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Archive for December, 2009

There’s a new Latino publisher on the web: Onda Books. Its goal? To support unpublished and new Latino authors and break the mold of the big publishing houses by offering an alternative press to those talented authors who work to move beyond traditional publishing. Here to tell us all about it is founder and owner Rose Contreras.

Thanks for this interview, Rose. What got you into publishing and what compelled you to start a publishing company especially for Latino authors?

Back in 2007, I was talking to a friend of mine who is also a digital publisher (Debra Staples, owner of www.synergebooks.com) about the lack of titles by Latino authors in the average digital bookstore. She suggested that I start a digital publishing business to fill this void.

In my own experience reading Latino literature, digital and traditional hardbacks/paperbacks, with the exception of Sandra Cisneros and a select few other authors, the books I have read by Latino authors seemed to me to be edited to appeal to an English-only audience. There was no sign of the traditional vernacular of Spanglish (or what we in Texas call *Tex-Mex*). Many language traditionalists feel that these two language variants are a bastardization of formal language, but I believe that Tex-Mex, or Spanglish as it is more popularly known, is a legitimate language unto itself and deserves to be represented in Latino literature. (My thanks to Dr. Mary Ellen Garcia, Dept. of Modern Languages and Literature at UTSA, for her insight into this subject).

As a bilingual child, I was taught to adhere to the rule of never mixing English and Spanish, but I observed in my own family and community that this rule was meant to be broken. Spanglish/Tex-Mex is the natural evolution of language when two cultures come together. When I started Onda Books, I decided that I wanted to publish ebooks in the language of the everyday Latino. I do not *scrub* my ebooks in the editing process.

It was also during 2007 that I stopped reading popular literature. I had come to feel that selecting titles off of a bestseller list was akin to being spoonfed my literature based on criteria foreign to me. I decided to embark on a new literary adventure. I now want to read books written by authors whose work might never see the light of a traditional big publishing house.

What is Onda Books’ mission?

It is the mission of Onda Books to publish Latino literature in the everyday language of Latinos. And what does the *average Latino* speak? Our language encompasses a wide spectrum. Some of us speak only Spanish, some of us speak English and no Spanish at all. Some of us are bilingual. We speak in dialects and accents that hail from Spain, the Caribbean, Central America, South America, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Northern Mexico, Southern Mexico, and all areas in between. I never realized how diverse our Latino language is until I left my hometown of San Antonio. In Jacksonville, Florida, I discovered the language patterns of Puerto Rican and Cuban Spanish. While living and working in San Francisco, my Central American friends used to comment on my own particular brand of Tex-Mex and Northern Mexican Spanish. My Salvadorean friend Ana once told me, when she heard me speak Spanish, “Los Mexicanos cantan!” (Mexicans sing!) Onda Books seeks to publish ebooks that represent all of these linguistic cultures.

It is also Onda Books’ mission to support both published and unpublished Latino authors. We seek to break the mold of the big publishing house by offering an alternative press to those talented authors who are brave enough to move beyond traditional publishing.

When did Onda Books open its doors?

August 7, 2009

What type of manuscripts are you considering?

Onda Books is seeking manuscripts that cover all genres of literature, all types of fiction and nonfiction, poetry, history, collections/series, parenting, and more. Onda seeks to break the traditional publishing mold and will consider even genres that don’t fit a particular category.

Will you be publishing books in print as well as in electronic form?

Onda Books is primarily a digital publishing house, and ebooks are our main publishing format. However, we will offer certain titles in paperback provided they meet certain sales criteria. I hope to add audio books to Onda’s inventory in the future.

What is your average response time?

I ask that authors submit only the first 3 chapters of their manuscript. Once this is received, authors should expect a reply within two weeks.

How many queries/submissions do you receive a month?

Since Onda opened its virtual doors in early August, I have received an average of 10 queries and 3 to 5 manuscripts per month.

What percentage of these submissions do you accept?

On average, about 40%.

What do you definitely do not want to see in a submission?

1. Authors who do not adhere to submission guidelines.
2. Badly formatted manuscripts.
3. Manuscripts that were not proofread or are poorly edited.

At this moment, is Onda Books run by you only or do you have a staff?

I have one assistant helping me.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

1. Write, write, write, and never stop refining your craft. Take advantage of any writing workshops, classes, valuable critique, and advice from experienced authors.
2. Submit, submit, submit. Even if you think you don’t stand a chance, submit your work to as many potential publishers as possible, and don’t let rejections stop you. If anything, see them as hurdles to be overcome.
3. Never betray your true literary voice, and especially don’t let language barriers keep you from writing in your natural language.
4. Think outside the publishing box. With the advent of the internet and the new media that continues to evolve, I truly believe that the future of publishing is now in the hands of the common man (and woman). I agree with what Stephen King said on his web site: “My friends, we have a chance to become big publishing’s worst nightmare.”

How do you see Onda Books in five years?

Successfully keeping to its mission and selling lots of ebooks.

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

This is a new age for publishers, authors, and readers alike. I would love to see readers take advantage of the newly emerging literary landscape and sample unknown authors and new digital publishers. I look forward to the day when the Pulitzer Prize is awarded to an ebook author. Also, ebooks are a great way to go green.

Thank you, Rose, and best of luck with Onda Books!

Be sure to check out Onda Books and the titles available so far.

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When I say ‘chick lit’, what do you think about? Fluffy novels? Air-head protagonists? Bags, shoes and designer clothes? Don’t be ashamed to admit it. That’s what I used to think when I read my first one a few years ago. Sure, there will always be poorly written chick lit novels with mediocre characterization and non-existent plot or storylines, but this happens in all genres. The truth is, chick lit has come a long way and now more than ever, publishers are looking for authors who can deliver not only a fun and sassy story but also a smart one as well. Just like in all genres, publishers of chick lit fiction want intelligent writing, a powerful premise, a likable protagonist with a strong, distinct voice readers can sympathize with, a villainess readers will love to hate, and a compelling plot.

Chick lit novels are extremely popular at the moment, mainly because of big hits like Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary, Sophie Kinsella’s Confessions of a Shopoholic and Alisa Valdes Rodriguez’s The Dirty Girls Social Club. Many aspiring authors think that writing chick lit may be the surest road to fame and six figure advances. Because chick lit novels are often fun, light reads, new writers may have the wrong assumption that they’re easy to write, but this isn’t the case. Just like any work of fiction, a good chick lit story takes talent and skill to write.

I recently had the chance to read two books on how to write chick lit: See Jane Write: A Girl’s Guide to Writing Chick Lit, by bestselling authors Sarah Mlynowski, and Will Write For Shoes: How to Write a Chick Lit Novel, by Cathy Yardley. Both are great resources, not only on how to write in this genre, but on learning everything there is to know about this type of fiction: its history, new trends, and tips and tools for breaking into the market.

But let’s take a closer look at each book.

In See Jane Write: A Girl’s Guide to Writing Chick Lit, the authors begin by explaining what chick lit is all about and exploring the reasons why you may want to write the chick lit novel. Then they go into the craft itself: creating the protagonists and secondary characters, the elements of style, the basics of plotting, deciding on a point of view, structure and pacing, and finally, the importance of revising. They also give submission, agent and publishing advice, including a short list of editors who handle chick lit. In the appendix, as a reading list, the authors give examples of popular chick lit authors and their books.

The font is pink and sometimes green, against sometimes pink or green background. The pages are thicker than the regular paperback, which made the pages stiffer and a bit less comfortable to turn. In spite of this, I found the book entertaining and informative, with the same humorous flavor of a chick lit novel, and the authors give helpful advice.

Will Write For Shoes is another great resource for the aspiring chick lit author.

This book goes into more detail explaining the genre and its history, and offers a ‘blue print’ for writing the novel. It also discusses in detail the various trends and subcategories within the genre. Like the title above, it tries to teach the craft with examples. Topics include: plot, structure, point of view, characters, setting, voice. It also stresses the importance of revision. Unlike the book above, it not only includes a good list of editors but also a list of agents who specialize in chick lit. There’s a sample query and synopsis in the appendix, something writers will find extremely useful.

This is a fun and comprehensive manual that should be in the permanent shelf of every new chick lit writer.

If you can get both, great. If you have to choose between the two, I’d recommend the second one, Will Write For Shoes. It’s more complete and the resources are better. I also liked that it’s presented in a more simple, uncluttered manner.

You too can share your story with the world because publishing your own book just got easier.

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For Lucha Corpi, art has always meant activism. As a woman, a Hispanic, an immigrant and a mother, she has always found herself breaking down barriers in both life and literature. Her initial writing forays led to the exploration of poetry in Spanish as an outlet for her creativity. In 1970, she received a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship for poems later included in several collections and anthologies.

After her first collection of poetry appeared, Corpi experienced a long and personally worrisome poetic silence. To ease the tension, she turned to prose, penning several award-winning short stories. In 1984, she wrote her first story in English and her first English-language novel, Delia’s Song, was published by Arte Público Press in 1989.

The publication of Eulogy for a Brown Angel: A Mystery Novel (Arte Público Press, 1992) was the culmination of a life-long dream. The novel won the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award and the Multicultural Publishers Exchange Best Book of Fiction. Corpi’s second mystery novel featuring Chicana detective Gloria Damasco is Cactus Blood (Arte Público Press, 1995), which was reissued in paperback in 2009. Black Widow’s Wardrobe (Arte Público Press, 1999) and Death at Solstice (Arte Público Press, 2009) are the two most recent editions to The Gloria Damasco Series. In between the publication of these works of fiction, she compiled and edited Máscaras (Third Woman Press, 1997), a collection of essays on writing by prominent Chicana and Latina authors. In addition to poetry and mystery novels, Lucha Corpi also writes for children. She holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from UC-Berkley and an M.A. in World and Comparative Literature from San Francisco State University. A tenured teacher in the Oakland Public Schools Neighborhood Centers Program for 30 years, she retired in 2005.

The Interview

Thanks for this interview, Lucha. Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?

I was born in a small tropical town in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. There, people fostered both the creation and the performance of poetry and music, together with the art of storytelling. I was also fortunate to be a daughter of parents who believed in educating the two girls in the family equally well as their six sons. My father used to tell my sister and me that “When you educate a man, you educate an individual. But when you educate a woman, you educate the whole family.” My parents expected my sister and me to excel in school. We did.

I, however, did not start writing poetry or stories until I was twenty-four, already living in Berkeley, California, where I had moved after getting married. By then, I was going through a divorce, had a young child, no family in California, and very few friends. But when I started writing, I felt that I had found my destiny. As my grandmother used to tell us, your destiny is what you were born to do in this world. Except for teaching and motherhood to various degrees, nothing else makes me feel whole and content as writing does, whether poetry or narrative.

When did you decide you wanted to become an author?

I became “an author” when I published, that is, made my literary work public, beginning with my first collection of poetry in 1979, followed by six novels, a second poetry collection and two children’s books.

In a way, the author is a writer’s public persona. The writer, however, is a private person. Anyone who expresses life’s experiences—their own or someone else’s—in writing is a creative writer, and for him or her, the most important concern, the passion, is the writing itself.

Writing is a vocation and a trade as well. I was born already with an above-average affinity for the spoken and written word, with the voice-vision of the poet and writer, and a strong urgency to express what I perceive and experience using as medium the written word. These three elements, combined, amount to what we call “talent for writing.” But talent alone is never enough if the poet or writer is not willing to apprentice, to learn the craft, to fine-tune the engine that carries the poem or the story from beginning to end. And, the most difficult task of all: to keep one’s butt on a chair long enough to get the writing done.

Writers and poets learn and develop their craft from other writers and poets, either by reading the works of others or by taking writing workshops. In my case, I read, and my reading interests are varied. I like the sciences, especially the biological and physical sciences, but I also love history, philosophy, mythology, poetry, and literature in general.

Do you have another job besides writing?

My avocation, my second passion, was teaching. I was an ESL teacher in the Oakland Public Schools Neighborhood Centers for thirty-one years. I was a single mother, too, and I had to work to support myself and my son. I consider myself blessed to have been as passionate about teaching as about writing and motherhood, all creative endeavors. Creativity, however, does not spring eternal, and its well is not bottomless. Teaching and parenthood took most of my time and energy. And I had to do my writing for two hours a day only, from five to seven in the morning. But I wrote every day.

My son is a professor now, with children of his own. Most of all, he is a good man and a sensitive caring father and husband. And although I loved teaching, I knew it was time to leave and let the next generation of energetic, creative, enduring young teachers take over. But only I can do my writing. I did not want to die saying, “I could have written.” So I retired in 2005 to devote entirely to writing.

Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.

Death at Solstice comes to light as I celebrate forty years as a writer. It is the fourth of the Gloria Damasco mystery novels. Eulogy for a Brown Angel, Cactus Blood and Black Widow’s Wardrobe—each of the mystery novels in the series deals with aspects of the history and culture of Mexicans in the U.S., in California in particular.

Gloria Damasco is hired by the owners of the Oro Blanco winery in California’s Shenandoah Valley, in the heart of the legendary Gold Country, to investigate the theft of a pair of emerald-diamond earrings rumored to have belonged to Carlota, Empress of Mexico in the 19th century.

Shortly after, Gloria becomes aware that there is so much more than the theft of the family heirloom. A young woman considered by many to be a saint, able to perform miracles, disappears at the same time that the nurse who takes care of the young woman is found murdered. Add to the mix mysterious accidents, threatening anonymous notes, and the sightings of a ghost horse thought to have belonged to the notorious Gold Rush hero-bandit Joaquin Murrieta, and Gloria is soon struggling to fit together all the pieces of this puzzle before someone else is killed.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline? Did your book require a lot of research?

I do not write a chapter by chapter outline and the main premise, that is, a synopsis of the novel, before I sit down to work. But I do begin with a list that includes topics I must read, i.e. about the history or science in the novel, or firearms, etc. This research also involves frequent and extended visits to the sites/locales where the action is to take place. I also do a lot of thinking (the non-physical aspect of the writing process) about the crime(s) that trigger the investigation. My research takes me from six to eight months, and I try to complete it before I sit down to do the actual writing of the novel.

I tend to over-research, but I don’t mind. It is amazing how little we remember even about events and experiences of personal importance. The larger and deeper the well of knowledge, the easier it is for me to feel safe and secure in it, to be sure that I am as accurate and factual as possible, and to develop believable characters, who react in their own unique ways or betray what they’re capable of as they deal with extraordinary situations or unusual experiences. But it isn’t until I do the actual writing that I discover all of these aspects, including how much of the research is integral to the plot.

That said, I suppose my personal style of writing is one of discovery, of being open to surprises, allowing myself to let the characters reveal themselves as they see fit, and let my detective guide me as the investigation develops.

And at this point, I think I can guess what you must be wondering about: If what I say is true, then what is the role of the writer in all this?

My role, as I see it, is to tell the best story I can, with no agenda of my own, without manipulation of content or character. To make sure the characters, even the minor ones, are multi-dimensional, the plot is solid and every detail or question raised is accounted for or answered to my satisfaction at the end.

My first draft is usually from 50 to 80 pages longer, fatter, than it might need to be. So my second draft, my first revision of the work, is intended to pare down, to edit out every bit of material that adds little or nothing at all to characterization, setting or plot. And of course, if need be, I plug holes in the plot. The second revision or third draft has to do with checking the accuracy of facts pertaining to the historical, cultural, and socio-political content of the work. And in the fourth draft, third rewriting, I work on the fluidity and appropriate use of language and form.

I ask then two or three people I trust to read this fourth draft for their feedback. Based on what they tell me, and focusing on the similar issues raised by them, I revise the novel one more time, before I send it to my publisher. Subsequent rewrites of the novel are in conjunction with my editor at the press.

Who is your target audience? What will the reader learn after reading your book?

I write crime fiction. My novels will be of interest to anyone who likes mysteries that are not necessarily conventional, that offer more than the solution of a crime and the restoring of social order as the perpetrators are brought to justice. If I have done my job right, and I believe I have, my novels offer all of that. But they also provide a larger view of the life, culture and history of Mexican Americans and Latinos in the U.S.

It’s been said that Gloria Damasco is the first Chicana private detective in American literature. By that, I believe critics mean that Gloria is the first fictional private investigator to be deeply rooted in Chicano/Mexican culture in the U.S., written by someone—me—who is as deeply anchored and steeped in the culture as she.

They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?

I usually read critical reviews of my novels and my poetry, and consider the issues raised by individual critics, positive or negative. Sometimes my ego is wounded, and I walk around like a bird with a broken wing, or a homeless person with three raggedy blankets on yet chilled to the bone in the sunlight. Then I remind myself of the true reasons I write, because writing is what keeps me breathing, living, and what helps me make sense of myself and the world around me. I need to write; I am addicted to it.

Nonetheless, I re-read the negative comments. And if two or more of those critics agree that my work is lacking in particular ways, I heed.

When Eulogy for a Brown Angel, my first detective novel, came out, critics praised the “dazzingly evocative prose,” the “original and highly charged moments” and the fact that with this work, I “expanded the genre.” They liked the characters, the historical background offered. Yet, more than a few found the novel lacking in terms of the plot. I listened and began to apprentice how to plot not just a novel, but a mystery novel. My apprenticeship was the writing of my second novel, Cactus Blood. Each of my novels is an apprenticeship in terms of the craft so I can tell the best story possible, be the best writer I can be.

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!

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Helena Harper is a native of England, but she grew up in a household that did things somewhat differently to other English households, because her mother was German (her mother had met her father in Hamburg at the end of WWII, when as a British soldier he had been stationed there). This mixed background has had a profound influence on Helena and her understanding of so-called national divisions and whom we call an ‘enemy’ and whom we call a ‘friend’.

From an early age she loved to read and write, particularly fantasy stories, and later she enjoyed studying foreign languages. At Surrey University she studied German, Russian and International Relations and spent considerable periods of time in Germany, Austria and Russia as part of the course. After university she went into banking, but soon realised that was a big mistake. “I felt like I was being suffocated,” she says of the experience.

She then spent a year teaching languages at a private school in London, and enjoyed it so much she decided she would get properly trained. She did a Postgraduate Certificate in Education at Exeter University and then started her career as a modern languages teacher, a career which has lasted twenty years. During that time she has continued to write, concentrating primarily on fantasy stories for young children. However, in the past few years she has also discovered the joys of writing poetry for adults, and her first two books are poetry collections: It’s a Teacher’s Life…! and Family and More – Enemies or Friends?, which have been inspired by her professional and personal life.

Helena is now a private tutor and translator. She is continuing to write children’s stories, and illustrations for her first children’s picture book are now being done. Her aim is to see the book in print before the year is out. Many people ask Helena why she likes to write. She feels she can best express it like this:

The blank page calls,
the heart responds,
imagination spreads wide its wings
and launches into infinity…
Fingers dance,
words flow,
the page fills,
the soul takes flight
and the spirit sings.

Copyright © Helena Harper

Interview:

1. Have you always been interested in writing poetry? Actually, no! I’ve always loved to write, but my first love has always been writing fantasy stories for young children. I wrote poetry at school, of course, and every so often when I was on holiday, but it wasn’t a regular thing.

2. So, what prompted you to write your first book “It’s a Teacher’s Life…!” Well, I’ve been a teacher for 20 years and about three years ago, when I was having a lovely holiday at a beautiful place in the country, I was inspired to write some poetry, and when I came home, I then had the idea to write some more poems about my life as a teacher. Each poem would concentrate on a different aspect of school life, such as the lessons, what went on in the staffroom, school trips, exams, report writing, and so on. I also wanted to pay tribute to some of the support staff who do so much to keep a school running, but are often forgotten about e.g. the cook, the caretaker/janitor, the nurse, the school secretary – the unsung heroes of life is what I call them.

3. Do you have a favourite poem? No, I can’t say I’ve got a favourite. Each one is written from the heart and it’s impossible for me to single one out in particular.

4. What prompted you to write your book “Family and More – Enemies or Friends?” I had the idea one day whilst driving to work. I was just thinking about my family and other people in my life who’ve had a big influence on me, one way or the other, and suddenly the idea popped into my head that I could write a second collection of poems about them and the lessons I’ve learnt from them.

5. Why is it called “Enemies or Friends?”
That’s got a lot to do with the fact that my mother is German and my father was English, and I just couldn’t get my head round the fact that, had I been born a few years earlier, all my German relatives would have been my ‘enemies’. To me they could never have been ‘enemies’, just ‘family’. It got me thinking about how futile it is to talk about so-called national divisions.

6. What did you find the hardest about writing your book(s)? Finding the time to finish them and then the editing, the endless checking and re-reading – it drove me crazy!

7. What was the easiest part? Just writing the poems – I was totally absorbed by the process and really enjoyed it.

8. How do you describe your style of poetry? Easy-to-read, easily accessible free verse. I want people to be able to read and understand what I’m writing about from the word go. I don’t like things to be hidden in obscurity. I write simply as I’m inspired to write. The poems I’ve had published in my two collections are really stories and character sketches that just happen to be in verse. One of the reviews on Amazon talks about me developing a new form of poetry, called the ‘anecdotal poem’, and I think that describes my style of poetry very well.

9. What’s the attraction of writing poetry as opposed to writing children’s stories? When I write poetry, I can concentrate on the rhythm and sound of the words and use vocabulary I wouldn’t be able to use in my children’s stories. It’s a marvellous linguistic challenge – the sound of words has always been something that’s fascinated me. It’s one of the reasons I studied modern languages. When I write my children’s stories, it’s more about escaping into a wonderful world of fantasy, leaving the mundane ‘real’ world behind – I find it wonderfully exciting and liberating.

10. When you’re not writing, what are you doing? Tutoring, translating, reading, walking, playing tennis or dancing, doing Pilates, spending time with my niece and nephew.

11. What are your future writing goals? The illustrations for my first children’s picture book are being done at the moment and I will then get the illustrations done for my second picture book. I’m really looking forward to having my children’s books published and going into schools to talk about them. Having been a school teacher for 20 years, I’m no stranger to the school environment, although it will perhaps be a little strange that I will be going into schools first and foremost as a writer rather than a teacher, although everyone can learn something useful, I hope, from my stories.

Published Works

No doubt you remember your life at school as a pupil – the long lessons, stringent rules and chaotic classrooms – but what was it like from the teacher’s perspective? Did they savour the experience of setting and marking our homework? Did they get a kick out of writing our reports? And, most intriguingly, what did they get up to in the staffroom?

If you’ve never been there yourself, you need to follow Helena Harper into this alternative world of coffee addiction, frantic marking, lesson-planning and inspections. She answers all of your questions and more, and her insightful, evocative and often sardonic descriptions leave you more appreciative of the trials and tribulations (and the occasional pleasures) of being the dragon in front of the whiteboard.

It’s a Teacher’s Life…! will open the eyes of the pupils who always thought that teachers didn’t exist outside of school hours… On the other hand, with such a long roll-call of meetings, assessments and after-hours activities, perhaps they were right all along!

Purchase the book HERE.

*****

Who influences us in our lives? How do they influence us? Whom do we call an enemy? Whom do we call a friend? And why? Why do we have relationships at all? These are the questions Helena Harper eloquently asks in her collection of poems that examines the relationships in her own life. She has had to rethink her definition of ‘enemy’, not least because her father was English and her mother German and they met in the aftermath of World War II in Germany. She has also been forced to rethink her definition of ‘friend’. If we learn something from someone that helps us to grow and develop as human beings, becoming more understanding and compassionate in the process, then surely most people we meet in life will be our ‘friends’? Through the memories and experiences of the people in Helena’s life, others can hopefully reflect on their own and maybe come to understand themselves and their relationships better.

Purchase the book HERE.

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