Alisa Valdes is one busy mujer–she’s a bestselling author, a producer, a literacy activist and a mother! Dubbed the “Godmother of Chica Lit” by Time Magazine, Alisa Valdes introduces the world to six intelligent, successful, funny and perfectly flawed amigas in her debut novel, The Dirty Girls Social Club. Las Sucias, as the characters affectionately call themselves, would eventually pave the way for an entire genre’s worth of smart, cheeky and relatable Latina characters written by and for U.S. Latinas.
Since penning The Dirty Girls Social Club, Alisa has written eleven more books, in addition to taking on other social and professional projects. Her latest project: Bringing The Dirty Girls Social Club to the big screen, as the movie’s screenwriter and producer. And much like the strong, driven protagonists in her novels, Alisa is never too busy to take on even more work, especially when it comes to giving back to her community. This January, Alisa launched the Latina Literacy Initiative, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting literacy in traditionally underserved Latino communities, and hosting a network of book clubs throughout the nation. Yes, Alisa is a very busy mujer, indeed!
Ten years ago you made literary history when you introduced the world to six successful, upwardly mobile, professional Latina characters in The Dirty Girls Social Club. What inspired you to share these six characters with the world?
There were a few things at work to inspire me. First, parts of the characters were a lot like some of my own friends, and I wanted to pay homage to our friendships. Second, I was eager to write a fun, fashionable and yet “deep” book about the complexity, diversity and beauty of Latinas in the United States. Mostly, it was the kind of book I had long wanted to read (chick lit with US Latina characters) but had not been able to find. Necessity is the mother of invention, they say!
Why do you think DGSC was so successful?
Beats me. Seriously. I don’t know. My readers tell me it was the first time they’d ever seen women like them in a book, so I think that’s part of it. The book I wrote for myself because I couldn’t find it ended up seeming to be a book a lot of women were searching for. I think the emotional honesty of it was appealing, and the cultural nuances, and the humor.
On January 24th you launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise start-up money to produce a DGSC film. Tell us a bit about the campaign, your team and your plans for the film.
I’m so excited! We reached our goal! The Kickstarter campaign was to raise travel funds for me and my production team in the early phase of developing the book as a film. We live in New Mexico, and our potential investors are in other places. We need to go to them, wine them, dine them. My friends and readers stepped up, and they are graciously footing the bill for this phase. Yay! As for movie plans – I’m trying to get this film made independently. We’ll see what happens from here!
What are you doing with the film that other developers and producers weren’t?
I’m going indie. The book has been in development a few other times, with big studios or networks. I guess you could say that over the years I’ve learned a lot, and this is my effort to make the best and most authentic and respectful film we can, the most true to the book’s spirit and message. Sometimes, you have to start outside of the system to affect change within it.
You mention on your Kickstarter page that Grey’s Anatomy star Sara Ramirez has provided a letter of intent to participate in the film adaptation of DGSC. Who else would be part of your dream cast? Why?
Oh dear. I have so many people I’d love to see get involved, either as cast members or as directors. I’d love Chris Weitz to direct. He’s amazing. I think he’d just kick ass. I’d like to see William Levy on my casting couch. Oh, wait. Did I say that out loud? KIDDING! But seriously, he’d be amazing as Roberto. There are so many talented people out there! I’d be thrilled to get Demi Lovato on board as Amber/Cuicatl. Or Selena Gomez. It would be amazing to have Jennifer Lopez take an interest again. Cameron Diaz. Salma Hayek. Naya Rivera. I’d also be very excited to showcase some new talent. For filmscoring, I’d love to involve someone like KC Porter, or Sebastian Arocha Morton. Oh, and I think it’d be fun to get lots of musical acts involved, too. Pitbull is interested in acting. That could be interesting. Prince Royce. Julieta Venegas. Mala Rodriguez. Stop me. I’m drifting off into fantasy land! LOL
In addition to producing the film adaptation of DGSC, you recently launched the Latina Literacy Initiative. What is the Latina Literacy Initiative, and what prompted you to start it?
Latina Literary Initiative is a not-for-profit organization aimed at improving literacy skills and fostering a love of reading and writing among underserved girls and women in New Mexico and the nation, through a continuous and ongoing spectrum of services including: teaching reading and writing one-on-one and in groups, in homes, community centers, schools and libraries; facilitated and ability-appropriate online and community book clubs; facilitated writing and journaling support groups; community lectures and readings with Latina authors; free book distribution in underserved communities; and an annual LLI Literary Festival, featuring new and established readers and writers.
You’re a novelist, a memoirist, a producer, an entrepreneur and a mother. How do you find time to do it all?
I write lists. I plan. I budget my time very carefully, and I stick to my plans. There is no other way to get it done. I ask for help if I need it. I know my limitations, and never push past them, though I do get right up against the edge.
In a recent blog post promoting your forthcoming book ¡Exitosa! 30 Success Secrets Every Latina Should Know, you state that the ability to stay honest with others—as well as with oneself—is one of the secrets to success. How has honesty served you in your career, so far?
Great question! Honesty drives me to tell stories with integrity, and those are the stories that stick with people. It also makes me have integrity as a person, which sometimes leads people to caution me against burning bridges. But you know what? I’ve burned a lot of bridges, but they have always been bridges to a place I don’t want to. I don’t regret it. Every bridge I’ve burned has forced me to find a new destination and a better way to get there. Courageous women are honest women, and to be a trailblazer you are going to have to burn some bridges. It’s part of the job.
In the spirit of ¡Exitosa!, what are your top three secrets to success?
1. Never give up. I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded. Any one of those times I could have given up. But I never let that be an option. You have to believe in yourself past the point that “normal” people think is reasonable. Keep going. Get back up. Learn from your mistakes. Forgive yourself for failing. Push on. Make it happen.
2. Take risks. You cannot succeed without risk. Taking risks naturally incites fear. Successful women aren’t fearless, but they are courageous. Courage is being afraid, and doing what needs to be done anyway.
3. Enjoy the journey as much as the destination. Success is a state of mind, not an accomplishment. Once you learn that, you’ll be successful every minute of every day, no matter where you’re at in the journey called life!
And lastly, what is your advice for Latina entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
Find a mentor. Or several mentors. Having someone who has been there, done that, is incredibly useful. Ask questions. Learn. Listen. Be brave. Be confident. Be relentless in your vision. And, most of all, do something you love.