Cherie Magnus, a California native, returned to Los Angeles in 2014 after teaching tango in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for 11 years. She was a dance research librarian in the Los Angeles Central Library and a dance critic for local newspapers before moving to France, Mexico, and finally to Argentina in 2003. The prequel to The Church of Tango—Arabesque: Dancing on the Edge in Los Angeles—was released December 2014. She is now working on the third memoir of the series.
About The Church of Tango
The Church of Tango is a passionate memoir of tragedy and adventure, lust and music, romance and tango. A dancer all her life, she’d had to put it on hold while raising her family and caring for her dying husband. Now as she set her suitcase down on the ancient cobblestones of a Paris courtyard, she wondered—48 years old, 6,000 miles away from home, knowing no one—what was she doing? Each time disaster strikes her life, Cherie forges ahead, struggling to save herself from the wreckage by listening to the music and dancing, first in Los Angeles, then France, Mexico, Holland, and finally in the tango salons of Buenos Aires.
The Church of Tango was designated a SELF-e Select title by the staff of Library Journal and is now available at participating libraries nationwide. The Los Angeles Public Library congratulates Cherie on her award—let’s hear a bit more about her and her winning title!
Interview with Cherie Magnus
Thank you very much. I’m delighted that my book was singled out to be highlighted by Library Journal! The Church of Tango has also won other honors along the way and it’s very gratifying.
How did you decide that you wanted to write a memoir?
Memoirs are usually read because the writer is someone famous who the reader is curious about. For unknowns, there must be something special about that person’s story. Before I wrote The Church of Tango, I read many memoirs of women who lost their husbands, who had cancer, who moved to foreign countries for financial reasons, who lost their homes and all of their belongings. But they all seemed whiny to me. I wanted to show how all of these difficulties could be survived, and even take one to a new life that while not like the old one that was lost, still contained joy, purpose, and love. Even for women of a “certain age.”
Don’t give up, I wanted to say. Find something that will carry you through the tragedies of life. For me, it was dance. You just need one thing that you are passionate about to keep you going.
In the prequel, Arabesque, the theme was that while life may not turn out as you had planned, it can be just as good—which I guess is also the theme of The Church of Tango. I also wanted to paint a picture of life as a UCLA student in 1960—how different university life, Los Angeles, and the whole world was back then before the Beatles, before the pill, before the assassination of JFK, before civil rights.
In The Church of Tango, you mention doing some travel writing, and your descriptions of the various cities in the book are wonderfully evocative. What other writing experience do you have, and how has it informed your style?
My favorite genre is the personal and/or critical essay. While a librarian, I reviewed books for School Library Journal for nine years and also wrote articles on assignment for them. I was a dance reviewer for many years for a newspaper in Los Angeles, and I adored that job. Not only did I get great house seats for all dance performances, but I knew my review would be published and read.
I consider reviews a form of education—helping audiences to understand more about what they see and read. The personal essay was the form I used during the eight years I wrote my blog about tango and life as an expat in Buenos Aires. I always thought that a regular gig as a newspaper columnist would be perfect for me!
Writing a good memoir must come with challenges specific to the genre—how do you present your personal experiences in a way that is focused and interesting for the reader?
It might be surprising to know that I had to tone down the tragedies in my life for the books. Even with half of them eliminated, some reviewers stated it was unbelievable that all those bad things really happened to me. Above all, a memoir must be true, otherwise what’s the point? I did change some names and combine characters but everything else is absolutely as it happened.
Any story can be interesting if it shares emotion with the reader. I wanted to convey possibility and hope no matter how bleak the future seems. A memoir is more than memories of the past, what can make it rich is the reflection that comes years later. Otherwise, a so-called memoir is just a diary.
Do you have any advice for first-time authors attempting to finish their first book? Do you have a daily writing routine?
I’m now working on the third memoir in the series, and I write every day—even if only briefly. Despite some writing sessions producing unusable material, still writing on a regular basis keeps you warm and flexible. Now that I’ve published two books, I know the road ahead is long and difficult for this third effort, and sometimes I want to give up. But then I try to remember “baby steps” and keep plodding along.
My main advice to would-be self-publishers is not to scrimp on the editing! I’ve had to stop reading many books because they were simply poorly edited. Same goes for proofreading! Get it done professionally.
And above all, write what you want to say, not what you think will sell.
When writing The Church of Tango, did you complete multiple drafts? Did you show unfinished versions to friends or beta readers for feedback?
Oh yes, many, many drafts. I didn’t have any beta readers; it’s difficult to ask anyone you know to be honest about a story of your life. But I was in writers’ groups in Mexico and in Buenos Aires and I’m sorry I’m not in one here in L.A. They were immensely helpful. Los Angeles Public Library offers several writing groups in branches that I am checking out, as well as helpful options for formatting a manuscript into an e-book.
I also used a professional editor for both The Church of Tango and Arabesque. Indispensable!
The self-publishing industry has really exploded, especially in e-books. What advantages and/or challenges do you see in self-publishing your work?
Self-publishing is no longer the vanity press of yesteryear.
When I began my journey of survival in 1992, I started to write about it as an outlet. When more dramatic events kept happening in my life, I realized I was writing a book. I queried several agents with no result. Because of my age and the fact of having had bad health, I thought realistically that if I ever wanted to see this thing in print, I had better do something about it myself because life is short.
Because I have friends who self-published and recommended the process, I investigated some companies in 2011 and went with CreateSpace because it was the least expensive with no up-front money and because it’s affiliated with Amazon. I paid a graphic designer to design the covers and the books, and a professional editor. I did the proofreading myself (not recommended; I nearly went blind!) The quality of the resulting paperback is just perfect.
Print-on-Demand (POD) makes perfect sense; the downside is the marketing. Someone has to sell it once it’s published, and that someone is YOU unless you can afford a publicist and marketing services.
The downside with being published by a large company is that if they don’t believe your book will be a best-seller, they don’t throw money after it in terms of PR, author tours, advertising. Also if it doesn’t sell well within the first month or so, the bookstores who ordered it can send it back for a refund, and your book ends up on the remainder tables.
POD titles never go out of print!
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