Monday, September 22, 2008

Random Thoughts on Gardening and Writing

Image from

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 , 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.


Meet Mary This Fall