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…
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!
What a great night!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
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.
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.
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?
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!
A couple of people have mentioned to me that I wrote this current novel, Nights of Indigo Blue, rather quickly in that it’s been only two years since Covering the Sun with My Hand was published. It may appear to have happened fast but the truth is that the protagonist, Daisy Muniz, stepped onto my pages about eight years ago.
During an introductory creative writing course, the adjunct faculty member provided a prompt to the small class. She told us to pick a children’s tale and create an updated story using its bones and so Daisy was born.
I chose to use Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I met Daisy as she laid in the “hard” bed. Her boyfriend Lou made life miserable for her. She smoothed the edges of hardness off with Harvey’s Bristol and whatever else she could get her hands on until finally she climbed down off the unforgiving mattress. While working in a bar, Daisy spent many an evening bumping soft body parts with Letty. Those pretty white teeth were revealed whenever Letty smiled at her, which was often. Daisy found that bed a little too soft and eventually set out to make her own bed. With a little nip and tuck of the sheets, Daisy created a life that she could nestle into that was just right.
In this Daisy incarnation, she is still fending off the ghosts that permeated the first bed until she woke up. Letty is now one of her best friends and not a love interest while still indulging Daisy with unconditional love. Daisy is still working on her character defects and stumbles onto mischief and mayhem at a regular pace.
My desire to spit books out has yet to happen. Writing is becoming a bit easier but I still depend on the characters to tell me what’s next. I hope they never stop whispering in my ear. They’ve gone from paper personalities to becoming friends of mine.
Cozy mysteries are the ones that I grew up reading. They are the ones that were dependable. I knew that the protagonist would usually be a woman. She would be a general busybody and I’d either love her and want to be like her or she’d irritate me. Either way I wanted to read more. Suffice it to say that either way, I was glad that there was usually another few “mysteries” in the queue that I couldn’t wait to crack open. Cozies are like crossword puzzles. They tax my brain but not so much that I get a headache. They are relaxing, engaging, and have enough twists and turns in the plot to keep me reading.
More familiar cozies, due to television and movies , were Murder She Wrote, the Ladies Number One Detective Agency that is stationed in Botswana, and of course, the Agatha Christie series. Some of my first best friend amateur sleuths were Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames. These mysteries are usually of the gentle type, there is love and romance and usually no profanity or anything of the hardcore nature. This allows for more of an audience to enjoy including YA and Middle School readers. Yes, I was that kid that read Agatha Christie novels in the fifth grade. Who doesn’t love a fun and quick read? Believe me, as a writer I can definitely delve into intrigue, espionage, and complexities that make the hair stand up on the back of arms- but not all the time.
A few years ago, a character introduced herself to me. Her name was Daisy Muñiz and she had all the stuff of an amateur detective. She has been living in Park Slope, Brooklyn, thanks to her besties Jose and Rubio, and she has somewhat of a troubled past that she is working through one day a time to change. I was glad she came to me to write her tales of mystery because I never really had the experience of truly enjoying the antics of a Latina sleuth in the cozy mysteries I’ve read. She’s young, but not so young that she doesn’t have some skeletons in her closet. Daisy would give you the shirt off her back but hopefully she’s paid up her credit card bill and the shirt is hers to give away. Her other best friend, Letty, who knows her since high school will tell you that while Daisy does put her foot in her mouth sometimes, she has a heart of gold. Detective David Rodriguez is just getting to know about that heart of hers.
Daisy’s first mystery, Nights of Indigo Blue, will be released by Aignos Publishing Inc. at the end of September of 2015. I plan to have book launch for her in NYC at La Casa Azul Bookstore on September 25, 2015. I can’t wait for you to meet Daisy- she’s a bit awkward, affectionate, and awesome! See you there!
There’s something that tells me to keep my volume on low and try not to attract too much attention. Do a good job and your reward will come one day (we hope) even if it’s in the next station during the afterlife. The idea of not celebrating or talking too much about your good thing is advised because something awful will probably come around the bend. My backstory was one that if one laughs too hard that they will end up crying and not in a good way.
Culturally and traditionally, as a Latina who came of age during seventies feminism, I sometimes have to check myself when I have reactions to how things go today. Anyone of my peers knows that to wear a red dress or red lipstick was not approved by the generation before me. Risking one’s reputation as a vixen might surely compromise future good husbands or some such nonsense. Going out to clubs was often seen as something only a harlot would do. But many of us did and when I look around I see that we’ve forged lives of which we are proud.
That is just a sampling of the foundation that is under my feet. This means that when I turn my volume on high I feel the grumblings of my past. I’m sometimes shocked at what others do as they create their brands as authors and then I laugh thinking ‘hey, I need a little of that hubris or pride.’ It’s taken me a lifetime to get to this place where I write stories of characters who interchangeably wear white hats and black hats, where what you see isn’t entirely what you get.
That’s one of the thrills of writing- getting out of one’s comfort zone. If I could do it in real life no matter what my history is then I can do it on page. Slowly, my wings are spreading and I’m allowing the true me to be channeled through me. I always love the backstory but it’s not the current story that’s clamoring to be told. So, go ahead, people, boast, brag, be who you are, it helps me be me.
People who are familiar with recovery terms know the phrase ‘Drop the Rock.’ Surrender, Let Go and Let God, and similar sayings amounting to the same ideology. I translate them to the idea that someone knows better than me, it could be my Higher Power or a five year old, and I could learn something simply by listening. My ego is heavy and it would stead me well not to drag it everywhere I go, especially in my writing.
I read a Facebook post recently to the effect of how we shouldn’t applaud writers or artists because of their backstory. Their product has to be, at the very least, good. Someone else chimed in, shouldn’t they be encouraged like we do for a five year old? I don’t think so.
If my five year old grandson shared a poem or a painting I’d be head over heels enthused. I don’t think it would occur to me to critique it. I’d lavish praise and probably not stop to think whether chartreuse goes with pink.
When an adult shows me work I go into a very different mode. I do a thorough critique. I’ve been in groups where writers are horrified at any suggestion to change. They believe the work they’ve submitted is the best and cannot be improved. I’ve felt devastated in my earlier writing experiences by suggestions from others. Some I took with a grain of salt and others I worked at painstakingly. I hope the result is that my work improved.
We do a disservice by pretending things are good because we like a person. Wouldn’t you want to know if your hem was in need of repair? A couple of stitches go a long way. My first unpublished novel that stars ‘Daisy Muñiz’ needed lots of work. It wasn’t accepted for publication although my beta readers loved Daisy and the idea of an awkward, curious for life, ‘detective by default’ character.
I hammered away at creating Nights of Indigo Blue: A Daisy Muñiz Mystery. It’s a ‘cozy mystery’ and not something I envisioned doing in the early days of my writing. With suggestions from others and allowing myself to ‘drop the rock’ a whole new vista emerged before me.
Like anyone, I gladly receive praise but also take in the sometimes harsh advice of others and like to think my ability to weave a good tale is improving because I do.
Now, drop the rock and get to your creative work. It’s waiting for you.