Don’t let other people decide who you are.

Earlier today, Sil (@thebookvoyagers) posted a book aesthetic on the lovely Twitter account @diverseaesthetic (which you really should be following if you aren’t already!) that was inspired by The Infamous Miss Rodriguez. I loved everything about it–the model! the colors!–but what struck me the most was the quote: Don’t let other people decide who you are.

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Partly because it encapsulates my own struggle in trying to define myself in the face of other people’s expectations. If there’s one thing about Dominican society–and families, especially!–it’s that everyone has an opinion on how you should behave, dress, speak… I think I’m finally beginning to find a way to be less apologetic of what I want to be and what I want out of life, but it’s taken almost thirty years and it hasn’t always been easy.

But the quote also describes the Ciudad Real series with stunning accuracy. In the novella I’ve already published and the three novels that will make up the series, each of the protagonists is also struggling to define her own identity and desires and reconcile that with what’s expected of them as women in 1911, as members of their respective families and as people who hold particular places in society.

In The Infamous Miss Rodriguez, Graciela is determined to put an end to her aunt’s wish that she submit quietly to a marriage that will put funds in the family coffers but that Graciela desperately wishes to avoid. And she plans to, by any means necessary.

Beatriz, the heroine of The Respectable Miss Tolentino (the one I’m working on at the moment) wants no part of her mother’s idealizations of relationships and romance and sets out to build herself a marriage on her own terms.

Camila, who has always been the sensible one in her family, and who has always done what’s required of her, chafes under their expectations in The Reckless Miss Garcia, until she finds the courage to give in to her own desires, even when it seems reckless, selfish and irresponsible.

And then there’s Sofia, in The Penniless Miss Alcantara, an heiress who longs to be appreciated by something other than her fortune, and who isn’t sure how to make Society see who she really is. (Don’t worry–she will.)

It won’t be easy, but like Graciela, the other women will find a way to live their lives–and find love!– on their own terms. Because, as this other aesthetic made by Sil says, freedom, especially the freedom to be oneself, whoever that person is, is the ultimate luxury.

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A Summer for Scandal has been re-released!

I’m so excited to announce that A Summer for Scandal, the first book in my Arroyo Blanco Series, has been re-released!

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When Emilia Cruz agreed to accompany her sister to a boating party, she had no idea that the darling of the literary world would be in assistance—or that he would take such pleasure in disparaging the deliciously sinful serial she writes under a pseudonym. No one save her sister knows she’s the author and to be found out would mean certain scandal.

Stuck on his long-awaited second book, Ruben Torres has begun to edit in secret a gossip paper whose literary reviews are as cruel as they are clever. The more he writes about the mysterious author of a popular serial, the more papers he sells…and the more he is determined to find out her identity before anyone else can. 

In addition to the gorgeous new cover that will be in line with the upcoming books in the series, A Summer for Scandal now has an epilogue and some expanded scenes (some with a little extra steam!). I’ve also taken the opportunity to fix a few mistakes that slipped into the first version.

If you’ve already purchased it, you can update the file via the retailer you bought it from. (If for some reason you’re unable to update, contact me via the contact form on this site and I’ll email you a copy in the format of your choice, plus my deepest apologies!)

If you haven’t, well, what are you waiting for? You can find A Summer for Scandal at the following retailers:

Amazon US   Amazon UK   iBooks    Kobo   Smashwords   B&N

As the first book in the series, A Summer for Scandal will remain at a discounted price of US$ 1.99.

Add it on Goodreads here and check out the Pinterest board I created for it:

If you’re interested in more stories set in Arroyo Blanco, you might enjoy A Season for Wishes, a Christmas novella set in the town.

Amazon US   Amazon UK   Kobo   Smashwords   iBooks   B&N

And if you’re curious about the woman who tries to convince Ruben she’s Miss del Valle, she has a novella of her own! The Infamous Miss Rodriguez is the first in a series that takes place in Ciudad Real.

Amazon US   Amazon UK   Kobo    Smashwords    iBooks   B&N

And so does Miss Dominguez’s Christmas Kissa free short story!

As for the next book in the Arroyo Blanco series, A Time for Desire is the story of Roberto Sandoval and Rosa Castillo, one of the suffragettes who appears in A Summer for Scandal. It features government corruption, tons more suffragettes, and a bearded hero (if you follow me on Twitter, you know those are my favorite kind of heroes!). It will be available sometime in late 2017.

Whew! I think that’s all for now! As always, I love to hear from you, so leave me a comment or find me on Twitter!

 

El Directorio de Deschamps

My latest post for Edwardian Promenade is the first part in a (short!) series of posts on ways Dominicans amused themselves in the Edwardian era.

One of the resources I used for writing it was Enrique Deschamp’s La Republica Dominicana. Directorio y Guia General.

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Published in 1907, it’s a compendium of information about…well, everything Dominican. Deschamps’ Directorio includes detailed a detailed history of the island from Taino times, texts describing the Dominican constitution, its exports and main industries, social customs and its towns.

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Photographs of prominent Dominican men and women abound in its pages, some of whom you may recognize from my tweets.

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In his Directorio, Deschamps collects poems, essays and stories, as well as sheet music. The Directorio also serves as a guide for businesses all around the island. If you needed to find anything or anyone in 1907, this was where you first looked.

And if you’re a historian or historical novelist interested in the Dominican Republic in the Edwardian era, Enrique’s totally got your back.

I do have to add that Enrique was a member of a wealthy elite of Santiago de los Caballeros and it shows in the way (sometimes disparaging, sometimes condescending) he writes about the popular classes.

 

2016

I didn’t write a lot in 2016.

I spent most of January haunting the hospital after one of my best friends was admitted into the ICU on January 2nd. For the next 27 days, I read the frothiest romances and the most delightfully magical MG novels I could find. And then, when my friend passed away on January 29th, just as we were tentatively making plans for her recovery, I began trying to outrun grief.

I was lucky enough to be able to travel around Spain, France and the U.S. As I did, I began to push myself to do more and see more and live more. I dated more (and was completely infuriated by infuriating boys but also met someone who turned out to be very lovely), I tried to be more social (I clubbing in Nice on my birthday! And didn’t spontaneously combust!) and tried to do all the bookish things I’d never done before: a book launch in NYC! The Brooklyn Book Festival! (Where I spoke to absolutely no one but attended lots of fantastic panels and silently fangirled over a lot of awesome writers, so yay.) I even went to the Baltimore Book Festival, lured by the promise of three days full of smart romance writers saying lots of smart things. (They did not disappoint.) There, I tried to be a little more vocal in my fangirling and ended up being an absolute nerd (Remind me to tell you about the time I told Alisha Rai her hair was pretty and then wandered away, absolutely overcome).

I kept myself busy, and even when I found the time to write, the words wouldn’t always come. So I revised The Infamous Miss Rodriguez, which I’d mostly finished the year before. I fiddled (and still am) with A Time For Desire, the next Arroyo Blanco novel. I started the next Ciudad Real novel, a snippet of which I’ll share below.

I made plans for 2017 and watched as most of them, as well as the world, it seemed like, fell apart.

But I also I visited cities I’d never been in before, and wandered around some old favorites. I read so many amazing books. I watched (not creepily, I promise!) as my books were read and enjoyed. And I met so many lovely people, both online and off, both in the U.S. and here at home (I made a romance-loving friend and we’ve been talking about possibly attending RT next year).

I didn’t get a chance to speak to my friend after she was admitted into the ICU, though I did sneak in once to see her. I didn’t get to say goodbye or make any promises. But for years, we’d been joking that we needed to be less responsible and “good” and a little more wild and daring. I tried my best to do that this year, and even though I had to do it alone, I’d like to think that Gaby approves.

And I’d like to think that 2017 will bring with it more opportunities to continue living as fully as possible, come what may.

And here is a tiny snippet from The Respectable Miss Tolentino, the next book in the Ciudad Real series:

Miss Tolentino’s gaze flickered over him. “Blast, shit and damnation,” she said distinctly. “I don’t see what’s so wicked about a few words.”

She might not, but he could—those few words, coming from her lips, delivered in that crisp voice of hers, made a flame of desire burst instantly to life inside Eduardo. It occurred to him that she adopted that particular tone when she was rattled. Was it the profanity that made her consonants come out clear as the ringing of church bells, or was she as affected by his proximity as he was by hers? Now, there was a delightful thought. He turned it over in his mind for a moment, then stored the thought away carefully until he might examine it more closely. 

“You’re right, Miss Tolentino. What is it that suffragettes say? Deeds, not words? I believe it’s time we turn our efforts towards the execution of some very sinful deeds.”

Manic pixie dream aunt

I was fourteen or fifteen when I first read Julia Alvarez’s How Tia Lola Came To Visit Stay. Though I didn’t have the words to explain it to myself even then, I was left feeling vaguely uneasy and offended by her portrayal of the titular character. Rereading it almost fifteen years later, I find I feel the same way. Here’s why.

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Following his parent’s divorce, Miguel has just moved from New York City to Vermont with his mother and his sister Juanita when his mother announces that her aunt, Lola, is coming for a visit from the Dominican Republic, where both Miguel’s parents are from.

Tia Lola is a Mary Poppins-like character who teaches the kids to get along and make friends in their new Vermont town by using a Latina charm so disappointingly stereotypical that she brings over a piñata in her suitcase and makes huevos rancheros for the town grump, both of which are Mexican and not common in the Dominican Republic. (This is especially disappointing because Julia Alvarez has Dominican ancestry and should probably know better than to conflate all Latin American traditions and gastronomy.)

She arrives at the airport in a “colorful summer dress”. In the middle of a Vermont winter. Because she’s all island-y, you see, and island-y people don’t know about winter coats.

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Where Mary Poppins is “practically perfect in every way” Tia Lola is silly enough to rush to window to see if cats and dogs really are pouring down from the sky when Miguel says something to that effect, reinforcing the stereotype that someone who doesn’t speak English well or is confused by certain idioms, must be ignorant.

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After months of living in the U.S. and avoiding learning English, Tia Lola decides that she will stay and consents to have the children teach her the language:

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Learning English seems to involve repeating phrases and words, parrot-like, without regard for what they actually mean, as if the island-y Tia Lola cannot comprehend that each word has a specific meaning.

But then, that fits with the characterization of Tia Lola, who at times seems more childlike than Miguel or Juanita– she wanders away immediately upon arriving in New York for her first visit to the city, and paints their rented house a bright purple without consulting Miguel’s mother or the house’s owner. You know, like any regular adult would do.

 

This portrayal of Tia Lola is consistent with the depiction of island Dominicans in other Alvarez novels where, when in contrast to Dominicans raised in the U.S., island Dominicans are portrayed as backwards, ignorant, or child-like.

(Also–there are no volcanoes in the Dominican Republic. Small detail, but an easily-Googled one and yet another one in the long list of things people get unnecessarily and pointlessly wrong. And if this wasn’t a mistake but a conscious decision meant to exoticize the island, well, then that’s problematic as well.)

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New holiday short story!

December is here! And with it a new short story set in Ciudad Real:

Miss Dominguez’s Christmas Kiss

When Lourdes Dominguez moved into Mrs. Gomez’s boarding house, she was assured by the landlady that sharing a room with Marisol Pascual would suit them both–and it did.

It’s got girls kissing! Pastelitos! Nativity scenes! Aguinaldos!

And speaking of aguinaldos, this arrangement by Trulla Express is classic in Dominican and Puerto Rican Christmases and the perfect music to play in the background while you read about Lourdes and Marisol’s Christmas romance.

I hope you will enjoy the story. And if you’re in the mood for a slightly longer read, please check out my Arroyo Blanco holiday novella, A Season for Wishes.

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

In 1981, November 25th was been designated as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The date was chosen to commemorate the death of three dominican women who fought against the bloody dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo: the Mirabal sisters.

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Minerva, Patria and Maria Teresa Mirabal were three of four sisters in a well-off family living in Salcedo. Minerva, the third daughter, petitioned the dictator to be allowed to study law in Santo Domingo, as was customary during the Regime. After refusing several times, he finally allowed her to enroll, only to withhold her professional license after graduation, preventing her from exercising her profession. While in university, Minerva got acquainted with anti-Trujillo activists and the man who would become her future husband.

Together, and later with the help of her sisters Patria and Maria Teresa, Minerva and her husband joined the resistance against the Regime. The sisters and their husbands were incarcerated in 1960; the sisters were freed after several months but their husbands remained in prison. Though they were moved to prison in a different town, the sisters drove to visit them every week–until November 25th, 1960, when, as they returned home from their visit, they were stopped by the dictator’s henchmen and beaten to death. Their bodies were placed back in their Jeep in order to make their assassination look like an accident.

Word of the assassination spread, however, and their death was the final push dominicans needed to depose of the tyrant, who was killed in march of 1961. The Mirabal sisters’ memory lives on in the Dominican Republic as well as the countless activists who have since then joined in the fight against violence towards women.

Read more about the Mirabal sisters in the Mirabal Sisters Cultural and Community Center website and in this 1997 New York Times article.

The Mirabals’ story was depicted in “In The Time of the Butterflies” by Julia Alvarez, which is also a motion picture starring Salma Hayek and Marc Anthony, and in the awesome “Rejected Pricesses” by Jason Porath.

Another internationally acclaimed novel about the Trujillo regime is “The Feast of the Goat” by Mario Vargas Llosa.

For more information about November 25th, please visit the Violence Against Women page of the UNESCO website.

Mazapanes, turrones and polvorones, oh my!

One of the things I like the most about setting my stories in a fictional island is the freedom it allows me to worldbuild. I can make some things up, but I can also draw inspiration from the rich Cuban, Dominican and Puerto Rican traditions I’ve grown up with.

In the Dominican Republic, for instance, (and in many other countries in Latin America) supermarkets are flooded around Christmas time with an abundance of Spanish sweets like mazapan, turrón and polvorones.

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They, along with assorted nuts (in their shells!), grapes and apples, are a staple at many families’ holiday dinners throughout November and December. I wanted these sweets to be part of Arroyo Blanco’s Christmas traditions, so I included a scene set in a confectioner’s shop in my holiday novella, A Season for Wishes:

 

Mr. Zapata welcomed them with obvious delight. He’d come to Arroyo Blanco almost thirty years before to visit a distant cousin and had found it so agreeable he’d never returned to his native Spain. He had just come into the front room from the back, holding a tray full of carefully arranged polvorones.

“You’re just in time to try my new recipe,” he said, extending the tray so they could reach it over the counter.

Marcos and Alba each picked one, and their eyes met as they bit into the crumbly shortbread.

Marcos was sure they were remembering the same thing— at the start of the Christmas season, when the aguinaldos began, Marcos’s mother would make a large batch of polvorones and keep them in an enormous glass jar near the entry for carolers. The year they were both eight, they’d taken advantage of a moment in which both his mother and the housemaid were busy with Pablo—who had slammed his fingers in a drawer and was wailing loud enough to wake the dead— to steal the jar and hide under the back porch, where they’d held a contest to see who could eat the most polvorones. Marcos had managed sixteen before his stomach started to ache, but Alba had eaten an impressive twenty eight…and had been promptly sick into the bushes.

The experience hadn’t made either of them adverse to the sweet. Marcos finished his and assured Mr. Zapata that it was the crumbliest, sugariest polvoron he’d ever had, and Alba put in an order for two dozen. 

Mr. Zapata beamed and gestured to the display of marzipan figurines. “And have you seen our mazapan?” 

They were fashioned into different shapes, some topped with almonds and some without.

“I’ve a few young friends who would like those,” Marcos said, thinking about his cousin’s boys, who would be at his family’s Christmas celebration. “I’ll take twenty, and some penny candy as well.”

Alba requested an assortment and rounded out the order with with several bricks of turrón. As Mr. Zapata started wrapping everything up, Marcos turned to her and found her looking a little wistful as she gazed at the display, no doubt filled with thoughts of her father. 

Marcos nodded at the tray of polvorones and said, “I’m half tempted. Aren’t you?”

“Not a bit,” she answered, and he was pleased to see some of the sadness melting away from her expression. “Though I am rather curious to see if you can best my record.”

“I might be persuaded to try,” Marcos said, smiling down at her. She returned the smile, and he noticed the smear of sugar on the corner of her lips. His hand rose without his thinking about it and he brushed the sugar away, wondering if she would taste as sweet as the polvorones. His first impulse was to find out. But Mr. Zapata had finished putting together their orders and was tying the bundles together with twine.

Reluctantly, Marcos stepped away from Alba and took their packages from Mr. Zapata.

 

So what are all these sweets? Let’s start with turrón!

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Turron de yema tostada (bottom) and turron duro (top). 

Turrones are brick-shaped confections made out of honey, sugar and egg whites and come in different varieties. Pictured above are two types: hard and soft. The white one with nuts is hard and crunchy, and the more classic variety; the one in the bottom is more of a hard paste. The nuts used in turrón are usually almonds, but they can be made with peanuts or even sesame seeds.

Mazapan is another confection made with almonds (almond meal, actually):

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Originally from Toledo, this traditional Christmas sweet is fashioned into different shapes.

Polvorones are common during Christmas time but where I live, big glass jars of them are also set out during weddings and baptisms.

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Polvorones are little balls of crumbly shortbread mixed with walnuts and covered with powdered sugar. They’re my absolute favorite and while I’ve never eaten as many as Marcos and Alma in a single sitting, I will confess to finishing off half the package I bought for this post!

The Sugar Industry in the Dominican Republic

I’ve spent most of this last, um, year (And when I say year I mean eighteen months or so. A fast writer I am not.) working on the second Arroyo Blanco novel, A Time for Desire. In it, Roberto Sandoval and Rosa Castillo, who you might remember as one of the suffragettes from A Summer for Scandal, have to face one of the American-owned sugar companies that were so ubiquitous in the Dominican Republic in the beginning of the 20th century.

 

If you’d like to read more about them—the sugar corporations, not Rosa and Roberto—please head over to my latest post on Edwardian Promenade.

Old Havana in the early 20th century

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been struggling to free up some space in my bursting e-mail inbox. (Who’d have guessed you can’t save nine years worth of emails in the inbox of a free email provider without eventually running out of GB’s?) Maybe it’s the historian in me, but I’m ridiculously sentimental about saving emails, even unimportant ones. Going through them years later is as much fun as going through old photos or old social media posts.

Anyway, as I made the oh-so-difficult life-and-death decisions of which emails to delete, I found one my mother sent me a few years ago with pictures of Old Havana at the beginning of the 20th century. Since Ciudad Real was inspired by a visit to Cuba a couple of years ago, I thought they would give readers an idea of what I imagine Ciudad Real would look like if it were, you know, real.

 

 

These photographs were part of a Power Point presentation. The only credit I can give is this, which appears in the last slide:

 

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Thank you, Chomy, whoever you are, and to your cousin Mariano for sharing these lovely photographs!