'Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz'

The debut novel from 'Chronicle' staff writer Belinda Acosta: an excerpt

Belinda Acosta
Belinda Acosta (Photo by John Anderson)

When Belinda Acosta, the Chronicle's longtime "TV Eye" columnist, was contracted to write the flagship novel in Grand Central Publishing's A Quinceñera Club series, she had never actually attended a quinceañera, that all-important rite of passage into adulthood for the Latina girl. But soon enough Belinda was steeping herself in all things quinceañera: scouring books, attending trade shows, and even grilling other customers at the nail salon on their own experiences. The legwork certainly paid off; Belinda's book, about a San Antonio woman newly separated from her husband and trying to throw a party for her tetchy teen daughter, is a terrific read, illuminating a specific cultural landmark as well as the universal ups and downs of family life. And good thing she held onto her notes: Belinda has already turned in the first draft of her second quinceañera novel.

The Chronicle is pleased to reprint here the prologue to Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz, which goes on sale Aug. 11. Belinda will be celebrating the publication throughout the month of August, first with a book release party at Cuba Libre (409 Colorado) on Tuesday, Aug. 18, from 6 to 8pm. There, she'll be enjoying something of a belated quinceañera of her own, with five Los Bailadores, including Paul Saucido of ME Television, squiring her on the dance floor. (Belinda promises no poufy dresses, but she's contemplating a tiara.) Then, on Aug. 25, Belinda will read at BookPeople (603 N. Lamar) at 7pm. To find out more about the novel and upcoming events, see www.qclubbooks.blogspot.com. – Kimberley Jones

Don't let anyone tell you that being a woman is like – cómo se dice? – a piece of the cake. Mira, take a look around. All these niñitas dressed up like Barbie dolls outside of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, their toes scrunched into pointy high heels, hair pulled into tidy buns, bangs springing over their foreheads or hanging in gaunt strands alongside their girlish faces. The smell of hairspray and designer perfume, starched shirts and polished shoes mingle in the air. The matching boys are tucked into tuxedos looking like they want to be someplace else. They do! The Spurs game starts in thirty minutes. The limo driver allá, is looking at his watch for the same reason. And then there's pobrecita Ana Ruiz. That poor woman! All she wanted was to have a small quinceañera, a nice way to celebrate her niña Carmen con cariño. She wanted Carmen's fifteenth birthday to be special and lovely. Instead, there she is, the one in the lilac dress, her wavy hair going flat and her feet screaming from running around in heels, taking care of one disaster after the next. Today, she looks older than her thirty-eight years, weary from months of worry. The few streaks of gray she has, she got this month alone! Still, everything about Ana is soft—her hands, her laugh, the color of her amber skin. She has a small patch of dark skin below her ear that some women get when they have babies. But because Ana is what you would call pretty, you don't even notice. She's a good-looking woman; thin, but with meat in all the right places, as the men might say. For the women who need to be the center of attention when they walk into a room, Ana is the last one they worry about. They think, She's like a sugar cube – easy to melt with the heat they make with the sway of their nalgas or the heave of their chichis. But oh no! Ana is the one that surprises them. With those lips béseme, the whispery hollows of her cheeks, the way her neck curves like poured water, and finally, that look from her smoky black eyes – that alone will make some men walk into walls while the women, who thought they were the main dish at the party, will cluck to themselves and think, Her? Quién es esa?

'Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz'

You can tell right away that Ana Ruiz is respectable. She's no spring kitten, but she's way too young to cover it up in housedresses. But right now, Ana doesn't care what she looks like. She's wondering how this wonderful day turned to this. All she wanted was a little tradition, a nice way to mark this time in Carmen's life and maybe get back to the way things were before Esteban left.

Carmen is officially becoming a woman today, in a time when becoming a woman happens in a flurry like a million cascarones broken over your head. Just this week, she was figuring out the best way to brush her hair to make the tiara sit just so. Pero, no one knows where the tiara is now and Carmen doesn't even care. Today means nothing and everything to Carmen who, right now, only really wants to know, When will this pinche day be over?

Ana is standing near the door of the church. No one would be surprised if she snapped in two from all this drama! But no, like always, there she is: like a blade of grass in a hurricane. You can smash her down but she will never break. She's the one they call a strong woman, though she never understood why. She would say she only did what she had to do and that if patience and hard work are what it takes to be a strong woman, then okay, call her what you want. But right now, she feels spent. She feels like she might lose it. Her son, Diego, didn't come home last night, and Carmen has been barfing since midnight. The band that showed up is not the nice mariachi Ana thought was coming but three boys, one with tattoos on his arms and silver rings poked aquí y allá on his face and ears. And did I tell you about the cake? The cake is late. There was talk that there might not even be a cake, and well, you can't have a quinceañera without a cake, can you? Well, the cake finally comes, right after Ana made some calls and that girl they call Bianca tore her dress (accidentally on purpose, if you ask me). One of the boys in the court showed up with a black eye. And just when it seemed like the ground should open up and swallow up this whole mess, then, then there comes la señora with the cake. Four stories tall, all pink and sparkly. Bien pretty, but late. And because she's late she shows up in shorts and chanclas. No "discúlpeme." No "perdóname." Instead, she laughs como la loca, saying she's on Mexican time. "Mexican time"? Ay, por favor! La señora toda sin verguenza in those chanclas and that thing stuck in her ear like she works in the secret service.

One of the boys in the band goes to help la señora with the cake, and then so does the boy in the tuxedo with the black eye. They're all talking, no one is listening, and everyone wants to be in charge. So of course you know what's going to happen, right? La señora with the chanclas and the boy with the black eye he can hardly see out of, they look like they're going to crash. I see the whole thing before everyone else. I see the whole picture. I can tell you why Ana is wrung out. I can tell you why Carmen is sick. I can tell you why Ana and Carmen have been fighting. I can tell you where Diego is. I can tell you why the cake is late and why that boy has a black eye. And I can tell you if, and when, that cake is going to fall.

Pero, let me go back to the beginning. The very beginning, because híjole! I love a good quinceañera story. And I got to tell you this one.

This excerpt is from the book Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz by Belinda Acosta. Copyright 2009 by Jacob Packaged Goods LLC. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette Book Group, New York, N.Y. All rights reserved.

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