Friday, December 21, 2007

Answer to Question for The Wild Pony

The answer to this question actually comes from my Hispanic Baby Name Book. Who knew what a treasure trove that would be for writing stories? Okay, Mama Ramirez calls her daughters little gems, because their names are all precious items.

Aurora means Gold
Silvana means Silver
Esmeralda means Emerald

The other common thread is that they are all colors.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The 12 Days of Chica Lit - Ride the Wild Pony by Jamie Martinez Wood

Hola! Welcome to Day 10 of the Chica Lit Blog Tour!! The winner of yesterday's story, Winter, Fire, and Snow, is KCE1976. Please go to to claim your prize.

There will be a question at the end of my story here. Your prize will be one autographed book which you can choose from any of my six books: The Latino Writers & Journalist Book, The Enchanted Diary, The Wicca Herbal, The Teen Spell Book, The Hispanic Baby Name Book or, The Wicca Cookbook.

For the next fun and exciting story go to

Now, mis amigas y amigos buckle your seatbelts and get ready for a bumpy ride!

Aurora Ramirez drove her black BMW up to the curb in front of her parents’ old Victorian home. She turned off the car engine and glanced over at the twinkling Christmas lights that trimmed the covered porch and wrapped around the birch trees. Two flamingos on the front lawn donned Santa’s hats. Aurora looked through the gingerbread type windows, and saw the silhouette of her mama stirring the chile con carne at the 1930’s red antique stove. Papa came over and gave Mama a peck on the cheek.

Aurora sighed, then quickly shook her head to keep from heading into relationship territory. Aurora Ramirez didn’t allow herself think about the kind of companionship that her parents shared. Some people got that kind of love, and others, like her, didn’t. Frankly, she told herself, she couldn’t imagine settling down with one person. And why should she? She had a parade of men in her life that had caused her to alphabetize her BlackBerry by first name instead of surnames. Who needs to know the last name anyway? She kept her focus strictly on her career as Vice President of Public Relations at Westinghouse Public Relations firm.

Thinking about work reminded Aurora that she really couldn’t afford to spend more than a couple of hours making tamales tonight. She had a few press releases to edit before sending them off to the client. She never, ever missed a deadline, preferring instead to accomplish the impossible, like sending out press materials one week ahead of schedule and during holiday season.

Aurora pulled down the sun-visor and checked her reflection in the small mirror. She toyed with her dark hair that fell in waves just passed her shoulder. She had an angular, beautiful face with a beauty mark just above her mouth. Hmmm. She needed more lipstick. She dug through her Dolce & Gabbana clutch purse for her signature Chinese red lipstick. While she applied her touchup makeup, a small red mark on her neck caught Aurora’s horrified attention.

Holy shit, was that a hickie? Aurora turned her head to gain a better look. Yep, a small reddish bruise shone like Rudolph’s nose.

Images of the hot young intern whom she had cornered in the copy room at last night’s company Christmas party came in sharp focus in her mind’s eye. She had never before endangered her career by allowing anyone at work to know about her late night rendezvous. It would ruin her reputation as a ball-busting businesswoman who would stop at nothing to rise in her the top. She easily gained the most sought-after clients because they wanted to ride her coattails – like the tail of a heaven-bound comet.

But she just couldn’t resist that intern’s soft brown eyes or the cute dimple in his chin. What was his name? He had the softest lips. Recently Aurora had discovered the beauty and endurance of the twenty-something generation. At thirty-nine, they would call her a cougar. And she earned that nick name in more ways than one.

Suddenly light streamed from the house to spill down the porch, over the steps, and onto the walkway. Silvana, Aurora’s sister, had yanked open the front door. “Aurora! Get your ass in here!” she called. Mateo, Silvana’s five-year-old son, clung to her leg, like a koala bear hugs a eucalyptus tree.

Aurora rolled down the window. “Just a sec,” she said.
“She’s driving me crazy!” Silvana whispered fiercely. “Hurry up.” Silvana slammed the door shut.

Aurora burrowed through her makeup bag for her MAC pressed powder. She caked on the makeup, but the reddish bruise refused to be concealed. She popped open her glove compartment and rummaged inside. She pushed aside a mini sewing kit, bank deposit envelopes, a small flashlight, mints, a package of Trojan condoms, and a few maps. She found her slinky gold lamiae scarf and wrapped it around her neck, tying a fashionable knot on the side.

Aurora grabbed her purse, got out of the car, and headed down the walkway, which glowed slightly from the luminaries placed next to the two-foot tall plastic candy canes.
She pushed open the front door and was immediately surrounded by the scent of chile con carne and sounds of recorded Christmas carols. As she walked down the hall, pictures of Aurora and her siblings: Silvana, Esmeralda, and Theodore as kids sitting with Santa smiled out at her. Every year their mother dragged out these sentimental favorites and plastered the walls with them. In each picture, the four of them wore perfectly matched clothing because Aurora, not their mother, had insisted on it. She made sure they looked good, even if she had to use her own money to buy the matching ribbons or black patent leather shoes.

Aurora’s heels clicked against the tile floor as she entered the kitchen. “Feliz Navidad.”
“Feliz Navidad,” sang out Silvana and Mama in chorus.

Esmeralda, dressed in a bright pink pant outfit and dripping with gold and pearls, turned and gave Aurora the once over. “You look like you’re going to a funeral. Don’t you wear any other color than black?”

“I need to go back to the office,” Aurora said kissing her mother on the cheek.
“It’s Christmas eve!” Esmeralda said. “If you didn’t work so hard, you’d be able to find a man. Like me.”

“Esmeralda has a new boyfriend,” Silvana said as she swooped up Bobby, her youngest son, and plunked him in the high chair their mother had purchased when Aurora graduated college, in hopes of grandkids. Instead, Aurora had enrolled in the masters program at UCLA in addition to her forty-hour a week job. She and her mother had always argued over their different versions of success.

“There’s a really important deal.” Aurora picked up a black apron from inside a kitchen cupboard and wrapped it around her thin waist.

“Tom, my boyfriend, loves the bright colors I wear,” Esmeralda said.

Aurora looked imperialistically down at her shorter sister. She pursed her lips. “I like black. It impresses.”

“Stop picking on her,” Theo interrupted as he sauntered into the kitchen sporting a red and white Chapman College sweatshirt. “Hey, sis, I got all A’s this semester.”

“Excellent,” Aurora commented.

Papa smiled as he followed behind his son. “How’s my girl?” He held out his arms and Aurora quickly crossed the room and melted into them. “You okay, baby?”

“Yeah,” Aurora said breathing in his scent of mint due to the leaves he was forever chewing.
Papa nodded towards the collection of hard liquor on the wooden sideboard.

“Good idea.” Aurora smiled and released herself from her papa’s embrace. She lifted the heavy bottle of Early Times and poured herself a glass of whiskey. Ahh, a bit of the hair of the dog. All day, she had tried drinking water, Gatorade, and even a Sausage McMuffin loaded with grease, to get rid of the queasy stomach and taste of stale alcohol. Nothing ever worked as good as a stiff drink. As she filled her glass again, Aurora had a momentary flashback that involved licking Cristal champagne off of a young man’s neck. It gave her the shivers, both from delight and fear that she had played it way too close to her own backyard.

Aurora sat her purse next to the chair in front of the large rectangular pan in which several dozen corn husks were soaking. The husks’ pale yellow opaque coloring was fading fast into a translucent, flesh-tone.

“You’re not going to wrap again?” Esmeralda said.

“You know the tamales I wrap never leak,” Aurora said pompously.

“It’s true,” Silvana offered. “Aurora’s tamales never ooze chili sauce, like yours. I should know. I had to clean the pot last year.”

“Whatever,” Esmeralda said, placing a few plates on to the table for the wrapped tamales to rest before they were arranged in the huge silver pots.

“Enough, girls,” Papa said as he put on his apron that read “I’m not aging I’m marinating.” He set down several spoons for scooping the chili con carne onto their kitchen table that had once been a door from a Cathedral in Guadalajara, Mexico. When the city decided to build a more modern church in its stead, the old church was crumbling and had become a hazard, he went berserk. He insisted he needed that door and had sucked the family savings dry to obtain it. He said it would bring peace to his rowdy family. Papa rubbed his hand wistfully over the large crack in the door.

“What has Esmeralda in such a twist?” Aurora whispered in Silvana’s ear as she walked to the stove to ladle the chile con carne into a bowl.

Silvana shrugged. “Dunno, but she’s been at it since she got here.” She whispered back. “Maybe since the new boyfriend is meeting you.”

“Why would that bother her? No, wait.” Aurora held her finger up and carried the bowl to the table. She returned and edged up next to Silvana.

“She’s always measuring herself against you and even though she would deny it if you brought it up, she still wants the approval of her big sister.” Silvana took out a new roll of paper towels to clean up the inevitable mess of tamale making.

Aurora peeked into the bowl of masa streaked with chile sauce that hadn’t been quite stirred in properly. “Why doesn’t she do that with you? You’re older than her, too.” Aurora grabbed a large wooden spoon and pushed it through the masa.

“It’s different with you,” Silvana whispered. “We all want your approval, Aurora.” At that moment, Bobby cried out, and Silvana rushed to soothe her baby.

Aurora looked around suspiciously at her siblings as she put the bowl of masa on the table. She had never noticed any desire for her praise.

“I bet Tom will be a natural at this,” Esmeralda crooned, while ripping thin strips of corn husks to tie the tamales.

“He’s coming?” Aurora asked, rearranging the bowls of masa and chili to a position she thought more organized.

“We’re breaking tradition,” Mama broke in.

“And he’s white,” Steve, Silvana’s husband, piped in. “Now I won’t be the only gringo in the crowd.”

“You’re an honorary Latino,” Silvana said with a kiss on top of his blond head. She smiled contentedly as she opened a can of olives and poured them into a green bowl.

“Now, I only want one olive per tamale,” Mama said, holding up one finger.

“So what if he’s white?” Esmeralda said. “I just know he’s the one.” She actually looked towards the heaven.

Aurora almost gagged but forced to herself to ask politely, “How long have you been dating?” Mateo pushed the olives onto his chubby fingertips and sucked them off one at a time. He reached into the bowl for more olives.

“Six months.” Esmeralda pulled Mateo’s hand out from the bowl of olives. “There won’t be any left,” she scolded.

“I bought two extra cans,” Silvana said exasperated.

“And I’ve never met him?” Aurora said bewildered.

“I met him.” Mateo said brightly. “He’s nice.”

Aurora gave her nephew a quizzical look.

“I invited Tom to Mateo’s fifth birthday,” Esmeralda said. “Remember you were working late and never made it, even though you promised to come.”

Silvana bit her lip and looked away. They had never discussed that.

“Oh,” Aurora said defeated. Just in time, her BlackBerry buzzed she had a text message. “It’s probably work,” she said, grateful for the interruption. Esmeralda groaned. Aurora picked up her purse and put it on her lap. She pulled out her BlackBerry, looked down, and read the message: How’s the hickie?

Shit. Did she give him her number? Aurora couldn’t remember. She stuffed the BlackBerry back into purse. “It’s nothing.” She said to no one in particular.

Mateo slapped down a chuck of masa on a corn husk and began to spread the masa with the back of the spoon.

“Don’t spread the masa too thick” Mama said prudently.

“Not yet, we’re waiting for Tom.” Esmeralda protested. “Did I tell you that Tom just got a new job? I can’t wait to hear all the details.”

Aurora’s BlackBerry buzzed again. Aurora fished out the electronic device and glanced down to read: I miss you. She would just ignore it. Pure sap was in love.

“You know, honey, you might be working too hard,” Papa said. “Uncle Hank’s biodynamic winery is going great in Sebastopol. He’s added on to their ranch, so there’s a guest house now. It would be good for you to get away, Aurora. Get off this wild ride you call a life and take a break.”

“We all know how much Aurora likes to drink,” Esmeralda said.

Aurora scowled at her and took a drink of her Early Times to be spiteful.

“They have horses,” Papa continued. “You could ride like you used to when you were a little girl.”

“No,” Aurora shook her head. She had never taken a real vacation since she started with Westinghouse five years ago. Her BlackBerry buzzed again. Aurora grabbed the BlackBerry, fumbled it and finally grasped it. She peeked into her purse to avoid pulling it out where anyone could see the message that read: Maybe you’d like to forget me, but I’ve been thinking that you could put in a good word for me at the office.

She dropped the BlackBerry as if it were toxic. Before she could put the purse down, the BlackBerry buzzed again. She couldn’t resist reading the message: Aren’t you going to answer me?

“You should probably answer it.” Silvana said.

“Work can wait,” Aurora said.

Silvana looked at her puzzled and Theo gaped at her. Aurora had never said anything like that before.

“I’ll just turn it off,” Aurora said, but before she could silence the BlackBerry it buzzed again. I know you don’t want Mr. Westinghouse to know you’ve been banging the new kid on the block.
“I’m going to take this.” Aurora got up and walked to the bathroom. Stop bothering me, Aurora typed in, punching the letters hard as both fear and rage pulsed through her veins in equal measure.

Sorry babe, gotta go, why don’t you just think about what I’ve said.

Aurora stared at the last words. She could feel steam rising under her Fendi silk blouse, only to be trapped by the scarf. She straightened up and headed back to the kitchen. She smiled falsely at her family and sat back down. “It’s all worked out,” she said in a tremulous voice.

The doorbell rang. Esmeralda jumped up, knocking the chair over. She ran down the hall and pulled open the door. “Hey there,” she breathed. “Come in.”

“Hope I’m not too late,” a male’s voice said.

Chills raced up Aurora’s arms. Where had she heard that voice before?

“We’ve waited for you,” Esmeralda tittered. A moment later she and Tom walked into the kitchen, their arms linked together. Esmeralda was beaming. Tom smiled at the Ramirezes sitting around the table.

It was the same soft brown eyes, same pouting lips, same damn dimple in his chin that had so enthralled Aurora last night. The same virile sexuality that had caused her to break all her rules. The hair stood on end at the back of Aurora’s neck. Her toes turned to blocks of ice. “Meet my big sister Aurora,” Esmeralda said with pride in her voice. “I think she’s the only one here you haven’t met.”

Aurora stood up and automatically shook Tom’s hand. She could feel the entire family’s attention on the two of them. But all she could do was stare at Tom’s cleft chin. Dimple in the chin, devil within, she thought dryly.

Tom smiled gleefully at Aurora. “Nice to meet you.”

Aurora forced a plastic smile on her face. “Mucho gusto.”

“Okay, let’s get this started,” Esmeralda said cheerfully. “I don’t want it to go on all night, like last year.” She smiled lovingly at Tom. “You can sit between me and Aurora.”

Aurora groped for her chair and sat down. She leaned closer to her Papa. “Papa, do you have Hank’s number? I think I will take that vacation after all.”

From The Wicca Cookbook: Recipes, Ritual, and Lore, by Jamie (Martinez) Wood and Tara Seefeldt

10 lbs (4.5 k) of pork roast, cut into medium-sized chunks
4 onions
3 garlic cloves, whole
1 to 2 dried chili pods
1 large cup chili powder (Gerbharts is the best)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 3/4 cups (680 ml) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (125 ml) lard or canola oil
2 28-ounce (840 g) of Las Palmas chili sauce
2 8-ounce (225 g) bags dried corn husks
10 lbs (4.5 k) of masa, pre-made
5 6-ounce (170 g) cans of olives, black, pitted and whole

To prepare the chili con carne, fill a large pot with 1” (2.5 cm) of water. Add meat, onions, garlic, chili pods and 1 tablespoon of chili powder. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook on low heat for 2 1/2 hours. Drain the ingredients. Shred the pork and cut out any fat.

In a medium saucepan and over low heat, mix together the oil and flour. Brown flour, stirring continually until dark beige. Turn off the heat. Slowly stir in 1 cup (250 ml) chili powder. Mix together until you reach an even consistency. Add the Las Palmas chili sauce and 1 can of water, use the 28-ounce (840 ml) can. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Use the back of a spatula to mash until the gravy mixture thickens. Mix in the pork. Reduce to heat and simmer for 1 hour.

Bring water to boil. Put corn husks in a large casserole, cake or lasagna pan. Pour the boiling water over the corn husks. Cover with a wet cloth or other light towel. Soak for 20 minutes, or until pliable.

Pour the pre-made masa into a large bowl, leaving the center open. Add 3/4 cup (180 ml) of the sauce, no meat, from the chili con carne. Mix together with your hands until fluffy.

Lay a corn husk flat with the pointy end away from you. The bottom or longest width of the husk should be approximately 6 to 7” (15-18 cm) wide. You can combine two smaller husks, making sure they overlap. Scoop 2 heaping tablespoons of the masa. Beginning about 1 1/2-inches (3.75 cm) from the pointy end, spread the masa evenly on the corn husk. The masa should extend to the bottom and be thick enough so that none of the husk shows through. Place 2 tablespoons of chili con carne in the center of the husk in an oval shape. Put 1 to 2 olives in the tamale. Roll the tamale lengthwise. Pinch the bottom close. Fold the pointy end back over the tamale on top of the seam made from rolling the tamale. Seal closed with excess masa.

Put 2 inches (5 cm) of water in a steamer pot. Stack tamales, seam down, in the steamer pot in a circle pressed against the side. Leave the center free. Stack the tamales anywhere from 2 to 4-inches (5-10 cm) from the top, depending on the size pot you use. Place a wet cheesecloth on top of the tamales to keep them from moving. Cover. Cook over medium heat. Cooking time varies depending on the pot your use. If you are using: a 2 to 3 gallon pot, cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, a 4 to 5 gallon pot, cook for 1 to 1/2 hours, a 6 to 7 gallon pot, cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

When the tamales are done, the masa will fall freely from the corn husk.

Note: Some tamale steamer pots are long and rectangular instead of being circular and tall. If you use the rectangular version, you will need to stack your tamales standing up against the side. Again leave the center open. Makes 6 dozen tamales.

Question for Ride the Wild Pony. What is the common thread between Aurora, Silvana, and Esmeralda's names? Answer here and win a free autographed book.

Moving right along on this Chica Lit Blog Tour. For the next story, go to

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Tribute to Joe M. Martinez

My grandfather, my mother’s father, showered me with unconditional love from the day I was born. His wife, my grandmother, had died one month prior to my birth, and I suppose I was in part, a rebirth, a resurgence in life, for him. When my biological father left, we moved in with Grandpy. That’s when I began to call him Daddy. He kept toys for us at his house even after we moved out and my mom remarried. He made me try habanera chilies, saying I wasn’t his granddaughter if I didn’t at least take a bite. That was unacceptable, so I of course I ate the chili. I did draw the line at rabbit and menuedo – he didn’t start me early enough on tripe soup. Grandpy made the best hamburgers, though. Throughout my childhood Grandpy lived in the best houses for hide and seek. He wore white short-sleeved button-down shirts, slicked his opulent black hair with Brilliantine, and smelled like Old Spice and Wrigley’s doublemint gum.

His feet glided across the floor without actually touching ground when he danced. I never knew that many of the times I danced with Grandpy he was letting me lead. He called just to say I love you. He never forgot a birthday. When I was a teenager and fighting with my mother tooth and nails, Grandpy always had my back. If she started name calling or threatening to hit me, I ran to my room, barricaded my door, scrambled under my bed, and called Grandpy crying. He’d calm me down and then after we hung up, I could hear my mother’s phone ring. And she would say, “Dad, all I said was…” Nothing is ever so sweet as the sound of your mother getting busted after she broke your heart.

But I was no angel. And still, he never withdrew his love, which is especially significant to me during my most demanding and frightening years. When I was nineteen I moved in with Grandpy and his relatively new wife Chris. I felt his unconditional love always. Even when I crashed and totaled three cars within a year and a half. Even when I stayed out all night. Even when I called him to drive down to Newport Beach because I had dropped my keys in the sand, stumbling from one bar to the next. Even when I wore his WWII Bomber Jacket to the bar, because I thought I looked hot in my “wife-beater” tank top, black tight jeans, and that leathered brown jacket. Never mind that he had worn that jacket as a bomber pilot during the 33 missions he captained. A regular Mexican Memphis Belle, my Grandpy. He growled at you rather than yelled when he was disappointed. It was the worst thing in the world to disappoint Grandpy.

When I lived with Grandpy and Chris they were my safety net. They read their Louie L’mour books next to a crackling fire, drank Early Times and water, played with their dogs, fed the chickens and collected their eggs, tended the horses, and grew random tomato plants, which they fed to the chickens. Late at night Grandpy would swallow a teaspoon of baking soda to settle his stomach and every morning he stretched for fifteen minutes. He was the constant in my life of turmoil. Grandpy’s love kept me alive and after two years, I finally straightened out.

After his passing on December 6, 2007, I dreamed of him at this age. I knew his death was coming, even though at eighty-three, he was still fourteen years younger than his father when he had died. In November 2005, an article appeared in the OC Register about my Wicca books. There were a few mentions about the word “witch.” Grandpy didn’t speak to me that Thanksgiving. Wouldn’t even look at me. I can’t describe how painful that was. It is the one incident of prejudice that I have directly encountered regarding my spirituality. That Christmas he growled at me, so we were on better terms, but never quite back on track. Several months later, he said he was mad and regretted that he hadn’t raised me in Catholic religion. I tried to explain that nature is my religion. Chris got me, but Grandpy didn’t. Last month I went to visit him and mentioned that there was a book I would like to give him. He said with contempt that he didn’t read anymore. The month prior, he fell down while dancing at my sister’s wedding. There were always deep bruises just under his skin because of his blood pressure, or something like that. He lost track of conversations in the end.

However, the Grandpy I remember most is the one who has instilled in me a great love and appreciation for myself. This unconditional love that he carried for me, now lives in me. I cannot imagine living a life less grand than anything he would want for me. What a gift. To have been loved so deeply that you can feel the love living in you even after the one who gave it to you has passed on.

At his very Catholic vigil and rosary, I placed in his casket a Goddess necklace my mother bought for me years ago. I love this necklace. I’m not sure what this symbolic gesture means, only something related to the fact that I am merging and incorporating his beliefs and loves into my own, and hoping this can be a symbiotic act. That we can let go of the obstacles that bar the bridge to each other’s hearts.

I love you Grandpy.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

12 Days of Chica Lit

I am participating in a Chica Lit Blog Tour. It's a like a relay race. In a nutshell, there are several Latina writers who will post stories on their websites and ask a question about their story. Winners will be announced on the website of the next writer in line to post her story. It will continue like that, for our 12 Days of Chica Lit. I'm still deciding on my best prize, so go ahead and give me your suggestions. Here's the line up.

Mary Castillo - 12/11 www.marycastillo. com (Prize: $15 gift certificate)

Berta Platas - 12/12 www.myspace. com/bertaplatas (Prize: Bath and Bodyworks Bath Gel and Friday Night Chicas) Mayra Calvani- 12/13 - The Dark Phantom, http://thedarkphant om.wordpress. com (Prize: Copy of DARK LULLABY)

Caridad Pineiro - 12/14 www.caridad. (Prize: A copy of SEX & THE SOUTH BEACH CHICAS and Victoria's Secret bag with goodies) Lara Rios- 12/15 http://www.lararios .blogspot. com/ (Prize: Copies of Becoming Latina In 10 Easy Steps and Becoming Americana)

Caridad Ferrer (Barbara) - 12/16 http://fashionista- 35.livejournal. com/ (Prize: Copies of AdiĆ³s and Accent and an iTunes gift card)

Margo Candela - 12/17 www.margocandela. com (Prize: $25 Bath & Body Works gift)

Kathy Cano Murillo- 12/18 www.craftychica. com

Tracy Montoya - 12/19 (www.tracymontoya. blogspot. com ) (Prize: a copy of TELLING
SECRETS and Fair Trade chocolate)

Jamie Martinez Wood- 12/20 and

Misa Ramirez - 12/21 www.misaramirez. com

Sofia Quintero - 12/22 www.blackartemis. com (Prize: Bundle of 3 Black Artemis novels) Toni

Margarita Plummer - 12/23 - www.myspace. com/toniplummer (Prize: copy of Palabra
Magazine and $20 gift certificate to Barnes and Noble)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

To the Artists in the House

I think the two different ways of gaining success as a creative person are very interesting. You can either rise to the top of your profession and/or art through word of mouth based on your talent. Or you can gain notoriety because of a slick marketing campaign. If you rely solely on word of mouth, you are bound to be eating top ramen for a long time, but there is the benefit of knowing you have autonomy. If you go the other route, you may have a broader ripple effect - connecting with more people - thereby making more money, in less time. The irony is if you do well because of a grassroots efforts, then you are a "true" artist, and the flip side is that diving into deep pockets for advertising, big publishing companies, or big record labels, etc. and you're called a sellout because your art was bought based on a Pavlovian response created by advertising gurus and media, rather than quality.
I have heard of artists who won't sell their work to someone who doesn't "get them." And I've heard artists saying they'll do whatever it takes, just to be able to write, make jewelry, or sing, etc. It's rather obvious that the combination of the grassroots and advertising is really the best option, but for me the trick lie in figuring out where to put my energy - 40% here and 60% there. How many blogs can you write? How many festivals can you attend hustling your books? Should you carry the books in your car, place them title side up at your favorite coffee shop so people ask about you, push the publisher to do more? How much do you push and how much do you trust the process and quality of your work to prove itself?
Personally, I think I lost my trust in marketing when I studied public relations in college. First there was Orson Wells' radio broadcast called The War of World in which people freaked out because they thought Martians really had landed on Earth. Wow, radio sells ideas, radio convinces people. Then there was the Nixon/Kennedy debate when Nixon refused to wear makeup and sweat like a pig under those harsh lights, whereas John F. looked calm, collected and ever so handsome. Oh, so looks sell, too they realized. Of course, the irony is that I'm very intuitive pr gal/professional, who happens to love creating symbiotic relationships with people, organizations, and businesses. That is the quandary - the artist or pr gal? I know I don't have to chose, but where is the balance?
In six months, on June 10, 2008, my first novel, Rogelia's House of Magic, will be available. It's my first book with an actual release date. All other books had release months. It's my first time with a big publisher. What they will do for me, remains to be seen? It's mine to ask from the universe. What will I choose? I will continue to reach out to my community and hopefully find the trust and balance in marketing for a piece of art that is very dear to my heart.
So what would you chose? Marketing or grass roots? Or both?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Being Grateful

I'm grateful that my eight-year-old son Kobe believed that a sprite peed on him tonight and was able to descibe the little bugger. He's got faith in the realness of fae folk. I'm grateful that my ten-year-old son Skyler needed a long hug before he could sleep tonight. He's got a willingness to reach out for comfort. I'm grateful that my husband Kevin can give me space when I need it most. He's sensitive that way - not to mention smart.

What are you grateful for?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Protecting the Rights of the Creator

When my first child turned six months old, I realized I could no longer take him into the literary agency where I worked as an assistant. My boss, agent Julie Castiglia, adored Skyler, but he cried a lot. I found it difficult to accomplish even mindless work such as entering submissions into the computer while endlessly tapping my foot on the edge of his bouncy seat to calm my fussy baby. When my work required actual thinking, i.e., sending letters to authors about royalties or editors pitching a new book, it was damn near impossible to concentrate. As I only made $2 an hour more than the babysitter, I had no other apparent option but to go home to raise my son.
Insistent upon making some cash, I brought home the slush pile of submissions to read and assess. But after awhile, the cut-throat nature of the business became intolerable. I could tell how much passion these writers had, even when they didn’t have talent, and it broke my heart. I wanted to be a published author as well, so their pain was too close for comfort. I often wrote notes of encouragement on the rejection cards. The small effort didn’t take much time, but it took energy and soon enough, I knew I had to quit the job completely.
Being a stubbornly independent cuss, this part of my process was extremely difficult; trust is also not exactly my forte. I had effectively cut off my income source and I was scared, albeit hopeful. In deep meditative prayer (with a candle), I asked for an income that would feed my creative spirit and enable me to stay home with my son.
Within a week, Julie called me with a proposal. An editor from Carol Publishing had called her looking for an author to write The Wicca Cookbook. Julie wanted to know if I thought I could write the book. At the time I had little formal training in Wicca, but I had been to some rituals and had already delved into several mysteries: my nana had been a psychic, my mother a Catholic, my father a Christian Scientist, and my aunt a tree hugger. I could do it.
The next week I found out I was pregnant. While my first son took naps and my second son grew inside me, I created my third “child,” the sister named The Wicca Cookbook. I turned in the completed manuscript a couple of months prior to my son’s due date. I remember asking the editor to be kind with rewrites and edits since I would either be on the brink of giving birth or postnatal (and possibly depressed as it had happened the first time, but I didn’t really tell them that. Brooke Shields hadn’t made her declaration, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to say anything.) Publisher’s Weekly announced the book with the cover Carol Publishing had chosen in their July 26, 1999 issue.

Soon after we turned in final edits, Carol Publishing declared bankruptcy.

All book deals and books were considered assets of the bankruptcy, including my baby. This book represented my future ability to make money and remain at home to care for my children. Post partum depression had settled in and my husband was drinking like a fish. This book was my ticket to self-sufficiency and it was slipping through my fingers like water. I consulted four lawyers and after months and months of negotiations we seemed to be edging towards the ability to get my rights back to my book. My agent sent out the proposal to different editors, including a publisher known as Ten Speed Press/ Celestial Arts. I liked the name of the publisher and they had published one of my favorite authors: SARK. Ten Speed agreed to buy the book, pending a letter from Carol Publisher relinquishing the rights. But, weeks passed and still Carol Publishing wouldn’t send a letter. It seemed that Kensington Publishing would acquire their book deals and they didn’t want to lose any lucrative assets. But we didn’t know whether or not the new publisher would ever publish my book, as they had eighteen months to decide once the takeover was complete. The roadblock appeared impassable.
Despite this, on faith, Ten Speed announced The Wicca Cookbook in their fall 2000 catalog. More time passed and the situation was indeed bleak. The editor in chief, Kirstie Melville, loved the book but was preparing to rescind her offer soon unless we solved the legalities. A deadline was set. The deal was off unless a letter appeared by February 29, 2000. Frustration, fear, and anxiety set in. I wrote affirmations all over the file folder that contained the record of this lengthy legal trail.
Julie suggested I join the Author’s Guild and request their assistance. Immediately to my great relief and amazement, the lawyer from Author’s Guild found a loophole in that Carol Publishing had only paid me half of the advance. If I would return payment ($2,500), I would have the rights to my book. There was a light at the end of the tunnel. I scraped together money already spent and sent it back to the publisher. The Author’s Guild came to my rescue and did what four lawyers could not do. With less than twenty-four hours before the deal with Ten Speed was null, I got the rights back to The Wicca Cookbook. Ten Speed knew what to do with this book, and it sold out of its first printing in three months.
The Author’s Guild resuscitated my career as an author and gave me the footing and support I needed in a desperate time. The guilds that protect our ability to make money from our creative efforts are irreplaceable. They support the heart of every story, the core of every theory. There are people, the storytellers, the scientists, the teachers, and other creators who want nothing more than to make a living from writing: words are their best friends, the way they communicate with the world and with their divine self. At this point in my career, I cannot afford to close my laptop and walk the picket line with the Writer’s Guild. However, this musing is my symbolic gesture of support. I’m not currently writing for a hit TV show or a screenplay for Warner Brothers, not yet at least. But someday, their battle for rights could be my battle – you never know.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

DEAR Drop Everything And Read

DEAR: Drop Everything And Read

The report cards are in and the teachers are pushing the habit of reading. But reading can be so much more than devouring books to rack up a high score or favorable remark. Reading books enables you to enter a different world, develop compassion for another’s pain, meet a friend from another culture that you may never get the chance to visit, and expand your perspective. But where to get these books? Of course convenience provokes us to shop at whatever big chain is nearby: there’s a wide selection, it’s familiar, we believe it’s cheaper, and they usually have coffee.

But what about the independent bookstores? There’s something (perhaps hidden within the American psyche) that makes me feel that supporting the little guy actually encourages and sustains self-government. As companies merge, whether it’s retail or media or books industries, and grow into mega conglomerates, we risk losing a fertile environment for the entrepreneurial spirit. Once you support another’s ability to strike out and create something of their very own, over which they have full autonomy, you champion and advocate the same sovereignty for yourself. The Ma and Pa of independently owned businesses are you and me! It is your grown child, your husband, your best friend, your neighbor. It's a person with a dream, no different than any of us.

When you walk into Rueben's Bookstore, you are walking into Rueben's dream, his passion, his livelihood. Supporting a local anything is important because you are not only supporting someone's dream or vision you are supporting choice and supporting a free society, based on the idea that you can do or be whatever you want when you grow up. You are preventing towns from all becoming the same.

Shopping at Ma and Pa's is a way of valuing the aesthetic differences. Without putting value on that, we lose creativity and individuality. Keeping the little guys alive keeps the towns, states and country we live in diverse and more colorful. Supporting independent businesses gives us more choice and more diversity.

When we walk into Target, we know how it's going to smell, feel and look. We know the carts are red and the font they use on the signs are the same at all Targets. The employee's uniforms are the same. So whether you are in a Target in California, Alaska, New York, Iowa, it is the same experience. So it is with Bed, Bath and Beyond, Starbucks, Borders, and Olive Garden. Same menu, same decor, same lay-out, same sign, same, same, same. Which becomes boring, boring, boring after a while. Which makes us have even less of a culture than we already do. While we enjoy the convenience of it all, we do not want to give up the uniqueness and independence of Ma and Pa businesses. We don't want to give up our "Main Street" – the core of our community. Aside from supporting freedom and individual dreams, placing value and different tastes, looks and feels, there is also the idea of humans connecting and forming relationships where we shop, eat and play.

If you think you vote with your dollars and you enjoy capitalism where everyone should have a fair shot, supporting local and small businesses give them a fighting chance. Especially with virtually no advertising budget. But often the chain stores advertise only a few books at discount, while the majority of books are the same wherever you go. We are forced to ask ourselves, do we spend a more value on supporting the dream, which is our dream, or money? These may be happy fuzzy feeling thoughts, but here are the facts.
Chain stores put the power of what is read and published in this country into the hands of the few (instead of the many) and promote books based on money (not on quality).Basically, the two big book chains have 800 or so stores each, but only one set of book buyers at their headquarters in NY and Ann Arbor, MI who make all the decisions about what books all their stores will carry. Each independent store has its own bookbuyer. In the old days before chains, if an individual bookbuyer refused to stock a certain book it was no big deal, since there were 5,000 other independent stores who might still get the book out into the world. But now (as those independent stores have been replaced by chains) if the single chain buyer for Barnes & Noble or Borders turns down a book, it will now no longer be available in 800-1600 stores across the country. Publishers will often decide whether or not to publish a book depending on whether or not they think Borders and Barnes & Noble will like it. Publishers have also been known to change book cover design, or titles, if the chains object to it. Then, once books get into the chain stores, there’s the question of which books get promoted and sold. Every inch of display space in chain stores (end caps, display tables, register space) is paid placement by publishers. Same with any of Amazon’s featured books or “if you liked this book, you might also like this one...”, etc. This means that only a few big books and big publishers get to put their books front and center, while smaller books and publishers languish in the back of the store, spine out on the shelves. Independent stores, on the other hand, display and hand-sell whatever books they truly believe in and feel are great books that deserve to be read.

So whether or not you chose to still visit the big chain bookstores, please seek out your local independent bookstore. Give them a visit and when you have the chance, order and buy books from them. Developing our local economies, getting to know our neighbors is imperative in these times. Whatever you do, read, read, read to expand and empower yourself.

For additional information on how to ensure the economic health of local communities...see here for more info: