Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tagged! Six Words & One Photo

Photo from

Erica Orloff got tagged to write a six-word memior and post a meaningful photo. So I'm posting my memoir and its requisite photo.

A quick story about why I used the above photo ... in 1994, Mom and I went on a month-long trip to Europe. When I wasn't thinking about the boy with whom I was in lust, I would actually pay attention to where we were and what we were doing. One of the most memorable days was our second day in Amsterdam. We went to the Anne Frank House and climbed up the narrow, steep staircase that had been hidden by a bookcase when the family was in hiding from 1942 to 1944. As we walked through the rooms, I was in a state of shock until I saw Anne's magazine pictures still taped to the wall. My mom and I tried not to cry as we held hands in that moment. I bought a postcard of an open window looking out at the sky and a clock tower that is now on my desk over my laptop screen to remind me of courage, freedom and the gift of each breath and each word.

So here's my six-word memoir: Present tense mom, citizen and writer.

If you feel so inclined, please share your memoir in the comments.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Writers In Movies

Admittedly, I'm way behind when it comes to seeing movies. Everyone and their mother has seen Juno and yet, I spend my days at my computer chasing after a ghost.

But this weekend I watched Capote and was pulled into the story of a writer who falls into the trap of his own hubris. As Truman Capote, Phillip Seymour Hoffman proves to be one of the most fascinating actor of our time because he completely disappears into the skin of a careless, roue who stands in the limelight of New York's literati of the 1950's. But when he travels to Holcomb, Kansas to write about the murder of a family, Truman becomes the outsider looking in; the intruder who pursues fame in the guise of truth.

When I was reporting for the Coastline Pilot and now when I do research, I'm reminded that as writers, we are always the outsider observers taking notes and stealing what people do or say for our books. There's a scene early in Capote when Truman walks into the funeral parlor where the family lay in their closed coffins. (All except for the husband, the family were shot at close range in the head.) He slowly approaches one of them and as quietly as he can, he lifts the lid to peek inside. As I watched that scene, I couldn't help but lean forward, eager to see what he would see. It's so typical of a writer to look inside, even at the blood and guts stuff to satisfy our quest for authenticity.

But what really made this film stick in my head was how Truman does everything he can (bribe, manipulate, prevaricate and outright lie) to get one of the convicted murderers, Perry Smith, to tell him exactly what happened on the night of the murders. He wasn't acting in a noble effort to bring a killer to justice, or free an innocent man; Truman did everything he could for the benefit of his book.

This film made me think about the lengths we writers will go to for those gold nuggets that make our stories. It made me think about the perilous line we walk at being active participants in life, and observing it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Author Action Figures

Yes, they do exist and I want these two:

After experiencing the uh, creative side effects of morphine (before you freak out, it was administered by a trained professional before my C-section), I can see why Edgar got hooked on opium. But if my Edgar action figure was on my desk, then perhaps he could watch over and guide me as I revise my ghost story. I know that sounds rather desperate, but novelists (and for that matter, Catholics who pray to saints) understand where I'm coming from.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Bloody Good Time

Guess what? Marta Acosta interviewed me on her blog and she's giving away a signed copy of In Between Men!

I'm on Little Dude watch today and I think he just walked out the door without shoes. Gotta run!



Thursday, February 14, 2008

In Lieu of the Wonder Woman Movie

and the now (apparently) defunct live-action Justice League movie, we get the new animated Justice League: The New Frontier. Frankly, I think the animated movies have far outdone the live action films (with the exception of Batman Begins and The X-Men) with character development and story. But I'm really excited about this new animated feature because Lucy Lawless is the voice of Wonder Woman!

Now they could've used more Wonder Woman in the following trailer, but it's better than nothing. Happy Valentine's Day!

Finale of the Chica Lit Valentines Blog Tour

"The Ballad of Aracely Calderon" by Mary Castillo,

“The Painting” by Mayra Calvani,

“A Box of Valentines” by Jamie Martinez Wood,

“Missed Connections” by Margo Candela,

“Dream Catch Me” by Barbara Caridad Ferrer,

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Por Un Amor

Mariachi Talking to Senorita @

The following is an excerpt from my yet-to-be published novel, The Ballad of Aracely Calderon.

But first, some background: Aracely Calderon has just lost her father, Candelario Calderon, the 20th century's most infamous mariachi singer. At the reading of his will, Aracely learns that she will lose the Calderon violin that has been in her family for four generations (and reputed to have magical powers) if she does not take her father's place at the head of Mariachi Calderon. Otherwise, the violin will go to her father's protégé and her childhood nemesis, Jack Navarro. Years ago, at her quinceanera when she was expected to accept the Calderon violin, Aracely turned her back on her abusive father and her family's musical legacy. But when she takes up the challenge set forth in her father's will, Aracely must convince her reluctant cousins to become the next generation of Mariachi Calderon. On her journey, Aracely is up against tradition, family secrets and betrayals. But through it all, she picks up the broken pieces of the Calderons and makes them a real family.

Oh and if you happen to have Linda Ronstadt's Canciones de Mi Padre CD, listen to the song, "Dos Arbolitos," the inspiration for this book.

And now, this scene from The Ballad of Aracely Calderon is my Valentine to you:

Aracely walked down the hallway, having just signed her sister's marriage certificate. She had every intention of making an act of enjoying herself and enduring the question on every single wedding guest's mind: was it true that Dad booted her out of his will? But the door to her father's study and rehearsal room stood ajar and just as she was about to shut it, a metronome ticked, ticked, ticked in the room she knew was empty. Heart racing, she jumped back. The sound stopped.

Someone had to be in the room. She pushed the door open.

Sheet music still lay open on the music stand by the window. Her dad's practice violin was in its case on the chair. Otherwise, the room was just as he'd left it.

She walked inside, the air thick and warm from so many months of stilness. Aracely drew her fingers along the music stand's ledge. Her father had last played "Sorrow," one of Bartók's 44 Duos for Two Violins.

She tilted her head, hearing the music in her head as she read the music. Which part had Dad been playing?

Someone cleared his throat. Chills erupted over her whole body when she saw the tall, lanky silhouette in the doorway. She blinked and realized the silhouette was Javi.

"What are you doing here by yourself?" he asked.

She swallowed past the knot in her throat, not about to show that he'd nearly scared the hell out of her. "Looking for any money Dad might have dropped on the rug," she managed. "And you?"

Javi stepped into the light. Aracely got the feeling he was counting to ten, as if she were a kid he needed to have patience for. He scratched his eyebrow and then pointed to the violin. "Are you taking that down with you?"

She glanced at the violin and out of habit said, "Are you kidding? Dad would- Uh. No. It's not mine."

Rolling her shoulders back, she walked towards him so he wouldn't know that inside, she was writhing with shame over the last time they'd seen each other. An evolved person would've taken the opportunity and flown the white flag and apologized. But she wasn't very evolved and was more than eager to get away from him.

"So did you come up here looking for me?" she asked when she stood close enough that she had to lift her chin to look him in the eye.

But he wouldn't look at her. "I guess I wanted to see Lario's violin one more time."

She couldn't help it. She softened towards him. Aracely no longer hated him like she had when they were kids. But she didn't like him, either.

"It's right where he left it," she said, telling herself that was close to an apology for all the crap she dumped on him so many years ago when he'd been the housekeeper's fat kid. "You can look at it if you want but shut the door when you're done."

"Who's going to lead the serenade?" he asked, ignoring everything she'd just said.

As much as Aracely hated the idea, Uncle Danny would lead Mariachi Calderon in the traditional serenade of the bride and groom. Mayda had been quietly livid, hissing to Aracely at the outrage that Danny and the rest of the men had showed up to the wedding in suits. The family rule was that Mariachi Calderon wore their signature trajes at the weddings they performed in. This would have been inexcusable at any other wedding; a mortal sin when the bride was Lario's daughter.

You could do it, a voice shouted in her head and a violent shiver racked her body. Ever since Aracely had moved into Mayda's house, she had been practicing six, sometimes eight hours a day. It was to lose herself in music, her refuge. All those weeks weren't in preparation for Lola's wedding or to take her father's place. It was so she could...

Aracely realized she was staring and Javi was staring back at her. Stepping back, she shrugged and then shook her head. "It won't be me," she answered. "You want to do it?"

"I don't need the violin, but if you want me to have it then…"

A humorless grin flashed on his face and if she were a cat, the hair would be standing up straight off her back as she hissed and spit at him. Javi backed towards the door.

"I won't talk you into anything you don't want to do," he said.

The Ballad of Aracely Calderon. Copyright © 2008 by Mary Castillo.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


On Tuesday I went to the local history room of the National City Public Library to start researching for my book. My first discovery was my Grandma Nana's (my great grandmother) address in the city directory for 1929. I also found my great great great grandmother's listing and realized that she lived three blocks down from my Grandma Nana (her grand daughter). The librarian gave me a list of the oral histories done in the 1980's and there was my Great Uncle John who used to ride down to visit my Grandma Mary (my mom's mom) on his Harley. He was in his late 70's at the time.

Listening to his tape, I uncovered a family secret. My Grandma Mary told my mom that she had been born in Mazatlan. According to my Great Uncle John, they were born in San Ysidro and then taken to Mazatlan by an Aunt Catalina who registered them as Mexican citizens. The plan was that their parents would return to Mexico. But when the revolution broke out in 1911, she hightailed it out of Mexico and brought them back to San Diego. A few years later in 1913, their father was shot and killed in a gambling hall, forcing my Great Grandmother Inez to work in a Chinese laundry from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day for $1 per day. My Great Uncle John, then 11 years old, went to work for Japanese farmer so his mother wouldn't have to work so hard.

I could go on with more stories but there's something magical and poignant about finding the people who gave you the color of your hair or the shape of your chin in an 80 year-old phone book. Suddenly, they're not blurry faces in old photos, or names on county documents. They're people who lived. When I heard about my widowed great grandmother who couldn't read or write, and could understand English but not speak it (or Chinese, presumably) having to wash laundry to support her two children ... man, that puts my problems in perspective!

But it also makes me so proud and yet, so humble. Ever since Tuesday, I walk through my house with such an appreciation for my education, my home and the Little Dude's toys that litter every room. I think about the books that are on the shelves in front of me, around me and on the floor and that I can write these words when almost a 100 years ago, my great grandmother was boiling clothes and then scrubbing them on a board. (What did she think about, I keep wondering.) I thought my mariachi book would be the most special story I'd ever written. But this new story that I'm working on is taking me into new territory. So I hope you won't be bored as I share my stories along the journey.


Sunday, February 03, 2008

Recommended Reading

This is going to be one helluva week so I'll briefly dispense with the announcements.

Romance Novel TV posted my review of Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos. I've been reading all the best sellers and well, there's a reason why this book has made a strong showing on all the lists.

If you're in Huntington Beach or around those parts, I'll be talking about my books at an afternoon tea thrown by the Friends of the Huntington Beach Public Library on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. If you want to go, check out the details by clicking here.

And finally, I finished draft one of my book! Hooray! It's only a 150 pages short of its intended length but then my first drafts are always short so I shouldn't worry. But I will. Just a little.