Tuesday, August 19, 2014

No Hay Mal Que Dure Cien Años, (Ni Cuerpo Que Lo Resista)

No hay mal que dure cien años, (ni cuerpo que lo resista), is a Spanish adage that, roughly translated, says that there is no evil that lasts a hundred years, nor a body that can withstand it. That's the literal translation. Figuratively, it means, "This, too, shall pass," and it's invoked in times of crisis and in any number of salsa songs.

It's come to mind a number of times this week as I've watched events in Ferguson, Missouri, unfold. The gist of it: an unarmed, Black teenager, Michael Brown, was shot several times by a Ferguson police officer, who has not been held accountable as of this moment. Demonstrations, mostly peaceful, some violent, triggered an overwhelmingly militaristic police response. And so here we are.

I don't think I have anything useful to add to the growing and important conversation, except to say that I think what we're seeing in Ferguson is the result of more than a hundred years of evil in the form of racial oppression, and a body public that feels as if it can no longer withstand it.

Mike Brown is only the most recent name in a long list, including Trayvon Martin, including Arthur McDuffie, whose death in 1980 sparked the infamous Miami Riots. I remember crying at night, waiting for my mom to come home, and imagining that a rock thrown off an overpass had smashed her windshield. I saw my mother's death in my head a million times that week. I was five years old, and safe as houses compared to the kids in Liberty City where the protests were happening.

One of my favorite authors, Edwidge Danticat, posted this old picture of herself:

The names on her poster are long dead, but the photograph makes the point clear. What is happening in Ferguson is not new.

So, what to do? There are some logical things that can be done in police departments nationwide--

  • cameras on all police vehicles,  
  • outside reviews of any deaths that happen to people in custody, as is now the law in Wisconsin, 
  • police outreach efforts everywhere, but especially in places where communities feel justifiably fearful of police, 
  • identifying the officers that have a record of outreach and humanitarian work in the communities they defend and promote those men and women to leadership positions, 
  • discrimination training for all police on an annual basis,
  • and the demilitarization of police departments (seriously, leave the tanks to the National Guard).

Those are just my inexpert thoughts, really. There are people smarter than me who will have better solutions.

Long time Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts' thoughts on the matter are worth reading, though the headline is misleading.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The TURN DOWN FOR WHAT Writers Blog Tour

We're all familiar with Writer Blog Tours, but this one's different. It's the TURN DOWN FOR WHAT Writer Blog Tour.  The marvelous poet and teacher, Emma Bolden partnered with me in cooking this up, and we are mightily pleased at this, the chance to reject all forms of turning down. Or, at least when it comes to writer blog tours.

So, we came up with some fun questions together, and now we're ready to let this thing loose.

Tagged writers get to choose from TWO of these questions. My answers follow.

1) We know getting your work out is all about hard work, perseverance, & talent, but there's always a dash of luck involved. So, name the luckiest publishing-related thing that has ever happened to you.

2) Your book has been optioned by Oprah. Who's the star?

3) If your hometown threw a parade to celebrate your book, what kind of parade would it be?
4) Writing is sometimes a miserable experience. How do you drown your sorrows?
5) If you could be a box of cereal, what kind of cereal would you be and why?

6) Team Dickinson or Team Whitman?

7)  Arthur Quilling-Couch said that in writing, one often has to ruthlessly cut what one loves most -- in other words, "Murder your darlings."  What was your hardest darling to murder?

8) What's the weirdest thing someone has said when you told them you are a writer?

9) If you could rewrite/adapt/rework any story by anybody, what would it be and what would you do with it?

10) Agatha Christie, as the story goes, created many of her stories while eating apples  in the bathtub.  How do you spark the story-or-poem-making part of your brain?

 My answers:

3) If my hometown threw a parade to celebrate A FALLING STAR...

....the parade would run down 49th Street in Hialeah, Florida. There would be giant floats of famous Cubans--Celia Cruz, Beny Moré, Antonio Macéo, Jose Martí. (We couldn't do giant Macy's style balloons because of the phone wires everywhere.) Because the novel is set during the Mariel Boatlift, we'd make sure to have lots of boat-themed floats, as well as convertibles with all the Marielitos who broke all expectations of the time and became lawyers and doctors and teachers and business owners sitting in them and waving. There would have to be an enormous float with a statue of la Virgen de la Caridad, of course, and vendors would be selling lechón on a stick, and batidos de mamey to drink. And it would be a celebration of Cuban-American immigration and history. And I would weep big fat tears on the sidelines, having saved my place right in front of Sedano's Supermarket.

2) If Oprah optioned my book, one of the stars would be...

...Eva Mendes. Cuban-American actress and drop-dead gorgeous, she could play Solamaris. And I think Daisy Fuentes could play Magda Elena. The two of them look as if they might have been best friends in another life.  Pit Bull could play Angel. Dale!  If this were to ever happen (it won't, by the way), I know my one regret would be that I didn't write a character fabulous enough to be played by J-Lo. I'd have to go in and rewrite it somehow, adding a character just for her.

All done!

Thanks, Emma Bolden, for encouraging this turned-upness. You can find Emma's answers here!

You can follow Emma on Twitter, @emmabo, or read her blog, A Century of Nerve
And you can order Emma's book of poems, Malificae (GenPop Books) here.

I'm tagging New York Times Bestselling Author Rachel Hawkins for the next installment of the TURN DOWN FOR WHAT Writers Blog Tour.

You should know that Rachel is a dear friend, one of the kindest and funniest people I know, and a wonderful, wonderful writer. Tag, you're it, Hawkins.

Follow Rachel on Twitter at @LadyHawkins and order her newest book, Rebel Belle (Penguin) and her other books at the click.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Forests and the Trees, or How a Novel Gets Written


This fall, I'll be on a book tour of sorts talking about A Falling Star. One of my stops will be the North Carolina Writers Network Conference, where I'll be offering a workshop on novel structure. I'll be doing a similar workshop at the annual Auburn Writers Conference. Here's the description:

All Shapes and Sizes: A Workshop on Novel Structure
Whether you outline, or let the muse take you where she will, every novel must have a thoughtful structure to it. We’ll be discussing the fundamentals of how to structure your novel in this workshop. We’ll talk about scene building, the “tent poles” that hold your novel up, pacing, character motivation and more.

Paired with working on my current novel-in-progress, my mind has been on the topic of process a whole lot, and I've learned a few things about myself:

1) Linear trumps nonlinear writing for me. I have a better grip on the story I'm trying to tell if I tell it in order. While I generally know the big scenes in the book that will hold it all together, it's the small scenes that I have to figure out along the way, and I can only do that if one follows the other sequentially when I'm drafting. This doesn't mean that the story is itself linear. Usually, it isn't!

2) I write in bursts. I can go 2-3 weeks writing each day, plowing through the story at a nice clip. Then, suddenly, I feel very lost. The story becomes all trees, no forest, and I find that I need a 1-2 week break from the book. During that time, I read, rearrange furniture, go out of town. It amounts to me, metaphorically, tromping back out of the woods to get a look at it from a distance. This usually works really well. When it's time to come back into the forest, I find that I'm running again, leaping over fallen trees and avoiding traps. That's how it goes--on and off--until the book is done.

3) I love outlines, and do tons of them, but the final product never resembles any of the outlines. Rather, it will be a mash-up of all of them. Oftentimes, the element of the novel I think is my biggest hook, turns out to be non-existent. For Love and Ghost Letters, I intended the entire novel to be told in flashback, with the current story set in a hair salon in Miami. As for The Distant Marvels, I had this whole underground-radio-station idea going for a good bit before abandoning it. So, I've learned to fully embrace these first ideas and then kiss them goodbye when the time comes.

I think the most important thing I've learned is that my process is sloppy, but it's the one that works. It reflects the give-everything-a-try nature of my brain, which explains why behind every hanging painting in my house, there are at least three holes--I had to try all the different ways of hanging the damn thing.

Now, how to explain all of that to conference goers without scaring them away!

Oh, and hey, the Auburn Writers Conference is accepting registrations. We're a go for October 17-18 here in Auburn, Al. Hope to see some of my readers there!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Book Birthday + Launch! A FALLING STAR is here!


Wish me (and Daysy, Stella, Magda Elena, Angel and the rest of the A FALLING STAR crew) a happy book birthday!

And do join me in thanking the terrific people at Carolina Wren Press--Andrea Selch and Robin Miura, editor extraordinaire!

A Falling Star is available on Amazon and via Carolina Wren Press, and will soon be available through Barnes and Noble, too.

Here's what some of my favorite authors have so generously shared about A Falling Star:

Judith Ortiz Cofer (The Latin Deli) calls it "a captivating tale of loss and redemption."

Marie Manila (The Patron Saint of Ugly) says, "This haunting novel delivers not only secrets and lies, pounding guilt and grief, but glorious redemption."

Sandra Rodriguez Barron (The Heiress of Water) wrote,"This is a beautiful story about instincts that keeps families together in even the most horrifying of circumstances." 

In other words, go get your copy. And, if you are so moved, add the novel to your Goodreads list, and leave a review on Amazon. Not surprisingly, reviews matter. So help a sister out, ok?

And, if you're near Auburn on Thursday, August 28th, please come by for my Alabama book launch party! Note the Cuban food and drinks. CUBAN FOOD AND DRINKS.

Have an invite, everybody!

Chantel Acevedo invites you
to the launch of her new book


A Book Talk, Cuban Food & Drinks

Pebble Hill
The Ralph Draughon Center for the Arts & Humanities

Thursday, August 28th
7:00 p.m.


I'm off to flail a bit and eat all the celebratory chocolate!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fifteen Years


In fifteen years, we've:

Brought two beautiful girls into the world

Said "I love you" to them, and to each other eleventy-billion times

Lived in four states

Earned an MFA and PhD, collectively

Watched the news in horror as towers fell, wars were begun

Earned tenure

Figured out that we need to sleep with two blankets in order not to fight over just one

Taken eleventy-billion walks together

Had eleventy-billion late night talks

Learned how to make the other one laugh so hard he/she snorts/chokes/cries

Been to Disney World approximately eleventy-billion times

Said, "I'm so lucky to have you in my life" a whole lot and meant it.

Traditionally, the 15th anniversary gift is crystal. Then, let this sentiment be crystal clear: marrying Orlando Acevedo was the smartest thing I ever did.

Happy Anniversary to us, and here's to eleventy-billion more.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

From New York to Alabama--My Editor's Visit

As a writer, one always hears about the real pleasures in working with an independent publisher, and my experience with Europa Editions, who will be publishing The Distant Marvels in 2015, has been truly marvel-ous.

A few weeks ago, my editor, Michael Reynolds, came to visit. Let me repeat. He came to visit. Me. Here in Alabama. Michael lives in NYC, of course, and so this wasn't exactly a short commute. After visiting with Important Book People in Birmingham, Michael drove two hours to Auburn to spend some time here.

We did the usual Auburn things, including taking a selfie on campus:

War Eagle, y'all!

He brought Mo Willem and Jeanne Birdsall books for the girls (SUCH good taste) and champagne for us to celebrate The Distant Marvels:

AND I got to keep the Europa fall catalog, aka, my Christmas wishlist.
I cooked him some Cuban food--ropa vieja con platanitos maduros--and made sure he had his first pimento cheese sandwich, a Southern staple.

We talked about the final cover for The Distant Marvels, which I can't wait to reveal! I tried not to geek out too hard over Elena Ferrante's work, which Michael edits (I showed incredible restraint). And we both geeked out over Hilary Mantel a bunch.

It was a lovely couple of days, and I still can't believe my book editor came to visit.  Meeting Michael made The Distant Marvels feel quite real.

Oh, and we have a launch date--April 7th, 2015.

Excuse me while I wait for my toes to touch the ground.