening relate to the end of the story?
But if you're not at the start of your book, perhaps today you'll start a new scene or a chapter. If you close your eyes and imagine your character, what is the first thing out of his or her mouth? What is she or he thinking in that moment in time? What do they see? Are they touching something or someone? Write it down.

This is my unedited, off-the-cuff opening of chapter 24 of my WIP:

Dori walked up the front door of Starbucks on the corner of F and Fifth streets. Her fingers wrapped around the door handle and as if she were in a dream, she slowly opened the door and the smell of coffee wrapped around her, drawing her in. She blinked and then saw her, the mother of the woman she'd shot and killed three weeks ago waiting at a table by the window.

It might be rewritten. It might become scene two of chapter 26 in the final draft or I may cut the scene all together. (These things happen.) But after writing that paragraph, I have to find out what Dori will say when she walks up to that woman's table. Will she say, "hi, how are you?" or will she sit down? I don't yet know but I can't wait to find out.

What are your first lines today?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Progress for Day Two

Amy - 16 pages; total 18 pages
Erica - 4 pages; total 8 pages + one watercolor painting
Lainey - 2 pages + 7 pages of a new short!
Liz - 5 pages; total 9 pages
Mary - 11 pages; total 21 pages
Steve - 1,000 words; total 2,100 words
Tena - 6 pages

Keep 'em coming!

BIAW Day Two: Life Sentences in O Magazine

Last week at the grocery store, I almost walked by the cover of February's O The Oprah Magazine. But then I saw the headline, "Tell Your Story: A Top Novelist Shows You How." With a shrug, I tossed it in the basket and hours later when the Little Dude conked out, I read the story thinking I'd get the usual stuff (write every day, revise like crazy, etc.). What I found was a treasure.

Wally Lamb wrote about his work with inmates at the Janet S. York Correctional Institution. There are some real gems in the article but my favorite is this:
Michelangelo, the 16th-century artistic genius, once said this about his work:
"I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." My inmate
students, you, and I are damaged angels-in-waiting who have the potential to
sculpt our best selves with the aid of paper and pen."
Well, it was tough yesterday to reach my BIAW goal. Even though I took two Tylenols, the right half of my face felt like it was going to melt off. After a week away from my WIP, I couldn't seem to tap into the story or my characters. (They're probably talking behind my back with Tamara, Isa, Aggie & Nely!) But I wrote. I wrote my ten pages that carved deeper into the stone, bringing me closer to the angel waiting inside.

And to be compeltely honest with you, I also didn't want to look bad!

Vamos! Let's write! And if you want to join The WIPS, send an email to

Monday, January 21, 2008

Cigars, cigarettes, chat room anyone?

I set up our group, The WIPS (Words, Inspiration, Progress, Support).

If you want to join, shoot an email to

I have progress reports for Monday, January 21st:

Amy - 2 pages
Anna - 9 pages
Erica - 5 pages
LaDonna - 2 chapters
Lainey - 5 pages
Liz - 4 pages
Louise - 4 pages
Mary - 10 pages
Steve - 1,100 words
Tena - 6 pages

On Your Marks ... Get Set ... Go! (updated)

Our BIAW starts today! I'm on Little Dude watch today so this morning we're off to the park where I hope to run him ragged so he takes a nice long nap. (heh heh heh)

Here's the revised list of partcipants and page/word count goals:

Alana (100 pages)
Amy (25 pages)
Anna (50 pages)
Brian (10 pages)
Caryn (4200 words)
Dana (25 pages)
Erica (100 pages)
Jen (40 pages)
Heather (25 pages min; 50 pages max)
LaDonna (2 chapters/day)
Lainey (35 pages)
Liz (50 pages)
Louise (25 pages)
Mary (50 pages)
Natasha (14,000 words)
Persephone (25 pages)
Steve (20 pages)
Tena (25 pages)

Don't forget to email me ( tonight with your progress!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Book In A Week at Chica Lit

Artwork from

We're four in for a book-in-a-week (BIAW). Erica's in for 100 pages (damn girl!) and I'm in for 50 pages.

If you want to participate, email me your name and the number of pages you're aiming to write between Monday, January 21st and Friday, January 25th. We are not literally writing an entire book in one week. (Although if you want, vaya con Díos.)
At the end of each day, email me with the number of pages you've written and I'll post our progress on the blog. We'll then congratulate each other on Saturday when I post the final numbers.

You in?

The Way We Are

Living with a writer ain't easy. Most of the time when I'm sitting at the dinner table, I'm not really there. I'm in make-believe land discovering something new about my characters or asking my brain, which is a blank slate, the directions around the latest road block in my story. We get cranky when things don't go our way and suddenly run out of a room in the middle of a conversation to jot down an idea or a turn of phrase.

Writers who love their spouses speak of them as if they're demi-gods because frankly it takes superhuman powers of patience to put with up one of us. Stephen King made his wife, Tabitha stand up during his speech for the National Book Award and accept her share of the kudos. When they were still living in a trailer, she rescued the manuscript of Carrie from the trash. When Stephen King was the biggest thing in publishing, she then rescued him out of the abyss of drug and alcohol addiction.

If Una Jeffers, the wife of Robinson Jeffers, didn't hear his pen scratching, she would thump the ceiling with the top of her broom handle. He built a tower for her that overlooks Carmel beach and held her in his arms when she died.

The late Stan Rice inspired his wife to create Lestat. Nora Roberts' husband willingly leaves the house so she can write in complete seclusion. Suzanne Brockman's husband brought coffee and doughnuts to her and her readers at RWA New York.

My husband has read every single screenplay and book that I've written. When I handed him the manuscript of Hot Tamara, the poor man cried. He looked at me and said, "You did it, babe. This is it."

Ryan is still at my side, bugging the crap out of me when he senses that I'm slacking off. He gives me his honest opinion even though I always break my promise not to get mad at him. He gets angry for me when I get a critical review or a rejection. Yesterday, he told me it was a matter of "when" not "if" I'd become a best-seller. I shouldn't have been surprised because on our first date, he told me he wanted to be the first person to get a signed copy of my first published book.

To him and all the spouses who are crazy enough to marry and stay married to writers, I dedicate this song.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Song of the Day

This song pretty much sums up what I've been feeling since Monday afternoon. For us writers and artists, there comes a time when you have to stand your ground on a project that has come from the deepest, most personal corner of your soul. Even when the gate keepers tell you to put it aside and work on something else and you've done that on other projects, there is a moment that calls on all of your faith and hope. It's scary as hell and I may very well fall flat on my face but this is that time for me.

So with that, I'm going back to work.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Update: In Other Words Not Much To Tell

I'm deep into the new book which means I never know what day it is and I tend to forget to breathe because writing is like chasing after words and ideas with a busted net. But progress is being made (44 pages were written last week). This week I'm limited to writing an hour a day because I have a presentation this Saturday, I need to get some paying gigs off the ground and send out interview questions to some authors I'd like you to meet on the blog.

So I'll try to pop on the blog even if its just to tell you I'm alive and how many pages I wrote. Here's an idea: what do you think about doing a Book-In-A-Week here next week? Let me know and if there's enough interest we've got ourselves a deal!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Crisis Overcome

I thought I'd commented on last day's blog (Madonna In the Slums) but it didn't take.

I wanted to thank you guys for commenting. Our discourse helped me understand where my conflicted feelings were coming from. When I hear about the atrocities in Darfur and the AIDS epidemic in Africa, there this overwhelming dread and sickness that feels like its going to bury me alive. In my present circumstances, I can't run off to these countries to help, nor do I trust that the monies donated to international aid organizations are going to the people who need it the most. So when I hear about Madonna jetting off with nannies and children in tow to stay at an exclusive resort and then walk the streets surrounded by personal security while the people shower her in rose and marigold petals …

Oh wait, there I go again! Quick aside: I'm man enough to admit that I'm a judgmental wench. But I'm one with a heart.

Anyway, after reading your comments and facing the source of my frustration, I decided not only to get back to work but to do something locally. I contacted the high schools in my area and in nearby Santa Ana to inquire if I could go in and talk to their students about following their dreams. I'm not giving nourishment to an AIDS baby – although I did that to many such babies at when I volunteered in the Neo Natal ICU at Daniel Freeman and LA County hospitals – I want to give kids in my community some hope. When I look back on my junior and high school years, I remember the former students who would come in and talk to the class. They came from the same neighborhood that I did and hearing how they got into Harvard or were interning at the White House made me think that my dreams, at that time, weren't so impossible.

We are all connected, certainly. So if my simple story of moderate success can inspire someone close to home, then I hope the effect will ripple out into the rest of the world.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Year Ahead

RomanceNovel TV posted my first book review and I chose Maisie Dobbs as my favorite find of 2007. Check it out.
Also, I'll be giving presentations on writing and uh, writing this year. Sorry, no new books this year but I'll be writing short stories like I did for the Halloween Blog Tour and 12 Days of Chica Lit. I just updated my Events page and when I have a release date for the new book, you know I'll be screaming it from this blog.
That's all for today. I resumed writing The Guy Upstairs and slowly but surely its gaining momentum! Hopefully, I'll have a working draft by the end of this month. Onward and upward!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Madonna In the Slums

Am I the only one who feel conflicted about celebrities doing this sort of thing?

Madonna, Ritchie visit slums of Mumbai

My first reaction is always, "that's cool, she's dragging the press to a place that needs help." My second is always: what about the slums in the U.S.? My third: are celebrities genuinely interested in change, or do they want the world to see them in their beneficent glory?

I remember when Angelina Jolie did an interview from Africa when she was pregnant with her daughter. They made it out to seem like Angelina was using her celebrity to shed light on a third-world country in crisis when she could've been ensconced in her luxurious Malibu residence. And yet, she and Brad were holed up in a five-star resort in a country where they essentially ended freedom of the press for their own privacy.

I wonder if celebrities think about the poor struggling to survive in the U.S.? Do they not know that there are poor families and slums in the shadow of Hollywood and Beverly Hills? When I was at USC, all you had to was drive a few blocks south east and you'd see families with children living in primitive conditions, if not on the street. There were kids who didn't go to school or get health care or a meal before they went to sleep. And not all of those kids had parents who were druggies.

Now I'm not one of those uber patriotic types. But I think we have to clean up our own backyard before we go solve everyone else's problems.

Or is it just me who feels that way?

Monday, January 07, 2008

Can't Deal With This Anymore

Sinner's Game from

Today was one of those days when I actually went to to look at job postings. I was about three-quarters of the way through chapter 15 when I couldn't write another word of uninspired, torpid prose. The dialogue was okay but at this stage, my scenes have no transitions and I'm not even sure if these scenes are taking me closer to the end of the book.

After perusing the job market, I remembered the days when I'd be at work thinking it was 3:30 p.m. when it was only 1:15 p.m. and dying for that clock to spin around to 5:30 p.m. so I could go home and write all the scenes that I had been thinking about since I'd driven to the office that morning. Yep, that did the trick.

Suddenly, I remembered what this chapter was about and how it fit into the greater scheme of the book. I didn't want to practice my presentations or run errands or even walk the six feet to the kitchen for a pick-me-up. I wanted to write all because I remembered the time when I swore that I'd never complain about being a full-time writer.

No more looking back ... unless I need to be reminded of how good I've got it!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Happy birthday to me

On New Years Day, I went to Starbucks and ordered a peppermint mocha. When the barrista asked if I wanted whipped cream I said, "No thanks I'm a diet."

He turned and said, "Why are you high school girls always on diets?"

It took but a moment for it to sink in. Today I turned 34!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

A Writer Enters the Kitchen

I'm planning to make this a regular feature on the blog because (a) I love to cook, and (b) cooking made my writing career ... not to mention rescued my savings account.

Even when I held down a real job (e.g. one that required me to shower, dress and then drive somewhere for a nine-hour daily incarceration), I cooked and I wrote. Cooking was my transition from the real world to the fictional world. Also, it saved me a lot of time that I could use to write!

I know a lot of you struggle with time - not enough to write, not enough with your kids but too much house cleaning, etc. Also, because us writers work on our cans, we have to be careful of what we eat, which is why I write this ode to the roasted chicken.

Whether you buy a whole cooked chicken from your grocery store, or you roast two breasts on the bone at home, you save money and time that can be put to better uses. Back in the good old days when it was just Ryan and I, a whole chicken yielded one dinner meal and two lunches each. You can make sandwiches (chicken salad or simple roasted chicken), serve it on a bed of greens (delicious with shredded mozzarella, cranberries and 1 tablespoon of Newman's Own Lite Italian dressing), quesadillas, enchiladas, tacos ... you name it.

Think of it this way: if you bring lunch to work and you're dying to use some of your lunch hour to work on your book, you don't have to use any time to get take-out. I used to walk to my car, eat my lunch and read the previous nights' work, saving myself anywhere from five to ten bucks a day and up to 20 minutes off my break. I also think that hour kept me from killing off some of my co-workers.

However lately, I've stepped away from the pre-cooked rotisserie chickens at the store because they're twice the cost of uncooked chicken and thrice the calories and fat. Roasting my own chicken is so easy that it's ridiculous. Wanna see?

Turn on your oven to 450F. Take out the chicken breasts (use the ones on-the-bone for more flavor and ironically, less cost per pound than their skinless, boneless counterparts) and let them sit on the counter while the oven heats up.

Throw them on a cookie sheet wrapped in foil, or a glass baking dish. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil and then sprinkle salt and pepper. (I like using Paula Deen's house seasoning, which you can make or order.) Work it in - I like using a rubber basting brush so I don't have to wash my hands and risk cross-contaminating my seasoning - and then flip the boobs over and season the other side. Throw them into the oven, skin side up for 55-60 minutes or until they're 180F.

After you take them out of the oven, let them sit for 15 minutes before discarding the skin and shredding or slicing. This mini siesta allows the juices to redistribute into the meat (also you won't burn your fingers). If you store it in airtight plastic zip bag, it will keep for two to three days.

Okay, you're probably thinking, what about all the time I'm using to cook the darn things? While the chicken is in the oven you can (all within hearing distance of your timer):
  1. Review the previous day's writing (or heck, write!)
  2. Play outside with your kid
  3. Read a book
  4. Chat with your friend on the phone
  5. Write a blog (which I was doing as I roasted two stunt chicken boobs the day before yesterday)

You don't have to poke around, stir, mix, flip or hover over this dish. As long as I remain within range of the timer, tonight with some oven-roasted sweet potatoes and carrots, I'll have dinner for the three of us - the Little Dude refuses to eat any kind of flesh save for bacon or ham. Even better, when the Little Dude goes down for a nap on my watch, I can quickly fix a big salad and get some writing in while he sleeps.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Not Your Typical New Year's Post

Cover by Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson for DC Comics

If I learned anything in 2007 - other than how to make pie crust - it's not to make resolutions.

For years, usually a couple of days after Christmas, I would diligently review all the things I'd accomplished alongside the plan I'd made the year before. Flush with victory, I'd sit down to plan out the new year. Well last week when I opened my business plan for 2007, I realized I didn't accomplish all the projects I'd set out for myself. And you know what? It didn't matter because 2007 was the year of unexpected blessings. This year I learned to roll with the punches, stay tuned to what's in front of me versus thinking of what I should be doing, and rather than writing as fast as I could, I wrote as best as I could.

In December 2006, I'd no idea that in 2007 I would interview authors, actors and chefs for this blog. I got to spend four nights with my bestest friends in Dallas, each of us taking turns sleeping on the floor because the hotel only had one roll-away bed! I discovered the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear, author Syrie James and historical romances by Loretta Chase. Even though I have no idea what they're saying, I also discovered music artists Alejandro Fernandez (that's Barb!), Juanes and Mala Rodriguez. I never imagined that I'd drive around Phoenix with Alisa Valdes Rodriguez and discover how much our lives have paralled each others. I also never thought that I could write two short short stories, "Necessary Evil" and "La Familia Orihuela" in one weekend respectively, or that Mom and I would be chased down a dirt road by a rabid dog. (Just so you know, we were taking pictures of an old house that inspired my latest WIP, The Guy Upstairs.)

For 2008 I have no resolutions or expectations. I only have hope. Hope that my family, friends and I will continue to enjoy good health and happiness, and if that's not possible that we will have the strength to help each other out of the darkness. I hope that I will sell The Ballad of Aracely Calderon, the mariachi story I've been telling you about for ages now. Or else, I'll just have to publish it myself. I hope the writer's strike ends and that the Wonder Woman movie goes into production. Finally, I hope that every word I write has emotion and power.

But more importantly, whether the good times are a'rolling or the bad times have stopped for a visit, I hope that I will be grateful for every day I wake up alongside my husband ... even if the Little Dude is shouting, "NOW!" at four in the morning.

Mary C.