Writing: developing a storyline 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.

Writing: The cozy mystery

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!

 

Go ahead, boast!

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.

 

Writing: the challenge of ego

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.

Writing: From Prose to Play

PRTTAt my playwright unit at The Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre, one of my fellow members mentioned that I was already a writer when I started the school year. While that is true I was quick to interject that I'm brand new in terms of playwriting. Somehow or another my journey has taken me to this very new world and one that I am totally loving.

When I was still struggling with my first drafts of my novel, Covering the Sun with My Hand, a friend/producer saw the possibilities of the prose turning into play. I hadn't even finished the book and had quite a ways to go. What she did was to plant the seed for future growth. We chatted over it at dinner and stole some office time creating the vision. This was over five years ago and we both moved on but the seeds began to grow slowly.

The tender green shoots are starting to emerge from the fertile earth. While the novel was published in 2013 it's only since Autumn of 2014 that I've seriously sat to craft the play. The guidance of the directors, Mario Golden and Andreas Robertz, at the PRTT, along with my peers have helped immeasurably in the process. This is not one of those things one should do alone. Some of it, yes, all of it, impossible!

Playwrighting is not an alchemical process. I get to sit and develop dialogue without the pleasure of explaining ideas and concepts through my character's thoughts. It's all action! I critique the other student plays, listen to their opinions and possible solutions about each other's various scenes and monologues. I get to sit quietly and pay close attention to what they've suggested for my work and go home and work some more. Very unglamorously glamorous. I carry this process wherever I go, on the train, in the supermarket, and often jot down notes wherever I happen to be. Much of this is like my novel writing but also very different. 

If I'd been told I was going to be a novelist I wouldn't have believed it. Playwrighting is yet another thing that has taken me by surprise. Recently during one of my morning meditative runs I felt the presence of my mother who crossed over about fifteen years ago. Her loving energy along with her pride infused me. I know that my childhood filled with outings to Broadway plays and musicals is the compost that enriched the soil. The nutrient rich humus of my early life have made today possible. I've been preparing to be a playwright for a lifetime. My mom wanted me to know something different than the life we inhabited on the daily. Our lives were good but she wanted me to experience other things than what was on the street in the Park Slope of Old.

On May 20, 2015 I will be sitting in the audience of a beautiful theatre once again. The difference is that this time I will be listening to the words that I put down on paper, creating a story of a family that is troubled yet whose members are devoted to one another. I so look forward to also hearing the words of my fellow PRTT playwright unit members come to life on stage. 

This evening of reading is an open event and free to the public. Check out the details for this and other events at http:pregonesprtt.org

Hope to see you there.
-Let's do something new together. 

Making sense when there is none

Last week a colleague of mine was brutally murdered. I received the news in a group email- understanding exactly why and proceeded to want to reach out. Instead someone reached out to me and I was given the opportunity of service in this tragic situation. My act of service is still reverberating within me.

Days later, I'm still ruminating over what happened. I'm okay with the fact that none of us are permanent fixtures on this planet. My dis-ease probably has more to do with the why's and how's of when my time will effectively be over. But in the meantime I am still trying to make sense of this awful thing that happened to a vital, dynamic, loving, and well-loved person. Someone, who like me, had decided to heed the call to service.

I discussed these happenings with a person I respect who suggested I do things that are pretty external to the matter. She suggested that I stop wearing my earrings. That I should not adorn myself, I guess, to attract undue attention. I briefly thought about putting my crystal necklace away and my bracelets in the jewelry box and knew intuitively that doing that won't lessen the chances of being attacked. Yes, I think the underlying message was to be careful. I heard that loud and clear. But I don't think that is the way to care for myself.

I don't think the problem is about working with mentally ill people- that is something I've read about in the newspaper. Violence has always been around and it's not going anywhere. An acquaintance of mine, who is an actor, was recently assaulted pretty badly on the train. He now feels terribly unsafe as millions of us do- probably to a greater extent. Random violence is possible. Targeted violence is also possible. Neither he or more friend did anything to warrant what happened to them.

I've worked in mental health crisis situations for years. I don't talk about them much but accept what I've experienced more as 'part of the work that I do.' Again, it's the service my Higher Power has asked me to do.
I can think of a million ways that I will cross. Instead, I will try to be careful each day I put my feet on the floor as I get out of bed. When I was growing up my Mom always said, "I love you, be careful," as we separated for the day. I still say that to my spouse except that I add, "and carefree." It's important to enjoy each day of life. I have no regrets, there may be some things I'm working through but nothing love and prayer can't fix.

So, my prayers go out for my colleague, Ana Charle, and her daughters, her father, her brother, her friends and family and all of those whose lives were lit with love because she saw the possibilities of health, growth, and potential for change in each one. This is something I must continue to do for that is my calling. And I will. Just as she did.

-Kadeeshday. May you walk in beauty.

It’s all in the smile

I’m on social media- a lot. I noticed the other day that everyone’s children are lovely. Pictures show that they are angelic, well dressed, and down right cute! Adorable. Posed. Boring. I’m at the age when I can talk about how it was back in the olden days. Back in the days when my mother took pictures with her Argus camera we didn’t see resulting photographs until a week or a month later. Sometimes the developed film wasn’t picked up from the pharmacy until a year or more later. That’s when the laughs began.  The concept of awkward family photos is usually relegated to those photos taken before the invention of the phone/camera combo. I love ‘Throwback Thursdays’ when I get to see the candid vibrant pictures of my friends who are usually in a puddle of other kids.

Pictures of kids whose eyes have taken on demonic tones, whose hair looks like a manual egg beater went through it, or like they just sat down and squashed a raw egg no longer exist. Glaring sun in their eyes? No. My mom won a company photo contest when her image landed smack in the middle of the sphere at the 1965 World’s Fair thanks to nifty “double exposure.” My favorite picture taken during my childhood is of my sister on her first Holy Communion. Two weeks after the event, when my mom tore open the envelope, we laughed until tears rolled down our cheeks. Her goofy turned up smile was perfect against her pristine white lace dress and filmy veil.  My sister explained she’d merely gotten tired of picture taking.

Today, I usually see candid shots of how perfect little ones are in the eyes of their loving parents who might not see the perfection of imperfection. Photos that show cute, cute, and more cute. I’m not suggesting shaming pictures or the ones I’ve seen taken in the middle of a tantrum. Those are private moments that every child should have. But it seems many of today’s pics are quickly deleted. What will that mean in the future when children who are all grown up leaf through their parents Facebook pages and they see that they were always awesome and the angle of their childhoods was always just right?  I still love leafing through my mother’s albums crammed with black and whites and color shots. They remind me that I was a funny kid and I was sometimes sad. I was always a pretty full rounded person and my bad days weren’t deleted. They sit right next to my good days. While those paper pictures may be a bit faded in color they will never be in my memory. Thank you old Argus!

-Peace

Fulfilling a Vision

Something  occurred to me again, because I already knew it, but you know how it is when you ‘really’ get something. My thought is about how important it is to take action steps when developing a creative life. That may seem like a no-brainer but it’s  not always so evident or easy. There was a time in my life that I thought, while lying on the sofa watching television, that ‘someday’ and ‘somehow’ I was going to create something successful. What I can say about that is that at least I had a vision.

I still sometimes struggle with taking action. I often sit in front of the television and watch other people’s creativity at work. I usually get up after a couple of minutes and say to myself, “let me go and do my creative work; thanks for the inspiration.” My excuse that I worked all day is just an excuse. Afterward, I go to bed feeling a lot better about myself than if I had used ‘having a long day’ as a reason for not writing or doing something else I love, like picking up my beloved accordion.

Another thing I find important in fulfilling my vision is sharing it with someone else. When I went to school as a child I got in the habit of covering my work. There was always another kid who resembled a crane as they tried to sneak peeks at the answers on my pages. Even as an adult there have been people that were unscrupulous with how they treated the work I shared with them. But still, there’s a certain power to sharing one’s vision. I believe that by putting my vision out into the Universe that it clarifies my plans, strengthens my commitment, and leaves my vision open to a blessing that can only be received if I’ve shared it aloud. So often, others’ feedback have helped me to view my work in an expanded manner. Will someone steal my idea? Maybe. But I think that each person’s vision is different and will be effected in a unique way. There’s enough to go around. By giving voice to my vision I am exhaling a prayer into the Universe that is abundant in its gifts.

Inspired

I’ve heard that it’s important to learn to say ‘no’ in a world of constant interaction, negotiation, and of being asked to participate in just one too many activities. I understand this and have learned to say ‘no’ to people and situations that are draining, harmful to my well-being, or just plain disagreeable. Saying ‘no’ has given me the time and heartspace to say ‘yes’ to new people and events as never before.

This weekend has been a whirlwind of connecting with friends and meeting new ones. Saturday, I had the privilege of listening to a group of talented and creative women at Maria Aponte’s Latina 50+ event held at the Bronx Museum. As a member of the Advisory Board, I’m enjoying my opportunity to experience others in a different sort of way. The conference participants’ boundless energy and endless desire to share knowledge, wisdom, and hope is almost unimaginable. A wonderful thing is that I am a part of this amazing group because I said ‘yes.’

Today, my spouse and I went to a midtown restaurant called, Don’t Tell Mama, to hear a dear friend, Ann McCormack, sing accompanied by musicians. I loved watching her as a performer and seeing her differently than ‘just’ a friend. The other performers wove a wonderfully enjoyable venue for us. During one particular composition I felt inspired. I was inspired to write a piece for my adolescent self, the one who had a terrible time still grieving the death of my sister, moving to a different neighborhood, and saying ‘yes’ to things that I should have said ‘no’ to at the time. At that point in my life I had no idea about the amazing things that were to come my way. I don’t think I would have believed how joyous my life would be. I wouldn’t have listened to me. Today, that adolescent part of me is listening and is encouraged to do things I would never think were possible. I am inspired to write for the adolescent me who is still inside of me and who now has the courage to hear my message- better late than never.

Writing: “a Puerto Rican author”

Preparing a novel for the actual “publish” entails details that I don’t think about in my daily life but some issues hover like a helicopter about to descend. There may be danger if I getting caught in the blades or I may clear them easily with the right positioning. So, I questioned myself, about my position when I prepared my author’s bio.

In the author bio for Covering the Sun with My Hand I described myself as Nuyorican. That’s a description- isn’t it? Except that to my knowledge I was born Puerto Rican from Puerto Rican parents. I happened to be birthed on Brooklyn soil. This may make me BrookloRican. Not.

I was actually Puerto Rican until I was about fifteen and my cousins declared I was Nuyorican. They were born in Brooklyn too and moved to the beautiful island of Puerto Rico for a period of time that was long enough for them to determine that there was a difference between us. I wasn’t ‘real’ enough. That type of accusation against one’s authenticity can stick to some of us lesser thick skinned people especially during adolescence when we are trying to ‘identify’ or at least develop a genuine sense of self.

I recently attended an author’s’ event where one of the self proclaimed ‘first identified’ as a ‘Nuyorican’ began waxing about the concept and then began on a variance of ‘Neo-Ricans.’ His verbalized expertise on the topic sounded complicated. I felt like I was fifteen again when I was told by ‘other’ what I was and what I wasn’t. ‘Other’ in this particular case means anyone or everyone who isn’t me. I’ve had decades to self explore and decide who I am and what I am whatever the outside opinion may be. What happens when one is a matured self -identified person is that when they hear this type of self-selection is that they say ‘Talk to the hand’ in a perfectly fifteen year old manner.

I’m not sure if I’m at peace with the self aggrandizement or grandiosity that often comes along with branding oneself as a type of writer or product. I’m also not of the mind where I want to try being  a particular entity that is loved or accepted by all. Fat chance with that anyway. Interestingly enough, most of the author descriptions I read are simple. Some authors live on a farm with their husbands, two kids, and a dog named Sam. Others live in Connecticut and that’s all I know about them. Will selling myself as a particular entity attract or repel readers? Or will they just like the stories? The jury is out.

What a freedom this all is. I was at my desk at my fairly new job the other day and a Security person passing my office called out, “You Puerto Rican?” I called back, “Yes.” Is it important? In some ways it is and in others it’s not. He didn’t ask me if I called myself Latina or whatever in the author bio of my novel. In fact, he didn’t know that I have a published book out and that my next novel is due to be released this year. He’s trying to get to know me while we keep up with the fast pace of our lives. That’s probably the most important, who I am as a person- not as a particular identified thing. There are some things about me that will never change and some things that will as I grow and develop on planet Earth.

I hope you read my bio in Nights of Indigo Blue: A Daisy Muñiz Mystery  when it is released later this year. I wonder how I’ll feel about it then.

-Peace