Alameda bookshelf: Annette Sandoval's Spitfire

Alameda bookshelf: Annette Sandoval's Spitfire

Kristen Hanlon
Annette Sandoval - contributed photo

Alameda writer Annette Sandoval’s latest book, Spitfire, is a witty, irreverent murder mystery with an unusual protagonist: sassy 28-year-old receptionist/documentary filmmaker, Tomasita “Tomi” Reyes. Set largely in San Francisco, with forays to Oakland and Alameda, it’s a breezy beach read full of local flavor. Spitfire was published this summer by the Amazon imprint Thomas & Mercer, and is available in paperback and as an e-book from

Sandoval is the author of two earlier nonfiction books, The Directory of Saints: A Concise Guide to Patron Saints (1996) and Homegrown Healing: Traditional Home Remedies from Mexico (1998). She also wrote the lyrics to “Halloween Hangover,” a song performed by Brett Anderson (of The Donnas) and Morgan Phalen (of Diamond Nights). The song, plus an excerpt from her as-yet unpublished first novel, Women Are Like Chickens, can be found on her website:

I sat down with Annette on a recent foggy Sunday morning in her Gold Coast living room to talk about her writing and the brave new world of publishing.

What have you found to be the major differences between writing nonfiction and fiction?
Writing the two nonfiction books taught me how to be concise with words. For instance, in the book I did on the saints, there was Joan of Arc - you could write volumes about her, but I had to sum her up in a paragraph. With fiction, it took me a long time to learn how to do it. There’s point of view, for one thing, deciding to write in the first person, third person, et cetera. Fiction takes more discipline for me. I love the routine, though; I love getting up in the morning and picking up where I left off. I’m working on the sequel to Spitfire right now, and it’s a lot of fun, I’m really enjoying it. It’s so much easier doing a sequel because the characters have all been established so I just move on with the plot.

What led you to pitch your book Spitfire to Thomas & Mercer?
It (Spitfire) had literally been turned down by everyone. I heard it was too ethnic, not ethnic enough, just about everything you could imagine. I actually heard, ‘Can we make the characters non-Latinos?’ And there were a few people who were kind enough to explain to me that it didn’t have mass market appeal. The editor would love it, but the higher-ups wouldn’t think it was marketable.

Then one day Patrick (Annette’s partner) e-mailed me that Amazon was starting a new imprint for mysteries and thrillers called Thomas & Mercer. For the hell of it, that same day, I sent my query to them by email with the subject line: “I think my boss is a serial killer. No, seriously!” And then Andy Bartlett (senior acquisitions editor at Amazon) got back to me that evening and said, “First of all, great pitch. Secondly, please send us your book.” So I sent it to them, and they said ‘It needs a little work, but we love it.’ So within weeks, they had me signed up.

Last year there was some controversy regarding independent bookstores not wanting to stock titles by Amazon imprints. What is your take on this? Has it been difficult to get Spitfire into stores, or is this even an important goal for you?
It is important to me, and I understand both sides of this issue. My first two books were published by major publishing houses in New York. The way it worked is that I would write a book, and the publisher’s take was 25 percent. The bookstores get 50 percent. Then my agent and I would have to fight over that remaining 25 percent. So basically, I’d make 12 percent off of a book that I wrote. What Amazon is doing is reducing the price of books and pushing e-books, which don’t kill any trees. By cutting the price of the book down by about 50 percent, they are cutting out the indie bookstores. Of course, the stores can still carry the title if they want; they will make some money on it, they just won’t make 50 percent on it, like they do with the trade publishers. Books Inc. on Park Street is carrying it, which is great. I totally respect the indies, but I totally respect Amazon too.

Are you planning to do any readings for the book?
Maybe. I went on tour for my first two books, and it’s not fun at all. You worry beforehand whether anybody is going to show up. And then, when they do show up (sighs) … for my book on Mexican folk medicine, there was always a doctor in the crowd who wanted to heckle me! So every time I had a confrontation with someone. Then I’d go to my ugly little cheap motel room, and the next day was the same thing. With Amazon, I’m going to discuss touring, and whether I go on one, and if I do whether I want to read or not. I’m dyslexic, and it’s really hard for me. So when I tour I’m not actually reading, I’m reciting. But I love talking to people, and love Q & A, so I’d prefer doing that.

In a word, what’s the most important trait for an aspiring writer to have?