Names I Call My Sister
What It's About
The Story Behind the Story
What It's About
Popular talk-radio queen Marisol Avila can't keep her mouth shutand she's airing her sister Cristy's dirty laundry to millions of listeners nationwide. It's going to take more than Cristy's unwanted fifteen minutes of fame to repair this sisterly rift and re-connect siblings who are seriously...DISS-CONNECTED.
'Diss-Connected,' in Names I Call My Sister
Genre: Women's Fiction
HarperCollins/Avon A/May 5, 2007
The Story Behind the Story
This was seriously one of the most fun stories I've ever had the pleasure to write, and not only because I got to write with three really kind and talented women. I wanted to explore the relationship between an introverted sister and an extroverted, well-meaning, but CLUELESS sister. I also wanted to use some of the long-standing private jokes between me and my sisters and mom. I was asked by a reader if a place like Simplicity exists in the Denver area, and sadly, the answer is no. I based the fictional shop on a yarn/coffee shop that used to be in Denver, but it's since closed. There are more juicy details in the "A+" section at the back of the book (Author Insights, Extras, and More), so I hope you'll check it out.
"This collection of stories focuses on the relationships between sisters, whether friendly or antagonistic, protective or resentful. These four talented authors weave the complicated relationships between sisters into engaging tales. It's an anthology worth reading, but be warned: It just may prompt a middle of the night phone call to one's own sister.
'Diss-Connected' by Sandoval tells what happens when one sister spills another's secret—to a live audience. It's is a blast from beginning to end."
JRTBookclub, FOUR STARS"
"Names I Call My Sister is a wonderful anthology with four stories of sisters and the love, support and frustration that comes with sisterhood. These were all fun well-written stories about sisters and the special bond and relationships that they share. After reading these four enjoyable novellas, I will be adding all four authors to my shopping list.
'Diss-Connected' by Lynda Sandoval was a fun and light-hearted read about sisters Cristy and Marisol. Breaking her word about sharing secrets of her younger introverted sister's life, Marisol turns Cristy's quiet, orderly life upside down. There is plenty of humor in this read, which made this story my favorite. Rating: 4 stars"
Reader Reviews from HarperCollins' FirstLook program where readers are treated to Advanced Reading Editions:
"What's not to love about a book that begins with a story about a gun-toting 'packed' grandma? This book was not only about sisters but about how our, shall we say 'unique' Latin families add their sazon to the boiling pot that is our life. Tremendously funny and very entertaining."
Carmen (Newark, NJ)
"Names I Call My Sister is a beautifully written and bold collection of novellas. The sisters in each story are struggling to find themselves within each other's strengths and weaknesses. An excellent choice for a book club."
JEmily (Jefferson, GA)
"I'm new to reading chick lit, so I am glad I read this book. This was an introduction to each author, and I enjoyed getting a glimpse of the different styles they showcased. The four authors create pairs of sassy sisters in page-turning situations that could easily evolve into novels. This is a fun, light read."
JAna (Gardena, CA)
"This was an enjoyable book! The four stories in it covered the range of relationships between sisters. It shows sisters might fight, but when the chips are down, they have each others backs. Each story was very interesting and stood on its own. I was disappointed when each ended; I could have happily read for much longer. They were THAT good! Anyone with sisters should read this book."
JSheila (McDonough, GA)
"These stories made me grateful that I have a sister. I hope to see each of these sometimes scandalous chica's evolve into their own books."
JYvonne (Queen Creek, AZ)
"For those of us blessed by having sisters, for those who have no sisters but with they did, and for those who are neutral on the whole subject of sisters, this book provides hilarious respite from the cares of the day. This is a collection of four stories, replete with the kinds of characters that cause the reader to ask, 'How in the world does this writer know so-and-so?' Things that occur in these four bigger-than-life tales are the same things that have happened in your life and when they occurred, you may have sobbed in desperation. When you read the stories here, though, you will find yourself in tears...but this time, they will be tears that come from laughing so hard!"
JGayle (BEND, OR)
"A fun read about the unique and often crazy lives of sisters. Touching, zany and often times laugh-out-loud...just like sisters in real life. A great read for the beach or a breezy Saturday afternoon!"
JLori (Greenville, TX)
"I really enjoyed this book. As the oldest sister I could relate so well with the characters in all of the stories. The ups and downs, the laughter, and the sadness, and the craziness, all really happen to sisters. All the stories were very well written, and in such a great way that I could say 'I've done that,' or 'I've been there,' which made the reading more personal for me. I had a difficult time putting the book down!"
JShelly (Hermiston, OR)
So, here's an interesting question for you," Lola said, as she set the timer for the second pan of white-chocolate, cranberry scones she'd just put in the oven. The room was redolent with the warm, sweet aroma of the first batch, now cooling on the countertop.
Cristy Avila hooked the heels of her Dansko clogs on the rung of the bar stool and wrapped her hands around her thick mug, fully savoring her caffeine moment. She needed to check stock and get ready for the day's customers, but there was something almost sacrilegious about rushing through a cup of Chef Lola Martinez's award-winning java blend. Besides, Cristy worked for herself. If she wanted to linger over coffee, she damn well would. It was sort of the point of being your own boss, wasn't it? "Whip it on me."
Lola rinsed her hands, then turned back toward Cristy, wiping them on her apron. "What is the one deepest darkest secret that you'd never cop to in public?"
"Whoa." Cristy widened her eyes and leaned back, one hand holding the edge of the table edge. "Trying out the whole tabloid journalism schtick, are we?"
"Not exactly." Lola bustled about the cafe area, filling sugar and sweetener dispensers and stocking the antique bakery case with her incomparable breads and pastries. "Your sister and Wyatt were talking about it yesterday on their show."
Cristy blurted an inelegant little snort. "Speaking of tabloid journalism. I should've known."
"Anyway, they talked up this website—you'd love it. People send in handmade, anonymous postcards on which they've written their deepest, darkest secrets. The website guy scans and posts them for the whole world to read."
"Yeah. I had to check it out, and it's amazing. There are so many levels of anonymity, people feel comfortable confessing things that would blow your mind."
"Well, last night I read one where the woman admitted she'd sent money to the Red Cross during the last natural disaster, and now that she's broke, she regrets it. Scone?" Lola held one out, still hot from the oven.
"Thanks. Yum." She took a bite. "The Red Cross thing is pretty harsh. I mean, who'd admit that?"
"And yet, how cathartic for her to be able to unburden herself without fear of retribution. Another woman admitted that her first child was fathered by her husband's brother, but neither of them knew about it."
"Wonderfully, deliciously, addictively horrid." Lola grinned. "I swear, it's my new guilty pleasure. So, back to the original question." She waggled her eyebrows. "What's your deepest, darkest postcard secret?"
"Hmmm." Cristy tapped her fingers on her chin. Deepest darkest secret? Or deepest darkest secret she'd utter out loud. Because, let's face it, there was a big difference. Lola wasn't just her employee, she was her closest friend, and still, there were things Cristy wouldn't tell her or anyone. "I guess my deep dark secret is...I love Monday mornings." Especially since she'd opened the doors of her very own dream business. Now, the start of each work week felt like the gift that kept on giving.
In this era of congested highways and gun-toting, road-raging drivers, her daily "commute" down the stairs from her upper level living quarters set her heart pounding, too, but with anticipation rather than anger. Honestly, each morning, her little oasis awed her as much if not more than it had on opening day. From the antique shelves, handmade baskets, and colorful bowls overflowing with yarn and needles, to the state of the art kitchen and café tables and comfy couches in the main room. The whole place just felt like her.
"Monday mornings?" Lola asked, incredulous. "That's your big secret? Geez, could you be any more lame?"
"What's lame about it? Do you know how many people would want to gun me down if I came out all bluebirds-on-my-shoulder-ish and admitted I can't wait for the start of the work week?"
Lola pursed her lips. "I suppose that's true." She glanced around at their cozy working environment. "And then again, with this place, I can't blame you." She sighed.
Indeed. Nestled into the nooks and crannies of a beautifully restored Queen Anne-style Victorian in northwest Denver, Cristy's entrepreneurial brainchild—called Simplicity, ironically—defied simple description. It was more than your run-of-the-mill coffee shop, although it had received "Denver's Best Cuppa Joe" award that year from The Westword, thanks to Lola's blend. And despite Simplicity's number one ranking in The Traveling Knitter's "Top-Ten-not-to-be-Missed List," it didn't qualify as the typical yarn shop, either.
To herself, Cristy referred to Simplicity as a "serenity salon," but that was a little too high on the woo-woo scale for the shop's more pragmatic customers to wrap their brains around. And when it came right down to it, people could describe Simplicity however the heck they wanted to, as long as they kept showing up in droves.
A peek at her watch lit a fire under her butt. "I need to get a move on." She drained the last of her coffee and pushed back from the table. "What's your big bad secret, Lo?" "Let me think about it for a minute."
"Okay. But don't think you're off the hook." Cristy walked through each area snapping on lights and straightening displays, just as she did every morning—a routine that felt more like meditation than work. Whoever had coined the phrase, "do what you love and the money will follow," was a stone-cold genius, and Cristy was living proof. Less than a year had passed since the grand opening, and Simplicity was already operating well in the black. The house was paid off, and she'd even had to turn the food and beverage service completely over to Lola so she could focus on the rest.
Her long-standing fantasy of owning a hip little haven—a gathering place for 21st century knitters and other women of all ages who needed a respite from Real Life—had manifested far beyond her wildest dreams.
Realistically, though, who would've thought a quirky niche business like Simplicity would become West Highlands' newest version of a hot spot? And yet, that's exactly what had happened, thanks in part to her sister, Marisol, talking up the place during her number-one-rated morning show on KHOT radio. For once, Cristy thought grudgingly, Mari's big mouth had brought about positive results in her life. Her sister's incessant blather had created a buzz, which snowballed into splashy profiles in The Denver Post, The Rocky Mountain News, Westword, and 5280 Magazine. And the rest—as they say—was history.
Knitting was the new yoga, after all.
"And I'm the new Martha Stewart," Cristy whispered to herself, with a laugh. She kicked off her clogs and padded into the back room wearing the socks she'd knit with the self-striping yarn featured in this month's sales flyer. "Minus the prison stint, of course."
Best of all, Simplicity was her escape. As an introvert who'd somehow been born into a family of over-the-top extroverts, she needed it. But she didn't want to think about her family or her ill fit within the fold. Like the good daughter she was, she spent every Sunday smothered by the lot of them, and it took at least two full days to recover. Plus, it was Monday—the best day of her week. She wanted nothing more than to fondle new yarn stock in the quiet safety of her back room and ignore the twisted roots of her family tree, at least for a little while.
Plus, she still had to hear Lola's deep dark secret.
Cristy stretched her neck up to scan the week's shipments, stacked around the room in cardboard boxes. In the background, the vague mumble of Lola's small kitchen radio mingled with the birdsong carrying in through the open windows. Nudging past a large box of Addi turbo needles and other notions, Cristy bent to lug up another crate she hoped was from—she quickly scanned the customs label—yes! Her coveted yarn from Japan. Finally.
As was her habit, she wound her long hair into a messy knot on top of her head and stuck a knitting needle through to hold it out of her way. And then she tore into the box and sighed with pleasure. Really, was there anything better than a brand new pile of Noro yarn?
She'd purposely scheduled all her deliveries to arrive late on Saturday afternoons so she could anticipate opening them first thing each Monday. Which was why, contrary to the norm in the industrialized world, she leapt out of bed early every Monday, excited to dash downstairs and go to work.
It all came down to tricking the brain.
And that was a good deep dark secret, no matter what Lola thought about it.
She was elbow-deep in variegated strands of wool and totally blissed out on solitude when she heard the oven timer ding. Out of habit, Cristy glanced up at the retro wall clock, then smiled toward the archway leading to the kitchen. That timer went off each morning at the exact same time, which made her giddy. She so totally loved ritual and routine. Maybe that could be another deep dark secret. Spontaneity was overrated. "Lola?"
"Be there in a sec."
"Have you come up with your deepest darkest?"
"I think so."
Cristy stood up, squishing a multicolored skein of Kureyon in her palm. "Wait until you see what we got from Japan."
"Okay," Lola called. "Let me get a pot of 'what's the friggin' point?' going."
"Yeah, we call that decaf. Many people enjoy it."
"Whatever. It's an insult to coffee the world over."
Cristy laughed. Lola was a culinary school graduate who had come to Simplicity on the heels of a prestigious personal chef position. Her former boss? The second-wealthiest pro-athlete-turned-business-mogul in Denver, behind John Elway, of course. Unfortunately, the guy was also a morally-devoid, misogynistic prick—Lola's exact description. After he'd crossed one too many of Lola's lines, she'd "turned in her resignation," Lola style.
Rather than typing out a letter he'd no doubt ignore, she baked the man an elaborate, ten-layer cake, then decorated it in her trademark exquisite fashion—right down to the phrase, "Go Fuck Yourself, Pin-dick," written out in perfect, 48-point, buttercream script. For maximum effect, Lola had the cake delivered it to the man's office during his most important meeting of year.
Some people might have counted the cake deal as a red flag during the hiring process. Not Cristy. The fact that Lola had willingly divulged details of the comeuppance had pretty much guaranteed her the job at Simplicity. If there was one thing Cristy could appreciate, it was honesty. Not to mention, a memorable parting shot. Great exit lines only popped into her mind after the opportunity to dole them out had passed. Lola had guts and one hell of a résumé, so Cristy hired her—simple as that, and trusting her instincts had paid off. Lola fit so seamlessly into Simplicity, Cristy had a hard time remembering how things had been before she'd arrived. Plus, having an actual chef in charge of all the food and beverages had more than quadrupled sales and accounted for a large percentage of their return customer base. Denver loved Lola's baked goods, and Cristy paid her well for the privilege of being the sole supplier.
"Quick, turn on the radio," Lola said, breathlessly, as she blew into the room like a zephyr. She wore the standard chef's black checked pants and white jacket, but her long, red dreadlocks bounced against her shoulders as if in defiance of tradition. She handed Cristy a fresh mug of coffee and set a plate of scones on one of the shipping boxes. In the background, the brewing decaf gurgled, its rich smell permeating the whole place. "Hurry. I don't want to miss any of the show."
Cristy sighed. Okay, so Lola had one fault: she was addicted to Marisol's morning radio show.
"Not this morning, Lo. Please? I'm so enjoying the peace and quiet, which disappears instantly whenever my big sister's voice invades my space." She crossed her arms over her middle. "Besides, I'm pissed at her."
"Why this time?" Lola bit into a scone.
"Yesterday at brunch, she leaned across the table and announced—loudly—that I needed some hardcore tweezer time, because my overgrown eyebrows were starting to make me look like Frida Kahlo."
Lola bit back a laugh, then scrutinized Cristy's face.
She nodded, lips pursed. "Don't sweat it. The unibrow looks fine to me."
"Shut up!" Cristy slapped a palm to her browline. Okay, okay, so she'd pluck. Sheesh.
"I'm only kidding. Everyone knows how your sister is." Lola's lips quivered, and she cleared her throat. "Plus, you have to admit, it's kind of funny."
Cristy bugged her eyes and reached for the second scone she probably shouldn't eat. "Funny? That's it, woman. No radio for you."
"Come on, please? She and Wyatt are in rare form today."
"Now, there's a shocker," Cristy muttered, around a mouthful of scone.
"No. I mean, worse than usual. I'd be surprised if they don't wind up in a fist fight. They're courting fines from the FCC, big time."
Cristy swallowed, then studied her friend as though she were psychotic. "You say that like it's a good thing."
"It's damned entertaining radio, I'll say that much." Lola picked up a skein of the Japanese wool. "Great colors." She held them to her cheek. "A good match for my skin tone. You should knit me something."
Cristy brushed the crumbs from her fingers. "Knit it yourself. I taught you how." She splayed a palm on her stomach. "God, your scones are pure evil."
"I know," Lola said, with a wink. "And creating them is both a science and an art, which is why I have no time to knit. So, if you won't knit me something, at least show me your appreciation by—"
"Turning on the radio," they said, in unison.
"Exactly," Lola added, with a nod.
"Fine." Cristy rolled her eyes, then ambled toward the stereo. Truthfully? She usually gave in. Marisol and Wily Wyatt often discussed topics that were better left alone, if you wanted her opinion. But she'd been enjoying the show much more since she forbade Marisol from mentioning her at all. Her business? Yes. But after one embarrassment too many, her personal life was now one-hundred-percent, no exceptions off-limits. That was the new rule.
Surprisingly, Marisol had agreed to it.
At least now she didn't have to listen to the show with bated breath, just waiting for Marisol to whip their family skeletons out of the closet and parade them around for complete strangers to ridicule.
"First tell me your secret, Lo."
"Oh." Lola shrugged. "It's probably the cake thing."
"That's not a secret. Cheater." She switched on the sound system, then spun toward Lola, who was gleefully pawing through the Noro shipment. "If I must suffer through their nonsense, catch me up. What are they arguing about today?"
"Jesus," Cristy muttered, closing her eyes for a moment. "My poor mother. Never mind, don't tell me."
"It's interesting stuff. Besides, your mother loves Marisol's radio 'tude. Where do you think Mar got it from?"
"Good point. More's the pity."
Lola drew out a skein of magenta alpaca and sniffed it reverently. "It all started with a debate about that strip club ban the right wingers are trying to get on the ballot."
"Politics. Great." Cristy scoffed. "Glad they're avoiding the incendiary topics."
"Yeah, well, Wyatt is on his 'once a slut, always a slut' soapbox, and your sister is defending the rights of women who choose such employment. And doing a bang-up job, I might add. No pun intended."
"Swell. My sister—great defender of fallen women." She rubbed the headache points on her temples. "Why couldn't I have been an orphan?"
"Shhh!" Lola said, pointing toward the speakers.
"Listen," came Marisol's clear, loud voice over the airwaves, "say what you will about sex workers, but it's not all about female degradation or a way for junkies to get their next fix. I know a lot of doctors and lawyers—businesswomen, too— who used money from sex work for grad school."
"Prostitute lawyers? That's brilliant. And fitting! I mean, usually when you hire a lawyer, you end up getting screwed anyway." Wyatt cracked up at his own joke.
Marisol laughed, too, but quickly straightened up. "Sex work and prostitution aren't synonymous, Wyatt. There's stripping, on-line modeling. Even, I don't know, phone sex."
"Like those are any better?" Wyatt laughed.
"Hey, post-graduate work is expensive. These women can earn a lot more money stripping their way to an MBA than waiting tables at some chain restaurant for crappy tips. If it helps them to become highly productive members of society, I'm all for it."
Cristy's inner alarm started to ping at about, ohhh, windchime volume. Just a niggling nudge for her to listen closely. Not to worry, though, because Marisol had promised....
"That's bull! Name one professional who has done it."
"It's not my place to name names. You know that."
He laughed. "That's because you don't have names to name. I can smell an Avila bluff a mile away."
"I'm not bluffing!"
"Riiiiiight." Wily Wyatt's voice dripped with überskepticism. He knew precisely how to prod Marisol into a verbal battle with his arrogant banter—one of the reasons they were so popular with listeners. "Then answer this, yes or no. You'd honestly trust a lawyer or doctor if you knew she'd table-danced her way through college?"
"Darn right I would. In fact—" Marisol cut herself off—a wholly uncharacteristic move.
Cristy could almost hear her sister weighing her pros and cons, and in that split second, her internal alarm volume cranked up to air raid siren level. She stood immobile, transfixed with the voices emanating from her sound system. Blood began to pound in her ears. Her sisterly psychic connection warned her to brace for the impending verbal train wreck before she even heard the whistle. "Uh-oh."
"What?" asked Lola.
"Nothing." Her sister never hesitated before a blurt. Never. There had to be a reason, and logic said....
But, no. It couldn't be, because Marisol had promised—
"Give it up," said Wyatt.
"Well...." said Marisol.
"No. I'm begging," Cristy whispered, moving closer to the speaker on wobbly legs. "Don't give anything up."
"Shhh!" She flapped her hand in Lola's direction.
"Come on," Wyatt prompted, in his well-honed cocky tone.
"Never mind," Marisol said.
Cristy exhaled in relief.
But Wyatt wouldn't let it drop. "You can't defend it, can you? I win this round. Just admit it, Avila. You're wrong. I'm right. Ha! No one would trust a professional if they knew she'd tramped her way through school."
"Not only am I offended by your use of the word "tramped," but I happen to know you're dead wrong," was Marisol's sharp retort. "And I have a great example."
Cristy inhaled sharply and braced herself.
"Well, don't keep Denver waiting."
"Yes! Keep them waiting," Cristy shouted.
Marisol released an audible breath. "Okay, so—"
"—my sister won't be thrilled that I broke a promise to her, but it's for a noble cause."
"Damnit!" Cristy covered her face with hands that had gone morgue slab cold. "No, no, no, NO!"
"What the hell am I missing here?" Lola asked.
Cristy heard the bewilderment in Lola's question, but knew she didn't have to answer. Lola, and the whole freakin' world, would know her true deepest, darkest secret soon enough. She raised her eyes heavenward. "God? I know you're swamped, but please be listening," she said, in a rush of words she knew were wasted. "I will never ask for anything again if you somehow stop Marisol from saying—"
"My baby sister, Cristy—"
"Shit!" She stomped.
"—the highly successful owner of Simplicity in West Highlands—"
"—worked as a phone sex girl during grad school."
"What?" Wyatt blurted, half-astonishment, half-laughter.
Marisol raised her voice and kept talking. "You asked, and I'm providing you with concrete proof that I am right and you are dead wrong. There is no question Cristy is a self-made business mogul, right?"
"But nothing. My kid sister is neither a tramp nor a slut. Hell, she barely dates, but that's a whole different topic. And yet she launched that business of hers with well-earned phone sex money, and I'm damn proud of her for doing so. What do you think of that?"
"Is that true?" Lola gasped, just as Cristy yelled, "You bitch!" at the stereo speaker.
"Is it? Is it true?"
In the background, Wyatt was hollering, "Bombshell! Bombshell! Bombshell! Folks, the phone lines are blowing up in the studio. Give us a call if you have a comment about today's topic. Little Cristy Avila, one of Denver's most successful up- and-coming business owners, was a phone sex girl. Now that's the way to spice up your Monday morning commute. Cristy, if you're out there, how about calling in and giving the listeners a little sample. 303-555-HOTT. Bucka-wow!"
"I am going to kill her." Cristy sank to the floor cross- legged. Her body thrummed with the kind of prickly adrenaline surge brought about by pure shock. "I can't believe she did this! Again! She promised she wouldn't ever tell a soul, Lo." Cristy peered up at her friend with wide, round eyes. "How could she throw me under the bus like that?"
"Shit on rye," Lola said, in a reverent tone, as her lips spread into a smile. "It is true."