Amazon Books #1 Bestseller, Hispanic Literature & Fiction

Amazon Books #1 Bestseller, Women's Fiction - Mystery & Suspense
Cosmopolitan’s Top Ten Must-Read Books by Latino Authors

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I'm thrilled that my newest novel, The Dog Thief, is now available!

"Amazing! A gripping read that will have your heart racing from start to finish." —James Sinclair, Autistic & Unapologetic

Can she save herself by saving the dog she loves?

Canine rehabilitator Madeline "Mad Girl" Whitney stumbles upon a murder victim, thrusting her into the limelight of her small town. She makes a wild claim, hoping to help her struggling business, but it has the effect of drawing too much attention. When the hostile sheriff, her ex-girlfriend's twin brother, threatens to take away Maddie's former military dog, she's forced to work with him to establish a Search & Rescue team.

Now everyone, including a killer, is watching the girl who can't make eye contact.

The Dog Thief celebrates the special bond between humans and our canine companions and is set in a small Northern California town.

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"Acosta's talent is staggering...She shows readers all over again just how funny, ridiculous and thoroughly gifted she is at plotting."
-Romantic Times

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Summer Comes in Autumn

Illustration by Christian Nacorda for Dark Companion/Shadow Girl Trailer
I live in a microclimate where summers are cool and foggy, and sunshine finally comes out in autumn. I went to Catholic schools with wool uniforms, which were particularly unpleasant during heat waves. I woke at 6 a.m. and took three buses to reach my all-girls high school, set in the low East Bay hills, surrounded by gardens.

The good thing was: I always had books to read on the rides. When I was deep into a story, the miles passed too quickly. I remember the smell of my school's polished linoleum floors, the ornate entrance with marble steps leading to huge carved doors, the mysterious hallways, and architectural artifacts -- features left in place from another time. I remember the sound of hundreds of teenage girls chattering, laughing, shouting as classes let out. I remember sitting on back campus or the front gardens with my friends, dreaming of our futures. In this boy-free zone, we could compete and also support one another. We could confidently ace tests, and we were the ones our teachers called upon. We studied and explored science and math, literature and history, the arts and sports.

And yet, all I wanted was to escape high school. Well, youth is wasted on the young.

All this is to say that The Shadow Girl of Birch Grove (published by Tor as Dark Companion) is a book very close to my heart. I think of my gothic young adult novel as a strange-looking wonderful child that no one understands. Everyone wants a pretty and perfect girl doing all the right things for all the right reasons and discovering that she's really a princess. I wanted my Jane to be more real than that.

She says, “You know, I’ve always hated stories about handsome princes and beautiful princesses with some extraordinary ability, special because they’re born special...I didn’t see how those were happy stories, because life has given princes and princesses enough unearned advantages. I’d rather believe that anyone can accomplish remarkable things when she really tries. Maybe her accomplishments will never be recognized, but simply loving and caring for someone else, that’s miraculous to me.”

I'm offering The Shadow Girl of Birch Grove free on Amazon from October 3-17. I'm also having a free promo for Fancy That, a lighthearted romcom, from September 26-30. (If loving romcoms is wrong, I don't want to be right.) Both books are available on Kindle Unlimited. If you haven't had a chance to read them, please grab them now!

Read The Shadow Girl of Birch Grove at Amazon US and watch the video trailer, narrated by Patricia Fructuoso and illustrated by Christian Nacorda!

Read Fancy That at Amazon US.

Guest Blog & Dog Food


Anna Palij was kind enough to have me as a guest on her site, The Writer's Pain. I regret to say that I veered into utter nonsense. Like my character, Nancy Carrington, I believe that silliness is one of the highest forms of delightfulness. Others may not agree. If you agree, please visit Anna's site.

In other news: The Dog Thief has received some very nice reader reviews. Some reviewers have used the term "heartfelt," and I'm glad I was able to convey my deep love of dogs and other animals in this novel. When I was a child and imagined my future life, it was a home filled with books and animals. Right now, I only have the one dog, Lola, and a cardboard box with caterpillars that I'm trying to protect from birds, but I watch squirrels, birds, and cats outside the window as I work.

Lola was having Issues of the Noxious Kind, so I did what I always do, google like crazy for alternative brands of dog food. Finally, I thought, the heck with it. I made up a huge pot of chicken, vegetable and rice food for her, enough to freeze and use for weeks. Her digestive problems vanished.

Of course, my mother thinks I'm crazy to cook for a dog. But Lola is a companion who always wiggles in utter delight when she sees me, who always wants to play tug, who alerts me to activity near the house, who nuzzles my hand when she wants to be pet, and who yowls in greeting when I return home. She makes me laugh when she leaps into a mud puddle, or plays chase with her friends at the park.

So I don't mind cooking for her.

I've started the sequel to The Dog Thief and planning on a multibook Coyote Run series. The working title is Trickster Dog, and Maddie will struggle to work with a new Search and Rescue dog and to unravel the mysteries surrounding the death a local vintner.

Science Fiction & Me

My closest pals know that I'm very anti-social media these days, reacting against the collection and selling of personal data because blah, blah, blah, paranoid rantings, etc., because I'm prone to paranoid rantings. The question is: does a love of speculative fiction lead to paranoid rantings, or are paranoid rantings the result of reading too much speculative fiction during one's formative years?

Rather than belabor the downsides of social media, one upside is connecting with old friends. I recently got together with a best friend from high school. I can still recall meeting her. She was a striking girl, two grades above me, tall and blond. She was sitting on a bench in the school yard, intently focused on a paperback.

"What are you reading?" I asked

"Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein," she said. "You're not mature enough for it."

Thus began our friendship, and we spent the next few year's together tearing through her older sisters' stacks of science fiction books, talking and writing and studying and exploring the world beyond high school. We dreamed of writing science fiction novels. Well, the closest I came was writing The She-Hulk Diaries for Marvel. She became a successful computer programmer for the biggest tech companies in Silicon Valley.

She said, "You should write a science fiction novel.

I mentioned this to my brother, also a fan of science fiction, and he said, "That's a good idea. It was your first love."

So I'm thinking about it. And perhaps it's time for me to revisit favorite old books as well.

A New Look & Old Name for Dark Companion



UPDATE: My YA Gothic Suspense/Gothic Romance is now published under my original title, The Shadow Girl of Birch Grove. I've always liked this title, but my publisher's marketing department replaced it with Dark Companion

My young adult gothic novel, Dark Companion, has a new cover by designer Dar Albert of Wicked Smart Designs! I thought the cover by Tor/Macmillan was beautiful, but I wasn't happy that my multiracial protagonist was "whitewashed." The American Library Association's YALSA had an article back in 2012 discussing whitewashing on YA book covers.

Is it a big or little thing? It was a big thing for me, because one of my recurring themes is being Other in society. My publisher had purchased a beautiful photo for the cover art, but the girl didn't look like my brown-skinned character Jane Williams. And I thought this contributed to the perception that my character was not a person of color, even though this is clearly stated in the novel.

But being multiracial is only one aspect of Jane's outsider status. She's also poor and without a family. We all need our families.

Which reminds me, my favorite brother informed me recently that there is no such word as "reoccurring." Seriously? I wish someone had corrected me before because I use that word all the dang time, and I'm sure my pals are cracking up afterward. I will have to interrogate them and find out.

I love Dar's design with the small cottage among the trees, the sense of danger, the red petals, and the girl who is looking straight out at the reader. Because Jane Williams is direct and serious.

Dar also designed the fun new covers for my Casa Dracula series.
"Did you try turning it off and turning it on again?" I often miss having a full IT department down the hall from me. I've been trying to clear thousands of unnecessary files out of my laptop and I came across this alternate cover for The She-Hulk Diaries. I also found a piece I'd written at the request of a big-timey publication. Marvel nixed its publication. Er, maybe because I was biting the hand that signs the check. Anyway, here it is.

Absence (of Girl Superheroes) Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Another summer is here and we’re deluged with big budget action flicks starring men, written by men, directed by men, and intended to entertain those of the male persuasion. I think it’s fantastic that men are creating a male cultural community without hazarding into drum circles—because no one wants that. The recent success of comic book superhero adaptations begets more superhero adaptations that are veritable sausagefests of CGI-generated fight-scenes, explosions, things going really fast, and then the fast things exploding.

That’s something I love about Hollywood: the industry’s dogged commitment to replicate what has been done successfully before. In fact, Hollywood might consider engraving “Did not try to reinvent the wheel!” on its tombstone.

Comic books have always served the underdogs, providing inspiration, drama, and vicarious thrills in epic battles of good vs. evil, rich vs. poor, powerful vs. resourceful. Worldbuilding and shifting dynamics can be as complex as Greek and Roman mythologies, and, indeed, comics carry on this tradition of storytelling.

Which came first, the superhero or the nerd? I suspect that someday archeologists will discover a cave wall with the earliest comic panels and nearby will be the remains of a proto-nerd, clad in a mammoth-skin garment, complete with a pointy stick protector.

What was I saying? Oh, yes, so more of the profitable-same. However, there’s one area where Hollywood does not chase the money: extremely successful movies starring girl heroes, primarily viewed by girls, have not been followed by copycat girl-herocentric flicks. If you look at Hollywood from a purely monetary perspective (how crass!) you see the cognitive dissonance. However, if you look at it from a social perspective, i.e., the incurable contamination by girl cooties, it becomes clear. Girls, born into a male dominant culture, are immunized to boy cooties. They can watch innumerable movies with entirely male casts, and at the very worst, the girls will experience temporary cases of ineffable ennui, which can be helpful when journaling.

Boys --so delicate and lovely!-- are easily contaminated. One day they’re cheerfully telling scatological jokes and smashing things with their buddies, and the next they’re chortling at a rerun of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.  (Cue Sarah McLaughlin’s “In the Arms of an Angel.”)

So, yes, there is gross inequity in films, and studies such as those on gender stereotypes by Dr. Stacey L. Smith at the Annenberg School of Communication merely obfuscate the real issue. The real issue is not that:

 “Examining 5,839 characters, a recent study of 129 top grossing G, PG, and PG-13 films theatrically released between 2006 and 2011 showed that less than 30% of all on screen speaking characters are girls or women.  The ratio of males to females on the silver screen is 2.53 to 1.”

Nor is the real issue the wild imbalance of men:women making movies, and according to Dr. Smith, “Women accounted for 4.1% of directors, 12.2% of writers, and 20% of producers. This calculates to a 2012 ratio of 5 males to every 1 female behind the camera.”

This imbalance is unlikely to change even when women filmmakers are successful because their work is seen as “flukes” and they aren’t asked to helm big-budget actioners. As Monika Bartyzel writes in Girls on Film, “Women [directors] with similar resumes to the men listed above aren't even considered for these high-buzz films—let alone given the opportunity to sign on or refuse.”

Because the real issue is girl cooties. Since women and girls buy half of all movie tickets, Hollywood power brokers are sacrificing enormous potential profits by ignoring this audience. I imagine that when their mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, and girl pals beg them to invest in girl movies, they respond with a heartfelt, “I hear what you’re saying, but we’ve got to protect the most vulnerable members of society, our boys!” I applaud them for their moral integrity and courage.

Nonetheless, girls want superhero role models, too. Like boy nerds, many a girl nerd looks to the media for inspiration on how to deal with the challenges and vicissitudes of life. Writer Margot Magowen, founder of ReelGir1, a blog dedicated to "imagining gender equality in the fantasy world,” says:

“I have three young daughters, and almost every movie I take them to, they see males front and center. Females are sidekicks or not there at all, usually stuck in a role I call the Minority Feisty (which includes characters like Astrid from ‘How to Train Your Dragon,’ Jesse in ‘Toy Story,’ Colette in ‘Ratatouille.’) Reviewers will invariably refer to this ‘strong’ female as ‘feisty,’ a word that doesn't describe real power, but someone who plays at power. Would you ever call Superman feisty? How would he feel if you did?  The Minority Feisty is a modern invention that's supposed to make parents overlook the fact that almost all of the other characters in the film are male, including the star (who the movie is often titled for) and usually his best buddy as well.”

So what can be done? The power brokers in the media already carry a heavy gender-specific load, but that doesn’t mean girls should be deprived of superheroes. After all, it’s not as if women are powerless in society. Some of us are as powerful as Oprah. Okay, only one of us is really as powerful as Oprah and her name happens to be Oprah, but the rest of us don’t have to wait for change. We can make the change by making our own stories with our own superheroes. 

Girl nerds can put their enormous brains together to create, finance, and distribute comics and female superhero movies and shows.  Instead of trying to break the glass ceiling, we can walk down the block and construct our own damn skyscraper.

This is Lily, the newest addition to our extended family. She looks as sweet as a lily, but when I ask how she's behaving, my brother sighs and says, "Labs explore everything with their mouths...outlets, furniture." She's an English lab and as soon as she's old enough, we'll introduce her to my dog and my other brother's dog.

When I was a girl, I was passionate about cats and had several. The first was an almost feral alley cat named Jingles. Using the "what's your porn star name" formula of the first pet and first street you lived on, mine would be Jingles Francisco.

I was walking Lola and chatting with one of the neighbors, in the timeless tradition of local crazy ladies, and he asked what I did and I said, "Er, writer," and then I tried to get Lola not to yank on the leash, and I didn't mention that I'd written a novel about a dog trainer, because he would have laughed until he fell over.

The daft cliche goes, those who can't do, teach. There should be another: those who don't want to follow the rules, write.


Mexican Dahlia from Annie's Annuals
I'm always trying to figure out the best way to convey my books' messages to readers via covers. I have a hard time accepting that the covers I love most (quirky, arty, atypical) don't translate quickly to readers scanning dozens of images looking for their next great read.

So The Dog Thief has a new cover as you can see on my home page. I like it because it reminds me of the time that my beloved Betty decided to dig up all my vintage Mexican dahlias and eat the tubers. I miss her dearly and will think of her when I go to my favorite nursery, Annie's Annuals, and buy new ones.

My current canine resident, Lola, harbors no ill will to plant matter, so I am returning to gardening, which was such a passion that I considered putting more outdoor lights so I could garden into the night. I went through various manias, most notably the antique rose phase. To save special plants, I gave many roses away to friends in the country and to a community garden. I believe they're happier.

Spring, however, makes me yearn for a garden filled with roses. This is the delight: to walk out in the morning and smell those wonderful fragrances. The rose below, Climbing Sombreuil dates from 1880. I purchased mine from the Antique Rose Emporium in Brenham, Texas. Some people dream of going to Paris. Well, I've been to Paris -- it was swell -- and I dream of visiting the Antique Rose Emporium.

Climbing Sombruiel in my garden.

Yes, We're All Snowflakes, Unique & Lovely

Like all insecure and nervous writers (i.e. all writers), I eagerly awaited feedback on my new novel, The Dog Thief. I received a thoughtful message praising the novel with one little comment: the single African-American character in the book knows about the drug business in the local town, fitting the stereotype. Like all insecure and nervous writers, I immediately became defensive.

I responded that drug business and drug use are common in my fictional town. The reader had said that it was his issue, of importance only to him, and that resonated with me because I have oh so many issues, things that annoy and/or anger me yet seem inconsequential to others. One of these issues is the representation of Latinos in the media. Latinos are highly underrepresented in the media compared to our actual percentage of the population. And when you see a Latina, she's generally a maid, a housewife, the mother/wife/sister of a drug dealing criminal. She's slotted into a narrow category that's easy for the screenwriters to imagine because they never look into the actual world they inhabit.

The character in question, my character, was inspired by the young men I know. They've lived in my house, had dinners at my table, jammed in the garage, raised their voices in joy, and shared their sorrows. This was a multiracial group, all friends, all bright and beautiful guys. Because I'm a suburban wife/mother, I was not privvy to all aspects of their lives, but I occasionally got glimpses.

So that was the inspiration of my character. But readers don't know that. Readers only see that the one African-American male character in the novel knows a lot about the drug business. It's irrelevant that other characters are connected or involved or knowledgeable about the illicit activity. Because they're the majority. When there's only one, that one has out-size impact and significance.

Like when there's only one Latina in a movie and she's a maid or the wife/sister/mother of a criminal.

"Snowflake" has become a pejorative term to describe someone too sensitive to a perceived offense. But perhaps the real snowflake is the person who reacts defensively and will not consider that he or she is being thoughtless or unkind or oblivious or insulting or any combination of the aforementioned.

I'm going to try to listen a little before becoming defensive. Being defensive is as easy as breathing; listening takes effort, so it will be a struggle.

One great thing about publishing as an indie author is that I could go to my novel and make a small revision that addresses the problematic bit. A bonus was that I discovered a typo and fixed it, too.

Friends gave me a mug that says, "Revise. You know you want to." Yes, I really wanted to.

If you have a website or blog and would like to review The Dog Thief or any of my other novels, please send a message!

Michele Serros & I AM NOT YOUR PERFECT MEXICAN DAUGHTER

https://erikalsanchez.com/
Giving books at Christmas is as natural as having tamales on Christmas Eve. This year I shopped for books, new and old, by Latina authors for a fab young friend of mine. I kinda love the titles of both, because they speak to me. In the recently released I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez, a teen struggles with parental and societal expectations as well as dealing with the loss of her "perfect" sister.

I also looked for books by Michele Serros, who died too early in 2015. Because this was a gift, I wanted new copies, but was shocked to find that Chicana Falsa (1998) and How to Be a Chicana Role Model (2000) are both out of print and not even available as ebooks.

 Kirkus called How to Be a Chicana Role Model "a sly, hyperkinetic romp that's part story collection, part stand-up comedy, part self-help for aspiring writers," and Vibe reviewed Chicana Falsa, saying, "Witty, tender, and emotionally honest, Serros' words speak to the painful and hilarious identity crises particular among youth caught between two cultures."

I don't know why Michele's books have gone out of print or why her publisher Riverhead Trade doesn't have ebooks available or even any information about her on their website. I'm saddened that such a vibrant voice is not more easily available to new readers, including younger readers seeking someone who'll speak to their own sense of identity.

Jessica Langlois wrote a terrific piece about Michele for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Listen to Mandalit Del Barcos's tribute to Michele at NPR.

Listen to Michele talk about writing YA Chica Lit and her Honey Blonde Chica series on NPR.

Visit Michele's website.

THE DOG THIEF & Autism, Asperger's

My beloved Betty in her final days.
I received a very nice message from James Sinclair, writer/creator of Autistic & Unapologetic. He'd read about The Dog Thief and asked is the main character, Maddie, is on the autism spectrum because I hadn't said so specifically in descriptions.

The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that I wrote Maddie as an individual with issues, including physical twitches and fixations, that make her an outsider. She says, “Don’t label me. Labels make others feel free to tell me what I should think, feel, do, and say, when my life is none of anyone else’s goddamn business."

I shared with James my concern that if I described Maddie has having Asperger's others would judge the character by their strict definition of the syndrome, which goes against the fictional character's sense of herself and also my own ideas about individuality and being an outsider.

Well, being a misfit who struggles with the desire for acceptance/home and the inability to be anything other than oneself is a theme that runs through my books and my life.

Maddie always says and does the wrong thing with other people. But she can communicate with animals on a level beyond all the complexity and subtext of human interactions. I hope readers will come to appreciate Maddie for who she is.