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Sunday, April 22, 2012


A vignette is defined as a short impressionistic scene that focuses on one moment or gives a trenchant impression about a character, an idea, or a setting and sometimes an object, and as such need not contain the classic story elements: protagonist, conflict, obstacles or complications, and resolution.

Vignettes are stories that may have no plot but suggest one, leaving the reader to imagine those details. The point of the stories is to focus on individual moments, and give an impression of a character or place.

As a literary device it went out of fashion in the nineteenth century but I continue to employ it because it is the writing equivalent to people watching and I find it fascinating.

There is something very lyrical, magical and poetic about moments. The larger picture is a canvas, but a vignette offers color, texture, not a clear picture necessarily.

The reason I am fascinated by vignettes is tied to memory. Some people remember entire narratives in extraordinary detail. Most people I have encountered remember sketches that left an impression for what they made them feel at the time.

These days, vignettes are more often associated with theatre or film. It works in film especially because it is generally surrounded by a larger story and it’s all connected into a larger narrative.

To me the most powerful vignette in film is in “Blade Runner” – it lasts less than two minutes and yet as I remember the details, the moment stretches into so many impressions that it is a larger memory. It is just a moment but one of profound beauty and gravitas.

“I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.” This line transforms me and I can see each frame of that scene at a slower pace. I remember details that are not necessarily there, they are emotional impressions that have stayed with me for years since I first saw this. “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

I rewrote that in my memory and what I remember may very well resemble what millions others saw, but it means something different and some details are more prominent than others. That is what memory does and that is why vignettes fascinate me: emotion, like perspective, changes everything.

To me life is made up of these moments. The connections don’t lose significance because I don’t focus on them. I just get drawn in by the simple beauty of a single moment – and by beauty I may mean color or its inherent musicality. Whatever it means, it is visceral and grand – whether elegant or inelegant – because it imparts some truth that reaches each individual as a personal emotional appeal.

That was what I was going for with Because She was a Woman – of which How Nadine and Libby Escaped Destiny is but a preview (still available as a free download on Smashwords). I can’t wait to share it and see how it is received!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Special Promotion

El Velorio de Maya is free this weekend, from April 13 - 17. It's my gift to you during this painful Tax Time. Death and taxes, after all, go hand in hand...

The book, of course, is in Spanish and tells the story of Lucia's upcoming eighteenth birthday in the midst of a family death. Far from sad, it is a tale of the absurd in an extended, dysfunctional family.

If you're interested in getting your own copy, you may acquire it from the Kindle Store here:

Friday, April 6, 2012

Post Partum Funk?

I conceived the idea for Because She Was a Woman out of love, or a memory I love at any rate.

For two weeks, these women paraded in my head, with different faces and names and personalities. Some I knew, some I just met. Some I liked, others I'd prefer no further contact. Some are presumably white, others are Latina, some are Asian and there is one that appears to be a minion of the Beast. Some are sweet, some are insecure, some are killers, some lie, and some are funny. Some love and others have forgotten how. Some are young and some are young at heart.

Then came putting all their stories together into some sort of cohesive form, letting them come to life on their own terms without me interfering.

I’ve printed all twelve stories and, the hardest part, is giving up my baby. It needs a new pair of eyes, because self-editing is effective to only a certain point. Since I know what I meant to write, sometimes, no matter how methodical you want to be, you miss little things. I trust Mom with my life, but there is something so ephemeral about ownership when it comes to writing. It feels like it is yours after the story surrenders to your fingers on the keyboard. It is yours the first read through.

The moment you hand it over to be read by another, it’s like giving up your child for adoption. This is not to minimize adoption from either perspective. You feel like you conceived, nurtured and gave birth to it and then you get attached and you love it and want to protect it and keep it close to your bosom, but you know you have to let it go…

The moment you let it go, you mourn that, because it becomes less yours and less the creature you created and more whatever the reader makes of it. You gave it life and love, but it only evolves through the nurturing understanding of others who glance upon it.

The whole process has put me in a semi-melancholic state and I have been preoccupied with memory and memories, the difference, and the fragility of both concepts.

I suppose that part of it is that on March 15 was grandma’s (paternal) birthday and I miss her very much. I know we will never have what we did; the memory of it is mine now because I do not know that she still possesses it. Not helping my state of mind is the fact that Mami (maternal grandmother) is in a similar state.

There is this yearning to write my book, hand her a Kindle and say, “Look what I did, Grandma!” I can’t do that and that makes me desperately sad. So I try not to dwell on it, because half of it terrifies me. I think of her as I had her: vibrant and funny, opinionated and loving. That is my story with her. I do wonder what her own recurring story is and I suspect that some of it might be of her dancing years.

Maybe on my next anthology, I’ll write a story of a dancer and imagine a happy ending for her.

This is Grandma dancing with Geoffrey Holder in the olden days (from the Marquette University digital archives):

Monday, April 2, 2012

It's a Gift!

It was a year ago that, finding myself without a job and a lot of time in my hands, I decided to self-publish my novel, Justified. I’d written for NaNoWriMo, after months of toiling with the story and then getting stuck because it had no direction. NaNo focused the effort, what with 30 crazy days to complete the task; and it was a perfect way to channel some demons.

Prompted by awesome friends and loved ones, I took the plunge and embarked in this adventure purely for pleasure and the learning experience. The fact that there might be some royalties was also exciting but never the overriding passion in the project.

Now that a calendar year has passed, it seems like a natural landmark to stop and take stock of what I have accomplished in this journey.

Before I released the novel, just to get a hang of the process of publishing, I compiled some of my favorite columns written for Barbara Bretton’s website. The result, Kali: The Food Goddess, A Compilation of Delightful Recipes and Memories of Food, has received a total of 15,049 downloads (and by downloads, I refer to units sold as well as free downloads). The books has been relatively well-received with a couple of discontented readers that were not impressed – whether because the recipes were not exotic enough or too exotic.

That effort was followed by Justified, a crime novel with a twisted sense of humor, has received 158 downloads. This is a relatively larger number than I expected, though by publishing standards less than stellar. It certainly does not point to giving up the idea of a day job, but its relative success is promising. It could have easily sold zero copies. On this title, there were three people whose opinion mattered most, and all three got it (they got the jokes, the references, and even the details that would mean nothing to the casual reader). It was a very personal thing and it was very rewarding to get it done and have it well received by its intended audience.

Following this I rewrote a true story and fictionalized it to protect the guilty parties involved in Putting May to Rest. Altogether that short story has received 88 downloads and it has been the slowest moving title. This is not surprising because the subject matter, while hilarious to me, can be a little off-putting. It has been received about as well as could be expected. The Spanish translation has just been released and I suspect that one might be better received, but it remains to be seen.

The next project was another short story, but not fictionalized, a journal entry slightly expanded. One Night with B.B. also gave me the opportunity to play around with content and promotional gimmicks and it included two free .midi files. So far, the English version has received 35 downloads and the Spanish translation 33. I think the title may be stalling in the US, just as it starts to gather momentum in the European markets (more on this later).

The mini-memoir was followed by an anthology of journal entries titled Life, Dreams and Magical Landscapes. This has received 34 downloads and its Spanish counterpart (a less literal than poetic translation) has just reached 20 and is selling in places that I did not exactly expect: Spain (I get this one), France, Italy and Germany.

A second cookbook, Kali: the Food Goddess, Fruits of the Family Tree, released at the beginning of the year has 416 downloads and it has been selling exclusively at the Kindle Store. I expect those numbers to increase once it goes on sale across the board.
Just as March Madness got underway, I started a melancholic little piece, a short story about a woman and her child as they raced to meet their fate, How Nadine and Libby Escaped Destiny has received 80 downloads in a matter of a couple of weeks.

Altogether there are 15,913 e-books out there with my name on the cover page. As my distribution channels expand, I find sales and downloads from diverse markets across the US and Canada, Australia, France, Italy, Germany, Spain and the UK. I am also pleased that while books are moving faster on Smashbooks and Amazon than at Barnes & Noble (were some months it’s like I’m invisible), I have received royalties every month and payments for every quarter.

I will not measure cost of doing business to royalties because I derive joy from writing and cannot put a monetary value on that. Does that qualify as a success? I’d say it’s certainly promising and has absolute potential for bigger and better things.

In the process I have learned to format, distribute, promote and even design my books. I’ve put my entire education and all my professional skills to use and even honed in a few new ones while putting together book trailers.

Creating and maintaining a portal is interesting because it is only relatively static but new readers will constantly come to it after downloading a book. The Twitter feed has given me the opportunity to interact with a new group of fans and add a few recipes to my repertoire. There are only 21 followers, but I am not a celebrity and these 21 are quality followers inasmuch as they follow strictly for their connection to the content (they use it) and their interaction.

There are still new and exciting things I’d love to try -- like audiobooks and interactive titles, maybe a graphic novel. Certainly, as this is meant to be about experimentation, I have published different formats and will also expand on genres too (with a steampunk series and a literary fiction anthology of short stories). There will be more pieces written for online magazines and blog tours, and keeping the two blogs.

It is labor intensive but for the moment I can dedicate some quality time to it to establish my portfolio and a presence or a small following. I’m on my way and I am having the time of my life!

All this is awesome, of course. But even more awesome has been the support from my family (real and virtual). I’ve put a lot of love into what I am doing, but it has showered tons of love upon me as well. This alone makes it all worth the effort.