Friday, December 28, 2007

Alone with the Java

Well, I've decided to escape the chaos of my house for little while. I'm hiding out at the coffee shop down the street. There's something about coffee and people watching that inspires the muse in me. My mind is finally able to set aside the household chores and the kid's schedule and get into writing mode. The soft music and great smells help a lot too.
I'm supposed to be working on the outline for my next book, but I can't seem to get into it. I'm not an outline kind of author. I find that my characters and my story develop as I get further into the book. To say character X is going to do this and this and this feels unnatural. As I work on the outline I keep asking myself, how do I know the character is going to do this? I need to live with the characters a while and learn what motivates them. But I'm learning to be a bit more organized and to focus more on making each scene count. My books tend to be long. Too long. Although I did have someone once tell me that she bought my book because it was the thickest chick-lit book she'd seen. So I guess you never know.
Well, my coffee is almost gone and my outline is still bare. I'd better get a refill and get to work.
Ciao chicas,

Friday, December 21, 2007

It's official, I'm finished Christmas shopping! Yaayyy. At my toastmaster's group this morning, a member was saying that she hated shopping even though she enjoyed wrapping and giving presents out. I have to agree with her. Shopping isn't much fun when you're strapped for time.

So, I'm glad to be done. Now tonight I can begin wrapping.

I got a chance to read Tracy Montoya's 12 Days of Christmas Blog and loved it! I'm going to spend the weekend catching up on those I missed.

I also agreed to read a friend's partial. I don't usually do that, mostly because I just don't have time, but also because it's tough to comment on a new writer's work. But I'm actually eager to dive in and see what's he's come up with, because I know he's been working on it for a long time, and he's shared a bit of the plot with me and it sounds exciting and well thought out.

So that's the plan for the weekend: read, write, clean up and organize, and wrap presents!


Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Five Golden Rings

Welcome to day five of our Chica lit Christmas Blogging Tour!

Yesterday's contest winner was: jennikmahal
Congratulations! Contact Caridad Piniero to make delivery arrangements.

All right, moving right along to story number five. I hope you enjoy it!

The Five Golden Rings

Christmas Eve was always crazy in Carina Romero’s family. But it had become especially frenzied the last few years with the addition of spouses, boy/girl friends, and children all gathering at her Tia Lula’s house (since her grandmother had gotten too old to deal with the horde descending onto her little three bedroom 1920's home built for normal families). Everyone arrived loaded down with food and presents that literally filled the kitchen and living room. To say that Carina was not looking forward to it all was a huge understatement. And it wasn’t that she was a scrooge or anything, just that the entire evening wore her out.

At six in the morning when it was still pitch black outside, the phone calls started. "Did you say, you’re baking the pecan pie or the apple, because your pecan pie was too sweet last year and if you’re planning on making it again this year, I suggest using less sugar." from her mother. "Are we going to midnight mass this year? I’m going to take a nap if we are." from her cousin who always fell asleep in church. "My car’s not running well, can you pick me up?" from her sister.

Then there were calls from friends wishing her a nice couple of days off. And even one from a charity for the blind, asking for a last minute donation and promising that she’d be able to make a Christmas wish and the universe would grant it. Yeah, right. She donated twenty bucks.

"And what’s your wish?" the lady asked.

Carina sighed. "I don’t know."

"You must have a wish."

"Sure," she said, taking in the unwrapped items on the floor, the basket of clean laundry she hadn’t had time to fold, and the inch of dust coating every exposed spot of her house. "I wish someone would help me clean my house."

"Is that your wish?"

"Tell you what, since you help the blind, make it possible for me to see what all this crazy running around is for. All I’ve done for three weeks is go from store to store like a crazy person, trying to guess what people like, fighting insane mobs, and for what? Is anyone going to appreciate it? I’m exhausted. I want to see the point in all this. That’s my wish."

"A wish for vision. I like that. Okay, I’ve got it down. Good luck."

Carina ended the call and put on the radio to 103.5FM which plays Christmas music the entire month of December, hoping this rendition by Josh Groban of I’ll Be Home For Christmas would put her in the holiday spirit. Then she got back to work. With all the morning interruptions, she’d barely had enough time to cook and wrap presents.

So when her phone rang again, while she was encircled by ribbon, bows, and wrapping paper, she screamed. Crawling across the living room floor, she picked up the receiver. "What?" she yelled.

"Ah, excuse me, is this Carina Romero?" a voice that didn’t belong to any of her family members asked.


"Well, you don’t know me, but my name is Andrea Garcia and we both work for Sanford Transport. I work out of the San Francisco office."

"Okay." She said more hesitantly. "How can I help you?"

"Well, do you know Samuel Lopez?"

"Sure, he’s my fiancé." Who she was annoyed with, because he’d chosen to work on Christmas Eve rather than spend it with her.

She heard a part gasp, part cry come through the phone line.

Carina frowned. "Are you okay? What do want with Sam?"

"Samuel is my fiancé too," she said, with another high pitched cry.

Carina figured the woman was crazy or at the very minimum getting hysterical for no reason. So her fiancé had the same name, big deal. "Look, it can’t possibly be the same Samuel Lopez. Calm down."

"Last night after we went out to dinner, I dropped him off at the airport – he was going to see his sister in San Diego for the holidays, he said. Well, when I got home, I noticed his cell phone had fallen off the clip. There it was, on the passenger seat. I picked it up and took it into my house. I knew his plane had already left, but I was going to call him and let him know I had the phone. He’s a sale’s rep and absolutely needs his to be able to reach his contacts."

Carina was only mildly concerned that her Samuel was also a sales rep who happened to supply Sanford Transport with all their high tech software.

"But before I could call him," she continued. "His phone rang and I answered it. It was a woman who demanded to know who I was and why I was answering Samuel’s phone. I told her, and she freaked out, cursing in both English and Spanish. She works for Sanford Transport, San Diego office, and she was most definitely not Sam’s sister."

Carina sat on her sofa, feeling sick "Another fiancé?"

"I quickly looked through his address book, and found your name with girl #3 on it. I’m girl #4, Sandra from San Diego is #1. There’s a #2, and a #5 in his book too. And we all work for the same company."

Carina gripped the phone so tight, her fingers started to go numb. She tried to think of what to do? How could Samuel do something like this? Her only desire was to look into his eyes, face to face, and ask him if it was true. And if it was . . . Que Dios lo protecte. "Is he on his way to see Sandra?"

"Yes, and she’s going to kill him when she gets her hands on him."

Carina stood, feeling a need for vengeance surge through her veins. "I don’t think she should have all the fun. What do you say we all meet him at Sandra’s house tonight? Can you call the other two women and verify that they’re also . . . engaged to Samuel?" She could barely get the words out.

Andrea agreed to arrange the meeting, and book the first flight out of San Francisco. Carina dropped everything and got in her car for the three hour drive from Long Beach to San Diego on Christmas Eve of all days.

* * *

Sandra, a thin, tall woman with gorgeous straight black hair, had a rich accent, and shared with Carina that she’d been recruited by their company from Mexico City. She’d worked in the US for four years. She met Samuel two years ago.

Nicki worked in the Desert communities office located in Palm Desert. She had a Tex-Mex style and intonation to her speech. Apparently, she’d been girl number two. Samuel must have figured they were far enough away from each other and worked in different departments so they’d never meet. He must have gotten bold after that, because he’d picked up Carina, Andrea, and most recently, Linda from Los Angeles.

All five women held their left hands out over Sandra’s round dark walnut table. Five identical golden rings glinted under the yellow light of her chandelier. One average sized diamond rested on the top.

"Did he buy these at a discount?" Carina asked, royally pissed, because she’d been so understanding that he couldn’t afford more. And he’d promised he’d buy her a bigger diamond as soon as he could.

"What are we going to do?" Linda asked as they all pulled their hands back.

"Get his sorry butt fired," Nicki said, pushing away from the table.

"Not enough," Sandra was definitely the one most out for blood. She’d known him the longest and couldn’t believe he’d gone out and picked up four other women after her.

"When he gets here tonight, we have to find a way to torture him slowly and painfully." Carina agreed.

Sandra smiled wickedly. "I just bought a set of sharp Henckle knives."

"We can tie him up with some of your Christmas ribbon," Nicki got into the torture fantasy, adding a festive accent as she poked through Sandra’s box of decorations on her coffee table.
"Then slowly cut pieces off his anatomy."

But Andrea continued to look at her ring, rocking it slowly from side to side. "I really thought he loved me."

Painful silence replaced all their voices. Carina thought he loved her too, though she hadn’t been completely satisfied with his lack of attention. He traveled so much and sometimes forgot to call. Now, she knew why. "I wondered when he was going to introduce me to his family. He said they lived in New Mexico and that we’d go for a visit before our wedding next year."

"His family lives here in San Diego," Sandra said. "That’s where we’re going tonight." She stood, and walked to her fridge, pulling out a carafe full of eggnog. "That’s where we were going, I should say."

Carina joined her in the kitchen. "Glasses?"

"Left cabinet by the microwave."

Carina set the glasses on the table while Sandra poured, as if they’d been doing this for years.

"I just don’t understand why he had to propose to all of us," Andrea said. "I mean, he could have just dated us. Why this kind of deceit?"

"Maybe he figured he’d keep us all around until he decided who he really wanted to marry," Linda suggested.

"Maybe he’s a no good, rat that needs to be taught a lesson." Sandra slammed the carafe on the table. "Hijo de p–."

"Hey, hey," Carina said. "Whatever his reasons, they don’t matter now. The game’s over and he’ll have to deal with each of us individually."

They all knew that was true. As much as they savored the idea of killing him, they were rational, civilized women, with the only option being to dump him. Question was, how?

Sandra left the table and reached into her box of organized Christmas wrappings on her coffee table. She pulled out a gold foil box. Then she placed the box on the table and slid the gold ring off her finger. She dropped it in the box and it landed with a hallow sound of finality. They each followed suit, Andrea being the last, but exhaling as if a giant burden had been lifted off her shoulder. Sandra closed the lid over the box.

"So what are the rest of you going to do this Christmas Eve? I’m suddenly without plans. I should have gone home to Mexico." Sandra pulled out more food. Pan Dulce, and a pot of steaming tamales. "I was going to take these with me to Samuel’s parent’s house, but let’s eat them now, no?"

"Mmm," Linda said. "My grandmother used to make the best Tamales. And she always let us help. Even though we were kids, she still let us get in the kitchen and contribute to the Christmas meal."

They each took one. "Does she still make them?" Carina asked.

"No, she passed on a couple of years ago. My sister makes them, but they’re not as good though we don’t tell her."

Sandra put on some Christmas music. Resigned, like the other four women, to pass the time awaiting their scheming fiancé's arrival as pleasantly as possible.

Carnina nodded. "Yeah, my abuela is getting up there in age too and doesn’t do much anymore. We’re glad to at least have her with us. We take everything, including her, to my tia’s house."
Andrea smiled for the first time that evening. "That’s nice. My grandparents are still alive, and my grandmother insists on doing everything herself. The only thing we all bring are poinsettias, la flor the nochebuena she says, and her entire living room is filled with them. It makes her so happy."

They took their drinks and some pan dulce to the living room, sharing more of their holiday traditions and finding that they had a lot in common. Thoughts of Samuel temporarily on hold as they reminisced.

"My aunt married a Cuban who always makes a huge lechon asado in his back yard every year." Nicki said. "He digs a hole in the dirt and sticks a pole through the pig that he killed earlier in the day to roast over the hot coals."

Everyone cringed.

"Yeah, his white neighbors wanted to string him up over a fire pit when he first moved in."
They all laughed.

"But now they love it, because he invites them all over and it’s a huge feast. And let me tell you, this meat that’s been basted in lemon, lime and orange juices taste amazing."

Sandra took a seat, seeming to calm down. "We had a quiet Christmas in Mexico. It was more of a religious holiday than it is here in America. We went to church and participated in la posada. The celebration at the end was festive and fun, and not commercial. My family in particular always went to the orphanages to take a little something to the children. Christmas used to mean something. but here in America, it feels so hallow."

"Well, I’ve lived in the US my whole life and I feel the same way," Carina said. "Every year I go through the motions, buying gifts out of obligation, decorating hastily, because I don’t have time to do it right. Christmas has lost it’s magic."

Sandra caught Carina’s gaze. "Well, let’s bring it back."

"What do you mean?"

Everyone waited for Sandra to explain.

"What if we took our engagement rings to a pawn shop, exchanged them for cash, bought a bunch of presents and took them to the local shelter tonight. I loved doing that with my family."
Nicki and Linda checked their watches. "Well, I have plans tonight," Nicki said. "After I give Samuel a good kick in the nuts, and tell him using all his precious CD’s as target practice." She arched an eyebrow. "I recently bought a gun and am learning to shoot."

"I’ve got to get home tonight too," Carina said. "But, do we sit around and wait to yell at Samuel or do something useful?" Something good had to come out of their pain, and maybe Sandra was right and at the same time, they could create their own magic.

Andrea nodded. "I’m not getting back to San Francisco tonight anyway, so sure, why not."
In a sudden flurry of movement, they got their purses and coats. Sandra picked up the box of rings. They found a pawn shop that was willing to give them each $100 a piece for their rings. Not much, but enough to buy a few bags of toys.

Carina shopped with an almost cathartic feeling of joy. Later she would allow herself to cry, because though she hadn’t had time to think about it yet, Samuel had shattered her dreams of happily ever after. He’d betrayed her in the cruelest way, playing with her heart, and the hearts of each of these women who had turned out to be wonderful. She’d eventually get over him and would have to spend hours asking herself why she was willing to fall for a man who was rarely around. But later – not tonight.

Sandra found a woman’s shelter, and they arrived as Christmas dinner was being served. The staff, welcomed them, and allowed the five women to pass out the gifts to the children. Carina’s heart swelled at the excited expressions on the children’s faces, and ached at the same time that they found themselves here tonight. Later, after dinner, they would get another present from what had been donated by others during the month of December, but it still felt good to offer them one more gift.

They didn’t stay long after that. Nicki and Linda wanted to get on the road. And Carina knew she had to as well. They gathered by the front door.

Linda shrugged. "I can’t confront Samuel tonight. I’ll call him later. Or maybe not at all."

"I think we should each send him a thank you card." Carina said.

She was treated to a bunch of skeptical looks.

"And we would do that because?" Sandra asked.

"You know, I was so frustrated with going through the motions of the holidays and wanting to make sure everything was perfect for tonight, that I actually forgot that Christmas is more about getting together with people you care about, and doing something nice for someone who needs it than it is about baking the perfect pecan pie. Thanks to Sam being the jerk that he is, and ruining my perfect Christmas Eve, I think I’m actually happy."

They walked outside, and stood in front of the building that gave shelter to women and children who had suffered much more than the five of them. Christmas lights twinkled all around them, and there was a chill in the air. Yes, there was much to be grateful for, and reasons to feel fortunate. A broken heart would heal in time. But they had great families, and maybe a group of new friends. Everything would be okay.

They drove back to Sandra’s house, exchanged phone numbers and promised to keep in touch. Carina doubted they would, but it didn’t matter. For today, she’d shared a special Christmas moment with four amazing ladies and had been reminded about the true meaning of charity and even forgiveness.

As they were saying their good-byes, Samuel pulled up to the curb of Sandra’s condo. He got out, looked their way, and froze. The pure look of dread on his face was a sweet Christmas gift they would each treasure.

Sandra walked up to him, the rest of the women followed.

"I loved you all," he said, but before he could finish, Sandra slapped him across the face. She turned around and nodded as if her job had been completed.

"Merry Christmas," she said with a smile and hurried up the walk of her building.

No one else said a word to Samuel. There was no need. He got in his car and drove away.

In the distance, carolers could be heard making their way through the neighborhood, singing, "on the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me . . . five golden rings".

Carina smiled and shook her head as she got into her car. Next time, to hell with the golden ring. Her true love better be prepared to offer his heart or nothing at all.


Copyright © Lara Rios

Answer the following question in the comments section to win a copy of BECOMING LATINA IN 10 EASY STEPS and BECOMING AMERICANA.

Question: Who was the third person to call Carina on Christmas Eve morning?

The winner will be announced tomorrow on Caridad Ferrer's blog.

I don’t know about you all, but for me Christmas isn’t Christmas if I don’t gain at least ten pounds. Eating all the goodies is part of what makes it feel like a month of celebration. So, I have a couple recipe’s to share with you.

The first was mentioned in the above Christmas story – the roasted lechon. Not to worry, I’m not going to suggest you dig a hole in your back yard and roast and entire pig. I will however, first share the real story of why I added this particular detail.

The real story stars a traumatized little girl (me) and an adorable, chubby, pink pig. On Christmas Eve my family used to get together with other Argentine families, and party until the early morning hours. They had loud music playing usually in the living room out of a boom box, where they congregated and all yelled to speak over each other. We rotated houses so that all the work wouldn’t fall on one family every year. One Christmas Eve we were visiting an older Argentine couple who either didn’t have children or they were grown. The man had a small house, but a huge lot, and in the back he grew chickens and raised a couple of pigs.

My brother and I and a few other kids spent all day playing with the pigs. The were cute! And clean. Not at all what you think of pigs. Well, about 5pm, when the sun started to go down. All the kids had to come inside, and the men all went outside. We heard laughing and yelling (I’m pretty sure the guys were drunk), and squealing (my mom still swears there wasn’t any squealing and that the pig didn’t suffer, but I heard something) so I went outside even though I was told not to, and saw bloody water running down the driveway. I screamed hysterically. A bunch of Argentine women came running out to pull me inside, and my mom explained that the pig was going to be roasted for dinner that night. I was horrified, disgusted, and cried on my mom’s shoulder. I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that night, and didn’t touch pork again until I was an adult.

I still wish I hadn’t had that experience, but I have to admit that I've gotten over it. I love roasted pork. I know Caridad Piniero shared an absolutely delicious recipe yesterday, and I’m going to try it, but here is the Argentine version (I know, how can I give you a recipe for pork after sharing that story, but I wanted to let you know that it's a real tradition among Argentine's and Cubans (at least those living in Cuba).

Take a 3 to 4 pound pork shoulder or loin roast and brush it with olive oil, then season it with salt, pepper, parsley, and garlic (about 6 cloves, minced). On the bottom of the roasting pan, add maybe a teaspoon more olive oil to keep the pork from sticking to the pan, and about a ½ cup of white wine (the alcohol must evaporate, because it doesn’t taste like alcohol at all, and gives it a great flavor). Cook on 350 degrees F for 2 ½ to 3 hours. Add carrots (real carrots cut in quarters, not the baby ones because they turn into mush), potatoes, and halved onions the last hour.
Very simple and very tasty!

Now, the second recipe does not appear in my story, but I just have to share with you, because once you eat a steak with Chimichurri, you won’t pull the A-1 ever again.
This sauce is great on flank or skirt steak or, but my father used it on all red meat.

You need 1 bunch of leaf parsley
8-10 garlic cloves minced
3/4 cup of olive oil
Juice of 1 fat lemon wedge / or 2 tablespoons of red sherry
tablespoon of diced read onions
teaspoon of dried oregano
teaspoon of black pepper
½ teaspoon of salt
(optional)1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper

Put the parsley in the food processor first and chop it up. Then add the rest of the ingredients in any order you like, and mix it all up. Use about half of this mixture to marinade your meat. The rest is set on the table to put on your grilled beef.

Tomorrow, on December 16th, visit Caridad Ferrer at: to enjoy another wonderful Christmas story and enter to win copies of ADIOS and IT’S NOT ABOUT THE ACCENT and and iTunes gift card. Wow!

Best of luck, and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Day Four for the Blog Tour

I'm am enjoying the 12 Days of Christmas Blog Tour. I hope you are! If you haven't had a chance to read the first four stories, check them out. You'll be glad you spent a few minutes doing something for yourself.

12/11 Mary Castillo -

12/12 Berta Platas -

12/14 Caridad Pineiro -

You still have time to throw your name into the hat to win the prize: A copy of SEX & THE SOUTH BEACH CHICAS and Victoria's Secret bag with goodies.

And I'll see you back tomorrow to add my contribution to the 12 Days of Chica Lit

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Do Store Return Policies Suck?

Okay, store return policies really irritate me. I think Walmart is the only store that doesn't give you a hard time about not having a reciept. Last year I got very irritated with Target, because my son recieved three identical gifts. A remote control Hummer truck -- the only difference was in the color. Since he obviously didn't need three, I decided to take two back and let him choose something else.

Both trucks had Target tags on them, and I even think they can scan them and verify that they were purchased at Target, but the guy at the "customer service" booth was incredibly rude, and warned me that because I didn't have a reciept, I wouldn't be able to return anything else to Target the rest of the year. Whatever. I figured I simply won't buy anything else at Target. Plus, the exchange that he so grandly granted me had to be done that exact day, in the same department from which the original item was puchased. Meaning that if you recieved a hideous sweater, you'd better hope you could find a better one that day or you were out of luck. The rules were so obviously intended to make it difficult for the customer to exchange anything, that it really left me with a negative feeling toward Target.

This year, after my son's birthday, which falls at the beginning of December, I go through something similar with Toy's R Us.

So I'm thinking, these stores are simply trying to take advantage of people. They know an item has been purchased there and that people who recieve a gift don't usually want to say, "Hey, I have this already, or I don't like it" and will not ask for the reciept. The store therefore, avoids having to deal with returns, and ends up making more money at the expense of their customers.

Something just didn't strike me as fair or very customer friendly about all that. After all, if making an exchange makes the customer happy, isn't it worth it?

Well, I still feel that way, but I had a new experience that made me see another point of view. My son, who goes through phases and only likes one type of thing at a time, which is the reason, I'm always having to exchange his things. Because he gets a zillion of the same item. I don't go through this with my daughter or anyone else in the family. Well for his birthday, he gets a box of Bionicles (a Lego product) and when he opens it, we find that someone has taken all the Bionicle pieces out of it and refilled it with pieces of broken toys! He was obviously crushed, because he felt like a cruel joke had been played on him. After we explained that his uncle wasn't the one to blame, but that someone had bought it at a store, stolen the Bionicle and returned the glued box back to the store, he felt a little better. Not much better to be honest. But he's a kid, and only understand that he didn't get his toy.

I, however, very much shocked that someone would do something like that, came to understand why stores are getting tougher with their customers. Because there are people that will steal, cheat, and take advantage of the lenient store policies that allow them to bring things back. And understandably, they don't want to take a loss.

Of course, it could have been a person who had a reciept who did this, and in fact, they probably did and were not questioned.

So how does a store fairly deal with honest customers that want to make an exchange, and at the same time keep from being cheated by the community they serve?

What do you think?


Friday, December 07, 2007

12 Days of Chica-lit Holiday Blog Tour!

Beginning December 11th Chica-lit authors will have an original holiday story, recipe and prize giveaway every day until Christmas Eve!

The all star line up is listed below:

12.11.07: Mary Castillo, author of Switchcraft
12.12.07: Berta Platas, author of Cinderella Lopez
12.13.07: Mayra Calvani, author of Dark Lullaby
12.14.07: Caridad Pineiro, author of Holiday With a Vampire
12.15.07: Lara Rios, author of Becoming Americana
12.16.07: Caridad Ferrer, author of It's Not About the Accent
12.17.07: Margo Candela, author of Life Over Easy
12.18.07: Kathy Cano Murillo, author of Crafty Chica's Art de la Soul
12.19.07: Tracy Montoya, author of Telling Secrets
12.20.07: Jamie Martinez Wood, author of Latino Writers & Journalists and Rogelia's House of Magic (coming summer 2008)
12.21.07: Misa Ramirez, author of Lola PI: Living the Vida Lola (January 2009 from St. Martin's Press)
12.22.07: Sofia Quintero, author of Juicy Mangos
12.23.07: Toni Margarita Plummer, author and editor