#WeNeedDIverseBooks, Diversity, Latina writer, Strong Women, Women Prisoners, Writing, Writing Process

Writing Strong Women


http://amzn.to/1kDIjNW Graphic by DigitalProduct-Mock book cover
http://amzn.to/1kDIjNW Graphic by DigitalProduct-Mock book cover

Last year, I read “The Sandoval Sisters,” an award winning historical fiction book by Sandra Ramos O’Briant and enjoyed it so much that I began to follow her blog, www.bloodmother.com.  I was pleasantly surprised when she asked me to be part of a blog adventure initiated on Twitter #weneeddiversebooks and #diverselit, in which we answer four questions about our writing life. 

In my third year of college, I took Criminal Justice classes and visited prisons and juvenile halls. I met many people who had backgrounds similar to my own: poverty, single parent homes, and abuse. Some of my friends achieved college degrees and became leaders, while others became gang members or drug addicts. This made me wonder what differentiated non-offenders from criminal offenders. 

After college, I began my 28 year career in the California Youth Authority, now part of the California Department of Corrections, as a Youth Counselor. Later, as a Manager, I wrote gender responsive treatment programs for young women and established an area for them to meet, discuss, and learn about themselves in a supportive environment. Their experiences and my own made their way into my stories. 

1-What are you working on?

My Young Adult novel, Strong Women Grow Here, is a quarterfinalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. After 10,000 entries, Amazon whittled the group to 2,000 entries and then to 500 entries. The next stage, on June 23, 2014,  is the selection of the top five novels in five categories. 

The story is about 17 year old immigrant, Juana Maria Ivanov, who is torn from her baby after she flees from her husband. He was alive when she ran from his beating but when the police arrive, they find him dead and she is sentenced to prison.  When evidence surfaces that her husband died from injuries inconsistent with his fall, her hope helps her navigate not just the unspoken rules of incarceration, but the drugs, violence, racial tensions, and the maze of love triangles where she finds herself entangled.  The answer to who is responsible for her husband’s death may be what frees Juana from prison and reunites her with her daughter. 

To download a free 17 page excerpt click here.

I am searching for an agent to represent a second YA novel, working title “The Ding List,” about 15 year old, Jacqui Browne, whose pending expulsion from St. Bernadette High, for late tuition, will impact her chance at a Stanford scholarship. Her dad is in prison and her mother tries to support five kids. In desperation, Jacqui lies about her age to find a job and is unknowingly manipulated into trafficking drugs. She has to find a way out of this mess without putting her family in danger. 

Currently, I’m revising an Adult Contemporary book, working title “A Winter Without Flowers,” about a woman in mid-life who is arrested for drunk driving. This sets off a series of crises with her kids, her best friend, and her ex-husband who is a police captain.

2-How does your work differ from others in your genre?

The YA novels that I’ve written are realistic, urban, and feature very young women, who are mothers, in prison or involved in drug trafficking. Although my protagonists and most of the secondary characters are from different ethnicities, cultures, and lifestyles, they suffer similar teenage angst, feelings of isolation, and confusion. Themes in these novels are similar to others in the genre. They include coming of age, self-awareness, love, loneliness, hope and friendship. 

3-Why do you write what you do?

I feel compelled to write about young women whose voices aren’t heard, who were abandoned and abused and made wrong decisions. How they pick themselves back up (or grab onto a helping hand) and do better are stories worth telling.  I’ve seen the worst in people and also the best. Some of my writing comes from my own challenges and choices.  

4-How does your writing process work? 

“Pantser,” best describes my writing process. I type by the seat of my pajamas, early in the morning, with plenty of coffee. When I begin a story I don’t know where it’s going. I know the beginning but not the middle or end. I follow the voice of the main character and keep typing until I’m finished with a rough draft. This takes about two months. I write five to six times a week for two to three hours. Reading two to three novels a month also helps my writing process. I’m a late comer to writing and reading poetry, but I’ve found this to be incredibly helpful when writing fiction.

I belong to a fantastic writing group, “WOmen Who Write,” (WoWW) where seven of us critique pages twice a month. I’ve been with them since I began writing in 2008. Working with a supportive group of writers is essential when it comes to meeting deadlines, inspiring creative thinking and for revisions. 

My thanks again, to Sandra Ramos O’Briant, who invited me to participate in this series of posts about diverse literature.

On June 2, 2014, look for posts from Linda Rodriguez, author of the award winning Skeet Bannion police series. You can find her blog here.










Authors, Books, Family, Strong Women, Travel, Writing

Travel by Reading

C. Harris Quote

This summer, my household budget was as tight as our governments. That did not stop me from visiting cities abroad, smell exotic foods, or immerse myself (albeit briefly) into the language and culture of other regions. I made my summer trips via books, plunging myself in the sounds, senses, and languages of other cultures and regions.

As usual, I prefer to read about women protagonists’ who face obstacles and become or are strong women. I purchased all of these books, except for “The 228 Legacy,” which I read on NetGalley.*

The exotic, chaotic, and vibrant characters in “The Woman Who Fell From the Sky: An American Journalist in Yemen” by Jennifer Steil was tantalizing. The 354 page novel is from Random House/Broadway. This is the kind of memoir I love to read.

woman who fell from the sky

The author was 37 years old when she left  New York as a successful journalist and accepted a three week assignment teaching wanna be reporters for a small Yemen newspaper in Sana’e.

The  novel  is fascinating, humorous, and sometimes frustrating. The authors three weeks ends up being a one year assignment with reporters who have their own ideas of writing news. She shows us Yemen, its food, culture, and language through her anecdotes and relationships with the reporters. More importantly, the story is a great read about women, gender roles, and society.

What captured me was the authors full characterizations of the news staff. The men often committed loutish behavior, but she also balanced this with their cultural mores. The women reporters especially fascinated me with their intelligence, struggles, and persistence. The pacing is quick, the setting colorful, and the writer keeps the readers attention.

Jennifer Steil was somewhat derided in book reviews because she shares her personal relationship with the married British Ambassador. There are perhaps five pages interspersed at the last quarter of the 332 page book. The romance is not a central theme in the book although it’s given much attention by some reviewers. The Ambassador is  now her husband. The title of her upcoming novel is, “The Ambassador’s Wife.” This book is on my TBR list.

Now back to the United States, in Kansas CIty, Missouri. “Every Last Secret,” (McMillian/Minotaur) a 300 page mystery novel by Linda Rodriguez, took me into the world of Detective Marquitta “Skeet” Bannion, an intelligent, savvy,  half Cherokee woman who has a heart for those treated unjustly.

every last secret

Police work is not an unknown world to me, as I spent 28 years working with law enforcement so the protagonist, Detective Bannion, was particularly captivating because she dealt with many issues  women face in law enforcement, particularly women of color. She does this without overreaching or whining. I did want to read more about her friends and how she related to them so I’d get more of a full picture of her as a character.

Someone murdered the student news editor in chief who was facing sexual assault and theft charges. The university politics cause many crimps in solving the mystery, but it does intrigue. The novelist takes the reader on a twist and turn through several suspects and just as many murders. This happens amid the interruptions of her jealous ex-cop husband and her father, a disgraced alcoholic ex-cop father.

This was the first mystery I’ve read in many years as it’s not my genre, however, what drew me to this novel was the female protagonist in law enforcement and how she dealt with her job and personal life. “Every Last Secret,” won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. Ms Rodriguez second novel, “Every Broken Trust,” is now available.

The 228 Legacy front cover

Now onto Taiwan with debut author, Jennifer J. Chow’s book,  “The 228 Legacy,” published by Martin Sisters, 324 pages. Three generations in an all-female Taiwanese family living near Los Angeles in 1980 gives us a multigenerational view of their life. The grandmother has breast cancer, the daughter loses her job, and granddaughter, Abbey, has several struggles including bullying.

I’m a fan of historical fiction and the story elements of significant historical events, immigrant experiences, second and third generational issues, and mother daughter relationships made this novel interesting to me although there were many themes to follow.

The character I grew to care about the most was Abbey and Jack, the elderly man in the story. Sometimes 10 year old Abbey’s reactions to situations didn’t seem appropriate but she was likable and interesting.

The 228 Massacre was an uprising of the Taiwanese people against Chinese rule of occupied Taiwan following World War II. It is a sensitive event which has significantly influenced Taiwan’s politics and nationalism. The memory of this massacre and how it influences three generations of family is at the crux of “The 228 Legacy.”

the space between us

“The Space Between Us,” by Thrity Umrigar is a 321 page novel published by Harper Collins. The novel is the story of two women in Bombay, one is the servant, one is the mistress of the household: the privileged and the powerless. Each of their lives is examined through the events that occur in their relationship.

The richness of this culture, the differences in classes, and the male and female gender roles fascinated me. The main characters are given full dimension and you neither love or hate them, but understand their motivations. The reader ends up caring for most of the characters. The scenes are fast paced when they need to be and loving rendered to establish locale and atmosphere.

The novel highlights injustice through scenes and plays them out to ends the reader may not like. The ending was abrupt for me. It didn’t like it until I realized that this reality would have the ending be that way. It’s not a warm fuzzy ending, but I can appreciate the experience. Ms. Umrigar is the author of four other novels.

The book contains an author interview, features, and “Words to the Wise Would Be Writer-15 tips.” I was inspired by her suggestions.

My fall reading list takes me from the Southwest US to Paris and India with Count on Me, Tales of Sisterhood, by Las Comadres Para Las Americas; Trapped in Paris by Evelyne Holingue; The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri and Mañana Means Heaven, by Tim Hernandez.

Keep reading.

*No agreements or exchanges made for any favorable reviews. I don’t give the books “stars” or points. For any numeric ratings you can read my reviews on Goodreads or Amazon. (For some unknown reason my GoodReads widget is in error and not showing the books on the shelf).