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From Dirty Girls to Enlightened Ladies

Chica lit writer Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez challenges genre expectations with her novel The Three Kings.

En español | Chica lit. Before 2003, the genre — shorthand for women’s fiction featuring middle-class Latinas — didn’t exist. Then came Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez with her bestseller, The Dirty Girls Social Club, and Time magazine dubbed her “godmother of chica lit.” Valdes-Rodriguez was ambivalent about that title then, and now, five years later, as her seventh novel, The Three Kings: A Christmas Dating Story, arrives on holiday shelves, she finds the designation remains limiting. “These are marketing terms,” she says. “I don’t think this label fits exactly the type of writing that I do, and it never really has.”

But the book’s cover and plot meet chica lit’s expectations. Protagonist Christy de la Cruz, an interior decorator in Santa Fe, seems to have it all — until her handsome husband walks out. Cousin Maggie to the rescue: She arranges dates with three men who, like the wise men, come bearing gifts.

Beneath the book’s beribboned cover, however, is a story that often unravels genre expectations when Christy confronts questions of class and racial identity and learns that the meaning of giving extends far beyond the material gifts of the holiday season.

"The biggest driving force in my life has been justice." —Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

AARP VIVA was the first to interview Valdes-Rodriguez about her latest novel, on a radio station in Los Angeles.

Q. You attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston and played the saxophone. How did you end up becoming a writer?

A. I interviewed Shakira once when I was a reporter and asked her how she became a musician, and she said, “I didn’t. I was born condemned to music.” To some extent, writing is the same for me. I feel like I’ve been a writer as long as I’ve been alive, even before I knew how to write. Alice Walker once said that writers have a certain curlicue in their brain that other people don’t have. I knew at an early age that writing was fun and easy for me. My teachers and parents thought it was something I should be doing but because it was easy for me, I ended up doing something else. I went into music and had mediocre musical talent, nothing like what I think I naturally have for writing, but I worked hard at it.

Q. Was there a specific moment that shifted your attention from music to writing?

A. The moment that changed things for me was when I wrote an essay about the experience I had at [Berklee], which in the late 1980s was still very backward regarding gender equality. I wrote about some of the difficulties my friends and I had faced at the school and, to my great surprise, The Boston Globe ran it. That one article changed policies at the school. For the first time in my life I had some degree of power to do good in the world, and it was through writing; that was the moment that I switched and I started to apply to graduate schools to study journalism.

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