An Interview With Author Carmen Amato

by Viviana Hurtado

It’s Friday which means for weeks on L4LL, it’s Carmen Amato day, when this author publishes fresh, relevant, and entertaining posts on how to get and keep your Read On. Today the tables have slightly turned on Carmen as we interview her about her just-published novel Hat Dance. Part of the Emilia Cruz international mystery novel series, Carmen dishes about the household name Latinas who inspired her main character and how books can build bridges between people. For all the aspiring writers out there, Carmen gives you a must-read primer on how to get published and the pros and cons of traditional and self-publishing.

As if that wasn’t enough of a gift for L4LL readers, Carmen is also offering Hat Dance for free on Kindle again today, Friday August 30!

Viviana Hurtado (L4LL): Congratulations, Carmen for just publishing Hat Dance! This mystery/psychological thriller is set in Acapulco, Mexico. Tell us the plot and main characters.

Carmen Amato: First, thanks so much for this interview and the opportunity to work with L4LL over the past few months. For an author, anything that helps to promote literacy is a true labor of love!

HAT DANCE is the second novel in the Emilia Cruz mystery series. It follows CLIFF DIVER, which when I last looked was #12 on amazon’s list of Top Rated International Mystery and Crime novels and the #27 best selling book in the Hispanic Fiction category. My books haven’t knocked Ian Rankin or Junot Díaz off the best seller lists but they are in contention!

The series pits Emilia Cruz, Acapulco’s first and only female police detective, against both Mexico’s drug war and culture of machismo. The plight of those missing in Mexico will be a continuing theme. In HAT DANCE, Emilia tracks cold cases of missing women and is asked to find a girl from her own neighborhood while also hunting for an elusive arsonist. As Acapulco burns and Emilia ends up on the wrong side of a dirty Vice cop, she’ll start making deals for information and access. But the deal she makes with the devil could be her last . . .

Here are some of the characters readers will meet:

  • Emilia Cruz Encinos: An Acapulco native forced to grow up too fast, she’s been a cop for nearly 12 years and a detective for two; a strong woman in a squadroom that didn’t want her and is still trying to break her. Emilia is a good liar, a fast thinker, a determined investigator and a mean kickboxer.
  • Franco Silvio: A former heavyweight champ, Silvio is the senior detective and the most vocal opponent of women detectives.
  • Victor Obregon Sosa: The head of the police union for the state of Guerrero is a dangerous and deceptive man. Sex with him is always on offer, he wields enormous power, and Emilia is rightfully wary of him.
  • Carlota Montoya Perez: Acapulco’s beautiful and ambitious mayor is willing to twist anything—even the truth—to accomplish her political goals.
  • Kurt Rucker: Manager of Acapulco’s most deluxe hotel, he’s a former U.S. Marine who knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to go after it.

The city of Acapulco looms as large as any character in the series. There’s the Acapulco that tourists know; luxury hi-rises, candlelit nights on the beach, the sweep of the most beautiful bay in the world, the majesty of the clear blue Pacific. There’s also the Acapulco that is a prize to be fought over by drug cartels–the city that is home to hookers and thieves, the streets where life is cheap and poverty is as pervasive as the wind off the ocean.

Both of these versions of Acapulco claw at the each other and force Emilia to survive between them. No investigation will be easy, no crime will be simple.

L4LL: The main character is a woman, Emilia Cruz. Tell us about her and why you were drawn to develop a strong female lead.

CA: Two of the biggest influences in my life have been my mother and grandmother, both strong women who made hard decisions in their lives. My best friends are strong women who live busy, multi-faceted lives. That’s how I define myself as well. A strong female character who copes with both personal and professional challenges and grows as a result is my comfort zone as a writer.

To create the Emilia character I took as inspiration 3 well-known Latinas: Justice Sonia Sotomayor, boxer Marlen Esparza, and actor America Ferrera. I wrote a blog post on my website earlier this year, explaining how they each inspired me.

L4LL: This is part of a political thriller series featuring Emilia Cruz. What is it about this character, genre, Mexico, and the current climate of drug violence that draws you to this place and characters?

CA: In the description for CLIFF DIVER, I shared a story about encountering a junkie on Christmas during Mass at our church in Mexico City. He was the tip of an iceberg that included shootouts in major cities, multiple drug seizures, rising numbers of dead and missing, the murders of mayors, governors and journalists.

Major US news outlets didn’t carry much of this kind of reporting in deference to domestic politics, the Middle East, and Lindsay Lohan. News about Mexico was mostly immigration-related. The real story–the toll that the drug wars were taking on the people and culture of Mexico–wasn’t getting out.

I carried my memories of Mexico with me when we left. I poured them into a Cinderella story set against the backdrop of Mexican political corruption and cartel violence. The result was the 2012 political thriller The Hidden Light of Mexico City. The reviews made me sure that contemporary fiction could ignite popular interest in what was happening in Mexico better than the news.

I knew, however, that a standalone novel can only take an independent author so far. I needed to take it a step further.

The resulting formula? A mystery series (the most popular literary genre) + an iconic city that US readers will recognize + relationships with heat + action from today’s headlines = Emilia Cruz.

L4LL: You love to travel and “love”–marrying “the smartest man I could find” with whom you’ve moved to Mexico and Central America–provides inspiration for your writing. What is it about the region and the people that captured your imagination, making them settings, even characters in your books?

CA: I grew up in an Italian family where going to church every Sunday was an Event. My extended family all lived in the same city and came together for every holiday. My grandfather’s home movies were all of people eating. I loved all the associated rituals: helping my grandmother set the table with her good china, arranging pepperoni, olives, and roasted red peppers for the antipasto, cranking the handle of my grandparents’ pasta maker to turn out homemade capellini.

When I moved to Mexico so much was already familiar. Church, family, rituals of food, celebrations of the homemade. It was easy to make it all my own.

I was lucky to have ready-made bridges between one culture and another. I think more bridges need to be built and books can serve as building material.

L4LL: Can you tell us about your experience publishing, specifically with CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform?

CA: All 3 of my currently published books are exclusive to Amazon as ebooks for Kindle and paperbacks printed by Amazon’s Createspace service. The industry calls it being an “independent author.”

Createspace and the Kindle publishing platform give authors a lot of options and I love that I maintain all creative control. It is ultimately my decision how the final product looks, when it is released, and the retail cost. Most importantly, it is my decision how professional the books and their presentation will be. I had a publishing contract in 2011 but felt that the publishing company was offering a poor quality product to readers and I ultimately walked away.

In today’s digital world, print copies are a very small percentage of total book sales unless you are J.K. Rowling. Both royalties and sales volume is significantly higher for Kindle ebooks and I know many authors who do not sell print books at all. Moreover, bookstores generally will not stock print books by independent authors. Some book reviewers will not accept indie books for review, either.

L4LL: We are not editors, publishers, and literary agents yet are often approached for guidance on how to publish a book. Can you share some tips for budding authors?

CA: Getting a book in front of an audience and even racking up a few sales is no longer the hard part. Polishing your product, however, is. Many rush to publish because they can—there is no editorial filter—and they skip over quality control. Here is my best advice.

  1. Don’t fall in love with your first draft. Fall in love with your characters, in the setting, and in the plot twists. Keep editing and rewriting until your manuscript is as good as it can be. Learn to be a ruthless editor of your own work.
  2. Don’t change points of view within a single section. Just when a reader has identified with a certain character–whoops–suddenly they are inside another character’s head. This is my personal pet peeve. Read novels by Leon Uris and Ken Follett for great examples of keeping points of view separate and how to use different points of view to advance the plot.
  3. A writer’s group is a terrific way to get feedback on a draft and learn best practices from fellow writers. A side benefit is encouragement and the feeling that you’re not the only one with a writing obsession.
  4. Find a writing partner and share drafts for timely feedback and brainstorming.
  5. Finally, in this day of instant access to information, there is no excuse for bad punctuation. A random typo is one thing, consistent punctuation errors in a published work is another.

L4LL: Can you explain the pros and cons of self-publishing versus mainstream publisher?

It’s a tough business, one that is in decline, where it’s difficult for talented authors to make it past gatekeepers in the form of publishers, editors, and agents, and one that does not understand the urgency of tapping into new readers such as Latinos for its survival. How have the advances in technology helped you and other authors?

CA: As the traditional publishing industry shrinks, authors without close ties to that industry will be by and large locked out. Those writing content that isn’t the “flavor of the day” have even a slimmer chance of being discovered and offered a contract. Money is tight, and ironically, editors are now trolling Amazon’s best seller lists and independent authors are being offered traditional publishing contracts but only because they have a proven following and sales.

So frankly, I think publishing independently is the only way to go that doesn’t involve years of wasted time and postage costs mailing queries and manuscripts to people who didn’t ask for them.

The pros of independent publishing are:

  • Retain creative control.
  • Reach audiences immediately.
  • Royalties as high as 70% and paid monthly.
  • You are discoverable by publishers who comb Amazon lists to find breakout authors and subject matter experts.
  • Some book contests are exclusive for indie authors.

The cons are:

  • Your book still must be as professional in all aspects as those traditionally published. It is a lot of work to do cover, editing, formatting, etc and can be costly unless you acquire the skills to do it yourself.
  • You are responsible for your own marketing/cover/author platform.
  • Libraries and bookstores rarely agree to stock independent titles.
  • Important review opportunities can be limited.
  • The quality of independently published books varies widely; many people’s experience leads them to equate “independently published” with “poor quality.”
  • Ineligible for some big-name book contests.

In contrast

The pros of traditional publishing are:

  • Libraries and bookstores may stock you depending on your publisher’s distribution.
  • May receive an up front royalty.
  • Cachet of having a publisher’s name on the Amazon sales page and being able to answer the question of who is your publisher
  • Someone else does the cover, interior and ebook formatting, intellectual property rights protection, etc.
  • Eligible for most book contests.

The cons are:

  • The publisher may own the rights to your work, preventing you from setting a fair price, reprinting, moving to another publishing house, etc. In many cases authors have lost thousands in royalties because they signed away rights to content, characters, and more.
  • You find out you are responsible for your own marketing/cover/author platform!
  • Much lower royalty percentages, generally paid quarterly or even bi-annually.
  • Loss of creative control means you can end up with an unsuitable cover, inaccurate back cover info, etc.
  • Your chances of being offered a contract are very low.
  • You almost always need an agent, who takes a share of your income, to navigate the process.
  • A contract for one book does not automatically translate into a contract for the next.

This is just my experience, and other authors who have gone down a different path will no doubt have a different view. I’d never rule out a traditional publishing offer but will never again sacrifice creative control.

L4LL: What’s next for Emilia Cruz?

CA: Next up is publication in The Huffington Post of “The Beast,” the very first Emilia Cruz story, as part of Huffpost’s showcase of female writers over 50. A collection of short stories, entitled MADE IN ACAPULCO, will follow this fall. Two more Emilia Cruz novels are planned for 2014. Still others are in the outline stage.

A continuing subplot will be Emilia’s hunt for missing women. Will she ever close out all her cases? Will she marry Kurt? Will she survive partnership with Silvio?
L4LL: What’s next for Carmen Amato?

CA: I hope that the Emilia Cruz series becomes one of those cross-cultural bridges I talked about earlier. The mystery series is a literary genre that is hugely popular in the US and several series have brought a popular awareness to new places (Russia and Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko series; Sweden and the Dragon Tattoo books.) Maybe Emilia can do this for Mexico.

At the same time, I hope the cultural details and connection to current events appeal to Latinos. You have talked on the L4LL website about encouraging a love of reading—which leads to better education rates—in Latino youth. A mystery can be a more attractive choice than literary fiction for young adults still building an interest in reading. A series may encourage them to continue to read.

I also think the series, as well THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, would translate well to film. There would be some great roles for Latino actors. The most popular pages on my website are the dreamcasts. I’m sure Hollywood will be calling any day!

Cuba Libre: Understanding Cuba in 12 Books

Cuba is a place of tumultuous history, faded glory, and fields of cane. Many Latino families draw strength from their Cuban roots while at the same time struggle to make sense of has what happened in the years since the Cuban Revolution and rise of Fidel Castro.

No one book explains all, but both fiction and non-fiction can lead us to a better understanding of this troubled, but still magical place, and even give a glimpse of what may be in store for Cuba’s future.


Havana Bay by Martin Cruz Smith
The Arkady Renko series sends the Moscow-based detective to Cuba several years after the break with Russia in order to bring home the body of a Russian diplomat. But nothing is easy in Fidel’s Cuba and Arkady finds himself not only investigating the death but becoming embroiled in local political unrest. A powerful, haunting thriller.

The Mares of Lenin Park by Agustin D. Martinez
The Mares of Lenin Park address many themes; Cuban life, the Russia-Cuba relationship, drug culture, and coming-of-age issues as seen through the eyes of a young teen. The book recently won the Prize Americana. Author Martinez talked to L4LL readers last week. Read the interview here.

Cuba by Stephen Coonts
Jake Grafton, now an admiral, is the main character in many of Coonts’s books. In a bit of an homage to the Cuban Missile Crisis, a power struggle in Cuba leads to a powerful new weapon being trained on the US. Grafton must vault into the cockpit of a new type of aircraft to save the day. A blockbuster, just like all the Grafton books, and for good reason.


Take Me With You by Carlos Frías
Florida journalist Frias goes to Cuba for the first time as a reporter and discovers the land of his parents for the first time. A compelling and beautifully written homage to both his family and to his roots in Cuba.

Waiting for Snow in Havana by Carlos Eire
This story of a boyhood in Havana as the revolution encroaches is full of disparate personalities, mystical dreams, and impending doom. Eire will ultimately be sent to the US as Cuba falls to Castro as one of the children airlifted without their parents to Miami. The New Yorker called the author’s style as “urgent and so vividly personal.”

Havana Real: One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth about Cuba Today by Yoani Sanchez
The amazon description says it all: “She’s been kidnapped and beaten, lives under surveillance, and can only get online—in disguise—at tourist hotspots. She’s a blogger, she’s a Cuban, and she’s a worldwide sensation. Yoani Sánchez is an unusual dissident: no street protests, no attacks on big politicos, no calls for revolution. Rather, she produces a simple diary about what it means to live under the Castro regime: the chronic hunger and the difficulty of shopping; the art of repairing ancient appliances; and the struggles of living under a propaganda machine that pushes deep into public and private life.”


Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten
NPR correspondent Gjelten follows the story of the Bacardi family’s rum empire and how it has been entwined with Cuba’s fate over the past 150 years. A different angle from which to view history and very entertaining. Salud!

Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis by Robert F. Kennedy and Arthur Meier Schlesinger
Perhaps the definitive account of the Cuban Missile Crisis by the late RFK, a major player in the event.

Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Lost it to the Revolution by T. J. English
The rumors have always run rife about the Mob’s links to pre-Revolution Cuba and English aims to write the definitive account of what really happened in all its “sexy, decadent, ugly glory.”

Without Fidel by Ann Louise Bardach
Award-winning reporter Bardach caps a decade of books about contemporary Cuba and Cubans in Miami and their lobbying power with this portrait of Fidel and Raúl Castro.


The Houses of Old Cuba by Llilian Llanes
Distinctive architecture of Cuba from the curator of the Museo Wilfredo Lam in Havana, complete with discussion of how the architecture is influenced by tropical climate and cultural heritage.

Estefan Kitchen by Emilio Estefan
Music and food! Who could ask for anything more? Emilio and Gloria Estefan offer up recipes from their Bongos Cuban Café as well as “personal accounts, culinary inspiration, and Cuban cuisine’s historical context.” A lovingly written and presented keepsake cookbook.

What titles would you recommend we add to this list?

HAT DANCE, Carmen Amato’s latest book in the Emilia Cruz series set in Acapulco, is FREE today for L4LL Kindle readers! Click here to get your free ebook and remember to leave a review when you finish the book.

HAT DANCE follows CLIFF DIVER, the first book in the Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco which was praised by Kirkus Reviews as “consistently exciting.”

In HAT DANCE, Detective Emilia Cruz will risk a dance with the devil in a desperate attempt to stop an arsonist and find a missing girl. But when the music stops, the consequences will be deadly.

Check out all Carmen’s books at and connect with her on Twitter @CarmenConnects or Her Pinterest boards illustrate her books and can be found at

An L4LL Interview with Author Agustin D. Martinez

It is always a treat when one author gets to interview another. We know the work that goes into each book, love to hear about what inspires a fellow scribbler to turn thoughts and imagery into words, and can’t resist probing to find out what parts of another author’s background is revealed in a book’s pages.

This week I was lucky enough to chat virtually with Agustin D. “Gus” Martinez, the author of the Prize Americana-winning novel, The Mares of Lenin Park, and am delighted to share the experience with L4LL readers.

Carmen Amato: You write in many genres. Tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you to become such a diverse writer.
Guz Martinez: I grew up in Miami, Florida and taught English in Miami before moving to the Washington, DC area where I currently reside and still work in the field of education. In high school and college, I was involved in theatre, and therefore, I began my writing career writing plays. From there, I began writing short stories, and ultimately, my first novel, The Mares of Lenin Park.

When I write, there are certain topics or characters that I feel should be written in one of these forms, plays or fiction. Sometimes, it is necessary for me to tell a story using only dialogue and stage directions, while there are certain topics, such as Uli’s story in Mares, which I feel could only be told in the form of a novel, one reason being that the setting in the novel is as much a character as are the actual characters in the book.

CA: Your book, The Mares of Lenin Park, has an unusual title. Tell us what it means and how you chose it.
GM: Students of mine used to tell me about a park they visited as children, Lenin Park. I developed almost an extended metaphor of mares in the park, old and graying, with blinders on, yet they carried on not knowing what existed outside of their line of sight. In the novel, this image comes up a few times symbolizing how, unfortunately, we sometimes live within the confines of what we see or hear, not knowing of other worlds that exist outside our own. The image I painted in the book is almost the same as that in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

CA: The Mares of Lenin Park address many themes; Cuban life, the Russia-Cuba relationship, drug culture, and coming-of-age issues. How did you research all this and how much is drawn from your own background?
GM: Growing up in Miami, I constantly heard stories of what Cuba was like before and after the Revolution, what my parents and immediate family experienced and how they were divided on the political beliefs early on. In fact, some family still remains in Cuba. Aside from stories I heard growing up, students of mine in Miami told me numerous stories of what life in the early ‘90s was like in Cuba without the support of the Soviet Union. This period interested me, and I decided to set the novel during this “special” period, as Castro referred to it. I further interviewed family who visited from Cuba, and through the Internet, I was able to communicate with my aunts, uncle and cousins who still reside in Havana.

CA: Describe the ideal audience for The Mares of Lenin Park.
GM: Some people believe that since the book’s protagonist is a teenage boy that this is a young adult novel. It may be; however, I think it is a true crossover novel and many of my readers, who are mostly adults, seem to enjoy the novel just as much as some of the teenagers who have read the book. I believe that the themes are universal, not just themes that relate to the coming-of-age of Uli Aguilera.

CA: What author or book has influenced you the most?
GM: I was immediately hooked to the writings of Mark Twain as an adolescent. His stories, themes, and use of satire have influenced my writing greatly.

CA: Do you think that much Latino literature is widely read outside the Latino community? Why or why not?
GM: I’m really not sure about this. I know that I am always on the lookout for Latino literature. I think more and more, Latino writers such as Junot Diaz are making a big splash in the literary community.

CA: What should Latino authors be doing to promote literacy and the love of reading?
GM: As an educator, I believe that Latino authors must promote literacy by working with schools or colleges around the country. Whether it be doing readings, signings, or just letting those in education know that our books are out there is vital. For example, I have contacted various school districts around the nation to consider my book as one of the books taught in English classes. I was surprised at all the positive response I received!

CA: What are you currently reading?
GM: I’m currently reading and almost finished with Yoani Sanchez’ book, Havana Real, based on her blogs that she wrote as a Cuban dissident. It’s fascinating! I should’ve picked it up sooner.

CA: How can L4LL readers get in touch to find out more about your books, plays, and short stories?
GM: They can always visit my book’s Facebook page, or contact me directly at I love hearing from readers!

Thank you, Gus Martinez, for such thoughtful answers. We wish you continued success with both The Mares of Lenin Park and your other writing. You can find The Mares of Lenin Park on

And remember to help both readers and writers like Gus by leaving reviews of great LatinoLit. Here is how to write a review in just a few easy steps!


Carmen Amato is the author of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and CLIFF DIVER, the first book in her Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco which was praised by Kirkus Reviews as “consistently exciting.” The next book in that series, HAT DANCE, will be released next week!
In HAT DANCE, Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz will risk a dance with the devil in a desperate attempt to stop an arsonist and find a missing girl. But when the music stops, the consequences will be deadly.

Check out all Carmen’s books at and connect with her on Twitter @CarmenConnects or Facebook. Her Pinterest boards illustrate her books and can be found at

Matching Books and Museums: 3 Family Heritage Experiences

Did you ever walk through a museum and wish you knew the story behind the exhibits?

The solution? Read a related book or two before you go. You’ll gain context and be better able to appreciate what you see. Share your ideas, too, with your family as you view the exhibits.

Here are 3 family-friendly museums, matched with some great books for you and the kids, too.

1. The Museum of Latin American Art

The museum: Located in Long Beach, CA, the museum “expands knowledge and appreciation of modern and contemporary Latin American art through its Collection, ground-breaking Exhibitions, stimulating Educational Programs, and engaging Cultural Events.” Or to put it more simply, this is THE museum for artwork of all types from both noted and to-be-discovered Latino artists. In fact the museum’s website has a call for a ceramicist to get in touch!

The museum has a lot going on to support love of the arts: the quarterly calendar is loaded with exhibition information, the museum has a summer camp art program, the museum’s Viva Café is a great place to taste authentic dishes, and the director is leading a September tour of Mexico City’s art hotspots. You can also shop the online store. Check out the museum website for more.

The books: The whole family will be ready for the museum’s wealth of art with these reads.

Frida by Hayden Herrera: The definitive biography of tortured artist Frida Kahlo, used as the basis of the movie of the same name.

Mexico & Central America: A Fiesta of Cultures, Crafts, and Activities for Ages 8-12 by Mary C. Turuk: This multicultural activity book contains more than 40 activities and 3 play scripts celebrating the cultures of Mexico and Central America and their Aztec and Maya roots.

2. The National Museum of Mexican Art

The museum: Located in Chicago, IL, the museum is a rich offering of all the art and culture Mexico has to offer. The museum’s credo is that “Mexican culture exists sin fronteras, without borders, and we display artistic expressions from both sides of the border . . . the Museum is committed to creating a wide range of exhibitions that present a vibrant and diverse picture of Mexico and its history, as well as of Mexican communities in the United States.”

This means that the museum has a wide variety of collections, stemming from antique textiles to contemporary photography. Special exhibitions change regularly. The museum also has a number of programs for adults, teens and children, special programs such as a film and literature program, and a spectacular gift shop, the Tienda Tzintzuntzán. Check out the museum website for more.

The books: Dive into Mexico and Mexican heritage with an author the museum has featured in its literature program and a unique alphabet.

The Eagle’s Throne by Carlos Fuentes: In a series of letters, Mexico’s power players act out political intrigues that perfectly capture the schemes and corruption of a government run by insiders. Winner of the Cervantes Prize.

ABeCedarios: Mexican Folk Art ABCs in English and Spanish by Cynthia Weill et al: A wonderful children’s book which illustrates the alphabet with Mexican artwork.

3. The Hispanic Society of America

The museum: Located in New York City (Audubon Terrace, Broadway between 155 and 156 Streets) this is a “free museum and reference library for the study of the arts and cultures of Spain, Portugal, and Latin America.” The collections are extensive, including more than 800 paintings, 6000 watercolors and drawings, 1000 sculptures, 175,000 photographs, and 6000 decorative objects such as jewelry, textiles and ironwork.

Beyond these resources, the Society’s library is the place to go for ancestry or academic research. It has more than 250,000 books and periodicals including 15,000 volumes printed before 1701, as well as manuscripts dating from the 12th century. Check out the society’s website for more. (A bit clunky but worth checking before you go.)

The books: A visit to the Society calls out for classic reads for the whole family!

El Cid: In the anonymous medieval Spanish poem, the general Rodrigo Díaz is banished from the court of Kind Alfonso without his beloved wife Jimena or his daughters. He becomes a mercenary, El Cid Campeador, and sets out from Castile to restore his name. Read the dual language version for a truly immersive experience.

The Adventures of Don Quixote (Argentina Palacios edition): A children’s version of the most well-known piece of Spanish language literature captures the story of the traveling knight Don Quixote and his faithful squire, Sancho Panza.


Carmen Amato is the author of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and CLIFF DIVER, the first book in her Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco which was praised by Kirkus Reviews as “consistently exciting.” The next book in that series, HAT DANCE, will be released later this summer.

In HAT DANCE, Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz will risk a dance with the devil in a desperate attempt to stop an arsonist and find a missing girl. But when the music stops, the consequences will be deadly.

Check out all Carmen’s books at and connect with her on Twitter @CarmenConnects or Facebook. Her Pinterest boards illustrate her books and can be found at

How to Host a Latino-Themed Book Swap Party

By Carmen Amato

Want an opportunity to get together with friends and feel virtuous at the same time?

Host a book party! Not only will you have fun but you’ll get a new book (for free!) and learn what your friends love to read, too.

Here is how to do it in 5 easy steps:

1. Pick a theme

While Latino Lit is a great first choice, here are some other ideas that might appeal to your friends:

• Cookbooks
• Mexico
• Latino history

Whatever you choose, make the theme broad enough so that there are many books in that category. You can also include DVDs and CDs that are book-related if you want. Just let guests know in the invitation.

2. Invitations

Send out invites explaining the book swap party theme and how it works. Guests should be told to bring three things:

• A wrapped book (doesn’t have to be new) that corresponds to the theme
• The first sentence of the book written on a 3×5 card or slip of paper. The title of the book should be written on the back.
• If the party is a pot-luck, tell them to bring a dish to share.

3. The set-up

Besides setting up for guests with food, drinks, plates, napkins, etc, you need to have a bowl of numbered cards (up to the number of guests).

Have a small prize to give away at the end of the party, such as set of bookmarks. To make bookmarks without spending a dime, check out all these free downloads from!

When guests arrive, put all their books in one central place. Collect the cards with the first sentence for the quiz at the end.

4. The swap

Once the food and margaritas are gone, let everyone pick a number out of the bowl. Number 1 gets to pick any wrapped book and unwrap it. Number 2 can either take Number 1’s unwrapped book or pick a different item from the pile. And so on. Anyone whose unwrapped book is taken gets to pick again from the wrapped pile. The picking and trading keeps going until the final number is drawn and everyone has a book. Beware, this can get quite hilarious.

5. The quiz

Without anyone looking inside their book, read the first sentences out loud from the cards the guests brought. Let folks try to guess which book each sentence comes from (whoever brought the book is not allowed to tell!). Write the name of the person who guesses the correct title on the sentence card. After all the sentences have been guessed the person who has the most number of correct guesses gets the prize.

That’s it! Everybody gets a new book and learns a little about many others.
To get you thinking about a book swap party, who can name the book this quote is from? Let us know in the comments!

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”


Carmen Amato is the author of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and CLIFF DIVER, the first book in her Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco which was praised by Kirkus Reviews as “consistently exciting.” The next book in that series, HAT DANCE, will be released later this summer.

In HAT DANCE, Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz will risk a dance with the devil in a desperate attempt to stop an arsonist and find a missing girl. But when the music stops, the consequences will be deadly.

Check out all Carmen’s books at and connect with her on Twitter @CarmenConnects or Her Pinterest boards illustrate her books and can be found at

Author Websites: A Virtual Walk With 5 Favorite Authors

Sometimes a book is so good, you wish it didn’t end. It had great characters, a dramatic setting, and a plot that kept you up long past Leno’s monologue.

Check the author’s website to find other books and share the inspiration behind the words that keep us turning pages, either paper or digital.

Here are 5 author websites that deliver all that and more:

Isabel Allende

The prolific and fabled author has a site that is both rich in content and cleverly designed with unexpected visual treats at every turn. Little colorful sketches pop up when you hover over menu selections and a rose is her signature graphic. The site has two versions, one in English and one in Spanish.

This site offers a deep dive into Allende’s life and work. It is worth a minute to look through Allende’s biography and family photos, as well as read the Musings section, which contains essays on life, love, and her approach to writing. A new window opens for the Blog, which is mostly about her press events and foundation charity work. A sideways scrolling Timeline (under the About section) of her writing life was a well done and unique feature I have not seen elsewhere and gives everything we want to know about the author.

The site made me sigh with author envy except for the light gray text in some areas which was a bit hard to read.

Cristina García

The author of The King Of Cuba, as well as a wide selection of other novels and non-fiction works, has a website that showcases not only her books but also the Las Dos Brujas Writing Workshops that she sponsors. The Books page is especially easy to navigate, with her beautiful covers arranged in a grid. Click on a cover and you are taken to a page for that book with icons for easy purchase from and other vendors.

The site prominently displays a calendar of appearances, including Las Dos Brujas workshops and there is a link to a separate website for more about the workshops. Interestingly, the site doesn’t have the traditional About page but a C.V. resume page instead. A PDF version of the resume is available for download. In lieu of a blog, there is a Select Interviews section.

C.M. Mayo

Mayo is a prolific novelist, travel writer, translator, and poet who has had a long-standing love affair with Mexico. That spirit shines through on every page of this dense and downright fun website. With quirky retro art sprinkled throughout, the site has a lot to offer, from Mayo’s podcasts documenting the life and times of Marfa, Texas, to news about both her books and those that she has reviewed. Her books, including The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, are all listed on the homepage.

The Free For You page is stuffed full of goodies, from advice to writers to her list of essential books on Mexico. The Blog tab leads to another page chock-full of links to her current and past blogs, including her popular Madam Mayo blog, her blog about reading War and Peace, and much more, all written in a friendly, direct-to-you style.

Silvio Sirias

The author of Meet Me Under the Ceiba, set in his parents’ native Nicaragua, currently lives in Panama but publishes both fiction and non-fiction in the US. His website is a lovely and clean walk through his books and life, that lands his About section as the homepage, immediately inviting you into his world.

The website has links to two different blogs, Tropical Reflections and Tropical Perceptions. The two blogs keep his site consistent by using the graphics and background, but Reflections offers musings on “events close to my heart as well as on my life as a U.S. Latino writer living in Latin America.” The blogs are not updated as often as would be optimal but each post is a substantial essay.

Luis Alberto Urrea

This website takes the prize for Best Use of Color and Graphics. The author of novels including The Hummingbird’s Daughter and nonfiction books such as The Devil’s Highway has a standout website that includes a homepage slider that lets you click rather than zooming images on its own, a list of events, and a wry bio that makes you want to read more.

A unique feature on the site is the Book Club page. If your book club is reading one of his books, you can find discussion topics and an invitation to have him connect virtually with your club! The Blog is not frequently updated although the rest of the website is, notably the book news.

What is your favorite author website? Let us know!


Thriller and mystery author Carmen Amato’s own website is a work in progress! CLIFF DIVER, the first book in her Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco was praised by Kirkus Reviews as “consistently exciting” and the next book in that series, HAT DANCE, will be released later this summer.

In HAT DANCE, Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz will risk a dance with the devil in a desperate attempt to stop an arsonist and find a missing girl. But when the music stops, the consequences will be deadly.

Check out all Carmen’s books at and connect with her on Twitter @CarmenConnects or Her Pinterest boards illustrate her books and can be found at

Pressed for Time and Money? 3 Places to Read Short Stories Online

By Carmen Amato

Time and money. If we had unlimited supplies of both we might spend all of both buying and reading books.

But if time and money are in short supply you can still keep reading by going online to find short stories. You can find some great reads by Latino short story writers if you know where to look.

Here are three places to start:

1. The New Yorker magazine publishes the best of contemporary fiction but only older archives are available to the general public on its website. Here are 3 wonderful short stories by noted author Cristina Henriquez: Lunch, Carnaval Las Tablas, and Ashes that previously appeared in the print version of the magazine. They all reflect her Panamanian roots.

2. The website for all things Mexico has a collection of fiction short stories tucked away and discoverable by using the site’s tags. The stories run a gamut of styles and subjects but have one thing in common—they are all related to Mexico and all well written. The format of the website is nice and clean, making the stories easy to select from the main page and easy to read when fully displayed. The Sanchez Ghost was particularly good.

3. The Rio Grande Review is a non-profit bilingual literary magazine run by students of the MFA in Creative Writing at The University of Texas at El Paso. The website contains an archive all of the editions as downloadable PDFs. Each edition is in both Spanish and English, making for a lengthy PDF (latest edition is 400 pages!) so this is best read online rather than attempting to print it out. This link leads directly to the archive page.

Bonus Suggestions:

While not a strictly Latino-themed story site, National Public Radio’s 3 minute story project is an amazing collection of stories sent in by listeners, based on NPR’s weekly writing prompts. The only requirement is that stories must be original fiction and able to be read in 3 minutes. Click on the different “Rounds” on the right side of the page to load stories that correspond to that particular writing prompt. But beware! This site is highly addictive!

If you read in Spanish, enjoy, a well-curated collection of short stories in Spanish from a wide variety of countries. The website is extremely simple and doesn’t offer much in the way of a visual draw, but just lists editions. Click on any edition and it brings up a table of contents along with the country the author is from. The title is a link to the story. FYI—I tried Google Translate on one of the stories and it gave me a readable copy but much of the poetry in the words was lost.

Finally, I discovered Eyes of the Blue Dog by Gabriel Garcia Marquez on the fiction.eserver website. This link is to the story and this link is to the general archive page for short stories. A hidden gem!

Do you have a source for online short stories? Please share it with our readers in the comments!

Carmen Amato writes thrillers and mysteries as well as a blog about encounters, choices, and travel at CLIFF DIVER, the first book in her Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco was praised by Kirkus Reviews as “consistently exciting” and the next book in that series, HAT DANCE, will be released later this summer.

In HAT DANCE, Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz will risk a dance with the devil in a desperate attempt to track down an arsonist and find a missing girl. But as Acapulco burns, the dance will come with a price that no honest cop should have to pay.

Check out all Carmen’s books at and connect with her on Twitter @CarmenConnects. Her Pinterest boards illustrate her books and can be found at

Find Your Latino Roots: 10 Must-Read Non-Fiction Books

by Carmen Amato

Our lives are not just shaped by where we are and what we’re doing right now. We’re ultimately shaped by our family’s stories and the cultural experiences that provided their framework.

But sometimes we don’t know the full background of events that impacted them or want to know if others have taken the same journey of exploration. Here are 10 non-fiction books, some well-known and others less so, that take us on those journeys.

1. My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor
This memoir by the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice has been a best-seller for weeks and justifiably so. Justice Sotomayor writes with great honesty and feeling about her upbringing, ties to Puerto Rico, academic achievements, as well as professional milestones.

2. Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America by Gustavo Arellano
If you love Arellano’s Ask a Mexican column, you’ll love the book, which is more of an anthem of discovery than anything else. It combines history, food writing, personal anecdotes, and more to make this a fun and informative read.

3. The Border: Exploring the U.S.-Mexican Divide by David Danelo
Danelo, a former US Marine, walked the US-Mexican border and recounted his experiences and lessons in this book. Half travelogue and half commentary, it is a fast and absorbing read.

4. No Lost Causes by Alvaro Uribe
This memoir of Colombia’s former president, the man widely credited with bringing his country back from the brink, is a study in leadership as well as a snapshot in time of that country.

5. Just Like Us by Helen Thorpe
In Denver, Colorado, four high school friends face the future. Two are documented and two are not. What happens to them is a true and fascinating read by Thorpe who is a journalist but also the wife of Denver’s mayor at the time of the book’s events.

6. The Jaguar Smile by Salman Rushdie
Winner of the Booker Prize, this slim volume recounts Rushdie’s travels through Nicaragua in 1986, at the height of the civil war. It is a unique glimpse of the country from a surprising and articulate viewer.

7. Waiting for Snow in Havana by Carlos Eire
In 1962, when Eire was 11, he was one of 14,000 children airlifted out of Cuba to escape the revolution. His story of a childhood in Cuba as the revolution gathered is both poignant and poetic.

8. Take Me With You by Carlos Frías
A Cuban-American journalist discovers his father’s roots while on assignment in Havana. One of the best memoirs I’ve read to date.

9. Nobody’s Son by Luis Alberto Urrea
Urrea is a prolific and excellent writer but his own biography of growing up between two cultures might be his best work. With dark humor, he tells of the clashes between parents of opposing cultures and his own search for who he is.

10. When I was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago
The fiction writer chronicles her early life in Puerto Rico and her move with her mother to New York at a young age. Santiago will encounter a new language, a anew school, translate for her mother at the welfare office, and eventually make it to Harvard.

5 Bonus Books

For those looking for more scholarly works, try:
Blood of Brothers by Stephen Kinzer
Published by the David Rockefeller Center, this detailed book is probably the definitive work in English of Nicaragua’s civil war. Kinzer writes from a journalists’ perspective rather than a political one, making the book well worth a read.

Divorcing the Dictator by Frederick Kempe
Journalist Kempe shows both on-the-ground reporting chops and a huge volume of follow-on research in this book about the US love-hate affair with Panamanian strongman General Noriega. Probably the best book out there on Noriega (currently in jail) and what made him tick.

Open Veins of Latin America by Edward Galleano
With a foreword by Isabel Allende, this book delivers as promised, with a sweeping view of Latin American history. The book is organized around the theme of exploitation, making for a different style and emphasis than most history books.

Path Between the Seas by David McCullough
McCullough’s brings his consummate historian’s skills to the issue of the building of the Panama Canal. The book examines every facet of the canal, from the doomed French efforts to Teddy Roosevelt’s influence in establishing the new country of Panama.

Distant Neighbors by Alan Riding
Just about every book about the US and Mexico gets compared to this book and so far it remains the definitive work for many. It is not so much a political discussion as it is a cultural one. Riding, a journalist, writes with humor, facts, and an excellent notion of life on both sides of the border.

Do you have a non-fiction book to recommend? Please share it in the comments with our readers!


Carmen Amato recharged her Kindle twice and found 5 must-read books during the writing of this guest post. She is the author of political thriller THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and the Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco. Both draw on her experiences living in Mexico and Central America where she discovered the best coffee on earth. Her next book, HAT DANCE: An Emilia Cruz Novel is due out later this summer.
For more check out:
Find her books at

How to Use Amazon’s Categories to Find Hidden Latino Gems

Carmen Amato

Since the beginning of the month, L4LL has focused tremendously on the Latino Children’s Summer Reading Program. But we have not forgotten the adults! So starting today, we’ll be running articles every Friday on topics just for our adult readers by the talented author, Carmen Amato.

It’s the world’s largest bookseller. If you love books the way I love books, chances are you have surfed

But with millions of books on offer and thousands more uploaded every day, readers have almost too much to choose from. So how to navigate this huge online bookstore and find the Latino lit you want?

The answer is Categories.

Amazon’s Dual System

It is not readily apparent but amazon has two sets of categories; one for print books and another for Kindle eBooks. At first this might not make sense, but this system grew out of the Kindle publishing platform and actually helps the book search process. Here’s why.

A single book published in both print and eBook formats that is for sale on amazon can be listed in multiple categories. Generally print books are listed in 3 categories and eBooks are listed in 2. The categories overlap to some extent. For example, both print and Kindle categories have a Mystery, Thriller and Suspense category with a Police Procedural sub-category. Clicking on a category will take you to a listing of all books in that category in order of sales ranking.

When you click on the format options below the book title (Paperback, Hardcover, Kindle) the page for that format will list the format-specific categories.

If you search for books on a computer you’ll see both print and eBook categories but if you are surfing amazon with your Kindle or Kindle-enabled device you’ll only see the eBook categories.

To see categories on your computer, scroll to the bottom of any book page. Click on a category and amazon will not only show you the books in that category but give you a list of all book categories on the left side of your screen.

On a Kindle, you can find categories from the Kindle Storefront screen simply by clicking on “Books.” While viewing a book page on a Kindle device the categories are hidden under “Book Extras.”

Notable Categories

Amazon doesn’t have a single specific category for Latino lit. Instead, readers need to narrow searches to sub-categories. Here are a few worth checking out.

For Print:

Books > Literature and Fiction > World Literature > Latin American
This category has both Spanish and English language books in it including top-ranked (at the time of this writing) CIEN AÑOS DE SOLEDAD (Spanish Edition) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez .

Books > Literature & Fiction > United States > Hispanic
This category has fiction in English written by Latino authors. THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET by Sandra Cisneros currently tops this category.

Books > Biographies & Memoirs > Ethnic & National > Hispanic & Latino
This is an absorbing category and one that I’ll be visiting more often. MY BELOVED WORLD by Justice Sonia Sotomayor tops it with 819 reviews, too! But it is worth noting that in the same book is listed in a very different category for Kindle: Kindle eBooks > Biographies & Memoirs > Professionals & Academics > Lawyers & Judges.

Books > History > Americas > Central America
Books > History > Americas > Mexico
Books > History > Americas > South America

Books > History > Americas > Caribbean & West Indies
This is a great grouping of sub-categories and ensures that nothing will fall through the cracks in the history department, at least. My Twitter friend Alfredo Corchado’s book was #2 for the Mexico history sub-category: MIDNIGHT IN MEXICO: A Reporter’s Journey Through a Country’s Descent into Darkness.

For Kindle:

Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > History > Americas
Once again, history is one of the easiest set of categories to navigate. What you see is what you get.

Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > International Mystery & Crime
Mysteries from around the globe can be found here including CLIFF DIVER: An Emilia Cruz Novel by Carmen Amato ranked #11 in this sub-category.

Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Contemporary Fiction
This category contains many notable examples of Latino lit like DROWN by Junot Díaz and THE LADY MATADOR’S HOTEL by Cristina Garcia. But this is a huge sub-category and is a lot to sift through.

Note—amazon updates rankings hourly so the above sub-category rankings may have changed since this was written.

Time Well Spent

Click on a category to pull up the list of books. Click on a book and see in which categories it is listed. In addition, amazon will automatically give you a horizontal scroll on every book page of additional and similar books you might like. If viewing on a Kindle the “Customers Who Viewed” section is a link at the bottom of the book page.

You’ll keep finding interesting books but keep an eye on your watch. Category surfing can be more addictive than Pinterest!

Do you know of other categories L4LL readers might be interested in? Was this article helpful? Leave us a comment and make sure to sign up to get this blog in your inbox, too.


Carmen AmatoCarmen Amato is the author of political thriller THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and the Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco. Both draw on her experiences living in Mexico and Central America where she discovered the best coffee on earth. Her next book, HAT DANCE: An Emilia Cruz Novel is due out later this summer. For more check out:
Find her books at

How to Build a Latino Library on Pinterest that Rocks!

Go ahead, quote me on this: Pinterest can actually make you smarter.

Not only can the image-based social sharing site let you discover DIY tips and the ultimate arroz rojo recipe but Pinterest can help us become virtual librarians as well.

But keep reading—this won’t be your mama’s library.

Book Boards

The core of Pinterest is boards which function as virtual scrapbooks. Pinterest account holders can create boards around themes and either reuse images—known as pins—that someone else has uploaded, or upload new pins from their own images or from sites such as

There aren’t yet many boards or pinners devoted to Latino literature. Which means there’s a big gap that your virtual library can fill! Check these out for inspiration:

La Casa Azul Bookstore: This East Harlem bookstore has a variety of boards devoted to reading Latino literature and meeting the authors. Photos of books are usually accompanied by a blue papel picado streamer embossed with the name of the store. Love it! Here’s the link:

The Somers Library: The public library of Somers, NY, has a wide selection of thematic boards, including one devoted to The Pura Belpré Award which is awarded annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience for children and youth. Here’s the link:

Carmen Amato (okay, me): This international mystery author has The Latino Library and The Mexico Library boards which jointly contain more than 100 book pins, each of which link back to descriptions and purchasing information. Other boards illustrate her own mystery novels with celebrity dreamcasts, playlists and related images. Here’s the link:

Ready, Set, Pin

The magic of creating a library on Pinterest is that you can combine book images and information in amazing ways that real libraries rarely do. You can make all types of book boards and add surprising things to them.

Step 1

Once you have your Pinterest account set up, decide on a theme and create a new board with a short, snappy title. You board can be about an individual book or many books in a specific genre. For example:

  • Latino Lit from the 1970’s
  • fiction books based on history
  • Cuban-American authors
  • Book club reads

Or your board can just be about books you recommend. Or want to read. Or just love the cover!

Once you have your theme, add images:

  • Find the book page on and use the site’s PinIt button to pin the book image and description
  • Do a search on Pinterest, using keywords such as the book title to find book-related images
  • Use Google search to find more images of the book. This is handy if the book has had several different covers but amazon only shows the latest. If any site doesn’t have a PinIt button, add one to your browser by searching for the PinIt button on the Pinterest site, then use it to pin to your board.

Repeat Step 1 until you have as many boards as you want!

Step 2

Give that board some book bling!

  • Who would play the lead characters if the book became a movie? Pin some celeb photos and say which character he/she would be and why.
  • Where was the book located? Add some pictures of where the action takes place.
  • What did the characters eat? Add some recipes.
  • Was there a playlist in the background of this book in your imagination? Add a couple of music videos. YouTube makes it easy with a PinIt button on every video.
  • If the books are non-fiction, find related pictures by searching both the Pinterest site as well as using Google. Maybe there is a history website with good pictures you can use.
  • What goes with books? Images of reading nooks, bookmarks, author photos? Use your imagination!

Remember to acknowledge the primary source of whatever image you pin. If you use a PinIt button, the source link will stay attached to the pin when it is on your board. If you upload an original image from your own computer, you can add a link manually.


As Pulitzer Prize-winning authorJunot Diaz tweeted during this week’s #L4LL Twitter party, “The only way to support reading is to push books on youth. All of us have to be librarians and literary curators.”

A Pinterest library can do just that by combining books with familiar pop culture elements like music videos and getting those boards visible on social media networks.
So once your boards rock, invite friends to take a look. Tweet your boards and link to them on Facebook.

Also, post a link in the comments thread below to share and help build this community!


This is the third of my three guest posts for Latinas4LatinoLiterature and I hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. Thanks to Monica and the gang at for this opportunity.


Carmen Amato is the author of political thriller THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and the Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco. Both draw on her experiences living in Mexico and Central America where she discovered the best coffee on earth. For more check out: