Friday, March 28, 2014

Spring Cleaning, Goodreads, and a Giveaway

What is it about springtime that invites cleaning? Once mid-March rolls around, I get all twitchy about sprucing up the house, envisioning all sorts of home-improvement plans.

Most of these plans involve daydreams of the Property Brothers and expensive granite countertops. Ahem.

"We can totally build you a bookcase, girl."

Then, I snap to, and think about the things I CAN do. One of these things is to clear out some space on the old bookshelves, which are full and sagging with the weight of many wonderful words.

It just so happens that A FALLING STAR is now available to add on Goodreads.

And lo, an idea for spring cleaning + a chance to talk about my new book is born.

Here's what we're going to do. Everyone who adds A FALLING STAR to their Goodreads "want to read" shelf will be eligible to win an advanced copy of A FALLING STAR and a book from my spring cleaning shelf. We'll do a couple of these, okay?

For this first round, the book up for grabs is Andrea Barrett's collection of short stories, Ship Fever.

Ship Fever won the 1996 National Book Award, and is just gut-wrenchingly beautiful. It combines many of the things I love--historical settings (the 19th century), love stories, and SCIENTISTS.

All you have to do to win Ship Fever and an advanced copy of a A FALLING STAR, is add A FALLING STAR to your Goodreads shelf. Click here to do that. Go on. It'll only take a second.

There you go. You're in. I'll announce the winner next Friday, April 4th!

Stay tuned for the next giveaway!

And if you're the impatient sort, you can order your own advanced copy of A FALLING STAR via the Carolina Wren Press website. Click here for that.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Though she be but little, she is fierce.
Every so often, Mary-Blair brings to mind this line from A Midsummer Night's Dream. She is our tiny and amazing girl, in the 5th percentile when it comes to doctor's charts, and still rocking size 18 month clothes and 12 month shoes. But her heart and spirit are hovering somewhere around the billionth percentile (that's a thing, right?). 

She turned two today, which is so very hard to believe. And yet, consider what a fully fledged person she is becoming:

She has OPINIONS about things, like shoes and shirts and whether or not people should be wearing shoes. If you visit my house, you should probably wear shoes, for example, or Mary-Blair will seek out your shoes and demand that you put them back on.

She knows the impact of a power ballad, and has learned a good deal of "Let it Go" and "Part of Your World," replete with hand gestures.

She understands when an avocado is perfectly ripe, and will eat a whole one without fuss or preamble.

She loves her family, especially Penny, whom she sometimes calls "My" and sometimes "Penny," depending on how possessive she's feeling.

She believes in good manners. If she finds yours lacking, she will tell you that you are "Not nice," and wag a tiny but imperious finger at you.

She is funny and lovely and sweet and demanding. She is all of two years old going on eighty-two. And we are so lucky that she is ours. We love you, Embee. Happy birthday:)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Color My Shelves


The first novels I read came from a subscription my mother set up for me when I was in grade school. Each month, a new novel arrived at the house. Island of the Blue Dolphins and A Wrinkle in Time and The Witch of Blackbird Pond were part of the collection.

I read a lot of Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary when it came time to pick things out of the library. I also loved all of those devastating Lurlene McDaniels novels about kids with cancer (you didn't invent that shizz, John Green).

In middle school, we read classics like The Crucible, and in high school we read lots and lots of Shakespeare and Chaucer and even Margaret Atwood once.

In short, I read a lot as a kid, both at home and at school, and it all served me well.

What I didn't get, though, and this was something that dawned on me once I was grown, were stories with characters that were like me. By that I mean--Latino boys and girls, Cuban kids, kids who spoke Spanish at home, or had abuelitas that did, who ate rice and beans on the regular, and birthday parties with a hundred relatives, and stories about crossing the ocean, the border, the line that said you once came from THERE and now you are HERE.

I lived in Miami, where nearly everyone I knew was Cuban or Latin American. And yet. Not once did a book that resonated with me culturally get put on a reading list in any classes I took.

I think schools do a bit of a better job these days, or, at least, I hope they do. But there are challenges to that, numerous ones.

In Arizona, for example, Latino Studies programs have been banned. Here in Alabama, there have been attempts to pull the work of novelist Cristina Garcia from the Common Core.  Politicians use writers of color as whipping boys and girls all the time, and students of color pay the ultimate price--their lives remain unreflected in the art they are introduced to in school. While the white students see mirrors in the literature they read, the Latino/a and Black students see a fog.

Brown kid asks: Where am I in this?

Crickets answer.

Publishing is another part of this puzzle. Yesterday's New York Times article, "The Apartheid of Children's Literature," takes on the industry for its overwhelming "whiteness." It's a good read, and author Jennifer Weiner has come up with the hashtag #Colormyshelf on Twitter, in the hopes of putting together good reading lists of books with protagonists of color in them.

Here at home, Penny's textbooks will often have the obligatory Latino story in them. Usually it's about a boy named Miguel. Usually there is a piñata somewhere in the story. It's never just about Miguel doing homework, or riding his bike, or dealing with divorce, or planting a tree. It's always about the effing piñata. Or making tortillas with abuela.

My daughters' lives are about more than piñatas, and we rarely eat tortillas, I promise you.

So, what does one do with this information?

If you have school aged children, ask their teachers to diversify the reading list. Or, make an effort to find the good books yourself, either by checking out #colormyshelf, or doing your own research. Finally, let your wallet do the talking. If you're hoping publishers will publish more writers of color, then buy those books.

Buy M. Evelina Galang's Angel de la Luna and the 5th Mystery (Phillipina story!)
Buy Jennine Capo Crucet's How to Leave Hialeah (Cuban story!)
Buy Irene Latham's Leaving Gee's Bend  (African-American story!)

What am I going to do?


I would be more than happy to do a few school author visits in South Florida next school year (2014-2015) for free. I won't charge you travel or honorariums.

A Falling Star is suitable for high school students and advanced middle school students. It's set in Cuba and Hialeah, and features two adolescent protagonists trying to find out about their family histories and the role that the Mariel Boatlift played in them.

Here's your chance to do something for your students that was not done for me. Give them a book that can serve as a mirror. Let them see themselves in art, and I promise you only good things will come of it. And even if you and your school do not adopt A Falling Star, please, please, please make an effort to share at least some literature with your students that reflects the communities they come from.

So, hit me up, So Fla teachers. I've already heard from one, and I can probably manage just a few trips down from Alabama, so get in touch soon. And if we can't work out a live school visit, I can Skype whenever.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Three Excellent Reasons to Order an Advanced Copy of A FALLING STAR

Calloo, callay! A FALLING STAR can be yours today (ish)!

The official launch date for the novel is August 1st, and I'm going to do that up big. But, the wonderful folks at Carolina Wren Press have made advanced copies of the novel available for purchase right now.

Why buy directly from the press? I'll give you three good reasons:

1) So, how many independent bookstores are in your neighborhood? How many Barnes & Nobles for that matter? Or Borders (I know the answer to that one). The answer is ZERO in Auburn. After August 1st, the novel will be available on Amazon, which, cool, buy it from those guys if that's your thing. But for now, if you want the book, you'll have to get it from Carolina Wren Press, the Davids to Amazon's Goliath, and there will be a warm spot in your soul about it, I guarantee.

2) Carolina Wren Press, y'all. Located in Durham, North Carolina, CWP has THE COOLEST MISSION of any small press I know. Here's their mission:  
Carolina Wren Press is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to publish quality writing, especially by writers historically neglected by mainstream publishing, and to develop diverse and vital audiences through publishing, outreach, and educational programs.  
 Do you know how cool and rare it is to find a small press with a mission like this? A small Southern press, in fact? African-American authors, Latino/a authors, LGBT authors, older authors, amazing, amazing authors--CWP gives them the shot that mainstream publishers will not. The editors are good people, and they deserve your monies. Seriously, even if you don't buy A FALLING STAR, buy a book from any one of their terrific writers.

3) Teachers? Do free school and Skype visits appeal? While A FALLING STAR is a novel for adults, it is appropriate reading for advanced middle schoolers and all high school students. Two of the protagonists are adolescents, and their journey of familial and self-discovery should appeal to younger readers. Teachers of Latin-American history might be keen, as well as teachers doing multi-cultural units.  I'm happy to do free Skype visits with classes, and free school visits, too, so long as the school can provide transportation and hotel. Order an advanced copy now in time to plan for the fall! And hey, teachers in Miami-Dade County especially, I'll come without travel reimbursement just for the pleasure of talking about the novel SET IN HIALEAH with kids who 1) know exactly what it means to grow up in SoFla and 2) have probably never seen their experience in print. It would be a particular honor to chat with Miami-Dade County kids and teachers.

There you go! Three good reasons to get your advanced copy of A FALLING STAR today! Friends, spread the word.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Accountability for Writers, or Five Ways to Get to Work

The hardest thing about writing isn't writing. It's turning on the damn computer. At least, that's my biggest problem. There always seems to be something else to do--laundry, painting the front door red, giving the dog a bath, organizing my daughters' art closet.

Distractions, all of them.

What I needed for a long time was something to keep me accountable for the words on the page. Something fun even. A spoonful of sugar, as Mary Poppins would say.

What I soon discovered is that writers have developed all sorts of tricks to get themselves to the page and to make themselves accountable. I'll list some of my favorites, including the one that's worked best for me.

1) STICKERZ. Stickers. My toddler loves stickers. She puts them on her hands and shirt, and then I wash said shirts with said stickers still on them with disastrous results. But stickers aren't all bad. Authors Rachel Hawkins and Victoria Schwab use a sticker accountability method to keep track of written pages, which is both efficient and adorable. Here's Rachel's system. And here's Victoria's.

2) KAMIKAZE COMPUTER APPS. For those of you who like your writing systems techie AND deadly, check out Write or Die. It's a writing program that literally eats your words if you stop writing. Yikes.

3) NANOWRIMO. You surely know about Nanowrimo, that blissful month of November, where novelists everywhere churn out 1,500 words a day for a full month. It's twin, NAPOWRIMO, happens in April, wherein poets compose a poem a day each day in April. Both have been effective for me. In fact, A FALLING STAR (available for pre-order very soon!) and Song of the Red Cloak were both NANOWRIMO novels. Of course, you don't really have a full novel at the end of NANO, but you do have an excellent start.

4) #AMWRITING. Are you on Twitter? Do you like writerly things? Then you've seen the #amwriting hashtag. Twitter is a great way of holding yourself accountable. I've seen some folks deploy the hashtag with a self-challenge. For example: "I've got two chapters to write in this #WIP. Yell at me if you see me on Twitter, okay? #amwriting." Or some variant of that.  It's a public commitment, as I see it, and can be very effective. Check out this list of important hashtags for writers.

5) MDWC (Minimum Daily Word Count). This one. This is it. This is the one that changed everything for me. My friend, author Ash Parsons, came up with it. She sets a Minimum Daily Word Count for herself. The trick is to set it LOW. I set mine at 750. It's a mental thing. I typically can do about 2,000 words a day on a good day. And on a bad day, I'm still well past 750. If it's a truly terrible day, and I only write 600 words, well, that doesn't seem so far from the MDWC. I keep a little sticky note on my computer dashboard with the total words on the project, scratching out and updating at the end of each MDWC session. It may seem like NANOWRIMO, but the difference is that you don't have to do it for a set amount of days, or every day, even. There's flexibility there that I like. I like, too, that I can adjust the MDWC as needed. It helps if a friend is in on it, too. I've had the pleasure of doing MDWCs with Ash, and with Hallie Johnston, another writer. Both have pushed me to finish big projects, and both times, it has felt more like a spoon full of sugar than a chore.

I hope that's helpful to at least a few folks. And whether you're writing novels, or poems, or academic articles, I think all of these could be useful.

I'm open to new ideas, too. I'm about 75 pages into a new novel, and could use all the motivation and accountability tricks you've got in your author's ammunition bunker. Let's hear them!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

For Professor Goran

I could never call him Lester the way the others did. He was Professor Goran to me, even in recent years. I'd known him since I was a nervous undergraduate, taking Creative Writing classes at the University of Miami, biding my time until I could graduate with my teaching degree, get a job, get married, have kids. The ceiling on the limit of what was possible for me, in those days, was low.

It was Professor Goran who said to me--get an MFA. He said I wouldn't write a book otherwise. He said he knew what I was thinking. He said I didn't yet understand that writing was important to me. But he knew. And, because he was Professor Goran, and he'd never been wrong before in my eyes, I listened.

He knew. I learned.

I finished a novel. He sent letters to agents he knew and help me land my first one. She didn't work out, in the end, but it was an education on what a mentor can do for a young person.

When I was working on my thesis, he would look at me over a cup of coffee and say, "I know what you're thinking. You're hoping I won't die before you graduate." And this always made me so sad, and I would tell him so, and he would laugh at me.

The last time I saw him at Versailles Restaurant in Miami, he told me, "I'm going to live forever, Chantel. That's the crazy thing." That day, he gave me two works of art he'd produced. One hangs in my office, the other in my home.

He sent me a story, too, which we published in The Southern Humanities Review. My coeditor, Skip Horack, chose the story for a Pushcart nomination. He did not know Professor Goran, or his connection to me. I believe this story was his last publication. "Cowboy Songs, 1905." It's a beautiful piece.

Professor Goran died on the 6th of February. I'm cobbling this together now, afraid that I won't later if I wait too long. But this, I know, isn't very good.

Of my blogging, Professor Goran once told me, "You're treading water, kid." And I knew what he meant. That I should save my writing for stories, for a different kind of page. I wasn't always the best student. I didn't always listen, or agree with him, you see.

What I think I'll miss most are his emails. Fellow writer and "Goranite," Crissa Chappell, suggested that his emails were like poems. They were. Good God, they were! I'd share them with you all, but I just can't. They're mine. You can't have them.

You can have this one, though. This one line. When I asked him if he wanted to see a story I'd written, he wrote:

"Yes, send me story and poems, reaffirm my faith in the everlasting need of the soul to find words to express its impossibilities."

I'll stop now before I become a useless mess for the rest of the day.

My teacher and friend, Professor Goran, how I miss you.

p.s. You can honor the work of Lester Goran by reading his books. My favorite is Tales from the Irish Club, but they are all excellent reads. He was a master of the short form, and a Pittsburgher in life and on the page, though he was certainly one of Miami's finest adopted sons. Go on. Read. He'd like that.