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Monday, July 24, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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"Chica lit" fills a niche for Latinas

The Arizona Republic

Right down to the label, "chica lit" is one pop-culture trend that was entirely predictable: Just add a Latina heroine to chick lit, then change the "k" to an "a." The only question is, "What took so long?"

With titles like "Friday Night Chicas," and "Cinderella Lopez," chica lit is a small but growing niche within chick lit, the category that has spawned such thinly sliced genres as "mommy lit" and "hen lit," not to mention such hybrids as the chick-lit mystery.

What all the varieties have in common is a focus on the real-life concerns of regular women. There's usually some added glamour, but the heroines tend to be middle-class professionals dealing with friendship, romance and career.

That some of those heroines should be Latina — in a country with 40 million Hispanics — should have been a no-brainer.

"The publishing industry expected us to be writing tales of oppression and exile and misery and all this sort of stuff they were used to, and instead we were writing legitimately what our lives are like," says Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, the Albuquerque, N.M., author who launched the chica-lit revolution three years ago with "The Dirty Girls Social Club." Her newest is "Make Him Look Good."

"I'm an Ivy League graduate, middle-class person who just lives a regular American life — you know, born and raised here, don't speak all that much Spanish — and there are lots and lots of people like me."

"Dirty Girls" was a sassy story about the careers and love lives of six diverse Latinas in their late 20s. The book sold more than 350,000 copies, earning Valdes-Rodriguez the title "godmother of chica lit" from Time magazine in a list of the nation's 25 most influential Hispanics last year.

Just hatched


Sampling of chica-lit released this year:

"Make Him Look Good," by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez (St. Martin's, $22.95, hardcover)

"Becoming Latina in 10 Easy Steps," by Lara Rios (Berkley, $14, paperback): Marcela Alvarez discovers that establishing her Hispanic credentials isn't as easy as she thinks.

"Los Morenos," by Shelley Halima (Strebor, $13, paperback). In the follow-up to "Azucar Moreno," Detroit cousins Nikki and Rosie decide to chase their dreams of stardom in Los Angeles.

"In Between Men," by Mary Castillo (Avon, $12.95, paperback). Isa Avellan, a 29-year-old schoolteacher, mother and divorcee, remakes herself into a sex goddess.

"Divas Don't Yield," by Sofia Quintero (One World-Ballantine, $13.95, paperback). Four college-age Latinas work out their problems on a cross-country road trip.

"Cinderella Lopez," by Berta Platas (St. Martin's Griffin, $11.95, paperback). Cyn Lopez's fairy-tale romance runs aground when her Prince Charming turns out to be the CEO of the TV company she works for.

"Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez is the one who really opened doors and eyes," says Adrienne Avila, an editor at Warner Books who will head up a new imprint, Solana, aimed at Hispanic women starting in 2007. "Now you're seeing lots of other authors, like Mary Castillo and Berta Platas, start to build their audience and make a name for themselves.

"It got the publishing community talking. They became aware of this overlooked market that was not being represented."

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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