Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Can't Get Enough of Lizz Wright

I'm on deadline and falling behind AND I'm starting a new story that will be a mystery (let the killing begin!). So if I blog again this week, it will either be the result of a miracle, or I'll be throwing myself on the sword of procrastination.

BUT first I have to share this with you. Lizz Wright is magical, haunting, sensuous, sublime ... I'm running out of adjectives here so you'll have to see for yourself.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Between the Pages with Misa Ramirez

The next time you look up the word persistence, Misa Ramirez's name should be listed in the definition. If you're complaining about having to do a third draft, pay attention to what happens when you're willing to do six years worth of rewriting.

Please welcome, Misa Ramirez and her tough-talking and tough-walking heroine, Lola!

Chica Lit: What inspired the idea for Living La Vida Lola and how long did it go from manuscript to published novel?

Misa: It has taken six years, three agents, and about 1,000 revisions to bring the book to publication, but it made it, and Lola’s here to stay!

I started writing it right after I had my fifth (and last) baby. We had just moved to the Sacramento area, I wasn’t teaching at the time, my husband was in a wheelchair from an Achilles Tendon injury, and I HAD to get out of the house! I started going to a local coffee shop with a friend and we’d do little writing prompts. During one of them, Lola came to me as a character. The more prompts we did, the more Lola and her family and background developed.

She came to me as a Latina, I think, because I wanted to write about someone like my own children. Someone who straddled the lines of being American, but who embodied and embraced her family’s culture at the same time. I want her to find her balance, her identity, and her true self over the course of the series. No small order for anyone!

And then there’s the romance element. Love makes it all worthwhile and I wanted Lola to find love. Or at least the hope of love. =)

Chica Lit: Did Lola pop out of your head complete, or did it take time for her to develop into a full-fledged character?

Misa: I knew immediately that Lola would be a PI since I wanted the book to be a mystery. And I knew that I wanted her family to be a big and important part of her life. I wanted to delve into the interpersonal relationships that might exist in a traditional Mexican family (like my husband’s) if one of the daughters wanted to be a private investigator and buck the expectations her parents had for her.

It took a long time for Lola to fully develop, but now that she has, I love her! She’s got her principles and morals and her goals. She’s a black belt in kung fun, loves yoga, and won’t let anything get in her way. But she’s got weaknesses, too. She’s soft and feminine, but tough. She describes herself as Xena, Warrior Princess, with an occasional Cinderella moment thrown in.

Chica Lit: How much research went into your book?

Misa: About 18 years worth!!!! All the time I’ve been married to my husband--observing, being part of, loving, and absorbing his culture. My biggest goal in writing Lola was to make her an authentic person. I never want to misrepresent myself as a Latina, and I always want to be true to the beauty of the culture and all that means based on my experiences as the wife of a Mexican American man. So, lots of research, but just from living!

The mystery details of the book did require researching the process of becoming a PI, what the rules are, details about tattoos, particularly self-done tattoos, visiting the state Capitol and getting a private tour by my brother-in-law who works under the Treasurer. Things like that. All of it has been pretty fun.

Chica Lit: Do you like being a writer? What do you NOT like about being a writer?

Misa: I love being a writer, especially now that I’m not teaching anymore. I have dedicated time to write and it doesn’t encroach on time with my kids. At least not as much! I love that my kids, husband, and parents are so proud of me. I love that I’ve modeled the hard work and determination to pursue a dream, and I’ve reached my goal. I think that’s invaluable.

Things I don’t like about being a writer? Hmm. Probably the nervousness that I’m feeling over doing book signings! Writing is so solitary, and you live in your imagination so much, that to go out and speak about your books is daunting!

Chica Lit: When do we get the next Lola adventure?

Misa: The next book, tentatively titled Dead Girl Walking will be out a year from now. After that will be Bare Naked Ladies, the third book in the series. In it, Lola’s case takes her to a nudist resort. Yikes! I’ll tell you about the research for that one another time!

Get your copy of Misa Ramirez's book at your favorite independent, or at my store!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Power to Change Numbers

by Mary Castillo

The face of HIV and AIDS is not what most people think it is. White gay male has become black or Latina female. This Saturday, January 17th, Project Reina and AIDS Project Los Angeles will come together to defeat HIV/AIDS at RPM Fitness Studio.

The Center for Disease Control reported that women ages 13 to 26 account for 80% of new HIV cases in the United States (64% of all women living with HIV/AIDS are African Americans while 19% are white and 15% are Latina). AIDS is the leading cause for death in African American women between the ages of 25 and 34 years old, beating out heart disease and breast cancer.

When Actress Gina Ravera (The Closer and ER) first heard the numbers about the impact of HIV on black and Latina women – the San Francisco native is half Puerto Rican and black – her initial reaction was shock.

"I said, 'oh my god that would've been me,'" she recalled. "I could've been a statistic."

Determined to save the lives of these young women, Ravera organized and launched Project Reina, a 501c3 organization dedicated to reaching out with the message that they deserve to be cherished and adored. She has gathered her fellow actors Sydney Tamia Poitier (Knight Rider), Dania Ramirez (Heroes), Ana Ortiz (Ugly Betty), Teresa Randall (Randle and Girl 6), Lisa Vidal (Third Watch), and Angel Moore (ER) and made them Hermanas (sisters) in her cause.

[Editorial note: The author of this article is also a Project Reina hermana.]

"We function as big sisters giving young women information about life and sharing our experiences when we were their age," she said. "It's not just about AIDS prevention; it's an acknowledgement that life is a gift and it's your responsibility to do something with it."


Getting the information to these girls is one of the biggest obstacles according to Dr. Rosa Solorio, assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Public Health.

"There's really a strong need for culturally specific interventions," she said. "Latinas are just as likely to use family planning services as white girls but after they have been pregnant. This is a bigger issue than preventing pregnancy and these girls need a lot of education."

Solorio pointed out that the major factors contributing to the female HIV epidemic are poverty (one in five Latinas and one of four African American women live in poverty), limited access to health care, substance abuse and high-risk sexual choices.

"We hear people say, 'why can't they just use condoms?'," Solorio said. "Its much easier said than done."

Many of the patients Solorio has seen are in relationships where the power difference tips in favor of the man, leaving women uncomfortable or afraid to require their partners to be tested and wear condoms.

But Ravera sees this fear akin to toying with death when 80% of female HIV patients contracted the virus from a high-risk heterosexual partner.

"When I was growing up the worst thing you could deal with was the shame," she said. "Now you could die having sex with the wrong guy."


Ravera's vision for Project Reina is to be the bridge between the medical community and adolescent girls. In her experience in talking with young teens, many have heard their teachers or counselors talk to them about HIV and AIDS. But it’s the classic case of in one ear and out the other.

But by leveraging her celebrity to speak to these girls in a language they can understand and in a way that doesn't patronize or instill fear in them, Ravera hopes that they will make decisions that will protect and cherish their bodies and their lives.

"We're not male bashing and we're not putting anybody down," Ravera said. "The reason why we're giving information to these young girls is that they can lead us to the end of the AIDS pandemic."

Here's a link to more information about Saturday's event.

Friday, January 09, 2009

New Years Blog Tour

IMAGE: Cartoon children with champagne bottles from Art.com

Thank you everyone who has stopped by to read my story about La Cholita. I'll respond to all the comments later today but I wanted you to know that they are all appreciated.

If you enjoy reading about up-and-coming Latinas - and this is for you, Betty M! - check out this month's issue of Latino Future magazine. You'll meet Jacqueline Pinol and Ruth Livier and get the skinny on the most feared blogger in Hollywood, Perez Hilton. (Personally, I love him!)

And don't forget that we're in the midst of a New Years Blog Tour and here are the authors sharing original shorts, essays and prizes every day till January 11th.

Jan 1 - Misa Ramirez
Jan 2 - Jamie Martinez Wood
Jan 3 - Lara Rios w/a Julia Amante
Jan 4 - Berta Platas
Jan 5 - Mary Castillo
Jan 6 - Alisa Valdes Rodriguez
Jan 7 - Margo Candela
Jan 8 - Caridad Ferrer
TODAY - Jan 9 - Gabriella Hewitt
Jan 10 - L.M. Gonzalez
Jan 11 - Tracy Montoya

Monday, January 05, 2009

New Year's Blog Tour - Introducing La Cholita

Photo by Brandon Showers

She lives on a quiet street in one of those indefinable parts of L.A., wedged between Hollywood and Silverlake. It took me two tries to find the address she'd texted me and just like a man, I was forced to call for directions. On the phone, La Cholita spoke with a youthful enthusiasm – not with an Eartha Kitt growl or a Mae West purr that one might expect upon seeing her photos.

When Cholita opened her front door, I was surprised to see that she wasn't much taller than me. "You're so tiny," I couldn't help but exclaim. She threw open her arms and she gave me a tight hug as if we were best friends who hadn't seen each other since high school. She laughed. "I know. Everyone says that."

La Cholita is not her creator, nor is she exactly an alter ego. (She also asked me not to use her real name to preserve her mystique and no, I didn't make her up.) Cholita is an extension if you will, of the 25 year-old Latina who grew up in Highland Park watching musicals from the 1930s and 40's. As we talked in her hot pink living room, I saw glimpses of the platinum blonde vamp in the happy, energetic woman with freckles under her make-up. It's hard and yet, wasn't hard to imagine her wowing audiences in a sparkling costume and leaving them wearing a g-string and pasties. But I got to know the the phenomenon known as La Cholita.

All I Need Is The Girl
Photo by Mr.40 Chev
Six years ago, after her mom took her to a burlesque convention, La Cholita burst onto the L.A. scene as the first and only Latina dancer.

"I had a really hard time finding my way in," she said. "It was like this secret society
and when I'd ask friends who were doing it, they were very hush hush about how to get started."

At that convention, she was dazzled by the burlesque queens, some who were still flashing their goods like they had when we were fighting the Nazis. Cholita's only disappointment was that there were no Latinas.

"It seemed ridiculous to me because Latinas are the most sensual and passionate women in the world but we are also kind of conditioned to keep it all under wraps," she said. "My disappointment quickly turned to enlightenment when I realized that's it! This is what I am meant to do! All of those years singing, dancing and dressing up as a young girl was all in preparation for my ultimate calling: Burlesque Starlet."

Cholita signed up for a burlesque class that again didn't throw open the doors. But it did crack them open a little. All the students would have their chance to dance on-stage at The Derby in the retro-cool neighborhood of Los Feliz. Cholita realize
d everything was up to her – the choreography, costume and music – for her to stand-out among the veterans and new girls before a demanding audience.

"When my heel hit the stage, I knew it was right," she said. "I couldn't do anything else."

The audience loved her and La Cholita, the burlesque starlet was born.

You Gotta Get A Gimmick
Photo by Mr.40 Chev
La Cholita made her official debut as a Lowrider Loca wearing her name crystallized in Old English across her corset. She's appeared with a Dia de Los Muertos calavera mask painted on half her face, as an Aztec goddess and in a folklorico dress from Chiapas. (My favorite are her beaded pasties of the Mexican flag.) At the end of each number, she throws up an East L.A. sign - her signature move - and has a loyal following of couples, Latinas and cholos and old pachucos who love her for representing la raza.

But burlesque, with its roots in old school Hollywood glamor - many of the women boast looks clearly inspired by Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe and Jean Harlow – cast La Cholita as one of the bad girls.

"Some of the other dancers told me that my image wasn't sexy, that the street element was too tough and my energy was too intense," she remembers. "At first I felt bad but then I remembered that the reason I started was because I wanted to be different, I wanted girls to feel inspired, I wanted to represent a strong Latina and show that our curves are something to be proud of, that our culture is something to be proud of."

Since then La Cholita has performed around the world, winning the coveted Miss Viva Las Vegas title in 2007 and appearing on Carson Kressley's "How to Look Good Naked", Telemundo and Eyewitness News. She's danced for corporate clients Hornitos, Christina Aguilera and European surgeons. She now models for ChicanaWear Clothing, La Pachuca, Secrets in Lace, Stop Staring, Dainty Dames, Ignition, and My Lucky Girls Creations.

"I knew girls who gave up because they couldn't make ends meet," she said. "There were times when I was almost evicted and lost my power or water and had to hide my car from being repossessed. But I wouldn't give up."

Little Lamb
Photo by Mr.40 Chev
"I've always been an outsider," Cholita said. "My childhood wasn't all rainbows and lollipops."

When she was grew up with her single, artist mom in Highland Park. She wasn't brown enough for the chicano kids in her neighborhood, nor could she relate to the privileged kids in the private prep schools her mom enrolled her in. She didn't form a relationship with her father until she was fourteen and he was dying of cancer.

"I was really awkward and I'd come home crying that I hated my chubby legs, curly hair and freckles and that I hated my mom for giving them to me."

Cholita escaped her self-loathing through dance and acting lessons her mom scrapped to provide, and through the glamor of old movies. And yet, she was fascinated by the cholas she'd see hanging in her neighborhood and at the car shows where her uncles would proudly show off their lowriders.

"I remember seeing cholas on the street corners with their crazy nails and their hair teased and just that opulent, over-the-top look," she said. "And yet, they were tough."

Her grandfather, a zoot suiter from the '40s, also had an influence on her developing style. "He'd tell me all kinds of stories probably because I was the only person who listened to h
im. He used to tell me you could get into a fight or kill a man but you looked good doing it."

She laughed and shook her head. "He always said in his day you had to represent." She then mimicked him. "Cholos nowadays, they don't got no style. In my day, I'd fuck a man up and still had a crease in my pants."

He passed away last November and Cholita occasionally had to buck up when she talked of him.

"My biggest validation was when he came to my shows," she said. "He really said he loved it."

Some People
Photo by Mr.40 Chev
La Cholita not only dresses the part of the "fuck-you-up" chola, she also lived the life. In high school, she began running with gangsters and dabbling in drugs. When she started to see her friends getting shot and dying, she knew she had to get out of the life if she wanted to live.

"I weighed 98 pounds and when I look at my high school prom pictures-" She sucked in her breath. "I was barely there."

Her mother taking her to the burlesque convention seemed to have opened an escape hatch.

"I was a 180 pounds when I started [dancing] and I've never felt more secure and more empowered." Even though she's getting naked before strangers on bars and theatre stages, the burlesque style of stripping is all on the dancer's terms.

"I decide what people see and what they don't," she said. "What I thought was my flaws are what make me stand out."

Ironically, corsets and fishnets are in her blood. Her grandmother on her father's side was once a burlesque dancer.

"When [that side of the family] found out what I was doing, they-" she makes a slicing motion through the air. "They cut me off."

Let Me Entertain You
Photo from Miss Viva Las Vegas Competition 2007
La Cholita's L.A. appearances are family affairs with her mom, tios, tias, cousins and friends cheering her on. She's backed by her own band and her fans come dressed to the nines to see her. Men treat her like a lady when they approach her after her performances. "I've never been treated more respectfully than ever in my life," she says.

She has driven audiences into ecstasy just by taking off a glove. At a performance at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, she sent an elderly man to the hospital. Her friend once told her that she's a force on stage.

"Every single time I'm standing in the wings, I'm nervous. I can barely hold it in. It's like I'm being electrocuted in the inside," she said.

As Cholita she doesn't feel intimidated about anything. She can approach a cute guy and ask him out. The second her music comes on and she steps out under the lights, something takes over her. She doesn't think about the moves. She gets off on the energy, feeding it and feeding off of it. She loves that she never knows what's going to happen and that no number is ever the same as the last.

But in more intimate situations, when she's with a guy, she admits, "I'm thinking, 'oh now I have to take off my bra' ... 'is the light hiding my cellulite from him?'" We laughed; I'm relieved that I have the same hang-ups as a woman who seduces audiences for a living.

"I'm more vulnerable as myself," she said.

La Cholita sees no limit to the possibilities. She sees designing a line of clothing, creating her own one-woman show and modeling. Her dream is to dance in Paris and tour Mexico, especially to perform on the stage of the Juarez theatre in Guanajuato, where she visited with her grandfather.

"I'm not ready for that," she said, pausing to think about returning to that theatre without him. "I am following my dreams, making things happen and representing where I've come from. I am very lucky and ever so grateful to have the support of mi familia."

To see the complete gallery of La Cholita's photos, her schedule of performances and more, visit her at VivaCholita.

Sherri won Berta Platas' drawing from yesterday's blog ... hurray!

The winner of my contest is
Teresa Carbajal Ravet! Thanks EVERYONE for reading and getting to know La Cholita!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Welcome to 2009

Image: Victorian Woman Reading a Book from Art.com

On New Year's Eve I clean my house. I wash all the dirty laundry, empty the trash cans and make sure that I have fixings to make black-eyed peas for New Years Day lunch. I even try to finish a book that I've been reading, too. After a day like that I typically wake up at midnight long enough to hear my neighbors shoot off fireworks and then go back to sleep.

Last year, I wrote two books, fifteen feature stories and completed two revisions. This year I'm starting with a New Year's Blog Tour with my fellow NuncaSola writers.

Today, Misa Ramirez starts us off with a short story, "On The Seventh Day of Christmas." You'll be seeing her again later this month when I interview her about her new book, Living La Vida Lola.