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.

How not to sell a book.

As an author I have the terrific opportunity to meet other authors, writers, and artists. I love sharing notes on my phase of development in my writings and to hear others’ processes too. One of my favorite things to do is to buy books at events and have the authors sign their treasured works. I recently found myself in the situation where I was interested in buying a couple of books from an author and then changed my mind. The author really made it hard for me to support him and I’ll tell you why.

The author not only began telling me about his process, he basically steamrolled me and didn’t let me get a word in edgewise. He kept talking and talking. Whenever I did open my mouth to speak, I noticed that his eyes immediately went to the door to see who else was walking into the room. This was a clear indicator to me that he wanted to be sure to spot a more important customer than me. That’s not a good idea if you want to sell your book.

The rest of us exchanged cards. This guy gave me his card and had absolutely no interest in my card. When I began looking through his pretty wonderful looking book, he still wouldn’t stop talking. I was definitely turned off when he gave me the price (after I asked), looked at me, and added, ‘or whatever you can pay.’ Grrr.   What made him think I couldn’t afford his book? That type of thing, I understand, has nothing to do with me and all to do with him but I really didn’t appreciate it.

I’ve noticed the authors who never buy other authors’ books at events. I like to support. Maybe others don’t have the money. I get that. But not to even come over to a table to say hello, I just don’t get. So, this may sound like a rant and maybe it is. But how do expect the public to support our books when we won’t even support each other? Being part of the author community means coming out of one’s comfort zone and speaking with a stranger, maybe even someone that writes in an entirely different genre. It’s nice to stick to the members of an already established supportive writers network but we never know what a new one will offer us or what we can offer it.

These are just my musings, in other words, “Just wondering.” Maybe I should write to Dear Abby.

 

The Holidays…

While acknowledging that not everyone celebrates this end of year trifecta of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year, I must say that I do. Every year it’s different but depending on my spiritual condition it can be great or devastating. I’m not talking about how often I went to church but of how I treated myself and those around me. It also depends on whether I’ve been connected to my Higher Power. 

I’m not one of those who wears my religion on the outside. That’s for no particular reason, it just is. It’s more of an inside job. When I get together with others in my spiritual community it sustains to a certain degree. The wholeness I seek comes in the forms of meditation, prayer, and walking the good road. It’s easy to forget but I try to engage in at least one of these on a daily basis.

My spiritual practice allows others to be who they are meant to be. That sounds awfully big of me as I write that down but the truth is that I often think I know everything and especially what’s best for others. Luckily, my HP usually gives me reminders when I’m a bit off and not keeping my side of the sidewalk clean while pointing out the litter across the street or down the block.

Personal reflection during the holiday season comes with the territory of my life. I look back, while not staring for too long and contemplate my future while not forgetting my feet are planted in today. Past holidays, for me, were filled with ‘is it good enough?’ That translated to ‘am I good enough?’ Not great thoughts to wrestle with while barraged with advertisements depicting ‘more, more, and more.’

I’ll be in the quiet for this holiday. I’ll gift a few people and know that I’m an okay person who has moved from the material closer toward the spiritual. I’m in a state of gratitude for the people I’ve come in contact with during 2015 and looking forward to forging new relationships in 2016. I know that if I tend to my spirit as I would my garden that beautiful flowers will grow. I will not be in a constant state of ‘want’ and know that my HP has provided me with everything I need. 

Happy Holidays!

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.

Writing: Use of scenery

My usual daily scenery, outside of my personal living space, encompasses New York City. I think of tall buildings, well spaced trees, cars and people- lots of them. Digging deeper as a writer encourages me to ‘experience’ in a very different way.

The subway system is rich for description. It’s teeming with live specimens including the occasional rodents who grace the tracks and platform waste receptacle. This is of the grosser variety of life for most. I, on the other hand, have an entirely different set of sights that I’ve been encouraged to use in my scene writing.

The young women who flip, toss, and pick their lustrous sands- yes, some to the point of pulling, also known as trichotillomania, are high on my list of daily contextual experience. The male who obviously spends time in the gym, who boasts a trim bod in gray pants and sky blue shirt with the perfectly rolled up sleeve, and darts in to grab the seat before us more elegant elder ladies have a chance to is also high on my list. They compete with the young lady, whose skimpy slip-like dress  outlines her apple bottom cheeks, that stands not three inches from my nose. All of these  vy for inclusion into my novels but somehow these are descriptions of persons in my environment that I prefer to extinguish from my awareness and they may never make it into one of my novels.

An early scene in my first novel Covering the Sun with My Hand has Julia Acevedo enjoying her morning jaunts with Victor on the IRT line. The magnetic pull between them was amazing and fresh for these young lovers. All she could see were the signs above the windows and the doors. Her attention was entirely focused on Victor except for the moment that a poster of the then popular Miss Subway caught her eye and her pathos. This is an early foray into Julia’s thoughts and how she viewed the world. Her question of “what do others think” here is preliminary to the ground work and backstory for this protagonist. This type of writing is so much more important to me than the details of other riders’ peculiar and jarring habits.

How do you use scenery in your writing? If you don’t write, what sort of scenery do you like to read?

Writing: developing minor characters

A writer not only develops a protagonist and antagonist, they spend a lot of time creating environment, credibility in terms of space in time, but also minor characters and their backstory,

In Nights of Indigo Blue, Daisy Muñiz’s Dad is named Octavio. It would be easy to keep the level of information simple. That’s important to the novel because we don’t want to detract too much from Daisy. But Octavio is rich with possibilities of, at some point, becoming a major player in the series. Octavio Muñiz is a Viet Nam veteran and he continued to suffer from the throes of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder until something changed in his relationship his daughter and he finally agreed to get help.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is an illness that occurs for some people who have experienced one horrific traumatic event or a series. While we tend to think of major instances like wars or terrorist events, PTSD can also be suffered by persons who have lived having to cower under their beds when gunshots ring out in their neighborhoods or by witnessing the life of a mother who is in a domestic violent relationship. People have different levels of capacity for tolerating certain events so while one person may not be affected, another may need intensive therapy for healing.

All of this may seem to be on the outskirts of developing a storyline for a ‘cozy mystery’ but all characters should have depth. How much is revealed to the reader is up to the writer, to the story, and mostly, to the character!