Thursday, July 20, 2017

Q&A with Phyllis H. Moore

Phyllis H. Moore is the author of the Sabine Trilogy, Sabine, Book One, Josephine's Journal's Book Two, and Secrets of Dunn House, Book Three. She also has written Tangled, A Yarn and Opal's Story, A Novel. All of these novels are written in the Southern Gothic style. Phyllis calls them Texas Gothic. They are set in her home state, Texas.

She is fond of reading authors like Fannie Flagg, Rebecca Wells and Kathryn Stockett, stories of dysfunctional families with a touch of humor. She is also fond of the non-fiction of Rick Bragg and Jeanette Walls.

Phyllis is a self-published author, retired social worker, avid gardener and loves to travel. She lives on a small ranch in South Texas with her husband and their adopted terrier, Ollie Bubba. She has operated a haunted bed and breakfast and has stories to tell.

1.       What inspired you to write The Bright Shawl?
 I lived in San Antonio and a couple of smaller towns around San Antonio many years ago. I love the culture and atmosphere there. I spent most of my childhood near Corpus Christi and in the Rio Grande Valley and most of my recent years have been in Galveston. The setting is what inspired me initially. I worked as a social worker when I lived near San Antonio and I met so many young girls who ran away from home and got themselves involved with people who took advantage of them. I didn’t want to romanticize the runaway, but I fantasized about what would happen if a strong female character was being led by her own goals and dreams. I believe in Karma and positive attraction, and I wanted Bella’s positive attitude to draw support to her. I also wanted her to be able to be inspired by the spirit of her mother. I believe that our guardian spirits are always trying to get our attention and we don’t always recognize it. That’s why I called them tender whispers. They are subtle hints to follow our dreams. The bright shawl is a symbol of Bella’s mother and all the possibilities are woven into the colors. It is her spirit wrapping around Bella as a reminder of what she can be and do, a cocoon, a shelter, and a vision.

2.       How did you manage to weave the individual story lines of the characters into one?
Sometimes the characters tell me what to do. I know their strengths and weaknesses and I place them in a situation. I’m often surprised by what they choose to do. For example, initially, I thought Manny, Bella’s younger brother would flounder and get involved with drugs, or a gang following her departure. However, he surprised me, as young men often do. His tough, don’t care attitude was all show, and his desire for his family overrode his need to conform to his father’s lifestyle. I wanted him to survive and there were times when I didn’t think he would. I was also surprised by his love of animals and his desire to have a dog.

I didn’t know Lenny was going to show up and when he did I had to give him a reason to be at the shop. It was only natural that he would be able to make beautiful sea shell jewelry. I know so many people like him. They come to the surface when I’m writing and ask to be in the story. Slade and Gina were inspired by siblings I knew when I was a social worker. Their parents were extremely religious and adopted a bi-racial child, then when the child became a teenager, the first time there was a marijuana incident, they disowned the child. That’s where I got their attitudes and Slade and Gina’s disgust with their decisions. It’s almost two or three stories that I take bits and pieces of, but I often think I could go back to the parents of Gina and Slade and write a novel about that situation.

My other novels are similar, I’ve noticed. I often have two characters with different stories going on in alternate chapters, and in the end they have a common bond and come to a resolution.

  1. What is the significance behind the "colors, scents, and textures" of the shawl?
I suppose I am constantly aware of all my senses. I do needle work and always loved embroidery, crochet and weaving. The texture of fabrics excites me. I can’t keep my hands off. I’m a child of the ‘60’s. The original hippies are the current Boho look. I love it, especially the clothing and jewelry. I must have been a gypsy in another life. I always have about three dresses from the El Mercado in San Antonio in my closet. It’s like comfort food for me. They remind me of my childhood. I knew that is what Bella and Rosa would remember from their childhood, the simple pleasures in their backyard, the colors of the flowers, the smells of the food and garden, the feel and warmth of the worn shawl. That shawl would have been something their mother would use daily, especially in the evening when everything settled down and they relaxed. It was the constant that reassured the children that everything was okay. When it was hidden in a drawer, it was as if that comfort was not available. Their mother wasn’t even allowed to choose the décor for the house to make it comfortable.

  1. What roles did Bella and Slade play for each other?
Bella was Slade’s reminder that he had set his dreams aside. She was the catalyst for him to realize he was stuck in grief. Bella was the breath of fresh air and adventure that pushed him off dead center and enabled him to dream again. Slade was Bella’s model for maturity and business sense. He was her example of the possibilities that were open if you follow your passion. However, neither of them would have known each other if it wasn’t for Gina, the distracted psychic. She knew two people who she loved, saw their dilemmas and matched them perfectly.

  1. Could you please explain "the whispers" of Mirabella and Petra?
For me, in this story, the words whispers and sprit are interchangeable. The spirits of Mirabella and Petra are the guardian angels of the girls. Their essence is constantly around them and for Mirabella it was the same for Manny. Her spiritual energy whispered around them. There may have been no words, but there were memories, scents, visions, values, and symbols reminding the children of their true family. It never leaves a person, but not everyone pays attention to the spiritual influence around them. When they do, anything is possible.

  1. Could you please describe young Manny's journey in this story?
I ended up loving Manny and wanting to take care of him, but he did just fine for himself. He became resourceful, independent and strong in character. His mother’s influence won out and he made all the right choices. He could have made all the wrong choices, but he allowed his tender heart to prevail. He grew to recognize the weaknesses of his father. I want to say that I also have a soft spot for the father, Manuel. I’m certain that Manny also saw Manuel’s frailties and that is probably why he thought he could help him by staying close to him. Everyone has a past. We all make choices as to how we react. The reaction is what determines character. Manny evolved to be a person with character and I believe his sisters and his mother were the main influences. He could feel the difference in the home and see the neglect of space and character his father allowed.

7.       What are some of the main socio-economic issues that you explore in this book and why did you explore them?
Bella, Rosa, and Mirabella came to recognize their simple lives in the Valley were preferable to the fancy house they occupied in San Antonio. Their closeness to Petra and her husband, the small, friendly atmosphere of their house and the simple things they enjoyed gave them comfort they could not find in the mansion with Manuel. In that large, fancy house there was deceit, secrets and maybe even murder. Character and strength have nothing to do with money and everything to do with decisions and values.

Manuel had an extremely neglectful childhood. He took responsibility at a young age for his brother on the streets on Monterrey. He was street wise and for him, the symbol of family was the house and material things, but he always looked at those things from the streets. He had a hole where the heart of the family should have been. He couldn’t fill the hole up no matter how he tried. I know so many unhappy people who live this way, judging things by how much they cost and not the spirit and comfort afforded. It’s no wonder Manuel grew to adulthood without developing some values and character, however he also toughened himself so he wouldn’t be hurt and that alienated him from the people who could have helped him. Things were more important than people. In a culture that stresses family, Manuel was not the norm, and he probably felt that difference also. I just think that’s an interesting thing about our society, and still we judge success by a person’s house, car and clothing. We continue to miss the point.

I wanted the natural beauty of Bella and Lenny’s jewelry and Slade’s clothing to be the material thing that could show there could be a luxury of richness and an abundance in natural substance, seashells, color, texture, and scent. Those things are not used up. They exist always. Those things speak to the natural abundance we all have access to. However, in quest to get the bright and shiny, we sometimes overlook the things around us that are even more appealing.

The family that Bella finally accumulated was multi-racial, of different sexual identities and various economic backgrounds, and this includes Lenny. I dream of the day this diversity will define who we are as people, not the “them versus us” mentality we struggle with sometimes today. No walls, you know what I mean?

8.       What do you hope readers will gain from your book?
I hope readers can identify the simple pleasures of their childhoods and seek ways to reincorporate those things into their lives. It was would be wonderful if they could recognize big houses don’t make comfort and joy. It’s the simple things, and keeping true to values that make people happy. Embracing diversity of all people and recognizing their strengths is one of my goals, no matter their physical/mental abilities, background, race, religion or status.

9.       What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?
I love the chance to be creative and jump out of bed in my pajamas and write. I like the challenge of getting to know the characters and I love it when they start telling me what they’re going to do. It’s like meeting someone new and discovering new things about them every time I talk with them. For me writing is a new experience, so I like being a beginner. It’s a challenge and I think everyone should push themselves to be a beginner at something. It keeps me fresh and alert. I also make many mistakes. That’s part of being a beginner and somehow, I find it refreshing. That’s a little weird when I say it, but it’s true.

Being a beginner makes me vulnerable. I ask myself daily will anyone want to read what I write. Is it any good? Will people think it’s silly or a waste of my time? This bothered me the most when I first started writing. However, when I got the first acceptance email that a journal wanted to publish what I had submitted and one of my short stories was accepted for an anthology and I actually got a little check in the mail, I decided someone would want to read something I wrote. I read my reviews and I love to hear the good ones, but the negative ones make me feel a little unworthy. I try to take any nuggets of wisdom and improve. If the review seems to be negative just for the sake of such a thing, I try to put it out of my mind. That’s not easy to do. We all want everyone to like us. However, I know that’s not possible. I think creative souls are especially vulnerable to that desire to please.

10.   If your book would be turned into a movie, who would you imagine playing the part of the main character? (Actor can be ANYONE, living or dead.) I
      think Demi Levato would make a great Bella. She’s a little quirky and I think she’s beautiful. A younger Eva Longoria could be Bella’s older sister, Rosa. I would love to see Lenny Kravitz as Lenny

11.   Are you working on anything right now?
I just published the story of my mother-in-law’s childhood, And the Day Came. It is the true story of a girl orphaned by age 12 and separated from her five brothers and sent to boarding school in San Antonio. She knew there was a secret being kept about her father, but she didn’t discover what it was until she was in her seventies. Despite her difficult childhood, she became a strong, independent woman and mother to nine children. She was the mayor of the small town where I grew up and went to school.

I have also started a book entitled, The Ember Months. I hope to have it ready for publication in October. It’s about a woman I met when I was a social worker who had three females in her care who all had Huntington’s Chorea. She was one of the most creative, loving people I have ever met, but the community she lived in had no empathy or understanding and offered little support for her. Her name was Bessie and I’ll never forget her.

12. And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?

I think stories are how we make sense of our past and our futures. They are what we carry that weigh nothing. I would never have believed that in this day and time we would be considering walling ourselves off from the people who remind us every day to be humble, family-oriented, creative, hospitable, spiritual and damn good looking. It makes no sense. Stories of all cultures and back grounds should be celebrated as a way to introduce differences and acceptance. Our borders should be reduced instead of strengthened. We should be the globe and not a continent, island or state. Literature is one vehicle to spread the message of culture and spirit of inclusion. Stories can cross a border no matter how high the wall and they will float on the air in the tender whispers of a Bright Shawl.


Bella Rodriguez has decided it’s time to leave her step-father’s home. Her mother has been dead for three years and her older sister, Rosalinda, has disappeared. Bella fears she is next unless she makes a plan of her own. However, she struggles with what will happen to her younger brother, Manny. 

While Bella plans a journey to a new life, Manny is left to face the unraveling of the only home he has ever known. Without Bella, his father’s motives and instability is obvious. He is torn between the loyalty to his father and the dependability of his step-sister. The siblings experience whispers, guiding them to follow their instincts, but sometimes these messages are clouded in their own uncertainty. Will they cling to the known, or strike out and shape their own futures, and if they do, how will they ever know a family? 

Bella encounters a self-proclaimed, distracted psychic, Gina, who introduces her to new possibilities, but is it too good to be true? Gina and her brother, Slade have been marking time, waiting for acceptance and the passage of grief to embrace a bold lifestyle in a new place. Will all their dreams and plans be woven together in a new tapestry of adventure, or will their lives unravel, leaving them floundering, struggling to redefine what the future might be? 

Reviewed by: Celia
Rating: 4 stars

Review: Bella Rodriguez is a young girl trapped beneath the stringent confines of her controlling and abusive stepfather. But what made living with him worse were his gang and drug affiliations. That wasn't a life for her. "Home could not be a prison where strange men gathered in the kitchen, waiting with clenched fists and narrowed eyes." (10) A voracious reader, Bella longed to travel to foreign places. "Instead, she was like a caged animal, peering out in quick glimpses, seeking recognition in the faces she saw." (11)

With her mother and older sister gone, her only hope was to escape his clutches and start fresh. "Bella thought  it was the best time to begin a new life away from Manuel and Manny. She feared that, if she stayed until graduation, an arrangement would be made. Bella did not know what it would be, but she suspected it would happen like it had with Rosalinda: a disappearance and no further contact." (21)

So, with nothing but a backpack and her mother's bright shawl, she hits the road, never looking back. The reader follows Bella on a fretful journey, battling loneliness and fear, through the dark trails of the unknown.  That niggling concern that her stepfather would come looking for her weighed on her because, even without his foreboding presence, "he was the barrier between her future and her freedom." (36) The fact of the matter was that he had pre-arranged for Bella to be "sold" to marriage, and, if he didn't get her back to fulfill that arrangement, he would be out a lot of money.

Passing through town, Bella meets Gina, a "distracted psychic," who believes Bella's impromptu arrival was a charted destiny.

Story is a dramatic tale of strength and adversity. It's a beacon of dreams for those with the courage to go after them.

Well-written and captivating.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Review: PURA VIDA by Annette Montez Kolda

The Lopez family has a lot on its plate - war, death, drugs, undocumented immigration, deportation, teenage pregnancy, and now international terrorism.

Sister Bridget is the Miss Marple of East Austin's Latino community, but she might be in over her head this time. Terrorists have snuck into the country. She and fifteen-year-old Miguel Lopez must race against the clock to stop them.

Meanwhile, Miguel's mother must journey deep into Mexico to find her missing husband and tell him that their oldest son has died.

Eventually, the two storylines intersect.

Reviewed by: Sandra
Rating: 4 stars


Review: "Pura vida, pure life. In her country, it mean living one's life con gusto, with pleasure, appreciation, and gratefulness, even through adversity." (78)

This book centers on the complicated lives of somber and genuine characters―Perla, a Mexican mother of two struggling to find answers to her husband's disappearance; Miguel, Perla's troubled 15-year old son, who only strives to make it while looking after his pregnant sister; and Sister Bridget, an atypical, not-so-average nun, who keeps the word of God in her heart and often finds herself in "sticky" situations.

While Perla flees in the dead of night to Mexico in search of her husband, Miguel somehow stumbles on the schematics of a bomb. A bomb mean to kill Jews and Latinos? All this becomes overwhelming for Miguel, especially since his brother, Andres, was killed by a bomb in Afghanistan. Needless to say, this was a very bad time for his mom to leave as Miguel wouldn't even know how what to do about this. But perhaps Sister Bridget could be the answer to his prayers?

The characters take on a nefarious journey through the dark depths of the seedy underworld. Fear and trepidation trail them as they relentlessly continue their efforts. And when danger arises, they see a brief glimpse of Andres, the fallen soldier, beloved son and brother, and, apparently, a guardian angel.

Story had that vibrant chicano vibe and that refreshing barrio dialect. Well-versed and enriching, Pura Vida captures the soul, delighting readers with its stirring ambiance and endearing characters. The author speaks with such a reverent and poetic stride, depicting the Spanish culture in its raw beauty.

Sister Bridget is a tough chica―crafty, intuitive, and brave. She is just the right nun that would be able to stop a terrorist attack, save the country, and reunite a broken family.

The whole thing was just a fast ride of drama and excitement.

An enjoyable read!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Q&A with Annette Montez Kolda

Annette Montez Kolda was born and raised in Corpus Christi, Texas. She attended the University of Texas where she earned degrees in Communication and Curriculum and Instruction. After a career in teaching, she turned to writing. Pure Vida is her first novel. More info can be found at

1.       What inspired you to write Pura Vida?
     In a beginning novel-writing class, the instructor asked if I had a character somewhere in the back of my mind. I did! It was Sister Bridget. She is based on two sisters that I know. One that I went on a missionary trip to Mexico with and another sister that I worked with in ministry to people with  disabilities. So the inspiration starts with Sister Bridget, and then secondly, I wanted to write a book that was completely immersed in the Latino culture, one in which the setting was a Latino community, the plot involved Latinos, the dialog was a mixture of English and Spanish and the characters were Latino.   



2.       How did you manage to weave the individual story lines of the characters into one?
    The family is central to the Latino community, and a family is already woven together, so it was easy for the storylines to intersect.



3.       What significant role did Sister Bridget play in the story?
      Sister Bridget is the common character for each story line. She is the “safe base” for everyone else.



4.       Could you please describe Miguel's journey and how Sister Bridget was able to help?
      Miguel is a smart, compassionate young man who has to deal with cruel difficulties in life. His father is absent, his brother has died, his sister is pregnant, and now he has information about terrorists. He could have walked away, but he’s an exceptional young man even though society might look down on him and dismiss him as trouble-maker because of his former drinking and drug use. A lot of people don’t even see him because he is a nobody. Sister Bridget is able to help him because she sees him and values him; she listens to him and takes him seriously.    



5.       What are some of the main socio-economic issues that you explore in this book and why did you explore them?
      Immigration and Deportation - Perla and Emilio had a valid reason for immigrating to the United States. The safety and job security that they sought did not exist for them in their homeland, so they traveled to a place where they could make a better life for their family. I explored this issue because in Texas, there are many such families and their stories are interesting. Poverty - most that live in poverty work hard to make ends meet day to day. They don’t give up; they figure out what they can afford and not afford and they keep plugging at it. I wanted to show that members of the Lopez family work hard and  do well in school. I wanted to give the impression that each upcoming generation of the family would  have a better life than the previous one. The reader got a glimpse of Perla and Emilio’s village in Mexico and their current home in the United States. Miguel seems to be on a path to a college education, so the future looks bright for him. And Luz too. I explored this issue because I wanted to tell a positive story about an impoverished family. I wanted to shine a light on them and show that people with little money have just as much dignity and worth as the more well off.   



6.       In the book, it's indicated that "Pura vida...means living one's life con gusto, with pleasure, appreciation, and gratefulness, even through adversity." (78) Could you please elaborate and explain the significance?
     Pura Vida is a tricky phrase to translate - sure it translates to “pure life” but it is more of an attitude. It’s an easy going, carefree but not careless attitude.  It’s appreciating what you do have, not lamenting over what you don’t have. The significance of pura vida is illustrated in everything that the Lopez family has lost, and yet, everything that they have gained. It’s letting go of the sadness and bitterness and embracing the love and forgiveness. It’s a decision to be happy.  



7.       What do you hope readers will gain from your book?
      I hope readers will see that people are all the same. We all have the same hopes and dreams for our families.



8.       What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?
     I love being creative, making a story come alive on paper that didn’t exist before. What I like least is the pressure to market the book.



9.       Who are some of your favorite authors?
     I love Isabel Allenda,  Juno Diaz, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, David Baldacci, Alexander McCall Smith, Dean Koontz, Janet Evanovich, Anne Rice, Mary Higgins Clark and of course, Agatha Christie mysteries.


10.   If your book would be turned into a movie, who would you imagine playing the part of the main character? (Actor can be ANYONE, living or dead.)
     It is difficult to think of a teenage Latino actor just off the top of my head, so I used Google for this one. I found that Omar Avila is a young Cuban actor on a Telemundo series called Los Teens. He’d make a great Miguel. Eva Mendez for Perla. Antonio Bandera or George Clooney could play Detective Maldonado and Sofia Vergara could play Sister Bridget! Just kidding, how about Salma Hayek or Penelope Cruz?   



11.   Are you working on anything right now?
     I am working on a second Sister Bridget book.



12.   And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?
    I hope that more stories of every genre will include positive Latino characters. Romances with Latino characters, mysteries with Latino characters, young adult novels about Latinos, etc.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017


Finding Molly: An Adventure in Catsitting is a graphic novel about Molly Sanchez-Talebi, an unemployed art school grad who hesitantly starts catsitting to pay the bills. She dreams of breaking out of suburbia and her artistic rut, but she has a lot of self-discovery to do before that happens. The comic follows her funny misadventures as she learns that maybe these (sometimes) friendly felines are just what she needs to get her life on track.

Reviewed by: Sandra
Rating: 5 stars

Review: The illustrations were awesome and hilarious! Art was so colorful! Facial expressions were so lively and animated. Molly totally rocked! I loved her snarky and candid repartee. She is so funny, down-to-Earth, and relatable. I totally saw myself in her. The artistic block, the desire to create an epic masterpiece, the fear that no one will like your work, the pitiful lack of money, the envy of those more successful than you, and the creative rut you fall into when all else fails—all things I, and so many artists, can relate to. Being of Mexican descent and an artist, I definitely think we need more Latina characters like her in books and comics.

FINDING MOLLY is a testament to staying true to yourself and finding your way. It’s a tribute to the art world. Such a fun story! Love, love, loved it!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Review: SINGLE CHICAS by Sandra Lopez

Perfection is a Barbie doll, and, unless you're looking for a guy with a fake smile, a hard head, and no genitalia, then you're better off NOT being perfect―Single Chicas

Single Chicas is a collection of stories about modern Latinas being in, out, and around the zany hurdles of relationships. One woman receives strange calls from a lonely soul, another seeks advice on how to love herself, and another wakes up in a parallel universe to a man she's never met. These chicas will make painstaking effort to survive the complexities with humor and grace. Once again, López dazzles audiences with her brilliantly candid craft. Smart, witty, and funny, these stories will explore the true endurance of singlehood.

Reviewed by: Bela

Rating: 5 stars

Review: This is a wonderful collection of short stories starring smart and savvy Latinas. Each one shows an entertaining view of the dramas of love, dating, and marriage.

Lopez excels at creating dialogue that is both believable and intriguing. In order to show the multi-faceted nature of marriage, the dialogue serves as not only a plotting device but also a window into the many reasons why people choose to get married.
One of the biggest strengths of this collection is the wide variety of storylines Lopez creates around the theme of singledom. From a woman who is tricked into believing she has memory loss so she’ll fall in love with her long-time admirer, to a woman who starts to fall for her phone stalker, to a woman who fakes lesbianism to reject a man’s advances, you won’t know what to expect next on this fun ride through the book. But it’s not all fun and games. Lopez manages to successfully mix the amusing and quirky storylines with more serious plots with stories.

This book is for anyone who has ever been single, for anyone who has ever laughed about attempting to navigate the dark waters of the dating world, and for anyone who has found herself in a less-than-desirable relationship but still hoped for something better. Lopez’s collection will definitely leave you wanting more. It was like making thirteen new friends and having a really fun girls' night out or in, to share stories about our day while feasting on junk food.