Americas Award Books, Authors, Chingonas, fiction, Sandra Cisneros, Strong Women, Wisdom

Listening to Sandra Cisneros

“We all need to have art in our lives and writing is art.” I’m paraphrasing what I heard Sandra Cisneros say while I listened to her speak, in her melodious voice, to a standing room only crowd of over 200 people. She spoke at Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore in Sylmar, California, located at the edge of a strip mall across from the new Fresh and Easy. Every seat was taken, every wall held up by shoulders, every piece of floor space and some laps taken up by listeners.

I’ve been to Tia Chucha’s twice, when visiting my friend Pati, who lives up the hill from there, but we either get there too early or too late and peer in the windows between the posters and flyers. Yesterday was the first time I’ve been inside. I’m early (no more Chicano time for me) and there are still seats. I give a quick glance at the book table and remember I don’t have “House on Mango Street” anymore because I lent it out to someone. The 25th Anniversary Edition of HOMS is there and I snag a copy.

There is an open seat towards the middle of the room filled with wall to wall fold out chairs and I settle in while the place overflows with more than 200 people.  Most of the audience drove from more than thirty minutes away, most are under 35 years old, and half attend college. I am in the ten percent of people over forty five years of age. I know this because she polled the crowd.

I mentioned Sandra’s dulcet voice ( yes I’m calling her by her first name as if we were comadres or amigas), because its softness and her inflections make you feel like she knows you. She can do this even in a huge university room, like Campbell Hall at UCSB where I heard her speak, in her cute pajamas, three months ago.  There is an intimacy in her written voice that touched my heart many years ago when I first read “House on Mango Street.”  Her stories and poems speak about where I have been, and that she’s been there too.

The selected reading was from her upcoming book, and I don’t remember it’s title but it’s coming out in the fall. She read a story about “Marie.” It was about two little girls looking for their lost cat in their neighborhood. Sandra read in several different character voices: male, female, young, old, and cat. I was there with her, looking under hedges, behind fences, peeking into dry yellowed backyards, pausing on stoops, knocking on doors. It takes an outstanding writer to do this to you, while you’re sitting in a hot crowded audience on steel fold out chairs. But she does.

Sandra invites people to ask questions. Yes she has two more books coming in the fall, she’s collaborating on several projects as co-author, her friend Lourdes Portillo is completely a screenplay for “House on Mango Street,” and the crowd is thrilled with that disclosure. She is entering into another part of her life now, seeking change, moving from San Antonio, Texas. Mexico is calling. I think it’s Oaxaca, only because her website has a recent photo of her in Oaxaca and she has a message to her readers about change.

I ask her whether she has thought about publishing e-books. “Yes, the publishing world is also undergoing change, shifting…” She will publish her books as e-books and she owns all of the publishing rights. Very smart woman. “I’m not married to a university or a rich man…so I don’t have a pension…further publishing (with e-books) is my pension.” I’m happy that she will do this and I want to tell her that, but I don’t. I know there are so many other questions to be asked.

The reading and question/answer period seemed short, a fleeting seventy-five minutes. The audience is instructed to line up in a certain area for book signings. The queue quickly forms to over fifty people before the second half of the building empties out. I hope Sandra has a wrist brace so she doesn’t tire out her writing hand. She has so much more art to create and I have so much more to read.

The photo of her is at the end, only because my BB takes crappy photos. 
Boycotts, Cesar Chavez, Chingonas, Faith, Family, Strong Women, Wisdom

Remembering Cesar Chavez and My Mom



I love this photo. The black Aztec eagle symbolizing la causa is so familiar. Every time I see it I not only think of Cesar Chavez, but also of  my mother. I was in grammar school the first time I heard of boycotts, farmworker rights, and la causa. My mom was in night school at Ventura College and went to community meetings at the CSO building. 

One weekend she packed her bags and took off to Delano with several of her younger classmates and community organizers to participate in a march. When she came back she talked with a fervor about Cesar Chavez and farmworker rights. “Did you know he lived in Oxnard? Right here in La Colonia.”  His speeches moved her, she could relate, she embraced his words of “Si se puede.”

Mom was a migrant worker from the time she was a toddler playing  under the sombra of the vineyards until she was fifteen and cutting her hands on the thorny brambles of the cotton bushes, moving from place to place first with her parents, then with her tios when they both died. She hated that her education was interrupted and for that she never wanted to work in the fields again.

Her participation in la causa and community meetings were fodder for several arguments with my uncles. “What the hell are you doing, going to these meetings, isn’t it bad enough you go to night school, you’re never with your kids…”

That rang true, but she wasn’t gone because she was in a bar or with some man, we kids knew that. No one talked stuff about our mom like they did about one of the moms down the street. But sometimes she crumpled under their barrage of words, other times she let loose on them. Whatever happened though, my uncles and their wives were there for us, lending Mom money, bringing us food, and taking care of us.

Years later, when I was in high school we had renewed arguments, this time both my mom and I harangued our relatives. “We’re boycotting Coors, switch beers,” we’d say whenever they visited. “We thought it was just grapes,” they’d yell and add, ‘que la chingada,‘ for emphasis. It took a year of confronting them every time they popped open a Coors, but they stopped buying the brand.

In college I remember boycotting Safeway, standing in picket lines in Santa Barbara, and waving that red flag. By this time my cousin was involved in the Brown Berets and my mom was busy marching for a community pool in La Colonia, addressing workplace issues, and working on her BA at a university. My uncles noted the photos of the Kennedy’s, Cesar Chavez, and the Pope on the walls of our home. ” Is this is why you go to college?”

When Cesar Chavez died Mom went to Delano and paid her respects with 50,000 other people and mourned the loss of the great man who inspired her and gave her the three words she often repeats whenever we get discouraged. 

“Si se puedes,” she says, yes you can. And when I see that iconic flag, I hear those words, remember those sacrifices, and think of Cesar Chavez and my mom.

DW Kazzie, Encouragement, Faith, JM Tohline, Wisdom, Writer's Digest

There, there, never give up…

After a few months of reading Writer’s Digest  and The Writer at the library, I finally decided to subscribe to one of the magazines. I chose WD. Since then I haven’t regretted it and find an abundance of articles online and in the magazines.Many of the articles are excellent sources of information on the craft of writing and trends. Some of the articles, especially those with the statistics of how slim a chance a writer has of publishing her/his book, are frustrating and depressing.  But sometimes, especially when I need a dose of “there-there,” I find an inspiring article. The one I’m posting below is a great example. The author is JM Tohline. The video is hilarious and it’s from DW Kazzie.


A few months after I landed an agent, she decided it was time to shrink her agency, and she dropped me off at the Agent Orphanage. I began to wonder if I was being impractical. If this would ever happen. If I should just plain quit. I wondered if I was the only writer who ever felt this way.

A couple months ago, I e-mailed about 100 agents, asking them, “What is the biggest mistake writers make when querying you?” More than 50 agents responded, and after I compiled these answers and posted them on my blog, the traffic on my website exploded, and my inbox swelled with fresh correspondence. Much of this correspondence came from writers who vented about the difficulty of procuring an agent, or of breaking into the publishing world. Some of these writers even made themselves vulnerable enough to wonder, right there in their email to a stranger, “Am I being impractical? Should I just give up?


During those times when I felt this way myself, I came to the following conclusion: Sure, I dream of someday publishing a novel. Heck, I dream of publishing a string of novels. I dream of these novels being well-received and widely-appreciated. But never, at any point, have I written for these reasons. These are the goals, certainly; but all along, I have written to write. I have written because I have no choice but to write. If I ever try to quit, I’ll just come right back.

In truth, my path has probably not been so different from the one you are traveling yourself, or (you better start preparing now) the one you will travel yourself. And unless you are a masterpiece of mental toughness and emotional unassailability, you will sometimes find yourself asking that dark question: Is it time to just plain quit?

The answer, of course, is simple: Can you quit? Chances are, you probably cannot. So keep writing, Dear Writer – because that is what you are. Whether or not you have a novel in bookstores. Whether or not the whole world has read your writing. Whether or not anything of yours is ever published, as long as you live, you are still a writer. It is part of who you are. Keep writing. It is never time to quit.

JM is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. 

Anne Lamott, Books, El Leonard, Encouragement, Lopopolo Literary, Michele Serros, Natalie Goldberg, Sandra Cisneros, Sol Stein, Stephen King, Wisdom, Writing, writing tips

Bargain hunting for the writer who’s just starting out

“Just write,” is not the only advice a writer needs. In the two years I’ve been writing I think I’ve spent many pretty pennies on writing books, a couple of one day conferences, and a boot camp for writers.

Before I purchase any books I do the ‘look inside,’ preview of writing books listed on and then I review customer reviews. If I can’t find the book I want at the public library or there is so much good stuff in the book that I’d take notes for days, then it becomes a purchase.(I read Writer’s Digest and Writer at the library for four months in a row before I sprung for a subscription to one of them). I found a couple of the books I wanted at Borders and used a 30% discount coupon (Stephen King/Sol Stein) or found them at a used book store (Anne Lamott) or check this out, I found Elmore Leonard’s ’10 rules’ at the 99 cents store. I borrowed Natalie Goldberg’s “Getting Down the Bones.”

One day conferences are generally cheaper than 3 day ones and my rule is I don’t spend more than $75, lunch included. Santa Barbara has an annual Women’s Literary Festival and LA has quite a few similar type venues.I’ve been able to hear from author’s Lisa See, Reyna Grande, and Jennifer 8 Lee, among many others. Lucky for me I live within 45 minutes of LA and Santa Barbara so this expands my ability to attend book readings and presentations of other authors, usually free of charge. Two of my favorite writers, Sandra Cisneros, presented at UCSB and Michele Serros at a local community college.

Now for the expense, but remember it’s worth it. I enrolled in my first boot camp for writer’s in October of 2010. It is not for the faint of heart, but it’s a great smack in the butt if you want and need it. After that 3 day session I kicked my writing into gear and finished the manuscript I’d been working on for a year. Better than that I acquired a literary agent from the contacts I met at the camp. I have another boot camp next month, this time for ‘advanced writers.’ I’m taking my second partially completed MS to that one

Bottom line, it’s been worth it. I think of it as the tolls I pay on the road to becoming a better writer. I take as many free and low cost side highways as possible but I also shell out the bucks for classes that are recommended and I see as critical to moving my writing to the next step. Now if only all of these tolls were tax deductible.

Valentine's Day, Wisdom

Oh no, it’s Valentine’s Day…

     That’s what I heard from a friend last week. She was going to avoid going out and/or sleep away VD day.
     I’ve been there. I understand. For one year, not any time you’re without a man. Her avoidance made me think about my own reactions.
     You know you’re healthy again, maybe for the first time, when Valentine’s Day comes and you don’t feel like constructing a  papier-mache effigy of your ex and using your kids baseball bat to knock the shit out of your personal piñata.
     And when you can get through Valentine’s Day without crying when you see the big red hearts, the flowers, and the couples, or duck the Valentine Day card aisle every time to go to Walgreen’s, you know you’ve made progress.
     And you’re really over the loss of a love when you can celebrate Valentine’s Day with your friends, family and/or yourself, drink champagne, eat dark chocolate, share flowers, and tell yourself that you are loving and lovable.
     That’s how I spent this weekend (above paragraph) with friends(piñata & crying) in beautiful downtown  Berkeley, celebrating a friend’s birthday and engagement party. We wished her all the best and are happy that she’s in love and chose to celebrate that on…
oh yes, on Valentine’s Day.