Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Character Highlights and the Dark Heartbeat of The Sandoval Sisters' Secret: Interview

Appeared July 7, 2014 in

Sandra Ramos O'Briant large

Stephanie: Pilar wants the freedom to pursue whatever she wants when she wants it.There are usually consequences to the decisions and actions we make in life that affect others around us when we want to just do what we want. Are there consequences for Pilar and how does her behavior affect the people around her?
Sandra: The youngest Sandoval sister, Pilar, had a taste of independence few women received in 19thcentury New Mexico, but just because she liked it doesn’t mean she was willful, spoiled or flamboyant. If radar had been in use in the Territory of New Mexico circa 1840, Pilar would have flown right under it. If anything, she’s guileless and assumes that others are equally open. This aspect of her personality is what gets her into trouble. Her mother died giving birth to her and left Oratoria, the eldest adopted sister, in charge of her sisters. She had been bought by the Sandovals for a sack of flour when she was eight-years-old. 
     Oratoria did not mistake Pilar’s wildness for impetuousness, but rather thought it a gift. When Pilar is betrothed to the much older Geraldo, she doesn’t run off or commit some heedless act-she accepts her fate.
     Geraldo is the perfect man for her sister, one who also prizes her “non-traditional” characteristics. My readers love Geraldo and I’m frequently asked where they can meet a man like him. He’s patient and knowledgeable about women. He doesn’t want her to have children while she’s still so young. This necessitated researching birth control methods in that time period. All of which Pilar and Geraldo use. A lot.
     Oratoria tells him, “Witches do not ride broomsticks on moonlit nights. They prefer stallions.” Pilar, on the other hand, scoffs at the whole notion of witchcraft, even when she personally suffers from its effects.
Sandra's Book Cover
And a bit of the dark heartbeat of the story:
Stephanie:  What are some of the prejudices and superstitions you feel that these women in your story face?

Sandra: My maternal grandmother was a Sandoval. In her home, there were santos, statues of saints and little altars, in every room. Many homes in Santa Fe were the same. Sounds all holy, doesn’t it? The flip side to this idolatry was a deep-seated belief that demons and witches live amongst us. In Northern New Mexico ancestor stories were interwoven with tales of witchcraft. The ritualistic power of feverish faith could be as simple as making the sign-of-the-cross over a whiff of bad luck, or carrying a wooden cross and wearing a crown of thorns in a secret ceremony, or perhaps self-flagellation. These same cultural aspects were even more evident at the time of my story.

     Back then, a whirlwind of change had descended on Santa Fe when both Texas and the U.S. decided they wanted to control the Santa Fe Trail. The people in the far northern reaches of New Spain had been isolated for two hundred years. They lacked education, and their livelihood was subsistence based. Many of their ancestors had fled the Inquisition in Spain or been banished to the remote outer regions of New Spain. 

     In my story, the Sandovals are set apart: “. . . others feared the awakening of dark powers for which the Sandovals had always been suspect. Not only had they acquired wealth in a desert frontier, they had survived Indians and epidemics while others perished. They could read, too, and their home was sumptuous with white marble pier tables, Brussels carpets and wood floors. This, while many New Mexicans lived in one-room adobe hovels alongside their goats. To make matters worse, they were handsome people. All good reasons to fear and respect them.”

     When Alma elopes with Bill and runs off to Texas with him she encounters prejudice of a different sort: she’d married into a slave-holding culture. Texas had fought hard for its independence from Mexico, and most of its Spanish-speaking residents had fled; Texans made few distinctions between Blacks and Mexicans, and the Texas Rangers were known to have lynched Mexicans. Alma’s former position in society was worthless in this new environment, but she made the most of the few friendships she made there, even training with the town doctor.

     When she returned to New Mexico, widowed and childless, she treated anyone who needed her help, including the prostitutes in a brothel. The community didn’t approve of this. They also didn’t approve of Pilar’s relationship with Monique, the half-Indian madam of the brothel.  “To the alchemy of whores and witches,” Monique said. 

     The people had lost land, been conquered by the U.S. and they were ready to place blame. The Sandoval sisters were an easy target and the crowd repeats this little ditty, “A father dies, a husband, too, and the widows, sisters all, dance under the witches’ moon.”

     Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudun was an influence on my work.  It’s a history of alleged demonic possession, religious fanaticism, and mass hysteria in 17th century France.  When I read about religious persecution in the “modern” world and the effort to slut-shame women (sexual persecution), I think of this untidy piece of history.

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Sandra Ramos O’Briant, who is the author of The Sandoval Sister’s Secret of Old Blood, one of our medallion honorees at www.bragmedallion.com . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as The Sandoval Sister’s Secret of Old Blood merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.
*Stephanie M. Hopkins conducts author interviews and helps promote the B.R.A.G. Medallion. Participates in the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. She has reviewed books for the Historical Novel Society, is Co-Admin of English Historical Fiction Authors Group on Facebook. The original interview can be read in its entirety by clicking here

Sunday, July 06, 2014

The Difference Between Wealth and Money

Been sidelined with life, but like all of you I can't ignore what's happening in our country and in our world. The financial news is harrowing, the numbers staggering, and I can't keep the words "Worldwide Depression," out of my mind.  I've started to hoard cans of beans and fruit, and yet I live in paradise, pick oranges and lemons off a tree in my backyard, and grow vegetables year round.  I have a husband who loves me and healthy, smart children.  The sun feels good on my skin and I love to dance whenever I can, but the bottom line for the middle-class American has been shrinking. Yes, our money is diminished, but the good news is the wealth in America, our wealth, has not lessened.

There's a difference between wealth and money, people. Alan Watts said that forty years ago. It's the difference between actual resources, the bone and muscle and materials required to build a dam, repair a pot hole, or fix a fence . . . and a system of numbers invented to keep us organized.  He gave an example of a home builder showing up at a project only to find the foreman and all the workmen doing nothing.

"We can't work today," the foreman explained, "cause we ran out of inches."

The builder looked around the project.  There were materials: lumber, nails, tools and the manpower necessary to get the job done, but w/o inches --- an arbitrary quantifier --- no one was working.

We have worldwide resources in humanity and we just need the will to get what needs to be done done. The hell with the numbers. Let's fix stuff!

If Alan Watts' example doesn't work for you.  Try Deepak Chopra over at the Huffington Post.

Previously appeared here on 7/21/12, but needs to be aired again.

Saturday, June 28, 2014


  I almost called this piece Girlfriends, Slutdom and Mom because they’re all of a piece, a patchwork perhaps, that once assembled became me.

        Boys were always easier for me. We liked being outside and played rough, whereas I was never sure how to engage girls in anything beyond dolls, which didn’t interest me. They also tended to stay in the kitchen with their moms. 

        Mom proudly announced that she’d been a tomboy, too, and followed her twin brother in his rough and tumble play. As she grew older, mom embraced the “sexy” Latina image. I think it gave a boost to her self-esteem, but it meant that her goal was to get a man which invited competition from other females. At her core she embraced a 40’s cinematic femme fatale role model and distrusted all women . . . possibly even me. A girlfriend who is of my mother’s vintage recently gave me advice on how to deal with my husband over some petty argument.  “Have great sex and then do what you want anyway.” Manipulative, I said. She expressed no distaste for that word, “There’s a long line of women just waiting to steal him from you."

 She reminded me so much of my mom that I only felt affection and pity for her generation. And wonder. Could she be right? I’ve seen that certain look–threatened, possessive, and defensive–on other women’s faces when they’ve watched their husband’s reaction to a beautiful woman standing in front of them. No, the beauty wasn’t me.  My preferred role is observer, and I love women, need them even. Women take the lead in The Sandoval Sisters’ Secret of Old Blood, and sisterhood is explored in all its contexts: childhood friends, lovers, girlfriends who think nothing of cheating with your husband, a sinister mother-in-law, witchy ex-girlfriends,  daughters, blood sisters, maidens, mothers and crones. 

I’ve written previously of the bullying I experienced in elementary and middle-school (Bullied: Diversity, Differentiation, Distinction). That experience effectively isolated me and I stopped trying to make girlfriends. I had a brief respite in 9th grade when I lived with my father and stepmother in East Texas. A few girls in my neighborhood actually seemed to like me and we rode the bus to school together. No one was really dating then, but there was adolescent flirtation.

Back to New Mexico for high school and the pressure was on to date. Fortunately, I liked nerdy boys with a sense of humor. An assortment of males liked me; the girl’s locker room became hazardous when a boy sought after by one of the “popular” girls asked me to prom. Sometime in the 10th grade I was labeled a slut and I don’t think the slur came from a boy. It was the girls who shunned me.

The irony is that even though I’m now an outspoken feminist and embrace my inner slut, I remained a virgin all through high school. I refused to French kiss until I’d cleared it with the nun who taught an after-school religion class. “No it’s not a mortal sin,” she said. I’m forever grateful that she didn’t follow up that statement with what it could lead to. Perhaps she didn’t know, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because I wouldn’t allow my boyfriend to touch my emergent breasts because of the pimples on my chest.

The slut-shaming worked. I wasn’t sure what I’d done wrong, but in order to remedy the situation I let down all the hems on my skirts, stopped dating, and stayed home from school as much as possible. The problem with that was 1) my mother’s fear–not that I might not graduate– but that I might not get in enough practice to find my future husband. “You’ve got sex appeal,” she said, which only terrified me more. The second part of that phrase was fine, nothing wrong with appeal. But the “sex” part was a problem made all the more complicated by 2) my extreme horniness and guilt over it. 

What to do?

           Fortunately, I got to go to college in the late 60’s. The Second Wave ruled! Birth control was readily available and there were savvy girls from all over the world at UNM. What was even better, they knew nothing about me. Sure, I was a little weird, but weird was in. I could blend. Somewhat.

I’d always had opinions, but had feared speaking out. My task was to overcome that sense of powerlessness, to embrace outcast status and make it work for me.  Learning to do that was huge and the women’s movement helped me. Not only were there plenty of outspoken women from whom to learn, but I recognized the other me, before emergence, in women who came to consciousness-raising meetings. I could help them.

In grad school, my girlfriends and I had brunch every Sunday and read women’s sexual fantasies out of Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden. Our laughter could be heard from down the street and we could have written our own book of sexual exploits, real and imagined. Peggy, one of the brunchers, met me recently in Venice Beach (A 70’s Redux.)

 Santa Monica Beach, 1977, with my friend Annie (the other bruncher.)

When I started a business, almost all of my clients were male. Female friends were rare. If it hadn’t been for my friend Susan, I wouldn’t have had a baby shower for my first child or a partner in my new business. More women entered the workforce. Now I had female employees and a new challenge balancing friendship and business: I didn’t always make the right decision.

Keogh, O'Briant & Brown, 1979

Girlfriends are still not easy. More often that not, I let them pick me. As often happens, friendships with women grew easier when I entered my 50’s. I’d relaxed, accepted that some women were not going to like me, and that it wouldn’t hold me back from expressing myself or reaching out to them. Older women have experience, both good and bad, and we all just want to have a good time. Here are some vintage thoughts from some of my girlfriends. They reflect my experience now. I'm so grateful to have arrived at this point, something I don't think my mom ever achieved:

Susan:  “My women friends have outlasted everything in this life: husbands, parents, youth, and now . . .  Even if we're not together, our laughter still rings in my ear.”

Bonnie: “No matter what I was slogging thru in terms of  family stuff, work, life in general, girl friends sustained and supported me more than any other relationships.”

Melody: “Laughter; tears; support; brutal honesty; fun; sharing of wisdom; gossip; fashion help; basic survival; boy-friend hating; physical, mental & spiritual healing; having someone really listen to our story-telling without judgment; reminders that we are worth loving, even if we do not love ourselves at times!”

Me and Anna, Runyon Canyon, 2012                  

Cindy, Missy, me: Cuba, 2012

Happy and peaceful women.

Quintana Blas Olleras,1851-1919

Thursday, June 19, 2014


Vibrant growth in the Mojave Desert, humans roam the landscape

In pairs, in families, on tours, taking pictures

Selfies abound

I travel alone


An eagle flew low and fast


Did he see me?

My mind saluted anyway

History stretches off into the shadowed mountains

The poppies ephemeral

They will return

The Poppy Promise

What secrets herein lay

A birth, a death, a rape

Even the bedbugs have fled

Golden fingerlings grip the hill

Hungry for life

They'll die soon

My birding class visited Placerita Canyon which is near the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve.

I was happy to be there.

All photos, except the eagle, are © Sandra Ramos O'Briant

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mixed Latinos in the Flesh: Clothing Optional

Just kidding.
Join Jessica Arana, artist, Joseph Tyner, poet, Elizabeth Liang, writer, and me for Mixed/Remixed at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles this Saturday, June 14 at 1:00pm. There's a full schedule of film, art and books.

Ignore the time listed below. It's 1:00 pm!!!

MASC will be sponsoring a panel on mixed Latino artists and writers at the Mixed Remixed Festival. Please make note of the new time of 3 PM. One of the panelists is Sandra Ramos O'Briant. To learn more about her work visit: www.thesandovalsisters.com

We asked our participants to answer these questions: What do you think of the word LOMA (Latinas and Latinos of Mixed Ancestry)? Does this describe you? She said: "LOMA is perfect and it describes me perfectly. Far better than 50/50, coyote, or leprechauna. Also, I appreciate not being lumped into the masculine all-inclusive Latino. My Latina and Anglo heritage speak loudly in The Sandoval Sisters' Secret of Old Blood, but the Northern New Mexican is emphasized. 

Thomas, that's a tough one for me. My mom married an Anglo so her children wouldn't experience the same discrimination she'd had to endure. Hence, the O'Briant. My bro and I experienced reverse discrimination in Santa Fe because of that Anglo last name; Latinos wouldn't accept us. The Sandoval Sisters was my shout out to the brown in me.

Thanks for including me in this program. See . . . it's all about belonging."

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone

Diversity is in the air. It's evident in the sheer magnitude of languages I hear daily, the skin colors I see, and the variety, mix and fusion of ethnic cuisine available in Los Angeles. It didn't just happen overnight. When my friends and I were in college we questioned and challenged everything. It was an era for women asserting themselves in the work place and in the bedroom.

Is a same sex relationship easier, we wondered? There wouldn't be the same power struggles, we thought. Sexual Fluidity wasn't a term in popular use then, and bisexuality was distrusted by both gays and straights. In her debut novel, A Fitting Place, Mary Gottschalk, tells the story of one woman's journey down that path. 

From Amazon: 
In the wake of her husband’s desertion, Lindsey Chandler finds solace in a relationship with a woman who offers an intimacy Lindsey has never known. Before long, however, she finds herself ensnared by the same destructive inter-personal dynamics that plagued her marriage. Unable to blame her dilemma on traditional gender roles, Lindsey is forced to look in the mirror as she seeks to define what she wants from this—or any—relationship. The premise of this debut novel is that opportunities for personal growth are greatest when you step outside your comfort zone. A Fitting Place is an uplifting story of the human potential we all have.

 Why do you write what you do, Mary?

You've got to jump off the cliff all the time and build
your wings on the way down.” — Ray Bradbury

Taken literally, Bradbury’s quote sounds preposterously risky, but it speaks to the potential for intellectual, emotional and spiritual growth that occurs when you are in “free fall,” when your core beliefs and values are being challenged.
It is this often-painful but ultimately exhilarating process that is the central theme of both my memoir and my novel.

In one sense, I have always been a risk-taker. It’s a behavior pattern borne out of a mélange of natural curiosity, an intense dislike of repetition and routine, and an almost instinctive tendency to rattle whatever cage I happen to be in.

More often than not, risk-taking had positive results by opening a door to educational and career options I might otherwise not have had. But all too often, those new opportunities left me no more satisfied than I had been before I made the change. Metaphorically, I was getting off one bus with uncomfortable seats and hopping onto the next bus that came along in the hope that it would suit me better. 

I never stopped to ask where the bus was going, or whether I would be better off traveling by train or on foot.

Until I was 40, that is.

That was the year that I got off the bus for the last time. That was the year my husband and I abandoned our successful careers, as well as family, friends, or familiar support systems, to sail around the world in 37-foot sailboat. That was the year that I began my escape from a world of other people’s expectations.  For the first time in my life, I had to decide for myself where I was going and how I was I going to get there.

My memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam starts with my decision to trade the bus for sailboat, to step out of my comfort zone from a professional and cultural perspective. It ends as I begin a new, more purposeful way of life that has sustained me for a quarter of a century.
By the time the memoir was completed, however, I realized that “the story” was larger than “my story,” and that few people can quit their jobs and head off into the sunset. I wanted to explore the growth that can take place when a woman stays close to home. In my novel, A Fitting Place, Lindsey Chandler is hurtled out of her psychological comfort zone by the betrayal of those she most trusts. Her journey to emotional maturity begins when she begins to re-examine her entire value system, including loyalty, marriage and gender roles.

 How does your work differ from others of its genre?  

The premise behind both my memoir and my novel is that opportunities for personal growth are greatest when you step outside your comfort zone. From a psychological perspective, the term “comfort zone” encompasses behavior patterns formed during childhood, patterns which may not be productive or healthy in adult relationships.

By stepping outside of your comfort zone—whether by choice or by circumstance—you exponentially increase the possibility of personal and professional growth.    

My writing is also distinctive because I like to utilize metaphors to emphasize the universal themes that underlie my stories:

·       Sailing Down the Moonbeam (a memoir) – Sailing is a powerful metaphor for everyday life:
·       It is impossible to control your environment, whether it’s the weather or a possible job promotion. You enjoy life much more if you recognize the your control is limited to your own thoughts and actions.
·       Very few things in life work out the way you planned. Expectations leave you vulnerable to disappointment, while living in the moment opens the door to opportunities you didn’t expect.
·       All too often, you end up in a different place that you intended to go, both in relationships and in careers. Our focus should be on the journey, not the destination.
·       A Fitting Place (a novel) — The title is a metaphor that applies on multiple levels:
·       A Fitting Room – A fitting room is a great place to try on a new persona.  How would I look in purples? Would I feel sexy or tart-y in a sequined dress with a plunging neckline? Some unexpected purchases delighted me for years, but others languished in a closet until I carted them off to Goodwill.
Lindsey’s love affair with a woman offers an intimacy she has always ached to have, an opportunity to try a different way of living and loving. But will that same-sex relationship stand the test of time, or will it founder just as her previous relationships with men have foundered?
·       The Biblical Notion of Fitting. The Biblical term “fitting” usually refers to actions or events that are suited to the circumstances, rather than those that are “right” in some a priori or moralistic way.
For most of her life, Lindsey has done the “right” thing, routinely subordinating her needs to what she assumed was expected of her. Only when Lindsey begins to take responsibility for her own decisions and actions—to do what fits the situation rather than what she thinks someone wants—do her stomachaches ease. It is the beginning of maturity.
·       A Jigsaw Puzzle – We’ve all been frustrated by working on a jigsaw puzzle with a piece or two missing. Most of us have also had the distressing sense that a piece of information or a crucial insight is missing from your life.
For Lindsey, the missing pieces were largely of her own making, a consequence of her tendency to dole out only the information she thought people “ought” to know. The pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place as Lindsey discovers that what her friends and family really wanted from her was quite different than what she had assumed.

Mary has made a career out of changing careers.
She spent nearly thirty years in the financial markets, working with major corporations in New York, New Zealand, Australia, Central America, Europe, and now Des Moines, Iowa. Along the way, she dropped out several times, the first time to embark on the multi-year sailing voyage chronicled in her memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam.

In her latest incarnation as a writer, she has written for The Iowan and contributed to several anthologies. A Fitting Place is her first novel.

Relevant links

A Fitting Place: http://amzn.to/1m57778

Sailing Down the Moonbeam:  http://amzn.to/Iy5JTJ

Monday, May 26, 2014

Phalluses, Flip Phones, and Judgment in a Tech World

Back in the day-like maybe 5 years ago-on a couples' date, we waited in line to see a comedy revue in Hollywood. One of the men in our party reached into his pocket and removed his cellphone. He cocked his hips forward and flipped his phone open. This triggered a reaction with more men, up-and-down the line, also flipping their phones open. They looked so manly and assertive. The women didn't take their phones out, but we all had them, of course. If flip phones had existed in ancient Egypt or Pompeii, the statues of sovereigns would have revealed them regally seated on their thrones . . . holding a flip phone in their laps like a gigantic phallus. 

Cell phones are status symbols, but it's only with the introduction of smart phones that women seem to be equally consumed with them. They're as likely as men to walk with head bowed over phone. When just standing in line, no one talks to strangers anymore. They're too busy tweeting that they're standing in line.  I don't have a smart phone.  I'm on and off my computers all day so a walk without being wirelessly connected to the world is a blessing. Plus, I like to people watch and I'm curious which of my "friends" will glance at me with pity when I pull out my . . . flip phone.

The following letter is from Peggy, a friend of 40 years (A 70's Redux). She wrote to me in response to a link I sent to her regarding my Huffington Post blog, Bullied: Diversity, Differentiation, Distinction. Her letter has no condescension when discussing technology . . . only wonder.


Well I clicked on the HuffPost site. I realized that technology for me is like an octopus.  You can be very comfortable with one appendage (doing texts and using a smart phone at the beginner level), but what goes on in other appendages can make us feel like blithering idiots (envision a resident of an asylum, straight jacketed, drooling after a session of drugs and electricity to the brain!)  

The day we met at Venice beach, I got there way before you.  So I did what anyone would do.  I tried to call you to see where you were. Gerald answered your home phone and told me you don't always have your cell on! So after several attempts to contact you that day, I resorted to the old-fashioned method for coping in today's world: I sat and waited for you to show up.  What to do when you can't instantly reach your friend? Made my skin crawl as I had nothing to do till you showed up.  Oh, there was people watching.  I enjoy it.  But honestly, I felt I was so superior thinking I was so advanced cuz I USE MY PHONE CONSTANTLY THROUGHOUT THE DAYLIGHT HOURS, BUT YOU OBVIOUSLY DIDNT.  

Fast forward to this blog thing and I am right back at the idiots table.  In the old days everything on machines was obvious!  There were buttons and their functions were instantly recognizable.  We knew what each button did cuz it only did one thing: on/off, channel, volume, horizontal control, vertical control! That was it. Now you have to know the codes for each letter, number, icon before you can encode the messages and negotiate anything on technology!   

So my dear friend, I read the info about you and I have too many questions to type.  I guess I'll just have to do the old fashioned thing- and call you.  That modality still is available and it doesn't involve magical icons and codes.  

I'll try to call this week.  I must say I'm so proud to be the friend of such an accomplished author.  And Im very happy that you are working on the next installment.  Which pleases me so much.   I loved the first one and knew as I read each precious page that I wanted to spend more time with the Sandoval sisters than just one book. 

Talk soon.  Congrats.  Much love! Peg

Sent from my iPad