Friday, August 24, 2018

Death of a Novel (11/24/08)

Randomly looking through my Blogger files, I found this hugely important post from 2008 that for some reason remained in DRAFT mode and was never published. Here it goes.

I know the title of this posting sounds a little dramatic, but I've just been informed by my editor at St. Martin's Press that Calligraphy of the Witch is going to be remaindered soon. The novel was released last Fall and it has, sadly, sold just over 1,500 copies. Hence, there are no plans for a paperback and that beautiful book, that story that took me over 16 years to write, will now sit on the remaindered shelves of a few bookstores and eventually will go out of print. And the worst part is, it's all my fault. Or rather, it's the fault of my academic life that got in the way of my being able to push the book the way I pushed Desert Blood, which continues to do spectacularly well and has recently been released in Spanish. The reason I was able to go on a 4-month book tour with Desert Blood is that I was on sabbatical the year the novel was published, and I had the time to travel from coast to coast, doing readings and booksignings. I had time to sit at the computer and develop a website for the novel, blog about the book tour, keep people informed about the next event. But I also had a publisher that set up the entire book tour, that arranged the flights, that reserved the hotel rooms, that got me hooked up with radio interviews and bookstores. Arte Publico Press, and specifically Marina Tristan, did all that work to help sell Desert Blood. It was no surprise, then, that the book sold out of its first run by the second month of the book tour. That it is now in its third edition, available in paperback, in Italian, and in Spanish, and that the website continues to receive over a 100 hits a day.

When Calligraphy of the Witch was sold by my new agent, Regina Brooks, to St. Martin's Press, I was ecstatic, as any Chicana author used to publishing with small presses and university presses would be. I thought it was my break-through into the mainstream publishing world, and it made sense that it would be Concepción's story that would put me on the mainstream literary map. And it might have. Had the date of the novel's release not coincided with my being appointed the new Chair of the César Chávez Department of Chicana/o Studies at UCLA. Had I been able to do even half of the readings and booksigning I did for Desert Blood. Had I had the chance to peddle the book portal to portal through cyberspace. But no, instead, I had to learn how to administrate an academic department. I had to deal with an 8-year departmental review, a retention case from hell, a site visit, a Development agenda, meetings ad nauseum, personnel cases, individual faculty issues, a graduate program proposal to rewrite and resubmit to the powers that be, as well as my own teaching to do, and somewhere in there, in my copious spare time, I had to keep working on my own research, trying to finish my anthology on the murdered women of Juárez after four years of putting it off. St. Martin's Press did little (if any) publicity for the novel, I couldn't afford a book publicist, and I had no time to schedule readings and booksignings. In fact, the only reading I did from Calligraphy of the Witch was in October 2007 at the Hudson River Valley Writer's Center in Sleepy Hollow, New York, at Sergio Troncoso's invitation (thanks for that opportunity, Sergio). The novel received a couple of good reviews, among them one by Rigoberto González that was published in the El Paso Times. But it was not reviewed in the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times. St. Martin's Press did not organize a reading for me at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, even though that event takes place at UCLA. And I didn't actually create my own website until last summer (with the help and direction of my wife, Alma López, who is so talented and knowledgeable about these things). So it doesn't surprise me that Calligraphy of the Witch is going to die on the vine, but it does make me very sad, and not a little resentful that my career as an academic has been largely responsible for the novel's death.

And since I've used the dreaded R-word (resentment, which I try to avoid like the veritable plague), I might as well indulge it full-force here, and say that I really envy those writers who have been able to prioritize their writing, who probably make a whole lot less money than I do but who have the one thing we can never make up, and without which it is impossible to produce any work of art, which is time. As Ivon Villa in Desert Blood says, "you can make up money, but you can never make up time." I know that part of my relative obscurity in the book world is that I have chosen to be an academic, I have chosen not to write about the popular themes and issues that have defined "Latina/o" literature in the mainstream literary world and instead have focused on a colonial lesbian nun, the murdered women and girls of Juárez, and a mestiza accused of witchcraft in 17th-century New England--none of these is mainstream material, but each I think makes a contribution to raising consciousness about a person or an issue that too few people in the English-speaking world know anything about. I have made these choices, and I don't regret them. But I am also paying the price of it now.

Still, despite the fact that I know what role I played in the demise of the novel, I can't believe that Calligraphy of the Witch has sold just over 1,500 copies in a year. I wish I'd known about the phenomenon of book trailers earlier than last month, when I read about it in the current issue of Poets and Writers. As soon as I read that article, I talked it over with Alma, and she got busy putting one together for me, with the help of Chicana performance artist par excellence, Adelina Anthony. We published it on YouTube on election night, and it's a great piece in which Adelina is performing the part of Concepción's daughter, Hanna Jeremiah, at the opening of the novel while behind her flash images of the "witches" and the "Devil's book." The trailer also features my cat, Luna Azul. You can watch it anytime, just click on Calligraphy of the Witch to watch it on YouTube. Hannah Jeremiah is played by the inimitable Adelina Anthony in the trailer.

But it turns out that we were too late. A year late, to be precise. Not that a single book trailer would have substituted for a book tour or a radio interview or even a website, but it would have helped give the book a presence in cyberspace, and at least virtually, would have brought the book to people's awareness, and perhaps would have sold a few more copies.

Alas, I have to close now because one of the meetings I have to attend in my academic life today awaits. The good news is that my first year as Chair of the department rendered fabulous results. We got a glowing 8-year review report from all of your reviewers, internal and external alike, we retained that faculty member we very nearly lost to the East Coast, and I finished the rewrite of the graduate program proposal and got it submitted on time to the powers that will determine by hopefully Spring 2009 whether or not we get to have a M.A./PhD program in Chicana/o Studies at UCLA. And believe it or not, I did get my anthology on the murdered women of Juárez finished (with the good-hearted labor of my graduate research assistant, Georgina Guzmán) and it is now under contract with University of Texas Press. So not everything is bleak on my horizon. And I guess I can sell autographed first editions of Calligraphy of the Witch through my website. Still, I'm sad about the book's short shelf life. That should never have happened. And I guess the lesson here for me is that a book cannot sell itself. Writing it is only part of what a writer has to do. And you as a reader can help, too. If you're looking for a Christmas present, order Calligraphy of the Witch. Or send an email to Daniela Rapp at St. Martin's Press and urge her to get the book out in paperback so that I can have a second chance at peddling Concepción's story.

Okay, off with my writer's hat, on with my academic garb. And I'm off to another day at the office.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Teaching "Tenth Muses of Chicana Lesbian Theory"

I'm so excited to be teaching my "Tenth Muses" graduate seminar again. Haven't taught it since 2014, and it's based on the metaphor of the "décima musa," or "tenth muse" of the Americas--Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, proto-feminist intellectual foremother of Chicana feminist thought. I see all Chicana feminists and Chicana lesbian theorists as "tenth muses" who struggle against and yet thrive despite the patriarchal oppressions of their/our family, community, and society. Sor Juana's community was the convent of Santa Paula of the Order of Saint Jerome in Mexico City (now a private university called El Claustro de Sor Juana), where she was cloistered for 26 of her 46 years. For Chicana lesbian theorists, our community is academia, where we sign our vows in blood and cloister ourselves for the entirety of our careers, working ourselves to the sleepless bone as we teach, learn, advise, advocate, invent, resist, celebrate, irritate, discover, practice, experiment, study, research, grade, evaluate, perform, publish, produce, breathe, envision, embody, educate, administrate, illuminate, challenge, change. And that's just our day job. To be able to sit in a room with bright, open, curious graduate students reading and mixing it up with the work of our "tenth muses" for three hours once a week is truly a reward and a privilege.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Camp Nanowrimo 2017

It's been three years since I last updated this blog. What's the use of having a blog if I'm not going to use it for daily writing practice? I guess it's my way of holding on to that very thin filament of hope that one day I will have the time and energy to actually be able to keep a blog, just as my unwritten in journals and beautiful fountain pens remind me that, again, I'm not writing. I suppose I've gotten used to it by now; there was a time when I couldn't go more than a month without writing before I started to feel myself detaching from that sensitivity that is a writer's way of experiencing the world; and, being so detached, I would engage in self-destructive behaviors of drinking too much and being out late. Now, I completely bypass the drinking, but I'm staying up later and later, and depriving myself of crucial hours of sleep that I need in order to experience that sensitivity that in turn allows me to write. These days, I am always tired, sleepy, horribly behind in my work, always taking in new work, and pushing myself further and further away from the one thing that really anchors me to myself and my life: writing. This is why I decided to join Camp Nanowrimo again--to give myself the opportunity of sitting down at my desk to work on a piece of writing from beginning to end, despite all of the obstacles that have lately become my daily bread. My intention this year was to finish some of the stories in my almost-finished new collection of stories but because of my penchant for taking on new work, I had two deadlines this month for academic essays, and so, I have changed my writing project to essays instead of stories. The good thing is that, at least, I am making progress on the essays. In fact, I finished one already and met my first goal. Now, I have until the end of the month to work on an encyclopedia essay on La Virgen, La Malinche, and La Llorona. This is what's on my Camp Nanowrimo agenda until April 30. I am super excited that the private cabin I started has drawn people from all over, including Nuala and Donna from Cork, Ireland, to work on their own projects, and to gather under a virtual roof to provide support and encouragement to all.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Finished NaNoWriMo Today!

I am very proud to announce that I finished my 50,000 rough draft for a new book of fiction today. I called it "Calaveras in the Closet: Stories and Novellas." The exact word count was 52,945 words.

Here's the disjointed premise of the book:

All the characters I've ever created (and left behind) have banded together to form CACA, the Circle of Abandoned Characters Anonymous, a support group and 12-step program for those who need to air out their many abandonment issues, resentments, and unheard stories.

There are 10 stories and 3 novellas, although when and if I ever revise the book, I'm going to chop off 4 of the stories, as these were just grist for the writer's mill, ways to get me started with the writing process this year without actually knowing where I was going. 

Between now and next summer, I will be thinking about these stories, these characters needing to be heard, and hopefully, the elves in my brain will work their magic while I burn the midnight oil at my academic job and figure out how to turn all of this into a viable collection, my second collection of short fiction.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Bless me, oh gods of the Royal Blogsphere, it's been more than a year since my last blog. So many vestiges of my Catholic upbringing. Maybe that's why the concept of the "bad woman" intrigues me so much, because of that heavy Catholic/Christian/Patriarchal judgment placed on a woman's head, from Lilith and Eve down to all women, particularly those of us of the lesbian and/or feminist and/or queer persuasion. In fact, that's what my new book is all about. I realized I've been writing about "bad women," or at least women who were considered "bad" in their own lifetimes or who have become the scapegoats for all the bad stuff that has befallen our culture and our raza for the last 500 years--in both my fiction and my scholarship. I'm very proud of this collection of scholarly essays. You'll find pieces on Sor Juana, on la Malinche, on Chicana feminist artists and lesbian theorists, on the murdered girls and women of Juárez, as well as a rewriting of the Coyolxauhqui myth, and an opening letter to my paisana from the border, Gloria Anzaldúa, in gratitude for her lenguas de fuego. There are also 8 color plates and 37 black and white photos. Artwork includes different images by Alma Lopez, beginning with that fabulous cover she created for the occasion of the book's publication, as well as pieces by Ester Hernández, Yreina Cervantez, Liliana Wilson, Patssi Valdez, Laura Aguilar, Deliliah Montoya, Alma Gómez-Frith, Miguel Gandert, Alfonso Cano, the "Saint Jerome" of Leonardo da Vinci, the iconic "American Progress, 1872" by John Gast, and a painting of Juana Inés by my very own mother, Teyali Falcón that she created for the publication of Sor Juana's Second Dream. I'll be doing my first book talk and signing in Albuquerque on my birthday, July 29, at BookWorks, and a month later, another event at BookWoman in Austin, Texas, if anybody's interested in coming out to support the work. A special shout-out to the University of Texas Press, and my (now retired) editor, Theresa May, for always producing such beautiful books and helping to grow the library of Chicana feminist lesbian scholarship. You can order the book directly (and at a 33% discount) through U.T. Press, or go to my website to order it through If you'd like for me to come and speak about the book at your university, send me an email.

Upcoming book talks/book signings:
July 29, 6-8pm

Austin, TX, August 28, 7pm

Monday, June 10, 2013

Movie based on Sor Juana's Second Dream

I have been completely remiss in not posting on my blog the fantastic news that Sor Juana's Second Dream has been adapted to a screenplay. I am, in fact, the co-screenplay-writer, along with the film's director and co-producer, Rene Bueno. Here's some more info about the film, which will be a Mexican production tentatively titled "Juana de Asbaje," starring Ana de la Reguera as Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. The film will also star Bruno Bichir (of Padre Amaro fame) and Adriana Barraza (of Babel fame).  The short video from UNO-TV is in Spanish. The film will go into production in Fall 2014.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Burglary Blues

On Thursday, May 16, just as I was walking to my car, Alma called me panic-stricken because our condominium got broken into and someone stole our gold jewelry, including the heirloom pieces I'd inherited from my grandmother, and my laptop. The thief forced the front door open with a crowbar, jimmied both deadbolts, and seriously damaged the door and doorjamb. Luckily, nobody was home or hurt, although it's pretty clear to us that he was probably casing the place and waiting for it to be empty. Since Alma got home at 4 and a friend left at 1, the burglary happened in the those three hours in the middle of the day. Alma reported the incident at 4:15 but the police didn't show up here till after midnight, 12:29 to be exact. Eight hours later. Since then, I've been in a fog of insurance, police reports, locksmiths, contractors (we will need to replace the whole door not just the locks because the damage is irreparable), security systems, tracking Craig's List and Ebay just in case I see my grandmother's bracelets and St. Rita necklace, my precious fossil Ammolite ring that I'd given myself as a "rebirthday" present on a trip to Puerto Rico back in 2005--the pieces that would stand out from the more common stuff you see on those sites.

I'm not letting it sink in, though, that my MacBook Pro, stuffed to the gills with all my writings, is gone. I have old backups on Time Machine and on flash drives and CD's, but I think the last time I used Time Machine was in 2008, and although I have the most recent versions of my newest book which, thank the goddess, I'd finished putting together and sent off to the press, I don't have the latest drafts of other books, or the collections of stories, poems, chapters, I'd been working on since 2008. I don't have the latest draft of my YA novel that I was going to try to work on this summer. It's the weirdest feeling, like I'm unanchored but at the same time, sort of liberated from all that karma. Not that I wouldn't want the police to get my computer back so I could get those files back, all my pictures, and my thousands of songs (thank goodness for iPhone backups so that at least I still have some of my music and photos), but a part of me is willing to make the sacrifice, say to the Universe, okay you can have all of that, just keep us safe, let them erase the whole drive and reset the computer to factory settings so that none of my work or my personal information is out there drifting in cyberspace.

But maybe, just maybe, all of this was supposed to happen to help me open my eyes to what's really important, especially in this economy: take extra measures to protect your safety. Don't procrastinate on things like installing a home security system or backing up your computer. Listen to your Facultad when she sends up a random sense of relief when you come home one afternoon and discover you haven't been broken into; that's your wiser self, telling you, be careful, something's coming. If you're afraid of this, maybe you should listen more closely. Deja vu, perhaps.

I went to a pawn shop today but didn't find any of our stuff. We're going undercover this week, hitting the pawnshops because I feel like I'm going to find at least some of my grandmother's pieces. Don't worry. If I do see something, I'll report it to the police and let them handle it. I'm looking forward to getting our wireless security system installed tomorrow. Our front door replaced and new and better locks put in. Then I'm going to transplant my baby blue spruce tree that we used as a Christmas tree and get back in touch with our plants, our flowers, our patio.