Thursday, March 27, 2008

Next week on PBS: Compañeras

Photo courtesy of PBS

If you regularly read this blog, you've heard me talk about a Mariachi book that I've been working on. (If this doesn't sound familiar, check out the sneak peek that was part of the Chica Lit Valentine's Day Tour.)

I just about fell out of my chair when I heard about Compañeras, the upcoming PBS series Independent Lens documentary about Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles, America's first all-female mariachi, founded in 1994. Hosted by Terrence Howard, the show will air at 10 p.m. on April 1, 2008.

The most prominent of Mexican mariachi - Mariachi del Sol and Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitan - are presently and historically all male. Female mariachi are still frowned upon or considered a joke in Mexico. When I wrote The Ballad of Aracely Calderon, my challenge was to help the readers understand what an uproar it would be if a woman - in Aracely's case, an American-born daughter of a family of mariachi - took the lead of such a prestigious mariachi group ... even in 2008. But when I saw Linda Ronstadt ride a train on-stage during her performance in Canciones de Mi Padre, she was like a queen and I kept that image in my head as I wrote Aracely. To me, female mariachi are regal. The fact that they persist in spite of the misogynist attitude of their male counterparts makes them heroes in my eyes.

As for my book, The Ballad of Aracely Calderon, I've decided to dress up like a mariachi for my new author photo!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Some Things Never Change

PW Daily and Shelf Awareness reported this morning that Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels signed a new law requiring mainstream bookstores to register with the government if they sell "sexually explicit materials."

Here's what was reported in Shelf Awareness:
One of the bill's sponsors told the Indianapolis Star that the law is aimed at "helping counties that do not have zoning ordinances track businesses selling sexually explicit material, including videos, magazines and books," especially adult stores that open along interstates in the southern part of the state. And a spokesperson for the governor told the Star that the law applies only to new businesses, those that relocate or businesses that begin offering "sexually explicit" material after the law goes into effect.
So if a Borders sells Switchcraft or any of my other books that have steamy love scenes (I think I may have used language like - don't look! - cock), does that essentially make that store a porn peddler in the eyes of Indiana law? Gasp! Does that make me a pornographer? I don't know if I should be aghast or strangely flattered ...

The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) has vowed to fight the law. But check this out:

The Great Lakes Booksellers Association, 15 independent bookstores and Borders Group sent a letter to the governor before he signed the bill. But a statement from the governor's office indicated that he had not received the letter and that "no complaints were brought to our attention."
Uh huh. Sure.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

This weekend: La Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon)

Mea culpa. I'm one of those people who complain that there are never any good movies out there. Maybe it's that they now cost $10 to see in my area and I'm just cheap. Or really, really picky. But this weekend, I'm determined to see La Misma Luna (Under The Same Moon) that released yesterday on 275 screens. Opening weekends can make or break a film (unless you're incredibly, indecently fortunate like Diablo Cody of Juno fame).

When I hear people complain that minorities are not represented in entertainment, I tell them to put their money where their hearts are. In other words, go see the movies and watch the shows and buy the books created by the people you want to see more of.

La Misma Luna has been getting great reviews and was the prize of a bidding war between distributors at Sundance. So unless you want to see more crap like Drillbit Taylor, I highly suggest that we take a stand against stupidity and support intelligent, emotionally resonant cinema like La Misma Luna.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Caught In Bed With Ward Cleaver

Top of the morning to ye! Do you think the Little Dude will be okay if he doesn't wear green because he's half Irish? Better not take any chances.

After years of writing, Jenny Gardiner became an overnight sensation when her American Title III winning manuscript was published by Dorchester. Just a month or two after its release, Sleeping With Ward Cleaver went into its second printing!

Please welcome, Jenny on St. Patrick's Day!

Chica Lit: How did you come up with the idea for "Sleeping With Ward Cleaver"?

Jenny:I came up with the title, first, and then had to write a book around it. I think we were sitting around talking about some guy who was a bit of a stuffshirt and I thought "man, he'd be like sleeping with Ward Cleaver!" And the more i thought about it the more I loved how that sounded.

Chica Lit: Talk about how it went from an American Title Winner to a published book!

Jenny: It was a pretty amazing ride. The American Title contest was hugely time-consuming--it took me away from writing quite a bit-- but it was a wonderful way to market my book even before it existed in the marketplace. One of the neat things about the contest is that it's expedited to market at that point, because it is timed to come out before the next year's AT contest is finished. So not quite the wait that happens with a normal contract, when it can be a year and half or more till the book comes out. I had such a great experience working with everyone at Dorchester--my editor Chris was fabulous, Erin, the publicity director, has been terrific, Brooke, the sales vp I've worked with enormously helpful. It's been a very positive experience.

Chica Lit: What did you do on the day it was released?

Jenny: Uh, panic? No, seriously, shortly before the release date I had a little bit of anxiety about the impending arrival--it reminded me of just prior to the birth of my first-born, when it dawned on me that there was no turning back! On the actual day of the release I spent much of the day fielding emails, working on blogs I'd been guesting on, etc. That first week was crazy busy--I flew down to Florida for my first signing and to do a TV segment on a syndicated morning show. I was sick with the flu (Murphy's Law!) but just kept going. I got back and had tons of cooking to do for my launch party, which was that weekend. The party was such fun--total whirlwind, but everyone had a fantastic time. The first couple of weeks were insanely busy, but all good stuff!

Chica Lit: In "Ward Cleaver", you go from a laugh-out loud scenario to a real heart-wrenching scene. How did you manage it?

Jenny: I think life can be like that so much. Highs to lows in the blink of an eye. And I think laughter is so therapeutic, it can help to soften a lot of painful times. I wanted to make a protagonist who was willing to laugh at herself and at some of the preposterous situations she was finding herself in, but I also wanted her to really delve into her thoughts to try to analyze what the hell was going on and why. Otherwise how could she figure out how to fix things?

Chica Lit: What has been the reaction from your readers?

Jenny: I am thrilled to say that the reactions from readers has been phenomenal. So many women relate to Claire on so many levels. Readers really appreciate that sense that they're not alone in feeling the way Claire feels. And many readers have said it's reminded them to appreciate their spouse. One even said she went out and bought new sexy lingerie after reading the book ;-) . The funniest email I've gotten is from a woman who asked me to remove the radio transmitter from her brain as well as the cameras from her household--she was so certain that was the only way I could have had such insight into her life!

And the other wonderful thing have been so many readers saying they didn't want the book to end.

Chica Lit: Do you think that wives and mothers today are more satisfied or less satisfied with their lives than those of the previous generation?

Jenny: A lot of what Claire goes through is so universal, and I think there is a thread of that universality that runs throughout the ages. Now of course many women have the added element of work outside the home makes things harder on one level, but then again, a hundred years ago women were working far harder physically than now, having to make their clothes and everything was from scratch and life was much much harder.

I think now women are far more comfortable speaking up when they're not happy. It might take a while, but given enough impetus, they'll speak their mind!

Chica Lit: One of the things I really liked about "Ward Cleaver" was the idea of the woman's midlife crisis (because all you hear about are the men & their midlife crisis). Was this something that you set out to explore when you started writing the book?

Jenny: I was noticing with so many women that during their late 20's and 30's, women are sort of drowning in that fog of motherhood. They totally lose themselves because they're devoting 100% to caring for everyone and everything in their lives. And then the kids become older and more self-sufficient and women discover themselves again. Often they've give up careers to stay home with the kids, so they have to start figuring out who they are, and have this great chance to re-invent themselves, sort of a mid-life renaissance. It's almost as if men have a mid-life crisis that's more destructive but women have a mid-life re-birth that is constructive. So I did want to explore that. The other thing that seems to happen is while women are in this growth phase, at the same time their spouses are often very entrenched in their lives, sort of in a change-averse mode. So the situation is ripe for clash.

Chica Lit: Congratulations on going to a second printing! What's coming out next?

Jenny: Thanks so much! That was a wonderful milestone to reach. My agent is currently shopping my book, "Mary Kate Goes Over the Falls," about a woman trapped in an abusive marriage who goes out to pick up her husband's dry cleaning and instead picks up a handsome hitchhiker, whose lure reminds her of how the lip of Niagara Falls is said to tempt people to jump into the falls. The two embark on a road trip of self-discovery, en route to Niagara Falls. It's a sweet story with quirky, fun characters. I'm hoping we'll have news on that soon. In the meantime I've got several other books in various states of revision, so fingers crossed something will be forthcoming soon--keep an eye on my website ( and also on the group blog I share with five other wonderful debut authors called, The Debutante Ball (

Thanks so much for having me, Mary!

Chica Lit: You're welcome!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Putting Faces on Numbers

by Mary Castillo

Almost every night on the news we watch a story about illegal immigration. We hear the numbers and see the footage of men and women trekking through the desert, or cuffed and led into vans by Immigration or Border Patrol officers. But rarely do we see the faces of illegal immigrants, much less the faces of their American-born children who account for 3 million of our population. In the wake of U.S. Immigration and Customs enforcement (ICE) increased efforts to arrest and deport illegal immigrants - resulting in home and employment raids - these children are "caught into a situation they didn’t cause and cannot fix," says Linda Ellerbee with Nick News.

I'm American! They're Not! exposes the lives of three families with parents are here illegally but their children are American citizens. The half-hour documentary premieres Sunday, Mar. 16, at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on Nickelodeon.

Ellerbee opens the story by asking viewers, "Imagine living in fear of your parents being caught and deported. Or your parents get deported, but you stay - without parents. Or your parents get deported and you go with them, leaving your home, your country and the only life you've ever known. Kids, American citizens, are dealing with these issues every day."

In I'm American! They're Not! we meet the young girl of parents living a shadow life. She talks about the fear she shares with her fellow students that when they come home from school, their parents won't be there. The second segment introduces to two brothers, Iven and Noe, who moved to the small town of Visciano when their parents were deported. Iven says, "School here is hard for me because I don't know how to write or read in Spanish. In the United States I used to get good grades like A's, and now I'm getting grades like C's and D's."
The final segment tells the story of three teenaged siblings who are living in New Mexico with a legal guardian while their parents were forced to return to Mexico. Every month, the older brother drives his sisters across the border to visit their mom and dad. Ellerbee was touched when the brother of that family said, "My parents coming illegally, did a wrong thing to do the right thing. They thought about us having a better life."
She hopes that I'm American! They're Not! will touch families by giving these children a face and voice that everyone can relate to.

"The kids so eloquent and so genuine," Ellerbee said. "After all these years of doing this I'm not surprised that’s so, but I'm terribly touched by it."

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Meet Marta

This month I'm giving away a signed copy of Marta Acosta's best-selling comedy, Happy Hour at Casa Dracula. A few weeks ago, Marta had her way with me at her blog and now I'm returning the favor. Here's what went down:

Chica Lit: Tell me about your Milagro del los Santos books.

Marta: My Casa Dracula series follows the adventures (and misadventures) of funny, quirky, well-intentioned, and occasionally clueless Milagro De Los Santos. Although she's got a degree from a Fancy University (F.U.), she's barely scraping out a living when she's accidentally infected with a condition that causes her to crave uncooked meat, and also makes her sensitive to sunlight. The family who carries this condition thinks that Milagro is a trashy social climber, and she thinks they're, well, vampires. The books are romantic comedies about someone who always feels as if she's on the outside of things and desperately wants to belong, but not enough to give up her own identity.

Chica Lit: Milagro has such a distinct personality. Did she come to you first, or was it the idea of a vampire love story?

Marta: I think I probably began with the form of the story first. I wanted to write a romantic comedy like those that I've always enjoyed. So you've got the intrepid, likable, but occasionally oblivious heroine; the conflict of social classes; the misunderstandings; the eccentric characters; and the ridiculous coincidences. I was really focused on ways to make the story funny.
But I did think a lot about the kind of protagonist I wanted. I wanted her to have those personality traits that I love in my favorite fictional characters, from Jane Austen to P.G. Wodehouse. I didn't want someone who was perfect because young people aren't perfect. They lack the experience and cynicism to make wise decisions. They trust the wrong people. They act on impulse. Hopefully, they learn from their mistakes, but there are always new mistakes to make!

Chica Lit: Speaking of vampires, why do you think they make such appealing romantic figures?

Marta: Oh, I don't think they're particularly appealing, which is why I subvert the cliches in my stories. But I think the romance is that a vampire hero doesn't have the usual guy flaws. He never leaves the toilet seat up at night, or spends a Sunday afternoon watching football and eating Cool Ranch Doritos. He doesn't make snide comments about your parents, and he doesn't bicker about what movie to see. A vampire would never show up for a date wearing sweats, carrying a six-pack of beer and tell you he doesn't feel like going out, so can you cook something.

Chica Lit: And without changing the subject, what is your favorite vampire book or movie?

Marta: I really liked Joss Whedon's shows, "Angel" and "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer." Whedon does great characters, has wonderful ensemble casts, and really loves the English language. He takes chances and he lets his characters develop and change.

Chica Lit: When does your third book, The Bride of Casa Dracula come out and how long will you continue the series?

Marta: The Bride of Casa Dracula comes out in September and I'm supposed to be proofing the manuscript now! Simon & Schuster just bought two more novels, a fourth Casa Dracula novel and another romantic comedy that I'm really excited about and will be writing this year.

Chica Lit: I also read that you're writing a young adult novel. How's that coming along and when will it be released?

Marta: I am writing a young adult novel and I'm dying to finish it. But I've got deadlines for my other novels, so it's on hold for now. It's a Gothic and set in a mysterious and exclusive private school.

Chica Lit: Talk about how your journey to becoming a published author. Are there books lurking under your bed?

Marta: How many are under yours! Ha. I tried writing screenplays, but, as a friend who worked in Hollywood told me, "It's who you know, and you don't know anyone." She was absolutely right, but I felt I had to knock on that door. Then I ran around and tried the windows, but they were locked, too.

I wrote one novel before Happy Hour at Casa Dracula, a noir thriller. Editors liked the writing, but said that it wasn't marketable because it was too dark. I took a break from fiction and I began writing humor and columns. I'd always written funny stories, but I'd never taken my humorous writing seriously. (Well, no one takes humorous writing seriously.) I realized how much fun I had making people laugh and I decided to write a funny novel.

Chica Lit: And because you asked me, I'm going to ask you if, as a Latina, do you want your characters or stories to say anything about identity?

Marta: Absolutely. I want my characters to show a shared humanity. I want people to identify with Milagro and to realize that they've got a lot in common with her. I also want them to see what it's like to be outside of things -- but the thing is that everyone feels that way sometimes. Everyone has that moment when they're watching everyone else having a good time and feeling like they don't fit in.

Chica Lit: Have you faced any challenges as a Latina author, or had to deal with any misperceptions about who you are and what you're writing?

Marta: Oh, I often think that if I wrote a story that fit the expectations about Latinos, I would have been published earlier. There's the pressure to write magical realism, which is why you see so many shoddy knock-offs of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Marcela Landres, who's an editor and has the Latinidad website and newsletter, has written eloquently on the subject of stereotypes and expectations, as has novelist Daniel Alarcon. To read the story, go here.

Chica Lit: Do you write to music?

Marta: I always listen to music as I write because it helps set the mood. Half of my chapter titles are taken from songs. My taste in music, like my taste in writing, is all over the place. I'm inspired by bitter, clever lyricists like Elvis Costello and Lou Reed. I like anything that rocks out, including old-school punk and metal.

Singers like Aretha Franklin and Frank Sinatra can really set a mood, and I think no one conveys a sense of yearning more than Al Green.

I like any song with "California" or "party" in the title, so of course I listened to "Hotel California" and "Party Hard" when I was working on my second novel, Midnight Brunch, which took place at a mysterious and lavish desert hotel.

My current favorite song is TV on the Radio's "Wolf Like Me," which I play loudly several times in a row, and I love the seriously funky "Bollywood Joint" from Spike Lee's "Inside Man."

Thanks Marta!

If you'd like to win a copy of this laugh-out-loud, HIGHlarious book, go to the Contest page and play to win! If you'd like to read Marta's interview with me and learn more about her books, go to her blog.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Today's Big News

The Bootleggers by Edward Hopper from

Mom called this morning to tell me that I'm in today's San Diego Union Tribune! It's a bit surreal to be in the hometown paper that my parents read every morning. But hey, I'll take it!

Last night, I taped Ghost Hunters but I promised Ryan that I'd wait till Friday to watch it with him. So no can tell me what happened, okay?

I finished the revision outline for the ghost story book. With all the research that I've been doing, it's going to be so much fun to go back into the story. But here's the strange thing about historical research for fictional purposes ... my ghost smuggled tequila and Mexican beer across the border during Prohibition. I had consulted with one of the librarians in the history room at the Downtown San Diego Library and she gave me the idea that perhaps he used boats to smuggle hooch through the bay. But I couldn't find any evidence that such activity took place in San Diego, which put the author and former history major at an impasse. Do I attempt to fudge history?

Well, on Sunday afternoon the Little Dude insisted that I turn on the TV. (He'd already watched his morning quota and it was a beautiful day outside.) He managed to turn it on and lo and behold, there's a documentary on KPBS about a smuggler named Dan Carniero who made a fortune smuggling alcohol into LA on a boat.

Sometimes, you really can't make this stuff up.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008


Win this book! Win this book!

I have nothing interesting to blog about because my mind is in the make-believe world of my story. However, Susan Kay Law is giving away a signed copy of my book, Names I Call My Sister (if you want it, go here) and I'm giving away a signed copy of Happy Hour at the Casa Dracula by Marta Acosta at my website. (Which reminds me that I should introduce y'all to Marta!)

But before I do that, I will be watching the season premiere of Ghost Hunters tonight on the SciFi channel. Even though I love Donna, I couldn't get into Ghost Hunters International. The strength of the show are the human connections the teams makes with home owners who are living with paranormal activity. It's easy for people who've never lived with a ghost to think that you'd just bail at the first sign of a ghost. But there's something very primal about claiming your personal territory, even if the invisible occupant once lived there.

Okay, I have to get into the story. I had a great dream last night and don't want to lose it.