Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Take Tea and See

I think it was in April when I met Janice Roper for the first time. For years, Ilona, my mother-in-law, had spoken of her dear friend who came to town to read tea leaves in the art studio. When the Little Dude was born, Janice was one of the first people Ilona called (so she could get his birth chart).

Having grown up in a haunted house and counted pyschics and mediums among my mom's friends, I'm pretty used to this sort of thing. But when I finally got to meet Janice for a tea leaf reading, I was welcomed by a gentle and humorous woman who greeted me like an old friend.

Needless to say, the reading that Janice did for me was incredibly accurate down to the initials of the people who later hired me to write a TV pilot.

Last month, I stopped by the studio where Janice had just finished her last reading and asked if she'd consider writing for this blog. She said yes and I'm so excited to post her first message to us. As an intuitive counselor, Janice combines the ancient art of tea leaf reading with the art and science of astrology to guide individuals in their practical and spiritual paths. So many of you who come to this blog are writers and creatives and Janice will be a monthly source of wisdom and inspiration for all of us.

Enjoy her first of many columns to come!

Creativity is Essential For the Journey into 2010

"Woman Painting at Mount Rainer" @ Art.com

by Janice Roper, Intuitive Counselor

By Divine design we are creators, and it is our birthright—indeed, our directive—to joyfully wield the power of the Universe. Spirit means life, living with meaning, purpose, joy and a sense of contributing to the greater community. Matthew Fox, author and director of the Institute of Culture and Creation Spirituality in Oakland, CA says the new spiritual order will be creation centered, which means it will honor the Divine in each one of us. I agree the year 2010 is the time for each of us to become fearless, spiritual warriors so when the human species wakes up it is capable of great things.

Did you know that writers, artists, composers do their best work when the planet Mercury in the sky is retrograde. (Retrograde means the planet has turned backward—a symbol from heaven for us to go inward. ) Our senses supply us with raw sensuous data. colors, feels, tastes and odors—all rich cognitive material . Then our minds set forth what we receive into neat, orderly conceptual design. Utilize the period of Mercury retrograde to put your own stamp on the infinitely curious clay of the spiritual world! The creative opportunities are here now. We create because we have to. By unlocking our imaginations new work would abound. We create because we change reality and we change ourselves into someone more energetic and more powerful Stay tuned inward in 2010 because the Creative energy flowing makes each of us special , and we deserve this power.

Mercury, the planet of communication affects all phases of connections—your computer, cell phone, television and other electronic equipment—these things may need a tune up too! Mercury also affects our lower mind and how we think, our attitude toward life, as well as the higher self and the spiritual connection we have to Source. It’s a time of learning at the deepest level. The New Year 2010 begins with a Mercury Retrograde in Capricorn and a Full Moon in Cancer/Capricorn. Also the North Node of the Moon is pointing the way in Capricorn—the need to identify with the larger ideal, greater than the personal life. Each one of us must ultimately come to stand for something and many of us tapping into Source can methodically work toward a goal not for our own success, but to redeem and assist others. Pluto also in the earth sign Capricorn, (for 14 years) assists in the transformation of the new year. This powerful energy flowing through each one of us can be used deliberately to create the life we desire. Set your intention, become a creator of future good. As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “A mind stretched by a new idea can never go back to its original dimension.”

Janice will be giving readings by appointment in Newport Beach, CA January 16-18. You can email Ilona Martin @ lucy453@aol.com.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tis the Season...

Tis the season for ...

  1. Smiling at shop clerks and cashiers even when they give you attitude
  2. Buying a coffee for the person in line behind you just because
  3. Going the extra mile even though its not in your job description
  4. Making cookies & candies from scratch because (a) you always wanted to try it and (b) the little dude can help with the sprinkles (even though most end up in his mouth or on the floor)
  5. Turning off work & what-not to be really be there with your loved ones
  6. Driving around in your PJs to look at the lights
  7. Wrapping gifts to holiday music
  8. Adding bows & ribbons to gifts even though they might not be noticed
  9. Hiding those extra special gifts that Santa will put under the tree
  10. Letting go of grudges, feuds and hard feelings
  11. Holding in that sarcastic reply or put down and then breathing it out
  12. Kissing your spouse with or without mistletoe

Monday, December 21, 2009

Me, Me, Me, Me

"Girl Before a Mirror" by Pablo Picasso @ Art.com

These days I have a real problem with promotion. There I said it and I wasn't struck down by lightening. I am, however, struck by my own bull s#*!.

My next short story will come out this April in the anthology, Orange County Noir. When I first saw the cover, I immediately searched for my name. There it was! When we began scheduling events, I'd get that little "what a minute" feeling when my name was at the bottom of the press release or I wasn't asked to participate in certain events. Its painful and a little embarrassing to admit that I am "one of those" authors who are always seeking her spot in the limelight. But its the truth.

Back when the publisher let me go and then later my agent, I learned that self-centeredness makes for a very painful and small world. In light of that lesson, I stepped back from promoting my wares, shifted this blog to showcase other authors, artists and musicians and went back to my writing. So along comes Orange County Noir and here I thought I'd worked through all that ego stuff. But it was there waiting and as I began my promotion plan, it pounced.

Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful to have published my stories and the readers who have enjoyed them. I love what I do and that I'm able to make a living through it. I don't mind sharing my experiences through the blog and I realize that promoting the book is part of the whole enterprise. But how does one get the word out about the work without promoting oneself?

I'm not sure. Maybe its enough to be aware of my ego when it chimes in with: they could've put your name before that guy's, or couldn't they have used a larger font? Hopefully its enough to go into the planning and execution with the idea that the work is the star, not me the author.

To stay aware of the landmines inherent in promotion and marketing, I've posted this quote above the laptop and in the promo plan and may possibly tattoo it on my left wrist:

"Writers should be read, but neither seen nor heard."
-Daphne Du Maurier

I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Behind the Mic With Mary Talbot Fee

Photos by Rick Gould

It's never too late to pursue your dreams. Just ask Mary Talbot Fee who released her debut CD, Midwinter's Night Dream earlier this year. After a few career changes and raising a son, she transformed herself into a jazz chanteuse and is set to step out onto the San Diego music scene.

Chica Lit: Tell me about yourself and your background.

Mary Fee: I'm a late bloomer. I've had other careers but I've always been infatuated with music. My mother was an opera singer and musical comedy soloist in church for 25 years. She did a show at Carnegie Hall. I felt I had her voice but I wasn't comfortable expressing myself.

Chica Lit: So was there "a moment" when you decided you were going to go for it?

Mary Fee: It was a five-year long moment! My mother got Alzheimer's and she died last June. If you hear the whole album, there's a song called, Angela and that was her name. I wanted to do a song in her honor so my arranger and producer had heard of the song. I sang it in Portuguese to represent the change in communication that happens when you're communicating with someone who has Alzheimer's. She'd lose her train of thought, words and then her voice for last six months of her life. The translation [of the song] was very appropriate ... so beautiful but different.

My mother has always overshadowed me. She was a very powerful person; I'm a little bit more reserved by nature. I sensed she didn't want competition. When I was little, she'd be playing her songs and I'd learn them faster than she did and she would say, "Hey! How did you learn that?" It was funny.

My relationship with her changed as I cared for her. I think maybe I learned more of who I am as a separate individual and was able to love her in a new way. When you have a successful, powerful person in your life, it is inspiring and [it can] make you kind of intimidated!

Chica Lit: How did you start on the path of recording your first CD?

Mary Fee: It was very serendipitous. I went through vocal coaches who were less than what I'd hoped for but then a friend of mine gave me the name of Amber Whitlock. I took lessons from her for awhile and her husband, Rob had a label, Sketchin' Records. She asked me if I wanted to record and I said yes and yes and yes!

Rob is the arranger of the album and the process took about a year from conceptualization to final product. Recording took six months followed by the engineering and mixing and making of the actual CD.

Chica Lit: Take me into the recording studio. What is it like? What happens in there?!?

Mary Fee: Some people record live and some people record in a club setting and they're done. Most people who really want a high quality album lay down rhythm tracks first, then bass, drums, guitars and piano ... that takes a little while.

Chica Lit: For writers, the first part of our journey is "finding our voice." Is it the same for singers?

Mary Fee: Yes! It's important to find your own voice. I went through years trying to emulate Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. It's important to learn their process and then let it settle and find what it is that you want to express.

I was developing in this style [even though] I'd done jazz for a long, long time. Amber changed my sound a little bit. I had done choir singing and lots of jazz and I tried to push it. [Amber] said my voice was more intimate and so she pulled me back. I was learning how to sing right into someone's ear.

Chica Lit: It seems that our popular culture celebrates the child star even though girls like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan don't always fare well as adults! Do you think that life experience has helped you in this endeavor?

Mary Fee: Absolutely. For one thing, I have a son who's 18. But I'm not going to be focusing on settling down. Having had a number of different careers, I think I have the advantage of really seeing the world.

Child prodigies are fascinating but I hope to be an inspiration to people who were like me, a little shy about expressing their art. Maybe they will try and not feel that because they're over a certain age that life is over.

A lot of these kinds of measurements of time began when people didn't live as long. I feel sad for woman who have babies and then they think now what? You have tons of time left after you raise your children. Think about how long it takes to learn when a person starts to study music at 10. They have it down pretty well by the time they're 18. That’s only eight years so if you start at 40 and begin at 48, you have 20 years of really good time and much more.

I think we need to reevaluate time and be more generous with how we feel about people and what they're doing.

From now till December 31st, purchase Mary Talbot Fee's new CD, Midwinter Night's Dream for $12.99 at www.marytalbotfee.com.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Two Feet High and Rising

Children, Turkey and Pumpkin Print from Art.com

If I were to list all that I am grateful for and then print it out, the length of the paper roll would be considerable. But here are the top ten highlights:

  1. My family, most of whom will be at my house on Thursday. They keep me grounded but give me great dish to work in my fiction ... even though they never guess which character they are!
  2. My son who not only makes me believe in pirates and super heroes, but who is my most profound spiritual teacher. Right now he calls me his Sleeping Beauty princess, even though I tell him that there is a little girl somewhere out in the world who will grow up to his special princess. (Which will then make me the Queen!) He insists I'll always be his princess and while I know what's coming down the road, he'll always be the Prince Charming of my heart.
  3. My husband who from the first time I showed my first script in college has been my greatest fan. He was my first Prince Charming and after 15 years together, he has now grown into a king.
  4. My mom and my mother-in-law who show me how to be generous and the dignity of being of service to others.
  5. My dad who taught me to think for myself and when to keep my mouth shut and when to speak up.
  6. The new babies in my family who are on the way or who have already arrived. You remind me that magic and miracles are not just in stories.
  7. Domenika Lynch for entrusting me with her and her family's story of coming to this country. When I wrote the pilot and treatment for the series, I felt her mother looking over my shoulder and telling me, "I'd never say that but I'd definitely wear those shoes!"
  8. Michael Wortsman who trusted me enough with the pilot script and series treatment and then took it to his contacts at HBO. Not only that, he gave me a raise and opened the door to possibilities I never would've considered before.
  9. Barbara DeMarco Barrett for recommending me to Gary Phillips to be included in the upcoming anthology, Orange County Noir.
  10. All the people who have advised me that The Ballad of Aracely Calderon is not quite what it could be. Their challenge has shown me what it means to persevere and to believe in something that other people can't see.

Friday, November 20, 2009

WWII Barbie

Without thinking about it, the other day I happened to mention on Facebook that writing my WIP (a TV pilot set in Hollywood 1944) is like playing with Barbies. But super awesome 1940's Barbies who wear hats, gloves and stockings. Underneath the glamor, they hide secrets, wrestle with insecurities and ambition and use whatever they've got to get ahead in a man's world.

(If you ask my mom, she'll tell you that this was how I played Barbies when I was a kid. She once caught my Barbie in bed with a Gene Simmon's doll that I'd traded my Ken for.)

But to the point of this blog, this is what writing is supposed to feel like! I recently interviewed Linda Wisdom whose Hexy series has been optioned for a TV series. (The article will appear in February 2010 issue of Romance Writers Report.) She doesn't call writing writing; she calls it playing with her characters. When I heard that, it was a "D'oh!" moment because somewhere at some time in recent months I forgot to play. Even though my WIP is rather serious - I do tend to make a lot of girdle jokes but this is a first draft so who cares, right? - writing it is the ultimate play date.

So here are some of the "Barbies" I'm playing with:

And yes, this last photo is Norma Jean Dougherty, aka Marilyn Monroe.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Note to Ego: Shut the Hell Up. Thank you.

The Broken Bridge and the Dream by Salvador Dali @ Art.com

Well, that pretty much sums up what I have to say. My writer's brain is a strange contraption. It takes me to places and creates people that I swear are real. And just when I've got a handle on a character, the key to a scene or a sparkling bit of dialogue, within the same brain Ego snidely whispers, "That sucks. You think that will sell? You think people will actually read that and not laugh at you?"

I don't know how many hours and days I've wasted caught up in the nastiness of when my brain and Ego conspire against me. If I added all that time, I bet its close to at least half my life ... possibly more.

But in the last four years I've learned a thing or two. Meditation and study has helped me to recognize when my brain is turning away from the light of creation towards the darkness of despair. In her book Taking the Leap, Pema Chodron writes a great deal about shenpa, the Tibetan word for attachment. She describes it as the moment when we react or get hooked by a dirty look, a harsh criticism or even a compliment. She writes:
"Shenpa is not the thoughts or emotions per se. Shenpa is preverbal, but it breeds thoughts and emotions very quickly. If we are attentive, we can feel it happening."
The only way to become free from the evils of shenpa is to become familiar with it, to recognize the taste, the feel, the sound and the smell of it. Only then can we unhook from it. Easier said than done because it takes study, meditation and awareness - all that stuff I claim I never have time to do. By the way, I've yet to catch myself from stopping shenpa and my deeply ingrained habits of obsessing, self criticism or talking smack about someone who hurt my feelings. But my practice has taught me to become aware of those habits and then I can carefully, attentively work myself free. Let's face it, there's something delicious about good pity party or bitch fest.

Yesterday was such a day. I got some critiques that really knocked me on my bum and made me question this whole writing racket. Suddenly the great WIP idea I'd been working on seemed like a dead duck, a terrible idea! What was I thinking?!? But I had to proof the copy edited pages of my upcoming short, "2:45 Out of Santa Ana" because they're due before Friday. I haven't laid eyes on this story in nine months and in my very sensitive, high-strung "who the heck do I think I am to attempt another lame story" state of mind, it would be fatal to proof my own work.

But alas, I'm a classic Capricorn and we scoff at weakness even when we're dragging our wounded, bleeding limb behind us. When I began reading the proof pages, the snap of the lashes went quiet in my mind. In fact, these were no longer proof pages, it magically became story until I got to the fifth page when I realized this was my work. And God please don't smite for saying this (so I'll whisper) it was pretty good stuff. Re-experiencing the plight of my heroine, Danielle Dawson helped me to stumble through the dark room of my mind towards the shades and then crack them open to the light. After three passes, I proofed the pages and I was simply to busy to be bothered by all those dark thoughts and feelings. Suddenly the WIP that seemed DOA had promise again. I even heard the characters' voices in the way that you tune a radio to catch a station. Just words and a few broken sentences. But they were out there. It was enough to give me hope that I wasn't reaching well beyond my means, or going on some wild goose chase.

I'm not quite sure why I'm sharing this with you. Initially it was to give myself a pat on the back and then when I went back into edit it, I thought no, this is something all of us, writers or not, face every single moment. It's not about victory or "hey look at me!" I'm just being honest that sometimes - many more than I care to think about - I feel like a failure. My ego and I beat myself up until I'm black and blue. And yet, I'm learning how to (politely) tell ego to go take a hike.

Friday, November 13, 2009


The hardest part of a story to write is the first line. Speaking from my experience as a reader (e.g. what pulls me into a story) and a writer (what has sold my work), a character has to make an entrance. Or, if told in the first person, a statement. I don't mean just having someone walk through a door, or wake up in bed and most definitely not stare at herself in the mirror over the bathroom sink. Characters arrive. They have a presence that makes you turn to the next page and the next until the end when you (hopefully) wish the book hadn't ended so soon.

When I think of great entrances off the top of my head, I recall Barbara Stanwyck's ankles as she descends down the staircase in Double Indemnity, or Nitta Sayuri asking the reader to imagine sitting with her at tea in Memoirs of a Geisha. Actually the most tangible entrance I've ever witnessed was in the Seven Year Itch when Marilyn Monroe's fan cord stuck in the doorway. Me and three hundred gay men gasped in the dark and held our breath at the palpable energy that radiated from her 50 years after she'd shot that scene.

Right now, or rather right before I began this blog, I arrived at the phase of my WIP when its time to write the first line. Some lines appear just like that. Some take a few drafts or they hide from me until I realize that the first 20 pages I wrote don't belong in the book. The only way I know that I have the first line is when (a) it no longer bugs me in the middle of the night, and (b) when it makes me sit up and shout, "Whoa!"

So here I go into territory unknown and still no first line in sight. But I figure it'll show up sooner or later.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Getting Comfy

So the other day, after almost two weeks of wandering in the desert of my mind, I committed to a project. Incidentally I also gained 10 pounds during that time so writing is much better for my health than I realized.

Well I'm at the part of process where I'm researching and character sketching. No plotting. That comes later. In years past I would be freaking out about now; antsy to start writing and have something to sell. But in my old age I've become comfortable with my process and that's a big step. This is the part where the mysterious part of my brain seems to be conjuring up all the surprises that I'll mine in the writing.

In other words, I look like I'm doing nothing but really there's a lot going on.

And like The Ballad of Aracely Calderon (which Margo Candela is graciously reading), this project seems to have been percolating ever since I was ten years old and saw Marilyn Monroe perform "That Old Black Magic" from Bus Stop.

If you're bored at work or curious as to what I'm up to, here are some of my inspirations for this particular work-in-progress:

Photo from the Ambaassador Archive @ www.ambassadorarchive.net

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dead Is Publishing Success

Watch what you say around Author Marlene Perez, or it might wind up in one of her books! The author of the popular Dead Is series for teens (and teens at heart), Marlene gives fair warning that great dialogue and quirky misfortune will inspire her one way or the other!

Dead Is Publishing Success

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Book It: Jane Porter at Laguna Beach Books

This Saturday, I'll be doing my thing at the Page One Literary Celebration. But if you're in Laguna Beach, check out Book It: Jane Porter at Laguna Beach Books.

I apologize for not blogging recently. After finishing The Ballad of Aracely Calderon and heaving five bags of trash out of my office, I've been cooking up magazine proposals (the family's gotta eat!) and preparing to write a TV spec set in 1940's L.A. But I'll be updating you with events, Q&A's, etc. through my column at Examiner.com.

Spread the love!

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How Done It: Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America

Do you have a story of mystery and suspense that begs to be written and published? The Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America might be just for you!

Mystery Writers of America (MWA) was created in 1945 by like-minded authors to "promote and protect the interests and welfare of mystery writers and to increase the esteem and literary recognition given to the genre." The Southern California Chapter of MWA (SoCal MWA) continues that tradition with chapter volunteers led by Chapter President Leslie S. Klinger.

Read the rest and lemme know what you think at my column, Anaheim Literature Examiner @ Examiner.com.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Writing With Love: Orange County Chapter of RWA

One of the benefits of being a writer in Orange County are the available resources and communities. Budding romance and women's fiction authors are especially fortunate to have one of the largest and most dynamic chapters of Romance Writers of America in Orange County.

(Editorial note: The author is a former member of OCC RWA.)

Read the rest and lemme know what you think at my column, Anaheim Literature Examiner @ Examiner.com.

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Monday, October 05, 2009

So What Do You Want to Know?

This coming Saturday, Oct 10th from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Latino Family & Book Festival at CSU Los Angeles, I'll be moderating "Chicas, Chicanas & Latinas: A Panel of Contemporary Female Authors" with Julia Amante, Margo Candela, Irete Lazo and Josefina Lopez.

Many of you lovely readers hail from far and wide but I bet you have a question or two about these amazing authors. So please feel free to leave some questions in the Comments section and I'll do my best to get them answered!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Highlights from Saturday Night's Pen on Fire

It was a defining moment for Author Debra Ollivier (What French Women Know: About Love, Sex and Other Matters of the Heart and Mind), part-time resident of Paris, France and Los Angeles, California, when she watched a French teen pluck daisy petals. "It wasn't 'he loves me, he loves me not'," she said at the Pen On Fire series on Saturday night. "It was 'he loves me madly, he loves me passionately'...[it showed me] that French women have a way of looking at love as possibilities not a goal."

Read more: Highlights from Saturday Night's Pen on Fire

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Pleased to meet you!

Photo credit Wax Creative

October is shaping up to be a busy month with my new gig as the Anaheim Literature Examiner, interviews for a big feature story, the Scriptapalooza deadline (wish me luck!) and literary festivals. I'd love to meet you and sign your books, and introduce you to some incredible authors.

West Hollywood Book Fair

Sunday, Oct 4
1:00 - 1:55 p.m.
"Chicas, Chicanas & Latinas: Writers in Action" with Margo Candela, Reyna Grande, Graciela Limon & Josefina Lopez
Moderated by Mary Castillo
People, Places & Politics Pavilion
Book signing at the Libería Martinez booth

Latino Book & Family Festival
Saturday, Oct 10
3:30-4:30 p.m.
CSU Los Angeles
"Chicas, Chicanas & Latinas: A Panel of Contemporary Female Authors" with Julia Amante, Margo Candela, Irete Lazo and Josefina Lopez
Moderated by: Mary Castillo

San Diego County Library's Page One: Celebration of the Written Word
Saturday, Oct 17
1:30 p.m. Romance and Chick Lit Panel with Jennifer Coburn, Linda O Johnston, and Samantha Sommersby
2:30 p.m. Latino Literature Panel with Raphael Lopez, Gil Sperry, Pat Santana, and Norma Bustamante
Bonita Branch Library
4365 Bonita Road
Bonita, CA 91902

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A New Name and a New Book: The Story of Julia Amante

Five years ago there was an explosion of "chica lit;" novels about modern Latina women written by Latina authors. More comedic in tone than their predecessors and set in big cities like L.A., Boston, New York and Denver, the heroines of these books gave voice to Latina women who struggle to untangle themselves from their cultural roots and family to pursue their dreams. Julia Amante is one of those authors who got her start in "chica lit" and has now transitioned to "mujer lit."

She talks about her new novel that will be released Friday, September 25, 2009, Evenings at the Argentine Club, her name change and the challenge of growing as a writer.

Anaheim Literature Examiner: What inspired the idea for Evenings at the Argentine Club and how long did it take to go from manuscript to published novel?

Julia Amante: Evenings at the Argentine Club sort of kept morphing into a larger and deeper story with each rewrite. It originally centered around character, Victoria's weight issues, but as you know a book is a team effort and with agent and editorial input and my own soul searching I realized that the book was really about the dreams of immigrants when they arrive in America and how they are affected as years seem to slip by and reality forces people to accept the difficulty of being successful. Evenings at the Argentine Club took about a year and half to write.

Read A New Name and a New Book: The Story of Julia Amante

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ylse's Back

I actually jumped up out of my chair when I got the email announcing season two of YLSE!!!! It's so exciting to see my friend, Ruth succeed in pulling this off. She's inspired me to think more independently about my future projects.

By the way, the video is probably not safe for work ... unless you're lucky and no one spies on you like they did at my last job.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

How to Start Your Book

Marilyn Monroe Writing at Home @ Art.com

The second most asked question I get when I do booksignings and interviews is how to get started writing a book. It's a deceptively simple and annoying answer: sit down and write it.

I'm not being facetious or disrespectful. It really is as simple as sitting down and writing your first sentence. It's not rocket science, it's not stopping world hunger or perfecting the health reform bill. It's a story. It's the stuff we did as kids when we played Wonder Woman. (What? You didn't play Wonder Woman?!?)

If you have a story in you and you want to see if you can do it, check out the Three-Day Novel Writing Contest that starts on Saturday morning. (Yes, this Saturday!)

For the prizes alone, I'd do it. But I'm smack dab in the middle of my WIP so I think I'd be cheating if I entered with my book!

No excuses! Your husband, boyfriend, kids, parents will survive without you. The laundry won't slither out of the basket and kill you. If you live in Southern California, the air quality sucks so you're better off inside. ANDALE!

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife

Preview The Time Traveler's Wife, one of the most anticipated movies of the summer and fight the good fight against cancer with Hoag Hospital's 552 Club's Annual Movie Night on Thursday, August 13th at Edwards Big Newport in Newport Beach.

Dine with some of Orange County's best restaurants at 5 p.m. and screen The Time Traveler's Wife at 7:30 p.m. The film will open in general release on Friday, August 14th.

For ticket information, call 949/764-7212 or visit The Hoag Hospital Foundation.

General admission tickets are $100 and VIP packages are available.

Proceeds benefit the Hoag Cancer Center.

Let's Think About This

"Young Girl Writing at Her Desk with Birds" from Art.com

I'm coming out of writing to make an observation about The New York Observer's article about publishers canceling contracts on late manuscripts. I've only missed one deadline in my life and that was due to my own foolishness in thinking that I could finish a book while my newborn slept. (Its okay if you laugh at me because I just did, too.)

Now that's not the only reason why my publisher didn't option my mariachi book. My other books weren't selling as well and my editor wasn't crazy about mariachi, which seems to be a recurring theme but that's another story.

However after reading the article in question, I'm just wondering if publishers are now canceling contracts does that mean we authors can pull the plug if they don't pay us within 30 days?

Here's how it works, kids. When you verbally accept your editor's offer to publish your book, you then receive your revision letter usually within a week or two. But your contract takes about two to three months. Meanwhile, you're so damn excited to have sold your book that you'd have your editor's baby. You work day and night and in your car during your lunch hour on those revisions so that you can impress your editor with your timeliness. But she gets the book before you see much less sign the contract. Its like this: the customer gets to drive the car off the lot before she pays the dealer.

Wait ... it gets better!

So then you get your contract. It takes much longer if your agency vets it with their lit attorney, which is valuable but not exactly expedient. When you open that package, you're on your knees with emotion. (At least, I was.) You sign it with reverence, show it to your family and then send it back in an armored truck. Then you wait two to three more months to receive your check during which you're either doing more revisions, or writing a new book to further impress your editor.

I realize I may come of as an ingrate or a bitterly dejected has-been. But let's look at it from the author's point of view, who by the way, has probably worked on her book for years before selling it. How many editors wait up to six months to receive their paychecks? Do the folks in the contracts department wait this long? The agent's lit attorney?

Am I wrong in asking this question? Why do I feel like I'm about to be struck down with lightning?!?

Dean Koontz once spoke at Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America. He was quite frank about the disappointments and unfairness towards authors and all this from a guy who is worth hundreds of millions. At the time, I thought he was a bit spoiled but now having experienced the publishing business, by George, he was right! This business can make you demonic if you let it.

Nonetheless its important for authors to see things as they are. Would I go back and snatch Hot Tamara away from my editor? Hell no. And here's the crazy thing: I'm willing to do it all over again with my mariachi book. There is nothing like holding that contract in your hand, the fruit of all those hours you spent in front of a computer writing book after book after book while other people were out there, living! There is nothing like tearing open that package and seeing the ARC of your soon-to-be-released book. There is nothing like walking into the bookstore down the street and watching the clerk take your book out of the box and asking you to sign it.

That is the stuff what all of us authors, enlightened or not, dream about. But you don't get it for free. There is no light without darkness, no joy without sorrow, no heads without tails. Just see it for what it is and do what I'm about to do: dive down into the writing because that is where your truth resides.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

For Writers

Image from BustedTees.com


Using Body Language and Vocal Gestures to Create More Believable Characters
Online class August 10-September 5, 2009
Fee: $20 for OCC members $30 for non-members
For more information and registration, visit OCC RWA.

Writing Workshops with Author, Playwright & Screenwriter Josefina Lopez
WHEN: Tuesday, Sept. 8, 15, 22, 29, Oct. 6, 13, 20, 27, Nov. 3, 10, 17, 24, Dec. 1, 8, 15, 2009
7:00 - 8:00 p.m. Beginning Writing
8:00 - 9:30 p.m. Intermediate Writing
9:30 - 11:00 p.m. Advanced Writing

Fee: $10.00 suggested donation for each class (all three in one evening or just one). No one will be turned away for lack of funds.

Brooklyn & Boyle Literary and Artistic Salon, 2003 E. First St., L.A., CA 90033, in Boyle Heights.

Go to CASA 0101.org to reserve your spot or call (323) 263-7684.

Five-Week Creative Writing Workshop by Reyna Grande, 2007 American Book Award winner and author of Across a Hundred Mountains
Starting Sept. 1
Fee: $125.00
Libreria Martinez—Lynwood (in Plaza Mexico)
To register: reynagrande@yahoo.com


Los Angeles Latino Book & Family Festival
California State University Los Angeles (CSULA)
October 10-11, 2009

Special events taking place at this year's festival include over 15 panels and seminars including:
· Chicas, Chicanas & Latinas: A Panel of Contemporary Female Authors
· Latino LA: The City of Angels through Poetry, Journalism and Fiction
· Border Stories: Writing About the Immigrant Experience
· History Past & Present in the U.S. Latino Novel
· Writing for the Big Screen
· Editors & Agents: What's Hot in the Publishing Industry
· Writing Historical Fiction
· The Pros & Cons of Self-Publishing
· Chicano Thought & Art
· Barrio Stories: Inspirational Stories of Survival

San Diego County Library's First Annual Literary Event, "Page One: Celebration of the Written Word"
October 16-18, 2009

More info coming soon!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Latin Heat Online - REVIEW: One Hot Summer Delivers on Different Levels

Latin Heat Online - REVIEW: One Hot Summer Delivers on Different Levels

Every writer dreams of seeing her book or short story made into a movie. (I know I do!)

When I heard about Lifetime's new movie, One Hot Summer, I cheered for Author Carolina Garcia-Aguilera and screenwriters Nancy de Los Santos and Gloria Calderon Kellet. To me, this is a sign that our stories are making it!

But then I realized I'd missed the movie, which aired yesterday, because uh, no one said a peep! I never saw a commercial on Lifetime, even while watching Nora Robert's Midnight Bayou. The preview is not on Lifetime's home page ... you have to dig to find it and for your viewing pleasure, I posted it following this minor rant.

So I hope audiences tuned in and when the movie airs again, I'll make sure to catch it. (It looks cute!) But seriously man, a little notice would help! But to prevent this from happening again, I fanned up on Lifetime's Facebook page and follow them on Twitter.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

And speaking of signs...

When I logged into my Facebook page last night, Selina McLemore left me a little present that Latina Magazine choose Names I Call My Sister and In Between Men for their Top 10 Summer Reads!

No way! WAY!!!

So back to last night ... Just when I was about to shake my groove thing, the Little Dude peed all over the bathroom floor. You know what I did? I let Daddy clean it up while I basked in my glory.

Shake you groove thing, shake your groove thing oh yeah!
Show 'em how you do it now
And now its back to work but with a smile on my face.

Thanks Selina! And MUCHAS GRACIAS Latina Magazine!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Mariachi On the Endangered List

Not if I have anything to do with it!

What the heck am I talking about? Check out this video.

Ever since I started rewriting "The Ballad of Aracely Calderon" (aka the mariachi book), I've been given "signs" that seem to say that I'm doing the right thing.

The day before I started, I was driving to pick up the Little Dude from school and saw an Astro Van crammed with men in trajes and a sign on the window that said, "Mariachi de Cantares." Today, when I hit the wall with chapter two, I stumbled upon this video.

Like I said in my previous entry, experience and confidence aren't enough to finish a book. Faith and an open mind are underrated. Sometimes I need a sign or a little karmic nudge to keep on going. I'll just keep my eyes, ears and mind open and see what happens next.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Beginner's Mind

In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few.

-Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

This week I began a page one rewrite of my mariachi book. I know, I know. I've been working on this book for three years. The writing experts would've told me to give up and move on to more profitable pastures. Actually, three years ago I would've told myself the same thing.

But the last eight weeks (and being dumped by my agent) have shown me the number one reason why this book has yet to fly. It's not the fault of my agents or readers. It's not because the market sucks or Mercury in retrograde. It's because I worked on it with the mind that I knew what I was doing.

I'm not saying that this journey has been wrong. I'm not blaming anyone or anything or labeling my decisions as mistakes. In fact, I'm beginning to waver on the concept of right versus wrong and adopting the idea of "what is." (Note to Karen Maezen Miller: you're rubbing off on me, comadre!) For us Westerners, specifically for us writers striving to become published/acknowledged/adored, the idea of "it is what it is" is wrong and scary and exclusive to authors with a lot of money and mileage on the best-seller lists.

Through all of May and June I wrote a pilot script, a series treatment and then a spec script. I began those projects never having taken a TV writing course or having written a script for TV. (Although I'd taken screenwriting courses in university, that was 15 years ago and I'd lost those class notes!) How did I do it? Well, I did it by pinching my nose and jumping in. This journey turned everything I had believed in as a writer upside down. I believed in business plans, outlines, the three-act structure and 10,000 hours of practice. I believed that I had to get away from my beginner's status as quickly and efficiently as possible. I even believed that my producer should have hired an experienced screenwriter instead of a beginner like me.

But then I remembered what Nora Roberts had said in one her chat sessions back in 1994. Someone asked if she ever got over the fear of writing a new book. Nora, who has written something like 120+ books in her career, replied, "No. Starting a new book is like starting all over again."

At the time, I had no idea what she was talking about. I thought it was nice of Nora to say that to all us beginners, but now I know what she meant and it freed me to write the pilot, spec and treatment. No matter how many books or screenplays I may end up writing, I will always be a beginner. It's not scary or discouraging. A beginner's mind isn't hemmed in by business plans, right vs. wrong, plot-driven or character-driven or the three-act structure. A beginner's mind damns the consequences and is open to spontaniety and "what if." Isn't that what we writers do?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Between the Pages with Karen White

Give me a story with a plucky heroine in a mysterious house surrounded by trees draped in Spanish moss and I'm one happy girl. It's enough to make me wonder if I was a Southerner in a former life. Nonetheless, Karen White delivers the goods in her latest novel, The Lost Hours. Its a powerful story of redemption and how the past still sends ripples into our present day lives. But man is this story powerful. When I reached the denouement, I had to put the book down and hold my Little Dude in my arms.

Please welcome Author Karen White!

Chica Lit: The Lost Hours is a story of healing about a heroine who wants to bury herself alive and a mystery that probes into a very ugly part of U.S. history. How challenging was it to write and how did you keep going when it got rough?

Karen: I always start out with flawed characters who have a lot of growing and learning to do. When I put them in tough situations, I feel like a mother with a toddler helping him to walk for the first time. We have to suffer with them through the falls and stumbles, but we'll all be better off with the end result. So, when my characters are suffering, I know it's for a good reason and they will learn and grow from the experience. I still cry and/or laugh with them through some of the scenes--which always takes a lot out of me, but that means I'm on the right track!

Chica Lit: Why do you think Southern Gothics are so fascinating?

Karen: I don't know about other readers, but for me it's simply because it's such familiar territory! I come from a long line of Southerners (my dad's family has been in the South since the French Revolution) and I've got a very 'interesting' family tree. I don't want to call them crazy , but there are characters and settings that I've experienced in real life that have certainly fed my fascination for "Southern Gothic" and inspired quite a lot of my own writing.

Chica Lit: What comes first: character, theme or story idea?

Karen: Always, always, always the character. Everything else stems from her and what she needs to learn.

Chica Lit: How do you know when a book is done?

Karen: When I've reached my deadline. Just kidding! When I feel as if I've tortured my characters enough and they've learned what they're supposed to--that's when I know the book is done.

Chica Lit: What's next?

Karen: In November, The Girl on Legare Street (the sequel to The House on Tradd Street) will be released. I'm contracted for two more books in this series to be released in 2011 and 2013. In the meantime, I'll have two new 'southern women's fiction/Southern Gothic novels out in spring of 2010 and 2011, and somewhere in there (we haven't figured out exactly when) will be the re-written and re-released Falling Home, originally published in 2002.

All this will be accomplished if my children leave me alone and my head doesn't spin off my shoulders!

To learn more about Karen and her books, please visit her website!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Know When To Hold 'Em

Image from Art.com

Yesterday I wrote the rough draft of a spec script involving Native Americans. I think I might go to hell for the politically incorrect nature of what I wrote and I'm okay with that. In fact, I feel rather liberated by the whole thing because when I worked on Hot Tamara and In Between Men, my editor asked me to cut out some lines and passages that she felt were too inflammatory for chick lit readers. I did it because I was so excited to be published and I was careful not to do anything that would displease my editor. But I've always regretted cutting out those lines and passages because as ugly as they might have been, they were real. In a way, I think by pink-washing those books, they weren't as strong and relevant as they could've been.

(Then again, I think I make up for it with the sex scenes.)

The more I write, the more willing I am to stand up for my own work. My mom says its because I'm 35 and the older we women get, the less crap we take from people. Nonetheless, I'm more willing to honor my work for what it is. I'm more willing to be honest and write characters who push buttons, even if they're the ones we'd rather pretend didn't exist.

Earlier this week, Norman Lear was featured on CBS Sunday Morning and he talked about his controversial and wildly successful show, All In the Family. Lear's work is infamous for tackling the issues of the day - rape, abortion, racism, etc - through comedy and of that he said, "You know, you could hear anything we were saying in a schoolyard. What was the big surprise?"

Here's a link to this story, if you're interested.

For those of you who are trying to break into publishing and you get notes from agents and editors who ask you tone things down or smooth over a character's dialogue that might offend readers, its natural that you want to please them.

Like Kenny said, "You gotta know when to hold 'em. Know when to fold 'em. Know when to walk away and know when to run."

Perhaps this blog is more relevant to romance writers because RWA still debates the merits of books that employ strong language. (Am I mistaken but do women not cuss?) Anyway, take this from someone who now knows better: please the gatekeepers to a point and not at expense of your work's integrity.

Monday, June 08, 2009

My Latest Experiment

"Little Dreamer" from Art.com

I've talked about this before so bear with me here. When I'm deep into a story, or in between stories and don't know what to write next, I have very vivid dreams that take place in a town where apparently, all of my characters live. This town looks like Monterey, the Gaslamp Quarter and my Grandma Nana's street spliced together.

Sometimes I remember the conversations I have my characters but mostly not. However, I believe that what they tell me surfaces in the work as I write it. But it would be cool to have the ability to recall the dreams, especially those where I'm visited by family who have passed on.

So the other day after I turned in my pilot script and then had my tea leaves read, I was poking around LocalHarvest.org. Perhaps it was due to the post-submission euphoria but I kinda went a little crazy and ordered a lot of homeopathic teas including the Dreamers Herbal Tea.

At least I had the good sense not to order the minimum 20-pounds of fine chocolate from Venezuela or somewhere like that. It was close. Too close.

Anyway, according to the notes from the herbalist, Dreamers Herbal Tea will help with lucid dreaming which means that during a dream, you're aware that its a dream and have more control or simply go with the flow and see that it has to tell you. So I have my notebook and pencil by my bed, the tea cup that my friend, Jen gave to me for my bridal shower for said tea and Sara Ivanhoe's "Yoga on the Edge Sunset" practice. Tonight after the Little Dude goes to bed, I'm really looking forward to trying it to see if (a) I'll mine deeper when I meet story characters, (b) remember my dreams when I wake up or (c) have the good sense to take advantage of Hugh Jackman when he walks into my dreams.

A case in point: The other night this really cute NAKED guy appeared in my dream but I turned him down because I was married. ¡QUE STUPIDA! It's a dream and it wouldn't have counted!!!

At least my husband can rest easy on that account.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Teleconference with Author Jamie Martinez Wood

Photo: "Greer Garson Lounging on Bed" from Art.com

My buddy, Jamie Martinez Wood will be the featured author this month of the Las Comadres & Friends National Latino Book Club. If you love young adult novels, especially those with a supernatural bent, you should stick Rogelia's House of Magic in your book bag. But even better, you can tune into an interview with Jamie on Monday, June 29, 5PM PST.

The first 15 registrations from Mountain and Pacific time zones and the first 15 registrations from the Eastern and Central times zones will receive free books compliments of the publisher, Delacorte Press. These book gifts come with the responsibility of participating in the

To register for the teleconference go here: http://www.lascomad res.org/lco/ lco-eng/events/ current_t. html

If you'd like to join a Las Comadre book club, go here: http://www.lascomad res.org/lco/ lco-eng/events/ bookclub. html

Friday, May 29, 2009


After my last post, many of you wrote and asked me not to give up book writing. Not to worry. I'll never stop writing books. They're just going to take longer than usual. Today I turned in a pilot script and series treatment and on Monday I'll start writing a spec script that is due at the end of June. In July I plan to go back to Aracely and whip her into shape for the fall. That's the plan and I'm stickin' to it.

In other news, I did an awesome interview with Chef Daisy Martinez last week. It will appear in the July/August issue of Latino Future magazine. Typically my interviews with celebrities are pretty cut and dry. But Daisy was special. She's one of those women who's done it all. She's sustained a loving marriage, raised a family of four, acted in commercials, matriculated from the French Culinary Institute and is now a Food Network chef, magazine columnist and author.

Some pretty amazing opportunities have come my way recently (hard to believe after my last post but its true). Being me, I was freaking out because of the huge changes these opportunities would bring to my family. I mean, I'd die if my son ever had to call my assistant to schedule himself on my calendar. But then I talked to Daisy, who in spite of all that she does, puts her family first. When I asked how she does it all, she said the following which I printed and stuck it above my computer:
"I'm one of those girls that shows up, you know? When I have a job to do, I get it done."
Every day since that interview, I step into my office and tell myself: I'm showing up, doing the work and then when I'm done, I'm walking out of here to do what I gotta do with my family. I can't tell you how amazing that kind of attitude has been. My output is off the charts and while I know it won't last forever - these things ebb and flow as they should - I'm really enjoying the flow! So if she's reading this, thank you Daisy!

I hope y'all have a rockin' weekend.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Mountain

Photo from Art.com

On the night that I decided to become a writer, I dreamed of walking on a road leading to a mountain. My destination, the mountain, stood far in the distance and the road I walked curved and rose and fell. Depending on where I stood, the road seemed to disappear completely from view. But the mountain was always there, waiting and watching in clear weather and foul.

The dream was a symbol of the choice I'd made earlier that day in a tourist shop in Sedona, AZ. My choice would never be easy, it wouldn't always be rewarding and it would bring me to the conjoined twins, Ridicule and Jealousy over and over again. But the dream told me that storytelling was my calling, my soul's work. I've never regretted the decision to embrace that calling. Ever since that day back in 1994, I've never woken up and not said thank you.

Today I got some very disappointing news with regards to Aracely Calderon. And yet, I don't feel too sorry for myself because for the last five months I've been researching for an eight-part mini-series being written for Will Smith's company, Overbrook Productions. I'm developing a cable series and preparing another script for a prestigious fellowship.

Good thing I have a sense of humor, not to mention patience, because I had to train as a screenwriter to become an author to then become a screenwriter. The road has taken me to some amazing places and it only knows where it will lead me next. Honestly folks, I don't know when my next standalone book will be released. It could be in three years, thirteen or thirty. It could be with a major publisher, a small independent or on my own dime. But you have no idea how grateful I am to you who have not only bought my books for yourselves, but also as gifts for your family and friends. You have no idea how much I treasure the emails you have taken the time to write where you asked when my next book will come out. Thank you. Thank you all of you.

I say this with much confidence and hope that we'll meet again, through one of my books or on a TV or movie screen, somewhere on the way to the mountain.

By the way, I will not close down this blog! I will continue to write my thoughts when they come or share a kick-ass book or author. And mija, when I sell Aracely Calderon (this is where you will notice that I am a dyed-in-the-wool Capricorn) I will be OBNOXIOUS in my excitement. But in the meantime, its time to get back to work.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Thought of the day

Today Lenny Kravitz leaked a nekkid photo of himself. Last week, Rhianna photos appeared online. In 1952, Marilyn scored big when her topless photos launched Playboy. Apparently when a reporter asked what she had on during the photo shoot, she replied, "The radio." From that moment on, Marilyn became a bona fide star.

Celebrties and their nakedness is nothing new. The photos appear out of nowhere, "experts" appear on TV and in newspapers to wonder outloud if the photos will ruin the celebrity in question and then before you know it, the naked girl or guy's new movie or TV show or CD is for sale.

Nudity seems to turn a red hot career into a white hot career which leads to my thought of the day: would my books sell better if I leaked a nude photo of myself?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


My friend and fellow author, Frederick Smith wrote a great blog today about parents who might find themselves with a bully on their hands. Here is my response that I hope will inspire parents of children who have been bullied (ahem, that would be ALL of us!):

With my little guy in preschool, I've seen him bullied by other kids. And not just by boys. Girls do it too, by refusing to play with someone "new" or encouraging the other kids to run away from a specific child they've deemed unacceptable.

I encourage parents of kids who have been bullied to teach compassion, understanding and appropriate self-defense. My son once asked me why some boys were mean to him. I explained that those boys might have had a bad morning, or they might not know better, or maybe they felt afraid of him. I emphasized that it had nothing to do with him; it was the mean boy's decision to be mean. After the Little Dude thought about it for a moment, he said, "Mama, I hope mean boys have a good day tomorrow."

He still seems confounded when other kids are aggressive or mean to him, but he seems to have an understanding as to why they might be that way. It's hard not to tell him to go over and beat the s#!% out of those kids because uh, that's what I did to kids who bullied me!

Instead I tell him to say to those kids that they're not cool or to buzz off. (Hey its better than f$#* off, right?) And if they don't stop bugging him, the Little Dude knows he can go tell one of his teachers. My biggest fear is that inevitable moment when he'll encounter an adult who tells him to toughen up and take it. But when we get to that bridge, I hope the Little Dude knows that his Wonder Woman, ass-kicking Mexican mama will cross it beside him.

Man, it's hard letting your little one go onto the big bad world. But even at the Little Dude's tender age of three, I'm already giving him the tools to manage bullies because let's face it, bullies in the playground grow up to be bullies in the office, on the roads and as certain bloggers and reviewers on Amazon.com.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Today is Cinco de Mayo?

I'm a bad Mexican. I forgot that today is the day Mexicans won the Battle of Puebla. I think.

In celebration, I have this video to post in honor of my favorite Mexicana warrior:

Makes you wanna go kick some ass, huh?

Ad: Wild Heart Chocolates

Friday, May 01, 2009

Family Ties

Growing up, my family hung out with the V's; short for my parents' compadres, Auntie Betty, Uncle Mario and my three cousins. Crammed in my Uncle Mario's VW bus (which we called, "URK") we'd drive to Coronado for bonfires, Presidio Park for picnics and memorably up to L.A.

I vaguely remember the day we spent at Universal Studios. But I can vividly recall the drive we took in URK to Boyle Heights and Echo Park. My Auntie Betty pointed out the house that her parents had bought after her father ended his service with the U.S. Army. The house is still there but sadly most of the Victorian mansions and Arts and Crafts bungalows - and in the case of Chavez Ravine, an entire community - have given way to the post-war development of L.A.

My Auntie Betty's niece has co-curated “Lost to Progress: The Modernization of Los Angeles" at Heritage Square . Opening tomorrow, May 2nd and running till June 28th, the exhibit coincides with National Preservation Month. This important exhibit explores the controversial evolution of Los Angeles through the examination of and the significant changes that led to the eventual destruction three lost Los Angeles Communities: Chinatown, Bunker Hill and Palo Verde (Chavez Ravine).

Heritage Square is open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Regular admission applies; free for museum members. Click here for more information.

Classical KUSC 91.5 FM

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How do you mother yourself?

How do you mother yourself?

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Between the Pages with Susan Meissner

When I read The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner, I got lost in the story and forgot all about being a writer. Lately I've been a real complainer about books that lack stories and certain fiction titles. But The Shape of Mercy reminded me that my love of books - especially those which take risks with prickly characters and pop back and forth between the past and present - is much stronger than the things that irritate me. As soon as I finished her book, I had to have her on the blog and talk about what inspired the story, the surprises she encountered on the way and the world she created for her characters.

Please welcome Susan Meissner, author of The Shape of Mercy.

Chica Lit: How did the idea for The Shape of Mercy come to you?

Susan: When I was in junior high, I was in play called To Burn a Witch. I played the role of an innocent young woman accused of witchcraft. The play opens with my character sitting in a jail cell with other innocent young women from her village also convicted of witchcraft and facing the stake. When my character realizes she can save herself by pretending to be bewitched, she begins to scream that one of the other girls in her cell – a friend, actually – is tormenting her. My character is led away to freedom and the woman she accused falsely is led away to her execution.

I had forgotten being in that play until I read a newspaper article a couple years ago about a woman who was petitioning a Massachusetts court to exonerate her great-times-eight grandmother. This ancestor of hers was accused and convicted of witchcraft during the Salem trials, was released when the hysteria ended, but whose name was never cleared. I was reminded of how it felt, even just as an actress, to be accused of being something I was not - and the far worse feeling of accusing someone I knew was innocent. These people who died in 1692 Salem were all innocent. They all died refusing to confess they were in league with the Devil, even though their lives would have been spared if they had. They held onto truth to the point of death. That, to me, is incredibly inspiring.

Chica Lit: Could you talk about your writing process?

Susan: The writing process for me begins with something like what I just shared: Ordinary people who I can relate to experiencing something extraordinary and faced with a choice. The Shape of Mercy is about a college student from an affluent family who takes a job she doesn’t need transcribing the 300-year-old diary of a young victim of the Salem Witch Trials. I wrote the diary first; before I wrote anything else. After reading several different kinds of books on the Salem Witch Trials (they are all listed in the back of the book), I felt ready to step into 1692. I interview my characters before I write their story, so I had already had several imaginary conversations with Mercy Hayworth before I began to write her diary. I knew how she was wired, what she was good at, what she feared, what she was willing to do for the people she loved. After I had written the diary, it felt real to me. And I wanted it to, because it had to feel real to Lauren, the college student. The Shape of Mercy is about how Lauren’s character develops, and it’s all based on the discoveries she makes while she’s transcribing Mercy’s diary.

Chica Lit: Which character surprised you the most?

Susan: I would have to say it’s Abigail who evolved into a character I actually grew to care about. Abigail is the 83-year-old recluse who owns the diary and hires Lauren to transcribe it. Abigail was always going to be kind of a hard-souled sourpuss whose own disastrous choices made her the way she was. She was to personify regret so that Lauren could see what becomes of a person who makes decisions based on self-preservation alone. But the more I got into the story, and into her stony heart, the more I saw a woman who wasn’t past getting through to. She became someone I could redeem. Nice surprise.

Chica Lit: How did your journalism career help and/or hinder you as a novelist?

Susan: I have come across only good things that have transferred over from my days as a newspaper editor. Journalism is all about word economy, hooking the reader with the first sentence, saying much in a short amount of space, choosing powerful nouns and verbs instead of cosmetic adjectives and adverbs, and of course, sticking to a deadline. I am amazed at how much journalism prepared me to write fiction. And I know that sounds a like a joke! But it’s true. Go figure.

Chica Lit: In a way, you're continuing The Shape of Mercy through a blog written by the characters. Will you write a sequel or continue the blog?

Susan: The blog, which is found here, has been a wonderful way to keep the characters alive.

More than once I’ve finished reading a novel where I’ve connected deeply with the characters and found myself a little depressed when I turned the last page. It’s been like having to say goodbye too soon to people I’ve learned to care about. My goal is always to create characters that seem real. I want them to seem real to you and to do that they must seem real to me. This was especially true with the characters in The Shape of Mercy. I wanted Lauren, Abigail, Esperanza, Raul, Clarissa, - and even Mercy - to keep breathing, to keep talking to me, prodding me even though the book was done. It’s true that the characters write the posts and I wouldn’t exactly say it’s an online sequel. The posts are emails between Lauren and Raul, advice from Clarissa, stories and poems from Mercy’s recovered storybook, insights on life and literature from learning-to-let-go-of-regrets Abigail and kicky recipes from Esperanza, Abigail’s housekeeper. It has a sequel-type feel and I like that because I have no plans to carry the story into another full-length book. I feel I told the story that needed to be told there. And I guess I will continue the blog until the story that needs to be told here is told!

Check out The Shape of Mercy or visit her website and blogs at www.susanmeissner.com.