Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Dirty Girls' Weekend

Novelist Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez made history again this past weekend. The best-selling author of novels such as Dirty Girls Social Club and la madrina de chica lit (the godmother of chica lit) organized and hosted the 1st annual Chica Lit Club Fiesta in Miami Beach. About seventy chica lit aficionados from all over the country gathered at the Miami Beach Resort and Spa for a weekend of books, fun and sisterhood.

In addition to fun activities such as a BBQ buffet across the beach to a fabulous dinner at Bongo’s Cuban Café, the fiesta also boasted a variety of panels that informed and inspired the creative spirits in attendance. I’ve learned that even booklovers who don’t aspire to write and are content to find great reads and support their favorite authors love to learn how publishing works. Well, they learned a great deal this weekend with over ten panels and workshops from “How to Become a Chica Lit Writer” to “Blogging for Modern Day Chicas.”

Alisa set and kept the sisterly tone by being such a warm and gracious hostess, and her indomitable volunteers kept things moving smoothly. In her welcoming remarks at our first breakfast, Alisa proved to be just as intelligent, spirited and funny in person as she is in writing. She also spoke a great deal of truth but always imbued her message with hope (which I sometimes forget to do!) I am truly heartened and inspired by how Alisa continues to blaze trails, whether proving to the publishing industry that mainstream fiction by and about Latinas can resonate with diverse audiences, using her visibility to speak truth to power or organizing an event like this to bring Latinas together to celebrate our accomplishments and learn how to build on them. The gal ain’t no Jill Sanchez (and if you’ve read her latest novel Make Him Look Good, you already know what I’m driving at!

I also finally had the joy of meeting many fellow authors including Mary Castillo and Berta Platas. These gals – along with Lynda Sandoval who sadly could not make the fiesta – keep me going with their emails. Not too long ago, I had to confess to them that I had yet to submit the novella for the anthology the four of us are co-authoring for Avon/Harper Collins. They gave me a much needed jumpstart with their understanding and hilarious words so it felt great to thank Mary and Berta in person with a hug.

Shame on me for not knowing about them before I landed in Miami, but I also discovered some wonderful Latina writers who have shot up to the top of my to-read list. One such writer was Reyna Grande whose debut novel Across A Hundred Mountains hits bookstores next month. Before reading from her second novel, Reyna told us that, yes, she made three attempts to cross the border illegally into the United States, and she took great issue with the notion that immigrants come here to take and not give. I agree wholeheartedly with her, and I can tell you that after her short reading of her work-in-progress, had Reyna not come to the United States, the loss would have been ours.

The fiesta also gave me an opportunity to reconnect with some other folks that I hardly get to see like Caridad Pineiro and Marcela Landres. For those of you who do not know, Marcela is an editrix extraordinaire who is on mission to help writers – especially Latinas – get published. As usual, she pulled no punches, telling us what we need to know and do if we are to succeed in this industry. Even though I am already published, I found her 10 Tips for Latina Writers to be insightful and will share it with every hermana I know who aspires to write. When I listen to Marcela speak I never doubt that her truthtelling comes from a place of passion for the written word as well as a desire to see su gente represented in that medium.

Sometimes the best moments are the small ones with those who know you best and love you anyway. J Because I had bought a new digital camera sans memory card – at tiny gadget I bought on the spur of the moment at Brookstone – I was only able to take a few pictures. Of course, my favorite is the one of my homegirl Elisha and me barefoot on the beach behind the resort. She and I – both as individuals and as a team – have been working relentlessly so to be able to get away from all the responsibilities and sit in the sand – even if only for a half-hour – was a blessing.

The downside of my weekend was I had to leave the fiesta a day early! Because of a speaking engagement at Foothill College on Tuesday morning, I had to return to New York City on Sunday morning, handle some errands and then head back to the airport on Monday evening to board a plane to San Jose. Still my whirlwind trip to Miami allowed me to have some much deserved and overdue fun and to remind me that there is a place for me – the authentic me – no matter where I go.


Frederick Smith said...

It was indeed a GREAT weekend!

It was great seeing you again! I have the pic we took at Bongos (your eyes blinked!) and will forward to you if you want. You can email me at fsmith827 at gmail.com for how to send it to you.

Take care.

Unknown said...

Hey, Frederick,

Yeah, I'd love to have the picture. I can always edit myself out of it and have a nice photo of you, LOL! Look out for my email. Say, will you be at La Feria del Libros in LA next weekend. Elisha and I will be there, and it'd be great to see you. We really gotta find time to sit down and talk though, you know!