He Ain’t Nothing But a Shell Game


His shells they move back and forth fast and faster slight of hand quick of draw he smiles and confuses and knows that two of the three are empty two of the three are empty two of the three are the ones you will most likely point to and he will flip them up flip them up flip them upside down like drained half walnuts empty empty empty like his chalk outlined soul his mama beat it outta him you can’t blame you and you can’t blame him but this ain’t about blame it’s about get the fuck out before it kills you and the blank socket blind socket of the shell you picked will stare up into your face and you will drop down inside your sternum like a terrified and disappointed trapped woman on a roller coaster and aren’t you aren’t you isn’t that exactly fucking exactly what you are and he’s the captain of that crazy train he’s the motherfucking one who ups you downs you mostly down yes down down down and empty sockets drained walnuts the meat of them carved out and given away to his mama long ago she took his souflesh and left a pretty shell the shell the shell just that illusion baby there’s nothing to him but a game a pea you break yourself to find underneath those shifting magician’s hands you train your eye to follow his every move thinking this time this time this time you’ll figure out how to capture his heart but didn’t you notice didn’t anyone tell you didn’t you realize that a small hard bean of a heart is not a heart at all but a pebble so hard so dry so empty that it will never grow not even if you water it every day with the spout in your eyes just fucking let go

Bestselling Albuquerque Author Alisa Valdes at Bookworks with Jon Marcantoni Tonight!

Dude. I am so excited. This really good (and, okay, kinda hot) poet from Colorado, named Jon Marcantoni, is at Bookworks in Albuquerque tonight, reading from his new novel, KINGS OF SEVENTH AVENUE, and he invited three local authors to join him to read from their stuff. I am lucky enough to be one of the writers he requested. What kind of guy does THAT? And a writer, no less? Most guys and writers are insufferable egomaniacs. And guy writers are especially insufferable egomaniacs. Not Jon, though. He’s all about community and sharing. He’s a badass babyfaced Boricua brilliance brimming with benevolence. No, for realsy.

So, like, if you ain’t gots nothing better to do, please come down to Bookworks on Rio Grande Blvd. at 6:30 p.m. this evening to hear Jon, me, Ebony Isis Booth and Rowie Shebaulin doing whatever the hell it is we do. Jon is an actor who performs his novels with audience help. Isis is a brilliant poet and creator of Burque Noir. Rowie is a national slam poetry champ. And me? I was gonna read from PUTA but then my son decided to come and so, yeah, nah. I’ll be reading from my NM teen novel THE TEMPTATION OF DEMETRIO VIGIL, which looks like it’s headed to a big streaming network for series soon but I can’t say which one because I haven’t signed anything yet.

Pretty sure I will be the least charismatic and animated person there. And I’m a crazy Cuban. So, you know. That’s saying a lot. Love this town. Love these writers. Love you guys. Come see us!


If Topaz Could Talk

(My beloved dog Topaz is about four million years old. No one’s sure just how old, but probably around 18. This is how I imagine her morning monologue goes.)


I’m on the floor. Next to the wall. This is a bed, supposedly. But look at it. Thin and really, just not good. That’s a real bed, right there.

The queen is still asleep in it. How I love her.

James, though. He’s up there. On the bed. He should know dogs aren’t allowed on the bed. I hate him. He is very bad. Very bad. Bad, bad dog.

The queen tries to make me go up there sometimes. She says “Up! Topaz, Up!” I go but I hate it. I feel guilty. See, I learned a long time ago, from someone else. No dogs on the bed! Bad things happen, very bad things.

Dogs, no.

And that James. He is a terrible dog. Just terrible. His tail is too long and he only wags it when he’s mad. The noise he makes isn’t even a dog noise. It’s like he’s dying. Mrwreowr. Whatever!

And those birds he brings home. And mice.

No dog eats mice.

Look how he’s staring at me. Smug, stupid, tiny dog with triangle ears. I think I’ll kill him. Or maybe I’ll just yelp a little and start to whine.

Oh, that did it. The queen is up.

“Shut up, please,” she tells me. She puts the little dog bed over her head.

James stares at me. Contempt. It goes both ways. I hate him.

Maybe today is the day he will die.

3 Times the Adaptation Was (Way) Better Than the (Chick Lit) Book

If you’re an author with aspirations of seeing your work adapted for film or TV, people love to look at you like you’re a sad puppy. “Oh, but movies are never as good as the book,” they say. But is that really true? Happily, no. There are many cases of exactly the reverse, from Jaws to the entire James Bond assembly. I can think of at least three times in recent history that the screen adaptations of books in my own genre, “commercial women’s fiction,” were significantly better than the books they were derived from.


The 2003 novel, by Lauren Weisberger, was unreadable for me – bloated with passive voice, scarred on every page by cliches. The story beneath the awful writing, however, was good. This happens, sometimes. Good story, atrocious writing. Actually, it happens…a lot. The adaptation by screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna unraveled Weisberher’s threads, and stitched a great film. Add excellent performances by Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway, and you get a movie exponentially better than its source material.




Though more readable than THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, the 1996 novel BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY by Helen Fielding is still a clumsy hunk of prose. The film adaptation, co-written by the author and screenwriters Andrew Davies and Richard Curtis, creates more tension and higher stakes than the book, and an agile performance by Renee Zellweger (it earned her an Oscar nomination) makes the movie soar miles above the book.


Even though NPR, the NY Times and most other guilty-white-liberal media loved the 2009 novel by Kathryn Stockett, I found the “black” voices to be annoyingly stereotypical in that golly-gee-whiz-we-pity-the-coloreds white-privilegey way. All I saw in that book was Stockett, being “generous” to the poor, poor, unidimensional negrahs, who fit Spike Lee’s brilliant “magical negro” paradigm like a dainty white hand in a lacy lady’s glove. The film, however, transcended that claptrap almost entirely because of a defiantly human performance by Viola Davis, who won the Oscar for it. Davis elevated her character beyond the pitiable paper cutout Stockett created, and made her fully a person.

An Open Letter to My Son’s Stepmom

url-8Dear Alana,

I admit, I used to hate you. With the heat of a million suns, I hated you. The first moment I saw your photo on your Facebook page, and figured out who that pretty girl with the big brown eyes was to him, the love of my life (or so I believed at the time), I hated you.

“Why?” I asked him. “Why her and not me?”

“She’s nice,” he said, simply. Most of the exes, upon finding the next woman to love, have sought the same thing. I wasn’t nice, then. No, I wasn’t. I can see that now. I couldn’t then, even with him being so clear. She’s nice. He wanted nice. And I hated you.

I hated losing him to you. But even more than that, at the start, I hated that you were going to meet my son. My son, who I never wanted to come from a broken home. I never wanted my son to have another mother. I hated you.

But life moved forward, unconcerned with my feelings. You moved in with him. You married him. You met my son. I cried myself to sleep alone. Then I picked not one bad man to fill that hole left in my life when my best friend chose you, but two, then three, sliding toward the center of my destruction, pulled along by the gravity of despair.

Slowly, slowly I got over him. But sending my son to you was still a knife to the gut. You were outgoing, fun, always happy, never took things personally, measured in the way you spoke, smarter than I’d realized, funny as hell, kind to others. You sang karaoke. I was never going to be the girl who did that. I was the one in the corner, drunk. You were the one onstage, who knew everyone’s name, who cared about everything and meant it.

My son, at first, said nothing. He did not want to give the appearance of liking you, because he knew I hated you. I never said it, but children can read the inner workings of their mothers’ minds from the slightest lift of an eyebrow, the tiniest tightening of the mouth. Over time, he’d come back from his weekends with you guys, and he’d be happier than when he’d left. You did normal things with him, barbecues with your large and loving family, whereas my family was tiny and not prone to interacting with one another. My son began to feel a pride in having stepsisters, as he’d always wanted siblings and was never going to get them from me. I met your daughters, and they were beautiful, kind, intelligent.

I saw from afar, at the basketball games and other events, that you made him happy, my ex. Happier than he’d ever been with me. I saw that you two loved each other as though you were born to be together. I was finally over the anger and I could genuinely be happy for him. And for you.

You were never anything but polite to me. You were kind to me, even when I was mean to you. He was right, of course. You were nice. You were organized. You always paid your bills on time. You were responsible, far more so than I. I began, to my surprise, to like you.

It began to be more comfortable to co-parent with you than it was with him, because, well, because you are nice to me and he isn’t. I realized, as I got to know you, just how admirable you were, taking care of your mother and grandmother, holding your family together, being a good friend to me and others, being gifted, brilliant really, in the realm of emotional intelligence, the one area in which I was not smart. I began to study you, to learn from you. I looked forward to sending my son to spend time with you, because I realized you genuinely, truly loved my child. You loved him, because you truly loved his father.

I realized, with a shock, that the more people in the world who loved my son as you did, like a mother, the better for my son. And that was all I wanted, in the universe. That my son be loved. I realized that sometimes those things that we think are the worst events in our lives, like a husband leaving you for someone nicer than you, are actually the best things to happen, in the long run. My son’s world got bigger, and warmer, when you came into it. His family grew. The circle of people who would be around to love my child once I was gone got larger, his safety net, bigger. I didn’t hate you at all, anymore. In fact, I didn’t just like you. I was starting to love you, like a sister.

What made me love you was that day at the baseball game. It was chilly out, and the game was long, too long for parents sitting towards the setting sun. I’d brought the coffee for us, from Starbucks, and you? You’d brought the kahlua minis, in your purse. We giggled as we poured them into our white cups, and giggled even more as they began to work their magic. I watched you, the patience with which you spoke to your daughters, and I felt nothing but a deep and radiant love for you. You were not my sister wife, but you were my SOULSISTER mom. Nowadays, we coparent so effectively and with such mutual respect that people at one parent meeting assumed my son came from one of those “two mommy” households.

Tomorrow evening, we are hanging out together, just me and you, for the first time outside of my son’s sporting events. Like real friends. Real friends. Yes, we are. You are my dear friend now, Alana. I am sorry for ever being mean to you at the start. You are, more than anything, living proof that sometimes the most painful things become the most obviously good things, with enough time. It’s all about patience.

Thank you, Alana, for loving my son. I love you.

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