My Way

At this very moment I should be working on my new story that has been obsessing me for the last week. But I wanted to tell you about this song that won’t stop playing in my head, which I’m now playing so it’ll leave me in peace.

I don’t know if you’ve been checking out Catalina Magazine’s Book Club but I’ve been the guest author this month. The experience has been immensely flattering but also intensely introspective. You see, I’m a typical doer; I don’t spend too much time thinking about what I should do or how to do it, which can be good and yet as last year proved, not so good. This morning when I received a group of questions from the book club readers, one really made me pause and think about how I write (which then inspired my brain to pipe in “My Way” by Frank Sinatra as the accompanying soundtrack).

When a new idea takes residence in my brain, I get the story in bits and pieces, usually conversations between characters or their internal dialogue. I keep a notebook with me at all times so I can capture them as if I’m a kid again, chasing butterflies in my Grandma Nana’s yard. If I don’t have it with me, I’ll repeat the idea over and over until I find a piece of paper (the backs of receipts are real handy). When it’s time to write the story down, the manuscript is just pages and pages of dialogue with a sprinkling of description or action to make it interesting. I then layer in more description, trim dialogue or rework stuff that doesn’t sound right, and take characters that appeared out of nowhere and develop them throughout the story. The third draft is almost always about plot. I suck at plot and even though I outline a pretty sound structure before the first draft, I inevitably stray and then have to go back to make sure the story unfolds in a logical manner. When that draft is complete, I then take three days to read it out loud into a tape recorder, which I painstakingly listen for rhythm and pacing. That fourth draft is usually what goes to my editor and then there’s a fifth draft based on her observations and the ideas that I hadn’t thought of earlier.


It’s quite a process and last year I tried to tweak it so that I could be more efficient. It didn’t work out, even though I was trying to do it the “right way” rather than my way. The moral of this story, for those of you who are writers or at the very least care to know, is not to pay too much attention to those voices telling you “how to do things the right way.” First, understand how your brain works. Then, take the morsels that enhance your process rather than change it. Finally, leave the room for awhile. I had to make a very difficult decision to take a break from my critique group. When you’re published, you’re surrounded by often well-meaning voices. But the one that you have to listen to is yours (and your agent and editor). While I’m a heel for not being there for my friends, I feel like I’m chasing butterflies again and it’s awesome.

With that, this is my favorite line from Frank’s My Way:

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew,
When I bit off, more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up, and spit it out.
I faced it all, and I stood tall,
and did it my way.

FREE AT LAST … Well, for now anyway

Hi-dee-ho! I just turned in my novella, “Till Death Do Us Part,” which will be included in an anthology, Other Names I Call My Sister. Many of you have been reading In Between Men and then writing to me about how much you enjoyed Isa and Alex’s story. I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to do so. Those emails sparked energy for my novella, revisions to Switchcraft and some new ideas that I’m dying to get to.

Before I start my next project – office clean-up – I want to share some official Chica Lit news. My fellow anthology authors, Sofia Quintero and Berta Platas have new books coming out next week!

Sofia’s Divas Don’t Yield is about four college grads who embark on a roadtrip odyssey from New York to San Francisco. I was lucky to read an advance copy and I wish I had had friends like these in college!

Berta’s romantic comedy, Cinderella Lopez, is sex-ay. It’s smart, funny, heart breaking and just has that, you-go-girl! feel through out.

If those titles aren’t enough for your book bag, check out Lynda Sandoval’s Unsettling. That book cracks me up every time I read it (which I’ve done twice, now). How’s this for an opener:

The door squeakd open, and Betty unceremoniously clamped a clothespin on Lucy’s shirt collar, then grabbed her wrist and yanked her over the threshold. “Finally! What took you so long? Your Tía Dulcinea can only wear her teeth for a couple of hours at a time, you know.”

Copyright © 2004 by Lynda Sandoval

I just had a quick thought about my title for today’s entry. Recently, I sat in on a talk by a NYT bestseller. What really struck me was this author’s attitude, something along the lines of “having to write so many books.”

My first reaction was, “dude, would you rather do a nine to five and sit in traffic each way for two hours?” My second was, “do you realize that most of these people listening to you are working their butts off to be in your place? They’d gratefully trade!”

So I don’t want you to think that I feel “burdened” or “trapped” by my stories. Yes, when I’m in the thick of writing, it seems like I’ve gotten myself in way too deep and I don’t have what it takes to finish it. And yet, there is nothing else in this world I can imagine doing. Writing and publishing books is not a hardship and I certainly don’t resent the challenges. (Although I could do without some of the nastiness I’ve received from other authors and a few critics; but that’s not my problem, it’s theirs.) What I do is a privelege and as long as you want to read my stories, I’ve got more coming!

Now that we have that unpleasantness over with, I hope to meet many of you in person in the following months. So far I have two book signing/reading events scheduled:

Sunday March 19th, 2006, 4 p.m.
“Heels (Manolos) and Heels (Men): Books with Great Shoes and Naughty Guys”
Barnes & Noble, Torrance, CA
Del Amo Fashion Center
21500 Hawthorne Blvd.
Torrance, CA 90503
»» Mary will appear on a panel with fellow authors, Josie Brown (True Hollywood Lies) and Sonia Singh (Bollywood Confidential). Book signing to follow panel. Visit Barnes & Noble for directions!

Saturday, April 22nd, 2006, 4 p.m.
Reading & booksigning
Tia Chucha’s Cafe Cultural
12737 Glenoaks Blvd.,#22
Sylmar, CA 91342
Visit Tia Chuca’s for directions!

With that I’m off to clean my desk for the next story. I’d tell you more but even I don’t know what it’s really about.


Clean Out Your Closets!

After watching Oprah’s show on the aftermath of Katrina, I’ve been praying for a way to help those in need. Let’s face it, I can’t exactly fly down and build a house right now.

But I read this and I hope you’ll join me in collecting books you no longer read and send them to the New Orleans Public Library system. Also, I’m going to enquire about libraries in other towns, possibly for the families who are still living in tent cities.

For now here’s the alert:

In an effort to restock its shelves after Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Public Library is asking for donations of hardcovers and paperbacks for people of all ages. Library staff will decide which books should go into its collection; the rest will go to destitute families or be sold to raise funds for the library.

Please send books to: Rica A. Trigs, Public Relations, New Orleans Public Library, 219 Loyola Ave., New Orleans, LA. 70112.

Apparently if donors mention to the Postal Service that the books are for the library in New Orleans, they will be able to send the books at the library rate, which is slightly less than the book rate.

Just When I Think I’m Free … They Pull Me Back In

Yes, that line was from the worst movie in the Godfather trilogy but I had to come up with something to describe my current frame of mind.

Just when I finished Switchcraft, I’m in deep with revisions to a novella I wrote last summer. It’s not too bad considering that I was in the last trimester of my pregnancy. But I have those too-many-espressos jitters without having inbibed any coffee today. This seems to be a regular pattern when I start or restart a story. Could I be physically addicted to writing?

Anyway, the coolest thing happened to me today! I went to the Borders store at South Coast Plaza to sign stock and Will, the sales manager, went on the store intercom to tell everyone about my book. Woo hoo! I admit that I did the “aww shucks” squirm while my husband smiled proudly and the Little Dude cruised in his stroller. But inside, I was eating it up!

By the way, if you haven’t been to my website lately, check it out. I posted a deleted scene from Hot Tamara, starring Isa, my heroine from In Between Men. Also, I’m scheduled for some book signings and I hope you’ll stop by!

Finally, the Fabulous Dana Diamond interviewed me for OCC RWA’s Orange Blossom magazine and part of that interview is now on her blog and at The Writer’s Vibe.


Mary C. who has still not found the elusive Green Tea Martini in Orange County

The Book Is Done

I finished it at 5:10 a.m. this morning. It needed a little spit and polish here and there before I sent it to my agent and editor. In the meantime, I’ll have to think up a new title and more than likely, will receive notes from my editor. But for now, it is done.

Thank you God for the gift to write my stories and actually make a buck at it. I’ve accomplished something really amazing by sharing these crazy ideas of mine with readers not just once, but now thrice with In Between Men.

So with that, I’m off to watch the Food Network. I’ve become addicted to cooking shows – especially Paula Dean and Rachael Ray – because nothing bad ever happens. Makes me feel at peace that in one part of this crazy world, something will turn out okay.

But the reprieve will be short-lived. On Sunday, I revise my novella.

Beats my old day job even thought I haven’t slept since Tuesday.


Can’t Give Up The Clean

First off, I’m still working on Switchcraft even as In Between Men is now officially in a bookstore near you.

Second, I’ve little sleep and less contact with the outside world.

Third, this isn’t a diss of any writers who become so invested in the work that they forget to shower or change their clothes. It’s just an admission that I can’t give up showering no matter how deep I am into the writing. Yes, I walk around my house like a ghost but only when it’s my husband’s turn to watch the Little Dude. Even then, I’m still listening for that particular tone in the baby’s cry that only a mommy can hear.

But that’s a whole other topic.

So back to personal hygeiene: does my need for cleanliness make me less of a writer? Am I not as committed to the work? Am I … Bourgeois?

I tried to write in my jammies the other day – mom, I did brush my teeth – but I couldn’t concentrate because of that not-so-fresh feeling under my armpits.

Also, showering and cooking are my meditation. Before I go in, I carefully select a body wash from my fiercely guarded collection. Do I need White Tea, Soothing Lavendar, Revitalizing Mint, Seductive Rose or plain oatmeal soap? And then there’s the question of exfoliation, which I use when I literally and figuratively need to rid myself of dead skin. Moisturization is a must and I always use SPF 30 on the face.

When I’m under the water lathering up, my mind plays with different approaches to a scene, hence my handy mini-recorder is always on the counter just in case my character delivers a line of dialogue that could be forgotten on the rocky path between the shower and my desk. Or, I practice what I’ll say to Oprah or Tyra on the off chance I’m invited to their shows.

Now I don’t feel so guilty. But I better get back to work.

I hope you have a great time with Isa and Alex. Funny thing about being an author is that at the time I was writing In Between Men , I hated them for making my life miserable with their damn problems. Now, I miss them and hate the characters who are making my life hell right now.


It’s Mommy-licious!

I’m so excited to announce that In Between Men will be Catalina Magazine’s Book Club Read for March! Woo hoo! I can’t read to talk to y’all about Isa and Alex and for those of you who are wondering about Tamara and Will, they- well, I just can’t give it away.

I know, I’m a brat.

Also, Romantic Times said that In Between Men “is laugh-out-loud funny but still throws hits of heartbreak that will make the strongest woman gush.”

Aww gee, guys … thanks!

If you’d like to join me and the girls at the book club, check out Catalina Magazine.

Discipline Protects The Talent

My very first mentor, Ben Masselink, said those words to me the last time I saw him. I wish he was still here to see that I took many of his lessons to heart. But I have a feeling that Ben knows what I’ve been up to.

So as I go into lock down mode to meet my February 15th deadline, I want to leave you with the 7 Healthy Habits of the Happy Writer. I promise not to be gone for long, but in the meantime, if you feel like you can’t type one more word, or that your work will never be good enough, think of what Wonder Woman would do. Do you think she’d give up while fighting for our rights in her satin tights?

  1. Writes to strengthen her voice
  2. Makes time to write, rather than wait for the right time
  3. Knows an excuse when she hears one
  4. Listens to her instincts
  5. Erases failure from her vocabulary
  6. Writes through the pain
  7. Has the courage to overcome and learn from rejection

Luv & Besitos,

It Never Gets Old

Yesterday was an awesome day! The Little Dude and I went to the mailbox and opened a package of advance release copies of In Between Men! I got all chocked up and tears were in my eyes … It never gets old seeing my name on a book. But what really got me this time was the page opposite the title page where it reads, “By Mary Castillo” with a list of my two Avon titles. With three books in print, this isn’t a dream anymore; I’m a real author, baby!

After that emotional event, I got myself all dressed up and signed at the American Bookseller’s Association Winter Institute in Long Beach. The big surprise was on my table: freshly printed copies on In Between Men! So fresh, they had paper dust on them. So thank you to my peeps at Avon Trade – NO ONE does it better than you do!

Okay, now where were we on our list … Ah yes, #4. On my desk, I have three quotes tacked onto the shelf above my computer. One says, “I pay no attention to anybody’s praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings.” – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

That’s some tough talk from an artist … Then again, when you’re tied with Beethoven as the world’s greatest composer, you can probably say things like that. On the otherhand, maybe that’s what it takes to be great; complete focus on your work so that it is pure. The consequence, of course, is the possibility of dying poor and ending up in an anonymous pauper’s grave.

Either way, I hold onto the spirit of this quote. With every story I write, I live this awful fear that haunts me: will everyone think I’ve gone too far?

With Hot Tamara, I worried that the last love scene between Will and Tamara was too cheesey.

With “My Favorite Mistake,” I worried no one would respect Isela for sleeping with a man she just met, and who could possibly get her an in with his famous brother.

With In Between Men, I worried that the appearance of Joan Collins as Isa’s guardian angel would be way over the top.

With Switchcraft, I have all kinds of worries that I can’t discuss right now.

And while that’s quite foolish of me to waste so much energy worrying about what people will think, I will admit that I have paid attention to the right people in my career. In the very beginning when I was still finding my footing, I had the good fortune of meeting a man named, Ben Masselink. He taught a writing workshop through the USC Professional Writing Program and our first assignment was to write the first five pages of a work-in-progress. I was terrified. But after I read it out loud, Ben asked me to step outside with him. No one moved, no one looked at me because all of us smelled the scent of doom. Outside, with my backpack slung over my shoulder because I could not have walked back in for it, Ben snapped my pages with his fingers and said, “Mary, you’ve got something here. It needs work, but keep writing.” And I did.

Since then, there are only a handful of people whose opinions I listen to. And even then, I keep my counsel against comments like, “that’s great,” “no comment,” or “are you sure this is English you’re writing?”

For those of you who think you need a critique partner/group, or to pay a freelance editor gobs of cash to whip your writing into shape, first hone your instincts. Write for yourself, play with words and make mistakes. Don’t rush over to the first person you meet and have them critique your work. Look for the right person. In my experience, I didn’t have to look. They came at a time when I needed them.

And now, I’m going to mainline some coffee to wake up. I was out late and Little Dude was up at 4:30.

Excuses, excuses!

This is the fifth day that I’ve operated on less than four hours of sleep. But as soon as the Little Dude goes down to sleep, I will carry on. You see, even lack of sleep isn’t a reason to make me stop writing. Admittedly, when I was unpublished I annoyed and frightened my friends with my determination to write. I wrote during my lunch hour, wrote into my handheld tape recorder in traffic, wrote at work (oh yes I did!) – or, ran into the bathroom at work to jot an idea or a bit of dialogue – wrote through achy shoulders and burning eyeballs.

But then there was Mardi Gras of 2002. I took that first draft of Hot Tamara with me to New Orleans and editted it, so I wouldn’t lose any time before I had to go back to work. Yes folks, that was how annoying I was and well, still am.

My plan tonight is to jump back into chapter 11 and work in a great idea I had while I was in the shower. I was going to start chapter 12, but this supporting character is taking a life of her own and I’m trying to tame her.

But I don’t want you to miss an excellent, funny piece on excuses and why they just don’t cut it. Go read Dana’s Reasons Why Not and then get back to work!