March 18, 2005

National City a major influence in writer’s life

Novelist Mary Castillo will be reading from her first novel “Hot Tamara” at Bay Books, in Coronado

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

When Mary Castillo was a kid, she would take the 602 bus from her great-grandmother’s house near 24th. St. to the National City Public Library.

It was there where she first read novels by Anne Rice, Isabel Allende and Victor Villaseñor, some of the most important writers in her life.

It was also at the National City Public Library where Castillo was able to develop her love for writing.

“I used to live inside that library,” she recalls. “I loved catching the bus and going there.”

So now that Castillo’s first novel, “Hot Tamara” (Avon Trade, 2005), has been published, she said she feels excited that she will join her favorite authors in the shelves of the National City Library.

“It’s a great honor to know that my book might be in those shelves,” Castillo said.

But in order to see her book “Hot Tamara” in print, Castillo had to live through rejection after rejection—21 times!

But that didn’t stop this National City-born novelist from being persistent.

“In total I’ve been rejected 21 times,” said Castillo, who now lives in Costa Mesa. “I kept going because I could easily see myself driving my car off the Newport Pier than giving up on publishing a book. Before I sold ‘Hot Tamara’ I wrote during my lunch hour, during traffic to and from work (using a tape recorder of course), on weekends, at night, and yes, on those really slow boring days when I was the only one working at the office.”

“Hot Tamara” is a romantic comedy about Tamara Con-treras, 26-year-old Mexican-American woman who is struggling between the traditional life her parents want her to live (marriage, children, a house…), and the freedom she wants.

But after running into Will Benavides, her life –especially her love life—completely change.

So now Tamara has another decision to make—choose her career or choose the love of bad boy Will?

“In my book I try to inspire passion,” Castillo said of “Hot Tamara.” “I hope that when people read it, they enjoy it.”

Indeed, Castillo has inspired lots of passions in her readers.

“I’ve gotten a lot of e-mails from women from all over the world,” she said. “Most of them are good reviews, telling me how wonderful the book is. Some readers have wrote to me telling that they hated the book. Either way, I know reading it moved them, for good or for bad, but moved them.”

Although the novel isn’t autobiographical, Castillo created the fictional town in her novel based on National City, she said.

“The town is near Montebello, so is basically National City but closer to L.A.”

After her novel came out, Castillo’s writing has been to another Latina writer, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, author of “Playing with Boys” and “Dirty Girls Social Club.”

But there’s no rivalry between the two, Castillo said. “Valdez has been very supportive, but our books are very different. The only thing we have in common is that we write about Latinas,” Castillo said.

Valdes-Rodriguez wrote: “Don’t know who Mary Castillo is? You will. She’s a hot new Latina novelist, writing about modern women in America.”

Castillo has some advice for those young Latinas who might be interested in becoming professional writers: “You have to be very creative. You need lots of courage to say you’re a writer and face the criticism your writing might receive. You have to listen to your heart and break free, and see what the world has to offer.”

In April, St. Martins Griffin will release “Friday Night Chicas,” an anthology of Latina Lit featuring Castillo’s novella, “My Favorite Mistake.”

Mary Castillo will come home to read from “Hot Tamara” and have a raffle at a special book-signing event on Friday, March 18th, 6:30 p.m. at Bay Books, 1029 Orange Avenue in Coronado.

Mary Castillo’s official website is

Letters to the Editor Return to the Frontpage