And speaking of signs…

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

No way! WAY!!!

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


Shake you groove thing, shake your groove thing oh yeah!
Show ’em how you do it now

And now its back to work but with a smile on my face.

Thanks Selina! And MUCHAS GRACIAS Latina Magazine!

Beginner’s Mind

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

-Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Some pretty amazing opportunities have come my way recently (hard to believe after my last post but its true). Being me, I was freaking out because of the huge changes these opportunities would bring to my family. I mean, I’d die if my son ever had to call my assistant to schedule himself on my calendar. But then I talked to Daisy, who in spite of all that she does, puts her family first. When I asked how she does it all, she said the following which I printed and stuck it above my computer:

“I’m one of those girls that shows up, you know? When I have a job to do, I get it done.”

Every day since that interview, I step into my office and tell myself: I’m showing up, doing the work and then when I’m done, I’m walking out of here to do what I gotta do with my family. I can’t tell you how amazing that kind of attitude has been. My output is off the charts and while I know it won’t last forever – these things ebb and flow as they should – I’m really enjoying the flow! So if she’s reading this, thank you Daisy!

I hope y’all have a rockin’ weekend.


Thought of the day

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

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

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

Today is Cinco de Mayo?

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

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


Makes you wanna go kick some ass, huh?

Family Ties

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

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

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

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


This is probably somewhat illegal but what the hell. Anyway, have you ever talked to someone who repeats how happy/smart/humble they are? When that happens, I always wonder if they’re saying it to convince me, or themselves and then of course, my imagination conjures all sorts of lurid possibilities as to why. Unlike most four year-olds, a writer never grows out of the “why’s”.

This scene from Breakfast at Tiffany’s is pitch perfect in conveying subtext. It helps if you’ve seen the film in its entirety to appreciate Holly’s subterfuge, but Audrey Hepburn’s performance does a lot of the work for you.

Check it out and then have yourself a great weekend!


Tone Deaf

Musique by Gustav Klimt @

The other day Ryan and I were talking about the books and scripts we’ve read lately. I had just come off a two-month reading dry spell during which I’d start a new book and then put it down at page 20, not caring what happened in the end.

Up till I had a child, my rule was never to leave a book unfinished. But I’m 35 now and in my family that makes me just shy of middle aged. My great grandma lived till she was 76 and my great grandpa and Grandma Mary stuck around till they were 88 … mas o menos (neither were forthcoming about their real ages). So compared to what I want to accomplish in this lifetime and my probable life expectancy, I don’t have a lot of time to waste.

Anyway, Ryan argued that the reason why so many movies fall short and why so many books go unfinished is that their authors are tone deaf when it comes to story. Even though many writers come up with great ideas and snazzy hooks, and possess enviable literary wit, they can’t move a story from point A to Z.

So when I think about the books that I’d given up on, I realized indeed they were tone deaf in story. In other words, nothing was happening except the protagonist complaining about his or her life. Or worse, I was reading an author who clearly loved hearing him or herself talk. Nothing was at stake and no one or nothing was in jeopardy and those my friends are the building blocks of a good story.

Now this isn’t a literary fiction versus popular fiction rant. Nor does it have anything to do with my constant irritation with books titled, “The Candyman’s Daughter” or “The Stinky Cheesemaker’s Wife.” I don’t think that you don’t have to be “genre-fied” to spin a rip-roaring yarn. For example, even some books that cultural connoisseurs have deemed literary fiction, tell stories. Check it out:

In Cold Mountain, a soldier is making his way back home and to the woman he loves. Inman is in constant peril and much is at stake.

In Water for Elephants, a young veterinary student joins the circus and falls in love with a married woman. On each page, Jacob’s life and that of an elephant are on the line.

In The Great Gatsby – it’s read in high school so it’s a certifiable classic literary novel – a man tries to woo the golden girl who’s married to a lout. Jay Gatsby risks his heart for idealistic love.

So recently I came across a book that lacked a story and I froze with terror that the dry spell had started again.

(By the way, I won’t name names because that’s cheesy and I don’t need attention so badly that I’ll risk your hate mail.)

Going back to the book … The character was cute but if you read chick lit, you’ve read her a thousand times over and better. The writing was fast-paced and in a few places quirky enough for me to crack a grin. And guess where it takes place? If you thought New York, you win!

I gave it up at page 7 even though:

  • A major publishing house bought and published it.
  • An editor, marketing/PR person, copyeditor, sales squad, cover artist and a cast befitting a Cecil B. DeMille epic worked on it.
  • You’ll find it on the tables at major book stores.
  • Many prominent women in media called it the best thing since their vibrator.

Okay, I made up the part about vibrators but you get the idea.

This book, out of thousands, was plucked for publication even though IT HAS NO STORY.

Seriously dude, that’s the problem. Too many people are story tone deaf and yet have the wherewithal – time and a laptop and in some cases, friends in high places – to write a manuscript that gets published. Trust me, I know. Having judged plenty of contests and having read some awesome work by the members of my former critique group, there are stories out there that can’t find a place at your local bookstore. They’re held off because (a) they’re not “high concept” enough (an over-rated ideal, let me tell you) or (b) publishers can’t take chances on stuff that’s not regency romances or vampires. (Dude, I do don’t get the vampire thing.)

But could someone become pitch perfect when it comes to story? Do you have to be “special,” or can you cultivate it?

Hmm. That’s a toughie. I guess it’s up to the individual – not that I’m claiming to have been born with great literary prowess …. just ask the people who proclaimed their hatred of my books on But when it comes to story, I’m always learning by reading books and watching movies. I read plenty and preferably, beyond the confines of my genre.

When I’m lucky to find that special book or movie that make me forget that I’m a writer, I reread/rewatch it to spot how the author structured the story. I even take notes and ask myself the following:

  1. What does she reveal about the characters? But most importantly, how and when does she reveal what they’re trying to keep secret?
  2. How does she work characters against each other and create conflict that make me hold the book tighter, or lean forward towards the screen?
  3. Where are the pulse points of the story? (One could call them plot points, turning points … whatever floats your boat.

I’m not saying anything new about story telling, by the way. I think every writer knows these questions instinctively and through writing and rewriting and more writing and rewriting, you understand what you’ve been doing since you were playing make-believe as a kid.

So with that all said – oh, I feel like I could walk on air! – I’ve got some storytelling to do.

Why I Love the 70’s

I love the 1970’s not just because was I born in the era of disco, Nixon and bell bottoms. I love the opulence of the decade. The giant gas-guzzling land yachts known as cars. Wonder Woman, Charlie’s Angels and Bionic Woman were prime-time TV and I had this thing for the Roll-O and Calgon commercials. The 70’s was the decade when my parents fell in love and my mom carried daisies in her wedding bouquet.

So while I was supposed to be working, I found this video on YouTube and it just inspired why I love that decade. When I see Linda Ronstadt singing – yes, they actually sang on live, national television back then – and her back-up singer in a yellow jump suit, I just think that they were much more real than we are now. Music is prepackaged, manufactured and lipsynched. Back then, it was a girl with a voice, not much fashion sense and a tambourine at her hip.

Also, this is the song that I play whenever I sit down to work on Aracely Calderon.