Archive for April, 2009

03My guest today is Misa Ramirez, author of Living the Vida Lola. Misa’s work combines elements of humor, romance and mystery. In this interview, she talks about her inspiration for the novel, her busy schedule, and her future projects.

Thanks for being here today, Misa. After reading your book, I was surprised to find out that you’re not Latina by birth, but by marriage. How did you come to idendity so well with Latinas? 

A.   I am thrilled that you feel I did justice to the Mexican culture and to Latinas!  In a lot of ways, I do feel that Lola Cruz is my ‘alter ego’ if I were a Latina.  I think it comes from being so involved with my husband’s family for so long.  We’ve been married for 19 years.  Various members of his family have lived with us at different times, including his parents.  They have always been a dynamic family with so many strong personalities, yet their culture has always been a subtle part of who they are and how they live.  That’s what I wanted to capture through the characters in my book.  Not every Latino’s experience is the same.  Not everyone thinks the same, has the same sensibility of cultural values or expectations, but they each embody some elements of the culture.  I really wanted to have Lola be an American who was also Latina.  I wanted her to balance all the different parts of who she is, all the while being true to herself.  I think my approach, and being “Latina by marriage” made me super aware of not falling into stereotypes, as well.  None of my husband’s family are ‘stereotypical’ Latinos.  They are all complex, multi-cultural individuals and I’ve learned so much from them.  I love the culture and my husband and wanted to write something that in some way represented who my children are on some level, as well.

When did you start writing? Do you have another job besides writing?

I wrote in college, but got a little more serious when I first started teaching middle school.  But then I had children and writing took a backseat.  I came at it again after my 5th baby was born and I needed an outlet.  I’d had the good fortune of having a children’s book published and kept working toward getting another one published.  But the magic wasn’t happening.  I was writing to prompts and Lola was born.  Her family came next, and pretty soon the whole book was pouring out of me. 

Of course then I went back and rewrote it SO many times, working in more character development and adding plot points.   I also went back to teaching which left little time for writing.  But I persevered, landed the most awesome agent ever, and Living the Vida Lola was published by St. Martin’s Minotaur!  Now I’m writing full-time, dabbling in some part time teaching, and loving my new career.

What compelled you to write Lola’s story? 

Like I mentioned above, I really wanted to tell a story about someone like my own children.  I wanted to capture the bi-cultural aspects of my husband.  And I wanted to write a fun, sassy, strong, smart woman who wasn’t afraid to go after what she wanted most of all–a career as a writer–oh, no!  That’s me!–a career as a detective. 

I love Lola and her family.  They really are real to me! 

Describe to us a regular writing day in Misa Ramirez’s life. Are you a disciplined writer?


Unfortunately I’m not disciplined enough.  Since our recent move to Texas (from California), I’ve jumped into some community work.  It’s taking more of my time than I’d anticipated!  But I’m definitely the type of person who will just keep working.  In fact, I probably work better under a little pressure. 

The typical day:  Wake up; Wake up children (6 year old takes 15 minutes minimum to get out of bed!); supervise the kids’ breakfast and drink coffee (me, not the kids); make their lunches if they are running late, or supervise their lunch-making if they’re not (I believe in teaching them how to do things for themselves!); take them all to school; go for a walk (or do yoga on Thursdays); come home, clean up, chores (never-ending), and go into office to begin working (this is assuming there is nothing child related or community activist related on the calendar for the day); write, drink more coffee, tea, or water; eat something carby (argh!); pick up kids from school; help with homework; check email and do miscellaneous tasks on the kitchen laptop computer as time allows; do sports, piano, guitar lesson runs; dinner; reading to kids; playtime (if there’s time); bed for the kids; watch a recorded or Netflix show if one is available, read, or back to the computer.  Next day, begin again. 

More detail than you wanted, right?!

What’s in the horizon? 

Book 2 in the Lola Cruz Mystery Series is in production.  I believe it will be released in winter 2010.  No date yet, and no title yet!   Beyond that, I have books 3 and 4 in the works, a proposal for another series–this one about a curandera, am working on a middle grade proposal, and am doing some freelancing.   I also am a columnist at www.romancingtheblog.com, and co-operate http://chasingheroes.com, a very cool website all about hero archetypes (and heroine archetypes) and so much more.  Always something in the works!

Anything else you’d like to tell readers? 

Thank you for having me, Mayra!   And thanks to those of you who’ve read Living the Vida Lola.  It’s hit the local (Dallas-Fort Worth area) bestseller’s list and I’m thrilled that so many people are loving Lola! 

Visit my website at : http://misaramirez.com for contest information and more...

Thanks, Misa, and good luck with your work!


Read my review of Living the Vida Lola.


–Mayra Calvani, www.MayraCalvani.com




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photocroppedcortezsarahA proud Houstonian, Sarah Cortez is a cop, poet, short story writer and editor of the award-winning nonfiction work, Windows Into My World, a collection of short memoirs written by young authors. She was kind enough to take time from her busy schedule to answer my questions about her work, editing, and the creative process.

Thanks for this interview, Sarah. How do you combine your personas as cop, poet, freelance writer and editor when you sit down to write?

When I sit down to write, the leading persona is that of poet. By that, I mean that the foremost goal – in whatever genre is at hand – is creating a piece that accomplishes that genre’s goal in an economy of language and an elegant style. Added to this, of course, are considerations of subject matter and tone – which draw heavily on my experiences as a street police officer. I see the world from a blue collar perspective. This change has come about even though I grew up in a white collar environment and worked in the white collar corporate world for fourteen years before going into policing.

Were you an avid reader as a child?

As a child, I absolutely couldn’t wait to learn the magic of letters and words. My mother was a classroom educator and she started teaching me letters and words before kindergarten. In fact, I remember with great fondness her sewing on her sewing machine the binding for books she made for me using the large, beautiful photographs from Life magazine. Both my parents read a story with me every night before bed – what a treat that was! Once I was older I devoured all the adventure stories in the library.

After reading one of your poems, I can’t help feeling that the ‘toughness’ required to being a police officer is reflected in your tone and imagery. Tell us a little about how your creative process. Do poems flow out of you in a stream-of-consciousness manner? Do you edit and re-edit a lot?

In terms of creative process, this is how I work on poems. The first line will come to me, usually when I’m doing some mundane, repetitive task like driving. I always write it down immediately. It’s a gift from the subconscious. This first line establishes the rhythm of the poem. I call it “the music of the first line.” Later, when I have time I continue writing the poem, from that first line. As I write, I experiment in the usual way any good poet does, e.g. I change line length, stanza length, vocabulary, sentence structure, punctuation, etc. During this period I am also looking at what the poem is trying to become, i.e. the main focus of the poem. After many edits and experiments – maybe, at least ten version of the poem – I’ll get to what I consider a “first draft.” This is the version I will type on the computer and print. (I do all the previous work by hand.) From this “first draft,” I will continue revising the poem. A very few poems come together in less than a year. Sometimes there will be just one word that isn’t perfect and it may take years of thinking about it to find the exact word to fit. I remember poet Olga Broumas saying for one of her powerful poems that it had taken seven years to find the final verb that completely and absolutely makes that poem come together.

What about your process editing short fiction?

I was first published in short fiction because love of it is what led me to begin taking creative writing courses. In addition, my years of experience editing memoir had given me a lot of knowledge dealing with those mechanics that the two genres have in common: narrative, pace, tone, dialogue, characterization, moving back and forth in time. I’ve had no less an author that the amazingly prolific and talented, American Book Award winner Joseph Bruchac compliment my editing of his short fiction. (Please see my website www.poetacortez.com for other well-known writers’ endorsements of my editing skills.) I consider editing a vehicle for also educating the beginning writer, so I try to explain my choices so that a beginning writer will also be supported in their gaining of additional skills. Typically, an editor does not have to explain choices to an experienced professional writer – they understand immediately.

Lately you have been conducting workshops for young adults based on your book, Windows Into My World: Latino Youth Write Their Lives. Tell us a bit about this book.

The original idea for creating an anthology of short memoir written by young (high school and college-aged) Latinos came to me because there was nothing on the market. There were plenty of books with middle-aged Latinos/as writing about being young, but there was nothing with young Latinos/as writing about being young. (In memoir, this change in perspective radically affects the writing.) Through my own teaching of high school Latinos I knew how desperately such a resource was needed. One of the greatest joys as I travel around the country meeting with teachers, librarians, community educators, and graduate students teaching composition is that they all say, “Thank you! We need this book to help us reach our 02students.”

What’s on the horizon for you?

Thank you for asking about my current projects. I am collecting writing from police officers to create an anthology of voices to tell America who we are. Most of the next several months will be spent traveling to book launch events around the U.S. for HIT LIST: THE BEST OF LATINO MYSTERY. We have events in New York City, Denver, Texas, California, etc. The positive response to the book is overwhelming. I am also still participating in events to help people learn about WINDOWS INTO MY WORLD: LATINO YOUTH WRITE THEIR LIVES.

Thank you, Sarah!

To find out more about Sarah’s work, her upcoming public appearances and read samples of her poetry, visit

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Former Simon & Schuster editor Marcela Landres will be presenting two workshops for both aspiring and experienced writers.


Saturday, April 25


How Editor Think workshop – 1:15 p.m. to 2:15 p.m.
Publishing for Latinos workshop – 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.


UNM Continuing Education, Albuquerque, NM


Workshop Descriptions:

1st Workshop: How Editors Think

Do you think editors spend their days reading manuscripts?
Think again! If you want to understand why editors choose to
publish certain writers and reject the rest, learn how they think.
Topics discussed include: the three most common mistakes
writers make when trying to get published; the two most
important jobs of an editor (editing isn’t one of them!); and the
number one quality editors look for in a writer.

2nd Workshop: Publishing for Latinos

Finding the right publisher is difficult for any writer, but Latinos
face unique challenges–and opportunities. Topics discussed
include: the significance of Latinos to mainstream publishers;
writing in Spanish vs. English; dealing with the label of "Latino
Writer"; how to find a good agent and editor in a non-Latino
industry; overcoming cultural and social barriers, especially for
Latinas; and the most important thing you can do to ensure the
future success of Latino publishing.

About Marcela Landres (from her website):

Marcela Landres is the author of the e-book How Editors Think: The Real Reason They Rejected You, and is the Publisher of Latinidad®, an award-winning e-zine which was chosen as one of the 101 Best Web Sites for Writers by Writer’s Digest Magazine. She is also an Editorial Consultant who works one-on-one with writers providing developmental editing for manuscripts, critiques of book proposals, and strategic advice on how to launch and manage a successful writing career. She works with writers of all backgrounds in fiction and nonfiction, and specializes in helping Latino writers get published.
Raised in the projects of Long Island City, Queens as the daughter of Ecuadorian immigrants, Marcela is one of the few Latina editors in book publishing. She can be reached by visiting: Contact.


Request a workshop from Marcela Landres:


List of Marcela’s upcoming workshops:



—Mayra Calvani, www.MayraCalvani.com


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Don’t miss tomorrow’s live chat and interview with Latina author Jo Ann Hernandez at Blog Talk Radio.


Saturday, April 18th at 11:00 AM EST



Call-in Number: (347) 237-5398

Jo Ann Hernandez, whom I had the chance of interviewing here two weeks ago, is the author of the award-winning young adult novel, The Throwaway Piece, published by Arte Publico Press. Jo Ann loves to promote Hispanic authors and created a blog just for that purpose. Be sure to visit her at BronzeWorld Latino Authors.

Jo Ann will be there to talk about her novel, her writing, and to answer questions from listeners and readers, so call if you have a chance!

About The Throwaway Piece:

The Throaway Piece won 1st place for Best Novel at the 2003 Chicano/Latino Literary Prize at the University of California in Irving. It also won first place in the 2007 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People Award. In addition, The Throwaway Piece was a finalist for ForeWord Magazine and was picked for the New York Public Library’s 2007 Books for the Teen Age List, considered the ultimate guide to teen reads.

From the author…

The Throwaway Piece is a story of a foster kid who doesn’t believe she has an impact on the world around her. Yet she changes the lives for the better of everyone who enters her life.

I was a foster mom for 8 years. My girls would tell me things about the places they had lived. Those episodes became the “Rules” Jewel speaks at the beginning of each chapter. Like make sure you know where the toilet paper is before you go.

Here’s an excerpt from the novel:

Chapter 1

Mother and Child

March 4, 1994


Rule # 1  What’s important is never you.

I didn’t start out as a State Kid. Name’s Jewel. When I was four, my mom and I lived in an apartment complex with an inner courtyard, where the smells of everyone’s supper mingled: boiled cabbage, roasted jalapeños, and spaghetti sauce.

My mom and I squeezed into three rooms and a kitchenette with smoke-stained paint, smudged fingerprints around the doorknobs, and bars on the windows. Neighbors became privy to each other’s lives through apartment walls. People turned up their televisions to drown out kids who screamed for mercy or maybe love. Families made do with what they had and dreamed their hope-driven dreams of what could be.

     “Mommy, where you going?”




        “Cause why?”

        “Because you’re such a little question box.”

            I stand next to the dresser, my hands locked on the edge, barely able to see over the top. In my jean overalls and a yellow shirt, I watch my mother in the mirror lining her green eyes with make-up. “So you be pretty.”

            “Jewel, I’ve told you to stop speaking like the other kids on the block. We want our new daddy to be proud of us. You have to speak proper English.” Mom smiles into the mirror and blows me a kiss.

            I catch the kiss and pat my cheek, enjoying the game she plays with me. If I can keep Mom playing, maybe she won’t leave me alone.

            “You’re the most beautiful daughter a mother could have.” Mom’s waist-length black hair shimmers as she bends forward to color in her lips. She smacks at her pale reflection and sucks in her cheeks.

            I don’t smile. The worry feeling leeches into my body as the stomps of the Dragon get loud. I saw him in a book, and now he haunts the nights when Mommy is gone.

When my mom is stronger, I’ll be able to tell her about the Dragon. She’ll chase it away. For now, I have to be a brave daughter for my mom. “I wanna go.”

            Mom tilts her head and winks at me. “No. This is grown-up playtime. Maybe tomorrow we can do something. Would you like to go to the park?”

            I nod then crawl on top of Mom’s double bed. The one place the Dragon can’t come. Mom crosses the room and picks a dress from the closet.

“What about this one, honey bunch?” She holds the outfit up by the hanger. A scarlet sequined dress, short-sleeved, split up the side, sparkles in the light.

            I smile. I like the color red. “You gonna bring me home a daddy?” This is Mom’s favorite game.

            Mom pulls the dress over her head, still talking. She pops her head out of the top. “Tonight’s the night, kid. The love potion is going to work. I’ve this strong feeling tonight is going to be magic.”

            I kneel and bounce on the bed, clapping my hands. “I like magic shows.”

            Mom struggles with the clasps on the back of her dress. “Yeah, your kind of magic’s fun, but it doesn’t pay the bills.”

            I hate the word “bills.” It makes the sound of my mother’s voice sad and sometimes mean. “What would we be like with a daddy? Would he pay the bills?” I flop forward and lie on my stomach, my feet in the air. I spy the face of the Dragon in the mirror, but the image is gone before my mother looks up.

            She checks her watch, which has her name, Angela, spelled in diamond chips across the band. From the closet, she pulls out silver strap heels, sits down next to me, and strokes my cheek. “One day we’re going to meet a magic prince. He’s going to take us away, out of this tenement to live in a fabulous house.”

            I ask more to keep the dream going and my mother from leaving. “Will I have toys? And dolls?” I roll over, hang my head off the bed, and upside down, watch my mother strap the heels to her ankles.

            “Yes, you’ll have your own room, filled with toys, dolls, everything your heart desires. I’ll have a room to do my art work. I won’t have to work at the drugstore because he will be very successful. People will respect him. Every time they meet me, they’ll treat me well because I’m his wife. Other fine ladies will invite me to their homes to play bridge.”

            “What’s bridge, Mommy?” I knot my forehead. Is this new to the game?

            “It’s a game your new daddy will teach me. He’ll like to teach me a lot of things so he can be really proud of me. I’ll learn fast.” My mother stands to check herself in the mirror and runs her hands over her flat stomach and her trim hips.

            I feel the Dragon’s hot breath on my legs. “Are you leaving me?” I search for magic words to keep my mother near.

            “It’s time, sweetheart.” My mother swings me onto her hip. She steps out into the hallway and walks on a once blue, now gray, strip of carpet. It runs the length of the hallway with worn out spots in front of each doorway.

            The hallway light bulb has been out since last week, and like my mother says the paycheck isn’t due for several more days. Light from my mother’s bedroom fades into the grey by the time we reach my room. My ears fill with the snorts from the Dragon. I bury my face in my mother’s neck.

            She gives me an extra tight squeeze when she feels me tremble. “Silly girl. Mommy won’t let the boogeyman get you. I promise. I’ll never let anything hurt you.”

            My mother squeezes me too tight, and I feel my breath caught in my body. This hug is more for her than for me, so I wrap my chubby arms around my mother’s neck. “I love you, Mommy.”

            She flips on the light of my bedroom. A small white bed comes into view. She sets me on the bed, helps me undress and slips my pajamas over my head. “When you get older, you’ll be able to help me more by doing this yourself.”

            I grab and pull my pajama top down hard to get rid of the wrinkles and check if my mother notices.

            She reaches over the bed, and I fill my nose with her perfume. She snatches a three-foot-long purple feather off the nightstand. I stand on the bed, and she waves the plume over me. “Evil spirits away with you. Only angels and good fairies visit my daughter tonight,” she chants.

            I jump from the bed and open the closet door; my mother shakes the feather at every corner. I shut the door and rush to lift the skirt of my bed. With the purple feather, my mother sweeps the floor beneath the bed and chants. I giggle as I stand at the door to the hallway. She wiggles the feather around the doorway then tickles me all over my body.

            I run around her, and she chases me onto the bed. I bounce on my bed, and she replaces the feather into the jar next to the lamp.

            My mother fluffs the pillow and slips the covers over my doll and me. I grip the ribboned edges of the blanket.

            “Dream good dreams tonight, baby.” She kisses me on the cheek.

            I touch my cheek and feel the sticky lipstick. “I don’t wanna be alone.”

            She stops at the door; her shoulders stiffen into corners. “If you need anything, you just go next door. Mrs. Flores will let you in, but she’ll charge me if you go over.”

            I stretch my arms out to my mommy. “I’m sad when you’re gone.”

            She stands at the doorway, sparkling in the light. “I know, honey. I’m sorry.” She turns around. “Mommy has to go. You want Mommy to find a new daddy, don’t you?” The whine in her voice is as loud as mine.

            I wipe my nose with the back of my hand.

            My mom sighs, goes to the bathroom, and comes back clutching toilet paper. “Wipe your nose. I count on my big girl to help me out. I can count on you, can’t I? You understand why I have to go. I’m doing this for you as much as myself.”

            I bury my face in the tissue and blow. She takes the knotted wad from me and drops it into the basket next to my bed.

            “I’m so very proud of you.” My mom tucks the sheet around my shoulders. “The best daughter in the whole wide world. I love you, sweetie.” She kisses my forehead. “You have to be the best daughter in the whole wide world to help your mommy. Okay?”

            I watch my mother walk to the door then flick off the bedroom light.

            “Look, I’ve left the light on in my bedroom. You’ll be able to see if you want.” She disappears down the hallway, the sounds of her footsteps disappearing with her.

            I reach over to the lamp but stop. I sniff and smell the scorch of Dragon flames. Quick, I hug my knees and smile at the light coming from my mother’s bedroom.

Light is where mommy is.

            I listen to the sounds of leaving. The rustle of her coat. The tap of her shoes. The door shuts behind my mother. The lock clicks loud. The best daughter in the whole wide world lies with her eyes bolted wide open and listens to the noises, picking apart the house-talking sounds from the Dragon sounds. The kiss on my forehead grows cold as the room fills with shadows that stalk and haunt.





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I have the greatest pleasure of introducing you today to Rebeca Gomez Galindo, author of the short story collection, Habitantes de mi tiempo (Inhabitants Of My Time). Rebeca is a former vice-president 01of The Society of Hispanic and Latino Writers of San Antonio and a member of The Writer’s League of Texas. Currently, she’s working on a romantic suspense novel in English.

Thanks for being here today, Rebeca. Why don’t you start by telling us a little about your collection of surreal short stories, Habitantes de mi tiempo.

Well, I’ve been writing short stories for a long time now. Therefore, I decided to put them together and get them published. Moreover, I was lucky to be able to do it. Most of us write for the pleasure it brings and because we love it, but I felt the need to share with others the vast universe of Habitantes de mi tiempo (which I could roughly translate as Inhabitants Of My Time). All ten stories in this collection are intended to bring attention to various social and human issues taking place in our contemporary time. To do this I gave a human voice to animals and objects that performed as exceptional narrators. My stories feature all kinds of main characters; miners, homeless kids, foreign students, emigrants, maids, a polluted metropolis, desperate hard working women, etc. In all the stories there is hope, redemption, love and something divine, fantastic, unexpected and magical, highlighted by poetic imagery, novelty and sunlight.

What was your inspiration for this collection?

2Everyday people, especially those who are forgotten. Those who appear in the news one night telling us about their misery and then dissolve in the selfish fog that clutters our minds and actions.

What is a regular writing day like for you? Are you a disciplined writer?

I wish I were a disciplined writer, but I must confess I’m not. Everyday is different for me. I’d rather write in the mornings and I try to do so. The best ideas come to me at night when I’m tucked in bed under the covers and my creative self is liberated.

You are the former Vice President of the Society of Hispanic and Latino Writers of San Antonio and a member of the Writers’ League of Texas. Can you tell our readers about these organizations and how they can help authors?

I hold a very special place in my heart for the Society of Latino and Hispanic Writers of San Antonio. When I moved to San Antonio five years ago, the Society had just been founded and they immediately took me in. It is great to be surrounded by sensitive, creative, passionate people that love to do what I love to do. Our goal at the Society is to help Latino writers to get published, to improve their craft, to mix with other writers and to learn all about the editorial market. The Society has done all of that for me and many other writers. Being their vice-president was a completely new, challenging and rewarding experience. The Writers’ League of Texas is located in Austin. They offer excellent workshops and once a year they host one of the best Agent Conferences in the USA. For more information, please check out their sites at http://slhwnotes.blogspot.com/ and http://www.writersleague.org/.

You write in both English and Spanish. What comes more naturally for you when writing? Why did you choose to write your romantic suspense novel in English?

Spanish is my native language. When I write literary texts it comes naturally to me and its beauty and vastness is overwhelming. English, on the other hand, is so precise, clear and objective it has a beauty of its own. In the case of my novel, it came naturally as the language I needed to tell this specific story. When I’m writing in English, I’m thinking in English and my characters act in a certain manner dictated by this mode. My voice is completely different in each language so it’s very difficult for me, almost impossible, to translate my work from one to the other.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Thank you for keeping on reading. Our work is worth nothing without you.

Writers, poets, readers, and all kinds of artists have a lot to share. Humanity needs to be humanized, if that makes any sense. Watch them, listen to them, read them. They are capable of shifting your consciousness to a more positive state.



Watch a video interview with the author: http://www.habitantesdemitiempo.com/Site/Entrevista_con_la_autora.html

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Sybil Baker spent twelve years teaching in South Korea prior to accepting a position as an assistant professor of English at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga after earning her MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. During her extensive travels throughout Asia, she became increasingly interested in the allure and alienation of American travelers and expatriates, and this has heavily influenced her writing. Her fiction and essays have appeared in numerous journals, including upstreet, The Bitter Oleander, Paper Street, and Alehouse. Her essay on American expatriate literature appeared in AWP’s The Writer’s Chronicle in September 2005. Her website can be found at www.sybilbaker.com.

Thanks for being my guest today, Sybil. It's a pleasure to have you here at Blogcritics. Why don't you start by telling us a little about yourself and how you started writing?

Well, I actually started writing stories when I first learned to write in the first grade. I’ve been writing creatively ever since.

I started The Life Plan in late fall 2004. I was living in Seoul, South Korea, and wanted to write a comic novel that took place in Thailand and chronicled a couple’s marriage in crisis. I finished the first draft about a year later.

What was inspiration for your novel, The Life Plan?

From 2003-2005, I was a student in Vermont College’s MFA program. In spring 2004, I told my advisor Patricia Henley that I was recently divorced, and she suggested I write about it. I agreed with her but was afraid I was too close to the subject and that whatever I wrote would be a bitter, self-involved pity party. I used to write humor columns when I was an undergraduate at Virginia Tech, so I thought that if I made the character different from me and wrote with humor I might have the distance to pull the story off.

At that point I’d been living in South Korea for about nine years and had traveled around Asia extensively. I’d always loved Thailand and thought it would be a great place to set a novel.

Tell us a bit about the plot and about the protagonist.

I think the best way to learn about The Life Plan is to watch the book trailer:

If I have to describe the plot of the Life Plan in ten words or fewer I say the plot is Bridget Jones meets Eat, Pray, Love. Here’s the longer version.

Kat, a lawyer in DC, is a woman with a Life Plan—written and documented so that nothing will go wrong. When Kat’s husband Dan enrolls for a course in Thailand to study massage, Kat is compelled to go with him to save the marriage. Soon Kat finds herself not only fighting for her marriage, but her career and reputation as well. Yet when Kat has a chance to regain all that she has lost, she finally questions her own reasons for pursuing her rigid life plan.

Kat is like a lot of women I’ve met. She’s twenty-nine and facing the pressure of trying to have “it all”—career, family, marriage—by the time she’s thirty five. When she first arrives in Thailand she’s a cross between the stereotypical ugly American and the innocent abroad, a la Daisy Miller. Kat’s physical journey through Thailand mirrors her emotional journey of trying to accept that that life does not always go according to plan.

I understand the novel is written in the first person. You also worked as a humor columnist before. Was it easier to find your voice in first person because of your column writing background?

That’s a great question. I chose to write this novel in the first person because I thought it was important to tell the story in Kat’s voice. I wanted to make it clear that the impressions and reactions to Thailand are Kat’s and not an “objective” commentary. I thought that writing in first person would make it easier for me to keep a comic tone in the novel as well. So yes, I think writing a humor column helped me access that comic voice—one I hadn’t used in my writing for almost twenty years.

Who is the target audience for your book?

The target audience is women in their 20s-30s who are interested in reading comic novels about strong complex female characters living in the modern world. People who are interested in reading about different countries, travel fiction, and global fiction would also be interested in The Life Plan.

Because the novel poses so many questions that are relevant to women today, I think The Life Plan would be great for book clubs as well. I’m working on posting reading group questions on my website, and I can meet with clubs in person (if they’re club is within driving distanc) or via Skype.

That said, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of men who have told me they loved the book. That unexpected response has been great.

You've traveled extensively around the world. How have your travels influenced your writing?

I think even more than traveling, living out of the country for twelve years influenced my themes and outlook in my writing. Even though I visited the States frequently, Asia felt more like home and the U.S. like the foreign country. Because I lived abroad for so long, I hope I can place my stories and themes within a more global context than if I’d not traveled or moved abroad. The novel I’ve almost finished takes place in the States, but after I finish it I plan to return to writing about Americans in other countries.

What are your writing habits like? Are you disciplined?

More than disciplined, I’m busy! My writing habits depend on the time of year. Because I teach at a university, I can write a lot during the summer and on breaks when I’m not teaching. There are also periods in the semester when I can get a lot of writing done, but there are other times when I have to let it go. I try make writing goals like, I’ll finish chapter x by Friday, or I plan to have a draft finished by the end of x. Right now I’m planning on revising the novel I’m working on by the end of April so that I can give it to a few friends to read and comment on while I’m traveling in South Africa in May. When I get back in June I’ll start notes for a new novel and work on some essays.

What are you working on now?

The novel’s working title is “Replay.” Like The Life Plan, Replay is a comic novel and the main character, Stacy lives in Washington DC. Unlike Kat from The Life Plan, Stacy has artistic ambitions and doesn’t have much of a Life Plan at all.

Here’s the synopsis:

Thirty-four-year old Stacy Mullins is stuck artistically, romantically, and professionally. After her father suddenly dies leaving his daughters in debt, Stacy moves from city to suburbs to be a temporary nanny to her sister’s children. When her college ex and now successful screenwriter, Ben Logan unexpectedly shows up in her life, Stacy falls for Ben all over again. While her own life continues to fall apart, Stacy must decide if undoing the mistakes of her past is the only way to move forward with her future

Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers?

If you read The Life Plan or are interested in reading the book for your book club, please get in touch with me, I’d love to hear from you. And please leave a review at Amazon, Goodreads or other sites. Spread the word—ever reader’s voice counts!

Thanks, Sybil!

Thank you for hosting me! I enjoyed it!

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Promoting and Marketing your Book

You have poured your heart and soul into writing your book. It has been the dominate passion of your life; otherwise you would not have a manuscript to hold. Now what?

I will assume that your manuscript is a first draft. Before you can send out query letters telling the world of the birth of the great American novel, your work needs editing. I do not mean having a friend, an English teacher, your boss, or any other layman read your manuscript, no, I mean that you must engage the services of a professional editor. Thus begins the process of polishing your manuscript until it is the best it can be. This process can involve numerous corrections and rewrites. The time and expense involved varies with the quality of the work. One hundred thousand words will cost in the neighborhood of $2000.00, or more, by the time you get it right.

Believe it or not, writing your book is only the beginning. With a final draft of your manuscript in hand, it is time to query. Famous people query with a proposal before writing the book. I will assume that you are not yet famous. As an author, you cannot deal directly with one of the large publishing houses, so your next challenge is to interest a literary agent in your work. If you find a literary agent, your relationship will be contractual. Do nothing with anyone without a contract. Fully understand your part of the contract before signing or hire an attorney versed in literary contracts to help you understand. There are numerous listings of literary agents on the Internet. Research each agent for their submission guidelines, select those receptive to your genre, be certain that they are accepting submissions, submit only what they require, and never send an unsolicited manuscript, they will not read it. Your literary agent will handle your contractual relationship with a publisher; they are your agent acting in your behalf.

If you are fortunate enough to become a published author through the literary agent/publisher/reader sequence of progression, congratulations, you have hit the big time. Your publisher will handle all the details of composition/format, cover design, printing/binding, fulfillment/marketing, and warehouse/distribution, leaving you free to crank out books. You will have little or no input regarding any of the production aspects of your book, nor will you retain any rights other than copyright. The publisher will own the ISBN and all future negotiations for anything concerning that work will be through, or with the permission of, the publisher.

Okay, you have spent a year submitting to literary agents without results. If you have not completely lost interest in publishing your work, you are left with publishing it yourself, e.g. self-publishing or becoming an independent publisher. A self-published author has hired a publishing company to publish a book, surrendering all rights save copyright. An independent publisher has formed a small company and gone through the process from copyright to a finished book ready for the market. That author owns all rights to the book because often the author and the publishing company are one and the same. Books are produced and marketed by an independent publisher working closely with a large full service book production facility such as BookMasters, Ashland, OH, where everything is done in house.

Regardless of the method used to publish your work yourself, you will be responsible for promotion and marketing. In working with an organization such as BookMasters, you will already have a leg up as they handle some of the initial marketing through their own marketing department. Getting the word out before and after the publication date is vital to your sales success. You must have a website and/or a blog that calls attention to your book and ultimately leads a visitor to your order page. If you do not want to handle book sales from your garage, then your website order page will link your customers to your distributor or other points of sale that you have set up. In this way, someone else will take care of the myriad details of the warehousing/distribution of your work.

Solicit professional book reviewers. Do not send them a book until you have queried them first. Be the consummate professional insofar as your contacts with reviewers. Always include a cover letter with your book that includes a short synopsis and your expectations as the author. Reviews are important and they can restore your bruised and battered ego when you read what someone else has to say about your work. Their reviews look good on your website and provide potential customers for your next book a sales closer as they read your book cover’s ad copy.

I have found that conventional print and display advertising on websites is only minimally successful. The mission here is to get your name and that of your book out to as many sites on the Internet as possible. Hire professional people to do this for you, e.g. PumpUpYourBook promotions. Additionally, Amazon is one of the most effective and important book sales tools out there. When you have your book listed with them be sure that you also use their ‘Look Inside the Book’ program. Ditto for Google Book Search. Going through the submission process with Internet book promotion and sales sites is time consuming, but the rewards outweigh this expenditure.

Local booksellers such as Barnes and Noble and Borders do everything possible to arrange and facilitate book-signing events for local authors. So, be certain you contact the individual store’s book manager to set one up for you. They provide a display table and chairs, posters, and a newspaper announcement of the event, and it is all free. In addition, they will order a supply of your books to stock your book-signing. Not a bad deal, I think.

If you do not have letterhead stationery, design some, including the envelope. Remember, you are trying to sell a product, be professional in all of your contacts. Edit religiously, use spell check. Everything that you write is a reflection on you personally, so do it right the first time because the one chance is usually all you will get. And oh, good luck to you.

J. A. Hunsinger–Author, Vinland Publishing, LLC, http://www.vinlandpublishing.com/
©2009 Jerry A. Hunsinger, All Rights Reserved


J. A. Hunsinger lives in Colorado, USA, with his wife Phyllis. The first novel of his character-driven, historical fiction series, Axe of Iron: The Settlers, represents his first serious effort to craft the story of a lifelong 0interest in the Viking Age—especially as it pertains to Norse exploration west of Iceland—and extensive research and archaeological site visitations as an amateur historian. He has tied the discovery of many of the Norse artifacts found on this continent to places and events portrayed in his novels.

Much of his adult life has been associated with commercial aviation, both in and out of the cockpit. As an Engineering Technical Writer for Honeywell Commercial Flight Systems Group, Phoenix, AZ, he authored two comprehensive pilots’ manuals on aircraft computer guidance systems and several supplemental aircraft radar manuals. His manuals were published and distributed worldwide to airline operators by Honeywell Engineering, Phoenix, AZ. He also published an article, Flight Into Danger, in Flying Magazine, (August 2002).

Historical Novel Society, American Institute of Archaeology, Canadian Archaeology Association, and IBPA-Independent Book Publishers Association, are among the fraternal and trade organizations in which he holds membership.

You can visit his website at http://www.vinlandpublishing.com and his blog at http://www.vinlandpublishing.blogspot.com.


The first novel of a continuing character-driven tale of a medieval people whose wanderlust and yearning for axe_of_ironadventure cause them to leave the two established settlements on Greenland and sail west, to the unexplored land later referred to as Vinland.

Eirik the Red established Eiriksfjord in 986 and later Lysufjord, 400-miles to the north. Just 22-years later, new settlers from the homelands found all the best land already occupied, the fragile Arctic environment strained by too many people and animals on too little arable land.

Under the capable leadership of Halfdan Ingolfsson and his lieutenant, Gudbjartur Einarsson, 315 men, women, and children set sail from Greenland in the spring of 1008, bound for the unexplored continent across the western ocean.

Standing in their way are uncounted numbers of indigenous people, the pre-historical ancestors of the Cree (Naskapi), Ojibwa (Anishinabeg), and Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Indians. From the outset, these native people strenuously resist the incursion of these tall, pale-skinned invaders.

Two calamitous events occur that pave the way for the hostile beginnings of an assimilation process to occur between these disparate peoples. The way is rocky and fraught with danger at every turn, but the acceptance and friendship that develops between the Northmen and the Naskapi over an affair of honor, the eventual acceptance of a young boy of the Northmen by his Haudenosaunee captors, and a scenario that seems ordained by the will of the gods, makes it all begin to fall into place, as it must for the Northmen to survive.

See the saga unfold, in this first book of the Axe of Iron series, through the eyes of the characters as each day brings a continuation of the toil, love, hardship, and danger that they come to expect in this unforgiving new land.

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lolaYou may want to hold this book with gloves, because it is caliente!

Lola Cruz is a young and feisty private detective working for Camacho and Associates. Her quirky co-workers include an overbearing boss and a blue-haired secretary who thinks she looks like Jennifer Lopez. Of course, these aren’t the only people driving her crazy: there’s also her meddling, over-protective mom, playboy brother and a young cousin who wants her help for an upcoming quinceanera party.

Then one day Lola is put in charge of a high-profile case. A woman has disappeared, and Lola must find out what happened to her. Her investigation once again puts her in contact with Jack Callaghan, a journalist she’s had a crush on since high school and who happens to be her brother’s good friend. Just as in the old times, sparks go off as soon as they meet. Though Lola doesn’t exactly want his help, he somehow finds a way to show up in the most unusual–and dangerous–situations. As the investigation progresses, takes a bad turn, and the list of suspects keeps growing, it becomes evident that the case isn’t a simple ‘disappearance’ and that some important people are involved. Will Lola bring her relationship with Jack to another level, solve the case, and live to tell about it?

Living the Vida Loca is a fun, entertaining novel. Lola is a sympathetic, good-hearted, spunky protagonist who gives a new meaning to the words ‘private investigator’. For one thing, she refuses to carry a gun! The story combines romance, mystery and humor and moves at a fast pace that will keep you turning those pages. There’s a great array of secondary characters that add color to the story. I found there was a good balance between the romance and the mystery, without one getting in the way of the other. There’s also a lot of romantic tension between the hero and heroine. This is the first book in the Lola Cruz mystery series and I’m eagerly looking forward to reading the next book. Be sure to add this title to your summer reading list!

Visit the author’s website: http://misaramirez.com/

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hungry-woman-in-paris1From the title, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this novel when I asked for a review copy. Now, having read it, I have to say I’m impressed beyond my expectations.

Primarily, Hungry Woman in Paris is the story of a young woman trying to find herself in a foreign country. Yet it is so much more than that. Beyond a delicious facade of Parisian gourmet cuisine and love escapades, the novel examines important issues like prejudice against minorities and gender roles.

Escaping a broken engagement and the death of her cousin and best friend, twenty-nine year old Canela flies to Paris and decides to attend Le Croq Rouge, a presumably famous cooking school popular among foreigners. There, the former journalist immerses herself in the sensual world of smell, touch and taste in order to keep away from suicidal thoughts. She works very hard and not only struggles with learning to cook, but also with learning French and dealing with French Officials, a situation that brings her back in time when she was an undocumented Mexican in the US. Now that she’s in France, she has to go through the same prejudice all over again.

The cooking course lasts nine months and is divided in three parts: Basic, Intermediate and Superior. During this time, Canela becomes involved in various relationships, but although she initially is attached emotionally to one man, hers is primarily a sexual journey of self discovery in a man-dominated world where ‘free’ women are considered whores. Yet, Canela stays true to herself and her willingness to become free of gender restrictions. A feminist and activist at heart, she also becomes involved in various difficult situations which bring forth her passion for what she believes is right. At the same time, she is tormented by the spirit–or so it seems–of her dead cousin and by intense feelings of guilt. All through the novel, her inner loneliness and desperation permeates the story. Eventually, she must choose between staying true to herself and be alone or become what society expects of her and find what is socially accepted as ‘happiness’.

Hungry Woman in Paris is a compelling, engrossing read. Told in the first person from the point of view of Canela, the story sparkles with genuinity and our protagonist’s strong voice. Canela comes across as a passionate and forceful yet sad, very vulnerable woman trying to find her true identity in a world that denies her just that. The prose flows beautifully, shining here and there with Canela’s witty remarks and her honest view of life’s struggles. The secondary characters are also compelling but the novel is driven by Canela and her narrative voice. The pace moves fairly quickly and the food descriptions are a fun, delicious part of the novel that work on two levels–indeed, the word ‘hungry’ is meant both for food and lust. Lopez interlaces the two elements with clarity and deftness, pulling the reader into a world of drunken sensuality. Highly recommended.

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Charlotte Hughes
288 pages
February 2009

Author’s website: http://www.readcharlottehughes.com

Nutcase is part romance, part comedy, part chick-lit. There’s also a touch of mystery to add to the mix. The second book in the Kate Holly psychology series, this is a light read that will appeal to most chick-lit fans, especially those who are interested in psychology.

Kate Holly is a young clinical psychologist living in Atlanta. Unstable patients aren’t the only problems she has to deal with. There’s her firefighter ex-husband, psychologist ex-boyfriend, quirky secretary, and meddling mother… not to mention her little dog, whose depressed disposition gets him into serious trouble.

When a serial arsenist starts terrorizing her town, and a young boy is accused of attacking the local priest, Kate does her best to help while dealing with a quirky array of characters and unusual situations. On the one hand, she’s going to therapy with her ex-husband; on the other, she’s evicted from her office and has nowhere to go to but with her ex-boyfriend, who offers to share his office with her. At the same time, her aunt is seeing one of her criminal patients… In other words, Fate keeps putting obstacles on Kate’s path.

I have mixed feelings about this book. Though there are many hilarious moments and the protagonist has a strong sympathetic voice, there’s no central plot to pull the reader along. There are several subplots going on and no major one to make the reader wonder what’s going to happen next or to really care about the predicament of the characters. Everything seems to be coming randomly from different directions. I had to force myself to finish the book in order to review it; the lack of a strong unity in the plot took away my concentration and desire to care for the characters. The pace moves fairly quickly, the dialogue is natural and energetic and the characters sympathetic, so there are many positive aspects in this book. But the plot has no substance and just doesn’t cut it. I also don’t understand why it’s categorized as mystery/suspense. I got no sense of suspense whatsoever. For me, this falls under humor/satire.

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