See! Hear! Read! LOCAL AUTHOR DESIREE ZAMORANO at LitFest Pasadena, Saturday, May 9


Novelist Desiree Zamorano may be una bruja—though definitely of the glistening, Glinda good-witch variety. Her luminous writing reminds us that the shoes we are wearing right now are in fact the ruby slippers that will take us home—not necessarily where we grew up, but where we truly belong.

Zamorano, who lives in Pasadena, is the author of the new novel, “The Amado Women“, published by Cinco Puntos Press of El Paso. Her sorcery unfolds in this book from the get-go. Initially, the reader is teased into familiarity: the conversations, both audible and internal, between the three Amado sisters and their mother seem to be, word-for-word, conversations (OK, fights) I’ve heard in my own kitchen all my life.


"My people are a people of the dessert," she would say smiling and handing them a dessert menu. -- from "The Amado Women" by Pasadena-based novelist, Desiree Zamorano

Pasadena-based novelist Desiree Zamorano will be at LitFest Pasadena on May 9

Then, we find ourselves hypnotized, enchanted as if by a singing magic. Passages of incantatory power draw us in. With a few deft strokes, Zamorano seamlessly takes us from plain talk into realms of mystery—and this time, not the gumshoe variety– worthy of Allende and Garcia-Marquez. For example, textile supplies in Nataly Amado’s work-room assume voices: rick-rack ribbons and loops of yarn “laugh in the tinkling voices of children. She could hear breathing from the bolts of cloth and whistling from the threads.” This author can instantly summon the seemingly inanimate into urgent life, like the broom in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

The book’s engine, however, is fueled by the author’s pitch-perfect ear for human speech and dry sense of humor, often expressed as the muttered asides of the heart. Dig: Nataly, waitressing at a steak house, is often quizzed by patrons curious about her alluring ethnicity—Serbian? Italian? Iranian? Hawaiian? Pakistani? Polynesian? She just smiles and offers them the sweets menu, saying, “My people are a people of the dessert.”

In fact, Zamorano is also a writer of classic mysteries with a Latina twist. Her earlier book, “Human Cargo”, introduces her (yes) hard-boiled, hard-bitten protagonist Inez Leon, “a skilled private investigator with a tortilla chip on her shoulder”, righting social wrongs against the backdrop of a surprisingly gritty Pasadena. “Human Cargo” was named the mystery pick for the 2011 Latinidad List. The author is currently at work on a second book in her mystery series, as well as a new novel continuing the family stories set into motion in “The Amado Women.”

I recently caught up with Desiree Zamorano at our local Panera, and over a quick cappuccino got the dish on rising to the occasion of writing.

On self-publishing: “ My first book was hybrid-published, and actually it helped me, visibility-wise. It gave me some credibility. But it wasn’t enough. Now that I’m traditionally published, I feel like a member of the club.” She laughs a deep belly-laugh and adds, “All my bitterness is gone with the publication of my book.”

On traditional publishing (versus self-publishing): “Let’s remember that Oscar Wilde was self-published. There are instances where the traditional publishing world is not ready for certain voices.”

Case in point: writer Dagoberto Gilb, whom Zamora admires, recalls in his book “Gritos” (Grove Press), the experience of his essay on Mexico being rejected by Texas Monthly. In fact, the publication offered to assign an assistant to Gilb, to show him “how to write correctly.” In Gilb’s case, revenge is dulce: he sold the essay, unrevised, to Harper’s instead. Zamorano has encountered some bumps in the literary road, too, including being dumped by an agent.

On seeming failure: “It’s not always the author’s fault when you are not successful as a writer. But at a certain point, you may need strong critique. Be able to incorporate feedback.”

On the writing life: “Find a cheerleader in your life. Do the writing—a step that lots of people who say they want to write seem to forget. And go where you are honored.”

Sources of inspiration: In addition to Gilb, Carolyn See’s “Making A Literary Life”, for what Zamorano calls “buoyancy and optimism”. Buddhist monk Pema Chodron, for reminders about releasing expectation. And a quote from French New Wave film director, Robert Bresson: “Make visible that which without you might never be seen.”

On her creative process: “I try for four days a week. I know that the ideal is to write 1,000 words a day, according to Carolyn See, whom I love. But women’s lives are complicated. And we tend to beat ourselves up when we can’t do it all perfectly. I don’t do that.”

On bringing her voice and characters to the screen (big or little): “That is a lottery ticket. I feel that success in that area is arbitrary.”

On writing “The Amado Women” : “I was modest in my aspirations. I wanted to write a story that would be read. I wanted to hook the reader and reach an audience. I’m all about achievable goals.”

In addition to her life as a writer, Desiree Zamorano is the Director of the Community Literacy Center for Occidental College. At the Center, Occidental students are trained to tutor kids in grades K-8 in literacy, reading, writing, and technology in the language arts.

Book this: On Saturday, May 9, 2015, Zamorano will be joined by other authors for LitFest Pasadena, Pasadena’s freewheeling, free book festival happening in the scenic Playhouse District. She will moderate two panels: “Stories Only I Can Tell” with Alex Espinosa, Reyna Grande, Lisa Hernandez and Wally Rudolph at 6 pm in the Pasadena Playhouse Fellowship Room. And stay put—at 7:15, in the same location, Zamorano will moderate a second panel, “Women of Mystery”, with Steph Cha, Rachel Howzell Hall, Naomi Hirahara and Jo Perry.



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Theater Review: Shakespeare In Hollywood

Photos courtesy of The Media Hound

Photos courtesy of The Media Hound

Shakespeare In Hollywood, now playing at the Neo Ensemble Theater, is a frothy cocktail of musical chairs with just a dash of cyanide to reflect the darkness of the Great Depression and the rise of the  a film that in real life turned out to be a colossal flop, with fairy characters that scared the Hell out of the kids that mumsy had dropped off at the matinee to get some culture. (Catch it on TCM. It’s really weird).

There is a Twilight Zone-ish element to the play, but it’s mostly on the lighter side of movies and magic. Before long, people are running in and out of doors from one comedy troupe to  another so quickly that it’s almost like you’re watching some wild Scooby Doo Meets “The Bard” Episode. It’s all very fast paced and funny. Familiar show biz characters abound. Some are characters like the worried producer, the put-upon genius director, and the starlets who wish to grab the lead role that surpasses their talent. An interesting part of the play features the lives of well known actors like James Cagney and Joe E.Brown. I’m a bit of a stickler for impersonations, so I have to furrow my brow a bit about their style of comedy in real life as opposed to what we get here, but that’s just a minor side note.

Square in  the middle of studio politics and ridiculous vanity comes a cosmic rift in realities wherein Oberon, King Of The Fairies, and his amped up servant Puck find themselves in the middle of mortal mayhem, delighted with the fact that they are the stars. Like the play, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, the magical creatures cast spells with a magic flower so  that whoever sniffs it — or in this case is hysterically attacked by it — falls in love with the first person they see. It’s at this point that the play gets fast and furious and deliciously ribald in an old school sense. Direction by Joe Ochman is pretty spot on and paces it just right. It’s almost like watching the comedy in a Busby Berkley film in between the musical numbers.

Studio/Stage 520 N.  Western  L.A. CA. 90004. Shakespeare in Hollywood runs every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through the 17th of May.

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LA Asian Pacific Film Festival: Interview with Justin Chon

Justin Chon [L] and Genesia Ting [R]

Justin Chon [L] and Genesia Ting [R]

I was able to speak with Justin Chon on Friday, April 24th to discuss his upcoming comedic film Man Up.  Justin is known for his appearances in multiple Twilight movies, 21 and Over, and Revenge of the Green Dragon.  He is also constantly uploading new material such as vlogs and short films to his YouTube channel.

Congratulations on your new movie Man Up!  Where will your fans be able to see this movie?

Justin: Thank you!  This company “Lakeshore” just bought it, and we’re trying to figure out how we’re going to release it.  I think it’s going to be early summer, and you can buy it digitally.  

Who’s idea was it to make this movie?  How did the idea come about?

Justin: It was me and Kev’s [Kevin Wu] idea.  At the time, I broke up with a girl that had a kid, and Kevin told me a story about how he dated a Mormon girl in high school, so we just thought like, “what would have happened if Kevin had gotten his Mormon girlfriend pregnant?”  And so that was like the inception of the idea, and then we developed it.  We thought like, “oh, are these characters smart or dumb?”  We decided it would be funnier if they were dumb.  Some of our inspirations included Bill and Ted’s and also Dumb and Dumber.  But yeah, it’s kind of like homage 90’s comedy.   Continue reading

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Ventura County Blues Festival Was a Day of Great Music and Great Fun

Coco and Joey Delgado. Photo by Ed Simon for The Los Angeles Beat.

Coco Montoya and Joey Delgado. Photo by Ed Simon for The Los Angeles Beat.


Saturday was a blustery day, but that didn’t stop the crowd at the 10th Annual Ventura County Blues Festival from having a great time. A light rain finally hit during B.B. Chung King and the Buddaheads’ set, prompting B.B. Chung King to announce, “This is just like Woodstock, except without the brown acid”. From the opening act, Michael John’s Ventura County Blues Allstars, until Coco Montoya, the day’s headliner, brought out several of the days earlier performers such as Joey Delgado and B.B. Chung King for an amazing blues jam, the audience had a great time.

Like a sign, the sky cleared around 4pm and it warmed up to a perfect Southern California afternoon. Regardless of rain or shine, though, the crowd enjoyed more sets from the Delgado Brothers, Deanna Bogart and John Nemeth fired up the crowd. On the second stage, local acts such as GreaseFire played while everyone enjoyed food and drink and also shopping at the various merchants. The day was dedicated to Mickey Jones, actor, musician and friend of the Festival, who was in the hospital and too ill to attend the festivities. His wife Phyllis was up on stage though as a Fender Stratocaster, signed by all the acts, was raffled off to help with Mickey’s medical bills. It was a fun day with great music and a perfect way to spend a Saturday.

Photo essay after the jump Continue reading

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LA Asian Pacific Film Festival: Interview with Wong Fu Productions

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 4.23.10 PM

[L-R: Genesia Ting, Wesley Chan, Christine Chen, Chris Dinh]

On Friday April 24th, I was able to sit down with the Wong Fu Productions team (missing Ted Fu and Phillip Wang) to discuss the recent world premiere of their movie Everything Before Us.  Director Wesley Chan and producers Christine Chen and Chris Dinh gave me their thoughts.

First of all, congratulations on your new movie!  How was opening night and what kind of feedback did you guys receive from the audience?

Wes: Opening night was very surreal; and I feel like that’s so generic to say.  Everyone’s like “oh, it was such a blur” but it really was, like, it didn’t really hit me until like after the event, and I was like “wow, we just showed our movie at opening night!” And even then I was still processing that we even finished the movie, because it’s been such a long process.  You know, from the very first time we started talking to VC (Visual Communications), to finishing it, it’s just been a really long journey.  But we’ve had a very good history with Visual Communications, they’ve recognized us when we were just doing stuff on YouTube, from the very beginning.  They’ve shown our short films over the years, and to be shown and selected for opening night was just a really great honor.  Seeing the community come out is always really fun.  Usually we see everyone when we’re watching another movie, but last time was so special because it was ours.  I almost forgot that we were there for our own movie.  It was just so great having all the cast there, the crew.  Nothing but good things to say. Continue reading

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Offbeat L.A.: An Octopus’s Garden- The Weird & Wonderful 1960s Sea Monster Sculptures of Benjamin Dominguez

A sculpture by Benjamin Dominguez at "Sea Monster Park"  in San Gabriel (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Ozzie the Octopus, built in 1965  by Benjamin Dominguez at “Monster Park” in San Gabriel (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Sea Monster slide in San Gabriel (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Lighthouse and Sea Serpent slide, built in 1965 at “Monster Park” in San Gabriel (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

“I’d like to be under the sea,
In an octopus’s garden in the shade…
We would sing and dance around,
Because we know we can’t be found,
In an octopus’s garden in the shade…              We would be so happy you and me,
No one there to tell us what to do.
I’d like to be under the sea,
In an octopus’s garden with you.”                      
- Richard “Ringo” Starkey for The Beatles (1968)

Sometimes, as adults whirring around with busy schedules, we forget to notice the magic. Magic weaves itself around us constantly, lighting on our shoulders and buzzing in our ears, but often it is only the children who stop to take notice. Our lives would be happier and have more synchronicity if we once again believed in fairy tales and making wishes.

Minnie the Whale, climb up her back & slide down her tongue (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Minnie the Whale, built in 1965, climb up her back & slide down her tongue (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Children’s play parks from the 1950s to 1970s often captured this wishful sorcery in elaborately imaginative “fairy-tale lands”, “Santa Claus villages” and idyllic theme parks. Even Magic Mountain in Valencia originally featured happy trolls, wandering wizards and singing mushrooms. Most of these parks disappeared as the world around us got more literal, politically correct and “child proofed”. Luckily there are three playgrounds left within the Los Angeles area that feature the whimsical early 1960s sea monster sculptures of Benjamin Dominguez. They display a trusting enchantment of a simpler time. For those growing up near San Gabriel, memories of playing at “Monster Park” might bring all kinds of crazy nostalgia. Others remember the odd sea creatures scattered around Legg Lake in El Monte. Still others have fondness for the surreal Atlantis Play Park in Garden Grove. Continue reading

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LA Asian Pacific Film Festival: Opening Night

Wong Fu Productions at their opening night of LAAPFF at the Aratani Theatre.  Photo by Genesia Ting for the Los Angeles Beat.

Wong Fu Productions at their opening night of the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival at the Aratani Theatre. Photo by Genesia Ting for the Los Angeles Beat. [L-R: Ted Fu, Wesley Chan, Phillip Wang, Chris Dinh]

Thursday night was the long awaited opening night of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, as well as the world premiere of Wong Fu Productions’ first full length feature film, Everything Before Us.  This romantic 99 minute film follows two couples – the first, young lovers fresh out of high school who are tested in their long distance relationship, and the second, professionals who want nothing to do with each other but are brought back 10409361_438523116313068_3749185843968319703_ntogether through a series of events.  A DMV styled agency known as the “Department
of Emotional Integrity” (DEI) is similar to IQ score for relationships.  Through this futuristic yet grounded movie, Wong Fu has yet again proved their abilities as innovative and creative Asian American filmmakers.

Red carpet photos after the break

Continue reading

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Newport Beach Film Festival Opens with a Gala Food Event and the U.S. Premiere of ‘The Water Diviner’

NBFF Opening night sign. Photo by Ed Simon for The Los Angeles Beat

Chef Nikki Starr from Mesa

Chef Nikki Starr from Mesa. Photo by Ed Simon for The Los Angeles Beat.

Last night, the 16th Annual Newport Beach Film Festival opened. The featured film for the event was Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner, making its U.S. premiere before opening in theaters today. The movie, based on historical events, is very powerful and a great film from Russell Crowe, who not only stars in the film but also debuted as Director in it. At the Opening Night Gala, amazing food from local restaurants such as the Iron Press and Mesa could be enjoyed along with a glass of Stella Artois Beer or a cocktail from Remy-Cointreau. Cirque de Soleil provided some beautiful entertainment for the evening. All in all, it was a great beginning to the Festival, which is screening over 400 films, running seminars and having many other film-related events and post-parties through April 30. For info on the Festival and its upcoming events, go to  the event website,

Photo essay after the jump  Continue reading

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The Fountain Theatre’s “I and You”: Life the Universe and Everything Explored in an Evening of Laughter, Tears, and Standing Ovation!

Photo Courtesy of Ed Krieger

Photo Courtesy of Ed Krieger

If I told you the entire universe could be found in a grain of sand this would not be a foreign concept. But what if I told you that it could be found in your average bedroom of a teenage girl—a very festively cluttered, collage-walled teenage girl bedroom–or at the very least a speck of dust that landed on the keyboard of the aforementioned teenage girl in the self same room—you might have to adjust your thought process a little but in the end you would most likely poetically agree.  And oh…the teenage girl just might be dying…

This is what I and You penned by an extraordinarily talented and enterprising Lauren Gunderson explores in most textural and unpredictable fashion.

It is a customarily festive night at one of my favorite theatres in Hollywood: The Fountain Continue reading

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Celebrity Cruises’ Great Wine Festival Will Bring Great Food and Drink to Irvine’s Great Park

Celebrity Cruises Great Wine Festival to Benefit LegalAid of Orange County. Photo courtesy of the Celebrity Cruises Great Wine Festival.

Irvine’s Great Park on Saturday, May 2nd will be the site of the 2nd Annual Celebrity Cruises’ Great wine Festival. Marilys Ward, team manager Los Angeles/Palm Springs, states, “Celebrity’s devotion to the culinary arts continues to flourish. Southern Californians expect a great experience at our events. We regularly offer land-based experiences right here at home that reflect all the experiences Southern Californians can enjoy while on a Celebrity ship, as well as land-based restaurants and beverages they have yet to try”. Celebrity Cruises of course is not only known as one of the premier cruise lines in the cruise industry, but also for its emphasis on made-from-scratch, globally inspired cuisine and highly personalized service.

The event will feature an array of great local wines, craft beers and spirits. Some of the wineries participating include Benzinger Family winery, Clayhouse Wines, Ferrari-Carano, Jackson Family Wines, Zaca Mesa Winery, La Crema, Malibu Rocky Coast Estates, Round Pond Estate and Quigley Fine Wines. Local wine experts and purveyors of fine wines Hi-Time Wine Cellars will also be participating in the Great Wine Festival. Craft breweries include Beach City Brewery, Hangar 24 Craft Brewery, Fireman’s Brew and many more. Continue reading

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