Thursday, May 29, 2008

Interview with Kelli Martin, Part 2

Part two of my interview with Kelli Martin focuses less on Kimani and more about the state of multicultural fiction as a whole. Enjoy!

Tracy: A lot of writers seem to feel that shelving a book in an “ethnic” section of a bookstore, like the African-American section, limits its audience and its sales. Some authors have even used the shocking term, “literary segregation.” I know this is largely in the hands of bookstores, but as an editor, what are your thoughts on shelving by ethnicity and the use of the term “literary segregation?” Is it time to let this kind of shelving go, or does it serve an important purpose?

Kelli: I’ll tell you the truth: I fully support shelving and display tables by ethnicity. I know this is a big debate, and I understand both sides of it. At the end of the day, though, I believe that this type of shelving is how a lot of African-American readers buy their books.

To many readers it’s important to see books in a specific section to know what classic and current books are out there. Also, it’s a streamlined, more user-friendly way for bookstore staff to organize and shelve, and for readers to browse and buy.

In the African-American section, you have room to have more books face-out where the browser can the see the cover. This gives debut authors in particular a much larger chance of being picked up than if their book was spine-out on the shelf. And seeing that fabulous cover is crucial.

I pretty much shake my head at people who say “literary segregation.” Too much drama. Save it for the novel’s content!
Now in an ideal world, I would like to see this: within the African-American section, clearly label “Popular Fiction,” “Classic Literature,” “Urban Fiction,” and some general “Nonfiction” topics. If every store did, that would be amazing.

In the real world, I’ve seen several Borders stores in New York and Michigan have “African American” section, but label within it “Fiction/Literature”, “Urban Fiction”, “Non-Fiction.” And at some Barnes & Noble stores in New York, African-American fiction is shelved with all the other fiction authors in “Fiction/Literature.” So no “ghettoization” there. Their African-American section is for nonfiction only. And in the Romance section, there is a whole shelf for “African-American” with the rest of non-specific romance following.

I certainly understand writers not wanting be pigeon-holed. It’s a touchy subject. My bottom line, though, is that I believe it is psychologically empowering and comforting to see the African-American section, where many of the books covers are face-out. Writers end up selling a lot more this way. Especially first-time writers. If shelved in another section, there may only be the spine showing! And that’s no good for people just randomly browsing. With specific shelving, African-American readers wind up seeing all the facets of their lives right in front of their eyes.

Maybe it boils down to region. In bookstores with heavy African-American traffic, the African-American section would be more useful than if a store did not have a large Black clientele. But that’s impossible to pull off because the publisher and superstore category systems for where a book is shelved needs to be consistent from store to store. Or maybe it boils down to whose perspective we’re looking at it from: the writer or the reader.

Tracy: Some authors extend that criticism to cover art. They feel that making a book’s cover look too “ethnic” limits its audience and sales (i.e. putting Spanish in the title of a book by a Latina author). What are your feelings here—is it more effective to call out the ethnicity of the author/characters because it sets the book apart from the rest? Or is it more effective to make it look a little more vague and not-so-ethnic, and try to get it into the hands of EveryReader?

Kelli: I admit it; this is a hard one. In an ideal world, I wish the cover art were not as big a factor as it is. We see Black readers buying both ethnically-specific and ethnically-ambiguous books. But I don’t think you have as many non-Black readers buying race-specific books. Wish it wasn’t the case but it is.

Since our dreamworld isn’t here just quite yet, I believe putting visible cues to what to ethnicity is important. I think it’s very effective to call out the ethnicity of the author/characters because that way you’re speaking directly to your core audience. And no one wants to lose that. I also, though, believe that it does depend on the book’s content.

Now, don’t get me wrong; not every book needs to have an African-American woman with her hand on her hip; and a Spanish- or Punjabi-laced title should not be a prerequisite. Let’s not fall into stereotypes, please. And there are ways to soften racial markers.
Perhaps show a body part rather than the full body. Or have a cover show a culturally-meaningful object rather than Kente cloth background or an actual person. It takes a sensitive editor, marketing director, and art director/designer. But overall, I do believe at least hinting at the ethnicity is important, especially given the book’s content. Otherwise you’re losing your core audience. I edited a book called A Love Noire about a buppie-meets-boho literary love story in which the characters being African-American and Côte d’Ivoirean was very important. So we had a romantic, sexy, soft close-up photo of one brown clasping another brown hand on a bed sheet.

Tracy: There are myths that fiction by people of color is somehow highly politicized or so steeped in cultural identity that readers who don’t share that background can’t possibly relate. What do you say to that?

Kelli: I think that holds true for some books, but for the bulk of them I think that’s a pretty antiquated perspective. These days, young readers especially are so much less hung up on the issues the Civil Rights-, post-Civil Rights, X- and Y-generations were. Interracial romance and love stories are much more prevalent and accepted in real life now than they ever were, and bi- and multicultural families are the norm. And popular culture is so fervently embraced by just about all races and color. You even have the same phenomenon affecting all races! Like the color complex of light- and dark-skinnedness, which affects Americans of African, Indian, and Hispanic descent. Similarly, an Indian-Hispanic reader can certainly understand James McBride’s The Color of Water or Barack Obama’s Dreams of My Father. So with some books, there may be a few cultural jokes or references that go over the reader’s head, but for the most part, I believe readers who don’t share a particular background still can relate to the book.

But even though they can relate, it’s a question of do they actually buy that book.

Tracy: How can we change that attitude? Should we even bother?

Kelli: I think with the power and prevalence of popular culture and interracial and multiracial families, love and romance, we’re headed in the right direction with attitude. Hopefully, more people will actually do it, though. I don’t believe we should force it too much. I think the core audience of a book has priority, and if other people come to it, then that’s the icing on the cake.

Tracy: Some of my friends who wrote “chick lit” with Latina characters say their agents and editors are now asking for bigger, “more literary” books. Does that, in your opinion, indicate that literary fiction readers are more open to a variety of cultures and worldviews? Are commercial fiction readers just not ready to stray outside of the (Anglo) box? Or could it be that we just haven’t figured out how to reach commercial fiction readers yet?

Kelli: Really? Agents are saying that? Wow, that’s news to me. Hmm, I’ll have to think more fully about that, but off the top of my head, I’d say that yes, the literary fiction marketplace does seem to have a place for a more open dialogue on a variety of cultures and worldviews. Literary novels like The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Native Speaker and Aloft by Chang-rae Lee, Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz, Caucasia by Danzy Senna, Bodega Dreams by Ernesto Quinonez, Brick Lane by Monica Ali, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, What is the What by Dave Eggers, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai, novels by Arundhati Roy, Zadie Smith, Edwidge Danticat—oh, God, I could go on forever!—were all literary novels about growing up inside or outside the US as a cultural “other.” And these novels got amazing reviews, sold well, and were embraced by all kinds of people.

I think the reason for this, though, depends on the reader’s intent: If you’re reading a literary novel, you may be looking for enlightenment and to learn something. If you choose to read chick lit, you’re probably in it for entertainment, a good laugh, some good lovin’, some glam fashion tips, and an inside scoop. And probably for it to fit a certain type; not to necessarily learn anything.

Tracy: Some writers of color have been asked to make their books more ethnic—i.e. I know several Latinas who were told their stories weren’t “Latino enough.” What do you recommend a writer do when she hears something like that?

Kelli: Now, this I have heard. I think it’s an attempt to capitalize on how popular “ethnic-oriented fiction” is doing well these days (see books listed above) and to make the books more “authentic”, to identify and reach the core audience more fully—and to make it more “sell-able.”

If a writer hears this, I suggest to actually think about what the person is saying. Not to go off on them, not to immediately say yes or no, just think. Then ask the person why they are suggesting that. Then ask for that person to give examples of changes. That’ll reveal whether the person is suggesting that some stereotypical, copycat follywang go into the novel or if she is making a good point about drawing out personal experiences that are relevant to the novel. For example, if you’re writing a coming of age novel about leaving El Salvador and growing up in Colorado, then I would say yes, include aspects of El Salvadorean culture because that’s integral to that type of coming of age story.

But if you’re writing a love story set in the Victorian era or a modern day romance set in New York’s coldest winter ever and you’re asked to throw a few “chicas” and salsa or merengue dance lessons in the mix, just say no. (Or hell to the naw!)

Bottom line: figure out what the core story of your novel is and decide for yourself.

Tracy: Why is it important that we get books written by people of color and edited by people of color “out there?”

Kelli: So important because diversity just makes
reading, and the world, richer! It makes readers more compassionate, more accepting, more educated about various cultures and countries and time periods. And given some of the horrors of history (slavery, land-stealing, internment camps), it’s extremely important to make sure groups who have been historically silenced now have a strong voice. And strong listeners.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Interview with Kelli Martin, Part 1

Kelli Martin is the Senior Editor of Kimani Romance, Harlequin’s flagship imprint for contemporary, category-length romance written by and about African Americans. According to its guidelines, Kimani Romance offers “sexy, dramatic, sophisticated, and entertaining love stories featuring realistic African-American characters that work through compelling emotional conflicts on their way to committed and satisfying relationships.” Martin has published romance superstars like Brenda Jackson and Donna Hill, as well as up-and-coming authors like Michelle Monkou and Ann Christopher. Prior to her tenure at Kimani Press, Kelli Martin was senior editor at Disney’s Jump at the Sun and editor of HarperCollins’ Amistad. She began her career at Simon & Schuster.

I interviewed Kelli for an article that appeared in the May 2008 Romance Writer’s Report, entitled “Romance in Color: Is it Time to Move Away from ‘Multicultural’ Book Marketing?” Kelli was so generous with her time and her answers that I couldn’t just let all that great information that didn’t fit into the article go to waste. Ergo, here is my full interview with Kimani’s Kelli Martin. ...

Tracy Montoya: Why is it so important that African-American writers have their own imprints and category lines, like those that make up Kimani?

Kelli Martin: The importance of having imprints devoted to publishing work by and for African-Americans varies from publishing house to publishing house. Some houses have specific imprints (Kimani at Harlequin; Amistad at HarperCollins; One World, Strivers Row, and Harlem Moon at Random House), while others don’t and simply incorporate multicultural books into their flagship imprint (Simon & Schuster, Pocket Books, Grand Central Publishing, St. Martin’s Press).

At Kimani, we believe a distinct imprint is important for many reasons: first, for such a long time there were very few books that featured African-American characters, that showed them on the covers of books, that portrayed them in a rich, sophisticated, non-stereotypical and real way. Kimani Press and other imprints are devoted to doing solely just that. In a way, the imprints are making up for lost time.

Second, a huge demographic of African-American reading communities tend to buy books this way. Books in African-American imprints depict certain shared aspects of African-American culture, like history, language, custom, trends, humor, and about a million other things. Specific imprints like Kimani make sure no characters are stereotypical. They make sure books reflect trends that are actually happening within African-American communities. Imprints make sure the books are marketed and publicized to African-American-specific media and web sites, which are often not known or not paid attention to by other houses.

Imprints like Kimani make sure readers find a wide breadth of books that speak to how diverse African-Americans are, as well as the commonalities. The imprints make sure there are fun and entertaining novels, serious and thought-provoking books, and moving, soul-inspiring tales. And last, we’ve got to remember that it wasn’t even two centuries ago that African-Americans were not allowed to read or write in the first place. So now Kimani and other imprints are turning that upside down—with a vengeance!

Tracy: Harlequin as a whole publishes a few writers of color inside other lines, like Caridad Piñeiro in Nocturne, Brenda Jackson in Desire, me in Intrigue. With Kimani’s success, is it possible that we’ll see more multicultural writers and storylines in Harlequin’s other category lines?

Kelli: Absolutely. Some books by African-American writers are race- and culture-specific so they would be published at Kimani. And other books are not focused on a particular cultural aspect. It really depends on the content of the book, the wishes of the author, and who the book/author’s core audience is.

Tracy: Do you think breaking out the African-American romances into Kimani lines in any way limits their audience, and therefore their potential sales?

Kelli: No, I do not believe starting out in Kimani limits the author’s growth, the audience or sales. If anything, I believe just the opposite! African-American readers are some of the most loyal readers ever. Kimani readers are so amazingly hungry for well-written, rich books, and they communicate that. Readers go to book conferences, have chat rooms, write the authors, write the publisher asking when their favorite authors’ next book comes out, and put their money where their mouths are. And if it’s an author they really enjoy? Readers will always be back for more. No doubt about it.

Tracy: We had a couple of years there where a lot of publishers seemed to really want chick lit and mainstream women’s fiction books by and about Latinas and Asians, for example, but now some of them are backing off. What do you think is going on with these markets? Do you think Harlequin will ever expand Kimani to include other ethnicities, or even create a new line for multicultural books other than African-American books?

Kelli: I’m actually in the dark about this and too wonder why. I believe with Latinas, the many languages may play a factor. Ecuadorians are wholly different from Puerto Ricans who are different from Cubans who are different from Dominicans. So the nuances and pride in language and culture and custom may have readers not that interested in buying a certain type of general “Latino” book. Maybe they want something more regionally specific? So the publishers aren’t seeing the sales numbers that they want.

I believe Kimani will and should stay focused on African-American books. Sometimes when you reach out to too many groups, the mission of the original entity gets convoluted and watered down. You’ve lost your core audience. Plus, how do you market to all those different types of groups? It’s pretty difficult. And buying patterns are different too. For example, with African-American readers in particular, we often buy a book three months after it’s been on the shelf rather than immediately in the first month like a lot of other readers do.

Tracy: Speaking of, I was surprised to see Kimani Tru publishing a book called How to Salsa in a Sari, with a heroine who was black and Indian, and a supporting character who was Latina. Do you see potential for more “melting pot” books like that in Kimani, particularly in Kimani Romance?

Kelli: Yes, absolutely! With the large number of bi- and multi-racial families these days, I think that’s a very
important and fun phenomenon to tap into. Talented writers can get so creative with how to weave the many cultural threads together! It Chicks, another YA novel, has a similar cast of characters.

At Kimani, we’ll be sure to acquire more writers that explore this. Of course, our focus will still be African-Americans falling in love with Africa-Americans since that’s our mission but we’ll be mixing it up a bit to reflect what’s going on in the world.

Tracy: Since you’ve been an editor at several houses, what kinds of struggles do you see publishers going through to get books by and about women of color to a larger audience?

Kelli: The top struggle I’ve seen are with the jacket/cover. When it comes to the jacket, it’s all about whether to have African-American people on the cover or not, and whether that will enhance or limit sales. In my experience, Black women readers often tend to respond to an image that looks like them. But sometimes that same book is just a love story that any woman could relate to, regardless of race/culture. It’s the perennial struggle. It really depends on the content of the book, how recognizable the author’s name is, and who the core audience is.

Tracy: Can you talk about your various publishers’ experiences getting bookstores to buy books by writers of color? Are they in any way a harder sell than books by Anglo authors?

Kelli: You know, I’ll be honest: In ten years of editing, I have never experienced a hard time getting a bookstore to buy a novel by a writer of color. And I’m happy to say that! We all know how important Terry McMillan was in breaking-out contemporary African-American fiction, so since then bookstores have been clamoring for them. When I was at HarperCollins, the sales force was constantly asking when Darren Coleman was coming out with a sassy, sexy new novel. Black authors are big business.
Now sometimes the literary novels were a harder sell, and the bookstores would take a slightly smaller quantity than we had projected, but that was the case for all literary writers, not just ones of color.

And now with stores like Target and Wal-mart selling books, we’ve found them very devoted to writers of color. Plus, many publishing houses have a sales rep(s) specifically devoted to African-American stores. And many stores and book distributors have “buyers” specifically devoted to covering ethnic-oriented books. And that’s very necessary.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this interview, to come tomorrow!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Women, Words, and Wisdom: Berta's Winner!

Berta Platas' winner is Milly! Congrats, Milly, and thanks for participating in our Latina authors blog tour! (Thanks, also, for your patience. I just rolled in after a cuh-RAZY flight with my 4- and 2-year-old, and I think my head exploded somewhere over Memphis....)

Since I posted my blog tour entrya little early, I also want to make sure that everyone knows that we're back on schedule, so Kathy Cano-Murillo will be posting her blog tour entry tomorrow, May 27th. Be sure to visit her blog tomorrow--she has a really fun, effervescent voice. Kathy will also post the winner of my $10 Amazon gift certificate and a copy of I'll Be Watching You.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Women, Words, and Wisdom: Latina Blog Tour

I had to do some unexpected travel this past week, so consequently, I had no time to write up something all new for the Women, Words, and Wisdom blog tour. In fact, I'll be flying early in the morning on the 26th--my day for the tour--so I'm posting this a little early and will let you all know who Berta's winner is Monday afternoon after my plane lands.

So, here's a post from a couple of months ago that seems to fit the theme, slightly updated. Everyone who comments will be entered to win a $10 gift certificate and a copy of my April release from Harlequin Intrigue, I'll Be Watching You. Be sure to stop by Kathy Cano-Murillo's blog on the 27th to find out the winner and continue on the tour!

* * *

A few weeks ago, my car and I limped into the dealership with two nearly flat tires and an alleged transmission fluid leak. Interestingly enough, it turned out that my transmission was perfectly fine. Why did I think I had a leak? Because a few rude men at a Certain Oil Change Chain (*cough*Texaco*cough*) told me during my last oil change that I had such a leak, and they, of course, tried to charge me $100 to fix it.

Now I'm not the greatest with cars, but I have a strange sixth sense about the well-being of my Scion XB. I can sense a disturbance in The Force when the tires need rotating, or when something like the starter needs to be replaced, or when it needs an oil change (because the hot Florida sun always bleaches the little reminder sticker on my window well before it's time). When I went to get my oil change, I had felt no transmission-related Force disturbances, so I balked at having my "leak" fixed and took the car home, where my husband pronounced the mere idea of a transmission fluid leak to be the delusional yammerings of a greedy, two-bit con artist. So I decided to take it to the Toyota dealer and ask them, just to be sure. My XB is still under warranty, so the dealer definitely wasn't going to try to sell me a transmission repair if one wasn't needed.

Anyhoo, the transmission was fine, and just as my husband and The Force had said, the oil change people were just trying to squeeze another bit of cash out of a gullible woman driver.


Women are often socialized to always be polite, to trust authority figures or experts, to never shout or get REALLY angry in public. And sometimes, particularly at unscrupulous Oil Change Chains (*cough*Texaco*cough*), the mere idea that women are less likely to challenge authority or get all up in one's face puts us at a big disadvantage.

Fortunately, I didn't fall for the chain's dastardly schemes. And if I ever go back to that accursed Oil Change Chain, I am totally going all ajuma on them. What's an ajuma? Let me explain....

Not too long ago, I lived in Seoul, Korea for two years with my Naval officer husband (or former Naval officer--he just retired after 20 years on March 1. WHOO!). I loved the experience, although I hated the fact that I was a complete brick about learning the language and kept defaulting to Spanish whenever my broken Korean and spastic sign language couldn't get my meaning across to the people in my community. And what I found really fascinating were the cultural differences. (Note: I'm not stereotyping--everything to come was corroborated by Korean friends.)

If you had the Presidents protocol expert at your side when you visited Korea, s/he would tell you that it's rude in Korea to use your left hand to give something to someone else. Rather like Regency-period Europe, it's rude to just start talking to someone (who is not providing customer service) unless you have been properly introduced by a third party. (This is not an iron-clad rule, especially among young people. But it is present.) It's not really considered rude to stare. (Ergo, people would often come out of nowhere to gather around to unabashedly observe this then-pregnant Latina flailing her arms while informing a very confused taxi driver that "I need you to drive me to the pencil" in Korean. I bet my neighbors miss me--I was always good for an afternoon's entertainment.)

In addition, it's rude to be really loud or overtly emotional in public. Of course, it happens--remember when those two men in the Korean Parliament were in the news because they started wrestling in the middle of the Parliament building's floor? But in general, I could go on the subway or sit in a coffee shop or go to a store, and I rarely ran into someone who was yammering so loud on their cell phone, they seemed to be shouting inside my head.

This was particularly true with the women--younger women in Korea tend to be especially soft-spoken and generally extremely polite. They are extremely careful with their diets--the average Korean woman is a size two. I read this in a local Seoul magazine, and experienced it first-hand when a shopkeeper eyeballed my size-8 figure as I was looking at her collection of skirts and promptly handed me an "extra large."

On Korean Air, we noticed that this quiet, ladylike behavior was somewhat magnified: the female flight attendants had their hair pulled back the same way, were roughly the same (size two) weight, and wore heeled shoes of varying heights, so they all ended up being roughly the same height, with very similar makeup. I admired how gentle and refined they were, but their impeccable manners coupled with the rigid sameness to their dress made it all a little like riding on Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" plane, but in Korea.

But then, around age 50 or 60, many Korean women apparently say to heck with all that and become what is known as an "ajuma" (ah-juh-ma). Technically, the word means elder or married woman. But according to several Seoul residents I met, it's gotten a slightly pejorative connotation in Korea that unfortunately makes it more akin to "crazy old bag." Once a woman has decided she's entered the age of the ajuma, she often cuts her hair short and perms it (A phenomenon one Korean website describes as sending the message that "I am married; please don't try to pick me up."), dresses in horrible polyester pants, and says goodbye to her size twos as she gains as much weight as she pleases. And then comes the attitude--ajumas will bust in front of you in line without a backward glance. They will literally shove you out of their way. They will get in your face if they think you have an opinion or a mannerism that needs changing. They are not quiet and soft-spoken, and they are not gentle and nurturing. They are women, hear them roar.

They're fabulous. I loved the gentle, soft-spoken women I befriended in Korea, but I also secretly loved that in a few years, they'd go all ajuma and become strong, outspoken, and magnificent. (And yes, I met some younger women who were already strong and outspoken, but were perm-free. I'm talking patterns here--not absolutes.)

That's not to say that I never ended up on the wrong end of an ajuma. We had one as a landlady our first year there, and she would literally peer into my windows to see how high I'd turned up the thermostat in the winter. If it was too high, she'd barge in and turn it down--or lecture me about turning it down, complete with grand gestures because of my extremely tenuous grasp of the Korean language. And occasionally, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and would end up shoved against a wall while an ajuma barreled by. Which most of the time just cracked me up. All in all, the ajumas gave me great joy.

My grandmother on my dad's side has always had a bit of ajuma about her. A couple of years ago, she got a speeding ticket, and instead of just mailing in the payment, she showed up at the police station and told them to just put her in jail until they considered her debt to society paid. The police officer on duty ended up spending the better part of his day begging her to just pay the thing, because he really didn't want to put a nearly 90-year-old woman in jail. She tells this story often and with a considerable amount of glee. I have no doubt that she didn't intend to spend one minute in jail--she just wanted to see if she could get out of paying the ticket. And, I think, she might have been a little bored that day and just wanted to mess with someone.

And, of course, my mother and my aunts from Honduras probably started out as ajumas at birth. Whatever the cultural norms are in Honduras, they all taught me that being Latina means being a strong woman who stands up for herself. Is your boyfriend sometimes not nice to you? Dump him, Mom would say, because you certainly deserve better. Does someone make fun of you for your mother's accent, your perma-tan, your culture? Ignore him, Mom demonstrated again and again by example, because he's an idiot who deserves to be pitied for his staggering ignorance. Did a friend of yours just act in a way that's not so friendly? Forget about it, Mom repeated from grade school through college--she's just jealous because you're so fabulous.

Those things were all difficult to absorb when I was younger, but now, in my 30s, I remember them well and have put them to good use. And I may not have permed my hair or started rocking the polyester pants yet, but I have an inner confidence that I never would have had without all of the ajumas in my life--Honduran, Czech, and Korean. And yes, when I'm with the ones in my family, I do tend to feel just a little bit fabulous.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

New Latina Authors Blog Tour!

In honor of May being Latino Books month, a group of fab Latina authors (and me!) are lauching a ten-day blog tour. Visit each of the blogs below on their given days to get a fabulous short story or non-fiction essay, and comment to win one of ten prizes!

Mary Castillo got us started on the 19th at:

The entire lineup includes:

May 19 - Mary Castillo(
May 20 - Barb Ferrer(
May 21 – Lara Rios(
May 22 – Mayra Calvani(
May 23 – Caridad Scordato(
May 24 – Jamie Martinez Wood(
May 25 – Berta Platas(
May 26 – Tracy Montoya(
May 27 – Kathy Murillo(
May 28 – Misa Ramirez(

Remember, prizes! Go read and comment!

P.S. Thank you to Nuvia Crisol Guerra for allowing us to use her stunning artwork for our logo. If you want to see all of her work, visit

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Geekalicious Joy, Part 2

18 days, 10 hours, 42 minutes, and counting!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Stupid Things That Scare Me

(cross-posted at the Intrigue Authors blog)

Screeching in late today due to a dentist appointment. And I just have to say, my hygienist was running about 40 minutes late--would it KILL that surly blonde at the front desk to let me know and not act like I'm some sort of leper when I come up to politely ASK when I'm going to get my stupid teeth cleaned?


Anyway, I've been fussing with a new proposal, and I've been thinking about what scares me--after all, a good Intrigue should scare you, at least a little, right? And I feel some of my personal-best suspense scenes tend to be the ones where I take my own fears and just let my imagination have at them.

So all of this thinking about what scares me led me to start thinking about Stupid Things That Scare Me. And let me tell you, there's one really stupid fear that I have that I just can't get over....

Superman has kryptonite. Indiana Jones (19 days, 10 hours, 13 minutes, and counting!) has snakes. And I have ... Bigfoot.

Stop laughing. Just hearing the name "Bigfoot" gives me a MAJOR case of the heebies. Just watch:



OK, I guess you'll have to take my word for it that my skin just crawled into the next room and hid behind the sofa, but I have a deep, irrational fear of Bigfoot that rivals my arachnophobia, and no amount of telling me that it was all just an old guy in a gorilla suit is going to make me feel any better. Said deep, irrational fear is due to a convergence of traumatic, Bigfoot-related events in my life.

1) There were alleged Bigfoot sightings near my hometown when I was in the third grade and regularly WALKING HOME ALONE from school. I'm not kidding--just google Bigfoot and Wisconsin or La Crosse Tribune, and you'll probably find at least part of the Trib's series of articles from 1976 talking about a cluster of Bigfoot sightings in Cashton. Cashton was about a 20-minute drive from my hometown of Wilton, but word on the street (there were 500 people in this town, so the word was literally only on one street) was that Wilton farmers were seeing the big hairy beast on their land, too.

How do I know this? One of my classmates was the son of the town sheriff, and he would oh-so-generously come to school and yammer on about how his dad got called out to yet another farm because someone was having a staredown with Bigfoot. He also swore that his dad chased down the Big B and fired off a few shots at it, but I suspect he was just being a dude and embellishing at this point. Why? Because I'm guessing Bigfoot would have had Sheriff Evans as a tasty snack if it were true. According to BFRO (that would be the Bigfoot Research Organization), Bigfoot doesn't react well to aggression.

But that doesn't mean the rest of this kid's stories weren't true, and it's enough to make my hair stand up and frizz even more than it already does. I remember him telling us how his dad talked about the awful stench that Bigfoot gave off. A few days later, the Tribune printed an article about yet another Monroe County Bigfoot sighting, with a headline that referred to the big B as a "stinker" and several references to the Bigfoot Stench in the body of the piece.

When I walked home that day from school, someone had made a giant footprint in the snow. I just want to go on the record and say that it really wasn't funny.

2) About this same time-ish, Bigfoot had a recurring guest role on my favorite show at the time, The Bionic Woman (right up there with Wonder Woman, Electrawoman and Dyna-Girl, and The Secrets of Isis! I'm totally showing my age here, but I loved strong heroines even then.). He was big. And hairy. And mean. And I didn't like the way he swooped his arms around like he could lop your head off with one swing. So thanks to my favorite TV show, the unseen horror in my head suddenly had a face. A big, hairy, terrifying face. Curse you, Lindsay Wagner!

3) Then my best friend Terri went to see the movie Sasquatch, the Legend of Bigfoot in the theater. She came back and kindly gave me a blow-by-blow of the piece, which was by no means a literary art-house film. Her recounting of Bigfoot's terrible roar, his hunting down and slaughtering at least one of the seven men who were camping in the Pacific Northwest, and her accompanying imitation of those Awful. Swooping. Arms. nearly sent me over the edge. Seriously, what kind of best friend DOES THIS? It was also allegedly a true story, which I remember she informed me with considerable glee. I was probably cowering under my Wonder Woman book bag in a corner of the lunchroom.

4) Sure, you may think that Ray Wallace's family admitting that he faked the famous Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film footage and footprints puts an end to this horrible, horrible legend. But the fact is, Bigfoot sightings have been documented since 1840 and probably earlier. Ray Wallace and his gorilla suit were not around then. And not only do many Native American tribes have Sasquatch legends dating back to Heaven Knows When, but there is actual forensic evidence that point to the fact that some Bigfoot footprints are real. One scientist points to the "push-mound" in the middle of the prints, which is created by the horizontal push of the first part of the foot before it leaves the ground. Fake feet can't do that, he says.

The enormous step interval measured between several tracks (in excess of three feet), this scientist says, would also be very difficult for hoaxers to create without making a mistake. Variations in toe positions would also be difficult to fake, he says. And another researcher named Henry Franzo compared 550 Bigfoot prints to each other and found that their measurements varied on a curve very much like how a similar group of human footprints would display.

What can I say? I like to research things that scare me. Although it really didn't help, in this case. You should see me on

So, yeah, I have a very strange and irrational fear of Bigfoot. Which some people, I am sad to say, exploit for their own personal enjoyment. One of my college friends found, to his great amusement, that all he had to do was slouch a little and swing his arms in that swooping, knuckle-scraping motion made famous on the Bigfoot episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, and I'd immediately bury my face in the nearest pillow and start whimpering. Fortunately for me, he also had an irrational fear of Bigfoot, and if he did this too often, he scared himself. Instant karma, baby!

BFRO and other organizations still report Bigfoot sightings today. In fact, a January 2008 article in the West Bend Daily News says there have been some new sightings in the West Bend area. That would be West Bend, Wisconsin. That's a FIFTEEN-MINUTE DRIVE from my hometown, people! My PARENTS are there, and I'm headed that way in exactly two weeks.


Sometimes, I think it would be better just to move to Loch Ness. THEIR monster just paddles around a lake from time to time and doesn't EAT PEOPLE.

Anyone else have an embarrassing, irrational fear? Or am I all alone here?

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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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