In Désirée Zamorano's new novel "The Amado Women," the author explores the ties that bind the women in an upwardly mobile Los Angeles family, and how those connections are tested when tragedy strikes.
Zamorano makes a point of depicting characters who are middle-class, true-to-life, and Latina. “There are no gardeners, maids, or gang members in my book,” Zamorano told Publishers Weekly. "These women are professionals: a teacher, a financial advisor, and an artist.”
Zamorano, who is also a playwright, works as director of the Community Literacy Center at Occidental College. "The Amado Women" is published by the award-winning Cinco Puntos Press; additionally, Zamorano has published two mysteries digitally.
She chatted with us by phone from her Pasadena home. The author will be discussing and signing her book at Vroman's on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
In the past, you’ve had success writing mystery and suspense novels. What inspired you to shift gears in genre and write “The Amado Women”?
You say success but it was not the success I wanted. And we know what the definition of insanity is: Doing the same thing and expecting different outcomes.
I love mysteries but I knew it was time to shift gears. I think I was ready to take on a different canvas and a different way of trying to be successful.
“The Amado Women” avoids stereotypical images of Hispanics living in America. Why do you think those stereotypes continue to come up so often in contemporary literature?
I struggle with this because I get really upset. I do think the media bears responsibility because the media perpetuates certain images and certain archetypes that flood the consciousness of people. So they go to these simple archetypes rather than look at us as the complex human beings we are. It just drives me wild.
The people I know — the working class, the middle class — speak English, unaccented.
I love watching television and I love watching movies, but there’s a part of my brain that starts tabulating, “filmed in Hollywood, not one brown person. Set in Santa Barbara, not one Mexican. How is this possible?” Over and over again.
We are the dominant ethnic group in California. The emerging ethnic group in the United States. And yet, we remain invisible.
In a similar vein, you have mentioned that you are one of the very few Hispanic mystery writers. Why do you think there are these gaps in genre?
There are Hispanic mystery writers. I was at Bouchercon about 15 years ago—Rudolfo Anaya, the author of “Bless Me, Ultima,” was there. And Lucha Corpi, a Mexican American woman who has been writing poetry and novels for decades, was there.
It’s not that the writers aren’t there. It’s that for some reason, again, we are not visible. We don’t fit neatly into pigeonholes.
In “The Amado Women,” you have four women who are all bound together by family but who are also all starkly different....
That’s basically what I wanted to explore. How can we be in one family and still be so crazy different? And because the four women are so different, there are these tensions. It’s intense love and hate.
At least with the Amado women, they are not whole without the other. But they have problems with each other.
And what was it, ultimately, that you wanted to convey within these strong female relationships?
I think women have so many different pressures to balance. We have a tendency to be emotionally aware, and also concerned about other people’s feelings. How do we take care of ourselves? How do we take care of each other? What is the trade-off? That trade-off is what I was really interested in.
It’s not to say I don’t love men. I have two very important men in my life: my husband and my son. But the theme was a desire to explore women’s lives.
Is there a character whom you personally relate to more than the others?
I have been asked this question and I hate outing myself! But I think it must be Celeste.
There is a little of me in each character, including the villains. In Celeste, however, she is petty and generous, hurtful and hurting. She has bruises that's she's buried deep—like so many of us.
Is there anything you can tell me about the sequel to “The Amado Women”?
I’m thinking of the lives of Sylvia’s children. The young children. I would love to tell you more but I hate spoilers. I like knowing how the story unfolds on its own.