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Sunday, December 15, 2019

About Great-Great-Great Grandparents and Such

Have you seen those Ancestry [dot com] commercials for their DNA kits? There are several, each with these well-crafted little histories… They’re neat and so very clear as to where ancestors came from and what they did and all sorts of fun details.

Of course, anyone who has ever done genealogy research knows it’s not always that easy or that concise. Sometimes it is a frustrating jumble of names and unfortunate coincidences that throw you off.

But for a good portion of people, it is a mystery and a journey through misery—depending on family histories.

When I did the DNA testing, I was curious how my multicultural background would manifest on paper. Certainly, the allure of finding out more about my people was strong; but I did not expect to get full histories for too many people. Any details are fun, but histories would probably need to be as fictionalized as those commercials.

Rather than a family history, or even memoirs of the process, I figured maybe I’d have flashes of stories—or at least tiny details to build stories. Not necessarily true stories, but based on a glimmer of truth.

What I wasn’t expecting was finding that ethnicities I expected to have inherited did not leave a trace, or that I’d find a heritage I knew absolutely nothing about.

I’m not writing any stories about it, though it is tempting. There’s so much there we may be straddling an epic!

And if bringing the details of the past together may be difficult, putting a face to what all the begetting begat is now technologically possible. There is a map that now gives you a glance at your familiars—next of kin to distant kin. Mine is fascinating--especially when you enter the fourth cousins*!

I won’t give you identifying details because that’s not the purpose here, but simply to illustrate that the potential for storytelling is extraordinary (if dizzying)…

At the moment, I appear to have at least 636 cousins around the world. The majority are in the US. I expected some of those. From coast to coast, there are people in almost every state of the nation—except Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Maine.

I was surprised to find I have a distant cousin named Tina in Wasilla, Alaska. I wonder if she can see Russia from her house. I have four cousins in Hawaii, in Oahu and Kauai—which led to a revelation I did not know about. Apparently there was a war time indiscretion… These may very well be the results of it.

I expected cousins in Puerto Rico, but there are far more than I expected and with concentrations in towns where there should be none. Of course, one of my great grandmother’s brothers made a run for it and tried to get away from his people. I expect that some of the folks over the mountain range may be the offspring of his offspring.

Granted, these results depend on the available pool of people tested—but I am missing people in Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Nevis and St. Kitts, St. Thomas, and Trinidad and Tobago. Of course, I expect to have people in the US as well as the British Virgin Islands. There doesn’t appear to be much going on there, but I do have a cousin in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

In Canada, I have Jennifer in Manitoba; Yossi, Chas, Violet, Edward and Paul in Ontario; and Marilyn in Quebec. Then there’s my cousin Tucker in Bogota, Colombia, rounding off the Americas.

In Europe, I have cousins in England, from London all the way up to Northumberland. I also have a cousin named Miklós in Hungary. I also have two cousins in Israel: Jacob and Elina. The family extends to Asia too, with Michelle in Seoul, South Korea. And to my surprise, I found cousins in Sydney, Australia, and one Puerto Rican in New Zealand (we're everywhere, even on the Moon!).

Of course, the bigger groups listed in my ethnicity estimates (see map) have no connections available, except for the Hungarian. Again, we’re limited by the pool of people who have DNA-tested, but it is also entirely possible that all connections to the Old World—despite the spicy flavor they provided to the making of me—all moved to the Americas and common ancestors exist on this side of the world.

Storytelling aside, I am tempted to put together a little book with recipes dedicated to my cousins—an addendum to the Food Goddess series. 

* Note: for those interested in the topic, there's a good piece about fourth cousins (actual and DNA-match ones) at

Monday, October 28, 2019

Holiday Creative Mandate

Halloween is coming and we are busy at the house (this begins the busy season around these parts with candy making and baking goes into overdrive). And while I may be a little scattered right now, I'm still trying to get a little writing done. 

I am considering doing NaNoWriMo this year -- it has been quite some time since my last one. I still have no idea where the story is going, or rather I have no idea what the story is. I'm discovering the character through vignettes. But at least this is the only story dancing in my head, so perhaps there is a modicum of focus in the chaos.

"Dressing Barbie" is turning into a story about belonging and family (the ones we're born into, the ones we fall into and the ones we create for ourselves). And I am getting to know Trixie through little snippets of her life.

Perhaps I need to let go of the idea of a specific structure and let it come to me in dribs, rather than force it. It looks like I’ll be building her world and then track her journey through life.

As a writing exercise it sounds interesting. The trick is to make it interesting enough for others to read. I know where her story begins and where it ends, now to fill in the gaps…

So far, I understand some of her quirks and where they came from. But I’m thinking that I need to write it all in the order it happens and then do flashbacks. And somewhere along the line, I’ll need to find he story arc because I have no basic idea.

The other thing that keeps eluding me is the timeline. When does her coming of age happen? Is she an ‘80s kid or a ‘90s kid? Would dating the story really make a difference in her character? It would inasmuch as there is technology in the story that places it in a specific range.

But then, it looks like she grew up in a bubble of sorts. It’s not clear if liberates herself from that lifestyle. But there are lows and highs in her life, that much is clear; and she experiences some ridiculous contrasts—so part of the story will have to be how she deals with these changes.

The growing collection of sketches will feature into the story somehow, but I still have not worked it out yet. Will they be part of the story itself or an online companion in the form of a flipbook? These are little details that require some consideration, and it will be an adventure to get it going.

So as we enter the holidays—from Halloween to the Epiphany—I have my creative mandate. Of course, I’ll keep you posted!

Friday, August 9, 2019

Creating is an International Thing

I can't retire on my current royalties, but I still get a thrill every time I get a notification of a payment by any of the booksellers and distributors I work with. Lately, the books getting the most play are the series on infidelity.

The few copies, I always assume are friends and family members, but eventually, strangers start buying my books. Book buying is largely an anonymous activity, but reports can give me a snapshot of at least where in the world the books are going.

The infidelity series seems to attract an English-speaking readership. The Mistress has made sales in the US, UK and Australia. Sins of the Father and He Done Her Wrong added sales in Canada. Three continents seems like an awesome accomplishment to me. I'm not pulling Stephen King numbers, but it's still fun and exciting and rewarding.

But then all my other titles have made their way around the globe too! Over the years since I decided to self-publish, my books have sold in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru; in Spain and Portugal, Belgium, France, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany; in Turkey, the Unite Arab Emirates, the Russian Federation, Slovakia, Singapore, New Zealand, Japan and China.

Imagine that? My words are better traveled than I am!

My next goal is to have my words go into space. It may sound ridiculous, but why not? Anyone going to the ISS any time soon?

Of course, I am grateful for every sale. But it was never really about royalties (it was a little about royalties, I just meant that was not my main focus).

And if I won't be retiring any time soon and live off my royalties, I know that some of my stories have a life of their own and, if I did my job just right, little moments--passages, phrasing, scenes--have touched the hearts of some of my readers. That makes the effort, and the torture, all the sweeter.

Monday, May 20, 2019

La Chancleta: Revisited

A few years back, I intended to tighten up the chapters in the story, La Chancleta. In between, I ended up in the hospital, and then stuff I don't care to dwell on happened. I was sure I'd finished the task, but it turned out it awaited my action...

Finally, I did finish the paperback version, and it's available exclusively at Amazon. The cover has changed slightly to this:

I keep getting distracted, but I finally finished the e-book version as well and it can be found for sale at Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and the Apple Bookstore among others.

For those new to the little book, it is the story of a young Latina who runs afoul and her mother's reaction to the situation. There's a chancla (a house slipper for you unfamiliar with the term) involved and, well, it's got humor and horror.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Cheating is the Gift that Keeps on Giving

I have been away for far longer than I intended—the lament of the lazy or inattentive blogger. But I suppose this where I inject Carnegie to explain myself, but you know my brain is a maze of connections that sometimes defy logic...

Three things come to mind when I hear the name Carnegie. Not necessarily first, but there’s always the old joke:

Q. How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
A. Practice, practice, practice.

Then, because my inner child is a foodie too, the late Carnegie Deli pops in my head and memories of gigantic corned beef and pastrami sandwiches.

And finally, these words from Dale Carnegie: 

And there’s the rub! At first, I put the blog(s) aside as I focused on getting healthy and regaining my strength. I had a few creative spurts, but the longer I did not write the harder it became to string a sentence together.

Worse yet, I’d start a story and then drop it halfway through. The morgue file for the last project has more stories than the ones include in the book. Editing was torture! But somehow I managed to put a volume together.

Sadly, my first attempt fell a little short, but Lindsay Muir helped me revise the volume and publish the book I intended to begin with. Of course, if there are any errors left in the book, it'd be because of my own shortcomings--because my lovely editor did an extraordinary job!

Volume two of the Bloody Trail of Disenchantment, He Done Her Wrong also explores the aftermath of infidelity—both real and perceived and not all inflicted on a mate.

While writing the stories elements kept creeping up from story to story. Not exactly redundancies for common threads that I realized after I put the stories together added to, what I hope, is a universal theme—that even under the guise of fantastic storytelling there is a truth we have all lived or witnessed.

The stories in He Done Her Wrong are not meant to form a judgement on the subject, except what the characters themselves have to say (and some are conflicted about it).

My wish is that at the end of the last story that the reader has laughed, gotten angry, sad, or even a little nostalgic. I hope that tiny bits of these stories—the little details—not only ring true but also stick in the heart of the reader long after the close the book.

He Done Her Wrong will be available in the next few days at several online book retailers, including Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Scribd, and Smashwords (you can download a free sample or use code ZG73R at checkout for 25% off—offer good through May 23).