Sunday, July 10, 2011

Interview with Mayra Calvani

Today, we have Latina author, Mayra Calvani, talking about her book Sunstruck

About the author: Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. She’s co-editor of Voice in the Dark Ezine and a reviewer & columnist for Blogcritics Magazine, Midwest Book Review and Latino Books Examiner. Her articles, stories and interviews have appeared on numerous publications both in print and online. In addition, she regularly offers writing workshops at Visit her website at For her children’s books, visit

Q: What is the meaning of the title, “Sunstruck?”

I think the metaphor suits my naive protagonist, Daniella. Plus, it’s really hot in Puerto Rico, so it makes sense. Daniella lives her life as if she’s in a daze. She lets her boyfriend take advantage of her and doesn’t know what do with her future. There’s something wrong with someone whose favorite hobby is spending time with her cat—no matter how much she loves that cat!

Q: How did you come up with the concept?

The idea for this book stemmed from two factors: my personal observations of Puerto Rican artists when I was a teen and my love for satiric writing. My mother was--and still is--an artist, and although she’s ‘retired’ now, back in the early eighties she was an active painter in San Juan, showing her works at art exhibits and galleries regularly. She took me everywhere with her, so I attended all these shows and activities and I observed.

Let me tell you something, the art scene can be extremely interesting and that is because so many artists are eccentric, unconventional people. There’s so much competition, jealousy and gossip! Anyway, I guess all these experiences must have made an impression on me. When the time came to write my book, I knew these were the people and situations I wanted to write about. I decided I would make the book a parody, this way I could keep it upbeat and have the freedom to exaggerate to the point of being ridiculous.

Q: I liked Daniella’s obsession with pirates. Are you a pirate buff? Is your favorite movie The Pirates of the Caribbean?

My favorite movie definitely isn’t The Pirates of the Caribbean! I do enjoy old pirate films, though. I used to watch them all the time when I was a kid. I’m kind of a pirate buff, I guess. My favorite ride in Disney World is ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ and I’ve always been attracted to the idea of writing a pirate novel. Maybe I will in the future.

Q: Daniella mentions off and on that she wants to be “free of men” but yet does nothing about it. I suspected that she had some “daddy issues.” Did you ever consider including something about her absent father figure in the story? And if so, what would that have told us about Daniella and the way she is?

That’s funny that you mention that. I originally had a segment in the book where she receives a telephone call from her father, but later I took it out. Her father left her and her mom when Daniella was a little girl. So there are definitely feelings of abandonment and not being ‘good enough.’ Then, as you must have noticed, she seems to be attracted to men who are much older than herself. A big part of why Daniella is the way she is comes from her father’s absence. I think this is very obvious in the story. His total absence makes it even stronger, which is why I wanted to leave it that way.

Q: What is the connection Daniella has with her cat? Is the cat a substitute for something or someone in her life? If so, what?

The cat is always there for her when she needs him—more than can be said for the men in her life… or her father, right?

Q: I liked how you added the crazy Zorro character. Did you ever consider of turning this book into a thriller or mystery with this Zorro in the mix? And if so, did you see Daniella as the one who would catch this guy?

No, this book was always a parody in my mind. I wanted to keep things light and fun, yet, at the same time, make readers wonder about human nature.

Q: My favorite quote is: “If [Daniella] could choose a place to die, she would choose a bookstore, a coffin made of hardcover mystery books.” (pg. 113) Is this your dream?

Ha! I’m glad you enjoyed that! It’s not my dream, but it sure beats a regular coffin if you’re a bookworm like me. It makes me think of ancient Egypt, when they used to bury the person surrounded with all the things she would need in her afterlife.

Q: Most of the time, Daniella seems despondent and it made her do things she doesn’t like. Was this more a study of psychological depression and human behavior? Did you study psychology in school?

I didn’t study psychology in school, but I have read a lot of psychology books during my lifetime. Also, you can get quite an education about human nature from Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot stories! I didn’t intend Daniella’s story to be a study about human depression, but I think your observation is very perceptive. I think there’s a lot under the surface in this novel, if you go deep and are looking for such things.

Q: The whole story has a “men vs. women” political debate. What message did you want to relay? Did you do any research from Puerto Rico history?

Not any systematic research, no. The book is based on what I observed all throughout my childhood and teenage years. Because Sunstruck is a parody/satire, I exaggerated the situations to the point of ridicule (I had fun doing that!).

I guess my message is that all extremes are bad, no matter to what side you belong to.

Q: This book is classified as “women’s fiction.” What do you hope women will gain from reading this?

Hopefully, they will be empowered by Daniella’s story. In spite of Daniella’s flaws—and she has many—I think all of us can identify with her in one way or another. By understanding her lack of confidence and ability to focus and take charge of her life, perhaps women can gain a little insight into how to become stronger themselves.

Q: Do you feel your book will inspire young Latinas?

I hope so! I also hope it will entertain them and make them think a little about the importance of having self confidence and independence.

Q: Any words of encouragement for the Latinas? How about the writers?

Whether you want to become a writer or not, whatever your goal is, dreaming is just part of it. Yes, it all starts with a dream. But planning and staying focused are key components for reaching your goals. It doesn’t matter if you only have time to take a few tiny steps each day or even each week. What matters is to be persistent. Steady progress is the key to success.

Q: What are you working on next?

I’m working on a novel this summer, book I of a 4-book series for young adults. I’m very excited about it. Hopefully I’ll complete the first draft by the end of September.

Thank you! Be sure to check out more about Mayra Calvani on

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Review: Becoming Latina in 10 Easy Steps

Becoming Latina in 10 Easy Steps by Lara Rios

With no marriage prospects and a high-powered career, Marcela Alvarez is already a spinster in the eyes of her traditional family. But when she finds out her deadbeat dad wasn't Latino, her problems only worsen. It's time for her to change some things and prove she still has Chicana roots with a fool-proof ten-step plan, including:

- Dating Mexican men. Her work crush, George Ramirez, almost fills the bill-except that he can't speak Spanish...
- Learning to cook, homestyle. Now, she can't even make mac and cheese without burning the house down. But that's nothing a few private cooking lessons can't fix, especially with a hot maestro...
- Mentoring an at-risk Latina. But with Lupe's switchblade and bad attitude, Marcela starts to wonder: which of them is more at risk...

And when she's done, she'll be able to out-Latina her sisters and cousins, no problem. But who knew being herself could be so much work?

Reviewed by Sandra Lopez

Rating: Review: Marcela just found out she's half white because her mother had an affair with someone else, so now she doesn't know who she is. Then a comment from her family sends her on a mission: to prove that she is as much Latina as any of them. So she begins this 10-step program--really, they're a bunch of cliches for Mexicans (i.e. Spanish cooking, good dancers, etc.) If she was going to add a bunch of stereotypes, she might've also included knowing Spanish and living in a barrio--all totally Mexican, by the way.

I was so envious of Marcela because she had the job I've always wanted--Animator. Lucky dog.

The first thing she does is start dating Mexican men. The typical Mexican would've just crossed the border and would speak no English. Instead, she was stupid enough to date a cholo that nearly raped her on the first "date." I would've taken a wetback over a cholo any day. But then George, a guy that works in the Accounting Dept., captures her eye, even though he was no "Mexican." At first, he was pretty dull, but then he started growing on me as I read on. Girls, you should always go for the nerds. Who knows? They may be hiding a body under all that suit.

It was admirable how Marcela takes in a troubled teen like Lupe and shows her the world of web design. How brave she was to trust her near her computer on the first night. Things get very rough for Marcela when Lupe's bro enters the scene. She gets cuffed and thrown in jail because of him. Honestly, I don't know if Marcela was brave or stupid. Who would put themselves in danger like that? And for what--to prove something to her family?

And George (even though he turned out to be a hunk,) what was up with him? Why are guys such chicks? One romp in the sack and he was ready to move in with Marcela. Whoa, Nelly! Slow down!

Still, I liked how Marcela thought she deserved a nice guy like George, even if he did wanted to marry her from the start. She becomes a real genuine person when she stops and looks around at what life is like on the other side of the tracks (East L.A., Mexico.)

I enjoyed the writer's sense of humor and style. A great book about finding yourself and becoming a better person. Even though the character does evade from the 10 steps (in other words, she doesn't really do them all,) she was a real character with flaws, hopes, and fears. I could definitely relate to her.