Friday, July 25, 2014

Guest Author: Désirée Zamorano

Désirée Zamorano has been a guest author here before. Her new novel is just out, and it may be something you haven't read before. Here's Des:

 Bringing The Amado Women to Life

When I cast about to commit at least two years of my life to my next uncertain project, there were a few of things I was sure about. I wanted to explore the lives of women, because our lives are multifaceted and filled with conflicting demands. I wanted to write about the women I knew, admired and loved: loyal, intelligent, funny. Married or single, mothers or not, loving and spiteful, petty and generous. Women as human beings in all our complexity.

The Pasadena/LA setting was automatic. Southern California is filled with ethnic and income diversity, conflict, beautiful settings and fascinating characters. Some of us hide behind gated communities, some of us go exploring. It happens to be where I live and what I enjoy knowing.

I also knew the complexion of my cast.

That’s where things get dicey, because as I looked around to pitch my completed novel, to potential agents, to potential publishers, there were plenty of marvelous family dramas by women, by gifted authors like Elizabeth Berg, Jodi Picoult, Ann Patchett or Ann Tyler, but none by Latinas, and none featuring a cast of aspirational or middle-class Mexican-Americans. I had done what Karen Joy Fowler had done with The Jane Austen Book Club, which was written a novel the author wanted to read. But would I be its only audience?

With each rejection I got more nervous. Even though Mexican Americans are California’s largest demographic, and the fastest growing across the nation, even though many of us have been here since before statehood, the lock on our portrayals in the media is fierce and limiting. I’ve seen so many hot mamacitas and inarticulate maids that when one shows up I change the channel or shut the book. The Amado Women could not be squeezed into either of these depictions.

I held my breath, crossed my fingers and made a phone call pitch to Cinco Puntos Press in El Paso. They wanted to see it. They ultimately published it. Hallelujah!

Now, many years since its inception, The Amado Women is out in public for total strangers to read. Like all authors, I’ve had my share of glowing reviews and not so glowing. What I did not anticipate was how many men would be moved by this novel. One of them wrote to me and said, “You’re the only person I’m going to tell, but I wanted to let you know that I burst into tears.” Never would this writer’s imagination have expected that. You see, I, too, have some preconceptions of who people are.

You can meet Désirée at one of her upcoming events

Wednesday, July 30 • 7 pm
Launch Party
Vroman’s Bookstore

Pasadena, CA

​Sunday, August 10 • 2pm
The Bluebird Reading Series​​
Avenue 50 Studio
131 N. Avenue 50
Highland Park, CA

Thursday, August 14 • 7 pm
Books Inc Opera Plaza
San Francisco, CA

Or find out more about her here. You can also follow here on Twitter @LaDeziree 

To read my review of The Amado Women, click on the cover icon to the right of this post.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Wilma Acts As If

Act As If: Stumbling Though Hollywood With Headshot in Hand is my book of essays about the life of a journeyman actor in Hollywood, a life I lived for twenty years. It's not easy work, but it's hilarious if you bring your attitude.

The book comes out in August. In celebration, Wilma shows us how to Act As If

Here's Wilma with John, acting as if she's dangerous.

Here's Wilma with her bunny, acting as if she's a big time squirrel hunter. (I'm sorry, Bunny.)

Here's Wilma, acting like she owns everything in the house. She doesn't.
(Photo by John Sandel. Raised bowls thanks to Bellis.)

Here's Wilma with John again, acting like—actually, she's not acting here. She's being herself.

I discuss these techniques and more in Act As If, and I give each topic all the gravitas or hilarity (or both) it deserves. Wilma is a very good actor.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


There will be several more tomatoes and a few more onions. Maybe garlic, maybe not. Maybe lettuce, maybe not. This is the extent of the potato harvest, and let me tell you, it was a joy to dig this stuff out of the dirt.

I've found out this summer that deep down in my soil soul, I'm not a gardener. I had hoped I was. I love the idea of free food, and to just walk out to the back yard and grab a salad is all the excitement I need. But the weeding, the watering, and the planning ahead all defeated me this time around.

In case you're not from southern California, it's hot and dry here. For your own safety, and to make your water go as far as possible, you need to avoid the day's heat. Some people get out and pull weeds before going to work. They water the garden when they get home. People are dedicated to their gardens. I admire that, and I love the sharing when people plant more than they can eat.

(Hint to my neighbors: I've been watering the clementine tree. Remember that when you're wondering what to do with that extra tomato!)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Digital Book Day

(Update 7/13/14: Camelot & Vine is currently #1 on the Kindle free Women's Historical fiction list!)

Digital Book Day is a response to failure. No. Wait. It's a phoenix, rising from the ashes. Either way, I get to participate in what's sure to be a success.

For the last three years, World Book Night has given millions of free books to readers all over the world. Volunteers hand out donated books everywhere. These are not cast-offs that the second-hand stores can't sell. These are new books by best-selling authors, donated by authors and publishers.

Or I should say they were, because World Book Night is not going to happen this year due to lack of funding.

Enter bestselling thriller author C.J. Lyons to save the day! Digital Book Day, that is. Lyons is organizing it, and Camelot & Vine is a part! On Monday, July 14th just go to the Digital Book Day link and search for Camelot & Vine, or your favorite author (how could that not be me?), or just browse. Then download your free copy of anything listed there.

Oh--and, you lucky dawg, you get a bonus because you read my blog. Nobody knows this but you: Camelot & Vine is already free through July 14th at Smashwords, where you can download it free in any electronic format including Kindle. So you can have C&V now, and any book on the Digital Book Day site on July 14th (Bastille Day! Alléluia!)

Saturday, July 5, 2014


Well, hello there. I haven't seen you in a while.

I have excuses reasons. I'm working on the final production for Act As If: Stumbling through Hollywood with Headshot in Hand, my new book of essays about my experiences in Hollywood. I'm writing another novel. I'm making website changes. John and I are training Wilma, who is willing but has the attention span of a dog.

And I'm seeing differently.

When I started taking pictures, I began to see like a photographer. I saw the shape of the photo in my mind, with levels and shades, thirds and quadrants. I learned to frame the picture in the camera instead of in software. It became almost automatic. And every day, I couldn't wait to share my photos with you here.

Now I rarely see a photo like I once did. I wonder if this is the photographer's equivalent of writer's block, yet I don't believe in writer's block. When I feel a block, I keep writing. It's the same as grocery store worker's block. When you feel it, you still go to work.

I haven't been taking as many photos lately, and if I would just get out there with the camera I'd begin to see photos again. But right now, I'm doing other things and I can't wait to share them with you when they're finished.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

500 Empty Bowls

bowl by Kenneth Chung

The best charity event I've ever been to was Saturday's 500 Empty Bowls, where one-of-a-kind, handmade ceramic bowls were going for $10 bucks each, with the money donated to feeding people in need. The metaphor serves the reality, which is nice, but that's not why I enjoyed it so much.

I planned to spend $10 but that was impossible because I had $20 in my pocket and it had to go. Every single bowl was beautiful, and they were all worth more than $10. (Don't need bowls? A handmade, one-of-a-kind ceramic bowl makes a great gift.) I bought two I loved, then ran into Pasadena Adjacent, who had alerted me to the event. She was practically forcing a bowl onto our mutual friend: "Take this one, this is a special glaze, it's really hard to do, this guy's so talented," etc.

bowl by ? Let me know if you know

Damn. I had already spent my $20. I wanted to keep the bowls I had and buy the special bowl. I told our friend I wanted the special bowl and I'd have to pay her later. No dice. She claimed it. Plus I didn't win the raffle. You'd think these setbacks would have ruined my fun, but I was in a souq of ceramics, ice cream, and people, with not a single pearl-bedraggled, evening-gowned matron in sight, and it was a blast.

Next year I'm going to bring a lot more money.

You can take classes in ceramics and other things at the Monrovia Community Adult School. Well worth a look.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Wilma: Home at Last

I'm not goin' nowhere, she sez. Sez she's stayin' right here. Don't even ast me to budge. Don't even.


(After two shelters and two other homes, this sweet, receptive, trained and trainable Boxer mutt deserves to stay. She settled in quickly and is willing to keep us. We're introducing her to our lives little by little, and she takes everything in stride. We're saving the trauma of bathing for tomorrow, but that's the limit. Think she'll like it? I don't either. She's spent a long time getting her girly-dog stink on, and she won't like losing it. But honey girl, it's got to go.)

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Lemonade for Eliza

Two girls in my neighborhood read about Eliza O'Neill, a little girl suffering from a big disease. They decided to go proactive and sell lemonade to raise funds for Eliza.

They enlisted their friends. They made flyers and walked up and down the block with their mother to distribute them. 

Today, Sunday, I can hear the children outside as I type. John and I went out to get our lemonade and found the kids chanting, flagging down cars and passers-by, and enjoying every gleeful moment of their altruism. Their parents didn't tell them to do this, although there's a lot of parental support of this event. You can bet the kids learned charity at home.

You can go to Eliza's gofundme website and help. Or help someone else. If not for their sake, then for your own.

Being nice is good for everyone. Plus, it's fun.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Falling in Love Again

Long-time readers will remember Boz, the internationally famous, boxer/pit bull mix who stole my heart and -- wait. That's a cliché. He never stole a thing, not even treats. Maybe the occasional tidbit on the kitchen floor, but that's not stealing.

I willingly gave Boz my love, and he grew old and died, and that's the way it goes. I grieved hard. I'll never get over him but I'm finally ready to move on and find another dog to shower with love.

(More cliché. In my experience, dogs don't like the shower. So I'll just love him or her, and give her the occasional bath.)

Those who followed the Facebook saga know that John and I adopted Selkie a couple of weeks ago. We fell in love with her at the Pasadena Humane Society (another cliché, but we did fall, it's impossible not to). We didn't consider some things: her youth, mostly. We consulted a pro, and after less than a week we decided we had to take her back to the shelter. Her needs were beyond our power and expertise. After five days together, all three of us were emotional wrecks.

That wasn't Selkie's fault. We made the wrong decision and she suffered for it.

This, too, is cause for grief, though it could have been worse for everyone if we'd waited longer. (If you visit the shelter and want to meet her, ask for Kaylee. I think that's what they call her. She is a beautiful, loving dog.)

We took a few days off to recharge, and we're ready to look again. We're taking it slowly, watching for the dog we can share our lives with. Some of you have sent suggestions. They're all great. We're being careful, meeting with the dogs who seem like possibilities. There are thousands within driving distance who all need a home.

We know we're not going to find another Boz. But dogs are individuals and we might find an adult, short-haired mutt who is low key, laid back, even repressed (that's a plus!), who just needs love, security, and a bit of happiness in order to come into his or her own.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Zen Wednesday #3

It's been a while since we had some Zen around here. And Zen Wednesdays are as rare as a rooster in an LA City Animal Shelter.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Just Plain Strange

We got away for a couple of days. John took this picture of me at the San Buenaventura Mission in Ventura, CA. The Mission is a lovely place with a strange and sad history. Then again, much of history is strange and sad. But I enjoyed visiting.

 John was overwhelmed.

Friday, April 25, 2014

You Haven't Got Mail

My name is Petrea and I am an email addict.

23 years ago I had the help of Nicotine Anonymous to quit smoking. I consider myself an addict still because I know if I smoked just one cigarette I'd be a regular smoker again.

When you're addicted to a substance, even one as seemingly benign as cigarettes, you hide. You separate yourself from the world. There's shame involved. You want to quit but quitting is physically and emotionally excruciating. You are a slave to that substance and you must do what is required in order to get it. If you're a smoker, you have to go outside at parties, no matter the weather. Your mind departs every conversation as soon as the nicotine cracks its whip. Worst, non-smokers won't date you.

I sat in those Nicotine Anonymous meetings and listened to heroin addicts talk about how nicotine was the hardest thing to quit. That helped me, because I knew they'd been through so much.

I wonder if they can help me now.

Now my drug of choice is email, and I haven't been able to log on for days. It doesn't matter how it happened, or why. I am a slave to it and in order to get it back I must go to Apple's Genius Bar. While I wait for my appointment I am adrift, aimlessly surfing the web, a junkie on a shiny silver raft. It's excruciating to be unable to get my fix.

When I quit smoking, for months I abused sugar-free candy and gum. I ate a lot of actual food, too, and gained enough weight to go up a size. I discovered fine coffee. I used all these substances like I had used nicotine.

What is there for me now? Books? I mainline books. The great outdoors? Bah! I dose on that junk every day.

Facebook is boring. Twitter is chirpy. What will I do to feed my habit until everything works again?

Must I make phone calls? Oh, the horror!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Sunday Gardener

My neighbor Dale and I are planting food in my back yard. This is going to be a potato. I don't mind sharing the leaves with a hungry bug as long as it leaves the potatoes for me.

We had three tomatoes growing as of yesterday. Probably more today. They are determined, and in the spot Dale chose for them it's apparently not too hard.

We have garlic, cucumbers, eggplant, and onions. More to be planted on Sunday.

I tossed this purple onion into the compost because it had mold on it. The onion took advantage of the opportunity and sprouted. So I followed the onion's opportunist example and stuck it in the ground. We shall see. Maybe it'll turn out to be food, maybe not.

But as Dale says, "They're plants. They know what to do."

Friday, April 11, 2014

Apron Strings

Karen is a professional baker. Her business, Apron Strings, is small. When you visit her sweet Craftsman house you smell fresh bread. Always.

Knowing she was going to offer bread and I was going to accept, the other day I took Karen some fig preserves from Super King Market in Altadena. Fig was not an easy choice to make. This product from Armenia, called Ararat, offers peach, cherry, apricot, and a variety of berry flavors. (Look in the jams and jellies section.) The fruit in the jar, mid-right, is whole, preserved in sugar and citric acid. We smooshed it and spread it on thick slabs of buttered, homemade bread.

Karen baked this loaf in a cast-iron skillet, using locally-grown and -ground flour. She also sent me home with English muffins she made on the griddle. I can attest to the fact that they are divine.

Is it just me, or are we all seeking an agreement between grid and off-grid in our lives? My neighbor and I are growing a vegetable garden in my back yard. Several of my neighbors grow food. Those who don't, buy it at local farmers' markets (juncture between grid and off-grid in business form). We find the seeds, the instructions, even the farmers' markets on the grid that is the internet.

It can be a pleasing intersection. You can't beat relaxing on the porch with a friend on a hot afternoon while consuming iced tea and fresh, warm bread, especially when it's not just any bread but Apron Strings bread, and it's slathered with butter and Armenian fig preserves, and your friend is such good company, and then you can come home and blog about it.

That's Gracie at the upper right. Gracie thinks bread is all right, but she is particularly fond of butter.

You can contact Karen to order bread at khirsch743 (at) gmail (dot) com.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Act As If

Here's the cover of my new book, Act As If. It was designed by John Sandel. Tell me what you think.

When will the book be published? When will everything else be done? I don't know. Soon!

"Soon" is a relative term. I thought I could predict things with Camelot & Vine, but among the many lessons I learned during that process was the new old adage: "Everything takes longer than you think it will."

Act As If is a book of essays about my experiences as a journeyman actor in Hollywood, based on the column I wrote for several years for


noun: journeyman; plural noun: journeymen, a trained worker who is employed by someone else.

Because it's a book of essays, Act As If is excellent toilet reading. I think of that as a marketing strong point. I get a lot of reading done when I'm on the toilet. Mostly magazines and journals. I read Who Moved My Cheese? on the toilet (true story), but that's a different post.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Pasadena Is in Shape

Pasadenans can feel good about this one: we've been named one of the 10 Healthiest Mid-Size Cities by Click the link to find out how we rate, and who beat us to #1. You might be surprised to see which of our neighbor cities are listed in the top 10 as well.

MyLife has an interesting batch of information about us. Regular readers of Living Vicuriously might also recognize the spot where they took their representative photo. Thanks to Bryan Vu at MyLife for sending me the information.

More fun for those exploring Pasadena is the new Walking Pasadena Facebook group, started by Sarah Emery Bunn. You're welcome to join and share. Sarah's Flickr page gives you an idea of the treasures to be found as you stroll the streets of Pasadena.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Simple Needs

We had some rain last night. Not a lot, but it was nice to listen to for a while before I fell back to sleep. This sounds like what I heard. Thanks to Paula Johnson for that, via Monica Hubbard.

Lots of water flowing out at Hahamongna today. A lake and a river. Wind, sun, clouds.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Night Wanderer

photo by John Sandel

It’s 9:18 pm. Late for me but tame for anyone else. Tame time, tame night, tame street. 

I step outside. My crappy slippers from Sears, with the cardboard bottoms, give the cold cement sidewalk direct access to my soles. I huddle my arms around myself, though I’m wearing a sweater. When I lived in Chicago, fifty degrees would not have seemed cold to me. Of course in those days, Sears would have sold me better slippers.

I walk west, toward the troubled end of the block. Maybe I'll talk to the kids who deal drugs at the house by the alley. Even here, on this tame street. Those kids are bad enough but they don’t scare me, I hung out with kids like them when I was their age. The people north of the corner on Los Robles do scare me, though. They're adults and drugs are their business and the cops keep showing up.

The alley kids are not out. The lights are off in their house but I hear rock music. I turn south. Los Robles is parallel to Lake Avenue and the police and fire trucks like it as an alternative. Less traffic than on Lake, but still plenty. We hear sirens often.

I’m in my pajamas. Does anyone notice? No one can tell. Sweat pants, t-shirt and sweater. It’s the slippers that give me away. Slap slap, on the sidewalk.

We live on the edge of the middle-class, juxtaposed with what passes for poor in Pasadena. We're the gentrifiers. There might be danger if I cross Los Robles, but probably not if I stay on this side. Not much, anyway. Not this time of night.

I come to Mountain Avenue and turn east. At the next street I'll turn north again, back into the quiet quarter of Craftsman homes, inviting windows and well-tended gardens that is my neighborhood.

Or I won't go out at all. I'll stay behind my locked door with my book and my lamp and leave the sirens and the drug sellers and the poor people outside.

At least I won't go out in my pajamas. That’s something a crazy person would do. By the time I’m ready for that I hope to have better slippers.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Pharrell Makes His Mark and it's a Plus Sign

By now you've heard Pharrell Williams's worldwide phenomenon, "Happy." The song, from the film "Despicable Me 2" was nominated for a 2014 Oscar. I have a feeling Mr. Williams doesn't mind that he didn't take the prize. Do you remember the song that won? I don't.

I knew nothing about the International Day of Happiness, but Williams has taken part and "Happy" is the theme song. I like it in all the video renditions I've found:

Happy a capella with some hilarity and fun editing

Happy a capella a bit more slick

Happy in Beiruit

Happy in Beijing

Happy in Belfast

And we're just getting started.

There's a lot to like, not least of which is Pharrell Williams' own performance (my favorite, much of it shot at LA's Union Station and other downtown locations). He's got a bit of a Curtis Mayfield tingle to his tenor, and it turns out Williams is a Mayfield fan. I am, too. But though "Pusherman" is a great song, it's way different from "Happy."

[Verse 2:]
Here come bad news talking this and that, yeah,
Well, give me all you got, and don’t hold back, yeah,
Well, I should probably warn you I’ll be just fine, yeah,
No offense to you, don’t waste your time
Here’s why
Because I'm happy...

"Happy" has a PR machine behind it, but I think it caught on because people are into the message: "You can try, but you can't knock me off my center because I choose to be happy." Yessir, happiness is a choice.

Now, if I'm in the process of being attacked or I'm at the point of starvation, that's too glib. But many of us live in less dire situations and we still grumble. ("My lumbago hurts"..."I have too much work to do"..."Wall Street bankers are crooks..." Well, they are.)

But poo on that, as Verse 2 addresses. I choose to be happy anyway. Some days I forget it's in my power, which is why I have little signs taped all over my wall.

I've been home all week with a cold and have barely moved from my armchair. I thank Pharrell Williams and video shooters around the world for the regular reminders that I have nothing to complain about. I have one hell of an earworm but I'm in a good mood.

Here's ours, from PCC.