This article is from the April 2001 The Mexico File newsletter.
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A Creative Baja Review

by Jennifer Redmond 

The concept of creating a Baja California publication came to us from friends who were so sure it was right for us that they interrupted their siesta to kayak over and bang on the hull of our sailboat (thereby interrupting our siesta) to tell us about it. My husband Russel and I fought the idea at first, having just given up our “regular” jobs to head off to La Paz on our sailboat, intending to paint and write full time.

Our friends insisted that it was something we could bring our talents to and manage on a small boat in Mexico, yet still have time to do freelance projects. Plus, they added, it would be fun. 

What it sounded like to us was a lot of work. Sure, the idea had merit. After all, I was a writer and sometime editor, and Russel was an artist and illustrator, so we’d have a built-in creative staff. But, having worked with a number of magazines between us, as writers and in advertising, we knew just how difficult putting out a publication is. And returning to this place we’d dreamed of so long was a commitment to our own artistic inspiration, and we hated to risk that by making it into a business. After all, we not only loved Baja California, we loved who we were there. And the beauty of the Sea of Cortez beckoned us to explore it – to sail, dive, hike its islands, and generally goof off instead of working hard. 

So, we agreed to our friends’ suggestion of doing a newsletter in time for the annual Cruiser’s Race Week festivities in April, but we were doing it just to satisfy them. The newsletter was simply a four page Xeroxed handout for attendees of the Semana de Regatta and all its events. Filled with stories, interviews, songs and funny poems, the newsletter also contained some facts about the area and a few rules and environmental guidelines for participants. Photos and drawings livened the pages. We called it, very tongue-in-cheek, the Sea of Cortez Review. 

The thought of doing a real publication stayed with us, however. Russel and I were attracted to the idea of a literary magazine – like The New Yorker of Baja. We began to envision the kind of publication we’d be challenged to create and proud to put our names on. There was certainly plenty of raw material around. The stories I’d heard in the writer’s group in La Paz, pieces that had been published locally, and excerpts from upcoming Baja books. No dearth of tales, from the humorous to the instructive, plus dozens of essays and poems in various moods and styles. Enough to be able to select only the best for a collection, an anthology, a review. 

It soon came to be – Russel and I published the premiere edition of the Sea of Cortez Review in early 1998. The list of authors included friends, many friends-of-friends, and a few total strangers. We had drummed up submissions using the ham radio, since I was a frequent volunteer on the “Baja California Maritime” and “Chubasco” ham nets (both have casual morning chit-chat after the weather and news is given), and it was amazing the response we got.  

We figured that, as a labor of love, the Review would be a one-time thing, so we’d better do it up right. Russel had illustrated each page with whimsical line drawings and topped it off with a color cover with a dozen of his vibrant Baja land-and-seascapes.  (As we were computer illiterate at the time, we were fortunate that a talented designer friend, Laurel Miller of Laurel Miller Design in San Diego donated her time to make it look better than we ever could have envisioned it.) We’d dug deeply into our pockets by the time we had 1000 copies printed, and most were handed out at various festivals, and gatherings. We were thrilled when Seabreeze Books offered to sell them – they sold, and then we were thinking about the Second Annual Issue. 

This was in the summer of 1998, just months after the first issue had come out and it was hard to rationalize taking this much time off from our “real” work to produce something that was extremely satisfying aesthetically, but cost a lot of money. The answer was simple – advertising. Starting with Seabreeze, Mail Call and Ham Radio Outlet, we soon had ten advertisers lined up for the 1999 issue. The text problem was easier to solve, as I’d been getting queries and submissions from writers since early in 1998, and it soon became clear that the tough part would be selecting stories from such a wealth of choices. 

Naturally, life got a little more complicated about this time. There were 3000 copies to distribute this time, so we loaded up our 1970 VW van and drove the coast of California up to Sausalito, then south to Cabo San Lucas. There was no time to retreat to our low overhead boat life in Baja – instead we rented a room from old friends in San Diego. In spite of all the good feedback on Sea of Cortez Review, we were on the move so much that the little financial return we realized went straight into the gas tank. Our stress levels began to rise and we forgot about things like weekends and vacation days.  

Now, it wasn’t that we didn’t see the long-range benefits of a publication with Russel’s paintings on the cover. And we enjoyed editorializing about Baja California and its future, putting forth our inclusive vision of a eco-tourist haven based on sustainable resources. (While we like to include educational articles, we also strongly believe that stories which convey the beauty of Baja California can do as much to inspire the affection and respect that helps create a conservation and preservation mentality.) But the idea of beginning work on another issue, as we would soon have to, seemed insane – our creative time had already gotten squeezed into just a few hours a week. 

So we went back to basics. Taking a month off, we retreated to Baja, sailing our boat to a deserted island anchorage (no, I won’t say exactly where it was!) and spending time reassessing. We took off our good clothes, in fact, almost all our clothes, swam, dove, sunbathed and walked the empty beaches. Under a clear blue sky we talked and read out loud to each other and laughed. Beneath a huge night sky full of stars we sipped wine, cooked over an open fire, dreamed. By the light of fiery tropical sunsets we rekindled our desire to somehow share this splendor and peace. The daily dose of natural beauty renewed us, and we began to paint and write again for the sheer joy of it. 

It wasn’t too long before our thoughts turned again to our project, discussing new options, like underwriting and corporate sponsorships. We wanted someone to take on the distribution, the marketing and some of the other legwork, but we needed a way to make it mutually beneficial. As we asked around among our circle, one name kept popping up—Sunbelt Publications. The basic connection was obvious, as they had published a number of popular Baja California titles.  

When we met with the Sunbelt folks we soon found that they were on the same wavelength as far as our message about and intent toward Mexico was concerned, which was a big hurdle cleared. The negotiations over numbers were relatively brief, and soon we had a partner. With the prestige of a well-known publisher and distributor behind us, established Baja writers like Harry Crosby, Gene Kira, and Bruce Berger were more inclined to give us interviews and to allow us to excerpt their published works and their works-in-progress, and doors were opened with new writers, too.  

The 2000/2001 edition of the Sea of Cortez Review, that whimsy of an idea dreamed up during a hot, still siesta in La Paz, came out in the Spring of 2000 to rave reviews. At fifty pages, with a full-color  gorgeous glossy cover and a table of Contents that reads like a “Who’s Who” of Baja California authors, it is a real honest-to-goodness publication. Our e-mail is full, daily, of queries from authors, manuscript submissions, requests for back issues, and now even publicity appearance requests. Not incidentally, I’m now working for Sunbelt Publications as Publications Coordinator, have had stories accepted from national magazines, and Russel now has a waiting list for commissioned paintings. 

Of course we sometimes miss our carefree life in Baja, but we know we’re pretty lucky. We’re still living our dream – to live between two countries and to record our thoughts and feelings on paper or canvas for others to see and, hopefully, appreciate. And when a reader writes to say they liked a certain story or painting, that makes it all worthwhile. Our reward is simply to have communicated our love of this special place, Baja California, and to have done it as well as we can.  

(Editor’s Note: Jennifer Redmond and her husband, Russel, first met in 1975 at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego where they both appeared in a production of “Our Town.” Russel’s career shifted over time from creating theatrical posters to fine art, while Jennifer’s focus shifted from acting to writing short plays and films. They met again in 1989 in San Diego and five months later were married. They moved aboard Russel’s sailboat, Watchfire, and their honeymoon consisted of a three-year journey to Baja California, mainland Mexico, the Caribbean, Florida, and back to San Diego. Having spent a year in the Sea of Cortez, they returned to Baja in 1996 – drawn, for Russel, to the stark landscapes which served to inspire his paintings, and, for Jennifer, to the quiet anchorages which served as the perfect setting for creative writing. The first issue of the Sea of Cortez Review was published in 1998.  

To order a copy of Sea of Cortez Review 2000/2001, ISBN 0-916251-54-3, $3.95, contact Sunbelt Publications, 1250 Fayette Street, El Cajon, CA 92020. Telephone 800-626-6578 or 619-258-4911.)