Sunday, December 23, 2012

Believing in Christmas Miracles

 The best part of Christmas to me is that for a few weeks there is a belief in goodness, that all is possible, and that magical things can happen.  Christmas movies on TV leave you with a warm feeling as you allow yourself to believe in Santa and Angels, and that the magic of Christmas can transform people for the better.  I feel like this year, we need those feelings and beliefs more than ever.

My contribution to the Holiday Blog Tour is a very rushed attempt at a magical Christmas story, but I hope you enjoy it.     

Sydney drove the tight curves of the San Bernardino Mountains, her knuckles almost white with the grip she had on the steering wheel.  As she approached each turn, she slowed and kept her eyes glued on the white broken center line, afraid that if she looked to the right and saw nothing but the flimsy railing separating the road from a massive drop into oblivion, she’d throw up.  She hated mountain driving and was grateful that at least, this was California and even though it was almost Christmas Eve, there was no snow.
            She had one last delivery to make.  The Christmas season meant non-stop work for Sydney’s gourmet cookie and cup cake company.  She promised Christmas delivery, even if ordered on Christmas Eve as long as it was local.  Most of her customers ordered with enough time to ship, but every year there was someone who called Christmas Eve morning and begged for delivery of their special cranberry oatmeal cookies or scrumptious gingerbread men or red velvet cup cakes  - that day.  She wasn’t expecting to drive up a dang mountain tonight though.
            As she turned off Highway 18 into the little town of Blue Jay she noticed a change in the weather.  A slight breeze made the triangular flags wave at a corner gas station, and there was a distinct chill in the air.  She decided to stop and fill up.  On Christmas Eve, it wasn’t likely she’d find many gas stations or anything else open later.  She pulled the company SUV up to the pump.  “Damn,” she said, when she noticed it wasn’t a pay at the pump station.  Everything at the station looked like it hadn’t been updated in a couple of decades.  She went into the small convenience store and the guy behind the counter was laughing at a Sienfeld episode.
            She stared at the TV for a moment, remembering when she lived with her girl friends in Long Beach in the 90’s and how sometimes after work or college or dates gone bad, they’d sit together and watch Sienfeld and eat ice cream.  Those had been good times.  She didn’t talk to her friends very often anymore.  After Bridget was killed in a car accident – her date had been drunk – she and Clair had never felt comfortable living together, and after a bitter fight, Sydney moved out. 
            “Hey, can I pay for gas, please,” Sydney said.
            “Oh, sure,” the guy, distracted took her money, glanced at the fifty dollar bill, then back at her with a frown.  “How much do you want?”
            “Just put it all on pump one.”
            “Lady this is a fifty.”
            “Yeah, it’s all I have so it’ll have to be enough.”  She went back outside and began to fill up.  She crossed her arms at the chill in the air and leaned on the side of the SUV.  She watched the numbers on the pump spin and noticed that the price per gallon was $1.25.  Narrowing her gaze, she wondered if this was joke.  It cost her $20 for sixteen gallons of gas. 
            She went back inside to get her change.  “How do you manage to sell gas so cheap?” she asked.
            “It’s actually a little high, but we’re in the mountains.  Everything cost more up here.”
            Sydney laughed.  “High?  I paid $3.98 this morning in L.A.”
            “Right,” he said, and smirked.  “Here’s your change.”
            Sydney took the money, mystified by his strange behavior, but she had to deliver these cookies and then make a long drive home, so she left.  Driving through residential roads there were more twists and turns than on the highway, and the GPS’s change in directions confused her.  The female voice kept re-routing.  The electronic woman seemed more lost than Sydney. 
            Then surprisingly, a few flakes of snow began to fall on her windshield.  She drove slowly around the bend of the street and thicker snow began to block her view; coming down seemingly faster and thicker the farther she went, reminding her of when she’d visited Universal Studios with her parents and the tram went through a flood zone.  Off to the sides, pipes created a sudden rainstorm that made it appear to flood the road.  This was what it felt like on this road.  She wanted to look up to find out who was shooting fakes snow at her.  But the trees and road were turning completely white.  When she reached an intersection, she was stopped by a police car blocking the road ahead.  She rolled down the window.
            “Sorry, Ma’am, the road is closed until plowing can be done.  Probably until morning.”
            Sydney laughed.  “How can you need to plow, the snow just started.  And around the corner, there isn’t any snow at all.”
            “It’s been snowing for days, Ma’am.”
            Days?  “Look, I just have a delivery to make.  Maybe you can help me find the address?”
            He shook his head.  “Sorry.  If you turn around and make two rights, you’ll find a coffee shop that might be open.  You can get warm and call the person you’re trying to deliver to and let them know you can’t make it tonight.”
            “I have my cell.”
            “You’re what?”
            “Never mind.”  She made a U-turn, cursing the officer, the snow, this frustrating night, and the customer that waited until the last minute to order the cookies.
            She found the coffee shop and after ordering a cup of coffee, called her customer.  At first the phone rang without an answer, but when she tried a second time, a man answered the phone.  “Hi, I’m from Heaven Sent Gourmet Cookies, and I’m having a difficult time delivering the cookies you ordered.”
            “The cookies, I . . . ?  Sorry, but I didn’t order any cookies.”
            “Maybe your wife ordered them, but ­–.”
            “I don’t have a wife.  If this is some kind of joke –.”
            “It’s no joke.”  Sydney checked the phone number to make sure she dialed right.  “I’m supposed to deliver five dozen cookies to 29658 Tulip Drive.  Someone called in an order this morning.”  She hadn’t taken the call, but her employee had been with her for five years and practically ran the business alongside Sydney. 
            “That’s my address, but I didn’t order cookies.  Where are you now?”
            Sydney told him the name of the coffee shop.
            “I’ll be there in about thirty minutes.”
            Sydney drank all her coffee and cradled her head in her hands.  What a way to spend Christmas Eve.  Not that she had anyone to spend it with, but it would be nice to be home where at least it was warm and not snowing.  She lifted her head and looked out at the beautiful white drape of snow, an untouched and powdery dusting that covered the outside.  All looked fresh and clean and magical. Maybe it wasn’t quite so bad after all.
            The waitress re-filled her cup and offered her a piece of pumpkin pie that she accepted.  Moments later, a man entered the coffee shop, their eyes connected, and he began to approach Sydney’s table.  But the pie in her mouth suddenly became a clump of cement.  She couldn’t swallow it.  Sydney was looking up, into the face of the man who killed Bridget.  He was younger, not drunk, but it was him.
            “Are you the cookie lady?”
            “You’re a sick jerk.  How did you find me?”
            His eyes widened and he sat across from her.  “You told me where you were, what do you mean how did I find you?”  He waved for a cup of coffee.  “You’re right about those roads.  I almost didn’t get through, but I took a side street that wasn’t blocked.”
            “Are you trying to tell me that you don’t recognize me?”
            He grinned.  “Nope.  I’m trying to think of who might have ordered the cookies, but I don’t have a clue.  Since you came all this way, though, I’ll take them off your hands.”
            “I’m Bridget’s friend.”
            “Who’s Bridget?”  He frowned.  “Look, I was very comfortable on my couch watching President Clinton light the Christmas Tree in the White House.  I didn’t need to come out here, so you might try being a little nicer.”
            Sydney stared at him.  President Clinton lighting a tree in the White House?  She looked around at what people were wearing.  Thought about the cheap gas.  Something odd was happening.  “Clinton was in the White House?” She asked, afraid of his response.
            “Yeah, the news was covering it.  So where are these cookies?”
            “In my car.  Did Obama invite Clinton to light the tree?”
            Sydney slipped out of the booth, freaking out.  “Obama, our President.”
            “Clinton is the President, lady.  What’s wrong with you?”
            She shook her head and hurried outside.  Snow continued to fall and she almost slipped on the iced-over sidewalk.  She stood beside her SUV, breathing deeply.  What the hell was going on? 
            The guy followed her outside, a confused look in his eyes.
            “You dated my friend, Bridget.  You went out to a party and drank too much. You crashed.  She died.  You lived.  Clinton left office in 2001, by the way.  Our President is Barak Obama.”
            He moved closer, snow dusting his head.  “What are you talking about?” He asked, in a harsh whisper, as if afraid to hear her response.  “It’s 1996.  Clinton doesn’t leave office until next year – and then only if he fails to get re-elected.  And I don’t know who the hell Bridget is.”
            Sydney’s head spun as if blood flow or oxygen was being deprived.  Had she driven though some time warp?  She didn’t understand any of this.  Why, of all people, was she coming in contact with . . . “your name is Rick.”
            He clapped.  “You got one thing right.”
            She hurriedly reached for the file on the driver side of her truck and looked at the invoice.  No name under customer.  But the man in front of her was Rick Ortiz, the man who killed Bridget . . . except, he hadn’t yet.  She looked at him.  Opened the passenger door to the SUV.  “Get in for a moment.”
            He seemed unsure, but he got into her vehicle.
            “Listen to me,” she said.  “Have you ever wished you could go back in time and change something? Reverse a mistake? Fix something?”
            “Okay, I don’t understand how this happened, but I’ve gone back in time.  In a few months, you’re going to meet my friend, Bridget.  You’ll really hit it off with her and on the Fourth of July, you’ll go to a party, drink way too much and get in an accident.”
            “The accident where your friend gets killed,” he said.
            “And how do you know this?”
            “Because it’s already happened.”
            He stared at her, then burst out laughing.  “So, you’re from the future.”
            She closed her eyes and shook her head.  Yes, that sounded crazy.  When she looked at him again, he was still smiling.  “Listen, all I know is that when I got up this morning it was December 24, 2012, and I drove here to deliver cookies to you, and now here I am and you’re telling me it’s 1996.”
            His smile slipped.  Then disappeared.  “Twenty-twelve?”
            “I don’t know what is going on.  It doesn’t matter.  Can you just promise me that when you meet Bridget, you won’t drink and drive . . . ever.  But especially on the Fourth of July?”
            He shrugged.  “Yeah, okay, sure.”
            “You swear?”
            He looked at her like she was crazy.  “I promise.”
            “Good.  Good.”  She sniffed the cold air.  Then reached into her bag and handed him the bill for the cookies. 
            He took it, looked at it and gasped. “Eighty-six dollars and twenty-five cents?  For cookies?  Lady, you’re crazier than I thought.  Is this some kind of scam?”
            “It’s five dozen cookies, plus fifteen percent delivery.  The price is on our website . . . .”  None of this was making any sense to him.  It wasn’t making any sense to her.  What did cookies cost in 1996?  And who cared what they cost then, it was 2012!  “Never mind.  Just take them.”
            “Now you’re going to give them to me for free?”  He lifted an eyebrow.
            “Yes, just take them so I can go home.”  She got out of the truck and carried the boxes around to the passenger side of the truck.  When he got out, she handed him the boxes.
            He took them and gave her a twenty dollar bill.  “Keep the change,” he said, then with one last long perplexed look at her, he turned away and got into his car.
            Sydney drove down the mountain slowly, carefully.  The snow became less heavy as the elevation dropped.  After a few miles, there was no snow at all.  She was relieved when she made it all the way down and got on the freeway.  Finally, she felt like things were back to normal.  As she drove, nothing looked different.  Shopping centers were the same as always with the typical modern stores she was used to seeing every day.
            When she made it to her apartment she breathed a relieved sigh.  She wanted to take a warm shower and go to sleep.  But when she opened the door, her friends were inside having drinks and eating snacks.
            “Sydney!” Bridget said.  “You’re finally here.  Now, the party can really start.”
            Sydney couldn’t believe her friend was really standing in her living room.  Alive.  Older.  But alive.  Her other friend, Clair was there too.  And her employee, Darla, who ran the cookie store so well, but who never visited her house.  They were all very at home in her apartment.  Sitting on her couch.  Walking out of her kitchen.  Hugging their boyfriends.  Then Rick walked out of her bathroom.  He looked older too.  “Hey, Syd,” he said.  “What took you so long?”
            She stared at him.  “I had a delivery in the mountains.” 
            He smiled.  “Oh, yeah?”  He put an arm around Bridget’s waist and kissed her cheek.  “How did it go?”
            Sydney felt like this was a dream, but sincerely hoped not.
            “Get her a drink, Rick.”
            He nodded and turn toward her kitchen.
            “I’ll get it myself,” Sydney said, and followed him.
            He poured her a glass of wine and handed it to her.  She took it and gazed into his eyes.  “I delivered cookies to you.”
            He smiled.  “What?”
            “Rick, I just left you a couple hours ago.  Don’t you remember?”
            “A couple of hours ago I was waiting patiently for Bridget to finished getting dressed so we could come over.” 
            “You don’t remember me delivering cookies to you in the mountains?”
            “Are you talking about when we met?  When you brought me those cookies in that snow storm and told me that crazy story about being from the future?  Hey, you said it was 2012.”  He chuckled.  “That still makes me laugh.”  He pushed off the counter and headed out of the kitchen.  Then paused.  “What I’ve never been able to figure out though is how you predicted I’d meet Bridget.  Or the name of our current President.”
            Sydney gazed at him. 
            And he at her.  “I never did find out who ordered those cookies and sent you to me.  Maybe it was just a Christmas miracle.”
            That was exactly what it was.   Sydney’s eyes filled with unshed tears, and she smiled.  A Christmas miracle.
 I wish you a magical holiday with your own miracles!  

Please share the link to this blog on your favorite social media and leave me a comment below that you've done so.  I will have a drawing on Christmas day for one of my books.  The winner can choose either Evenings at the Argentine Club or Say You'll Be Mine

Be sure to follow the blog tour tomorrow with Icess Fernandez Rojas at:        

Friday, November 16, 2012

Holiday Blog Tour

Every year, I participate in a holiday blog tour for many reasons.  First, because it gives me the opportunity to try something different.  Second, because this time of year is my very favorite, and so really, what can be better than to write about it?  Third, because it gives me the chance to share the holiday with other writers and readers.  I enjoy reading other people's posts as much as writing my own.  I hope you look forward to it as well. 

Some writers have nice gifts and give aways during these blog tours so it's fun to check in and leave comments and join in the holiday fun.  I will definitely be giving away one of my books as a prize!

Here is are the dates of the tour and the artists participating:

Holiday Blog Tour StopsDec. 7 Jasmine Clemente, Jasmine Clemente
Dec. 8 Gwendolyn Jerris, Silence & Honeysuckle
Dec. 9 Nathasha Alvarez, AudaciousLady
Dec. 10 Regina Tingle, Unsolicited Certainties
Dec. 11 Caridad Pineiro, Paranormal Romance Author Caridad Pineiro
Dec. 12 Teresa Carbajal Ravet, Sententia Vera
Dec. 13 Natasha Oliver, 2 cents
Dec. 14 Stephanie Dorman, How Many Frogs
Dec. 15 Karen La Beau, My Life on Canvas
Dec. 16 Annette Santos, The Monga Confesses
Dec. 17 Zoraida Cordova, Zoraida Writes
Dec. 18 Kristy Harding, Kristy Harding
Dec. 19 Nikki Kallio, Purple Houses
Dec. 20 Sujeiry Gonzalez, Love Sujeiry
Dec. 21 Samantha Kolber, Sam Poet
Dec. 22 Thelma T. Reyna, The Literary Self
Dec. 23 Julia Amante, Julia Amante
Dec. 24 Icess Fernandez Rojas

I can't wait!


Friday, November 2, 2012

Growing up in New Mexico

Today, my guest blogger is Sandra Ramos O'Briant, author of The Sandoval Sisters' Secret of Old Blood - a book about runaway brides, arranged marriages, adultary, witchcraft, and much more.

I read an interview that Sandra did with The Latino Books Examiner and was intrigued with her research and her life in New Mexico, and asked her to talk more about this part of her life.

I had two distinct childhoods, with slight overlap. When my parent's were married, I took dancing, piano, swimming, and even accordion lessons. We had a piano. I attended a private parochial school, and my dad bought a set of Encyclopedia Britannicas when I entered first grade. My mom told me I was beautiful and smart, and I believed her. More importantly, she didn't work outside of the home, and while my dad traveled for business, mom counted out 100 pennies from a giant Schlitz bottle-bank almost every day so we could go to a matinee. We saw all the glorious classic movies of the 40's and 50's there, many of which featured heroines like Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, Ginger Rogers and Rosalind Russell. I was the only child until my brother was born when I was 7-years-old, which also coincided with my parent's divorce. My mother got all the furniture, me and my brother, and a lifetime of hard work and sexual harassment. She was 31. My dad got self-indulgence, selfishness, and self-interest. I still loved my father, and began to resent my mom. Nothing made sense.

After the divorce, Mom moved back to Santa Fe. We ate dinner at my grandparent's home most days. The Gallegos were strange. Both my grandmother and aunt were paraplegics, so every suppertime included two wheelchairs. My grandfather cared diligently for my grandmother; he sat her on her bedpan and emptied it, wiped her butt, wheeled her to the dining room table where he washed her face, and brushed and braided her hair. He made her every meal, and wheeled her back to her bedpan (chamber pot) when she needed it. So he seemed like a good guy, but he was an alcoholic and pedophile. My aunt was especially interesting. She could swing her legs up over her shoulders, and even crook them at the knee to provide a headrest. She did it in one fluid motion like she was a member of Cirque du Soleil. When she left them sticking straight out, I'd often crash into them and knock off her ballet slippers (I was only 7 or 8), which covered only three toes on each foot cause that's all the toes she had. Other than that, she had quite a bit of sexual allure from the waist up and attracted male admirers, especially from the VFW. It's all so weird, but even more so in the telling. Sounds sort of carnivalistic. And it was. I missed my mom. And what had passed for normalcy back in East Texas, which wasn't all that normal. In the bathroom back there, my dad had pasted up these pictures of Vargas girls (google them), so they were an early influence. Beautiful girls. He drank a lot and beat the dog. And my mom.

I started first grade at the age of 5. They let me into St. Rita's because I could already read. With the divorce and the move to Santa Fe, I attended a barrio school catty-corner to my grandparent's house. On the first day of 4th grade, I walked onto the gravel-strewn playground and approached a line of students waiting to go inside. They were a ragtag group. None of the girls wore petticoats (this was 1957-58), and their dresses hung limply down their dirty legs. Most didn't wear socks. One boy picked his nose. This turned out to be a kid named Tom Glass who had allergies. He wiped his snot on the wall of the school. My mom and I had carefully picked my outfit. Not only were my skirts plumped with a starched petticoat, but I had lace-trimmed socks with patent leather shoes and a purse to match. Mom had twisted my hair into Shirley Temple curls. I smiled big and said, "Hi, y'all." Remember, I had just moved to NM from East Texas. Silence. They laughed and picked up gravel to throw at me. After that, I had to stay close to the teacher on patrol during recess. To make matters worse, I was academically ahead of everyone in my grade.

Mom got a job as a cocktail waitress and worked 10-11 hour shifts at night. She was exhausted and not up to see me off to school. Within weeks, I looked like everyone other kid in my grade and lost my accent, but I still had that onerous O'Briant last name which made me a target. Wanna-be chollas attacked me all through grade school and jr. high. One bright year was 7th grade when I got to go to St. Francis school. They gave my mom a break on tuition because our neighbor worked as a teacher there. One of my proudest days was when I was told I had to wear glasses. All the smart girls wore glasses. After 7th grade, my choices were either another barrio jr. high or a private parochial girl's academy. We couldn't afford the latter. 8th grade at Young Jr. high was the beginning of my absentee-daydreaming-nightmare school years: I rarely went to school. My only saving grace was that I read, and read, and read everything the Public Library would allow me to check out. I missed so much school my mom thought I'd be a drop-out. She did nothing to forestall the inevitable. Her hands were full with making a living and my bratty younger brother. We could no longer communicate. I blamed her for our misfortunes and for being gone from my life and since my dad was absentee, I idolized him. Mom and I fought. I moved out a lot. Mom always took me back. I had all the symptoms of depression, except suicide. There seemed no hope and no way out for me.

Five good things happened in my school years: 1.) The girls in my neighborhood all stayed inside their homes, but my mother put no restrictions on my outdoor activities and I was allowed the full glory of tomboyhood. I played baseball w/the boys, rode my bike all over Santa Fe, climbed moving freight trains and jumped off, explored all the dark storm drains looking for treasure and/or dead bodies, climbed trees and built cardboard treehouses, created snow ramps on discarded car hoods to use w/our sleds. The last four of these were all my ideas and the boys followed my lead. 2.) Mom worked at a popular restaurant and jazz club owned by a renowned lesbian. Two of her patrons, another lesbian couple, gave me a subscription to National Geographic. I learned that there was life beyond the narrow confines of Santa Fe. 3.) A young male friend of my mom's was traveling to Spain to study flamenco. He gave me lps (vinyl records) of Gershwin and Ravel and Mozart. 4.) A girl's club opened up and even though Mom wouldn't let me take free piano lessons because she said the teacher was a lesbian, I've held close to my heart that woman's endorsement of a never realized talent. 5.) My senior year I confronted my Algebra II teacher after class for picking on me. I was frightened, but very angry. Didn't notice the girl sitting over in one corner. She was the class valedictorian and became my friend. No one had spoken to me about college, either at home or at the school. Gloria told me all I needed was a 2.0 to get into UNM. She took me w/her family to the financial aids office, and she became my first roommate there.

College was simultaneously tough and glorious. Hard because I had no discipline, didn't know how to write an essay, had a hard time following instructions, and my daydreaming, while it had kept me alive and away from big trouble in high school (boys, drugs, and driving fast), now threatened to drown me: I'd miss whole sections of lectures. The glory came from no one, almost, knowing who I was. O'Briant didn't matter. I was still weird and isolated and my social skills were severely lacking, but it was 1966 and everything was cool. Also, in those days you could be a liberal arts major and not worry about any future employability. I was curious and interested in everything, and fortunately all the reading I'd done while not attending middle and high school helped me.

I am so grateful for the tremendous opportunity I received. Worlds opened up for me, but I was still very frightened of people, and forced myself to speak up more in class. I went to graduate school because I wasn't sure what else to do w/myself, but I'd finally conquered academia. U of Texas and Arizona State U both accepted me, but ASU offered more money. In retrospect, I see that I needed more growing up time and graduate school provided that. I have a masters in secondary education, but I've never used it. My life went in another direction.

Julia: Sandra, shared with me that often time people romanticize New Mexico, but that growing up there (as she's shared) was rough.  There weren't civic programs for the youth and if you were poor, exposure to the arts was no where to be found.  I thank Sandra for sharing what it was really like growing up, because I think our past and childhood has a lot to do with what we choose to write about as authors.  Sandra shared, "I will point out that it's (the above interview) in stark contrast to The Sandoval Sisters (except for the mob scenes) and accounts for my sharp sense of irony, which I also make use of in the story.  It doesn't include my mom's silly sense of humor, which I often found embarrassing, but which I've thankfully inherited.  Pilar (the tomboy character in my book) is a bit like Mom . . . and me.  The sisters represent the female trinity in my thinking: maiden, mother and crone.  When you've lived through them, you discover that they're not distinct.  Layered is more like it."

It's a fascinating book and I wish Sandra lots of success!  Click below to purchase your copy. You may visit and or contact Sandra at:



Saturday, October 27, 2012

Read it, Now what?

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of being invited by Nora Comstock to attend a panel at the Hispanic Women's Corporation event in Arizona.  As she introduced our author panel, she explained to the audience the importance of supporting Latino authors.  "Support the authors by purchasing their books," she said.  "Then when finished reading the books donate them to a library, do not give them to your friends."

I've heard the support your Latino authors call before.  I've said this many times myself, because it makes sense; we have to support what we want to see in our market place.  Business continue to make more of what customers want and discontinue what customers don't buy, and publishing is a business even if we authors don't want to think of it that way.  So, if we like stories that have Latino themes and characters, we have to purchase these types of books.  But I had never heard anyone tell readers of how to dispose of their books once they were finished reading them.  Maybe because I rarely get rid of my books, I hadn't thought of it.  When I do get rid of books, I actually DO tend to donate them to a library.  All books, not just Latino books.

This helps the most people.  It helps libraries with extremely low budgets have more books in circulation.  It helps those who can not afford to buy a book, read great books.  And it helps the authors, because more people are reading them.

Another good idea is to find a senior center or hospital that stocks books and donate them there.  I've also taken a stack of books with me on vacation and depending on where I stay - if they have a library, I will leave books there if I can stand to part with the book.

The idea is to share your favorite authors with others - especially if it's a little known Latino author so that more people will become familiar with that author and hopefully buy their books.

Happy Reading!


Friday, June 22, 2012

Great Writers

Sylvia Beach Hotel
After a three year adventure in an MFA program, I finally finished and graduated with a degree that says I'm qualified to write.  Probably, more accurately, qualified to teach.  I think the majority of MFA graduates end up teaching or maybe working at a publishing house in all sorts of positions, I don't know.  I'm not sure how many actually go to write.

I'm sitting now, at the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Oregon.  I came here 23 years ago with my then boyfriend who proposed to me in the library of this "writers" bed and breakfast.  Each room is themed - the Hemingway room, the Agatha Christie, the Amy Tan, and so on.  I was so enchanted with the hotel back then - I wasn't yet a published author, I was barely a writer.  Now, here I am again, with my husband (yes, the guy that proposed to me in the library) celebrating our 22nd anniversary and my MFA, and I'm wondering what does it take to be a great writer.

It doesn't take an MFA - though it gives writers opportunities to experiment and learn what to do and not do.  It doesn't take vacations to writer's hotels, though it's definitely inspiring and relaxing and provides lots of time to think.  I sometimes wonder if being dead is the magic that transform an okay writer to a great writer.  Or just stupid luck.  Really, I don't know.

The university world doesn't believe any commercial writer is great or even good.  All the authors on the best seller lists are lousy and their millions of readers are a bunch of people with poor taste according to them.  And all those lovers of commercial fiction and their editors and publishing houses don't seem to think much of the great literary writers coming from the university MFA programs, because those books are rarely published and when they are, they barely sell.

Hemingway Room
So, after all this time, I really don't know much, I guess or I've realized that greatness is really someone's opinion.  I think I'm less concerned with being a great writer and more interested in simply telling stories that matter to me.  That's what I've been doing and probably what I'll continue to do.  Maybe my greatest novel will begin tonight on this rainy evening on the Oregon coast as I sit surrounded by Hemingway's books.

Friday, June 1, 2012

You Must Read This

A while back NPR asked me to write an aritcle about a book that influenced me.  The title of the column is called "You Must Read This."  As often happens in publishing, they never actually published the article. The book I chose was How to Be a Chicana Role Model by Michele Serros. 

Tomorrow, I'm attending a commencement that The Association of Latino Faculty, Staff, and Students puts on for all CSUSB graduating students, and Michele Serros is the key note speaker.  I'm thrilled to get the opportunity to meet her.  So, I figure, this is a great time to finally publish the article I wrote about her. 

You Must Read This:
I read How to Be a Chicana Role Model the year I published my first book, Conquest using my pseudonym, Lara Rios – a book that featured Latino characters. I have to admit that I am not a Chicana. Neither did I feel an urge to become a role model, but something about the title drew my attention. Maybe because at the time, I was a teacher and knew that Latino kids had very few, if any, role models.

Instantly, Michele Serros had me smiling and realizing that somehow I picked up a book that would change the way I wrote and what themes I chose to write in future books. I loved her style, and for the first time began to question if it was possible to write fiction about Latino realities. Stories that spoke to other Latinas and portrayed our culture the way it really was – not worse, not better – but authentic.

In one of the vignettes, Serros writes about being a teenager and overhearing a friend tell a guy they befriended over a CB radio that Serros had a wide, Indian nose. Feeling betrayed, Serros leaves without saying good-bye to her friend, but then spends years pinching her nose to make it more attractive and look less Indian. These are the type of stories that are subtle, and yet touch readers deeply. Who hasn’t had the experience of having someone carelessly say something that ends up hurting our feelings or affecting how we perceive ourselves. I have. Immediately, I related to that story.

But what I loved about this book was that it wasn’t a book about how bad it was to be a Chicana. It wasn’t a book about injustices or prejudices. She gives us stories like the one about her nose, yes. But she also shares stories about how Latinos treat each other. She tells how a Mexican Fly-girl on the set of In Living Color treats her like trash, because she doesn’t want to be seen with a less successful Mexican. Another funnier tale is her continual quest to get an honorarium she was promised by a Latino professor. And my favorite story was about her family all going to see Madonna play Evita as Michele reminds her relatives that they promised their struggling actor Uncle Charlie on his deathbed not to support films that cast non-Latinos for Latino roles. Her family though, full of excuses, defend Madonna and go off to see the film, leaving Michele home alone wondering how it happened that her family so easily transferred their allegiance to celebrities.

How to Be a Chicana Role Model is a work of fiction. Or is it? It’s written in first person, the narrator being Michele Serros. In a witty conversational tone, Michele takes readers through events that feel real and leave you wondering if she made all this up or if it really happened. The truth is that it doesn’t matter, because each of her vignettes could have happened to any Latina. This is what made it such a special book to me -- the universal nature of the character and the stories. Years later, as I write my own books, I remind myself that I want to make my characters specific, but their issues and challenges universal enough that when the reader closes the book they feel I wrote the book specifically for them. This was Michele Serros made me feel and why over ten years later, her book still sits on my shelf.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Pictures from The Hike

I thought today, I'd share pictures of the hike I took a couple of weeks ago. It was a couple of miles long and tomorrow I am planning on accompanying my son and his boy scout troop on a 10 mile hike, which might turn out to be more than I can handle, but I'm going to try anyhow.

However, the hike connected to these pictures that I'm sharing today was short and peaceful. I think there's a perception of writers as people who spend a lot of time alone and that's true to a point. We have to actually sit behind a desk or table, our fingers on the keys of a computer and write the stories in our heads. That requires that we spend time alone thinking, planning, and writing. But outside of the"office" when the computer is shut down, most authors tend to have a full social life. This is true for me too, so when I get the chance to be alone or do something like go on a hike where I can have time to notice the colors of trees, the songs of birds or even the sound of my own breathing, I'm thrilled. Suddenly I remember to call people I've wanted to chat with, or a conversation I had suddenly returns and I realize that though I heard what that person said, it didn't penetrate until that second. Or I might simply realize that I need to spend more time exercising so that I'm not so winded the next time.

At the time I went, there weren't many people out on the trails. It was chilly and I actually thought maybe I was too alone as I read the signs warning that rattle snakes and mountain lions have been seen and can appear suddenly. Being the smart girl scout leader that I am, I promised myself that next time I'd bring someone along with me. Having time to think and enjoy nature is great, but being safe is pretty important too.

The nature trails are part of the Wildlands Conservancy in Oak Glen. They are mostly very easy trails and perfect for families with small children. Great picnic spots are available throughout and wonderful benches like the one pictured on the left can be found with views of lakes.

I'm planning a return trip with my girl scout troop.

Tomorrow with the boy scouts is going to be more challenging. Wish me luck!