By Pete Moss
We're sitting around in Ramona's Winnebago. Ramona fixed us ramen.
"What about this book you wrote?" I say.
"The Golden Noose?" says Ramona.
"Was that it? I'm not much of a book person," I say.
"Well that wasn't really the title. That title had nothing to do with what happens in the book. My agent picked it out and insisted."
"I was born and raised in El Paso," says Ramona. "My dad was white and my mom was Mexican. My dad was a truck driver and my mom was a schoolteacher. I was an only child. I grew up in a good neighborhood. There weren't teens sniffing glue in the alley or drive-bys. It was all hard working Mexican families who took good care of their property."
"Yeah, I know. I've lived in neighborhoods like that," I say.
"I wasn't much of a student. My mom didn't freak out though. I just didn't care. I always liked to write and tell stories. I got A's in English and C's at best in everything else. I was a quiet kid. I wasn't a cheerleader or a valedictorian or student council president. I mostly kept to myself except in English class when the teacher would let me read a story out loud. That was my moment to shine. So then, senior year, Mrs. Braunshweiger suggested I apply to UTA."
"University of Texas at Austin. I didn't get in. But I got into community college. Which was fine with me. I didn't really want to move to Austin."
"I was in Austin once. It's pretty rowdy."
"That's the reputation. I took a creative writing class at community college. I read a story in class. The teacher took me aside after class and asked what else I had. I'd been keeping a journal. I had maybe a hundred stories. Writing was my thing. Anyway, this teacher, I forget his name, asked me if I could let him see some of my journal. So I gave him about a hundred pages. Turns out the teacher was college roommates with a famous New York City agent. The teacher asked if he could send in my manuscript. I said sure, why not?"
"Next thing you know you're famous?"
"Close but not quite. The agent called me and I flew to New York City. The agent, Myron Hersh, offered me a contract and I signed it. I went back to El Paso and turned my journal into a book. Didn't take a month really. A fictionalized journal somebody called it. The book got published and then it started selling. I didn't really understand what was going on."
"How did you like New York City?"
"Not much. There were too many distractions. I couldn't write anything there. Mr. Hersh kept pushing me for another book. He wanted me to move to New York where he could supervise everything I did. I went back to community college. But people started showing up at my house. Things changed. It was so weird. My creative writing teacher treated me different. There was this reporter, I don't know if he was a reporter, he said he worked for the New York Review of Books. He showed up in El Paso and wanted to me to tour guide him and he wanted to interview me."
"Did you give him an interview?"
"Of course not. I had no idea what I should say. I'm just a girl from El Paso and all of a sudden big city reporters want to interview me?"
"That could be disorienting."
"So then my dad gets sick. I need money for a heart operation. I knew my book had been selling really well so I called up Mr. Hersh and asked if he could send me some money. He said no. 'Read your contract' he says. I couldn't make sense out of that contract. I went to my creative writing teacher and he put me in touch with a lawyer and the lawyer looked over the contract."
"You got screwed."
"Then what happened?"
"My dad didn't get his operation. I got a check for $10,000 the day after my dad died, after my book already sold 300,000 copies."
"Then I got offered a job in LA, writing a screenplay of my book. I liked LA much better than New York. I had a guest house where I could write. There were a ton of hummingbirds flitting about. There was a pool. There was a really great Mexican restaurant I could bike to."
"I prefer LA myself," I say.
"But the people were horrible. Nothing I wrote was good enough. They wanted revisions and rewrites and revisions and rewrites and revisions and rewrites. It was maddening. Luckily I got some money up front this time. I was learning."
"Good for you. So you bailed on LA?"
"Yeah. I got an offer to teach up in San Francisco."
"How'd you like San Francisco?"
"Way too cold. All that swirling frozen fog." Ramona shivers at the memory.
"Well how'd you wind up in San Diego?"
"Mr. Hersh finally made a decent offer. A three book deal with a $100,000 advance. I took the money and ran."