A Self-Publishing Writer’s Role Model. Introducing . . .

Posted by admin on Saturday Sep 22, 2012 Under Uncategorized


. . . Erika Robuck.

Three years ago when I was fishing around for what to do with my novels now that I was living so far from anything that could in any way resemble a publishing metropolis, I came across a few brave souls, pioneers, pushing forward on the vast prairies of self-publishing.

One of those very brave souls was the lovely young woman you see on the left. I read her very first blogs about her self-published women’s fiction novel Receive me Falling and ideas started percolating in my head. A voice started whispering, You can do this, Jane.

In those days before e-books, the perils of self-publishing were really daunting. Along with worrying about whether you were kamikaze-ing any future career you might wish to have or whether your book would ever be permitted to go onto the shelves of brick and mortar stores, you had to make several other decisions. Should you create your own publishing house? Should you go with one of the self-publishing firms? There were not a lot of people out there to help, and besides, you had to deal with utter contempt from anyone remotely associated with traditional publishing. And it cost big bucks.

My, how times have changed.

For the next couple of weeks, I’m going to write about the women who inspired me, who still inspire me. Today, it’s Erika.

After the birth of her first son, Erika’s life-long desire to write surfaced, and during her son’s naptimes, she completed Receive Me Falling , set on a haunted Caribbean sugar plantation.

Her son’s naptimes? Dear Lord. That in itself is inspiring, don’t you think?

After many revisions, she began the agent-query, request-for-partial, dead-silence-plus-rejection level of Dante’s Inferno that all writers are required to go through.

Her problem she began to realize from agent responses had less to do with the book than with the fact that she had no publishing credentials, no platform.

When her husband suggested she self-publish the book, she hesitated. That old stigma thing, again.

Long story short: she DID self-publish (see book cover on right). She did create a platform for herself by blogging and getting book clubs to read her novel and so on. She did create a path for other writers far away from the center of the publishing universe, so they could move forward. Thank you, Erika.

And it’s not just writers who benefit, it’s readers. There are stories you might never have heard, set in places that have never seen the light of day or the dark of printer’s ink—like my story set in Mexico, in the Condesa/ Roma neighborhood— had writers like Erika Robuck not done all this hard, scary work.

To tell you the truth, I have only recently started thinking about these women who’d inspired me. I’ve been caught up in learning to pod-cast and blog and completing all the tasks necessary to get an e-book on AMAZON. It wasn’t until I started to get close to the end that I began to remember that distant past before e-books, before iPads and Kindles, before all the wonderful writing sites and book reviewing sites.

In fact, I was reading one of my favorite book reviewing sites—Goodreads— when the book cover you see on the left popped up.

Well, I’ll be darned if it wasn’t Erika Robuck. The novel-in-progress she’d been blogging about when I last checked in had found a traditional publisher—Penguin/NAL. It was something she always wanted, and she made it happen.

If this sounds like an OPRAH moment, it is.

Anyway, you can Google Erika Robuck and read about her books and her story on her own blog. She also has lots of book reviews on that blog and interviews with writers, so if you’re looking for something to read you can get a recommendation that way.

There are going to be many, many new ways for writers and readers to connect in the future. This is especially important for voices that tend to be marginalized—women, minorities, people in rural and even suburban areas and even older people. Maybe ESPECIALLY older people. See next week’s blog about Elle Newmark who was 60 when she first published. You see, everything is changing, and I feel thrilled to be a part of this change. One small step for Jane . . .

What’s that dictum? Be the change you want to see in the world.

Okay, so what are you going to change?

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Tour of Mexico: Who the Aztecs Were

Posted by admin on Thursday Jul 26, 2012 Under Uncategorized

Mexico Series: Part 4Mexican Flag

previous article

 

Mexican Pyramid Corner Last week right after I got back from Mendocino, I read this in The Washington Post:

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Archaeologists in Mexico City have unearthed the skulls and other bones of 15 people, most of them the children of traveling merchants during Aztec times.

Researcher Alejandra Jasso Pena says they also found ceramic flutes, bowls, incense burners, the remains of a dog that was sacrificed to accompany a child in the afterlife and other artifacts of a pre-Columbian civilization.

Jasso Pena said Friday that construction was about to start on five buildings in a Mexico City neighborhood when the National Institute of Anthropology and History asked to carry out an excavation of the site first.

Experts suspected the site was an important ceremonial center for the Tepanec tribe between 1200 and 1300. The influential traders living there were called Pochtecas.

Archaeologists say excavation is continuing at the site.

It’s this kind of thing, which happens all the time in Mexico, that makes you want to understand who the Aztecs were, how they created this empire, built amazing pyramids, the remnants of which are found today in the cornerstones of museums, between rail lines at metro stops and most importantly under the concrete sidewalk next to the Metropolitan Cathedral.

For it was there in 1978 that two city electrical workers jackhammering for the metro made one of archeology’s most significant finds: the ceremonial stone depicting the Aztec moon goddess, Coyolxauhqui, which led to the excavation of the Temple Mayor, the Aztec pyramid Cortez thought he’d buried forever.

Mexican Pyramid RemnantTenochitlan, now present day Mexico City, grew up in the areas around lake Texcoco around 1300. By the time Cortez landed in Veracruz in 1519, it was one of the most intellectually, artistically developed and wealthiest empires ever to have existed in Mesoamerica.

When the conquistadores stood on the causeway at what is now the barrio of Tepito and gazed at the Aztec City, Bernal Castillo de Diaz, one of Coretz’s soldiers wrote:

And when we saw all those cities and villages built in the water, and other great towns on dry land, and that straight and level causeway leading to Mexico [i.e. Tenochtitlán], we were astounded. These great towns and cues [i.e., temples] and buildings rising from the water, all made of stone, seemed like an enchanted vision from the tale of Amadis. Indeed, some of our soldiers asked whether it was not all a dream. It is not surprising therefore that I should write in this vein. It was all so wonderful that I do not know how to describe this first glimpse of things never heard of, seen or dreamed of before . . .
 
Coyolxauhqui Aztec Moon GoddessAnd when we entered the city of Iztapalapa, the sight of the palaces in which they lodged us! They were very spacious and well built, of magnificent stone, cedar wood, and the wood of other sweet-smelling trees, with great rooms and courts, which were a wonderful sight, and all covered with awnings of woven cotton.
 
When we had taken a good look at all this, we went to the orchard and garden, which was a marvelous place both to see and walk in. I was never tired of noticing the diversity of trees and the various scents given off by each, and the paths choked with roses and other flowers, and the many local fruit-trees and rose-bushes, and the pond of fresh water. Then there were birds of many breeds and varieties, which came to the pond. I say again that I stood looking at it, and thought that no land like it would ever be discovered in the whole world . . . But today all that I then saw is overthrown and destroyed; nothing is left standing

Well, I would not say nothing. Much of it is there waiting to be unearthered.

And about those traveling merchants . . . along with jade and quetzal feathers, they also traded in chocolate.

When you are in Mexico City, you must go to El Moro for a cup of hot chocolate—they have four different kinds— and a churro. Rick Bayless just created a little restaurant in Chicago–XOCO— which tries to duplicate the hot chocolate of El Moro, just to give you an idea of how good it is.

When I’m at home and I want to make this treat, I use Mayordomo bittersweet chocolate that I bring back from Mexico. You can use Abuelita or Ibarra, but the most important thing to use is a molinillo, sort of a wooden whisk, which is used to froth the milk.

I was told by a cook in Oaxaca that the Mexican believe you are transferring your energy into the drink.

Be sure to make this by hand and with love! For that, a blender just won’t do.

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Mendocino LandscapeThe great thing about being a woman of a certain age, which you probably are if you’re reading my blog instead of tweets, is that you have a lot more time to take spontaneous trips.

Exactly what Dave and I did last week.

Just as the heat was cranking up here in the Sierra foothills, we headed to Mendocino for a few days of cool fog, fine dining and great music at the Mendocino Music Festival. Great Music. If you were there for big band night, you will know what I mean when I say Julian Waterfall-Pollack and his arrangement of The Water is Wide. The crowd was in tears and then up on its feet for a standing ovation. You have got to hear this young pianist at some point in your life.

Miguel Angel ManceraAnyway, I’m interrupting my little blog tour of Mexico City even though everyone I know is asking me about the recent elections there.

Short version: Yes, Mexico City is safe with the usual precautions you would take in any big city, and Miguel Angel Mancera—the new mayor— is very cool. Because of his good looks and single status, he’s known as the George Clooney of Tenochitlan. However, that appellation belies his very real seriousness. As Mexico City’s Attorney General, he has been largely responsible for the security of Mexico City over the past several years and one of the reasons it’s so safe.

And I am planning to go to the DF after the summer monsoon rains there are over.

Now if I could just get George Clooney to play the role of Alejandro in the film version of Palace of the Blue Butterfly . . .

Mendocino SunsetMeanwhile back in the real world. . . . Well sort of real, because what could be more heavenly than this view from my rocking chair at The Little River Inn, the Mendocino hotel where we stayed.

Okay, a couple of things maybe, one of them being a great book to get lost in like Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins. You don’t need a blurb by me about this novel. Just get on Goodreads and you can find out all about it. Or better yet, go to Mendocino, get tickets for the Mendocino Music Festival and wander into the Gallery Bookshop to get a copy of Beautiful Ruins. I saw it on display there as an Independent booksellers’ choice.

I loved reading this book with the sound of waves crashing on rocks and the buoy bell in the cove below warning of shallow water. All very cozy and romantic.

Just to give you all a taste, so to speak, of my recent foray to the wild California coast, here’s The Little River Inn’s delicious olallieberry cobbler— a perfect summer dessert.

OLALLIEBERRY COBBLER
Little River Inn
Mendocino, California
Yields 12 to 14 servings

8 cups olallieberries, cleaned and picked over
2 cups sugar
½ cup flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat over to 300˚. Mix all ingredients gently in a bowl, just enough to combine. Place in a 9” x 13” baking pan and shake to make a flat surface. Set aside.

Pastry

1 cup flour
Pinch of salt
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon shortening
1 tablespoon softened butter
1 ½ tablespoons ice water
Egg white and sugar for topping

Place the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Pulse twice, then add shortening and butter. Process for about 15 seconds, then add the ice water. Process briefly, until the mixture is like a paste. Turn the pastry onto a floured surface and shape into a ball. Roll the crust with a floured rolling pin, shaping it to be slightly larger than the pan. Place the crust gently on top of the cobbler. Brush with egg white, dust with sugar, and bake for 1 hour and 25 minutes. If the crust needs more browning, bake for up to 12 minutes more. How much time you need to bake depends on the temperature of your oven.

Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and enjoy!

Mendocino Beach

Note: This recipe works in a conventional oven only. Do not use a convection oven.

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Palace of the Blue Butterfly: Chapter Nine Posted

Posted by admin on Friday Feb 3, 2012 Under Uncategorized

I love this picture of a bookstore/cafe in the historic center of Mexico City. I imagine, but I’m not certain, that the cafe is on the second floor, and that (if I were there) I could buy a book, climb the stairs, order an espresso and read a novel well above the hustle and bustle of the narrow streets.

But I’m not there. I’m sitting at my desk slooooowly proofreading my book. I remember a well- known mystery writer telling me he always held carrots in front of his nose at this point in the novel writing process. “Eight pages and I can get up and play with the cat. Eight more pages and I can make some tea. Eight more pages after that and I can check the mail.”

In order to speed things up, I’m forgoing blogging about life on the ranch this week so that I can put up another chapter. Since each one takes me about three hours to proof and post, and since life on the ranch doesn’t come to a dead stop just because I need time to do this, I’m going at a snail’s pace. But, I really want to get this book up on Amazon sooner rather than later, and in order to do that, I have to apply seat of pants to seat of chair and not drift off into some dreamy state. In my case, it’s eight more pages and I can go fill the cattle trough!

Writing is fun, but copy editing . . . uh, not so much. That’s why there were some glitches in Chapter Eight. I wandered off. The glitches have now been corrected. If you haven’t gotten that far, then just ignore this message. If you have, well I’m sorry for the pronoun confusion — there’s a reason that happened. However, now you can go back and take a look.

Rest assured that after I’ve gone through all this, a professional copy-editor will have a go at it. Then it’s off to the e-book formatter and up on Amazon. com.’s Kindle store.

I suppose this is always the kind of thing you see if you lift the hood up and take a look at the engine of any creative endeavor. All that sort of messy stuff. Still, the engine is not what I want my readers to see. Kind of breaks up the narrative dream. While that’s all very post-modern and stuff, it’s not my style. I’m a traditional women’s fiction writer through and through.

But, back to the chapters at hand . . .

If you’ve been to Mexico City, you’ll know the Plaza Tolsa where Lili is having lunch. If you haven’t been, well, here’s a photo on the right.

You’ll get the feeling.

And just to nudge your imagination a bit more, here’s the restaurant Los Girasoles on the left where she’s dining.

BTW—Fabulous food. Great margaritas.

Before I sign off here, I’ve got a little announcement. Any of you within range of KVRP Public Radio (FM 89) can listen to me read El Tropical, an excerpt from my novel Bird of Paradise. It airs February 8 at 7 pm. Hope you’ll tune in.

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Costa Alegre: Where I go from Mexico City

Posted by admin on Thursday Jul 28, 2011 Under Uncategorized

I’m a little sad to be leaving Lili and Mexico City behind. I’ve loved roaming around there in my imagination. I’ve loved being those people.

If you’re thinking of writing a novel or stories, there is no better reason to do it than the feeling you will retain afterward of having lived another life, of having seen the world through completely different perspectives.

Forget the fame and fortune part. This is the only thing that matters.

And for that, practicing your craft daily, rather than worrying about all the other junk—like what kind of paranormal, vampire young adult novels agents are seeking—is what matters.

That’s where I go from here, shaping sentences and paragraphs until I hear a character’s voice, until she steps out of nowhere to tell me her story, to let me be her for a while.

The other day I read a lovely little quote in the New Yorker by the writer Jhumpa Lahiri that really spoke to what I’m feeling now. “Every story is foreign territory, which, in the process of writing, is occupied and then abandoned. I belong to my work, to my characters, and in order to create new ones, I leave the old ones behind.”

I’ll be working on the last draft of my almost completed Romantic Suspense novel called Bird of Paradise. I’ll fill you in a bit as I go, but I just came up with another character I want to introduce into the story—Rick Murphy. Well, maybe he was the one who decided he wanted to be included. Anyway, he just appeared at the end of chapter one, sitting on a chair in front of his motel room on the beach, watching my protagonist Bee run up from the water’s edge.

Bird of Paradise is set on the west coast of Mexico—the Costa Alegre—, in funky, little beach towns like the one on the right, in sublime homes of the wealthy jet set, high up in the mountains of Nayarit, and in the dangerous Drug-Lord controlled town of Tepic.

I’ll be reading the first chapter on KVRP in February. If you are in range, be sure to give a listen.

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Adios Mexico City (almost), But Before We Leave . . .

Posted by admin on Thursday Jul 7, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Palace of the Blue Butterfly | Episode 16

. . . A quick, little tour of Monte Piedad, the National Pawn Shop.

If you go to Mexico City, this is must stop shopping.

You want to find some of those fabulous gold Oaxacan earrings? Monte Piedad.

Antique Silver bracelets? Monte Piedad.

Art Deco coffee service? Ditto.

Perhaps, like me, you just want to wander around and think of all the stories behind the jewels and silverware.

Or maybe you’ve gotten this far in Palace of the Blue Butterfly, and you want to know what Monte Piedad looks like. Well, here it is. Mysterious, huh?

And if you have gotten this far in the story, you’ll know why I asked my friend Frances Miller to take the photograph on the right. No need to explain further. Here it is, and we’re lucky to have it, because no sooner had she taken the shot than the guard ran out and told us “No Fotos, por favor senoras. No fotos.”

Well, here it is—the line at the payment windows at Monte Piedad. I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination.

A brief bit of history. Monte Piedad—the building on the left— is on the southwest corner of the Zolcolo, facing the Palacio Nacional and right across the street from the Catedral Metropolitana.

The setting is where Moctezuma’s father had his palace. “More of a city than a palace,” the Spaniards said. After the conquest, the building housed Cortez’s offices. That’s what I love about Mexico. Just go shopping and you pass through centuries of history.
Frances took a picture of the tile marker on the building. Translation: Here were the old houses of Moctezuma until 1521.

A little explanation. Moctezuma lived in the “new houses” a huge palace where the Palacio Nacional is today.

And speaking of shopping . . . just in case you’re in need of that special little witchcraft item, that potion, root or herb, there’s always the Mercado Sonora—the sorcerer’s market. And if you’ve gotten this far in the story, well, you know why this picture’s here.

I’m sure you’ll enjoy the rest of Lili’s journey. We could all use a little witchcraft and magic in our lives these days.

 

Episode 16 - click and listen

 

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Kathryn Blair: In the Shadow of the Angel

Posted by admin on Thursday Jun 9, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Palace of the Blue Butterfly | Episode 12

Remember when I said that I loved crumbling old villas? Must have been early imprinting. On drives around the south, my mother would always find these abandoned, old plantations in places like Georgetown, South Carolina and the like, would stop the car, and I’d find myself stomping through the kudzu, peering through broken windows into destroyed relics of the past. Anyway, take a look at this incredible building, smack dab in the middle of Mexico City.

Don’t you wonder who lived there and what their lives were like? Well if you do, I have a treat in store for you!

Meet Antonieta Rivas Mercado. This falling down mansion was her childhood home.

 

 

Sombra del Angel book coverA few weeks ago, my friend Frances in Mexico wrote me about her friend Kathryn Blair who has just published an English version of her very popular novel In the Shadow of the Angel. It sold 200,000 copies in Mexico and is being made into a telenovela with Televisa—kind of a Mexican mini-series. The novel is a fictional account of Antonieta’s life, really beautifully written. I want to hand a copy to any and everyone and say, “You’ve got to read this!” (Get it on Amazon now!)

Antonieta Rivas Mercardo, the daughter of the architect who designed and built the iconic Angel of Independence, was a fascinating woman, a rebel and patron of the arts during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Really, she shaped modern Mexican culture. Here are a few of her accomplishments: She founded Mexico’s first contemporary theater—the Teatro de Ulises— as well as the Orquestra Sinfonica Nacional. She supported the publication of literary reviews and books by the rising stars of the Modernist movement. And, she accomplished all this when women had few rights and could not even vote!

 

 

How she did all this during the tumultuous period of the revolution makes In the Shadow of the Angel compelling reading. Add to that a disastrous marriage and a passionate love affair with presidential candidate Jose Vasconcelos, and you can see why Televisa wants to make a telenovela out of this book!

After Vasconcelos lost the election, Antonieta fled Mexico for Paris. There she found herself up against the cruel realities that women who flaunted society’s conventions faced at that time. Here’s a link to a little Youtube interview with the author Kathryn Blair who just happens to be married to Antonieta’s son Donald Blair.The interview takes place in the house you see in the beginning of this post.

And now when you imagine Lili walking down the Avenida Reforma, think about the winged sculpture, the winged spirit (perhaps) of Antonieta hovering over her.

 

Episode 12 - click and listen

 

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Leonora Carrington: 1917-2011

Posted by admin on Thursday Jun 2, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Palace of the Blue Butterfly | Episode 11

“I am as mysterious to myself as I am mysterious to others.” Leonora Carrington

The great surrealist artist Leonora Carrington died on May 25, 2011 in Mexico City. She was 94. It was weird because my friend Frances in Mexico and I had just been e-mailing each other about Leonora, and Frances was telling me about the time she met her a couple of years ago. I’d mentioned to Frances that I was going to write a bit about Andre Breton and the group of European exiles who, fleeing persecution from the Nazis, came to Mexico in the early forties. They were a remarkable crowd. As Frida Kahlo said, “I didn’t know I was a surrealist until Andre Breton told me I was.” And Breton famously said, “The art of Frida Kahlo is a ribbon around a bomb.”

But there were other amazing women artists in Mexico at that time like Carrington. Her painting below is one of my favorites. In fact, I want to use the cover and the title on (one of) the novels I’m working on now, which is set in Berkeley and San Francisco and involves a group of Jungian analysts. Well, that’s for later. Anyway, this painting is called Theater of Mysteries.

Why was I writing this to Frances? Well, I’m lucky. She’s an incredible photographer like her father George Miller, and she also has an eye for the wonderful images one sees everyday in Mexico, the surreal images one sees everyday in Mexico. She’s generously offered to send me some photographs of some of the places you’re going to visit in my book.

As it turns out, one of those places involves go-ing into the home of an artist who came over from Europe with Breton, and Carring-ton and Re-medios Varo, who is the woman at the easel on the left.

Carrington and Varo shared an intense, lifelong friendship. It was in Remedios that Leonora said she “encountered an intensity of imaginative power that she had found in no one else.”

I found a wonderful little movie about Leonora Carrington that I’m going to embed here on this post.It takes about 15 minutes to watch, but it really gives you the feeling for Leonora Carrington, for the kind of spirit we just lost, and for the artistic — I don’t know what to call it — stew, I suppose, that is life in Mexico:


LEONORA CARRINGTON by Pamela Robertson-Pearce from Neil Astley on Vimeo.

And it will give you a feeling for the next step on Lili’s path.

After that, grab a tequila and follow Lili as she enters this world.

 

Episode 11 - click and listen

 

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Travel Advisory: Why Women’s Fiction Might Come in Handy

Posted by admin on Thursday May 5, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Palace of the Blue Butterfly | Episode 7

By now you may have heard that the US State Department has released its current Travel Advisories, and its not good news for traveling to Mexico.

I’m aware that Mexico is seen as a dangerous place. Don’t think I have my head in the sand, but I’ve been there three times this year and have felt completely safe. It’s true that I speak the language well enough, and I have friends there. Maybe that makes it easier for me.

Anyway, it’s a perfect time for some armchair traveling. You can let Lili face all the danger while you are safe at home reading in bed, well in this case, listening to Palace of the Blue Butterfly.

Why, you might ask, did I choose Mexico City as a setting in the first place? There are two answers to that, really.

One is personal. When I was seventeen, my mother and I took off for Mexico City in her huge Buick Elektra. It was a road trip moment, and we were getting out of Dodge! Anyway, I fell in love with Mexico. It’s that simple, early imprinting and all that.

The second reason? Well, that has to do with the craft of writing, with the essential element of conflict.

One of my favorite types of conflict involves a woman trying to negotiate a life in a foreign country, and one of my all time favorite first sentences is from Isak Dinesen’s memoir Out of Africa: “I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills.

Once I had the setting for my book, I had the conflict. What was my character doing there? Whom would she meet? Where would she go? And I wanted to follow, to peer over the forbidding walls and get behind the high, iron gates, which is exactly what I did. People have been so helpful you can’t imagine.

If you’ve followed along this far, you know that Lili is invited to a residence in a super excusive part of Mexico City called San Angel. ( See photo left) Who wouldn’t want to be driven down this street in a Mercedes with smoke-colored glass, have the chauffeur hop out and ring the buzzer, and be allowed into a whole other world?

Well, click and listen and you can.

 

Episode 7 - click and listen

 

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Palace of the Blue Butterfly | Episode 1

Posted by admin on Thursday Mar 24, 2011 Under Uncategorized

It’s a Thursday night after a couple of really terrifying weeks. I can’t even believe what the Japanese people have to face. Other than sending money to the Red Cross, I don’t know what to do.

If, like me, you feel the need for a little escape from real life, here’s what you can do. (Well, after you figure out the best way YOU can help Japan.)

Start chilling a martini glass in the fridge for your margarita.

Make margarita mixture:

2 oz lime juice
2 oz lemon juice
4 tsps fine sugar (regular will do!)
2 oz Herradura Silver Tequila
1 TBS. of Cointreau

Put the above ingredients in martini shaker in the fridge with the glass.

Get your jammies on.

Stick your feet in your fluffy bunny slippers.

Now shake the margarita mixture with ice until chilled and pour it into your cold martini glass that you’ve rimmed with salt.

Grab your knitting or your nail polish. (See you don’t have to hold a book. I’m telling the story to you!)

The next half hour belongs to only you and your margarita.

Just click your mouse over EPISODE 1

Now just fasten your seat belts, sit back, relax and enjoy your flight.

You’re out of real life for a while and on your way to MEXICO CITY.

Buen Viaje, Chicas!

Episode 1 - click and listen

 

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Ta-da!

 

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Mexico Trilogy Graphic Link

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