The Real Reason the César Chávez Film “Failed” at the U.S. Box Office

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 The Real Reason the César Chávez Film Failed at the U.S. Box Office

The question on every Latino’s mind this week?

Why is the César Chávez biopic, directed by the amazing Diego Luna and starring powerhouse actors Michael Peña and Rosario Dawson, failing so badly at the U.S. box office?

The film had a huge promotional budget and push. Everyone knew it was coming. Yet the film barely made $3 million on opening weekend, according to Deadline. Movie critics from coast to coast have been unanimous is saying the film is dull, boring, quiet.

I’ve seen the film, and it’s very good. So why the paltry reaction?

I have a theory: César Chávez doesn’t fit the stereotype for a “minority” civil rights leader in the U.S. media, so critics missed the point.

In US pop culture the paradigm for “American Civil Rights Leader” always presents such people as being like Martin Luther King Jr. – gifted and passionate orators, cut from the Black Southern Preacher cloth, men (and very occasionally women) who comfortably command a room and are at ease in the spotlight.

César Chávez was a different – but equally effective – type of leader.

Most importantly, Chávez was a leader from an indigenous American cultural heritage, a Mexican American from the Southwest – meaning he hailed from an ancient and noble culture of resistance rooted in quiet Native American concepts of power and leadership.

The United States media and its critics don’t understand this culture; all they see is a “boring” man. This is not because the film failed. It is because the critics are ignorant about Latinos in general, and American Indians in particular.

An article by Linda Van Hamm in the Journal of American Indian Education describes the same issue as it pertains to the misunderstanding by whites of Native American pupils.
In contrast, in American Indian cultures, silence communicates mutual respect and a sense of unity. Reticence and nonverbal forms of communication are greatly valued (Boseker & Gordon, 1983; Hoeveler, 1988; Mitchum, 1989; Sanders, 1987). In the American school system, unfortunately, this communicative reticence often results in American Indian children being viewed as either very shy and withdrawn or as passive, unmotivated, and uninvolved in the learning process (Reyhner, 1992; Yates, 1987).

César Chávez understood this. So did Diego Luna and Michael Peña.

Chávez organized indigenous and Mexican American workers through his quiet power and humility; that’s why it worked. How tragic and unfortunate that American critics have blasted this lovely film for its reserved and taciturn hero.

They’ve missed the point.


Meet the Woman Who is Going to Help Me Adapt The Dirty Girls Social Club for Film

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 Meet the Woman Who is Going to Help Me Adapt The Dirty Girls Social Club for Film

A scene from one of Robin’s other films, Prey for Rock and Roll

Followers of this blog know that I’m in partnership with Marvista Entertainment to co-produce the movie version of THE DIRTY GIRLS SOCIAL CLUB along with me and my own little production company.

For the past few months we’ve been trying to find the perfect screenwriter to join with me in adapting the book to film. We’ve watched tons of movies, read through mountains of scripts.

I am super happy to report we’ve found our writer, and I’d like to introduce you guys to her. Her name is Robin Shushan. She’s brilliant. She studied film, literature and Russian at UC Berkeley. She was a staff writer for The Mob Doctor and recently finished adapting the novel The Contortionist’s Handbook for a feature starring Channing Tatum.

Next weekend, Robin is flying out to New Mexico to hang out with me for a couple of days while we refine our approach to the movie, outline it all a bit, write some pages, and polish the pitch for the big studio we’re meeting with later this month. I want to thank her, and Marvista, for being so easy to work with; for respecting me and my work so much; and for bringing the circus to me here in the desert so that my life is as little disrupted by Hollywood as possible while we make this thing happen.

We’re really doing this, people. Yay!


Demetrio Vigil Book Trailer is Done!

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My beloved future husband Michael Gandy – who among his many talents is a director, film editor and cinematographer – has put together this remarkable book trailer for my most recent novel, THE TEMPATATION OF DEMETRIO VIGIL.

I’d like to thank the crew and cast for helping us with this video. It was not easy, and everyone donated their time to the project out of a passion for the material.

Our star, Heather Nicole, a student at Cibola High School in Albuquerque and an aspiring actress, had to spend hours in the frigid mountain snow; poor girl’s hands were completely frozen by the end of the day, and her jeans steeped in ice water. She was pitch-perfect as Maria Ochoa. So good I get goosebumps!

Our other star, Manzano High baseball star Estevan Romero of Albuquerque, gamely agreed to try acting even though he’d never considered it; his mom, Albuquerque nurse Arlene Romero, is an avid reader who enjoyed the book, and she recommended him to us for the project. We think he did an amazing job!

Ron Weisberg, a truly phenomenal actor and acting coach, not only portrays the villain with evil brilliance, he also helped coach our actors on set.

Kudos, too, to makeup artist Janine Maloney, who did such a great job with Heather’s makeup that Heather’s mom ended up crying while watching the trailer (sorry, Dana!). Thanks to my son, Alexander Rodriguez, for manning the lights, doing the clapper thingy, and holding the microphones.

Finally, special thanks to Ken Romero and the other parents, for driving their talented kids to the far-flung sets, and for standing in the snowy cold as we shot. It wasn’t easy, but it was fun. You guys are the best!


Should You Still Be Friends With Your Ex?

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 Should You Still Be Friends With Your Ex?

As I look back over my entire body of novels, I realize I’ve never written about a woman who is friends with one of her ex-boyfriends or ex-husbands. I mean, I know it’s possible. There are people who manage to pull off the “let’s be friends” thing. I guess I’m just not one of them. It never crossed my mind. I prefer my friends to be people who don’t do things to end up on the ex list. But now I’m thinking it might be interesting territory to explore in a novel, script or short story one day, and I would love to hear your stories about this phenomenon.

(Note: In my most recent novel, the ghost romance THE TEMPTATION OF DEMETRIO VIGIL – still free in e-book for a limited time, see link below – the ghost boy still has fond feelings for his ex, which drives Maria nuts. He says there is “no jealousy on the other side,” and she struggles with this idea. What do you think? Read the book and let me know.)

Nearly half of all people surveyed in a recent NBC.com poll said they try to stay friendly with their exes. But is it the right thing to do? What do the experts say? The answer is, “Yes, you can be friends with your ex, but do it with caution,” and make sure you keep the following tips in mind.

1. You are both over it. You know how it goes. You aren’t over him, so you agree to be his “friend,” thinking that you’re going to win him back somehow. Experts say that if one or the other of you is still hoping to rekindle your romance while pretending to be pals, it’s a recipe for disaster and heartbreak.

2. He’s friend-worthy. If your ex was disrespectful when you were in a relationship, he’s probably not going to be any better as a friend. Choose your friends carefully. Fill your life with people who respect you.

3. You were never really friends to begin with. Let’s face it. Lots of romantic relationships are based on, well, sex. If it was all chemistry and no camaraderie, let it go.

4. Enough time has passed. Time truly does heal all wounds, but if your breakup is still a source of pain for you, you’re not ready to be friends with him.

5. You’re both ready to let the other find love. If you’re both able to truly be happy for one another once you find someone new, you can be friends.

6. Your friendship with your ex doesn’t interfere with your current relationship. Is your partner uncomfortable with your friendship? Maybe that’s because they see a twinkle in your eye that you’re not willing to own up to. If you want to give your current relationship the best shot possible, you might want to move on from the ex completely.

What do you guys think? Can you be friends with your ex? Do you think that being from a Latino culture influences or changes your perspective on this? How do you feel about your current partner being friends with one of his or her exes?

Please note: If you share a child with an ex, you should do your best to remain respectful co-parents with open lines of communication about your child; but this does not mean you have to be ‘friends’.


MFA in Creative Writing = Academia’s Best Ponzi Scheme

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 MFA in Creative Writing = Academias Best Ponzi Scheme

How American MFA in Creative Writing Programs Work

As my last post happily announced, I’ve found a great day job, one that pays me well, where I can make a living as a writer. Unsurprisingly, however, this job is not in academia.

In the past decade, I have written, sold and had published a dozen books. Novels and memoir. I’ve made it to the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists, been a Booksense Pick, had my face on the cover of Time magazine, been interviewed about my writing success on The Today Show and CNN, and was named a breakout literary star by Entertainment Weekly and a woman of the year by Latina magazine. This all came after a decade spent as a literary nonfiction writer (aka staff feature writer) for two of the world’s top newspapers – The Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times – where I was named the top essayist in the nation, and nominated several time for the Pulitzer Prize.

None of this, however, is compelling to any creative writing program at any college or university in the United States, because I lack an MFA degree – you know, a degree in creative writing. A piece of paper that proves I paid a lot of money to have professors with MFA degrees hold my hand while I wrote my master’s thesis, also known as…a novel, or memoir. In other words, it is more important to academia that their creative writing professors have paid an academic institution to babysit them while they write a book than it is to have written a book well enough to actually, you know, sell it to real publishers and readers.

I recently applied for an open position as a professor of creative nonfiction in the creative writing department at the Univ. of New Mexico. Both my parents went to UNM, and my father recently retired after a long career spent teaching sociology there. I’ve been invited to keynote speeches at the school. But I was told by the search committee chairman for the job that my application was “thrown out” without even being looked at, because “you don’t have an MFA.”

Now, let’s think about this for a second. The gig is for a creative NONFICTION writer. Someone who writes literary JOURNALISM, and MEMOIR, and can teach other people how to do it well enough, one assumes, to, you know, get it published. I do have a master’s degree in journalism, from the best such school in the world – Columbia University. The MS in journalism from Columbia closely resembles the MFA in creative nonfiction. And I am local, Latina, a decorated and accomplished writer. I was even a speaker at last year’s Mayborn Conference for Literary Nonfiction – the top such event in the world.

But the search committee at UNM could not see past the MFA requirement to realize that my existing degree and career success in the field were not only equivalent to the MFA, but surpassed it.

It makes you wonder what the goal of the MFA program is. Is UNM (or any other school requiring their writing professors to have MFAs) interested in actually hiring great writers who can teach students how to write literary fiction and nonfiction that will succeed? If so, how can they possibly deny that I have the qualifications they seek? Or are they interested in perpetuating the illusion that real, successful writers are only made in MFA programs such as their own?

My bet is on the latter, which, sadly, only shows you how completely profit-driven our universities have become. It’s as though these institutions fear having aspiring writing students discover the truth – that, yes, you CAN make it as a writer without an MFA; you just can’t make it as someone who is ostensibly TEACHING writers. The MFA in Creative Writing should be renamed, to be the MFA in Teaching Writing to Apsiring Writers Without Having to Prove You Can Actually Write All That Well.

By these standards, Charles Dickens could not have gotten a job teaching creative writing in a modern American university, but an obscure poet with two slim tomes out from an unknown press – but also with an MFA in hand – could. The only person this makes sense for is the one depositing student tuition checks in the bank; it is a complete disservice to the students themselves. These programs are not thinking logically – after all, if they trained writers to actually succeed at writing instead of at teaching, their graduates would likely be in a far better position to donate to the school later in life. Imagine having the next James Patterson or Stephen King passing through your program, only to be told by the MFA-brandishing failed writers that are teaching him that he’s “too commercial” or “not serious enough” to become, you know, a writing professor, and thereby crush his dreams.

Whoops.

In other words, if I’d written my exact same novels or memoir as a master’s thesis for a grouchy professor in an MFA program somewhere, instead of, I don’t know, writing them for St. Martin’s Press, Little Brown & Co., Harper Collins, and Penguin Putnum (where I worked with several of the top editors in the world, some of them even holding – gasp – MFA degrees in creative writing), I would have been at the top of the list for the gig – but without an MFA, I was unqualified.

I’d like to note that when I originally reached out to the head of the search committee for the job, he told me in an email that I had “stellar qualifications.” We know each other casually, and used to take the same step aerobics class. But after he realized my master’s was in journalism (aka creative nonfiction) instead of creative writing, he…threw my application away?!?!

Amazing, ain’t it? The entire MFA in creative writing concept, and the requirement academia places on professorships in writing for such a degree – they’re nothing but ponzi scheme, and an outrageous one. It is as though the entire academic universe is PUNISHING writers who are good enough to succeed at writing and publishing books without an MFA, by refusing to ever hire them for steady day jobs, regardless of their real-world experience and how completely analogous it is the the requirements of the MFA degree.

I think of Berklee College of Music, my alma mater. None of the professors I had there were degree holders. They were musicians. They’d been on the road for 20 years with big bands, or they’d been working studio musicians in LA for decades. These guys KNEW how to teach us to be musicians, because they WERE musicians! There was even a joke at Berklee, where graduates were pitied, because “good musicians never graduate from Berklee, they get record deals their second year in.” The same could be said of writing, or any art form.

Shame on academia for continuing to act as though having an MFA in creative writing made someone a great writer. All an MFA in creative writing means is that someone wrote well enough to get into a program, and then paid a load of money to learn in the classroom the very same things that real writers learn in the halls of publishing houses, and in conference calls and through emails from their editors and agents.

* Note: The head of the search committee, meanwhile – you know, the guy who decided I was unqualified to teach creative writing students as he does – has only ONE book to his name, published FIFTEEN YEARS AGO and ranking in the 2 millions on amazon. That book has garnered exactly SIX reader reviews on amazon in the past decade and a half. Not sure this is the type of success I’d be aspiring to if I were a creative writing student, but, you know, what the heck do I know?

I can’t know anything, apparently, because I lack an MFA.

Also: Only 2 of the 13 faculty members in Creative Writing at UNM are Latinos – meaning they make up 15 percent of the teachers. The student body at UNM, meanwhile is 40 percent Hispanic. You’d think it might make sense….ah, but whatever.


Great News: I Got a Day Job

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Almost 14 years ago, I made the risky decision to leave my high-paying day job as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, in order to find a way to make a living from home. I did this because I had just found out I was expecting my first child, and I didn’t want him to be raised by daycare or nannies. I wanted to be a full-time mom. I decided that writing books was a good way for me to go, and happily for us, it has (mostly) worked out. I’ve done relatively well as an author, but the work has been a constant, stressful hustle – you go project to project as a writer, and, unless you’re Dean Koontz or Stephenie Meyer, never really know whether you will be able to sell the next book or not. While many people view the life of a novelist as romantic, the truth, at least for me, was not quite that sexy. The reality of the writing life has been one of vast financial inconsistency, rags to riches, back to rags, hopes of riches – and while we’ve never starved, we’ve come too close for comfort, and at 45 I can no longer stand the insecurity of it.

My son turns 13 next month, and is growing more independent each day. That little baby who once needed me to hold his head up for him and burp him? He’s now taller than I am, with a touch of fuzz on his upper lip and a voice that grows deeper by the day! He’s thriving in homeschool, where he is mostly self-directed (enrolled in an online school) and about to complete the 9th grade with honors, two years ahead of schedule. At this pace, he will be ready to enroll in college by the time he’s 15 or 16! My son can prepare his own breakfast and lunch, do his own laundry, find his way around town on his bike or on the city bus, is a drummer in a popular teen rock band, and seems to enjoy time spent alone in his room more than family time these days – in other words, I’ve done my job.

I am so proud to have gotten my son safely to his teen years without having set foot in an office, never once having used a babysitter other than a family member. I’ve written and published a dozen books in the past decade, in those brief shining moments when I wasn’t raising my boy. I’m proud of that, too. I did what I set out to do, and here we are. The time went so fast it makes my head spin.

I’ve decided I’m finally ready – and, more importantly, my son is finally ready – to go back to a real job. Financially ready, emotionally ready. I don’t mean to say book-writing isn’t a “real” job, it is. It is more than that, for me, in fact; writing is my calling. But with college costs looming, and then beyond that my retirement years coming for me, being an author seems to be too selfish a job for a woman with so many responsibilities. The flexibility of the author’s life was the silver lining, yes, but the financial and emotional stress of the constant quest to sell the next book was the storm I could never quite get out from beneath. It was exhausting, heartbreaking work, with me writing many more books than I was able to get sold. I’m over the stress of it. Done.

That all said, I am beyond thrilled to announce that as of yesterday I have accepted a position as the Business Development Manager and Grant Writer for the amazing New Mexico engineering and architecture firm Molzen Corbin. I’m honored to have been chosen, and realize I was the most “out of the box” candidate they had to choose from. I am 100 percent behind the mission of the company, and I stand in awe of the beautiful and important work they (we!) do. I look forward to a long and rewarding career with the company, and am super excited to learn all about my new industry, and to be part of a truly remarkable team of self-proclaimed “geeks” who, among other things, have done things like bring clean running water to the Zuni Indian Pueblo for the first time, ever. I’m also honored to be working with Del Archuleta, my new boss, one of the most powerful yet humble businessmen in the state of New Mexico. I look forward to learning a lot from him.

And, no. I’m not going to stop writing. I’m going to be writing for a living with Molzen Corbin, in a focused sort of way, and I will continue to plug away at my own fiction and film writing in a more relaxed and stable way. My new employer is supportive of my book and film stuff, and this is really amazingly great.

Meanwhile, I’m almost done with the rewrite of the epic historical novel, which I will turn in to my agent shortly. We’ll see if it sells. I hope it does. But if it doesn’t, at least I won’t be desperate or depressed and terrified, wondering how to pay the bills. I’ve also got a few last lingering meetings on the DIRTY GIRLS SOCIAL CLUB film, which continues to look promising – but I gotta tell ya, it’s wonderful to not have to COUNT on these things to sustain me and my family anymore, and it’s really exiting to be out shopping for work clothes and thinking about doing a 9 to 5 again. I have missed it.

As for homeschool and the boy? Mike will handle two days a week, as those are his off days. My parents and a hired tutor will fill in another two, and I will have half days on Fridays. I think my son is ready for greater independence, and I know I’m ready for less.

Funny how that works.

Anyway, wish me luck!

 


Let’s Call Prayer What It Is

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 Lets Call Prayer What It Is

I was on the phone with my retired professor dad recently, talking about a potentially fantastic opportunity that seems to be coming my way. Being a loving and wonderful father, he said, “I don’t pray, of course, but I will call on the energy of the universe to come into alignment for you. You should also light a velita to your (dead) abuelita.” [Velita means "candle" in Spanish; and "abuelita" means "granny"]

It was a nice thought, in a way, but it made me sad how hard dad worked to make sure he could still carry the “intellectual atheist” card, in spite of what his heart told him to be true. It also reminded me of all the Facebook comments I’ve been seeing lately on the wall of a sick friend, from our mutual “superior intellectual” friends, saying “sending you positive vibes” or “good energy coming your way.” They are all praying for this lovely person, but so many of them are “too cool” to call it what it is, and go out of their way to find respectable euphemisms.

For years, I was one of the many people out there who were horrified to call prayer what it is, for fear that I’d be labeled “stupid,” as intellectuals are all too willing to do to the religious. I was also afraid to call God what it is, for the same reason – peer pressure from the snooty atheistic elites. I danced around it, using the usual intellectual euphemisms: “the universe,” “energy,” “vibes,” etc.

But then a funny thing happened: I grew up. Author Camille Paglia has a lovely quote about coming to terms with spiritual truths. “Anti-religious sneers are a hallmark,” she says, “of perpetual adolescence.”

I suppose I am accusing my father and others of being perpetual adolescents now, and this is not nice of me. I don’t mean it in a cruel way, though. I mean it in a poignant and compassionate way, because I know the lengths to which I myself used to go to make sure no one could mistake me for a religious person, even though deep down inside God was speaking to me and guiding me constantly and I knew it. When you are raised by anti-religious zealots, the pressure to keep up the snide appearance of cynicism is enormous. It is perhaps one of the most difficult cults to break free of, the cult of atheistic superiority.

When people essentially engage in prayer but go out of their way to make sure everyone knows they’d never be so stupid or ignorant as to, you know, actually pray, it makes me sad. These people, my father included, know that there is a powerful force out there, that there is magic in the world that we cannot explain, that there are spirits all around us. Even science has begun to show that at a quantum level, the mere act of observation will alter the outcome of an experiment; thoughts and feelings are energy, and this energy made manifest in the universe IS prayer. We all know this, intuitively.

We also know, because we are human beings, that we can all connect with this “power,” which I now proudly call God; this is why we “meditate” or “send healing energy,” or whatever. Because we know it’s real, and we know it works.

So why are so many of us still terrified to call prayer by its proper name? Sadly, it is because many of us are still worried that the ruthless “smart kids” of the intellectual atheist cult will make fun of us for believing it openly. Mark my words: They will. They will make fun of us. But here’s the real question: Why should we care if they do?

I pray today that all of those people out there who continue to worry that someone will make fun of them for praying will realize that there is no shame in properly naming this thing. When you call upon the power of the universe to come into alignment, you are praying. When you send positive thoughts to someone in need, you are praying. Every quiet act of positive reflection and love is a prayer, and it is okay to say so. Be brave.

Pray out loud.


Author & Entrepreneur Alisa Valdés Gandy Named Keynote Speaker for Nordstrom Latina Summit 2014

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 Author & Entrepreneur Alisa Valdés Gandy Named Keynote Speaker for Nordstrom Latina Summit 2014

I am pleased to announce that I’ve been chosen as the keynote speaker for this year’s Nordstrom Latina Summit, to be held in beautiful Seattle on September 28.

I will be opening the event, with an hourlong talk.

I’d like to thank Dr. Sandra E. Madrid for inviting me to speak at this amazing event, before 200 women. Dr. Madrid heard me speak to the National Hispana Leadership Institute, which she used to Chair, and enjoyed my presentation so much she wanted to bring me out for the Nordstrom event.

Nordstrom’s Latina Summit is a new marketing strategy that will provide a forum for Latina professionals to highlight their achievements while allowing the department-store chain to better reach out to Latina customers.

Each day-long workshop, held in a Nordstrom store, will include a discussion forum with a moderator, a keynote speaker at lunch and an informal fashion show. After lunch, participants will be free to shop or have cosmetic makeovers.

Information gathered during the discussions will be presented to members of Congress in Washington, D.C., during Hispanic Heritage Month in September.

On behalf of Latinas everywhere, I’d like to thank Nordstrom, a high-end department store chain, for supporting the cause Latina Empowerment. If you are looking for that perfect new handbag or pair of shoes, please consider visiting the Nordstrom website to show them how much you appreciate their support.

 


Author Alisa Valdes Inks Film Deal with Marvista Entertainment (and more)

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lost boys cover 200x282 Author Alisa Valdes Inks Film Deal with Marvista Entertainment (and more)

The past couple of months have been uncharacteristically productive, even for me, and I am excited to be able to share some of the good news about new developments with you.

A NEW NOVEL IS DONE

First, I finally finished writing the rough draft of my 500-page epic historical novel – a big departure from the “chica lit” I became known for but which I am ready to leave behind for now. Called THE LOST BOYS OF HAVANA, this new work is based loosely on my dad’s dramatic early life as the child of one of the meanest, toughest loan sharks in Havana (think Frank McCourt set to Mambo). Lost Boys chronicles my father’s journey to the US with his group of best friends, at the age of 15. They all emigrated via Operation Pedro Pan, a CIA action that brought more than 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban minors to the states in 1961. My agent, Shannon Hassan of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, has the manuscript now, and is about halfway through reading it. Her initial reaction has been to compare it in tone and scope to the works of Gabriel García Márquez, which pretty much made me do the happy dance for about a week straight! Hopefully we will be able to send it out to editors at all the major publishing houses soon. If you are an editor interested in being added to the submission list, please let Shannon or myself know; we’ll be happy to send you a copy.

 Author Alisa Valdes Inks Film Deal with Marvista Entertainment (and more)LALA LIFTS OFF

We’ve finally gotten moving our new literacy nonprofit, Latina Alliance for Literacy Advancement, with our first board meeting scheduled for next month, and the 501c3 paperwork and first grant proposal underway. Please take a look at our website to learn more about us. I am absolutely thrilled about the potential of this organization and cannot wait to get started in earnest with our programs.

 

 Author Alisa Valdes Inks Film Deal with Marvista Entertainment (and more)DIRTY GIRLS SOCIAL CLUB FILM PROGRESSES TO THE NEXT LEVEL

We have made some exciting headway on the Dirty Girls Social Club movie project with our two amazing production partners. Though we can’t name names yet, we HAVE gotten confirmation that a certain kickass, bald, Cuban American pop/rap megastar from Miami will be coming on board as an executive producer for the film. This is such fantastic news! We are also formally teamed up with the amazing Marvista Entertainment for the nuts and bolts of production; I’ve been working closely with them to solicit, interview and select a great screenwriter to adapt the book for film with me – and let me tell you, it has not been easy choosing among them because they are all wonderful in their own ways. I’m going to be coming to Los Angeles in the next couple of weeks to sit down with the team to discuss our next moves regarding the WHERE of it all. There is interest in the project from the theatrical film world, but also from some fantastic cable networks, for both feature film and/or series. All in all, these are great choices and “problems” to have – an embarrassment of riches, though I have yet to make a dime from any of it. icon smile Author Alisa Valdes Inks Film Deal with Marvista Entertainment (and more) Hopefully, that will eventually happen, too. Until then, I toil in poverty, fueled by hopes. Sniff.

 Author Alisa Valdes Inks Film Deal with Marvista Entertainment (and more)THE THREE KINGS COMING TO THE BIG SCREEN?

In case you haven’t noticed already, I adore Marvista Entertainment. They are the world’s biggest producer of made-for-TV movies, and are owned by a very cool dude named Fernando Szew – and if you think his last name is hard to say in English, try saying it in his native Spanish (Fernando is from Mexico City originally). Anyway, I think the admiration and love are mutual, because Marvista has not only teamed up with me on DGSC, they have also optioned THE THREE KINGS: A CHRISTMAS DATING STORY for film. I’m on board as a producer, but won’t be writing it. We’ve found a great writer for the project, named Robin Shushan, who recently wrote a beautiful adaptation of THE CONTORTIONIST’S HANDBOOK, which is in production and stars Channing Tatum. There’s interest in THREE KINGS from TV and also from at least one major film studio. So, again, fingers and toes crossed that it continues to inch forward. It’s looking good. I can’t wait to see who gets cast as Christie de la Cruz. I vote for Jessica Alba. And don’t even get me started on the three hot guys she’s dating – it is RIDICULOUS how many gorgeous guys there are for the roles of Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar! (Yeah, no money other than the small option fee yet for this one, either.)

 Author Alisa Valdes Inks Film Deal with Marvista Entertainment (and more)RIGHT AT HOME GETS THE GREEN LIGHT

You might remember me talking about doing a cooking/talk show for cable television a while back. It has taken a while, but my show finally seems to have gotten the green light from the network, meaning I can also tell you what the network is! The show is called RIGHT AT HOME, and if all goes well it will be airing on the BabyFirst network as part of their “after dark” shift away from programming for babies and toward programming for exhausted parents who are ready to relax and have fun. BabyFirst has 81 million viewers, according to the network, so, you know. This could be really cool. Oh, and the show is likely going to be aired in smaller segments on the Sheknows website, as part of a partnership deal, which would add 1.8 million unique monthly visitors to the potential RIGHT AT HOME audience. The most exciting part of all of this right now is that I will soon have my contract in hand, meaning I can begin to approach cookware, appliance and other companies for goodies. Who knows? Maybe one of these days I’ll even have my own line of pots and pans, with handles shaped like saxophones…or not. Erp. (Still no income yet…)

THE BACK BURNER FOR RICA MAGAZINE

With everything else that has been going on, I just couldn’t justify continuing with RICA Magazine, even though I loved doing it. We simply didn’t have the leverage or finances yet to make a big enough splash with it. This does NOT mean the magazine is dead. I hope to revive it once I have enough sponsor and reader interest to enable us to hire a real staff for the thing. You deserve the best, and I’d rather wait until you can get it.

 Author Alisa Valdes Inks Film Deal with Marvista Entertainment (and more)OH YEAH, I’M ALMOST MARRIED TO THIS VERY HOT MAN

Michael and I have decided that we don’t have enough money to pay for the wedding we want, and we don’t want to wait any longer to make this thing official. So…we are headed to the courthouse next week. Yep. If you’re reading this after March 18, we will be married. So excited! I love this man like you would not believe. We’ve already started wearing our rings, because we feel married, and I’ve begun to change my name on various online sites. I will be Alisa Valdes Gandy, in case you were wondering. What’s not to love about that? I am going to rhyme with CANDY! Whoot whoot!

 

 

 

 Author Alisa Valdes Inks Film Deal with Marvista Entertainment (and more)

ALEXANDER IS ALMOST FINISHED WITH THE 9th GRADE AND HE’S ONLY 12

Homeschooling is going great with our resident genius superstar, Alexander Rodriguez, my beloved son. He has sailed through a 9th grade curriculum, and is just about done with it for the year. Meanwhile, he’s running track for the local public middle school and has his first meet next week. So exciting! He’s also joined a rock band made up of other teens (he’ll be 13 next month, so I think of him as a teen already) that plays twice a week at a very hip teen artspace in downtown Albuquerque. He’s the drummer, and really freakin’ good at it. He’s taller than I am, and gorgeous, and seriously, I could not be a prouder mama.

 Author Alisa Valdes Inks Film Deal with Marvista Entertainment (and more)I DON’T HAVE LUPUS AFTER ALL BUT DON’T GET ALL EXCITED; THE THING I DO ACTUALLY HAVE IS JUST AS SUCKY

Turns out I don’t have Lupus. Or MS. Or RA. Or any of the other common autoimmune diseases. We’re narrowing down on a diagnosis for whatever it is that ails me, and it’s looking like a freaky horrific thing called Ankylosing Spondylitis. Yes, it’s as crappy as it sounds. My spine is disintegrating and fusing together, basically, and my eyes are all messed up. But, you know, other than being in constant pain and going blind, I’m doing great. Hopefully we can start on meds of some kind. The disease is incurable, but they can treat the symptoms, which would be really nice considering that the symptoms suck ass. Apparently, I got this thing through having a gene that humans picked up from Neanderthals, to which I say, “Thanks, Neanderthals. I’m glad you bitches are extinct.”

Whew. Guess that’s all for now. Lots of work getting done, and none of it paying me diddly yet. You just have to hope that if you put enough energy out there, eventually some of it will come back to you in cash. And if not, you know, day job.

xo

 


How White Privilege Continues to Dictate Minority Identification in the United States

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 How White Privilege Continues to Dictate Minority Identification in the United States

My son Alexander has a Mexican American father. No one debates or questions this. After all, my son has brown skin and stereotypically “Mexican” features, and his last name, from his dad, is Rodríguez.

But my son’s father’s family is not as simple as our nation would like it to be. The first time I went to visit my ex-husband’s maternal grandparents (our son’s great grandparents) I noticed an old black and white photograph of grandpa Julian Torres. In the photo, he is a child of about ten, and his long black hair is worn in two shiny braids, one hanging past each shoulder.

“My mom was confused,” he joked. “She didn’t know if I was a boy or a girl.”

But his mother was not confused. She was an American Indian from the area now known as Arizona who, like so many natives “colonized” by the Spaniards before they were conquered by the United States, ended up with a Spanish surname. Somewhere along the way, my son’s paternal family lost most, but not all, of their Native American culture; it was replaced by Spanish, then Mexican, then American norms.

And yet, when we are asked to check the various ethnic and racial boxes on federal and state forms on our son’s behalf, we are only allowed to mark him as “Hispanic” without being questioned. If we were to check the box for American Indian, we would have to “prove” his ancestry. For many Americans of indigenous Mexican heritage (or other indigenous Latin American heritage), proving American Indian-ness is impossible. We might “look” obviously Indian, and even have grandfathers who wore long braids as children, but thanks to cultural erasure committed against millions of indigenous people in North, Central and South America, the United States government insists we just aren’t Indians unless we can somehow “prove” it. This is not done for any other ethnic identity. (Imagine having to “prove” you’re African American by documenting your African ancestry in paper records, for instance, or by proving membership in an African tribe!)

Think about this.

For all other minority groups in the United States, membership is determined based upon physical features, self-identity or the “one drop” rule. If your grandmother was black, you’re black, no questions asked. If your parents are from China, you are Asian Pacific Islander, no questions asked. If you identify as Hispanic/Latino, no questions are asked; you’re allowed. But if you choose to identify as Native American, you must PROVE it.

Why the distinction?

The answer is as simple as it is haunting and sad. Because of Indian sovereignty, there are real financial and legal benefits – expensive ones for the government – that come with an American Indian identity. There is also a sense that American Indians, having had this entire nation stolen from them, are entitled, to some degree, to reparations. The harder it is to prove Indian heritage, the harder it is to claim the benefits that come along with it – and the easier it is for the conquerers to keep what was never theirs to begin with.

There are no real benefits or power for minorities that come from any other minority status. A person’s non-Indian minority status tends to benefit the white majority – which is why it is so easy to acquire.

That a minority must “prove” his or her American Indian-ness, but no other minority racial or ethnic identity, before the government will accept them as such speaks only to the fact that we still live in a country ruled by white privilege. The power structure is fine allowing us any minority identity we choose, so long as it doesn’t cost THEM anything; the second there are benefits, the moment the powerful must relinquish land, money, rights, or power – well, then one’s minority identity must be PROVEN.

Consider, too, the incredible difference between the one drop rule that applies to all minorities other than American Indians, versus the blood quantum rule. In the one drop rule, you are black as long as you have ANY black ancestry whatsoever. You can never STOP being black, no matter how diluted your “blackness” gets. Blood quantum, meanwhile, forces American Indians to prove that they are “Indian enough” to qualify for benefits; in other words, you are assumed NOT Indian, unless you can prove you have enough Indian “blood.”

The underlying message in all of this, of course, is “you’re welcome to claim you’re any minority you want, as long as it means the white power structure benefits from it; otherwise, you better work your ass off to prove it.”

 

 


Six Things I Wish My Hippie Parents Had Taught Me

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 Six Things I Wish My Hippie Parents Had Taught Me

I was blessed, in many ways, to be raised in the 1970s and 1980s by hippie parents. My folks were academics. Socialists. They grew pot in the backyard. Mom played guitar and sang union songs with me before bed. Dad had a photo of Fidel Castro shaking his hand, on the piano in the living room. I never had religion, other than Marxism, and like so many other kids in our social circles, it was clothing and discipline optional much of the time. This all helped to make me a free-thinking, confident and generally happy and creative person.

But now that I am reaching middle age, with a soon-to-be teen son of my own, it has really hit me that there are several basic life skills and strategies that I simply never learned — or, more precisely, that I’ve had to learn now, just before it is too late. Here are five.

1. Get an evergreen and useful college degree instead of a weird one.

To my parents, traditional jobs – you know, the ones that everyone needs someone else to do – were repressive, and harshed one’s buzz. If I’d ever told my folks I wanted to be, say, a lawyer or a dentist, they would have probably cried and wondered where they’d gone wrong for me to sell out in this way.

It never occurred to them, probably because their “square” and boring parents who were doing those jobs often sent them extra money and bought them things like cars, that there was value in being “boring” and responsible.

I appreciate that they supported and encouraged me to “follow my bliss,” but in the end this impractical mindset led to, well, to me now – middle aged, financially struggling, with a weird bachelor’s degree and a nearly obsolete master’s degree, neither of which will help me find a decent job.

2. Go to your local public university. It’s better than you think.

I did well enough in high school (3.7 gpa) that the Univ. of New Mexico sent me a letter, offering me a full-tuition scholarship, as part of its efforts to keep bright locals in the state. I should have taken it, and my parents should have insisted that I do so. That didn’t happen.

What did happen? I bought into the hype that the best colleges were Ivy Leagues, on the East Coast. MAN was I wrong. Some of the dumbest people I ever met were at Columbia.

Meanwhile, lots of people who went to UNM and majored in useful evergreen degrees are doing great, thank you very much. And I’m still struggling.

3. Faith is Important and It’s Okay to be a Christian.

Study after study proves it: Religious people are happier. Atheists love to tell you this is because they’re idiots, and ignorance is bliss. For a long time, I towed that line too, because it was how I was raised and there are few intolerances as unyielding as the one atheists hold towards faith.

Unsurprisingly, my hippie parents were often respectful of non-Christian religions, the more foreign they were the better, but  could never tolerate Christianity in the same way. (I found this to be the case in the Unitarian Church as well, which is one of the many reasons I eventually left it.)

But faith matters. It is hope. It is love. It is awe. It offers refuge, community, support and grace in times of difficulty. It offers communion with something greater than oneself, and is beautifully humbling. Many times in my career and personal life I made massive mistakes due to my arrogance and self-righteousness, things that might have been squashed if I’d had any sort of spiritual/moral education as a child. Even if my parents didn’t believe God was real, I wish they’d given me the choice to make that decision for myself instead of letting me know I’d be shunned if I were ever to be so foolish as to become a Christian instead of, you know, a Hindu or pagan.

* For the record: While my father remains a staunch atheist, my mother returned to the Catholicism of her upbringing when faced with cancer.

4. Respect and love others, even if you think they’re awful.

My parents raised me during a time in American history when it was considered cool to moon police cars, spit on soldiers, and make fun of anyone who didn’t agree with you. This was considered “progress.” I understand why this rebellion appealed to my folks, given how differently they’d been raised. I learned early on that being “in your face” in confrontations was desirable, even cute. I was rewarded for it. I got very good at it. And I have spent many years confronting and battling the world around me.

While I do continue to have a powerful commitment to social justice and equality, I now know that such aims are not best accomplished through combative, insulting, arrogant tactics. Snark is no substitute for diplomacy. One of the most powerful and beautiful things I’ve learned from my faith is to truly love my enemies, to pray for them, to respect them, to honor them as my equals even if we don’t agree. It seems simple, but believe me, it is very hard to love, to forgive, to respect, when you have been raised to detest. But this new approach is a million times more effective, not only in helping others, but also in helping me to feel happier, more at peace and loving.

5. The world owes you nothing. Whatever you get, you will have to earn.

I grew up feeling entitled to say, do and be whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, without regard for the needs of my greater society, friends or family. I felt that I was special, and the world owed me everything I wanted, because that’s what I’d been told all my life. Granted, it is lovely to be supportive and encouraging of your kids. But in my case, I was rarely disciplined and, like so many kids of my generation, told I was wonderful for doing pretty much nothing at all.

None of this prepared me for the real world, where hard work, discipline, compassion, humility, kindness and diplomacy are the keys to success in the personal and professional realm. I have learned these lessons the hard way, through setbacks, failures, public humiliations and attacks. At first, I felt sorry for myself, and wondered why the world was so unfair. But then I came to see my difficulties for what they were – the gentle, direct lessons of a loving God that needed for me to stop putting myself first.

6. Save your money.

Hippie parents often inherit large sums from their “square” parents, who (according to their hippie children) were boring, patriotic robots who repressed themselves by working hard all their lives and saving everything they had. My conservative grandparents went so far as to buy their own cemetery plots and prepay their own funerals, just to save their children the hassle.

The children of hippie parents will not be so lucky; we will inherit nothing, and that means we will have to keep working until we die. Many of us will have to pay for our parents burials. We should not make this same mistake with our own children. We should save, so that we can leave them something when we’re gone.


The Latina Alliance for Literacy Advancement

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 The Latina Alliance for Literacy Advancement I am pleased to announce the launch of my new nonprofit organization, The Latina Alliance for Literacy Advancement. Our mission is to empower Hispanic and other at-risk women in New Mexico to improve their health, employability, well-being and future, by providing free, convenient, culturally appropriate and family-friendly pathways to better literacy and numeracy; and to promote, foster and support women readers and writers in Hispanic and other traditionally under-served and at-risk communities in our state.

Low literacy and low numeracy are the strongest indicators for most social ills, from poverty to criminality, substance abuse, obesity, diabetes and other health problems. We are focusing on Latinas because they are the group most drastically impacted by these problems. For instance, while low health literacy impacts only 8 percent of the non-Hispanic white population in the United States according to the Dept. of Health and Human Services, a staggering 41 percent of Hispanics fall into this category – meaning they are unable to follow common health tasks, such as reading directions on a prescription bottle or properly identifying parts of their bodies.

There is no greater tool we can provide to at-risk Hispanic women and their families (for women are most often the ones raising Hispanic children) than the gift of reading, writing and basic mathematics. Without mastery of these skills, all other life skills are nearly impossible to acquire. As an author and humanitarian deeply committed to equality and social justice for Hispanic women and others, I am honored to be able to utilize my visibility and voice for this cause.

Once we’ve perfected our model and been successful in New Mexico, we intend to branch out across the rest of the United States.

I would like to thank the following three women for volunteering to serve on the founding executive board for LALA: Diane Torres-Velásquez, Chair of the Latino Education Task Force; Associate Professor of Education at the University of New Mexico; Hispanic Education Liaison for the New Mexico Public Education Department; Esther Rivera, board member of MANA de Albuquerque and parent advocate for Rio Grande High School; and Jennifer Gómez-Chávez, Director of Student Academic Success at the Univ. of New Mexico.

We are having our first board meeting next week, and I can’t wait to get started! We are in the initial development phase of LALA, and aim to launch our first literacy programs and literary festival in Albuquerque in 2015. To do this, we need your support. We are actively seeking fiscal sponsors, individual and corporate donors, advisory board members and volunteers.

Please contact me at alisa.valdes@gmail.com if you are interested in being a part of what we do.


FOOLISH GESTURES OF FAITH – flash fiction

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This is a flash-fiction story I’ve written for my writer’s group. It was inspired by a news story I covered years ago as a reporter for the Boston Globe. Hope you like it.

 FOOLISH GESTURES OF FAITH   flash fiction

FOOLISH GESTURES OF FAITH

By Alisa Valdes

My name is Samuel Hilty. I am a dwarf, obviously. I’m announcing it up front so that neither of us will be uncomfortable. I am also a blacksmith, though I was forced to leave my workshop behind when I came here to your house. Thank you, by the way, for opening your doors to me. I didn’t know where else to go.

I am not in costume, so please don’t ask if I am; this is how I dress. Simple black suit, suspenders, white shirt and black hat. The beard is real, and I do not have a mustache. I am comfortable this way.

In the village where I was born and raised I was described with the Old High German word twerg. You Englishers call our language Pennsylvania Dutch, but in truth it is an antiquated German once spoken in Switzerland. There is much you don’t know about my people. For instance, there are many twerg among us. Our founders numbered only 200 souls, and so certain genetic abnormalities – if that’s what you wish to call me – flourish.

In Germanic mythology, dwarfs (or dwarves, both versions are correct) dwell in the mountains, and are wise. I did live in the mountains. You Englishers are saying all over the news that what I did was wise. As you can see, however, I’ve lost everything. Is that wise? It depends upon what shall replace it.

I was not a good Amish man. I was curious about the outside world, unmarried. My nights were not taken up with wives and children, as other men’s were. My nights were dark, candle-flickering suspensions. I was bored. In my boredom I learned who I truly was, and how to keep secrets.

The first secret was Jacob Miller. He is more than just my distant cousin. His overnight visits are – were – my joy. My passion. My love.

The second secret: I had a television.

Amish law forbids us from using electricity. On my only visit to a doctor in town, for an ear infection our home remedies could not cure, I discovered television in the waiting room. Enchanting. It was the most exciting thing I had experienced. I had to have more of it. Before returning home in my horse-drawn buggy, I bought a hand-crank generator and portable, ham-sized used television, smuggled them home, hid them in my bedroom, just as I’d hidden Jacob there so many times.

All day long, as I labored at my trade, I fantasized about returning home, having my supper, and tucking myself away in the closet with the television, to watch your nightly news. The things the Englishers did to one another! Sick. Fascinating.

This is how I came to see the distinctive face of Roy Cartwright on the ten-o-clock news one snowy winter’s night. It was a police sketch, but no other man so closely resembles a starved turkey, and with the Amish beard and lack of mustache, well. I just knew. It was he.

Roy was wanted for murder, for shooting two women as they camped and hiked along the Appalachian Trail, near our village. The police said it was a hate crime, aimed at homosexuals. This word was not in our language. I rolled it over in my mouth like a sweet plum.

Roy came to us shortly after the murder – your wife’s murder – proclaiming his desire to convert. We knew nothing about his life before, and did not ask. I noticed he was always volunteering to slaughter livestock. He also had a slippery way of watching me and Jacob, that raised the hairs on the back of my neck.

Jacob and I are not the only ones of our kind among our people. We were tolerated as long as we did not acknowledge what we were. But people knew. Surely they knew. Roy would know.

And then where would we be?

When the elders found out about my sins – speaking to the police, betraying one of our own, having a television – they asked me to leave. You welcomed me. Jesus said that what we do to the least among us, we do to Him. They say we are sinners. But a sinner would never make such a delicious bedtime cup of tea for a stranger, with hands as mangled and broken as yours. It is funny how we put our hands over our faces when someone points a gun at us, as though that might stop bullets. These are the foolish gestures of faith.


The New York Times and NPR Are Still Clueless About Latinos

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 The New York Times and NPR Are Still Clueless About Latinos

The NY Times continues to pretend Afro Latinos don’t exist.

More than a decade ago, when I worked as a staff writer for two of the nation’s top newspapers (The Boston Globe and the LA Times), I was often disappointed to see my fellow writers and editors using the words “Hispanic” or “Latino” as physical descriptors. They seemed to believe the US Census category of Hispanic/Latino to denote physical, “racial” characteristics, in spite of race itself being entirely a social construct with no basis in genetic or scientific fact, and in spite of the United States Census Bureau itself stating clearly that “Hispanics may be of any race.”

Put in simpler terms, Latin America is as “racially” or physically diverse as the United States as a whole. There is no single “type” or “race” of human being in Latin America, and as a result Latinos are “racially”/physically as diverse as the United States population as a whole — or as the entirety of humanity.

The history of Latinos is the history of the Americas, with the original inhabitants being brown-skinned Native Americans who first arrived in this hemisphere at least 15,000 years ago; the white colonizers coming from Europe a few hundred years back, speaking English, Spanish, Portuguese and French (yes, Spaniards are white); the white colonizers importing black human slaves from West Africa once the indigenous American population was decimated through genocide and disease, with the same slave ships stopping in Havana and New Orleans. Beyond that, people from all over the world emigrated to Latin America, and continue to do so.

A full 95 percent of the African slave trade took place SOUTH of what is now the United States border, with the largest African diaspora population in the Americas being in Brazil. There are 60 million African people living in contemporary Latin America, a black Latino population larger than the entire US Hispanic population. The Spanish of Argentina is lilted in an Italian way because of the significant migration to that country from Italy. Havana is home to a thriving Chinatown. Many Lebanese live in Latin America, including the ancestors of Colombia’s Shakira, Mexico’s Salma Hayek, and Cuba’s Gloria Estefan.

All of these people are Latinos. So imagine my dismay to open the New York Times app on my Android this morning to find an article in the science section containing the following misinformation: “Researchers have identified gene mutations that may explain why Latinos are almost twice as likely to develop Type 2 Diabetes as Caucasians and African-Americans. And in a twist, the quirk can be traced to Neaderthals.” Because this appeared in the NY Times, NPR naturally copied the story as though it were true. Dozens of other publications and news outlets followed suit.

This is pure idiocy.

There are many “caucasians” and “African-Americans” who ARE LATINOS; these groups are not distinct nor are they mutually exclusive. The high rates of diabetes seen among the populations the NY Times considers “Latino” in the United States are most likely linked to those Latinos with Native American ancestry, therefore making the genetic link, if it does in fact exist, a Native American one, not a “Latino” one. (Similarly high rates of Type 2 Diabetes are well-documented among non-Latino Native Americans as well.)

There is no Latino “race” and whenever reputable news organizations such as the NY Times print this lie it serves to further confound an already confused American public by conflating several categories that are not, in fact, analogous.

Why does this matter? It matters concretely every time a non-indigenous person with a Spanish surname goes to a doctor who has read and believed this nonsense, and is misdiagnosed because of misunderstandings of the person’s true genetic heritage. It matters because the perpetuation of this US-based “Latino race” mythology continues to erase the indigenous roots of Native Americans who live in Latin America, and their natural kinship with American Indians. It matters because it erases the history of all those Africans who were brutally forced into slavery in Latin America, people whose culture and customs came to define and inform every aspect of Latin American life. Most of all, it matters because it’s a lie, being printed as “fact” in a newspaper that people trust. It matters because it’s shitty journalism, practiced with no shame at a newspaper that considers itself the best in the world.

Newspaper editors and writers have been watching their industry shrivel up and die for the past couple of decades, trying to figure out why the American populace is so “stupid” that they can’t appreciate “all the news that’s fit to print.” Perhaps these folks should instead take a hard look at the ways their own writers and editors are intellectually failing.

The New York Times is based in a city where three of every ten people are Latinos. Among those Latinos, many are of Dominican and Puerto Rican heritage, meaning they are likely to be of African descent and therefore Latino AND black at the same time. Running a story that presents Latinos and “African-Americans” as mutually exclusive and distinct groups is laughable to anyone from Latin America, and disturbing to any New Yorker who is paying attention to the city’s own people.

In a fast-changing America, where Latinos are now the largest minority group and the largest ethnic group period in many large cities, the New York Times cannot stay relevant if it remains so pathetically ignorant and plain old wrong about Latinos, and it will certainly never be trustworthy while claiming this foolishness to be “science”.


5 Things I Love About Christmas This Year – by Alisa Valdes

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 5 Things I Love About Christmas This Year   by Alisa Valdes

Christmas is my favorite holiday. I think growing up in New Mexico helps to make that so. The magical Catholic masses I used to attend in Belen with my grandmother, the scent of pinon smoke in the air, luminarias lining the churches, homes and driveways, the way snow frosts the tops of the mountains. Christmas really is a beautiful time of year in my beloved home state, and this year is proving to be the most fantastic one yet. Here’s why!

family 300x225 5 Things I Love About Christmas This Year   by Alisa ValdesMichael & Mayeila Gandy, and Alexander Rodriguez. Last year, I got engaged to a kind, gentle, talented man named Michael. We live together now. His daughter Mayeila, 8, is a delight. I love that I have this new family that has joined me and my son Alexander, 12. Some of the happiest moments of my life have been spent doing things like playing Jenga or building jigsaw puzzles with our beautiful little family. This will be our second Christmas together, and I love them!

 5 Things I Love About Christmas This Year   by Alisa ValdesOur House in the Mountains. Growing up in Albuquerque, I always dreamed of one day moving just outside of the city, to the East Side of the Sandia Mountains, and now, we’ve done it! I love our gorgeous house in the mountains. It is my dream house, and every day that I wake up here, surrounded by the quiet beauty of nature, I feel energized and fortunate.

 

Karol Ibarra. My father has spent many years of his life alone, from the time he lost his mother to leukemia when he was 9 years old. Finally, in his seventh decade of life, he met a bright, loving genius of a woman, a linguist from Guadalajara. Their marriage, just three years old, has been great for my dad. I’ve seen Karol’s patient love heal my dad in so many ways. She is a blessing in our lives and I’m proud to call her my stepmother, even though she’s younger than I am. icon smile 5 Things I Love About Christmas This Year   by Alisa Valdes

DSCF1261 300x225 5 Things I Love About Christmas This Year   by Alisa ValdesTopaz. I’ve had my loyal, trusty canine companion for 7 years now, and she is about 14 years old. I love that I get at least one more Christmas with her. Her muzzle is going white, and it takes her a little longer to sit down than it used to. But she’s still the most noble soul I’ve ever met, my best friend, an empathic, sensitive, loving creature. She is not just a smart dog, but seemingly a wise one. I learn so much from her, namely how to be happy with the simple things in life — the sun on your face, a cuddle, fresh water after a walk. Of all the teachers I’ve had, this amazing dog is the best.

 

 5 Things I Love About Christmas This Year   by Alisa ValdesLisa Gandy Hettick. Michael has been researching his absentee father, and discovered that he has a beautiful half sister in Texas. Like Michael, Lisa also never knew their biological father. In spite of their biodad being an irresponsible jerk, these two siblings have now found each other as adults, and Lisa is coming to spend the holiday with us this year! We are thrilled to meet her and to welcome her into our family. Love is so much stronger than indifference. Let the healing begin.


Bestselling Author Alisa Valdes Signs With Shannon Hassan at Marsal Lyon Agency

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 Bestselling Author Alisa Valdes Signs With Shannon Hassan at Marsal Lyon Agency

Shannon Hassan, my new literary agent! Yay!

I’m very excited to announce that I have signed on with a new literary agency for representation, and even more excited to tell you that it is the prestigious Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.

Shannon Hassan is my agent, a contracts lawyer educated at George Washington and Harvard Universities. Shannon is also a former acquisitions editor for Fulcrum Publishing, and lawyer for Warner Literary Group.

What really sealed the deal for me was that Shannon is based in Colorado and loves stories about what she calls “the new West.” As a native and passionate New Mexican, I appreciate that! She lives in Boulder, Colorado, where she sits on the board for both the Publishers Association of the West and the Boulder Writing Studio.

I’d like to thank Marsal Lyon and Shannon Hassan for believing in me, and for teaming up with me to get to the next level in my writing career!


What True Diversity Looks Like

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 What True Diversity Looks Like

Mangos are not exotic in much of the world.

I was in the grocery store the other day, and spied a segment of the produce section that was labeled “exotic fruits”. There were mangos, papaya, plantains, guava and other fruits there, segregated from everything else and designated by the store’s management to be Other.

I remembered the story my father always liked to tell me, about the first time he ever ate an apple. He was 15. My father, you see, grew up in Havana, Cuba, where mangos, papaya, plantains and guava were the normal, boring, everyday fruits. There was so much mango in Havana that kids got sick of it. Not until my father emigrated to the United States at the age of 15 had he ever seen a real apple. He’d read about them, in Mark Twain novels, and he’d imagined them to be wonderful things. So shiny and red. He will never forget that first bite of the exotic apple, and how sweet it was.

The United States, at least the dominant culture here, has a tendency toward narcissism in assigning designations of Otherness, in everything from fruit to human beings. Nowhere was this more obvious to me than when I worked in newspapers, where white editors thought they were being inclusive and “diverse” by publishing stories about “minorities,” while constantly point out that they were minorities and different and special and other  — in other words, not the default “regular” human beings, but somehow alien. But people like my father, a Cuban raised in Cuba, do not consider themselves minorities or feel less-than, it simply isn’t part of their psychological makeup, and we will never have a true “diversity” until those in power in the media understand this. Diversity does not mean stocking mangos and calling them exotic; it means realizing that to some people, apples are exotic and mangos are normal.

As I survey the TV and film landscape, I note that the modern US entertainment industry is a lot like the fruit section at my local Whole Foods. The “exotics” are there, but they are segregated and deemed Other by the management, given heavy, ridiculous accents, exaggerated and stereotyped, always shown from the dominant perspective and never from their own. This isn’t real diversity, and that is why such efforts routinely fail. Such “diversity” is nothing more than the same old paradigm, “generously” allowing for the existence of the Other, without ever allowing them to be presented as authentically American or mainstream.

True multiculturalism is empathetic rather than narcissistic, and allows for the fact that to the mango itself, mango is not exotic. To the Cuban, mango is boring and average. If you are presenting mango and Cuban as exotic and other, you will never connect with the Cuban himself because you have failed to understand how it feels, what it means, to be Cuban.

True diversity has never been achieved in this nation’s news and entertainment media, and it never will be — not until we realize that it’s not enough to allow “others” into the room or onto the screen or into your articles as YOU see them; you must selflessly allow the Other to own her own reality, and also tell the stories, write the labels, and name reality from a new and non-exotic (to her) point of view.





Do I Consider Myself or Want to be a Latina or Not?

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Interesting day.

Today on Twitter, a self-described lawyer in very high heels, named Jennese Torres, began attacking me after The Huffington Post’s Latino Voices section linked a piece about me from Hispanic Business Magazine, about the talk I gave in El Paso over the weekend, in which I talked about the woeful state of film roles for Latinas in mainstream Hollywood, and how I am doing something about it with my film company, Valdes Entertainment Enterprises, LLC, as we adapt THE DIRTY GIRLS SOCIAL CLUB for the big screen.

Picture 2 Do I Consider Myself or Want to be a Latina or Not?

 

 

 

 

How would I know what the problems are that Latinos face, she said, because I supposedly don’t want to be classified as one. When I tried to tell this woman she was incorrect about me, she told me she had interviewed me years ago and I had said this to her. Seeing as I don’t believe it and never have, I was confused. I did not remember meeting her, or being interviewed by her. So I googled the name of her online magazine “La Diva Latina,” and tried to jog my memory. Nothing. So I asked her for the link. She did not provide it and said she didn’t write down any of what I’d said. She went on inventing a conversation that never took place, defaming me on twitter:

Picture 3 Do I Consider Myself or Want to be a Latina or Not?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t want to attack this woman. I think she honestly means well, and that she and I probably have more in common than we don’t. I also think she, like a few other people I’ve come across in the past 10 years, did not listen carefully enough to what I said to actually understand it and subsequently grew defensive and began to attack me for “believing” something I do not believe. So I am going to repeat it here, in hopes that seeing it in print might help her to see where I’m coming from.

1. I am a Latina. Of course I am. I am the daughter of a Cuban immigrant father, and a mother whose complicated family tree first sprouted its roots in what is now New Mexico in the 16th Century when they came here with a land grant from the King of Spain. I am bilingual in English and Spanish. I am at LEAST bicultural, a Cuban American from New Mexico. I am also of Irish, English, French, and Native American extraction. Mostly, I am human. Just like you.

2. I have a Latin American view of Latino-ness, rather than a US one, which is to say that I understand that Latin America is a vast, diverse and complicated place made up of people from a variety of racial, ethnic, religious, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds as diverse as the United States as a whole, if not more so. As such, I bristle at simplistic definitions and expectations of people from Latin America or their US-born offspring and descendants. This doesn’t mean I’m ashamed to be Latina. It means that to me “Latina” is an extremely broad category encompassing dozens, maybe hundreds, of distinct cultures.

3. None of this means I “don’t want to be classified as Latina”. It means that I don’t like the overly simplistic and sloppy way most Americans use the term “Latina”. I am a Latina. Of course I am. What I resist is the notion that being a Latina (or any other ethnic or racial label — be it white, black, gay, a male, whatever) means I, or any other human being, should be predictable or fit into any box. When I wrote my first novel, it was with one goal in mind: To show that the word “Latina,” to be used correctly, must be synonymous with HUMAN BEING.

4. I am an American writer, just like any other writer born and raised in the United States. People like Ms. Torres think that by saying I am an American writer I am somehow denying my Latino heritage. Yet they amazingly never seem to have a problem with a writer like Mark Schlabach being an American author with no other ethnic assignment, even though his name and perhaps heritage is extremely German. I am not denying my heritage any more than Mark Schlabach denies his. Rather, I am expanding the default notion of who and what gets to be considered American. It is a fact: I was born in the United States, and am a US citizen who writes in English, my first and dominant language. Why shouldn’t a woman named Valdes be an American writer? Sadly, I am trying to fight marginalization for myself and all Latinas, but Ms. Torres seems to have so deeply embraced the marginalization that it is central to her notion of a Latino identity. She thinks “Latino” and “American” are somehow mutually exclusive; I think they are harmonious, and that I have a right to be both.

5. I resist labels when they marginalize people, and embrace them when they empower people without marginalizing other people. When I bristle at seeing an article that lists a bunch of other writers by just their names, and then singles me out as “Latina writer Alisa Valdes,” it is not because I am ashamed to be a Latina or that I deny it. It is, rather, that I am disturbed by a media that thinks it is important to label one group of people by their ethnicity, but not another. This disturbs me because of the dangerous subtext of such decisions. The subtext says, clearly, that the unlabeled are the default, or “real,” writers, while the labeled person is ancillary and exceptional somehow. It is an insult to our entire community to have this double standard in play. I seek consistency in labeling of human beings, and consider the rationale, the kneejerk reason people do it. Why do some reporters or bookstores label minorities by their ethnicity and skin tone, and what consequence does that segregation have? Usually, these actions are taken to MARGINALIZE a writer. It is also done to women writers in general. I often talk about this, and people often misunderstand what I’m saying. I am not saying I’m ashamed to be Latina; I’m saying I’m ashamed of a society that feels a need to marginalize me because of it. I am as good as any other writer, and I’d like a place at the table with the rest of them.

My feeling about ethnic labels can maybe be best understood through analogy. Imagine the consequences of being called a “funny Jew” by Hitler, versus being called a “funny Jew” by Larry David. One marginalizes to the point of death. The other empowers and embraces. Thus it is that I am disturbed when, say, the NY Daily News calls me a Latina writer in order to write a piece saying I suck because I want to give the “third world chick lit” (yes, they did this) because they marginalize me and diminish my audience and livelihood in the process, for no real discernible reason. Yet at the same time I love it when Latina magazine calls me a Latina writer, because the publication and its readers KNOW what that means, they understand the diversity and complexity and humanity of us.

Ms. Torres makes a lot of assumptions about me, and they are false. She has taken the most simplistic and ridiculous interpretation of my philosophy, and made it into her own worst nightmare, needlessly. My work, all 14 books I’ve written in the past 10 years, speaks for itself. I write about Latinas, because I am one. I write about complex human beings, because I am one. I do not resist writing about or being Latina; I resist being stereotyped and marginalized as the result of this. They are not the same thing.

The Chicago Tribune started all of this, 11 years ago, when they used only half of a quote I gave in an interview. Patrick Reardon asked me how I felt about being called a Latina writer. I told him I felt great about it, when it was done from a place of empowerment, but that when I was included in a long list of other American authors, and singled out at the end as somehow “different,” then I didn’t like it. All the reporter quoted was “I barf to be called a Latina writer,” and this quote has stuck. It sucks. It is inaccurate, and stupid, and I am deeply sorry that it has hurt people like Ms. Torres who feel that I have somehow found her repugnant and tried to distance myself from the communities that I come from and love.

I am not ashamed to be a Latina writer; I am ashamed that so many people think this is remarkable. I am not ashamed to be a Latina; I am ashamed that so many people think this makes me predictable. I am not ashamed to be a Latina, and it has been my life’s work to empower Latinas through my books and, now, my films. Period.

I hope this makes sense to Ms. Torres.

 


Adverbs Are Evil

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Today’s writing post has a simple message: Adverbs are evil. 

Adverbs, those “ly” words used to describe verbs, should be used sparingly (as in: sparingly, adverb) if you want your writing to flow smoothly. Why? Because if you’ve taken the time to choose just the right verb to describe an action, you probably don’t need the adverb to further clarify it. Gratuitous adverbery and lazy verb selection confuse readers — or at least they confuse me.

Obviously, you need adverbs sometimes. Some verbs don’t have enough alternatives. Take “blink.” I have tried, many times, to come up with a word to describe someone closing their eyes slowly, but there doesn’t seem to be one in the English language. So I’m forced to write “shut her eyes slowly,” or to come up with some other way to describe it. Her eyelids dragged across her eyeballs. Nah. “Drag” sounds too painful and resistant. Her eyelids crawled to a close. Horrible! Creepy! Best to just use “slowly”.

Much of the time, you don’t need adverbs. I’m thinking about the mom I saw at the pool in my neighborhood the other day, who, upon seeing both her sons sprinting near the edge, cried out: “Walk, you douchebags! Don’t fucking run!” No adverbs. She could have shouted, “Move more slowly, idiot progeny,” or “Run far less quickly, you wildly simpering morons,” but she didn’t. That’s because human linguistic instinct wants us to get to the point. It is a rampant and unfortunate cultivated writerly-ness, in the hands of bad writers, that seeks to clog up our sentences with the garbage of adverbs.

I was reminded of the evils of adverbs yesterday, when I downloaded one of the top-selling romance e-books in the nation, just to see what all the fuss was about. This book — I won’t say which one it is because I’m trying to be nicer these days — is unreadable for me. Adverbs abound — as do the passive voice and cliches. (We will get to those on this blog soon.) I find myself screaming at the page: Pick a different verb! Stop making me do all the mental work for you! Buy a thesaurus!

And yet, this is one of the top-selling books in the nation, which brings us to my final and somewhat depressing point of the day: My advice must be taken with a big-ass grain of salt. Write as well as you can, but it seems you don’t have to worry too much about it because, in the end, the general reading public doesn’t care much about writing as a craft anymore.

See, the reading public, what little of it there is left, seems to just want a compelling story, told well enough to understand. (See: Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray.) 

New rules: Bad writing and a good story will still sell. Bad writing and a bad story will not sell. Good writing and a bad story won’t sell, either.

Best rule: good writing and a good story, such as one finds in a Dean Koontz novel, will both sell and be fun to read, at every level.

*Please contact me via the contact page if you are interested in one-on-one writing coaching.



Girls’ Night In

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big girlsnightin Girls Night InGirls’ Night In (featuring Alisa Valdes)
ISBN-13: 978-0373895397

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The USA Today bestselling collection from 21 of the hottest female writers around

In this must-have short-story anthology, Jennifer Weiner revisits one of her Good in Bed characters (and tells the story from, ahem, his point of view), Jill A. Davis (Girls’ Poker Night) offers a darkly humorous take on starting over in New York and working with “the Elizabeths,” Sarah Miynowski (Milkrun) tempts fate (and an on-again-off-again boyfriend) and Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez (The Dirty Girls Social Club) considers how different the words lady and woman are when paired with cat. Girls’ Night In features stories about growing up, growing out of, moving out, moving on, falling apart and getting it all together. So turn off your cell phone and curl up on the couch; this is one Girls’ Night In you won’t want to miss.

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Girls’ Night Out

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ISBN-13: 978-0373895793

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25 stories from the hottest female writers on the scene

Too tired to doll up and head out for a night on the town? (It happens to the best of us.) Just dip into this year’s must-read collection for a Girls’ Night Out to remember and indulge in tales of reunions and weddings, sisters and friends, endings and beginnings . . . No waiting in line, no wardrobe malfunctions, no jockeying for position as you try to catch the bartender’s eye. With a lineup of fantastic writers like Meg Cabot (The Boy Next Door), Emily Giffin (Something Borrowed), Kristin Gore (Sammy’s Hill0, Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus (The Nanny Diaries), Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez (The Dirty Girls Social Club) and Lolly Winston (Good Grief), you’ll be hanging with the VIPS all night long!

Net proceeds to benefit War Child and No Strings

Other fabulous writers featured: Jessica Adams, Cecelia Ahern, Maggie Alderson, Tilly Bagshawe, Elizabeth Buchan, Laura Caldwell, Lynda Curnyn, Kathleen DeMarco, Nicki Earls, Imogen Edwards-Jones, Robyn Harding, Lauren Henderson, Marian Keyes, Chris Manby, Carole Matthews, Anna Maxted, Lynn Messina, Sarah Mlynowski, Pamela Ribon.

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Maybe Baby

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ISBN-10: 0060737824

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To breed or not to breed? That is the question twenty-eight accomplished writers ponder in this collection of provocative, honest, soul-searching essays. Based on a popular series at Salon.com, Maybe Baby offers both frank and nuanced opinions from a wide range of viewpoints on parenting choices, both alternative and traditional.

Yes: “I’ve been granted access to a new plane of existence, one I could not have imagined, and would not now live without.” —Peter Nichols

No: “I can sort of see that it might be nice to have children, but there are a thousand things I’d rather spend my time doing than raise them.” —Michelle Goldberg

Maybe: “As we both slip into our mid-thirties, my own personal daddy dilemma has quietly taken on an urgency that I frankly didn’t expect.” —Larry Smith

From infertility to adoption, from ambivalence to baby lust, Maybe Baby brings together the full force of opinions about this national, but also intensely personal, debate.

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The Temptation

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ISBN-13: 978-0062024206

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*** THIS IS THE HARPERCOLLINS VERSION OF THE TEMPTATION OF DEMETRIO VIGIL ABOVE ***

His touch was electric. His eyes were magnetic. His lips were a temptation. . . .

But was he real?

Shane is near death after crashing her car on a long stretch of empty highway in rural New Mexico when she is miraculously saved by a mysterious young man who walks out of nowhere. She feels an instant energy between them, both a warmth that fills her soul and a tingle that makes her shiver. But who, or what, is he? For the first time in her life, she believes in the term “soul mates”—Travis is her destiny, and she is his. But she soon discovers that Travis is dead and strict rules govern kindred spirits of different dimensions. Even a kiss could destroy both their souls. And while Travis is almost impossible to resist, temptation proves to be the kindest enemy they encounter.

In this part romance, part supernatural thriller, true love discovers it may not be able to surpass all—especially the power of pure evil.

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The Feminist and the Cowboy

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ISBN-13-978-1592407903

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The bestselling author of The Dirty Girls Social Club returns with an engrossing memoir about how falling in love with a sexy cowboy turned her feminist beliefs upside down.

From their first date the Cowboy makes her pulse race, and she discovers that “when men… act like men rather than like emasculated boys, you as a woman will find not only great pleasure in submitting to them but also great growth as a person.”

Told with plenty of humor and candor, The Feminist and the Cowboy will delight the many readers who made The Pioneer Woman a bestseller—not to mention every woman who dreams of being swept away by a rugged cowboy.

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Lauren’s Very Dirty Chapter

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ASIN: B007TBBUXE

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The X-rated final chapter of book 3 in the series The Dirty Girls Social Club. This chapter was kept separate from the main book, Lauren’s Saints of Dirty Faith, because of its X rating, in order to allow readers to choose whether or not to read it.

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Billy, the Man

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ISBN-68-123456789101

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In this short, steamy romance, Megan Garcia returns to New Mexico from Texas, to be with Mama Bryant, the loving and now dying ranch-owner who raised her as one of her own, when she was orphaned. Heartbroken by Mama’s illness, Megan finds herself still secretly in love with Billy, Mama’s only son, who was 16 when Megan moved in with them at age 9 — only now they’re both grown up, and Billy, still every bit the sexy bad boy he always was, isn’t ignoring her anymore.

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