Thursday, March 19, 2015

Book Tour of (Distant) Marvels

Marvelous stacks of books
In three weeks or so, THE DISTANT MARVELS will be hitting the shelves at last. And in three weeks, I'll be hitting the road to talk about the book and meet readers.

It'll be my second tour in less than a year (the first, last fall, was for A Falling Star), and I'd be lying if I said that so much travel isn't exhausting and emotionally hard, especially since I can't take my kids and husband with me (*shakes fist at school and work*).

BUT, tour is also exhilarating, and I know I'll meet wonderful people and make new friends, so I'm grateful to the folks at Europa Editions for setting up all of these events.

So, here's a list of scheduled events. Please come say hi if you're in the area, and definitely share with friends and family:

Tuesday, April 7--RELEASE DAY, AKA BOOK BIRTHDAY, AKA, I'll be teaching my classes and sitting in on a graduate student defense, then maybe going to Books-a-Million to find my book in the wild.


Okay, real events start now:

Thursday, April 9--AWP Conference in Minneapolis, MN. Lots of things happening at AWP.
I'll be on a panel with my wonderful editor, Michael Reynolds: 
R241. Europa Editions Turns Ten - An Indie Publishing Success Story

Room 211 A&B, Level 2
Thursday, April 9, 2015
3:00 pm to 4:15 pm 

I'll be reading at the C'Mere Honey offsite, reading from A Falling Star

Honey, 205 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55414
6:30-9:30 pm

I'll also be signing at both the Europa and Carolina Wren Press tables on Friday, April 10th

Tuesday, April 14--Shorter University, Rome, GA

Master class on fiction/craft at 5:00pm in the Hardeman Room of the Livingston Library
Reading at 6:00pm in the Eubanks Room

Thursday, April 16--Books & Books, Miami, FL

Reading at 8:00 p.m. 

Saturday April 18--University of Central Florida Book Festival, Orlando, FL

Panel--Compelling Stories of Strong Women in Literary Fiction
12:00 p.m.
Panel--The Immigrant's Dream: Cuban culture and storytelling 
2 :00p.m.
Wednesday, April 22--Page and Palette,  32 S Section St, Fairhope, AL

Read it and Eat Event!
Tickets are $15 and include a Cuban lunch and a $5 coupon toward the book purchase.  
12:00 p.m.
Saturday, April 25--Alabama Writers Symposium, Monroeville, AL
Book talk
8:30-9:00 a.m.

Friday, May 1--Square Books, Oxford, MS

5:00 p.m.

Wednesday, May 6--La Casa Azul Bookstore, NYC

6:30-8:00 p.m.

Thursday, May 7- Friday May 8--PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature,  NYC
Bronx Museum
Writing Workshop
Using Memories to Generate Fiction
1:00-3:00 p.m.

 Albertine Books
May 7--Writing Gender Panel
7:00 p.m.

Westbeth Artist Housing
A Literary Quest
6:30 p.m.

Thursday, May 28--Book Expo America, NYC

Signing at the Europa table

Phew! That's it. Hope to see some new and familiar faces on tour. Here's to a marvelous spring, all!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, José Martí!


Poet. Journalist. Playwright. Exile. Revolutionary. Patriot. José Julian Martí is a founding father for Cubans and Cuban-Americans. Born on this day in 1853, Martí would come to lead the ideological charge against Spain in Cuba's War of Independence. He bore only his pen and his gifts for oration, and with those humble tools, Martí helped bring an independent nation into being. When he did finally enter the war physically, he didn't last long. Shot off his horse, Martí is said to have died facing the sun.

As a child who attended a bilingual school in Miami run by Cuban exiles,  I was taught that Martí was second only to Jesus and la Virgencita. We memorized his poetry ("Cultivo una rosa blanca" being my favorite), and knew his face the way other kids recognize Abraham Lincoln.

When I sat down to write a novel set during the Cuban War of Independence, I knew Martí had to figure in somehow. What I didn't expect is that he would wind up in the novel as a minor character. He's in it for only a few scenes, but they're some of my favorite in the book.

In honor of Martí's birthday, my most excellent publisher, Europa Editions, is holding a contest for a free galley of THE DISTANT MARVELS.

Click through to their facebook page for a chance to enter, then come back here where I've got an excerpt for you from the novel, one featuring Martí himself.

The excerpt starts with a female revolutionary, Lulu, the mother of the novel's protagonist, María Sirena. Lulu, her husband, and her daughter, have just reached a camp of rebels, and they want to join the fight. Read on (and don't forget to enter!).
“Señores,” she began.  “Compatriotas.  You hope to found a free nation here, do you not?” She spoke animatedly, her delicate hands dancing before her, as if she were doing a floréo in a flamenco dance.  The men watched, mesmerized.  Even Agustín stopped scowling, the grimace falling from his face at once.  “A nation is made up of men, sí, and women, too.  As well as children.” She pointed at me, and my face felt warm.  I looked away, unable to bear so many of the insurgents’ eyes fixed on me at once.  “Then, let us fight. Let us learn to defend this new nation.  We Cuban women can be midwives to this great birth, if only you’ll let us.”

There was silence. I wanted to applaud, shout, “Bravo, Mamá!” I didn’t, of course. I sat in the saddle while the pregnant mare shuddered beneath me, huffing and snorting in that way of horses.  The animal was the only thing making a sound.  I ran my hands over her pelt to calm myself, and the horse settled down, too.

That was when I noticed the poet for the first time.  He parted the group of men and approached us, a heavy pack still on his back, as if he expected to have to leave the modest campsite at any moment. “It’s a pleasure to meet a family so brave,” he said, extending a hand to my father, and then, kissing my mother on both cheeks, like a European. 

Lulu looked away demurely, whispered, “Gracias,” and returned to the horse.

“Who is that?” I whispered to Lulu. 

“That is the man who called the war,” she said breathlessly.  Later, I’d learn all about José Julián Martí, the poet and patriot, who had inspired Cubans on the island and abroad to rise up over Spain.   But in that moment, all I saw was a slender man, with a large forehead and a thin mustache that curled up at the ends. His eyes were small and brown.  There was something of the rodent about his features, though I liked him at once.  Lulu and Agustín were struck dumb by his presence. They had seen him give a speech once, in New York, but familiarity had done nothing to diminish Martí's aura in their eyes. 

            “You may camp with us tonight, and ride with us tomorrow if you’d like,” Martí said.  My mother had charmed him, I knew.  While my father had gripped his balls to show his strength, my mother had said a few words to the right man.  I took note of the difference.

            Another one of the insurgents, a bald man with a gleaming machete dangling from a rope around his waist, spoke up, “Oye, you have no military experience, poet.  Perhaps it’s best if you--”

            “Cállate,” said another insurgent to the bald man.  “This is Martí you’re talking to.” Then, facing my father, Martí’s defender said, “Make yourselves at home.”

            There was no more arguing against our presence that night.

Later, after we’d eaten a meal of roasted rabbit, my mother introduced me to Martí. "Señor," my mother said, holding me tight against her thighs, "mi hija, María Sirena." She presented me to the poet by caressing my cheek with her hand.  I leaned into her touch, hungry for it still, though I was fourteen years old. 

            The poet cocked his head to the side.  "I can tell already that you are your mother's muse," he said. 

            When Martí left us, my mother said, "Take a good look, María Sirena.  There goes a man without equal."

            "Papá?" I asked her, and she laughed.

            "No, mi cielo, Martí. There would be no rebellion if not for the poet."  Her gaze lingered long after the man, even after he’d lied down in his hammock, the only part of him visible a bony knee.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015



We have a perfect, lovable, funny, and creative nine year old in our house now.

At nine, Penny is starting to show signs of the very cool big girl she is becoming. My favorite thing in the world is listening to her chat with her dad. Whether it's a running commentary on the latest episode of "Cutthroat Kitchen," or a discussion on the virtues of the Spice Girls (her very vintage, most recent obsessions), the two of them talk like old friends.

She is incredibly patient with her little sister, Mary-Blair, probably more than any of us is. Penny invites Embee to play dolls, or to sing karaoke with her (again with the Spice Girls), or to take bubble baths together.

Penny's tastes are changing, too. It's been a while since the Disney Channel has been on. It's Cartoon Network now, with shows like the "Teen Titans." What's more, she gets the jokes. She really gets them, and her sense of humor is a lot like mine and Orlando's, which is just so fun.

These days, our lives are filled with multiplication tables and division, and all sorts of creative endeavors, including writing an iPhone manual for her grandmother, or writing Spice Girls fan fiction (I'm not kidding about this new phase. It's very "Girl Power" all the time).

Penny is becoming, in short, the kind of person I'd choose for a friend. She's loving and funny and happy. So very happy, and I wish this for her every day of her life.

Happy birthday to my girl, the one who made me a mom in the first place. We love you, Penny.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

117 Years (and 75 Days and Counting!)


The Cuban War of Independence from Spain ended 117 years ago, in 1898.  It was the Third War of Independence, technically, capping over a decade of war for Cubans. For Americans, it was a "splendid little war" according to Secretary of State John Hay, which lasted only a few months.

Over a hundred years ago, Cubans shook off the yoke of Spanish rule at last. And today, in 2015, talks over normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States are ready to begin (did you hear that a Russian intelligence ship JUST docked in Havana in time for the talks? A bit heavy-handed on someone's part, no?).

In the span of time between 1492,  the moment Christopher Columbus set foot on the island, and now, Cuba's history has been tumultuous, beautiful, tragic, mysterious, and riveting.

And since we're talking numbers, today marks 75 days until my novel, The Distant Marvels (Europa Editions), arrives. It's set during the Third War of Independence, and gives readers a glimpse of the life of a young civilian woman and her rebel parents. The protagonist, María Sirena, falls in love and has some really tough choices to make as the war rages. 

My hope is that, beyond loving María Sirena as much as I do, readers will learn something new in reading the story, something they wouldn't have found in textbooks regarding the Spanish-American War.

For example, did you know that the Spanish set up concentration camps on the island? They were called "reconcentration camps," but the images are hauntingly similar to what we associate with Nazi Germany's camps.

And did you know that some of the leaders of the Independence Movement were former slaves? Afro-Cubans like Antonio Macéo became national heroes in the war.

It was a lot of fun and illuminating falling down the research rabbit hole on this one, I can tell you!

I can't wait to share The Distant Marvels with you!

For those of you in NC, I'll be in Asheville at the Winter Institute February 8-11, and at the AWP Conference in Minneapolis later this year during the book's launch week, sitting on a panel with my Europa editor, Michael Reynolds, aka, "Mr. Terrific" (I just made that nickname up, but I'm sticking with it).

For now, follow the link to a description of the novel, and links to your favorite stores for pre-order goodness.

Oh, OH, and final cover reveal happening soon. ;)


Friday, October 31, 2014

Carolina del norte, Here I Come!

I will be all over this map in the next two weeks. ALL OF IT.

I visited North Carolina last spring, when I drove up with the family for a visit and reading at the Cannon School and Park Road Books in Charlotte, NC. Charlotte was as far as we got, but we were smitten. What a gorgeous city, truly.

I knew I'd be back since my publisher, Carolina Wren Press, is out of Durham, and my fantabulous editor, Robin Miura, was working on putting a lengthy tour together for A Falling Star. THEN, I was invited by the good folks at Ecotone and UNC-Wilmington to come up for Writers' Week. SO MUCH NORTH CAROLINA.

So, my travels are about to commence to that beautiful, highly literary state. What's so funny to me is that Miami Cubans have this oddball attraction to North Carolina (Carolina del norte). I can't tell you the number of times a Cuban has told me that his or her dream is to retire there, in a log cabin, among the pines. It's this really bucolic, tv-fueled vision of the American South. Now that I've been there, and will be there again soon, I totally see the appeal!

Behold, my itinerary, with special thanks to Hannah dela Cruz Abrams and Robin Miura. If you're in NC, please come and see me! And I will gush at you about your terrific state and those mythical log cabins;)

UNC Wilmington Writers' Week

Tuesday, 11/4

12:30 p.m., Warwick Ballroom I--Panel, Writing from the Margins, with May-lee Chair, Amrita Das and Kimberly McLaughlin Smith

7:00 p.m., Morton Hall, 100--A Reading with me and Belle Boggs

Wednesday, 11/5

10:00 a.m., Azalea Coast Room--Fiction Craft Talk

St. Mary's School, Raleigh

Monday, 11/17

9:15 a.m., Class visit

11:00 a.m., Schoolwide Assembly

UNC Chapel Hill

Monday, 11/17

3:00 p.m. Reading at the Global South Group

5:00 p.m. Reading, Craig North Seminar Room, 144
NC State, Raleigh

Tuesday, 11/18

1:30 p.m. Class visit

Meredith College, Raleigh

Wednesday, 11/19

2:00 p.m. Class visit

4:00 p.m. Campus wide Assembly

*plug for another CWP author, Moira Crone, who will be reading with Lee Smith at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh at 7 p.m.!!

Duke University

Thursday, 11/20


Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill

Thursday, 11/20

6:30 p.m. Reading with Moira Crone

NCWN Fall Conference, Charlotte

All day events! Come on out!

Hope to see some of you soon! I promise to read from A Falling Star, I promise not to bore you and I promise to tell you good stories about being a cubanita in Hialeah, Florida and in Auburn, Alabama. xoxo

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


A Quinceañera is the Latina version of a Sweet Sixteen party, except done up bigger, louder, and fluffier. There are many takes on the quinceañera experience, depending on the specific Latin-American country you call yours.

For Cubans, especially those living in Miami, the quinceañera is often a big party in a banquet hall, with fifteen couples doing an elaborately choreographed dance, capped off by dinner and a loud, DJ-led party. Most Cubans eschew the traditional Mass preceding the party, which is a core element for other Latin-American quinceañeras, nor do they perform the traditional "first high heels" thing, wherein a parent presents the honored girl with her first pair of grown-lady shoes.

In exchange, most Cuban girls, even the ones who don't have a party, take formal portraits. These are similar to engagement photos, though the dresses are bigger, badder, and sparklier than most bridal gowns. The quinceañera often takes her portraits at beautiful Miami locales--the Biltmore, Vizcaya, the Spanish Monastery, Parrot Jungle.

Yes. Parrot Jungle.

Or, at least, the Parrot Jungle that was. Parrot Jungle is no longer in the same place as it was in the 90s when I was a teenager. Old Parrot Jungle is mainly a splash park for little kids now.

But in the 90s, it was the scene of this:

The hair was huge. The dress was huge-er. The eyebrows? Also huge. Fifteen year old me, though, felt like a princess. And even though I didn't have a big party (instead, I took a few friends ice-skating), I was definitely a quinceañera.

Cubans say that at 15 a woman is at her most beautiful. This is a creepy saying, for sure, and one I disagree with plenty. Still, it suggests the importance of the age in our culture.

So, color me not surprised when Penny, who is eight years old, asked if she could have a quinceañera. Here. In Alabama. "We'll see," I told her. Can you imagine 28 Alabama kids dancing salsa and merengue in front of their horrified/delighted parents?

That decision is still seven years away, thank goodness. In the meantime, if you find yourself interested in quinceañera culture, check out one of my favorites, Julia Alvarez's Once Upon a Quinceañera.

It's a work of nonfiction where Alvarez attends several quinceañera parties from across a couple of Latin American cultures, and examines them as a way of viewing Latino/a culture in the moment. It's riveting and sweet, and there is this AMAZING section in the end where she invites Latina "madrinas," well-known authors themselves, to give advice to young women.

If you can't tell, I'm a big fan of Julia Alvarez, who was recently awarded a National Medal of Arts.

And a big happy birthday to all the girls celebrating their quinces in 2014. Go on with your bad selves, ladies.