Failing Chemistry never ended so well. Mary Castillo was a second year pre-med student at USC when things began unraveling. During a trip to Sedona, for Spring Break, she walked into a gift shop and picked up a Storyteller Doll. Mary knew in that moment that the goal she was working towards was not her true dream. She realized that her plan of becoming a doctor, making lots of money, and retiring early to write, would not work for her. Instead, she decided that she would have to take a risk and follow her passion in writing, a chance that paid off. To date, she has written five books and continues to write every other day for eight hours. To learn more about Mary and her life as a writer read on in this week’s Young & Professional profile.
Freelance writer and novelist
Books published by HarperCollins Avon
Articles have been featured in Tu Ciudad magazine.
National City, California
Newport Beach, California
University of Southern California
Los Angeles Times
Tell us about your books (genre, topics, etc)
I write about the modern Latina woman. She might be a stay-at-home mom who wonders what she’ll do with her life after her little one goes to school, or a hard-driving entrepreneur. I’ve written about single moms, mama’s girls and wannabe Hollywood producers.
Some of the books I’ve written:
Tamara Contreras will never again settle for unmemorable sex. Her long-time boyfriend may look perfect to her traditional Mexican American parents – something Tamara never has been – but at twenty-six she wants more from life than marriage and motherhood. So in front of everyone, Tamara does the unthinkable: She turns down her boyfriend’s unexpected marriage proposal and leaves home for LA.
Tamara thinks she’s got the single girl-in-the-city thing down, until she runs into Will Benavides, the former high school bad boy turned firefighter. If Tamara’s parents had known how Will lit up her teenage fantasies, she’d have been shipped off to the nuns for sure! Now Will wants to make those fantasies come true permanently.
When an unexpected opportunity lands in her lap and Tamara has to choose between the career and the man of her dreams, she wonders if maybe la familia was right after all…
There’s a reason why shoes don’t come in one-size-fits all!
Best friends since back in the day, Aggie and Nely are as different as two women could possibly be. Aggie’s slim and stylish, owns an upscale boutique and a long history of no-strings relationships. Nely has a busy baby, a metiche mother-in-law, and some extra post-pregnancy pounds she can’t quite shed. And when they take a trip to a New Age spa, each friend finds herself wishing just a little that she had the other one’s life.
Thanks to the metaphysical meddling of a somewhat grumpy guru, Nely is now Aggie and Aggie is Nely – switching bodies, love lives, families, closets…everything! The grass may not be quite as green as the other originally appeared. As luck has it, they’ll be stuck this way until the next full moon! And with a husband, his very suspicious mama, a temperamental tot, a business on the brink of disaster, and a sort-of boyfriend – not to mention a sleazy stalker – thrown into the mix, Aggie and Nely suddenly find they’re not just walking in each other’s shoes… they’re running!
What is a typical day like for you?
I’m up when my Little Dude wakes up, which is usually before the sun rises! I write every other day for eight hours. It’s a job that I take very seriously. My goal is to write 20 pages, new or revised, every day. On good days I surpass that goal. On not so good days, I’ll get in five.
Most notable milestones
I published my first book before I turned thirty and then became a mom! It’s amazing to me that I have five books in the stores. Some times I still feel like the struggling writer trying to get her little toe through the door!
What’s the niche?
I look at life with a sense of humor. I don’t take myself too seriously and I don’t let my characters do so, either. Hey, life is too short and frankly, if you want stories where the characters die or meet horrible tragedy, you can get that by turning on the nightly news.
What was the first thing you wrote?
An ok screenplay called, “Blank Canvas.” Unwittingly, my characters were Latinos including the heroine who was a missing persons detective with LAPD. I remember my screenwriting professor advising me to take out the Latinos and make them generic because “there were no Mexicans in Hollywood who could play those roles. ” He was right. In 1994 we hadn’t yet seen the likes of Rosario Dawson, Salma Hayek, Eva Mendes or America Ferrera. But I kept them and got an A- minus versus an A!
What themes do you like to explore in your work?
My first three books are about courage. The courage to go after a dream or to completely embrace who you are. The last two have been about selflessness.
What message are you trying to convey with your writing?
Well, I don’t consciously sit down to throw messages at my readers. I think they evolve from what’s happening in my life. Also, each individual reader is going to take something different.
What’s the biggest challenge?
To not get caught up in the business side of publishing. I can’t be at every single bookstore and convince every reader who walks in to buy my book. The only thing I can control or try to, is to write the best book possible.
What’s in store for the future? Are you working on anything right now?
I’m working on a ghost story and a story about a young woman whose father is a famous mariachi. That’s all I’ll say for now.
How do you stay inspired to write?
I write. Some people will tell you that you have to burn incense or go for a walk but truly, you have to write.
Guiding principle in life
Discipline protects the talent. Am I a typical Capricorn, or what?
Yardstick of success
The emails from my readers. They let me know when I’ve touched them, whether I’ve made them happy or pissed them off. My favorite Amazon.com reviews are the fives and the ones. Love me or hate me; all I want is a reaction.
Goal yet to be achieved
To see one of my books made into a movie or TV show. That would be awesome!
Best practical advice
Failure is inevitable. And that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s great because that is where you learn what you’re made of. And if you’re a writer, failure brings you great material to work with!
Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture
My Grandma Margie told me that the best job in the world is an author’s. I remember she said that authors can work where they want and wear what they want while they work. I was ten and I thought that seemed like a great idea to me.
When my husband read the first draft of my first book, “Hot Tamara,” he told me, “You did it. This is the one. This is the one that’s going to sell.” A year later, he was proved correct!
My first writing teacher, Ben Masselink was the one who gave me the courage to keep going. He once took me aside and pointed to my assignment and said, “You’ve got something here, Mary. Keep going.”
What motivated you to get started?
I was in the my second year at USC and failed Chemistry. I had this crazy idea of becoming a doctor, making tons of money and then retiring early so I could write novels. Did I mention that I’m terrible at math and science? Well, I went to Sedona for spring break and we walked into a gift store where they sold Storyteller dolls. When I held one, I knew that’s what I had to do. I couldn’t play it safe, nor could I be something I wasn’t. I was a storyteller and from that day on, I committed myself to writing. The storyteller figurine from that store still sits on my desk.
Like best about what you do?
I love that the people in my stories get happy endings. We don’t see that in real life.
Like least about what you do?
The thing that I like least about what I do is not always getting to play with my son. Some times he just wants a few minutes and of course, I’m deep into a scene or in the middle of a business call and I can’t.
What authors do you think influenced you the most?
Victor Villasenor was the first Latino author I’d read. I didn’t know that Mexicans like me wrote books! From there, I read everything by Isabel Allende. I wanted to be just like her but I had to find the courage to write with my own voice and not imitate her.
At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A member of the Go-Go’s.
What was your first job?
I sold movies at the Suncoast Motion Picture Company.
Biggest pastime outside of work
Person most interested in meeting?
The Dalai Lama, although I don’t know what I’d say to him. I’d be terrified and yet, I’d like to look into his eyes and say thank you for his teachings.
Three interesting facts about yourself
- I grew up in a haunted house.
- I went to Salem, MA for my honeymoon.
- My favorite holiday is Halloween … do you see a trend, here?
Three characteristics that describe you
Three greatest passions
- My son
- My husband
- My books
Of all time? Yikes! I have so many. Hmmm. I would say that the book that inspired me to become a writer was “Rain of Gold” by Victor Villasenor. That was a very influential book.
Project Reina is a developing nonprofit that seeks to educate African American and Hispanic women from the ages of 13 to 25 about HIV. These groups of women is the fastest growing population of AIDS cases in the US.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
There is always going to be someone who will tell you no. They’ll either tell you that you can’t do this or you’re not smart enough or not “the right person.” If you really want something, ignore them and figure out a way to get what it is that you want. Or else, you’ll regret it and regret is acid to the soul.
Who would you like to be contacted by?
Readers, film producers (hey, you never know) and reporters who want to know about Chica lit.