Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Lola Levine Is Not Mean!

By Monica Brown
Illustrated by Angela Dominguez

       Age Range: 6 - 10 years
       Grade Level: 1 - 5
       Series: Lola Levine (Book 1)
       Hardcover: 96 pages
       Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (November 3, 2015)
       Language: English
       ISBN-10: 0316258369
       ISBN-13: 978-0316258364

Lola loves writing in her diario and playing soccer with her team, the Orange Smoothies. But when a soccer game during recess gets "too competitive," Lola accidentally hurts her classmate Juan Gomez. Now everyone is calling her Mean Lola Levine!

Lola feels horrible, but with the help of her family and her super best friend, Josh Blot, she learns how to navigate the second grade in true Lola fashion--with humor and the power of words. 

In this first book in a series, Lola's big heart and creative spirit will ring true to young readers. 

Next Book
January 5, 2016

Monica Brown, Ph.D. is the author of many award winning books for children, including Waiting for the Biblioburro, and Marisol McDonald Doesn't MatchMarisol McDonald no combina. Monica's books are inspired by her Peruvian and Jewish heritage and desire to bring diverse stories to children. 

Angela Dominguez was born in Mexico City, grew up in the great state of Texas, and now lives in Brooklyn. She is the author of Knit TogetherLet's Go, Hugo!, Maria Had a Little Llama, and Santiago Stays.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Gluten-free Delight. Leading Ladies at Forest Lawn. News&Notes.

Michael Sedano

For the Autumnal Equinox, the Gluten-free Chicano traveled to his favorite part of the country, the Coachella Valley desert. Not that the Palm Springs area has as much desert these days as when he was a kid in the 1950s.

Development has ravaged the once-open fields teeming with creosote and chia bush, dotted regularly with jumping cholla, fish hook and golden barrel cacti, horizons highlighted by stands of gorgeous blue-grey smoke trees, the even-then rare sight of ironwood trees.

A constant flow of freight trains rumble slowly up the grade
carrying full containers from Asia to market in the midwest and East Coast,
or dead-head empties downhill toward the Ports of LA and Long Beach.

Today, the horizon in San Gorgonio Pass has sprouted windmills, and more recently, solar farms, changing the ambiente of that entry to the valley.

Over time, miles-long stretches of citrus groves replaced that desert from Indio to the Salton Sea. The Gluten-free Chicano’s grandfather, Victor, grafted fruit on a citrus ranch bordering the Salton Sea. One visit, grampa handed us a wondrously sweet and easily-peeled Tangelo variety he’d developed. It’s in all the markets now, credited to someone else. As grampa would say, pos si.

Now an isolated oasis surrounded by development, a visit to Shields Date Garden
rewards with rare varieties of dates, assorted dried fruit, local honey,
and for barley-malt eaters, delicious date milkshakes. 

Today, many of those citrus ranches have been leveled. The drive from Palm Springs to Shields Date Garden on the outskirts of Indio once coursed through miles of naranja and toronja. The highway now runs past shopping centers, more shopping centers, and condo projects. And restaurants galore, from the fast-food usual suspects to fine dining.

Passing Las Casuelas Nuevas restaurant in Rancho Mirage always sets off a twinge of shoulda woulda coulda.

“Delgado started a food stand in Colton,” my Dad announced in his "I'll be darned" voice. In the 1950s, Dad and Delgado were aircraft sheetmetal workers at Norton Air Force Base. One weekend my Dad drove us over to a tiny hut near the railroad tracks on Mt. Vernon, one of those tiny burger shacks some entrepreneur had failed in.

Delgado welcomed us with open arms and a meal, a ravishingly delicious carne guisado on a paper plate with frijoles, arroz, and hand-made tortillas de harina. My gosh that food was a wonder. How I wish I could recreate that sabor. I remember licking the wax paper and the tin foil Delgado covered the plates with.

We never went back, though, because Delgado wouldn’t let my dad pay for the food, and that wasn’t our way, to take anything free.

Free. Delgado wanted my dad to partner with him in that restaurant. That also wasn’t our way—business. So Dad passed on what has become a Mexican dining institution in the Palm Springs area. Shoulda woulda coulda.

Clearly, The Gluten-free Chicano is no spring chicken and has lots of stories about that desert and the Inland Empire. Nowadays, when meal time approaches, he hangs his head in anticipated  disappointment, knowing even Delgado’s food will have wheat. The enchiladas suizas at Las Casuelas Terraza were the only safe entrée.

Then, wonder of wonders, The Gluten-free Chicano discovered Giuseppe’s.

Normally, a pizza and pasta joint is out of the question, pero sabes que? Giuseppe’s makes its own gluten-free pizza crust and take it from a man who misses pizza almost more than any other food but won’t eat most gf pizzas because the crust sucks, Giuseppe’s gluten-free pizza is the eighth wonder of the modern world.

A "small" gluten-free pizza is dinner and tomorrow's breakfast and lunch.

Thin, crunchy on the edges, not soggy where it’s covered with fresh tomatoes, rich cheeses, generous servings of pepperoni, sausage, and onions. Más mejor, the crust lacks the grainy texture of rice or potato flour that ruins most pizza bread, nor is there the slimy feel on the tongue, and sickening aftertaste of guar gum. Ay, Giuseppe’s, you make my heart sing!

Next visit, gluten-free pasta carbonara because that was Mrs. The Gluten-free Chicano’s order, on wheat pasta. For the wheat-eaters, Mrs. GfC says the hot, freshly-baked bread served to accompany our salad (beets, garbanzos, baby lettuce) is delightfully light and fluffy.

Giuseppe's is a small house but hugely satisfying. The waitstaff are warmly welcoming.

Giuseppe's Pizza and Pasta
1775 E Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92264
(760) 537-1890

Leading Ladies at Glendale Forest Lawn Museum

La Bloga friend Margaret Garcia invited me to attend the opening of a spectacular exhibition chronicling an array of prominent women—from heroines of legend to real-world leaders, influential authors, and courageous trailblazers, Leading Ladies—from Fantasy to Reality.

The museum, at the crest of Glendale CA’s Forest Lawn, showcases more than 75 works including paintings, bronzes, photographs, and maquettes of luminary women like Frida Kahlo, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hilary Clinton, Michele Obama, Mulan, Georgia O’Keefe, Maria Guardado, Beverly Sills, Marian Anderson.

The exhibition marks the culmination of curator Joan Adan’s tenure at the museum. Adan’s shows have been spectacular gifts to the community. La Bloga sends best wishes to Ms. Adan for a glorious retirement!

Adan’s final exhibition runs through March 2016 so there’s plenty of time to take in the arte. Admission and parking are free.

Sandra Cornejo and Margaret Garcia strike a pose in front of their work.
The Forest Lawn Museum
Tuesday – Sunday, 10am – 5pm (closed Mondays)
1712 S Glendale Ave, Glendale, CA 91205

UC Merced Reading Thursday 10/1

UCM's Merritt Writing Program and Write! Look! Listen! present a reading by La Bloga friends and  poets Meg Withers and Odilia Galván Rodríguez.

This event is supported by Poets & Writers through a grant it has received from the James Irvine foundation.

Thursday, October 1st, 2015, 7:00 PM
University of California, Merced
Kolligian Library 355 (Green Room)

Pay for parking in yellow permit dispensers.

From Philadelphia's Al Dia
Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera Casa de Colores Project

Every poet laureate commits to undertake a public project during the year he or she is designated poet laureate. "La Familia" is only one part of Herrera's project which was outlined in full at the Library of Congress National Book Festival, Sept. 5. The full project "La Casa de Colores" (the house of colors) will focus on the resources of the Library of Congress in a monthly feature; "El Jardín" (the garden) will have Herrera interacting with items at the library through videos, poems and blog posts.

"The House of Colors is a house for all voices," Herrera said. "In this house we will feed the hearth and heart of our communities with creativity and imagination ... if it is a 'casa,' a grand house for all of us, we must be a 'familia,' a family. A family cannot flourish without a 'jardín,' a garden to care for, to create. Our garden is our luminous Library of Congress with inspirations nestled inside for more than 200 years."

More information at the Library of Congress, here.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Orange Line

A short story by Daniel A. Olivas
            We sit on the bench waiting for the Orange Line.  Rosario reads a Bolaño novel that I gave her last week for her twenty-fourth birthday.  In truth, I’d bought it for myself but I couldn’t get past the first thirty pages so I wrapped it in some nice gold wrapping paper, bought a card with a smiling monkey on it (you can’t go wrong with a monkey card), and gave it to Rosario.  She loved it, wondered how I knew she wanted to read it.  I shrugged.  Brilliant, I guess.
            I should have brought a book with me.  Rosario is buried in Bolaño and I just look around.  No one is here, just us.  And a long-haired throwback to the seventies who sits on the next bench over to my right.  Rosario sits to my left.  Where is everyone?  It’s Tuesday morning.  Yes it’s early, but don’t people work anymore?  Funny question since I don’t work, not right now.  Between jobs, as they say.  And Rosario is getting her masters in English literature at CSUN, so she’s not really working, either.
            I hear a clicking sound and turn.  It’s the hippie clicking with his tongue.  But he stops, suddenly, now that he has my attention.  He smiles.  He’s too young to be missing teeth, but he appears to have only about six or seven left in his mouth.  He clicks again and I turn to Rosario to see if she notices.  Nope.  She’s in love with Bolaño.  She’s even smiling.  She’s on page 123.
            The hippie clicks again so I turn back to him.  He isn’t smiling anymore.  In fact, he looks pissed.  Not just I-spilled-my-coffee-on-my-new-pants pissed.  But a really I-will-kill-you-you-son-of-a-bitch pissed.  He leans on his left arm so that he can get closer to me without getting off his bench.  He leans, squints and whispers:
            I blink.  I look over at Rosario but she keeps on reading.
            You’re a Mexican, he says.
            I turn back to the hippie.  So, it’s a cool Tuesday morning, my girlfriend and I wait for the Orange Line to get to the Red Line so we can make my appointment downtown.  And this hippie with no teeth is calling me a Mexican, which I am.  I just don’t need a toothless hippie to tell me what I already know.  And besides, the hippie could be Mexican también based on his looks.  Or he could be Peruvian, or Columbian, or something else, but certainly Latino if not Mexican per se.  As I ponder the reason for the hippie’s concern for my ethnic heritage, he adds:
            And a Jew, too.
            He licks his lips after saying this.  If it weren’t for the missing teeth and unkempt hair, the hippie would be somewhat handsome.  But this is beside the point.  The point is, how does he know that I’m a Jew?  I converted four years ago.  A point of contention between me and my Roman Catholic girlfriend.  But I’m ten years older than Rosario, been married once before.  I’ve lived.  I’m complicated.  And I’m a Jew.  The hippie couldn’t know that.  My religion, that is, not my complexity.
            The hippie doesn’t give up.
            A Mexican Jew, he hisses.
            I shift, not believing what he is saying.
            Or is it a Jewish Mexican, he muses.
            I turn to Rosario.  She smiles, gently, lovingly, at Bolaño, of course.
            Did you hear what he said? I ask her.
            Rosario doesn’t look up from her book.  I nudge her.  She blinks and comes out of her love trance.
            What? she says.
            Him, that guy, I say, jerking my head in the hippie’s direction.
            Rosario looks past me.  Then she looks into my eyes and sighs.
            No one’s there, she says.
            I turn toward the hippie.  He smiles and smacks his lips until they gleam like sardines.
            I turn back to Rosario who hasn’t moved her eyes.
            One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi…
            I know no one’s there, I finally say, adding a little laugh to sound believable.
            One Mississippi, two Mississippi…
            Rosario laughs and looks relieved.  She pats my arm and turns a little too quickly back to Bolaño.
            I look over at the hippie who still sits on the other bench, staring at me.  I now hate him.  I turn to stare ahead of me, at the parking lot.  Three large crows pick at a greasy Carl’s Jr. bag.  One crow, the largest of the three, hits a gold mine of fries and jumps back carrying two in its beak.  The other two crows dive deeper into the bag, excited, in a fever now that breakfast has been uncovered.  The hippie starts his clicking again.  I keep my eyes on the crows.  I will not look at the hippie.  I will not look at the hippie.  I will not look at the hippie.
            I should have brought a book to read.

[“Orange Line” first appeared in The Coachella Review.]

Sunday, September 27, 2015

How Winter Began: A Conversation with Joy Castro

Joy Castro’s latest book, How Winter Began, will be available this Thursday, October 1st and it is a must read!  Acclaimed author, Sandra Cisneros, writes:  Joy Castro’s writing is like watching an Acapulco cliff diver. It takes my breath away.” Indeed. The characters in Castro’s stories take us into the many vicissitudes of life.  Some are fearless in the choices they make, some forever blind within the spaces they find themselves.  Another acclaimed author, Lorraine Lopez, writes of How Winter Began:  “I love the stories . . . the taut narratives, the deft portrayal of characters who, though vulnerable, are stunning in their fierce determination.”  La Bloga is so fortunate today to have author Joy Castro with us!

Thank you for being with us, Joy.  There is such a rich diversity of women’s stories in How Winter Began. How did you go about choosing the stories for this collection?

Thank you so much for your interest in this book and for wanting to share my work with the readers of La Bloga!  I really appreciate it.

The stories in How Winter Began have been developing over many years now—the earliest one was first published in 1992.  When I started to organize them into a collection, the controlling question that interested me concerns how late capitalism (inextricable from racism and sexism) interrupts, disrupts, ruptures, and restructures our primal desires:  erotic desire, the bonds between parents and children, friendships, our immersive connections with nature, and so on.

In the face of that juggernaut, how do we try to survive?  Or resist?  Or refuse survival under those terms?  What do we do to exercise agency?  How do we respond to society’s call for our self-obliteration, to its desire for us to serve as mute, attractive laborers?  The stories explore these questions.

In terms of content, there are many single mothers in these stories, many absent or distant fathers.  The protagonists are often under-parented or poorly parented, even destructively parented.  Being a single mother can be joyful, but it is also extremely difficult, as I saw when our mother was raising us on her own and as I experienced when I was a single mother myself.  Coping with sexism is always a pressure for women, and then single mothers have to be the emotional center, the authority center, and usually also the economic center of the home, the breadwinner. 

This brings tremendous pressure to bear on women, who are often still quite young and whose own needs aren’t being met.  When you add in racism and poverty, things can get very complicated.  Many of the stories in How Winter Began look specifically at the mother-daughter relationships that occur in the maelstrom of multiple pressures, at how characters cope with betrayal, and how some characters come to understand, forgive, and love again after terrible pain.

Were some stories faster/easier to write than others?  Or, for some, did you spend much time in research, followed by writing out a preliminary draft, leaving it alone for days or even weeks before coming back to it?

Most of the stories stayed stored up inside, inchoate, until they were ready, and then they slipped out in one sitting, easily, like a small wet pebble slipping from your mouth.  That’s even true for the one story that grew from inadvertent historical research, “Independence Day.”  I read a scholarly journal article about Josefa out of curiosity, just wandering around in the stacks of the UNL library one day.  Later I found myself, to my own surprise, writing from Josefa’s (fictionalized) point of view, based on the outlines of her story that I’d absorbed from that article.  I’d never written historical fiction before; I’d become obsessed with her without realizing it.

I do leave the drafts alone, sometimes for months.  Then, when they’re completely cooled off, I go back and tinker and polish.  That process is mostly about sound, and about the story’s logic in the mind of the reader.  I read aloud multiple times, listening for sonic effects.  Rhythm.  It really is all about rhythm.  If the piece doesn’t work out loud, it’s not ready.  My goal is always to make the story into an experience for the reader, an immersive, sensuous experience of sound and rhythm as well as an emotional and psychological experience.

There were two stories that did give me trouble:  “A Time of Snow” and “Personal Effects.” 

With “A Time of Snow,” I knew the original ending was flat, but I couldn’t figure out why, or how to fix it.  My friend Josh Brewer pointed out that it read more like a manifesto than a story, that it felt didactic—the kiss of death.  (I love Alice Gregory <> on this point.)  Usually if a draft has the reek of didacticism, I just scrap it, and I really tried to abandon “A Time of Snow.” 

But something about the narrator Antoinette, her voice and her gutsiness, wouldn’t let me go.  The manuscript sat around for a few years, frustrating me.  Then I suddenly realized the final actions that were missing:  Julia’s action of betrayal, Antoinette’s retaliation.  Once I added those, it became a story.  My characters are often in their heads too much, as I am, and I have to remember to get them out in the world, misbehaving.

“Personal Effects” grew from an episode I witnessed many years ago, in the winter of 1996.  For a long time, I couldn’t write about it at all—I didn’t know what it meant, or why it obsessed me, or what to do with it—and then suddenly, a couple of years ago, I could.  But even after writing it, I still had trouble controlling the material.  My draft was awkward; the different sections of the narrative just weren’t coming together.  I was helped by readers Lorraine López and Heather Lundine, and by doing after-the-fact outlining to see how the story’s segments interlocked and fit and moved.  This revealed that the failure in early drafts was primarily structural.

Once I could see the problems, in both stories, I could fix them.  The hard part is blindness—to the flaws in our work, the flaws in ourselves.  Feedback from good readers is invaluable, as is getting as much distance as possible on one’s own work.

Some of your stories are quite filmic.  I’m thinking especially of “The Noren,” and “The Notion I took.”  Do you see some of your stories in images before writing them?

Thank you!  I’m glad you think so.  That means a lot.

Such an interesting question.  Not before I start to write, but during:  once I have sat down, picked up the pen, and entered the dream.  All of the senses, too, not just vision:  smell, taste, touch, surround sound.  But with a voiceover, and that’s the part I write down:  that thread of language.  When I was drafting “A Notion I Took,” for example, I felt like my body was wet, like I was drowning, and like maybe I wanted to drown.  Writing is such a powerful and strange experience.  It takes you over.

The stories almost always begin with a line, a phrase.  Sometimes a visual image, but not as often. 

It’s a character’s voice that hooks me.  If I can’t resist the voice, if I hear it unspooling in my head—if the process of writing the first draft feels like taking dictation—then the piece usually has promise.

Tell us about the Latinas in your stories.  I’m thinking, for example, of  “The Choice I Made,” and “The Dream of the Father.”  How did these come about?

The majority of the stories in How Winter Began have a Latina protagonist.  The process is always the same:  there’s something that I witness or experience or dream, a line or a fragment, a question, a little wound that gets infected and grows into an obsession.  What if events had gone another way?  What happened before that incident that made the person behave that way or say that thing?  What might it be like to be inside that person’s mind, experiencing what she went through?  Imagination and empathy.  And then a line or a phrase occurs to me, and I start to write.

The character Iréne, whose three stories open the book (“A Notion I Took”), occur in the middle (“A Favor I Did”), and close the book (“A Choice I Made”), is one of my favorites.  I waited tables in San Antonio for several years, and Iréne’s stories got sparked by some of the things I saw and heard about during that time.  “The Dream of the Father” grew from an experience between my best friend in high school and me.  The title story “How Winter Began,” which is also about two Latina best friends in high school, is based on something that happened to one of my close relatives.  So there are splinters of real, observed life in the stories, as well as invention.

The Latinas in the books are of varied ages, cultural backgrounds, and national origins.  Iréne is Chicana; Ofelia and her niece in “Whore for a Day” are Cuban American, as is the narrator of “Musing”; Sacramento’s mother in “Dinner” is Puerto Rican and Lakota; and so on.  They’re passionate and wounded and brave, and they take huge risks with their bodies and hearts. 

Encountering Latina characters in main/whitestream literature and film, I always felt the author or director was capturing only a tiny fragment of who we are, and even that slim glimpse depicted us only in terms of the economic roles into which a racist, sexist capitalist system had forced us. 

I wanted to get behind that façade, to show the complexity, drama, and high-stakes courage of women for whom survival itself is a triumph.  My aunt cleaned houses—and that’s the only facet of her that her employers knew—but that doesn’t mean she didn’t have a complicated, full, fascinating life, or that she was not an original, clever person full of desires and schemes and griefs.  As a waitress, I wore a pleasing and compliant social mask, and I know what it’s like to go into a break-room full of brown people, and what the talk is like when the masks come off, and how shocked and hurt our well-to-do white patrons would have been by how we laughed at them:  their affectations, their rudeness, their airs.  This was a very important education for me as a girl—as important as the education I got in college.  Part of my project is writing more Latinas into contemporary literature and conveying a little of the immense variety and complexity that I know to be true.

Joy Castro
You also have stories like “The River” or “The Small Heart” which are from another time, or not necessarily Latina.  Tell us about these.

I identify as Latina, but I’ve experienced some of the benefits of white privilege:  I am light-skinned; I do not speak with a Cuban accent.  So I have sometimes been able to observe the white world, too—like a spy.  A spy in the house of white.  And although I was poor as a child and young adult, I now have class privilege.  In two of the places where I grew up, England and West Virginia, Latinos were a tiny minority, and at both of the institutions where I’ve worked as a professor, most of my colleagues have been white.  I’ve had many personal opportunities to pay attention, to wonder about how structural and institutional privilege plays out in the most intimate ways.  Some of the stories in How Winter Began ask questions about white middle-class characters, particularly where their experience or awareness intersects with ethnic and racial difference, as with the stories you mention.

There are roughly three time periods represented in the book:  the 1960s, the 1980s, and a nebulous contemporary moment that ranges from the turn into the 21st-century until now.  The one historical story, set in 1851, is a chronological outlier and, in a way, functions as a foundation for everything else, because of its essential elements:  the racism, the economic greed, the sexual violation, the destruction.

“The River,” set in North Dakota in the early 2000s, intersects with “A Time of Snow,” which takes place in the 1960s and in that early 21st-century moment.  Antoinette, who is Mandan, is the narrator and protagonist of “A Time of Snow,” but she’s only a very minor character in “The River.”  I’m interested in the people at the edges of our lives, and how we ourselves are just peripheral at the edges of others’ lives, and how sometimes we don’t bother to try to imagine each other’s rich interior narratives and worlds.  For example, Antoinette’s story, which is such a complex narrative of failure and then rebellion—her Promethean filching of white male power—is completely opaque to the white protagonist Ilse in “The River.”  In that story, Ilse is having a full-blown epiphany that’s genuine and authentic for her, but it’s rimmed by blindness, by her lack of imagination and empathy.  I’ll make Antoinette a sandwich, she thinks, like it’s some massive social-justice breakthrough. 

And for her, it pretty much is.  It’s a step, and a valuable step.  I’m trying to meet my characters where they are, in all their blind and broken glory.  I can shift away, stand at a distance, and have a bit of a laugh at their expense, but to write with empathy, I have to dwell in their worlds, completely immersed in the way they see things.

In “The Small Heart,” the main character, a white schoolteacher, feels trapped politically and trapped in a marriage that’s not working.  She’s desperate; she’d gnaw off her own paw to get free, but she can only conceptualize ‘free’ in terms of a different man who’d love her, who would spirit her away and make it all better.  I’ve lived in the Midwest and Great Plains for eighteen years now, and the quiet, honorable, hardworking desperation of many white people in this region is familiar to me.

Readers have asked me how a collection of short stories is shaped.  How did you go about choosing which stories came first, second, etc.?

The stories arc toward rebellion, toward agency, toward redefining the terms of engagement—social, political, relational—for oneself.  I remember Sandra Cisneros talking to us at Macondo about closure.  “I don’t need a happy ending,” she said.  “I just need a little bit of hope.”  How Winter Began arcs toward hope.  The characters become stronger as the stories progress.  They begin to articulate what they want and make clearer decisions.

How Winter Began is also framed by the three Iréne stories.  I’ve always loved the symmetry and formal beauty of triptychs, their sense of closure, the visual echo of the spiritual icon.  Isn’t Isabel Allende’s The Stories of Eva Luna structured that way?  I think so.  I remember being devastated and dazzled by that book long ago.

There are a few important motifs that recur throughout the book—rivers, hanging, fertility, food as a symbol of nurturing or forgiveness—and I ordered the stories so those images would emerge, submerge, and reemerge in a rhythmic fashion.  The delicacy of rivers particularly fascinates me:  how they link and connect us, but how they can also function as boundaries or barriers.  How intertwined they are with human life.

Lastly, the title story “How Winter Began” (which unfolds in reverse chronological order, revealing a concern with origin moments) is as close to the center of the book as I could place it.  Rooted in the myth of Demeter, Persephone, and Hades, it’s the hinge of the book, the key that opens the rest of it. 

I like it when artists hide things in plain sight.  The open secret.  That fascinates me.

Thank you so much for being with us, Joy.  La Bloga readers:  Check out Joy Castro's website where she has listed her upcoming appearances/readings and information regarding her previous publications.  


Joy Castro <> is the author of two literary thrillers set in post-Katrina New Orleans, two memoirs, and the new collection How Winter Began.  She edited the anthology Family Trouble and teaches creative writing, literature, and Latino studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.