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May Day 2012

Yesterday I attended Seattle’s May Day March. Unlike the march I wrote about in 2010, there were many non-Latinos fighting for immigrant rights and fair pay for all.photo (1)

MAY DAY 2010

“Obama escucha! Estamos en la lucha!” the crowd chants and I chant along, imploring President Obama to listen up and take our fight seriously. It’s May Day 2010 and I’m in Seattle marching down Jackson Street surrounded by a sea of Mexicans with Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Nicaraguans scattered among them. Only a handful of other non-Latinos, like me, have shown up to march.

A half-hour earlier, I asked my husband to drop me off at Judkins Park, so I could join what I assumed would be a small group of protesters demonstrating against Arizona’s new anti- immigration laws. But a great swell of people is already flowing westward down Jackson Street by the time I arrived and it grows larger by the minute as people with strollers and signs and Mexican flags funnel in from the side streets. photo (3)From 23rd clear down to Eighth Avenue in the International District, masses of people are marching in solidarity. Banners identifying home states in Mexico are held high and with evident pride. Zacatecas, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacán. For nearly everyone there, English is clearly a second language.

A boy marching next to me, maybe eight or nine years old and wearing a Mexican soccer jersey, stares as I march along, chanting in Spanish.

“Why does she talk like us?” I hear him ask his father.

Porque ella teine el corazón de una Mexicana, I want to tell him. It’s what my friend Gracia once told someone in the Mexican alley where I live part-time when they asked why I always side with the Mexicans on immigration issues.

I strike up conversations with the people around me as we march along. A young man from Zacatecas proudly shows me his I.D. card from the King County Parks Department. He tells me he, too, crossed the border illegally but eventually managed, through great effort, to obtain a green card and a job as a gardener for the county.

photo (2)“I can’t believe how many Americans have come out to march!” he says, pointing to the three or four white people visible in the crowd of marchers.

“Americans are brown-skinned too,” I remind him, thinking not only of the many Latino-Americans living in Seattle but also of my daughter and her friends who are Asians, Pacific Islanders, Ethiopians, and African-Americans. He nods and chuckles at my increasingly truthful statement. The one some Americans are loath to acknowledge.

    “Un pueblo unido, jamás sera vencido” he chants the phrase slowly so I can catch hold of it.

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Reunited – Women of EDGE:
Saturday, May 18th 4pm to 4:30pm – Reading and signing at Elliot Bay Book Company Details.

We have hosted the graduating writers and their final presentations for Artist Trust’s EDGE Professional Development Program for Writers for several years, and now we welcome back some EDGE alums to read from their most recent work. Artist Trust is dedicated to supporting Washington state artists working in all creative disciplines and provides professional resources and grant funding to writers, filmmakers, visual artists, and more. For more about Artist Trust and its valuable, vital programs, please see www.artisttrust.org.

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This post first appeared on WritersDigest.com. Read the original post here.


I signed up for the Writer’s Digest 2012 Conference in New York City with the goal of finding an agent to represent me and bring my nearly-finished memoir to a major publishing house.

Writer friends had described WD’s new Pitch Slam as the literary equivalent of speed dating. Since I’m modestly attractive, a fast talker, and had honed my pitch to three minute perfection, I figured I’d do okay.

By the time the conference was over, however, I’d made a complete about-face. I was no longer interested in finding an agent or going with a large publishing house. Based on what I heard from a number of different panelists (agents, editors and publishing experts), I was convinced that indie (or self) publishing was the direction for me. Here’s why I came to that conclusion, how I subsequently published my book, and why I haven’t regretted my decision for a single minute.

While the Pitch Slam was the big event everyone was hyped up about, I also found the panel discussions to be enlightening. It was the first time I’d attended a writer’s conference where self-publishing panels were being given equal time with the ever-popular agent and author panels. And guess what? The self-publishing types were just as enthusiastic (and maybe more so) about the future of publishing than the agents seemed to be. Literary agent and author advocate, April Eberhardt and Keith Ogorek of Author Solutions shed light on the good and bad news about the current state of traditional publishing that led to my change of heart.

Ms. Eberhardt expressed dismay at the state of traditional publishing. Few editors and agents, she said, were taking risks on unknown or emerging authors. I felt as if she was speaking directly to me when she said, “Quality manuscripts are not getting published,” and, “A tiny fraction of writers will ever be published by the traditional publishers.”

The View from Casa ChepitosThe other bad news, for me at least, was that I’d written a memoir. Word on the ground was that memoirs were no longer “de rigeur.” Unless you were a rock star or a lapsed Mormon, a refuge from a currently war-torn country or the victim of incest, chances were slim any editor would be interested. Memoirs written by middle-aged white women were a “dime a dozen,” according to one agent. What agents were looking for was prescriptive nonfiction written by experts with built-in audiences, YA books and genre novels. Thrillers, mysteries, and romances were high on their lists. A semi-literary memoir about Mexican immigrants was not.

I’d gone to the conference thinking I had at least a 50-50 chance of getting an agent’s attention but have since learned that the odds are steep: most of us madly pitching our manuscripts to agents that weekend would probably never land a book deal with a major publisher. So why bother to attend these conferences? Because you can learn about other paths to publishing, and make your dream come true all by yourself.  

I learned from Keith Ogorek’s panel on Navigating the World of Self-Publishing, and by talking to a number of representatives for independent publishers, that self-publishing was the fastest growing segment of the industry. Every week companies were sprouting up to meet the demand in the independent market. Even the big guys wanted in: Simon & Schuster was developing a self-publishing arm (Archway Publishing), Amazon had hired Larry Kirshbaum to head up Amazon Publishing, and the following July, Penguin would buy Author Solutions for $116 million.

Print-on-demand (POD) had finally been perfected to such a point that it was difficult to tell if a book was produced via POD or printed on an offset press. It was faster, easier and cheaper to create a book yourself than ever before. At the WD conference, tables were set up in a hallway where Abbott Press and a number other self-publishing companies were showing off their wares. Examples of books that looked professionally produced and felt good in your hands abounded.

My own prejudice against self-publishing began to wane.

Back home I began researching my options. I looked into the various packages offered by Author Solutions, Archway and Abbott Press. I studied the websites of Bookbaby, CreateSpace, Smashwords and Lulu to see what they had to offer. For various reasons, most of them having to do with the cost, I decided not to use the services of any of the self-publishing companies. I wanted complete control of my product and royalties and figured I could get more bang for my buck by doing it myself. My husband had years of experience in the printing industry and had worked with many small publishers. I’d run my own retail business for thirty-five years and I knew about marketing. Between the two of us we had the skill and expertise to do it.

So, in the summer of 2013, we registered Davis Bay Press with the state of Washington. A few days later I hired a copy-editor and a book designer, and signed Lightning Source on to print 1500 books. By late September my book, The View from Casa Chepitos: A Journey Beyond the Border, was published in e-book form and shortly afterwards in paperback. (I probably could have done it even more quickly if I hadn’t also been working full-time at my day job.)

We officially launched the book in November. More than two hundred people packed the hall at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle that night and we threw a festive Mexican-style fiesta with Mexican fare from the local taco truck and lots of tequila afterwards. We sold lots of books that night. As a matter of fact, in less than six months we’ve sold more than half the books we ordered (in only seven stores) and many more on Kindle.

Despite the long lines at that Pitch Slam at the Writer’s Digest 2012 conference, and lots of authors going way beyond their allotted three minutes, I did manage to successfully pitch seven agents. All of them asked to see the manuscript. Several actually got back to me. Three of them referred to the book as “the next Under the Tuscan Sun.” Unfortunately, none of them offered to represent me. But I’m okay with that.

I’m okay with it because I produced a beautiful, award-winning memoir that is selling well for an independently published book. It’s second only to Tony Cohan’s On Mexican Time for the number positive reviews on Amazon in the Mexican travel category. I’ve already recouped my initial investment, and not a day goes by that I don’t get an email, a note on Facebook or a card in the mail from someone who read it and wants to tell me how much they loved it.

Maybe I could have gotten a small advance and I might have sold more books if a traditional publisher had picked it up. But I doubt if the Mexican family I write about would be benefiting from the book’s success like they are today if one had. Because all of the proceeds from the book sales in Mexico go to them.

The “windfall” enables Lupe to buy shoes for her kids and hire tutors for her daughter who is struggling in school. It helped the entire Cordova-Rodriguez clan take their first-ever vacation—to the beaches of Zihuatanejo in December. Seeing photos of my Mexican godchildren romping in the surf and my friend Gracia and her husband (neither of whom had ever seen the ocean before) dancing in the sand brought me more happiness than a $2,000 advance from a big publishing house ever could have.

photoAt the AWP conference in Seattle this past February, I attended a panel discussion entitled Wayward: An Examination of the Modern Flaneur. The fact that they’d left the circumflex off of the “a” in flâneur and that no one knew how to pronounce it should have provided warning of what I could expect.

David Shields, the most familiar to me of the four presenting panelists, was quick to tell the audience that he not only disliked the word flâneur, he also thought the idea itself was beyond antiquated. In a world where one can “google images of Kuala Lumpur at will” Shields questioned the need for authors who write about faraway places. In essence he was sounding the death knell for travel writers. The first problem is that he misinterpreted the word flâneur which does not translate as one who travels to and observes exotic places as much as it is an observer who interprets that which is considerably closer: his or her own city and environment.

Though the word is associated with the French poet Charles Baudelaire who described the flâneur as “a gentleman stroller and detached observer of city streets,” I would argue that Virginia Woolf was one of the world’s greatest flâneurs. Her essay “Street Haunting: A London Adventure” is one of the best examples of flânerie ever written. Woolf’s obsession with colloquial scenes and the quotidian life in London are exactly what Laurent Turcot describes in his book Le promeneur à Paris au XVIIIe siècle (Paris, Gallimard, 2008):

“The flâneur played a double role in city life and in theory, that is, while remaining a detached observer. This stance, simultaneously part of and apart from, combines sociological, anthropological, literary and historical notions of the relationship between the individual and the greater populace.

I could easily name a dozen modern authors whose essays fit Turcot’s criteria. Certain essays of Joan Didion, Pico Iyer, Jonathan Rabin, Adam Gopnick, John McPhee, Paul Theroux, Bill Bryson, Susan Orleans, Ian Frazier, E.B. White and Simon Winchester would fit adequately into Turcot’s definition of flânerie.

I want to assure Mr. Shields that travel writers, along with flâneurs, are still necessary. Being able to now see photos of the Eiffel Tower or the hills of Tuscany on the internet is a far cry from exploring the streets of Dijon and Paris with M.F.K. Fisher or luxuriating in an ancient Italian villa with Frances Mayes. Googling images of Mount Fiji, the Nagong Hills or the Trans-Siberian Railway is not equivalent to the experience of reading The Lady and The Monk, Out of Africa or The Great Railway Bizarre. Though iPhone and Instagram photos of the world’s more intriguing places are ubiquitous on the internet, seeing an image of a place is not the same as being “on tour” with an adroit author who is not only “showing” the reader those places most worth visiting, but also interpreting his or her experience and adding relevant historical, social and cultural details.

In support of this argument, I’ve decided to try an experiment in flânerie myself. I am calling it Street Haunting in Seattle and San Miguel. Once a week I’ll be posting my photographs (a recently reborn passion) with short narratives about Seattle or San Miguel on my website. Since I remain a veteran insider/outsider in both places, it should be an interesting and fun exercise.

I hope you’ll stay tuned.

 

Top Ten Highlights of the 2014 San Miguel Writer’s Conference

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1. Sitting elbow-to-elbow with Calvin Trillin during the round table and seeing the King of Deadpan finally crack a smile at his own escapades.

2. Feeding oatmeal to Yann Martel’s ten-month-old son, a cheerful tow-headed little fellow named Felix.

3. Pitching April Eberhardt in the ladies room while she put on her lipstick the first morning. Having her subsequently pitch my book at her panel The New Era of Publishing: Making it Work for You the next day.

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4. Hanging out with my friend, travel writer Tom Swick, and showing him some of my favorite haunts in San Miguel (including a lovely supper of conchinita pibil at Posadita on a nearly perfect night).

5. The Saturday night soiree I hosted for a dozen people at Casa Chepitos for the second year. I’ve decided to make it an annual affair.

6. Talking about everything that night, from feminism to our favorite authors, with the brilliant Brooke Warner, founder of She Writes.

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7. Sharing a late night taxi with the lovely and vivacious Amy Ferris and the queen of memoir, Laura Davis.

8. Listening to Laura Esquivel’s wonderful talk about love, compassion and how Water for Chocolate is being produced on Broadway. I listened in Spanish and understood at least 80%!

9. Tina Packer’s performance as Shakespeare heroines in “Women of Will.

10. Jumping in the river, metaphorically speaking, with the inimitable Dinty Moore in his workshop: A River Runs Through It: What Makes a Story Whole. I’ve wanted to workshop with Dinty for a while and I wasn’t disappointed!

Oops! There is actually one more:

11. Selling every single copy of my memoir The View from Casa Chepitos: A Journey Beyond the Border at the conference bookstore.

In 1948 my husband’s parents honeymooned in Mexico. His dad borrowed his own father’s

Buick LaSalle and they drove all the way from Houston, Texas to Acapulco. On the way, they made numerous stops. One of Paul’s favorite childhood memories was looking at the faded Kodachrome photos that his father had taken of Acapulco, Taxco, Xochimilco, and Mexico City. After his father died we decided to retrace their steps with our own five-day survey tour of Tepotzlán and Taxco. We also spent a day in Cuernavaca, but found the City of Eternal Springtime disappointing. 

ImageCuernavaca

Once the playground of conquerors, emperors, and later movie stars and artists, the city is now a popular weekend retreat for DFers (people from Mexico City). It was sprawling, dirty and overcrowded but the four highlights of our brief time in Cuervaca were a visit to Robert Brady’s house, seeing the Diego Rivera mural at the Palacio de Cortez, lunch at a chic restaurant named HOUSE where the owner, Dago, chatted us up about Cuervaca and environs. But the best part was our stay at the serene and lovely Camino Real Sumiya, in a suburb of Cuernavaca.

Formerly the personal retreat of Barbara Hutton, heiress to the Woolworth fortune, Sumiya is unique in Mexico for its Japanese architecture. Many of the buildings were built in the 1940s by Japanese craftsmen and materials imported from Japan.

ImageTepotzlán

A side trip to visit my cranial-sacral therapist, Eduardo, and his wife Silvia at their home in Tepoztlán was interesting (and not just because Eduardo treated my frozen shoulder). The strange, but picturesque town is said to be the birthplace of Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec serpent-god who eventually grew wings and flew away (hence the enigmatic bird named for him).

Tepotzlán is situated in a lush valley surrounded by jagged mountain peaks and has been home to curanderos (traditional Mexican healers) for more than 400 years. Nowadays there are few curanderos left but the town continues to draw many non-traditional healers. On the trail up Mount Tepozteco, there were signs for tarot card readers, massage therapists, acupuncturists and other alternative practitioners. Due to time constraints, we did not make it all the way up the mountain, but the view of the valley from the top is reported to be astonishing.

ImageTaxco

Our last stop on the road toward Acapulco was Taxco, a charming city of steep and winding cobbled streets, white-washed walls and terracotta roofs that is best known for its silversmith trade. I was on a personal quest to see some original work by William Spratling, an architect from New Orleans who moved to Taxco in 1917 and was responsible for creating the jewelry trade. One hundred years later the town is a major tourist destination. Nearly every store in town sells silver jewelry and the Mexican National Jewelry Fair is held there annually in November. But finding any of Spratling’s original work eluded me. 

One morning I hired a cab to take me out to Taxco, El Viejo (Old Tasco) to the Rancho Guillermo Spratling where the Frommer’s guide said one could find original Spratling jewelry.

The cab driver took us to the wrong ranch, and we accidently ended up toruing the estate of a man who dines regularly with Carlos Slim, but that is another story and a very odd one.

A mile down the road, we finally found William Spratling’s ranch where a few original necklaces and bracelets are on display (and for sale). We took a quick tour of the house where

Spratling died (according to the man who led us around) but it was not being kept up. It was dismaying to see the house where the man who brought this vibrant commercial trade to the town of Taxco in a state of neglect. 

I just received the judge’s commentary notes from my entry of The View from Casa Chepitos in the Writer’s Digest ebook awards.

The author’s writing is easy to read and poetic, without being overwrought by adjectives and pathos. The author’s openness and honesty about her life draw readers in. It feels more like a later-in-life coming-of-age than any sort of more mid-life change, it’s hopeful, optimistic, and a bit idealistic rather than bitter and erratic. The book develops the author and those around her as full-fledged characters and does an excellent job crafting scenery and culture. The author clearly has the readers’ enjoyment at heart in the telling of this story, rather than just being fueled by her own need to get her life on the page. The ending has an open warm feeling that gently shoves readers back into their own lives with new, better perspective.

– Judge, Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-Book Awards

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