The Art of the Retablo

I have a passion for old religious pieces – large gesso or chalkware saint sculptures, old wood santos, nichos or retablos that represent folklore … There is something romantic about those pieces. Religious art has evolved since human started making art, till’ this day, and will continue to do so. One thing that I notice is how the expression on the faces of sculptures have change over the years – from a reverent and languid appeal to a more “normal” or “joyful” state.  Here is a picture of an antique italian chalkware statue of the Holy Family dating from the early 1900’s versus a contemporary statue depicting the same characters.

Antique sculpture of the Holy Family Antique sculpture of the Holy Family

Contemporary statue

Contemporary statue

If you notice the facial expressions, on the later sculpture the characters are looking up, almost in a happy state or “hello” demeanor, while in the older statue, the figures seem more solemn, reverent, and almost sad, or peaceful. There are many differences between these two statues, including the lack of detail of the base, feet, and clothing … .

One of the items that I love to recreate is the old retablo, an art that almost disappeared at one time. Retablos are supposed to be made of wood, hand painted, and with a rustic appeal, almost as if the artist worked with the “few materials at hand” reminiscent of the traditions of the populace, the people of faith who made them. Here is one of my Retablos or Nichos (niche) of the Virgin of Guadalupe. I created this sculpture using a variety of mixed materials. I am working on a few other retablos, and designs (I know, I should be writing – but sometimes I need a little break to recharge my batteries). In each of my religious sculptures, I hide a small gemstone, in this case,  a tiny opal. Can you spot it? You might need to use the zoom feature. Here is the photo.

Virgin of Guadalupe Retablo

Virgin of Guadalupe Retablo

Here is a closer look.

Guadalupe Virgin by Maria Antonia Diaz

Guadalupe Virgin by Maria Antonia Diaz

I enjoy making these. You can find more information about this piece at my online store – where I let go and just create.

In addition to retablos, another lost art is the one of the “Wood Santos” or “Santos de Palo” that is part of many Latin America cultures, as well as European folklore. You can see the same old vs. contemporary features in these. The old santos had live detail, as if the artist or devoted revered the piece while crafting it. Today pieces lack that, almost looking faceless, with no expression, or a cold demeanor. But these are the pieces that are mass-marketed that look like that. I’ve  seen some European artists who sculpt santos, many life-size, and their art becomes almost alive, rich in detail, even the rustic pieces that are simpler. But these artists are very proud of what they do, and put much soul in each piece.  A mass-marketed piece is produced with the purpose of creating volume, not art. However, I have to say that some mass-marketed pieces, the very old ones, had much detail, the molds were carefully made. With the pass of time, the attention to detail in these molds became less important, I guess, giving way to quantity/volume.

Next time you come across an older sculpture, take a good look at it and see how each little crevice tells a story.

Clock versus Pen

A woman searches for inspiration, in this 1898...

A woman searches for inspiration, in this 1898 painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have set a December date for the first draft of The Book of Sharon, and over the next couple of weeks, making it happen will be a priority. My focus has wandered between several projects, and now, it is down to clock versus pen. I am goal oriented and I dislike missing a generous timeframe. It happens, and sometimes our focus splits in many directions. One little trap that I have identify as far as my working habits is learning to battle the generous flow of ideas that one story may generate at a particular point when writing. That is, one scene, character, or something about research may trigger ideas that spark the creation of future novels. It is easy to become sidetracked by these ideas, and become an octopus of multiple future projects, and by default, a turtle on the projects at hand. I have been guilty of it, many times hindering the progress of the story at hand. So far, I have three future books lined up, and unless I deal with the one at hand, in the now, none of them will become reality. This is an easy trap to fall into, and one not so easy to get out of, that is, unless you realize it. Why is that?

The answer is simple – because you as a writer, are working on what you are supposed to do – write and research, and that in itself gives you the illusion – that you are working hard “in the now” (and you are), when in reality, you have crossed the time/space of your current project wandering into a dimension of future projects, and unless you return to the “now” to work on the story at hand, it will consume your productivity, making it harder to make progress, to advance your project. Without productivity in the now, there are no results, no future stories, despite the many lined-up stories. You might argue that research on future novels/projects is healthy, and it is; however, it is when that research is hindering progress of a current project (taking its allotted time) that it becomes a productivity/time management issue.  What happens to inspiration or the “mood for writing?” I believe that there is a time to be inspired and act on it, but also a time (more so) to work hard when inspiration is not present. In other words, if you wait for inspiration to start writing, you will never finish a story. This is why time management for writers is so important. Setting priorities, a balance between work and personal priorities is essential. This post addresses writing priorities. Other than work that has a deadline, my priority (writing) should be my current novel, and anything that falls under it – editing, cover work, early promotion … although these are secondary to it, but an important part that must be done. When doing research, I must stick to the necessary research for the novel, needed to advance the writing of it.

I used to believe that multitasking was good; I was wrong. Multitasking is opposite to productivity – it is the opposite to “being in the now,” and being in the now promotes the flow of productivity, the healthy flow of the project at hand. There are circumstances when multitasking will save the day (ask a busy Mom), however, when multitasking becomes a modus operandi, it hinders the healthy flow of life, of work, and if you are a writer, eventually of inspiration – the Muse itself. As far as my work is concerned, I have learned to name the thieves of productivity, the future ghosts of now, by anchoring foot and returning to the task at hand when I begin to wander, to sabotage myself.




Selling Your Soul


Balance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been very active researching and learning about the Indie movement, and always keep my eye out for new trends and developments. A development that I have noticed in the past few years is capitalizing on trends. I view it as selling your soul, but that is just my opinion. The traditional publishing industry has played this game for some time now, and it is only one of the reasons why the independent publishing movement started. Indie writers who wanted to become published authors but were rejected by the traditional model because their books were not “what we are looking for now” took matters into their own hands and thanks to companies like Amazon, were able to share their works with readers. This is part of the story, but what puzzles me is the conversion by Indie authors to the traditional model, that is, in the sense of publishing independently but trying to capitalize on the current genre trends, despite if what they are writing is not the book in their heart and soul. I have heard advice about going with the wind current and writing what sells. Isn’t that mirroring the traditional model? It has become a frenzy, a free for all that I am hoping will not hurt the movement in the long run due to careless and irresponsible self-publishing that aims to make a quick buck with disregard to the movement or to readers. This is where the fine line becomes strong, separating indies from self-publishers-a-million, and hopefully, strengthens the movement by separating the grain from the husk, and therefore, not risking the publishing balance; because let’s face it, if the indie movement is viewed as a portal for disgraced publishing, eventually the balance of power will flip back to the traditional model. Again, my opinion, not necessarily an omen.

If we care about what we do, as writers and indies, let’s honor the story by presenting it to readers in the best light, and with the best intentions. That is where true independence in publishing exists.

Writing Your Book’s Elevator Pitch

It is never too late to write your book’s elevator pitch. Most likely, you won’t think about it until you face the question “what’s your book about?” How would you answer this question if you only had a minute or less? How would you craft the answer in one quick but meaningful sentence? It may seem daunting to think about summarizing your book in one sentence, but it is not that difficult. Here is how.

Think of the title followed by the genre, then about your main character(s), then think about your character’s dilemma – and leave it at that. Let me give you an example using my novels.

Moonlit Valley is an inspirational paranormal romance about a young couple fighting to hold on to their love and trust while overcoming a series of unfortunate events and surreal destiny.




Ramblings of the Spirit is an inspirational paranormal romance about a young librarian who resents her origins but must find a way to fulfill her birthright in a struggle with love, self, and duty.

Cover for Ramblings of the Spirit (The Dinorah Chronicles) - Girl Image by Lunagirl Images. Design by Maria Antonia Diaz

Ramblings of the Spirit


There you have it, Title + genre + main character(s) + dilemma = elevator pitch.

You might feel tempted to add more to it, but then, you will succumb to explaining your novel. You can always add a bit of more interest by mentioning secondary topics of conflict without giving the story away, if you have more time to converse. I have read about many approaches to this, but this works for me.

This works for fiction but you can easily modify it for non-fiction by replacing the main character with your topic and the dilemma with what you are trying to do for the reader (goal).

Hope this post was useful.

The Indie Trap – Avoid This

English: Mouse trap - "Promax" brand...

English: Mouse trap – “Promax” brand Español: Ratonera de ratones (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before deciding to become an indie author, I learned as much about it as I could, and continue to learn, knowing that it is an ongoing effort. Indie publishing is evolving fast, and furiously. Honestly, I am not so sure how it will continue to develop and how this movement will be seen in the future. What I have noticed is a frenzy about publishing volume, many times with disregard of quality, by new authors, and even more seasoned ones. What caused this? I am not sure either. It is as if everyone is in a panic, a mania, as if independent publishing will cease to exist so, “I better write a lot of books and publish them before it is too late” or it could be ” too many people publishing, too many books out, soon, it will be impossible for my work to get noticed; it is saturated already.”  That is the impression I get when I read or hear other authors recommending to write many books fast, have them out there soon enough, or publishing many short stories, and novellas just to grab readers. It is indie mania out there!

My take on it is this, if you are planning on writing for a lifetime, of being an author for the long run, avoid the temptation. Write at your own pace, write the best book you can present to readers (you owe this to your readers), and publish it when you are one hundred percent plus sure that you have given it your best effort. Forget about what everyone else is rushing about and doing, and focus on your goals and vision as a long-term author. Write your best story, and present it as a humble sacrifice to your readers. When I say sacrifice I am referring to an offering, your best work.

It is hard to foresee what is going to happen to independent publishing, but you will certainly regret it if you put out work that you are not proud of being your best, that you can certainly foresee, so don’t fall in this trap. Don’t let algorithms, ranking, number of books a year … get in the way of your best work. However the industry develops, let it be; you will continue to be an indie author, if that is your vision.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – Use it All

Sensitive, sculpture by Miquel Blay (1910)

Sensitive, sculpture by Miquel Blay (1910) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s post is about how you can use your good, bad, and ugly in your writing. That is, the experiences that have taught you much, and that you acknowledge as being of impact. It may bring good or bad feelings to memory, maybe even ugly emotions, but despite that truth, all are very valuable to use in your writing. Be thankful for all you experience, because as a writer, it will translate into genuine characters, giving credibility, strength, and sentiment to your story.

Maybe you were back-stabbed by a best friend, cheated, or even experienced an excruciating event. As sad as it might be for you to remember, it serves you well as a writer because you know how it feels and you can translate the feeling into words. Given that you use the right words, readers will experience the feeling. In a way, achieving intimacy between author and reader.

Bad and ugly experiences can have an inspirational or paralyzing effect because they are that powerful, emotionally speaking. You control the response. You can let feelings and emotions control you to the point of writer’s block, or you can try to understand those and absorb strength/focus/inspiration from the experience; it is up to you, and the time for dealing with the bad and the ugly varies from person to person; however, the time for resolve/action always comes, leaving it to you to make the best or worst of it. You will emerge stronger or weaker, and so the writer in you.

Embrace the good, the bad, and the ugly, grieve and understand it, and let it serve you well.

Developing a Brand Statement

I should have written about this topic sometime ago, but it is something that you do not think about unless you are making a conscious effort to create, evaluate, or develop/expand your brand. Whether you are an author, artist, entrepreneur … or are starting to create a brand, eventually, you will have to develop a statement. In this case, I will refer to your statement as a branded author.

What is a brand statement? To make it easy, compare it to your novel’s elevator pitch. I have read in several sources about many variations of expressing it, but it can be easily explained as the sum of what you/your product is, plus the type of customer/reader that is your target, plus what you/your product offers/does for them (your intention). Once you put that into words, in a short sentence, you have developed your brand statement. For example, my brand statement is: “Inspirational fiction author Maria Antonia Diaz delights readers of fiction and non-fiction by offering works that combine adventure with the supernatural and the divine.”

If you look at that statement it tells who I am/my product as an author, it mentions my target market, and what the product (books) offers the readers. The reason that I include the non-fiction sector, is because my novels have an inspirational tone to them, which might be of interest to that sector. If you think about it in those simple terms, you can develop a simple brand statement that you can sum up in a sentence.  It is an easy way to keep the focus of your brand in front of you, and make it clear to others. Think about who you are as an author and who your readers are, and what you want to do for them through your work. That should lead you to express your brand statement.