La Pluma y La Tinta: Call for writers to read!

Hello Writers!
The next New Voices Reading Series event at La Casa Azul Bookstore in Spanish Harlem will be on Sunday, October 21 from 4-6PM. I invite you to either sign up to read or be an awesome supportive audience member!

Please email me if you’d like to be a featured reader at theresavarela@gmail.com and feel free to pass this on to other writers who’d be interested.

About the New Voices Reading Series:
This literary reading offers unpublished or new writers & poets the opportunity to share and promote their work. La Pluma y La Tinta began as a writers workshop for Latinas based in Brooklyn, New York, and has evolved into a web portal and “home” for all writers.
Happy Writing!

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Boogie Board Blogging

Blogging is very much like floating on your boogie board. Dangling your hand over the side leads to the probabilities that you may end up touching something that you hadn’t figured would be there when you first climbed on.  As I continue blogging, new things surface all the time. The trick has been not to drown in the waves of information that overtake me when I’m in the process of floating, er, blogging.

There are countless numbers of blogs out there, just like waves. I want to read all of it, all right, some of it. One cannot blog for interminable lengths of time and never visit another’s blog site.  I have to admit I am curious. I wonder why a particular person has 2359 teeny weeny portraits of people that have signed on to their site. Sometimes the reason is apparent and at other times it’s not. I’m one of those people who will sign up to follow someone’s blog if my heart strings get pulled. I’m not talking about pretty puppy pictures. I’m referring to committing my time to the blogger who has shared some evocative or significant piece on how they view their corner of the planet. The blogger doesn’t have to be sympathetic or even transparent but someone who decided to tell us what is meaningful in their lives and wasn’t afraid to write it. 

Blogs can be about more than one thing. We’re all about many different things. At the recent NYC Blogher/Penguin conference, I was reminded that my voice may sound different dependent on what I’m feeling, experiencing and thinking at various times. That sounded right to me. Sometimes I smile so broadly that I can’t stop even though my face hurts. Other times my apprehensions leave me in a state of preoccupation. I might end up riding an extra stop on the F train because I’m lost in thought. I was going to write G train, but everyone who knows me is aware I don’t ride the G train. If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ve gotten to know me and I hope I’ve gotten to know more about you by reading your blog and “listening” to your many voices. 

I still haven’t figured out how to visit all the blogs I’ve signed up to read. I plan to read blogs on a certain day or time of the week. I may forget or am scheduled for a meeting that I’d better not miss. I try to keep my visiting schedule for others because I know how much I enjoy being visited and receiving comments. Open dialogue is one of the most enjoyable things about blogging.

I’d like continue blog surfing as I do boogie boarding- lying on my stomach, relaxed, with my hands dangling into the lovely sea green waters. When I come to shore and pad along the beach I enjoy picking up little glittering shells, crustaceans and the like. Sometimes I put them back where they belong and other times they beg me to pick them up and take them home. I pick the blogs I read in pretty much the same way. There are those special ones that whisper softly to me and those are the ones that I’ll press the little tab and “Follow” wherever that blogger takes me.

What keeps you coming back to a blog?

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NaNoWriMoWhatDidIGetMyselfInto?

I’m in a panic. I’m sitting in front of my laptop with beads of perspiration forming on my forehead. I’m peeling off the two sweaters I’m wearing because my room is cold but I’m overheated. No, it’s not menopause. I’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo. In fact, I began writing this blog post last Saturday. Overachiever- maybe. Type A personality- probably not. Sometimes I tend to think of myself as having a Type A minus personality type but that’s my internal barometer on a bad day.

A year ago, a friend suggested I take part in NaNoWriMo. I looked at her as though she’d just eaten a spider. She had to be delirious- I almost pulled out the thermometer. But after a year of blogging and becoming a true member of the writing community, I decided I would go for it. Why couldn’t I write 1500 words a day and have a 50,000 word novel by the end of November? It sounds glorious. At that point, my draft will be complete and I will spend December editing, spackling and painting my very new novel. I may put a shingle out or maybe even shutters.

I found the draft a couple of days ago. It’s something I had planned for a mystery that I’m calling Do No Harm: A Daisy Muñiz mystery. I’m getting somewhere with this one. It’s about a murder that takes place in the hospital where Daisy has just received her promotion. I guess you should have read my first Daisy novel, Woman Found, to know how important that promotion was- but that book hasn’t been published yet.

I’ve turned myself inside out preparing for this event.  Well, not really. I’ll still be working 9 hour days with an hour commuting. I did make that appointment for a mammogram on Tuesday evening. We will be having a house full of people over this coming Saturday. Thanksgiving will be the easiest writing day all month. Our good friends invited us over for the afternoon. I’ll try to fit my writing in between the early morning 5 mile Turkey Trot and an afternoon of Turkey stuffing.

My stress level started to rise on the second day. I didn’t have as much free time as I managed to eek out on the first day. This morning it went even higher. But as I was spreading butter on my toast it hit me. I’m only involved in it because I want to be. Not because someone told me I had to or if I didn’t take part in NaNoWriMo I’d lose my driver’s license. I had a chat with some friends the other day about how busy we all are- by choice. We could sit in front of the television watching someone else’s “reality show” or building resentments over someone’s “good luck” over fortune created. It’s an active choice to participate fully in this thing called life.  I’ve decided that whenever my stress level begins creeping up over NaNoWriMo or any other thing that I’ve decided to do, I’ll remember that I made the choice to be fully present in my life. I can handle luxury problems. Life is good? Isn’t it?

Any NaNoWriMo or other luxury problems that you’re handling? Would love to hear about them!

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Keeping it Real

My insides shifted when I heard that Piri Thomas, of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent, was dead today at age 83. Thomas was the author of Down these Mean Streets. Last week I posted my first blog interview with Jason Baumann Montilla who spoke of his interest in literature citing Donald Goines, Iceberg Slim and Chester Hines, African American Authors, and Miguel Piñero, another celebrated Puerto Rican playwright and author. I have to add another- Claude Brown, author of Manchild of the Promised Land.  I was reading all of these authors’ books starting at age eleven.

My family moved out of Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York, when I was fourteen years old. We were trying to survive the death of my sister, who was a few years older than me, to kidney disease by moving out of a neighborhood riddled with drugs, theft and all that came with the social ills of the sixties and early seventies. We hadn’t realized that the move was a very astute real estate operation that would herald the beginning stages of the gentrification of Park Slope. Our new neighbors, in Flatbush, were horrified that I toted Down these Mean Streets into their house when I accompanied my Mom on her visits. How could such a lovely young girl read such awful descriptions of a harsh and terrible world? I read these books repeatedly with a relish. I understood and identified with the writings. No, I wasn’t shooting heroin into my veins nor craps in an alley but I recognized the voices and I understood “the overlying arch,” as my doctoral advisor would say, to a degree I’ve never seen in other books. The authors’ words catapulted my interest in reading to an extent I’ve never again experienced. They told “the truth” as far as I was concerned. They lived life and “kept it real.”

I’ve been writing how the Nancy Drew Mysteries and Cherry Ames Book Series were the staples of my development as a reader and a writer. That’s true. Then there was Joyce Carol Oates- her writings sparked for me a recognition of women’s voices and Julia Alvarez, the voice of the Latina! Yes, yes, yes, all true. But then I read, Ernesto Quinones’ Bodega Dreams and I remembered the voice of the streets- the place that I had not actually grown up in but had grown in me. In my work, I sit countless hours listening to men tell the tales of their lives on the streets. I sit in my office in a men’s shelter on the Lower East Side of NYC. They come in, we talk, they leave. I walk by them on the street at five, having shared something with them that I read about at age 11 and 14 and 16 again. My Pop told me “Those are your people” when we passed them by hanging out at street corners. At first I didn’t know what he was talking about- me a kid, wanting to read my book, as I sat in the passenger seat of his car. I didn’t know that one day I’d be listening to the stories and taking them in heart and soul. I didn’t know that one day I’d be a writer and be the keeper of millions of stories that I’d listened to, one at a time. I’ve been entrusted with a precious gift in what I do, in what has been shared with me and the experiences that have been slowly built within me.

Today, hearing that Piri Thomas had died, a spark that was untended to inside my chest flared up. There is something here that must be recognized. It is the spark of “Keeping it Real” and that is something I will do in my writing and in my life. I will do this in honoring Thomas, Brown, Piñero and all of those energies who chose to see and live life without veils of denial and fear of what “the other” would think. I will use these men as powers of example and vow to do the same.

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Latina/o Mysteries –The Saga Continues

What an eye opener! There was a great response to my last week’s blog on the search for the whereabouts of a good Latina/o Mystery.  Authors, friends of authors and, I’m sure, los primos de authors responded with clues on how to find exactly what I’d been looking for.  My list grows and, if you take a look at the comment sections, you’ll find what a great variety of Hispanic mysteries are strutting their stuff on shelves.

The call came from my informant at the local B&N. My book had arrived. I know that some people don’t trust what B&N’s got to say, but so far he’s been dependable when he sells me my goods.  Cortez and Martinez’ Hit List:  Best of Latino Mystery was waiting for me-hidden behind the counter.

Sure enough, I snuck out at lunchtime and made it to the bookstore to pick up my cache. There was a small book display with a sign heralding Hispanic Heritage month. Five of the usual suspects, I mean authors-none of whom I’d heard from this last week-had books showing on a few shelves.  I took a picture of the meager exhibit with my iphone and then my cell automatically shut off. I don’t know why that happened, it’s never happened before. It may have been some surveillance that alerted an agent to what I was up to.

I slipped my iphone into my pocket and went over to the cashier who asked me my name. Before I answered, I leaned over the counter and saw what I’d come for right there.  The book was concealed in white paper, my name surreptitiously typed on the side. Just as “Varela” rolled off my tongue, we were interrupted. A woman cut across me with her urgency.

“I’m in a car outside,” she said.”I can’t find parking.” I couldn’t help but think she might have been a plant. While she looked harmless enough, she implicated the security who was half hidden behind the stacks. “He said you could help me.”

The clerk wasn’t falling for her story. “Sorry, lady, you’re gonna hafta wait.”

“Excuse me,” she said, “I told you, I can’t find parking.”

“Ma’am…” Beads of perspiration formed on the clerk’s upper lip. “This lady was here first.”

“I need an Italian-American dictionary…and a latte to go with it.” The woman threw her scarf over her shoulders, and then dropped her sunglasses over her lids before stalking out through the double doors.

“Sorry for the distraction.” The young man’s voice scratched, barely a whisper. “Last week she came in asking for a frappuccino and a map.”

After making my purchase, I left. Emerging onto the avenue, I sauntered along with hundreds of other unidentified readers in Park Slope. I can understand the sense of urgency when entering a book store. I must admit I’ve been spoiled. It’s easy getting used to going on-line, picking out a book and having it instantly transported to an electronic device. How many of us would have ever assumed we’d get drive through service. Buying a book has become like going to a fast food restaurant!

Times have changed, and so have I, but one thing I will always love is a good book, whatever the form, to fall asleep to each night. Can’t wait to read my new book! I snuck it under my pillow.

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The Search for Latino/a Mysteries

I’m on the case. After browsing through many mysteries at a very popular bookstore in Brooklyn, I came home and took a picture of one of my bookshelves. I had to prove to myself that there are books written by Latinos. It’s true, there are no Latino mysteries anywhere in my apartment. The lack of them remains to me, a mystery.

I’ve had notions of various mystery storylines taking residence in my brain. I decided to check out some of the more popular Latino/a novels and this is what I found. Unfortunately , not too much! Sarah Cortez and Liz Martinez edited Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery in 2009- published by Arte Público Press. Sunny Frazier, Acquisitions Editor at Oak Tree Press gave it a great mention on her website Murder Circle.  I tried to download the book by Kindle. It doesn’t exist there. I tried to buy it at Barnes and Noble, one of the last bookstores in my neighborhood. It didn’t exist there either. They promised to order it for me. Weirdly enough, one Amazon write up says the reader will be disappointed… A potential reader may not finish that review and move on to something else. But wait! It goes on to say disappointed that the stories are not traditional tales. That does not mean that the stories are disappointing. I’m afraid that as we hurriedly read through cyber reviews that we won’t press the arrow to the next page and miss the opportunity to read a complete and favorable review. 

If my Latino Mystery curiosity attack was strong enough, I might have ridden the train up to Harlem and attempted to find my desired book at the Latino bookstore- La Casa Azul.  I’d like to support this burgeoning bookstore and I will, but after the week I had, my feet found their way home. I’m intrigued by thought of going there and seeing all the wonderful goodies that I’m sure are waiting on bookshelves for me. One blog site aptly named La Bloga does address Latino mysteries. I read about Chicana mysteries and about mysteries set in Brazil. Great stuff. Now, tell me about what we’re doing on the East coast.

When talking about Latino mysteries my spouse and I chuckled as we envisioned the various layers of a Latino/a mystery. We laughed at the thought of a gripping tale written by Latinos, about Latinos, for Latinos. I held my sides, it felt as though they were splitting or was that my pants? Why the laughter? You’ve got to remember that I’m a writer but Latina first. There were a quite few counterintuitive thoughts going on in my head. My first hand knowledge has shown me that some of us Latinos are heavy into denial. My own personal circle would rather uncover lids over pots of arroz con gandules than to delve into facts. Just writing that makes me feel as though I’ve betrayed! Betrayal! Another thing I try not to get caught at. The idea of getting past the bochinche- gossipand interpreting facts, not based on loyalty, is essential to solving a mystery. Inquisitiveness, betrayal, and delving into the unknown are ingredients for my best reads. Getting into the crux of the matter is fine fodder for an excellent mystery but may not be on the agenda of some people I’m in contact with on the daily. I’d love to seek out some good stories- not of the standard telenovela  kind (sorry Abuelita). So, I’ve begun a new chapter and promise to pass on what I’m learning. Now that I’ve ordered it, I can’t wait to receive my copy of Hit list: The Best of Latino Mystery in the mail. I’ll be sharing my thoughts with you about it when I finally get to nestle with it on my pillow at night.

I’m putting the call out here, folks! Let me know of a Latino mystery novel that has kept you spell bound. I want to read the ones I can identify with on this side of the country- and the West too! If you’ve written a Latino/a mystery contact me. Let’s talk! If you’ve been stirred in any form by what I’ve said here, let the world know.

Press comments and share your stuff!

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