Alisa Valdes is a gifted writer, and – like many others who practice this trade – a haunted one.
“I didn’t become a writer,” she told me. “I was born condemned to live as a writer. I was given a gift. And if I don’t use it, it’s disrespectful to whoever gave it to me.”
These days, Valdes is living her dreams even as she fends off nightmares. Monsters appear in her personal life – and in the public square. The personal challenges include pain, heartbreak, doubt, self-loathing, sadness. The public menace is a blowhard who awoke Americans’ prejudice and conned his way into the White House.
Convinced that evil is descending upon us like a medieval plague, the Latina novelist and avid Donald Trump critic is afraid for her country – and itching for a fight. She thinks artists should be in the revolution business because they feel and see things others don’t. As the daughter of a father who was born in Cuba and a mother whose ancestry is Mexican and Irish, she thinks Trump is dangerous and must be opposed at every turn.
Valdes knows how to fight. Her writing career has been full of wins and losses.
“Since I was 20 years old, I’ve wanted to be an artist full-time,” she said. “But it doesn’t work financially. So I have a day job, then I do what my heart loves in my spare time.”
High points: Years ago, after studying music and journalism at the best schools, she gave up being a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and tried her hand at fiction. Words came like water out of a fire hose. She wrote a novel in six days. It was about a group of Latinas who struggle with careers, romance and life. She gave the book a sexy name: “The Dirty Girls Social Club.” It sold more than 500,000 copies, was translated into 11 languages, and got optioned by Hollywood three times. She was suddenly a rock star in publishing, carving out a niche in what other Latina writers snootily dismissed as “chick lit.” Book signings drew thousands of people. Her fans are loyal. Her most important role, however, is being mom to a son whom she loves and adores.
Low points: Even though Valdes churned out a dozen more books in the years to come, none was as successful as “Dirty Girls.” The book that got optioned multiple times never made it to television or film. In her professional life, when people try to discourage her, or criticize her, or run her down, Valdes doesn’t listen. Unfortunately, when those things happen in her personal life, she does. There was a marriage, then a divorce. A succession of boyfriends in the years since, and just as many breakups because – her friends would say – none of her partners was up to the challenge of loving someone smarter and more talented than they were. She also struggles with mental illness, for which she has sought therapy and treatment.
Not long ago, after a fight with a boyfriend, she overdosed on prescription medication.
“The minute I took the pills, I regretted it,” she said. “And yet I know that many of my favorite writers have gone down this path. There is something about the writer’s brain that is especially open to feeling these emotions.”
The pills did the trick. She died. Hospital records say Valdes stopped breathing, and the paramedics say her heart stopped beating twice in the ambulance. She had no pulse for 20 minutes, and spent 12 hours in a coma.
Valdes woke up, and now she’s determined to make the most of her second chance. When not railing against Trump to her fan base and anyone else who will listen, she is enjoying her season of redemption.
After more than a decade of trying to introduce “Dirty Girls” to Hollywood, she recently inked a deal with the Starz cable network for what executives are calling a “dynamic and sexy half-hour series.” Valdes, who will serve as a co-executive producer, knows there are no guarantees. Yet she’s thrilled with the project and proud of the creative team that has been assembled to adapt the story to television.
This sort of thing is a heady accomplishment for any writer. But the victory must be especially sweet for someone who has known so much pain and disappointment. Not long ago, Valdes almost ended her own story. Now, instead, a new chapter is about to be written.
Contact Ruben Navarrette at firstname.lastname@example.org.