Thursday, February 26, 2009

I couldn't have said it better...

than Barbara DeMarco-Barrett at Pen On Fire.

If you're noticing a trend here, this is my last day before my micro-mini short story is due!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Behind the Scenes: A Class Apart

Carlos Sandoval was riding the New York subway when he read an editorial in the New York Times commemorating the case, Hernández v. Texas. The case began in 1951 in the small town of Edna, where Pedro "Pete" Hernández murdered his boss in the parking lot of a cantina. At the behest of Hernández's mother, San Antonio attorneys Gus Garcia and Carlos Cadena took the case. On January 11, 1954, they stood before the nine justices of the Supreme Court where they argued for the full protection of Mexican Americans under the 14th Amendment.

Award-winning producers, Carlos Sandoval and Peter Miller took a four-year journey into the past to make the documentary, A Class Apart which will air on PBS American Experience, Monday, February 23, 9 p.m. (Check PBS American Experience for local listings and Camino Bluff to organize your own viewing party the night of the show.)

Over the phone I talked with Carlos and Peter about going back in time to a place when Mexican Americans were categorized under "white", and yet were not allowed to attend the same schools or serve on juries as their Anglo neighbors. They spoke about the challenges of telling the story of an invisible, yet courageous people and the full-circle journey of the case.

Chica Lit: When did you begin making A Class Apart?

Photo: Gustavo García, Pete Hernández and John J. Herrera at the Jackson County, Texas, Courthouse. Courtesy of Dr. Hector P. Garcia Papers/ Texas A&M University.

Sandoval: There are three parts to that question. The very first filming that I did was at a conference on the case at the University of Houston in November 2004. I hired a local crew and interviewed people, including James Miranda, the original lawyer on the case who died about a year and a half ago. I used some of those interviews to put together our sample reel to seek additional funds. In May 2006, we really began the bulk of filming in Edna and the question became how do we find the people who knew about the case and also come up with archival material to be able to tell the story? We were very lucky because we did get the nephew of Pete Hernández and Victor Rodriguez who knew Pete and was there when the murder took place. It was guerrilla research that went on there.

Then it [became] about trying to find a partner on project.

Miller: It was at a party of filmmakers where I met [Sandoval]. He was telling me about this project and that he was looking to work with this with people who've done this before and I said, 'How about me?'

I know a lot about history but never heard about the early Mexican American civil rights history and I thought, I should know about this. My passion and interest are in stories of people whose stories have been marginalized, or not been told. The telling of history is critically important in questions of justice. If the history of a people is legitimized, if it is told, it is an important part of achieving rights and standing in society.

The Hernández case has no transcript at the Supreme Court ... nothing was written down on what was said on the day of the argument, no tape recording. There were no photos taken of lawyers in Washington; there were very few photos of anyone involved in the case. We had to piece together what happened in the Supreme Court that day with little scraps of information of what was an incredibly dramatic event that happened. At base of our story is invisibility; a community that’s invisible in eyes of Americans.

Chica Lit: Could you give us some historical background of the case?

Sandoval: [Pete Hernández] is no Rosa Parks. It's not an easy civil rights case. This is a person who did in fact kill another man and there were consequences to that. The lawyers [Garcia and Cadena] were brilliant in realizing [the case] presented an opportunity despite the nature of the case to try to move forward on the constitutional rights of Mexican Americans. School segregation was on the way out; Mendez v. Westminster provided a precedent to desegregate schools in Texas. They were able to take out housing segregation.

But jury discrimination in Texas remained. At the that time, the Supreme Court already declared that you couldn't discriminate jury selections with African Americans. The way Texas got away with it was that Texas said Mexican Americans were white, as long as there were whites on a jury you are tried by a jury of your peers. We were white when it was convenient for the state of Texas and that's where the lawyers were very clever. [They argued] we may be white within the category of white but we're treated as a class apart. That's the argument that won the Supreme Court.

Chica Lit: What surprises did you find along the way?

Sandoval: The moment for me was when we were in Edna and we were told about a segregated cemetery. It remained on a de facto basis segregated. When we went to film, I was walking down a gully that divided the Latino community from the Anglo community. That for me was the most visible remaining symbol of the Jim Crow-like segregation that took place at that time and realizing that my parents or grandparents could’ve faced it, or I could've faced it.

Miller: We were having breakfast at this diner and talking to a waitress there about the case and the film. She said, 'oh that’s really interesting' and started telling us that there were still problems with the police and discrimination getting jobs. We asked, 'Can we talk to you' and she said said, 'I couldn't do that. I couldn't live in this town if I talked about those things.'

Fifty years [after the case], we're talking to people in the same town who don’t want to talk about discrimination around them because they're afraid of the repercussions.

Paulina Rosa testified in the trail to establish the pattern of discrimination in order to prove jury discrimination. [Her child, who was an American citizen, could not attend the white public school.] To me, making these movies is about meeting the folks who dealt with that stuff. It's one thing to talk to the leaders or great orators who argued before the Supreme Court. But to talk to the mother who lived in a tiny town where they'd kill you at night if you're out - for [Rosa] to get up and do that - meeting people like her makes this work worthwhile.

Chica Lit: How have audiences reacted to A Class Apart?

Sandoval: I've been touring with the movie in Texas for about a week. The response has been overwhelming. It's almost, with some of these screenings and Q&A's, a revival meeting because people are bearing witness to the discrimination they personally experienced. Or we hear, 'my abuelo or abuelita told me about this and I didn't realize this existed or how bad it was.'

Last week, the Texas state legislature read a proclamation about the film. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied [Hernandez] the 14th Amendment. That court is in the same building where the proclamation was read.

A Class Apart will air Monday, February 23rd at 9 p.m. on PBS. Check your local listings at, and then plan a viewing party with your friends, classmates and family at Camino Bluff Productions.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sign of the Times

My Pretty

If you came here looking for the entry I posted earlier this week about a certain blogger who attacked another author, I have taken it down. She removed the attack from her blog and out of respect for that gesture, I'm doing the same.

Thank you for your comments, although I disagree with those which cut down her work. She is a truly gifted author, one whom I admire and respect. Her quotes are on my book covers and I'm honored by her generosity and support. But real friends speak up when they see the other standing at the edge, or doing something that is ultimately self destructive.

The conversation is now over and its time for us to get back to doing good work. The day after I posted my response to the attack, I found this quote while having lunch with my husband. I'd like to share it with you:

"Keep in mind that our community is not composed of those who are already saints, but of those who are trying to become saints. Therefore let us be extremely patient with each other's faults and failures." - Mother Teresa

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Free Book Friday & Chocolate

See that picture? I took it!

But first, four people will win signed copies of Switchcraft on Friday the 13th! Could you be the winner? Well, head on over to the Free Book Friday blog and sign yourself up!

Okay, now to explain the photo. My mother-in-law and I are starting a new venture called Wild Heart Gallerie Chocolates. That's a painting she gave me and Ryan for Christmas and our chocolates. (The Little Dude picked the leaves from our tree in the front yard.)

If you love chocolates, check out our 12-piece collection. I'm tellin' ya, these chocolates take chocolate to a whole new level. My favorites are Omega (bittersweet chocolate with sea salt harvested from Big Sur) and Lavender. Ilona - that's my MIL - loves the rose chocolate but my friend ate the one out of my box and didn't share so I haven't tasted it yet.

If you have a Valentine you'd like to impress, or you need to direct your Valentine to a gift that would make you a very happy cupid, visit our eBay store. I can get orders out Monday and they should arrive Thursday or Friday.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

I'm Going

Here are some events that I thought y'all would want to know about this month. Unless calamity strikes, I'll be there, too. (As a civilian, not signing books.)

LOS CAMPEONES DE LA LUCHA LIBRE (The Champions of Mexican Wrestling)
DATE: Thursday, Feb 5, 2009
TIME: 7:30 P.M.
WHERE: The Egyptian Theater, 6712 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
FYI: Los Campeones at MySpace
Masked mayhem ensues when a team of wrestling heroes is caught in the middle of a struggle between a gang of barbarians right out of Mad Max and a legion of monsters inspired by the golden age of Mexican horror films. A Spanish-language version of this film just ran in theaters throughout Mexico, but we're proud to present the first ever public screening of an English-language print on 35mm.

DATE: Tuesday, Feb 10, 2009
TIME: 7 P.M.
WHERE: UCI Student Center
FYI: Pen On Fire
Barbara DeMarco Barrett will host a launch party for T. Jefferson Parker's new book, The Renegades. She'll discuss Jeff¹s new book, he'll read, take questions, and sign books. There will also be refreshments. This launch party also heralds "Pen on Fire: A Speaking Series," which intends to bring literary events to Orange County on a monthly basis.

DATE: Thursday, Feb 19, 2009
TIME: 7:30 P.M.
WHERE: USC Bovard Auditorium
Experience an intimate evening of conversation and music with Julieta Venegas.

Julieta Venegas is a Mexican singer, instrumentalist and songwriter who performs an eclectic blend of Spanish-language rock and pop. She started playing music at the age of eight, when her parents first had her take piano lessons. Music grew to be her passion, eventually leading her to become a vocal artist and songwriter. Before embarking on her solo career, Venegas collaborated with bands in Tijuana and Mexico City. Her first album, Aqui, emerged in 1998 as a collaboration with Gustavo Santaolalla.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Between the Pages with Berta Platas

I've interviewed quite a few actors and writers in my day; some famous, some you'd see on the screen and wonder where you'd seen him or her before. Before some interviews I get a little nervous, like the one I did with Oscar Nunez of The Office and this Q&A with my Friday Night Chicas and Names I Call My Sister pen pal, Berta Platas. When you really respect someone, you don't want to look stupid by asking stupid questions.

But Berta gives good interview and even better story. Her latest release, Lucky Chica is about values, how Rosie values herself, her family and her heart. It made me happy for my friend and it made me pretty damn proud to be included in the same company with her.

Please welcome Berta Platas!

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

Berta: I play the lottery with my dad and we have fun scheming what we'll do with all the loot if we win. So many people get excited about the lottery that I thought it would make a fun novel. I started plotting it while I was writing Cinderella Lopez, and then devoted myself to it after turning that book in. A major rewrite, at my editor's suggestion, set it back a bit, but I figured out a way to make her ideas work, and they've certainly made it a better book.

Chica Lit: The first act in Lucky Chica shows Rosie's dismal and hardscrabble existence. It was painful reading it because it brought memories of my college years. Did Rosie pop out of your head complete, or did it take time for her to develop into a full-fledged character?

Berta: I knew Rosie from the first. The Buford Highway area in Chamblee and Doraville, on the outskirts of Atlanta, have a very dense concentration of immigrants. It's the place where folks start, where everyone speaks your language. Here, you either acclimate, then move up, or you start a business and are happy surrounded by folks just like you, or you feel stuck forever. I wanted Rosie to feel stuck, but optimistic. It's hard to be optimistic forever. and the story starts when she's at the end of her good attitude.

Chica Lit: How much research went into your book?

Berta: A lot! I studied past winners of huge lottery prizes, not just the ones you hear about who go wild and lose everything, but the ones who make good choices and live happily ever after. I found out about the types of people who prey on lottery winners, what the best advice is if you win a big prize like this, and what resources can offer dependable advice. Did you know that there's a "Sudden Wealth Institute"? It's a group of financial planners that help those who come into big money, whether it's a lottery win, an inheritance, or an insurance settlement. They help you find the best tax advantages and make wise choices with money management. For a fee, of course!

Chica Lit: I know that you're a marketing exec by day and novelist by, well, when you make the time to write. But do you keep a tape recorder or notebook on hand when you're away from your book ... ahem, do you sneak writing in at the office?

Berta: I have a digital recorder that my husband gave me. It's so cute! It's so complicated! I never could figure the little darling out. So I take notes. I carry my AlphaSmart with me and write whenever I can, aided by a chapter outline that lets me know exactly what's coming up next in my book. As for sneaking writing at the office - never! My office mates know I'm an author, and I want to keep the two realms totally separate. At lunchtime I write on my Alphie, or longhand. At night, when my brain is fried, I can just transcribe what I wrote when I was fresher. Close to deadlines, I write at night, too, fried and all.

Chica Lit: Your next book is a complete departure from "chica lit." What can you tell us?

Berta: I also write a humorous young adult urban fantasy series with my friend and longtime critique partner, Michelle Roper. The first trilogy is very popular and a critical success, and we recently sold a second trilogy, making it an official series! It's set in Renaissance Faires, and follows Keelie Heartwood, a California teen who is uprooted and sent to live with her absentee dad when her mom dies in an accident. She soon discovers that her father is not human, and that she too has magical abilities. Kids as young as nine have read it, and we have a lot of adult fans, too.

I just got an email from a twelve year old who read Lucky Chica and reviewed it on, a review site for kids. I would never have thought of this book as young adult material, and it made me think hard about how books are marketed to children. I can see teens enjoying this book, it just never occurred to me to market to them. Twelve seemed a little young, though.

[Editorial note: Dude, tell me about it! A 13 year-old read Hot Tamara after reading the Red Hot Read excerpt in Cosmo magazine.]

Chica Lit: And finally, have you ever won the lottery and do you think you'd make the same mistakes that Rosie did?

Berta: I've never won more than $57 dollars at a time on the lottery, but it's fun to play, as long as you don't go crazy. I certainly wouldn't make Rosie's mistakes. My dad and I have a PLAN!

Funny thing is that while I was writing Rosie's story, my family was going through some painful financial times, and I found that Rosie was making some really smart choices, money-wise. I had to rip all of that up! What was I thinking? It would have been a very different book. Frankly, it would have been a snore!

Check out Lucky Chica (hint: it makes a great Valentine's Day girlfriend gift!)