Visiting Writer at Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, IN

April 9th, 2013

For this trip to Saint Mary’s College, the gentle spring rains from low clouds ensured that all the planes both into and out of Chicago’s O’Hare airport were either delayed or cancelled.However, all that drama didn’t keep this trip to South Bend, Indiana from being a fast-paced and wonderful visit.

 Dr. Ted Billy and Sarah

My host professor, Dr. Ted Billy, thoughtfully arranged a dinner my first night with fiction writer Frances Hwang and Dr. Rosalind E. Clark.

The following day brought a heavy rainstorm, but Dr. Billy and I were able to view the exquisite and original chapel of Loretto, which the founding Sisters of the Holy Cross built soon after their arrival in 1844.

Lunch brought slices of the best pizza I’ve had in my life, and an energetic conversation with English majors about various aspects of both poetry writing and fiction writing.  Most of this discussion centered around my asking the girls what aspects of writing craft had not been covered in their classes.

In the lecture hallIn the middle of the afternoon, I presented a reading from Walking Home and was touched and honored by the absolute concentration of those in attendance,  including Sister Kathleen Dolphin, PBVM, the director of the Center for Spirituality.

After dinner with many fascinating faculty members from several departmentsSarah, Sister Kathleen Dolphin and Dr. Ted Billy at the college, we all walked to an exquisite reception hosted by the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership in the historic LeMans Hall.   I then gave a presentation on “Spiritual Memoir: Crucible of Self.”  We began with St. Augustine, the first writer of a spiritual memoir, and proceeded through a few centuries to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and (of course) to Walking Home. Believe it or not, we fit all these writers into one hour!! (more or less)



Oh, yes, walking back to the inn on-campus with Dr. Billy and several of the gracious faculty members, we discovered that we all were Aquarians with one exception!   We all had birthdays within a few days of each other.  Wow!  An amazing coincidence at the end of a wonderful day!

I owe a heartfelt thanks to Dr. Ted Billy for arranging such a powerful day through the coalition of departments and centers who sponsored the visit: the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership, the Center for Spirituality, the Religious Studies Department, the Gender and Women’s Studies Department, the Department of History, and the Department of English!!  Thank you!!









Texas Book Festival San Antonio, Saturday, April13, 2013

San Antonio Diary

What a great day to share with you!  This was the first Texas Book Festival held outside of Austin, where it originated in 1995, under the leadership of Laura Bush. 

We began with a breakfast for 60 guest authors at 8:30 a.m., fortifying ourselves for the day with delicious breakfast tacos, strong coffee, and petite peach empanadas. The weather was cloudy and a bit breezy, and it felt good to be indoors and outdoors as long as you had a jacket. 

The San Antonio Central Library hosted the day.  It was a maze of streets and alleys with meeting rooms spread among various buildings in the complex.  But signage was good and lots of volunteers  pointed the way. 

 Ursuline PatioKudos to the Library Foundation and the Texas Book Festival with the elegant and unflappable Clay Smith at the helm.

My first appearance was in the Storyteller Booth signing my YA anthology, You Don’t Have a Clue.

The booth was hosted by dear friends, Becky Barrera of Scholastic Press and Nora Comstock of Las Comadres  – all of whom got up at 4:30 a.m. to put up the tents and display racks, and carry books.

Becky and Sarah

 Nora and Sarah


Beatriz de la Garza and SarahWalking Home:  Growing Up Hispanic in Houston was featured in a joint presentation with Beatrix de la Garza, who wrote of her family’s cross-border history in From the Republic of the Rio Grande: A Personal History of the Place and the People.  We both were able to respond to the many people in the audience who were interested in writing a memoir to honor family histories. Our wonderful moderator was Yvette Benavides.


Maria Christina Cigarroa and CeciliaMy last presentation was with co-editor, Sergio Troncoso, as we launched Our Lost Border: Essays on Life amid the Narco-Violence (Arte Público Press 2013).  Cecilia Balli moderated and shared her own family’s loss of cross-border experience.

Sarah, Cecilia and Sergio



As Sergio and I signed copies of our new book, we were joined by retired US Border Agent Hipolito Acosta, author of The Shadow Catcher: A U.S. Agent Infiltrates Mexico’s Deadly Crime Cartels.  His years of police activity on the border are yet another aspect  of the U.S.-Mexico border.


The day was crowned by an energetic reception on the terrace of the library.  A fun opportunity to touch base with more authors, volunteers, friends.  It was wonderful to chat with Reyna Grande, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Lupe Ruiz Flores, Daniel Chacon, Elaine Scott, Robert Flynn, Pablo Miguel Martinez, and so many, many other wonderful authors, agents and publishers!  A star line-up for sure.

Meantime, all the Festival visitors enjoyed the exhibits and excellent food trucks.

Celebrity sightings:  Chitra Divakaruni, Erasmo Guerra, Carmen Tafolla.



South Bend here we come!

I'm thrilled to be working with the faculty and students at Saint Mary's College in South Bend, IN on Apirl 9th.  Click here for their press release.


The Next Big Thing

I’d like to thank Houston writer, Ms. Lane Devereux, for tagging me as an invitation to participate in THE NEXT BIG THING.  Lane has her own fascinating project – a memoir about her and her family’s loving and complex response to the adoption of a deeply wounded child.  I encourage you to read Lane’s THE NEXT BIG THING posting at

My NEXT BIG THING is the publication of “Our Lost Border: Essays on Life Amid the Narco-Violence,” the first book to be published in the U.S. on the ravages in human lives and daily culture due to the drug cartel violence in Mexico and along the U.S.-Mexico border.  I was honored to co-edit this volume with award-winning writer Sergio Troncoso.  We are both thrilled that the publishing house of Arte Publico Press jumped at the chance to bring this important, ground-breaking series of essays into the marketplace.


The idea grew out of conversations between co-editor, Sergio Troncoso and I at several writers’ conferences when we were presenting panels on another book I edited, “You Don’t Have a Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens.Sergio Troncoso and Sarah Cortez at Texas Institute of Letters induction 2012

The genre of this book is creative nonfiction, or what is commonly called essay.

A one-sentence synopsis would be:

The personal essays in this volume humanize the news stories about the overwhelming violence that is destroying so much of Mexico, as well as endangering so many along the border.

Our book will be published by Arte Publico Press within a month to six weeks, later in the spring of 2013. Please keep an eye out for book signings on my website:

In terms of how long a first draft took, I can only answer in terms of my own essay in the book: it takes me months to complete what I consider a reasonable “first” draft, which is, in reality, about the sixth or seventh or more version in written form of my ideas.  From that “first” draft, then the second phase of revision begins.  Then the third…

Since this is the first book to focus on the human cost of such rampant violence in this particular geography, I cannot compare it to other works.  There are none published.

Who or what inspired me to co-edit this book?

My friend, Sergio Troncoso, inspired this book.  Even though his and my border experiences are very different, in fact, these differences weren’t important.  What was important was honoring the many varied border experiences of the authors and how the fragile, bi-cultural existence is endangered, or gone.  Another inspiration is my extensive background in law enforcement and public safety.  I felt that the American public needs to be aware of the extent of the drug cartels’ sway in Mexico.  It’s not a pretty picture and romanticizing Mexico as it was in the fifties or sixties doesn’t help deal with the reality of today.  These are the most hardened of criminals. Remember that any journalist who writes the truth about the cartels in Mexico is killed or threatened with killing.  Reporters have been murdered –even in front of their wives or small children – or have simply disappeared.

Let me introduce you to the two wonderful writers who will be featured talking about their own NEXT BIG THING:  Ms. Linda Quinn and Ms. Sandra Ramos O’Briant, who share the city of Los Angeles and its sun-filled creative energy. BTW, both of these writers have short stories in "Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery", another volume I edited.  Maybe, you’ll want to check them out in that book??!!

Here is some basic information from Linda Quinn about her exciting and valuable (let’s keep Latino kids in school and interested in reading) project:

1. Title of book coming out: The working title is "The Search."

2. Genre: It's a YA multicultural mystery.

3. When book coming out: 2013-2014, depends on finding publisher.

4. My blog URL:

5. Date I plan to post my interview on my blog: Feb 15th.

Here is some basic information from Sandra Ramos O’Briant:

· what you'll be blogging about

Thank you for asking me to join in on the fun, Sarah. Yesterday, I posted a review of your book, "Walking Home", on my blog. My tastes are eclectic, and my posts reflect this. You’ll find my reviews of movies, plays, museums, art, and, of course, books. Occasionally, I post reprints of my short stories and essays, and also reprints of reviews for my historical novel,"The Sandoval Sisters’ Secret of Old Blood". Upcoming will be a short piece on cricket fighting. Last Saturday I visited the Asian Pacific Museum in Pasadena and learned about this sport. Yeah, there were lots of Buddha statues around, but the battling crickets captured my imagination: Teenage Mutant Ninja Crickets anyone?

· when it's coming out or when it was published

The book launch for "The Sandoval Sisters’ Secret of Old Blood" was last October. After several readings in California, I’m preparing to tour New Mexico and Texas. My novel is set before, during and after the U.S. Mexican War, primarily in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but one of the sisters spends the war years in Texas. That war was fought to gain more land, but it was also about controlling trade, and that meant controlling Santa Fe: it was the first foreign capital captured by the U.S. An unbelievable influx of men occurred, but nary a word has been written about how that affected the New Mexican women. Until now.  The setting is the 19th century, but the issues confronted by the Sandoval sisters are contemporary: racism, sexual intolerance, the power of superstition, dealing with mother-in-laws.

· what the URL is for the blog where you'll be posting

· the date I plan to post my interview is 2/23/13