Thank you, Latina Book Club

https://www.amazon.com/Answered-Silence-collection-Theresa-Varela/dp/1539371638/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1514667808&sr=1-4

A friend’s share on Social Media alerted me that my first volume of poetry Answered by Silence was included in the Latina Book Club’s 2017 listing of Books of the Year. It made my heart happy to be included with other Latina/Latino/Latinx writers, some of whom I know and many I respect. So cool!

Answered by Silence was such a personal project. It started without months or years of planning. My muse told me that I’d healed enough regarding the death of my sister to share some of that experience for not only myself, but for others too. There’s a saying that no matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. I believe that. Losing my sister at the age of eleven shaped my life that and included some very raw and dark days. Those days are behind me, and my profound love for her remains unscathed.

I haven’t marketed the thin volume as I have my other books. But I’ve loved that book and it has loved me in return. My daughter, who is named after my sister, created the simplest of illustrations for it exactly as I envisioned. I am grateful for today and the people in my life.

I’m glad to be on the list with the others who all have their stories behind their stories.

Check out the other selections at www.latinabookclub.com

XO

Theresa

Listen to me! I count too!

A friend of mine often reminds her four year old to use her soft voice. The child indiscriminately yells her wants and needs to the unsuspecting world who hasn’t noticed that there’s a little person in the vicinity with something to say. Give me attention! I don’t care who you are, but I want your attention! She’s practicing to get her message across early. I was never that child. I was the kid who was always quiet and if you looked at me for a prolonged period of time I’d burst into tears. That was long ago but my introversion is not easily surrendered to the person I think of myself as today. I want your attention. I have something to say! That’s a conundrum for a writer.

In my last post I wrote about my disappointment about not having my plan for play direction go exactly as I had envisioned it. I had never translated my vision into words. I thought I did. If I had it was in my soft voice. There was a flurry of discussions after that post and I practiced using my assertive voice with my play mentors. I had no expectations of what the outcome would be. It was important that I develop these wonderful relationships, enrich my learning experience, and to use the gift I’ve been given. My gift is using my words effectively.  We came to mutual understandings of our expectations, future possibilities, and supported each other’s enterprises as we sat together at the table.

The following weekend my spouse and I went to the Women’s March in Washington. I didn’t carry a placard. I carried myself with pride. The person I am this lifetime has  again been disregarded. As a woman with beliefs and convictions I had to stand out there and yell out, I need your attention! Give me your attention! I count too! The state of my country is alarming. Using my voice can be a frightening enterprise. What if I get in trouble for using my voice? These thoughts are not easily discarded.

 

During my morning run today, I was suddenly surrounded by a group of Park Slope fathers who were in peak athletic form. They laughed about their daughters who were pledging sororities in spite of their patriarchal roots. They also explained that their 11 minute mile timing was because they were running 17 miles this morning. I knew all this about them because they built a wall around me with their bodies and I became angry during the activity I engage in that keeps me sane. I didn’t want to lose my quiet time. I managed to break their wall. It meant I pushed my run and my breath was shorter than usual. But I was free of them. That was a statement. I wasn’t invisible. At least to myself. This time I didn’t use words just action.

There is a synchronicity to these events as I hone the skill of using my voice appropriately. Listening to a munchkin practice her tone and volume, my speaking with my professional mentors, and marching on Washington grounds are all connected. There is no ending here. I’m still in the process of learning to use my voice in the best ways. Actions. Writing. Discussions. There are many ways to communicate. I may not have to stand on a chair and scream out my wants but I can still get my messages out.

Happy writing!

 

 

 

Writing: On Thin Ice

Park Slope sidewalks are covered in thin, crunchy ice this morning. I know this because I navigated my two doggies on their walk. I kept my balance because I’ve added the occasional plank to my basic workout. My core is strong. I was grateful that when Ginger refused to budge and Chutney cut circles around me with her leash that I didn’t slip.

These streets are a great metaphor for the slippery paths in our creative worlds. In writing and publishing, the landscapes are always changing. What is solid ground today can turn into a slick surface at rise. I’m learning to find and create railings to hold on to like I did this morning on my walk.

Last week I wrote about my excitement returning to the playwriting course. I’m still excited about the writing but was  disappointed to hear that my mentors are not interested in staging my play after all. I was stunned when I received that talk. I was still in the same emotional and mental place as I was during our last conversation. But a change had taken place. People change their minds all the time. It’s part of human nature. They move on to what is beneficial for them. I get that. There are no contracts signed.

Life is a process. I’m learning to surrender. What I may want or think is right for me may not be. I’ve had a lot of practice dealing with the changing landscapes over a lifetime, but especially so during this last year. I’m listening to the voice that whispers in my ear, Hold on to the railings, Theresa. I’ll help you find them. More will be revealed.

Happy Writing!

My guilty pleasure: playwriting

After watching La La Land at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Rose Cinema, my spouse and I chatted about what might have made that film an award contender. The idea of someone fulfilling their dream in a style that might not have been in their original vision can be rewarding.  Maintaining the discipline that brings joy to the private self is also something I find satisfying. We spoke about going along willingly with the transformations that come along with being artists while also being loving to our original ideas about ourselves.

In my early twenties, a friend asked me what personal goals I had. I told them that I wanted to write children’s books. One day. I was deep in caring for my own little ones, maintaining a traditional relationship, and working as a bedside nurse. That last one left me exhausted. Having the responsibility of forty two patients on a surgical unit while supervising two nurses aides didn’t leave me much time for writing, much less thinking about writing.

Many years later, I’m a writer. My life has changed in ways that I could never have predicted. While there are still often engulfing responsibilities, such as my Dad’s care, I’m cognizant of developing my creative self. I write novel and poems. I also love writing plays. My first novel, Covering the Sun with My Hand, inspired me to re-write it in play form with several twists. The play version takes more risks, is funnier, and as plays demand, brings forth the strength and richness of certain characters that want to take the stage. Next steps in staging the play are on my agenda and I’m excited about moving forward.

This week, I’ll be returning to my playwriting course. I have already started my second play. It’s in baby form. I look forward to sitting with my mentors, Mario Golden and Andreas Robertz, and the other group members at the Allen Davis Playwriting Lab. They are encouraging, hold me honest, and demand that I am rigorous in bringing a piece to fruition. In my earlier life, I never thought about playwriting. Plays were something other people did. I grew up going to Broadways shows and plays because my mother loved them and treated us to many matinees. Not many kids in my neighborhood attended plays and I have her to thank for exposing me to this aspect of life.

Plays and playwriting have become my guilty pleasures. They weren’t part of my game plan when I thought about writing but have emerged as essential to my writing self. Having the ability to merge the joys of my private self with my public writing transformations is a gift.

Happy Writing!

When the story changes…

In real life we all change whether we want to or not. We try new foods, get involved in new jobs and relationships and basically do things that may seem different to our persona. Usually though, unless it’s to an extreme, we aren’t kicking and screaming.

But what happens when it’s one or more of our beloved characters that changes? I’m in the midst of experiencing this as I ‘adapt’ my novel Covering the Sun with My Hand to a play. I guess you can say that I’m in the acceptance phase now. Based on all the changes in the story, I’m now calling the project ‘inspired by’ rather than ‘adapted’ and have also thought about changing the title.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s still Julia and René Acevedo as our leads. Mami and Ana are major characters. Papi has unfortunately crossed over. There are characters at the forefront who weren’t mentioned in the novel but who are germane to the story.

It’s still going to be a while before they take their places on stage. I need time to get used to this changes. I’ll be writing more about these as I move forward in the play. The one thing that hasn’t changed in the writing of this version of the Acevedo family tale is that I love each character so much and I’m getting to know more about each as you will. Looking forward to sitting with you in the theatre.

Writing: Timing, distance, and target

I was briefly a martial arts student at the age of twelve and returned to training when I was in my thirties. My first instructor, Mr. Aaron, was a great storyteller. He told tales of how he could kick as high as his head but when I attended his Saturday classes he couldn’t quite reach that height anymore. I stopped attending because he thought I should be able to “handle” dressing in the room with the boys. The other girls in the class had already stopped taking the classes. I eventually figured out why they left one by one. I tend to hold onto things tenaciously-most times that quality is a strength of mine.

The second time I began training was because my children were taking classes and my friend, another mom, and I decided that we could do more than sit and wait for hours on end for them on Saturdays. The style was Okinawan Go Ju Ryu. I learned about the nuances of walking the warrior path between hard and soft ways-which is what Go Ju means. I ended the training just shy of testing for my black belt. It was a tough decision to stop a discipline that I’d become committed to over the years. I guess, ultimately, I learned that I’m a warrior that leans toward a peaceful way of life from a different path. There were several things that I learned through the years of learning Karate that have changed my life forever. One of them was the concept of ‘timing, distance, and target.’ This concept shows up every now and again and I experienced one in my writing life.

Being a quasi social media junkie, I was in full glee mode when I shared on Facebook that I was changing the title of my new mystery, Nights of Indigo Blue, that was published in September of 2015. Facebook did what it does best and I quickly received several ‘likes.’ I also received a private message from an acquaintance who advised me ‘writer to writer’ that I should employ the help of a proof reader for my book. She made it clear that this would help me to avoid my previous issue of having multiple editing errors as in my first book, ‘Covering the Sun with My Hand.’ I must admit that the message quickly put me in a funk. I  know how important it is to have the ability to self reflect and self critique and I try my best with that. What smarts is that I think it was meant to ‘take me down a peg.’ The message is that while I’m being published that my work is not quite good enough. The person’s spouse had already confided to me that there were glaring errors in my book that should have been avoided when we met for lunch about a week after that particular book launch- a time that I was pleased as punch after a fantabulous event for my beloved book. Sigh.

I’m not perfect and don’t do any of this alone. I have a great team and we work together well. This message had already been shared. I think her advice was a definite case of poor timing, distance, and target. It reminded me of standing in the dojo, training place, with a fellow student who should have been trading taps to the ab region. Instead, after the fifth or so repetition he somehow punched me right in the face. It was wrong in every way but he shrugged and said he hadn’t meant to hurt me. The timing, for me, was awful. The ‘writer to writer’ message could have been shared during a more neutral time. The distance was too close to home in terms of my default state of negative thinking of “not being good enough.” The target was perfect for the messenger but, alas, not for me.

Writing helps me to make sense of my world. Talking things out do too. When I shared this with my editor she reminded me we worked together on the book and the publisher was on the team too. It reminded me that I hadn’t done this alone and there was nothing to feel shame about or to hide. Being part of a writing team is awesome. There will be messages given in a poor manner. I don’t have to wait for a sucker punch, there will always be someone there who will be happy to do the honors. If and when a punch does come sailing toward me and I don’t duck in time, I know that it may smart for a while and then I’ll be okay.

Happy writing (and editing)! Go in confidence of who you are and the knowledge that life can be challenging just as we are simultaneously rewarded.

Writing: Growing with your favorite author

My mother was an Agatha Christie junkie. I still have her collection that proves it. I’m an addict of sorts too. If I like something, I want more and more of it. The problem is that seconds and thirds are never quite like the first.

When it comes to my own book interests I’ve become a devotee of certain authors. Everyone knows that I adore everything written by Joyce Carol Oates. Both Oates and Christie have written over different decades and they’ve changed just like me.

There was a time that if I read a book and didn’t care for it in an ‘over the top’ way I never bought another book from that particular author.  Now that I’m an author, I’m aware of the changes writers experience. The life of each character and each storyline are so different that as a writer I can’t expect to offer the same book within different book covers.

As a reader, I love to explore various genres and subtypes within the genre. I may want to read a ‘cozy’ mystery one day and a ‘chiller’ the next. I’ve learned not to compare one as better than the other. They should be enjoyed within the context of what they are meant to be.

I hope to continue to grow along with my favorite authors and enjoy each new book as a ‘first’ and not in some preconceived notion of what I think it should be. Read on folks, read on… 

 

Writing: …and then there’s the book celebration!

It was two weeks ago that I shared an amazing celebration for the launch of my novel, Nights of Indigo Blue, at La Casa Azul Bookstore in New York City. Having so many family and friends, new and old, gather for the party was thrilling for me. Aurora Anaya-Cerda, the owner of our beloved bookstore and her staff, could probably open another business on teaching professionalism with genuine warmth. I could not have asked for a better night!

I send hugs and thanks to Maria Aponte-Gonzalez, Bobby Gonzalez, Manuel Williams, and Anwar Uhuru who are amazing performers. Their poetry and performances reminds me of the talent that Spirit gifts us with and how we as artists and authors share with others bringing smiles and tears to our eyes. I’d especially like to thank Albert TainoImage  Areizaga for his wonderful photo shots! I also want to thank my daughter, Mara Cordova, who trekked uptown on the train with me hauling food and other things we couldn’t do without. The Pope hadn’t gotten my message that I planned to drive so the streets were pretty much on lock down. And for those of you who don’t know, my spouse, Patricia Dornelles, is the very fabulous photographer who captured the book cover at Prospect Park lake at dawn about a year ago! Thank you!

Each person who was there is special to me in very different ways.  Thank you all for making the celebration one I will hold treasured in my heart forever. There are so many pictures that I don’t have of so many people who came out to show love and support. I wish I had them all! If any one else has photos of that evening, send them this way please!

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Writing: Me, a co-dependent author?

Suffice it to say that last week I’d been walking around in a cloud of free floating anxiety. I have no idea what other authors go through when their newly pressed novels take their places on public shelves but I can be pretty sure that everyone deals with this stress in some shape or form. My subject matter will soon be up for scrutiny… wait… it is already out in the world.

I can’t help but get consumed about ‘what will the neighbors think?’ or in my case, ‘what will my readers think?’, but censoring my characters would be a travesty to the development of their stories. There will be readers who get the characters, the stories, and the backstories and there are some who won’t. This all reminds me of a creative course I took where several students and teachers told me they ‘didn’t get’ my writing. That, I believe is a mask for the inability to articulate what may be ‘wrong’ with how a story is told. Maybe it’s the style or the POV that needs some fixing but it may be difficult for some people to utilize the tools of critiquing adequately. But truthfully speaking, I didn’t get the teacher’s, aka Editor for a Magazine, decision to encourage a fellow student to submit her piece for publishing. The story was about a couple who rolled down hills together in a deep pile of crunchy autumn leaves. Pretty, but what was the story? I guess I’ll never know.

It’s possible that a writer’s subject matter is taboo to certain people. Taboo- that’s not a word that I experience in my world often. Every day I’m made aware that the line in the sand is pushed a little further all the time and it is washed away by the waves of the Universe. We carry our personal lines in the sand deep within us. Many of us don’t allow others to witness how far we’ve ventured with that line on that stretch of sand and never will.

Reading is certainly not a passive act, it is an action. I cannot be fed by the author but if I open myself to what he or she wrote I may be able to identify and not compare and see the humanism in the story.  Just in the same way, I cannot expect my work to be all for everyone. That’s an impossibility but in the bigger picture, we are all more alike than different. I’ve read many books in my lifetime and I’ve loved many and not so many. Different readers will click with different types of writings. Hashing these thoughts and feelings out with supportive people has brought me to another place- one where I can be free of the anxiety of what others think to a place of enjoying the process that being a writer brings.

I’m quite taken with my new creative piece. When the box arrived and I opened it, I thought of how much I’d like to read it. The book is exactly one that I would pick up from a public shelf. A mystery, starring a Latina, who is full of zeal for life and the beauty it brings, is my kind of story. That’s what counts the most. Yes, I care. But I also know that life is large and what is today may not be tomorrow. That makes everything all right. So for today, I’ll stay in today. What a great place to be.

 

Writing: what’s your motive?

Memoirs seem to hit a nerve of mine- badly. I wonder about memoirs written by twenty year olds, without a trace of counseling or therapy, that seem to be done with the intent of hurting and exposing those individuals they feel have hurt them. That said, I’m creating a book of poems that is a memoir of my experience of my older sister’s death when she was fourteen and I had just turned eleven. It is my book of grief. While I didn’t have voice I had the power of listening and observation. I didn’t even have a squeak of a voice then but I do now and it speaks volumes.

Writing has given me a place to say things I never would have had the nerve to say years ago. I just didn’t have the ability to say what I would have wanted. Now that I’ve learned to articulate whatever I want, I’ve started thinking about whether what I am saying or writing is appropriate for the forum and deeper yet, what is my motive?

I’m not twenty, I’ve had years of therapy, and found myself writing poetry about that dark time without planning it at all. It just seemed to intuitively come to me that those dark times had to be written on empty pages.  Then, I remember being treated harshly by others and me toward myself. Today, I know that these writings are an opportunity to be compassionate toward myself.

Writing these verses have moved me tremendously on treating myself gently. I feel my heart opening and that allows me to be compassionate toward others, especially those I may have judged harshly regarding what I’ve considered their motives- whatever their motives.

For me, the timing for sharing these days of despair is coming and the place will be in a little book that I share. The light in all this is the healing that I’ve experienced. Light and dark dance to create a wonderful shadow world, one of the places in which I live.