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Serendipity at Palabras Bookstore

Updated: Mar 11, 2020

Co-owner Chawa at the register with a shelf full of books next to her.
Co-owner Chawa. Photo @palabras_bookstore

Dominique Daye Hunter

After two weeks of self-care, healing, and a hermit-like artists state, I decided to get out the house. It was a warm yet overcast Thursday in Phoenix, Arizona.

I had a list of errands that included boring items like the oil change I had put off for two weeks, that thrift store I meant to visit, and, of course, a trip to my new favorite spot: Palabras bookstore.

I had first visited a couple years prior when I lived in the Coronado district neighborhood. I had also dropped in to the open mic a couple weeks before to share my poetry and listen to some talented musicians, comedians, other poets, and storytellers.

But this day I was looking to connect with the store owner and perhaps a couple other chance artists and share more and listen more. I opened myself to the possibility of shared creativity. And my, did I get that and so much more. Serendipity had different plans for me.

As I walked through the back door, I saw a variety of books that caught my attention as well as posted community fliers. As I did, I couldn’t help but overhear the store co-owner, Chawa, and another woman talking and shuffling chairs into a circle. I made my way along the bookshelf picking up titles and squinting to read others.

The second woman then greeted me. I had no idea at the time that she was the Crafty Chica herself, Kathy Cano-Murillo.

“Hello, there! My name is Kathy.”

“Hi!” I replied in a friendly yet confused fashion. It seemed that she had been expecting me.

“Are you here for the event?” she asked.

“Err… I wasn’t, no. I didn’t know there was an event going on. What event is it?” I asked curiously.

She was so happy to respond, “Oh! I am hosting a workshop in honor of the tenth anniversary since my first book was published,” she beamed. This was, of course, "Waking Up in the Land of Glitter: A Crafty Chica Novel." The workshop was on ‘How to Publish a Fiction Novel for Beginners.’”

I was astonished and smiled at the ceiling, “Well, I didn’t know this was happening, but I suppose the universe had other plans for me.”

Crafty Chica: Kathy Cano-Murillo. Photo: @craftychica

After making myself comfortable on the couch within the circle, Kathy and I began talking about her first book process and how she had fretted so much on outlines. It was a long time before she got any actual writing done. In fact, most of those outlines and ideas went in the trash, because they didn’t match the characters’ journey of change. They didn’t help move the story forward.

These are two concepts that Kathy stressed about writing a great novel. As other participants joined the circle, she also shared the importance of avoiding brand names, clichés, or any slang or jargon that might “date” your book.

“You want to write a timeless novel. I thought Tyra mail would be a timeless concept, but now kids don’t even know what I’m referring to!” she humored.

According to Kathy, you also want to make sure your characters are facing high stakes.

“Action. Conflict. Tension. Repeat.”

In her early years of writing, she found great growth in joining a local writers club where she could share her ideas. There, she would get honest feedback that would make her a better writer.

She admitted that she procrastinated starting the actual writing for her first novel, and instead hyper-focused on the outline. Kathy obsessed over the details instead of the direction of the story. I’m sure most of us have those “responsible” and convenient “reasons” why we can’t start the actual writing, I know I do. Yet, she also shared how helpful short and long outlines are as well as character sheets.

“The best advice I can give you is start writing now. The first fifteen minutes is usually fluff, but it helps get your brain going. Set a timer and write for fifteen minutes without judgment. This helps you break down the fear of getting started.”

It also allows you to see your writing take off after the 15 minutes are up, Kathy and ASU professor, Michelle Martinez shared.

Cano-Murillo's eight novels. Photo: @craftychica

“Having a writing schedule helps so much,” Kathy explained, “I would wait for my kids to go to bed and set a timer from 10pm-12am every night and write. I would think to myself, ‘Girl, you’ve got to get up and go to work tomorrow. You’re losing sleep so you better make this count!’”

Kathy challenged herself one November for National Writing Month to write 50,000 words. She even missed Thanksgiving dinner to finish her goal. Kathy was so proud. That was until her editor at the time, after reading her newly finished first draft of the novel, told her it was “terrible.” She had a long, good cry. But after being inspired at a conference, went back to renovate her work with vigor. Kathy trimmed what needed trimming, gave her characters depth and voice, and focused on making a story that both honored her Chicana heritage and that was also universally relatable.

“Writing is like pregnancy,” Kathy laughed, “The first and third trimester are so exciting. The second you’re just waiting. It’s the same as writing a book!”

“Totally,” Michelle added, “Billy Wilder said that the first part of the story, you’re chasing your character up a tree. The second you throw rocks at him, and the last part, you get him down.”

Kathy nodded, “Your characters must go through some transformation, or else, why even write the book? When you write a story that makes the reader turn the page, the kind of story you want to read, one that shows growth and possibility: that’s when you know your book is ready.”

The two knowledgeable and educated women left us with this pearl of wisdom:

“You capture the universal in the specific, and the best way to do that is through the personal.”

Kathy also owns "The Crafty Chica" store next to Palabras on 16th street and McDowell in Phoenix. It's a great place to find unique art pieces that will fill your home with color and joy. You can also find her artwork online at, on Facebook at and on Instagram @craftychica.

Learn more about Palabras bookstore as well at, on Facebook (, and on Instragram @palabras_bookstore.

Hannah Manuelito

Dominique Daye Hunter (Black, Sappony/Irish/Polish descent) is a poet/spoken word/hiphop artist, short story writer, and clothing line entrepreneur. She is the co-founder of Indigenous Womxn In Solidarity Empowered + Rising and The LuLu Experience: Festival and Publication. Hunter is currently working on her B.S. in Nonprofit Leadership Management with an emphasis in American Indian Studies, and lives between the southeast + southwestern U.S. Follow her journey on Instagram @ddayehunter.

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