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.
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.
Photo of Desiree Zamora by Skye Moorehead