Friday, August 10th, 2012

Amy Ephron next at Authors Series

Amy Ephron Photo by Jonathan Becker

Amy Ephron, yes, that Ephron family, is the next author to speak at Eduardo Santiago’s Idyllwild Authors Series. She is the author of bestsellers “One Sunday Morning,” and “A Cup of Tea” that spent 37 weeks on the Los Angeles Times Bestseller list.

Santiago will interview Ephron about her new collection of stories, “Loose Diamonds, and other things I’ve lost [and found] along the way,” (Harper Collins 2011) at 2 p.m., Sunday, June 10 at the INK Bookstore on North Circle.

Ephron has a new blog, “L.A. P.O.V.” for the New York Times magazine. One of Ephron’s stories from “Loose Diamonds,” “Champagne By the Case,” a compact, wry and wistful take on 1970s Los Angeles, is posted on the blog. It’s a short introductory read for anyone who has not before sampled Ephron and for any planning to attend her Idyllwild appearance.

Daughter of writers and producers Henry and Phoebe Ephron and sister of writers Nora, Delia and Hallie, Ephron writes for page and screen, directs film and loves and writes about food. She also has covered the trials of Charles Manson and Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson’s doctor at the time of his death. She has written about Lynette “Squeaky” Fromm, whom she met while covering the Manson trial, in “Loose Diamonds.”

And it is not surprising that she is both interesting and interested in many things having grown up around her parents’ dinner table with its brilliantly literate and topical conversations. “They taught us how to tell stories, how to observe. We used to read poetry at the dining room table,” Ephron remembered.

Ephron said that writing screenplays, a visual medium, has informed and enriched her book writing with its emphases on details of color, place and appearance. Asked what kind of author she characterized herself as, she said, “I think of myself as a period writer.” Ephron finds history illuminating for reasons of parallels with today.

Many of Ephron’s books are set in pregnant periods of historical interest, World War I, flapper pre-stock market crash New York and Cuba around the time of the Spanish American War. “I tailor the language to the time,” she said. But then she went on to say that all times are “periods” with particular definers and markers that distinguish them and give them character and flavor.

As to flavor, Ephron is devoted to food, as is her online magazine “One for the Table” ( she states the site is “Dedicated to the notion that one of the things that’s wrong with the world is that there aren’t enough waffles in it and everyone should sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes order ‘one for the table.’”

Her Idyllwild appearance promises to be one for the table, a rich and finely prepared and presented pastiche of Ephron’s life, points of view and experiences.

Friday, August 10th, 2012

Michael Becerra next at authors series

Michael Jaime Becerra. Photo courtesy of Becerra.Michael Jaime Becerra, associate professor of creative writing at University of California, Riverside, said a sense of place and trust in his characters are the keys to his writing success.

Michael Jaime Becerra, associate professor of creative writing at University of California, Riverside, said a sense of place and trust in his characters are the keys to his writing success.

Becerra is himself shaped by the place where he grew up, El Monte in Los Angeles’ San Gabriel Valley, and his writing is a product of the ethnically colored pastoral charm that this bedroom community still retains. “Where you’re from determines so much of who you are and what you write,” he said. And, Becerra advises his UCR students, an author’s writing is most compelling when they are writing about what they know best. “I remember the El Monte of my adolescence,” said Becerra. “The things I was writing about were meaningful to me, things I loved and was passionate about, what I knew and who I was.”

It is this El Monte that anchors his collection of stories, “Every Night is Ladies’ Night” (Harper Collins, 2004) that brought Becerra critical success. It was named one of the best of the year by The Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle and was awarded a California Book Award, the Silver Medal for a first work of fiction.

Becerra’s El Monte also suffuses his novel, “This Time Tomorrow” (St. Martin’s Press, 2010) that he will discuss with Santiago. The Los Angeles Times reviewed “This Time Tomorrow” as the “naturalistic deeply empathetic tale … of an American immigrant dream. Threading his lyrical prose with the hyper-realistic particulars of daily life, Jaime Becerra elevates his struggling East L.A. Everyman to heroic heights.”

In his novel, Becerra’s Gaeta lives with his 13-year-old daughter Ana after his wife, Ana’s mother, has left them. “Still she was old enough to remember the divorce, to know that Linda hadn’t tried that hard to be a mother. After she left for San Antonio, Gaeta and Ana figured out how to wash dishes and make each other dinner. He learned to wrap her birthday presents and she learned to wrap his, and in this way they had gotten by.”

Of authors who have most influenced his writing, Becerra acknowledges Irish author and playwright William Trevor. “There is such an inherent respect for his individual characters,” said Becerra. “It pushed me in my own writing to go forward and more deeply into my own characters and their motivations. He unlocked my own writing with his brilliance, I was so dazzled by the nuanced depth of his style.”

Becerra advises his students to do what he has learned and uses in his writing — “Trust in your characters,” he said. “If you do a good job of developing your characters, presenting their conflicts and challenges and creating characters that your readers can relate to and care about, you’ll be successful.”

Becerra appears at 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 3 for Eduardo Santiago’s Author Series at the INK Bookstore on North Circle Drive. The series is free to the public and is located this year in back of the bookstore.

Sabrina Verney. Photo by Marshall Smith

Local author and United Kingdom native Sabrina Verney found paradise in 1966 on a beach in the Yucatan at the age of 19 with a dedicated group of truth seekers called The Process. The Process sought, according to Verney, to “peel away all your social training up to that point and replace it with what is true. It was a time of social revolt.”

Verney speaks about that experience, detailed in her memoir “Xtul” (Publish America, Baltimore, 2011) as the second author in Eduardo Santiago’s Idyllwild Author Series at 2 p.m., Sunday, May 27, in front of the INK Bookstore on North Circle Drive.

“For me it was an experience of paradise and at the same time a loss of paradise,” she recalled. I was only with them for three months.” Because she was underage at the time, her parents hired an attorney to come from the United Kingdom to repatriate Verney and several other underage English attendees.

She writes how that single three-month episode reverberated throughout her life and profoundly influenced her choices. “It changed me,” she noted. “I could not go back to the life I knew before. I could no longer hide. I moved to New York City at the age of 27 and began my recovery period. I went from being very insular to becoming a citizen of the world.”

Verney is the only local author to have been included in Santiago’s series, both because of the subject matter and the quality of her book. Santiago likes to vary the series by selecting authors who write in various fiction and nonfiction genres, as well as essayists and memoirists.

This is Verney’s first book. “I don’t know if I’ll write another,” she said, “but this is a book I had to write.” When Santiago asked why she had waited 30 years to write it, she replied, “I wasn’t ready.” Once she began in 1999 she said the story was not hard to write. “I wrote down everything I had remembered. I put everything in chronological order.”

Feeling she had to know more about form and make connections that might help get this book published, Verney enrolled in and completed a bachelor’s program in creative writing at the University of California Riverside. While in the program she showed her manuscript to her advisor. “This is a manuscript,” he said. “It is not a book.” Verney wanted to know how to make it a book and the advisor gave her a hint. “Before page three, I want to be in the center of the story,” she remembered him saying. “And that was it. I wrote the book.”

Verney talked about the process of writing this book and how re-experiencing this life-changing moment in time continues to ripple outward, shaping her life. “I’ve become seriously involved in this community and in issues that affect it,” she said. “We have crises everywhere. I want to learn the big picture and help shape what comes. I have kids, brilliant kids. What kind of a world do I want for them?”

In “Xtul,” readers will experience the beginning of her transformation. In the first chapter she writes, “It’s not a smooth running tale. The chronology is patchy. Mysteries remain. Time has stretched and compacted in ways that don’t make sense, but I see no reason to tidy it up with the logic of hindsight. … The surprise is how much I do remember … atmospheres, smells, textures, remarks, feelings, that remain packed flat all these years, like clothes in a trunk which, when lifted and shaken out, resume their original shape. Style quaintly ostentatious perhaps, but colors still vibrant, buttons secure, their integrity, their tender dignity, intact.”

Quinn Cummings. Photo courtesy of Quinn Cummings.

Quinn Cummings, author of “Notes from the Underwire: Adventures from my Awkward and Lovely Life” (Harper Collins Hyperion Books, 2009), leads off the second Idyllwild Authors Series. Once again, presenter Eduardo Sanitago has booked 10 A-list Los Angeles authors for his weekly series that begins with Cummings at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 20 at the Ink bookstore on North Circle.

There are many things to know about Cummings, but the first is that she is an obsessively self-deprecating writer and very, very funny — the kind of laugh-out-loud funny a reader seldom encounters on the written page, as evidenced by the many fan comments on her blog The QC Report (

Other milestones along Cummings’ journey recounted in her book include a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the age of nine (when the female nominee was still called “actress”) for “The Goodbye Girl” with Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason), a recurring role on the popular television show “Family” and her invention of the HipHugger child-carrying device produced by a company she headed until she sold it.

And although grateful that people are interested in her past, she said it is the “now” she is focused on and wishes that others interested in her would also be interested in that. She recalls, with weary humor, the many “where are they now” interviews she has had to endure, including one in which the interviewer asked her, “Do you wish you’d been one of those child actors who actually made it as an adult?” and “How are you making a living now?”

She riffed about what she sees as the intrusiveness of those kinds of questions. “People don’t actually think before they ask questions of people they have seen on television in their childhood … So now I’m going to answer the question that underlies the same intrusive questions I’ve been asked for two decades: ‘Quinn, why aren’t you nuts? Why aren’t you squatting semi-naked on some street corner, having a weave-pulling battle with a transsexual and huffing Febreze?’” She also writes that along the way she acquired a significant other, “consort” and gave birth to a daughter “daughter.”

In her books (her second one, “The Year of Learning Dangerously,” is due out in September 2012) and blog Cummings proffers her self-deprecating and excruciatingly funny anecdotal moments and insights. When asked how to characterize her writing, Cummings said, “I’m a miniaturist specializing in personal discomfort.” The personal discomfort is always her own.

“If I am in the middle of something going badly, that’s when I turn on my personal [interior] tape recorder.” She explains it is the small things she sees or experiences that intrigue her. “I don’t have the long overview,” she said. “I’ll leave that to authors like Shelby Foote. If I were writing about the Civil War I’d be writing about myself in the war describing the fungal infection in my foot.”

She said metaphors are a key component in her writing. “Remember our SAT tests, the metaphor section? I loved those,” she said. “I did not get a lot of gifts, but I think in metaphors. I can’t rest until I figure out what something is like. I don’t like anything where there is only one answer. It’s mildly obsessive. I won’t write until I figure out what the metaphor is.”

As an example from her blog: “Being interviewed is an inherently weird social interaction. It’s like a blind date. A blind date where only one person gets to ask questions, can ask whatever questions he likes, and the other person can’t sneak out the back door if things get too uncomfortable.” In writing about volunteering with her daughter in Kanab, Utah at Best Friends Animal Society and Sanctuary, taking a dying cat out into the sun for her sedentary “walk”, Cummings moves deftly from humorous to touching with her use of metaphor: “Dying is hard, but dying also means sitting on the sand, feeling the sun on your face … Because while she was dying, she was still a cat, once we situated her blanket in the shade, she immediately stood up, tottered off the blanket, and sprawled in the sun.”

Asked what else she’d like people to know about her Cummings said, “If a person reading this has appreciated anything I’ve done or has supported my work, I want to say thank you. I love hearing from others.” About her writing and her journey, Cummings noted, “It’s daunting and nice to be continuing to learn like this.”

Santiago’s series is free to attendees. Copies of Cummings’ book will be available at INK prior to her talk.

Sunday, March 27th, 2011


Short story recently published in the award winning literary journal, The Platte Valley Review. “When a middle-aged man goes to Paris in search of love, magical encounters with local gypsies lead to real and imagined romance.” Santiago.html

Thursday, October 21st, 2010


With this riveting new novel, Eduardo Santiago continues the tales of Cubans in exile in the U.S. that he began with his award winning novel, Tomorrow They Will Kiss (2006) It’s 1973 and while the adults grapple with the fact that their once temporary exile from Castro’s Cuba looks to be permanent, their teenage children have to find their position in their new adopted country.
The novel focuses on fourteen-year old narrator, Jorge, and his curiosity about two neighboring brothers in their late teens, Fiery, sexy Alfonso and the shadowy, withdrawn Gerardo (Gerry), two brothers openly at war with each other. Alfonso is determined to respect his parents wishes and sticks close to the Cuban community while Gerardo explores American subculture of cheap drugs, easy sex and rock and roll.
Jorge’s curiosity turns to obsession when Alfonso takes him into his confidence only to later thoughtlessly push him away. Miracles, tragedies and a unique form of Cuban humor abound in this is a coming of age story that challenges what it means to be brothers, friends and lovers, and the painful price we all too often pay for our induction into adulthood.

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010


I will be moderating a fantatic panel on The Hollywood Novel. Joining me will an amazing array of panelists: actress and best-selling author Victoria Rowell, well-known as Drucilla Winters on CBS’s highly-rated daytime series, The Young and the Restless. Emmy-winning TV writer (Frazier) and novelist (My Blue Heaven) Joe Keenan, L.A. Times columnist and novelist (The Starlet) Mary McNamara. I’m excited to meet them and chat them up.

Saturday, July 26th, 2008


Good news from my favorite literary journal, edited with an eagle’s eye for excellence by Mr. Howard Junker —
Dear Mr. Santiago,

We are including “Bit by Bit” in an upcoming anthology and are updating our contributors’ notes. Please send us your updated information. Here is what we currently have:

Eduardo Santiago lives in Los Angeles.

Kristin Kearns
Managing Editor.

Howard Junker

Sunday, May 25th, 2008


A mother’s day phone call from my Tia politica, L., who lives in Havana, to my grandmother here in Miami prompted an impromptu trip to San Pedro de Sula, Honduras, where Tia L. is in residency. Tia L has the other side of the family story — los que se quedaron, the one’s who stayed — I wanted it and I got it over a series of Hondura-style lunches and dinners (they fry everything, even the salad). I brought Tia L. a copy of Tomorrow They Will Kiss and she was disheartened that she couldn’t read it. But she was delighted that her name was in the dedication – as are all my aunts.

WHY ISN’T THERE A SPANISH LANGUAGE VERSIONS? It’s what she and everyone I met in Honduras wanted to know.

While there I received an email that Tomorrow They Will Kiss will be published in Italy this summer. Presumably in Italian. I’m hoping España will follow suit. Y pronto!

The good news is that a copy of TTWK is in Tia’s hands and en route to Havana. I also sent with her a Spanish translation of Waiting For Snow In Havana. It was written by my friend Carlos Eire. I bought at Miami airport (that’s what happens when a book wins the National Book Award, it gets translated, it gets into airports – but I’m not bitter). Cool that both books will now be en la isla.

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007


The funny thing about having a book out there in the world is that I have no idea what it’s doing, who might be reading it, or appreciating it. So every once in a while, I get a surprise email — and it’s very nice. Here is TTWK’s latest honor:
Dear Author:

I am happy to inform you that you have been named one of LatinoStories.Com’s 2008 Top Ten “New” Latino Authors to Watch (and Read). The site selects authors based on a number of factors including feedback from readers and experts in Latino literature from across the country.

As you might observe from the list, this year’s selectees include poets, historians, short-story writers, journalists, authors of children’s books, and novelists, all of whom reflect the tremendous appeal and diversity of Latino writing. Past selectees include such notables as Angie Cruz, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, Reyna Grande, Sonia Nazario, Sandra Rodriguez-Barron, Rene Colato Lainez, Francisco Aragon, and H.G. Carrillo.

We hope that in some way we can contribute to the success and sales of your works. Keep up the great work.

Jose B. Gonzalez, Ph.D.
Editor, LatinoStories.Com