NaNoWriMo Tip 2: How to Make Your Goal

I should’ve added, “How to Make Your Goal Without Losing Your Mind.”

So this is by no means the absolute, fool-proof, 100% guaranteed list of how to achieve your NaNoWriMo goals. It is what works for me and I share this with the goal that it might stimulate you to come up with ways that will work for you.

Here we go:

  1. Understand how you write. I’ve been doing this writing thing since 1994. One would think I had it figured out. But life changes. The demands on your attention and energy change. You develop back problems and the old eyes stop working the way they used to. I was trying to do the same old routine: sit my behind down for an hour and write without a break. I can tell you what that accomplished: a page or two of work and way too much Facebook scrolling, sharing, liking and commenting. I read and practiced The Chunky Method and it changed my writing life for the better. I learned that I have an optimal 15 minute attention span. So I set my stopwatch and within an hour I work in 15 minute segments. And guess what? I write like the damn house was on fire in those 15 minute sessions! Do I say and not as I once did: rather than write the way you think you should write, embrace your work style and make it work for you!
  2. Give yourself a break. Oh I just heard that groan. I’m a mama so I also caught that eyeroll with the eyes on the backof my head, too! But seriously, give yourself a break. Even if it’s just to stand up, do some wrist circles or scream into a pillow, moving re-energizes the body and mind. My personal favorite is to do the dishes. Maybe it’s the flow of the water but it just gives my mind a release and then those characters start up again and I’m ready for my next 15 minute session.
  3. There will be days you can’t work and that’s okay. This is a judgment-free zone. Life happens. Kids get sick. You get sick. Someone at work gets sick and you have to pick up the ball. On days when I can’t write (and boy do I get a grumpy!), I remind myself that the world is always there. Because really, where the hell is it going to go? What will the characters do without you? I find that the simple statement, “The world is always there,” lifts the stress off my shoulders and prepares me to jump in mess up my characters’ lives even more.
  4. Meditate. Dude, this changed my life. I’m telling you the truth. A short prayer followed by a ten-minute session of quiet gets me in the world and ready to go. I’ve now started meditating after my writing session to transition into family time or work. I highly recommend davidji‘s Sweetspot Online Community for free meditations. He brings ancient meditation techniques to the modern world and he’s a funny guy. Plus Rocky the pug may have a crush on Peaches the Buddha Princess.
  5. Turn off social media. In fact as soon as finish reading this, do yourself a favor and turn off your browser. Set your mobile to Airplane mode, throw the wireless thing-of-boob out the window and get writing!

NaNoWriMo Tip 1: Goals

Today is the start of National Write a Book Month. Does the idea of writing an entire book in 30 days intimidate you as much as it itimidates me?
If so, consider setting a specific goal between November 1 and November 30th. Here are some that have served me in past NaNoWriMo’s:
  • Write the first five or ten chapters
  • Revise Act I
  • Write a novella or short story
The more specific I am with a goal, the more likely I am to accomplish or exceed that goal. For this year’s #NaNoWriMo I’ll be editing Act III of Lost in Whispers. Nothing more, nothing less. And I know there will be changes that will require me to back to Act I and Act II in December so that the book makes sense. But my goal is not for Act III to be perfectly publishable. It just needs to get done so I’m closer to my final goal of getting this book in its very best form to you in March 2017!
But if you really want to write that book in 30 days, go for it! I’ll post some tips to make it as productive as possible tomorrow.
If you’re NaNoWriMo-ing this month, please share your goals and stay in touch with your progress!

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?

Between the Pages with Susan Meissner

When I read The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner, I got lost in the story and forgot all about being a writer. Lately I’ve been a real complainer about books that lack stories and certain fiction titles. But The Shape of Mercy reminded me that my love of books – especially those which take risks with prickly characters and pop back and forth between the past and present – is much stronger than the things that irritate me. As soon as I finished her book, I had to have her on the blog and talk about what inspired the story, the surprises she encountered on the way and the world she created for her characters.

Please welcome Susan Meissner, author of The Shape of Mercy.

Chica Lit: How did the idea for The Shape of Mercy come to you?

Susan: When I was in junior high, I was in play called To Burn a Witch. I played the role of an innocent young woman accused of witchcraft. The play opens with my character sitting in a jail cell with other innocent young women from her village also convicted of witchcraft and facing the stake. When my character realizes she can save herself by pretending to be bewitched, she begins to scream that one of the other girls in her cell – a friend, actually – is tormenting her. My character is led away to freedom and the woman she accused falsely is led away to her execution.

I had forgotten being in that play until I read a newspaper article a couple years ago about a woman who was petitioning a Massachusetts court to exonerate her great-times-eight grandmother. This ancestor of hers was accused and convicted of witchcraft during the Salem trials, was released when the hysteria ended, but whose name was never cleared. I was reminded of how it felt, even just as an actress, to be accused of being something I was not – and the far worse feeling of accusing someone I knew was innocent. These people who died in 1692 Salem were all innocent. They all died refusing to confess they were in league with the Devil, even though their lives would have been spared if they had. They held onto truth to the point of death. That, to me, is incredibly inspiring.

Chica Lit: Could you talk about your writing process?

Susan: The writing process for me begins with something like what I just shared: Ordinary people who I can relate to experiencing something extraordinary and faced with a choice. The Shape of Mercy is about a college student from an affluent family who takes a job she doesn’t need transcribing the 300-year-old diary of a young victim of the Salem Witch Trials. I wrote the diary first; before I wrote anything else. After reading several different kinds of books on the Salem Witch Trials (they are all listed in the back of the book), I felt ready to step into 1692. I interview my characters before I write their story, so I had already had several imaginary conversations with Mercy Hayworth before I began to write her diary. I knew how she was wired, what she was good at, what she feared, what she was willing to do for the people she loved. After I had written the diary, it felt real to me. And I wanted it to, because it had to feel real to Lauren, the college student. The Shape of Mercy is about how Lauren’s character develops, and it’s all based on the discoveries she makes while she’s transcribing Mercy’s diary.

Chica Lit: Which character surprised you the most?

Susan: I would have to say it’s Abigail who evolved into a character I actually grew to care about. Abigail is the 83-year-old recluse who owns the diary and hires Lauren to transcribe it. Abigail was always going to be kind of a hard-souled sourpuss whose own disastrous choices made her the way she was. She was to personify regret so that Lauren could see what becomes of a person who makes decisions based on self-preservation alone. But the more I got into the story, and into her stony heart, the more I saw a woman who wasn’t past getting through to. She became someone I could redeem. Nice surprise.

Chica Lit: How did your journalism career help and/or hinder you as a novelist?

Susan: I have come across only good things that have transferred over from my days as a newspaper editor. Journalism is all about word economy, hooking the reader with the first sentence, saying much in a short amount of space, choosing powerful nouns and verbs instead of cosmetic adjectives and adverbs, and of course, sticking to a deadline. I am amazed at how much journalism prepared me to write fiction. And I know that sounds a like a joke! But it’s true. Go figure.

Chica Lit: In a way, you’re continuing The Shape of Mercy through a blog written by the characters. Will you write a sequel or continue the blog?

Susan: The blog, which is found here, has been a wonderful way to keep the characters alive.

More than once I’ve finished reading a novel where I’ve connected deeply with the characters and found myself a little depressed when I turned the last page. It’s been like having to say goodbye too soon to people I’ve learned to care about. My goal is always to create characters that seem real. I want them to seem real to you and to do that they must seem real to me. This was especially true with the characters in The Shape of Mercy. I wanted Lauren, Abigail, Esperanza, Raul, Clarissa, – and even Mercy – to keep breathing, to keep talking to me, prodding me even though the book was done. It’s true that the characters write the posts and I wouldn’t exactly say it’s an online sequel. The posts are emails between Lauren and Raul, advice from Clarissa, stories and poems from Mercy’s recovered storybook, insights on life and literature from learning-to-let-go-of-regrets Abigail and kicky recipes from Esperanza, Abigail’s housekeeper. It has a sequel-type feel and I like that because I have no plans to carry the story into another full-length book. I feel I told the story that needed to be told there. And I guess I will continue the blog until the story that needs to be told here is told!

Check out The Shape of Mercy or visit her website and blogs at

Between the Pages with Berta Platas

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

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

Please welcome Berta Platas!

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

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

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

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

Chica Lit: How much research went into your book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between the Pages with Misa Ramirez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chica Lit: How much research went into your book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Year’s Blog Tour – Introducing La Cholita

Photo by Brandon Showers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m more vulnerable as myself,” she said.

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

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

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

Sherri won Berta Platas’ drawing from yesterday’s blog … hurray!

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

Between the Pages With Christine Fletcher

Some of you know that I did NaNoMo last month to finish my latest WIP. About three days into it I discovered Christine Fletcher’s novel, Ten Cents A Dance. Upon reading the excerpt on her website, I had to have it. But my rule when writing, especially a first draft, is that I don’t get to read novels. I made her book my reward when I reached “the end.”

It’s not a great way to live but now you know why I write my books so quickly.

As soon as it arrived, I tore into it and rarely came up for air … except when the Little Dude ate crap from falling out of his wagon. Anyway, we’ve all used the saying, “a guilty pleasure” and I’ve resolved to abolish it from my lexicon because pleasure and rewards after a hard day’s work shouldn’t inspire guilt. A pleasure such as Christine’s novel makes me remember what its like to be a reader again and why I got into this business in the first place.

So I was stoked when she agreed to my crazed fan email/interview request. Please welcome Christine Fletcher!

Chica Lit: As writers we always have a particular idea that simmers in our heads. Ten Cents A Dance was inspired by the story of your great aunt. How long had you had the idea for a story about taxi dancers and when/how did it come to life?

Christine: Five or six years ago, I had the idea to write a novel based on my great-aunt’s life. They say every writer has a half-finished novel abandoned in a drawer, and that one is mine. I just couldn’t make it work. But while trying to write that book, I did some research on taxi dancers. I was fascinated to learn that many of the younger dancers kept their jobs a secret while living with their families. I kept wondering: how would a teenaged girl get away with that? And for how long? Once I made those questions the focus for a novel, the writing really took off.

Chica Lit: Ruby is one of those characters who truly felt alive as I read her story. Did she shock and surprise you during the writing of the story and do you think you’ll continue her story?

Christine: Ruby constantly surprised me during the writing of the book. I remember vividly one scene which played itself out in my head–it was almost like watching a movie, and I was typing madly, trying to keep up with the action–when suddenly Ruby did something so completely unexpected that I actually said out loud, “Oh no, you did not!” It was a perfect Ruby move, but when I sat down to write the scene, I had no idea she would do that! Moments like that made her an enormously fun character to hang out with.

At the moment, I’m working on another historical novel with different characters. But Ruby is near and dear to my heart, and I may take up her story again at some point.

Chica Lit: Did you research before writing the book, or during and in between revisions?

Christine: All of the above! As I mentioned earlier, I’d done some research on taxi dancers beforehand. But most of the research happened during the writing. I would get to a certain point and then I’d have to find out what a black-and-tan club might have looked like. Or which radio shows were popular in 1942. So the writing directed the research to a large extent…although occasionally, it happened the other way around. That was how the policy kings ended up in the book. I was looking for information on urban crime in the 1940s and came across a reference to this enormous gambling empire in Chicago. It not only filled a niche in the story perfectly, it eventually provided material for an entire subplot.

The danger with research, at least for me, is that it’s easy to start obsessing. At one point I was driving myself crazy trying to find out if chicken was expensive during the war. Some references said yes, others said no. My older relatives either couldn’t agree or couldn’t remember (yes, I was even asking family members!) I finally came to my senses and realized the price of chicken in 1942 was not going to make or break the book. So I cut out that detail and immediately felt my sanity returning.

Chica Lit: The relationship between Paulie and Ruby is fascinating and yet, as an adult woman, made me cringe because I knew the games he was playing with her. How did Paulie’s character evolve and what do you hope readers will take away from Ruby’s experience with him?

Christine: Most of us are familiar with the guy who thinks he’s smarter and tougher than anybody else around. From the beginning, I knew Paulie was that guy. And I knew Ruby would fall for him, because I’ve been that girl. It’s the age-old question: Why do girls go for bad boys? People say, “How can she be so blind? Can’t she see how terrible he is for her?” They don’t understand that being with him makes her feel good. Especially at the beginning, in that heady, romantic time. These guys talk a good game, and she feels special because he could have anyone but he chose her. (Of course, the real reason he chose her is because other girls won’t put up with being manipulated and bullied, and she will–but she doesn’t realize that). Ruby is smart and savvy for her age, but Paulie knows just how to play her. I wanted readers to experience what that dynamic feels like from the inside. How easy it is to get caught up, and how hard it is to get out.

Chica Lit: I read that you have a day job as a vet. When do you write? Do you think you’ll write full-time?

Christine: I work part-time two days a week. The other five are for writing (and everything else in life!) I mostly write in the morning (and try to push until mid-afternoon if I can) three to four days a week.

Right now it’s not financially possible for me to write full-time. If it ever does become possible, though, I’m not sure I would. Writing is such an isolating activity. In one sense, that’s not a problem for me, because I’m terribly introverted–I love quiet and solitude. But I’ve found that too much solitude makes me a bit wobbly, as if I’m out of step with the rest of life. My day job keeps me rooted in the real world, and I think ultimately that helps the writing. There’s something tremendously grounding about working with animals. They take life as it comes, for better or worse. I’ve learned more from my patients than I could ever have imagined, and I’m not sure I’d give that up, even if all my books become runaway bestsellers. (Not that I’d complain if that happened, mind you!

Chica Lit: What’s next for you and what was the best book you read in 2008 and why?

Christine: Next up is another historical YA novel set during World War II. I’ve discovered that what I really love is dropping characters into situations way over their heads, then seeing what happens! So I’m doing that again in this book, and I’m having a blast.

The best book I read in 2008…that’s a tough one, because I read several I adored. But I’d have to say the best was A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. I read the first three pages in the bookstore and was immediately enthralled. It’s a big, multiple-family epic set in India in the early 1950s. Lata’s family is looking for a “suitable boy” for her to marry…only Lata has ideas of her own, and thereupon hangs the tale! The author carried me through 1400+ pages, four families, a few dozen characters, I don’t know how many plots and subplots…and somehow never confused me or lost my interest. The book made it onto my “desert island” list, and that’s the highest recommendation I can make!

Chica Lit: If you’re behind on your holiday shopping like me, and you have a teen on your list who loves books, you’ll be the coolest aunt/uncle when you give Ten Cents A Dance … even if you’re wearing a dorky reindeer sweater. You can learn more about Christine’s books at her website.