Authors: Gwendolyn Zepeda
“Zepeda… presents a debut about the everyday struggle to find one’s way but adds unusual and alluring touches, namely the
vibrant Houston setting and the novel’s emphasis on Tex-Mex culture, art, and folklore.”
“Jessica’s evolution from self-uncertainty to self-empowerment is amusingly charted, and Zepeda’s take on the popular fascination
with good luck charms, horoscopes, psychics, and unreliable predictions is laced with rueful zeal.”
“Reading Gwen’s book was like going to a family BBQ—full of drama, juicy gossip, and lots of laughs.”
—Mary Castillo, author of
“An entertaining lighthearted Latina chick lit romp focusing on the metamorphosis of a young woman… Fans will enjoy this fascinating
coming of age tale.”
—Midwest Book Review
“The premise is quite cute and flows nicely, casually integrating Latin culture into the fold. Madame Hortensia, the entrepreneurial
psychic, is a great comedic stand-out character.”
“Zepeda is great at both voice and dialogue; the dialogue is clever and powers the story forward.”
“[A] funny and heartwarming tale that follows the life of Jessica Luna through love, tears, and plenty of laughs.”
Houston, We Have a Problema
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are
used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2010 by Gwendolyn Zepeda
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced,
distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written
permission of the publisher.
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First eBook Edition: January 2010
Blog entry from My Modern TragiComedy, Wednesday, March 8
It was a sunny September afternoon, the first day of school at Lorenzo de Zavala Senior High School, East Austin, 1997, and
I was on top of the world. It was my sophomore year, and yet I’d already been made Assistant Editor of The Monthly Bugle,
our school paper. I was sitting at my new desk—which was actually just a table, but closer to the teacher’s desk than the
table where I’d sat the day before—licking my teeth. Not only was I Assistant Editor, but I’d had my braces removed the week
before, so I was literally sitting pretty. Prettier, I guess. Well—at least less nerdy-looking than before.
Aaron Lieberstat, our best boy reporter, walked up and asked me how my summer had been. I’d always thought Aaron was kind
of cute, but had never spoken to him outside of academic discussions on student council elections or the merits of various
brands of glue sticks.
“You got rid of your braces,” he told me, a nervous smile lighting his freckle-rimmed lips. “It’s nice. Your face is very
How romantic, I remember thinking, to be complimented by a boy who knew such big words.
From there we segued into a conversation about our plans for the paper. I was looking forward to trying some new features
and formatting that would finally bring our publication into the (very late) twentieth century. Aaron was excited about a
photo essay he wanted to do on the Chess Club’s annual tournament. We were in Nerd Heaven.
Ten minutes after the tardy bell rang, Mr. Jenkins, our beloved editor-slash-teacher, still hadn’t put in an appearance. My
classmates and I set to work without him. Whereas other students, given that opportunity, would’ve cut class or set about
destroying school property, we newspaper staff students were single-minded in our scholastic dedication.
I’d fired up my trusty IBM Selectric Word Processor and was already typing up the first draft of a story when the Assistant
Principal showed up with Coach Taylor, a woman for whom a broken tibia had long ago ended the dream of a professional cheerleading
“Kids, I’m sorry to have to tell you that Mr. Jenkins won’t be back this year. He had some family issues and went to teach
at a school in North Carolina. Coach Taylor here will be your new editor. Coach Taylor, here you go.”
His words rang in my ears, for those few moments and for the entire school year that followed. For they signaled the end of
my budding success as an editrix. Coach Taylor ushered in a new era at our paper, an era filled with sports scores, jock profiles,
and cheer, cheer, cheerleaders.
We entered Nerd Hell, and in junior year I switched my Newspaper elective for its distant, genetically inferior cousin, Yearbook.
It wasn’t until college that I’d attain journalistic nirvana again. As you all know, I’ve been working at a very respectable
online publication since my second senior year at the University. (And no, I’m still not going to tell you which one.) But
that, I fear, is about to end. We’ve just had a visit from our own Coach Taylor, and it looks like the writing’s on the wall.
Miss TragiComic Texas
hursday morning, Sandy Saavedra sat in front of her former editor’s desk, in his Longhorn-orange tweed visitor’s chair. Two
faces faced her. Frida Kahlo with her monkey and her iconic bad eyebrows, from the yellowing print in its cheap frame on the
yellowing wall. Below that, Angelica Villanueva O’Sullivan—the face of Levy Media, owners of the hippest, the hottest, and
news sites online.
Sandy couldn’t look at Angelica, whose blond hair, cream suit, and gold jewelry shone too bright in the room full of plywood.
So she looked at Frida instead, or else down at the desk, where Angelica’s corporate-length French-manicured claws rested
on a piece of Sandy’s work. Sandy’s own bitten nails clutched a brand-new contract.
“The key is page views. Keep it short, keep it sharp, keep it
,” Angelica was saying. It sounded like an ad, like a woman reading lines about a smart, cute, and very expensive car. That’s
how the new editor talked, Sandy realized. Everything she said was like a sales pitch to someone much richer.
Over to their right, through the window, a parking garage gleamed in the already-starting spring heat. It wasn’t the very
best view for an editor’s office, but above the garage’s top level, only a few blocks away, you could see floating the dome
of the Texas State Capitol building, another iconic ugly woman standing right on top. Sandy felt this stone goddess watching
as Angelica sat there and said those ad words. Words that meant the end of the best writing job Sandy had ever scored. Well,
writing job she’d ever scored, not counting all those tech writing contracts.
“This is good,” Angelica said, flipping through a file with Sandy’s byline—her real name, Dominga Saavedra—neatly stickered
to the tab. She pulled out the piece that Sandy recognized as the last article she’d turned in to Oscar. It was about suspected
kickbacks between politicians and prominent local Latinos, the one that Sandy had researched and rewritten for months, and
she could see that it’d been edited all over, all in purple ink.
“This is good,” Angelica said again, “but it
be even better. You could make six whole posts from these two pages. For example…” She indicated a paragraph about restaurant
inspector bribes. It was circled and someone had written a new subheader in the margin:
WHO’S UP FOR MARGARITAS AND RAT TOSTADAS
“You know, something like that. But sharper and wittier, hopefully.” Angelica handed the pages over the desk. Sandy took them
with reluctance, and read.
The paragraph of accusations that she’d worked so hard to make subtle and ethical? Now blared
WHAT PAID FOR HENRY LOPEZ JR’S
TRIP TO THAILAND
! Then several paragraphs of crossed-out lines. Then her most prized story detail, the leaked
e-mail between Congressman Jimmy Diaz and his secretary, was captioned
JIMMY D SEX TAPE ON FACESPACE
As she read over Angelica’s bubbly cursive, dismay bloomed inside Sandy like a small toy capsule that becomes a spongy monster
in water. She couldn’t say anything. But she kept thinking,
This is how they do it. This is the way they make excuses before they lay you off
“You’re very talented, Sandy,” Angelica said. “I’ve read a lot about you, and I know you’ve worked hard to get here. Your
writing is good, well researched, and you have a subtle, sophisticated wit.”
Angelica’s flattery stood in stark contrast to the purple words she’d splattered on Sandy’s pages. If the writing was good,
Sandy wondered, why did this woman want her to change it so drastically?
Angelica leaned back in Oscar’s chair and struck a thoughtful pose. “I think, with just a few changes, you can give me what
we need for the new site. You can look at our sister sites for inspiration and mimic their style. And I think you’ll find
it easier than what Oscar had you doing.”
Sandy didn’t see how that was possible. Writing articles for Oscar had been the most natural thing in the world for her, just
like writing book reports at school had been. She couldn’t think of an easier job, or a job that she’d ever enjoyed more.
And now here was this Angelica woman, taking it away from her.
Angelica went on. “If you can deliver the kinds of posts we need, you’ll be one of our staff writers. As such, you’ll turn
in twelve posts, minimum, per day. They don’t have to be long. The shorter the better, in fact. This”—she indicated the poor
butchered article in Sandy’s hands—“would already be half a day’s work for you. You’re ahead of the game. Use these as part
of your audition samples. Write a few more—shorter, sharper, and edgier—and e-mail them to me by Sunday at six. We’ll go from
there.” Her smile, pageant-y and full of well-crafted veneer, wasn’t as comforting as she probably imagined it was. Angelica
stood suddenly and, just like that, was herding Sandy to the door.