Monday, December 1, 2008

My First Legit NaNoWriMo Experience

So yesterday was the official end date for this year's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for you non-initiates) novel contest. I did not win. I did not even get close to winning, as you have to reach the 50,000-word mark to be declared a winner, and I only got to 17,879. But I started a week late, did not put in the suggested 1,667 words per day, and on some days, didn't write at all, so I knew from the get-go that I was not going to be among the winners this year. And yet, I started a novel anyway. Or rather, I started to flesh out an idea that I saw while under acupuncture needles one Wednesday morning, as each of the characters presented herself to me in fully-fleshed-out form, with a name, a backstory, a boyfriend or girlfriend, a situation. And I knew that even though there was little chance in hell that I would reach 50K words, I wanted to see what would happen if I did sit at the computer whenever I could and try to listen to those characters' stories echoing off the inside of my skull. The last time I tried the NaNoWriMo approach was in 2005, and I was able to finish the last half of my historical novel, Calligraphy of the Witch (2007), though it was February rather than November, and the only other wacko person doing it was my buddy, la Emma Pérez (of Gulf Dreams and The Decolonial Imaginary fame). So I knew the approach could work, if only because of the constancy of daily writing and the clarity you get from being in your imaginary world with your imaginary peeps day in and day out for 30 days. What I love about the NaNoWriMo approach is the freedom it gives you to write crap, to play with technique, to do whatever it takes to increase your word count and in the process to free yourself of any rigid thinking about plot or the logistics of novel-writing. Because of this, I now have 67 pages of new work that I actually really like, and that I can feed into work that I've had on the back-burner for years, like a bunch of ingredients needing a recipe to become something solid and whole. Those 67 pages are not crap--I still haven't learned to free myself that much--but they do have a lot of breathing space around them, and the truth is, I love these new characters, the time-weaving that I'm doing between a meta-story set in the second century AD (or is that now CE?) and the contemporary story set in 2005, and the way I get to summon up characters and situations of my previous novel, Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders. Right now, the new work is called "The Nine Sisters," and even though I'm not on a crazy deadline anymore, I'm still going to write every day and follow these girls and women until they lead me wherever it is that they want me to go. I started out not knowing anything about this book, and I still know very little, except that these characters have become three-dimensional for me, and I like being in their company. Plus, I'm good at tracking, eavesdropping, taking dictation, and then spinning everything off in a new direction. And so, you see, I am a winner after all.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Travels with Crumley

In Memoriam: James Crumley

I just read in the L.A. Times that my friend and writing mentor, James Crumley, or Crumley or Crumdog as he was lovingly known by his friends, passed away on Wednesday, September 17, 2008. I loved this man. This man and I shared some good times on the border when he was a Fiction Professor in the English department at the University of Texas at El Paso, where I was starting my M.A. (back in the day when his son, Shorty, was just a baby). I'm a local to El Paso and Juárez, and Crumley liked going to bars, which were one of my favorite hangouts at the time as well. Because I was a starving graduate student earning $400 a month as a teaching assistant, Crumley and I made a deal that whenever we went drinking in Juárez, I would translate for him and he would buy my beer. Seemed like a great bargain to me. So we spent many a Friday night (or maybe Thursdays, after class) across the border at the Kentucky Club and further in to the darker holes-in-the-wall on Mariscal Street where naked women danced for us in exchange for shots of Cuervo and a $5 tip. There was this one particular bar that I don't remember the name of and which I feature in my short story "La Mariscal," in The Mystery of Survival and Other Stories, where Crumley and I both fell in love with the same girl. She was a beautiful "Aztec princess," as Crumley called her, and I was supposed to tell her that in my good Spanish. I told her what he'd said, and added my own bit of Mexican charm, telling her I thought she was a "reina" not a princess, and insinuated that I would be a much better catch than Crumley. Told her I had good hands and knew how to treat a woman right. She didn't take either of us up on our offers, but Crumley realized I was flirting with her when at one point she winked at me as she picked up a tray of drinks to deliver to her tables. "Just my luck," Crumley muttered under his mustache, "I'm buying the drinks and you're getting the girl."
Crumley was a good friend. He saved me a couple of times from getting arrested by the Juárez police (sorry about nearly driving your Volvo into that lady's house, Crumley), he threw a party for me when I got my Master's degree and invited the whole English department, he gave me the best writing advice ever--I don't give a shit what you write as long as you give a shit about it--and he said that I wrote "like a fuckin' angel," but didn't know it. Huge praise for an aspiring writer.
I am so grateful I knew him. The last couple of times I saw him he didn't look too healthy, but at least he was doing what he wanted to do, and that's all that matters. I spent a few hours with him and Martha at the Chicago Bouchercon (big conference for mystery writers and fans) in 2006 and that's where the picture above is taken. What I am most grateful for is that he took the time to blurb my novel, Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders and this will connect us for all time. He wrote that my novel "... takes your breath away, page after page, and grabs your heart." Well, Crumdog, you sure grabbed mine. Adios, maestro.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Note from Sor Juana

Dear Alicia,
From my perch in the heavens I can see the cyber-universe quite clearly, from where I keep tabs on what is happening in the mortal and busy lives of my Chicana and Latina sisterhood, and what to my surprise do I discover in the cyber-universe but your brand-new and beautifully designed website at Whoever "Viceroy Productions" is (and of course I already know that, since I see all in the cyber-universe from my perch in the heavens) they have done an amazing job of showing the intricate web of writings that emanates from your not-so-mute pen and inkwell. What I most like (other than that impressive collection of fountain pens on display) is that it shows the world that you are a writer first and foremost, and that your academic life, though rich and productive and successful, is but one aspect of your identity. Let the world know that you wear both the mortar board of an academic and a writer's hat (a brown felt Stacy Adams that you bought on Venice Beach), and that for 15 years now, you've been doing a juggling act balancing your writing projects with your working life at the university. So I just wanted to post a kudos to you and Viceroy Productions for making your presence felt in the cyber-universe. It's about time, sister.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Vote NO on 8 in 2008

For those of you who don't know yet, Alma Lopez (yes, that Alma Lopez of the "Our Lady" fame, of the "Lupe and Sirena" fame, of the best parties ever given on 18th Street fame) and I got legally married on a yacht in Newport Beach almost a month ago, and I can honestly and gratefully say, I've never been happier in my life. To think what I'd been missing: friendship and passion, kindness and silliness, depth and more depth. To think that she and I had been friends for almost ten years, that we had collaborated on projects, that her artwork graces the cover of two of my books, that we've partied together, laughed together, talked long hours into the night together, and sat in dark movie theaters eating out of the same popcorn bag, sharing blood oranges and chocolate, to think that we even shared the same hyperthyroid condition, the same memory lapses, the same loquaciousness and locura for art and politics and Sor Juana--all without a hint that we would one day be spouses forever, just blows my mind. But spouses we are, and spouses we shall remain, regardless of what happens in November, though of course we would like to continue to have our marriage be recognized as a legal union by the state. So please, please, please, save our marriage and vote NO on Proposition 8 in November. 

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Giving Credit
My baby is right. She gets all the credit for introducing me to the Documents feature in Gmail. My buddy and I worked on our secret book this morning and it's eerie to watch the words she's typing over there in Denver showing up on my screen here in LA. So betw that and talking to each other in virtual presence, we're practically in the same room. A whole new way to do a writing workshop. Hey, don't give me any ideas, I'm busy enough this summer. It was great to hear from Sheryl Luna, an incredible poet, for those of you who don't know her work. Find her book. Truly amazing poetry, infused with all the sadness and light of the El Paso desert. Okay, as usual, I'm running late to work, so off to work I go, but not whistling like the dwarves in Disney's version of Snow White. Random thoughts today. That's what happens when I start the day off writing. Haven't done that in so long, so I need to shake out the ole cobwebs.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Skyping with my Bud

Today, my best bud, la Emma Perez, aka Sundance aka LaChuy, and I discovered the joy of Skyping. Since we're working on a book together (wouldn't YOU like to know what it is???) this allows us to write together, and see and talk to each other on a video call, and we can make faces at each other, and get a video tour of the house, and she can even say hi to my baby girl when she pops in to see what we're cracking up about now. Skype and the Documents feature on Gmail are the best resource for collaborations. Chingao. To think what we've been missing. Thanks to la Diva artista de Austin, la Liliana Wilson, for telling us about Skype. Now, to take off my writing hat (a brown felt Stacy Adams) and get to my day job, Chairing a department. Oh, Emma's writing hat is a Mao cap I got for her at Venice Beach when she was visiting last weekend. Bueno, ciao. Nobody writes me, but this is still therapeutic.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A novice no longer

April 19, 2008
I've decided to abandon the veil. To stop hiding behind anonymity and lack of time. To venture onto the high seas of the blogosphere and put this out there, whatever "this" may be and wherever "out there" may take me. I'm inspired by friends who are seasoned sailors on these rough waters, and by my editor at St. Martin's Press, who assures me that blogging is the best way to develop a community of readers for Calligraphy of the Witch. And my other books, too, I hope. Yes, okay, this is unabashed advertising for my books, y que? Who else is going to peddle my stories for me? And now that I'm the Chair of the Chavez Department for Chicana/o Studies at UCLA, I really do have no time to schedule readings and book tours (as I was fortunate enough to be able to do with Desert Blood in 2005). So, there you have it: my true motive for setting sail. Will you join me? Will you click on one of the titles below and see if anything appeals to your sensibilities? Chicana. Lesbian. Historical. Sor Juana. Witch trials. The Juárez Femicides. Chicana/o art. Barrio popular culture. I have many interests. Many stories. And many more adventures to come. I'm being reminded that it is now almost 11 and time for bed. Yay! It's been smooth sailing so far...