Writing: always refining

Refining one’s skills is a never ending process and that’s a good thing. There’s lots of territory to cover when it comes to writing and none of is us immune. Just having completed reading (and writing) two very different novels it occurred to me that one needed refinement in editing and the other in cohesion in development of a story line. Different types of writing vary in terms of interest but the reader should have an idea what the essence of the story is even if the writer has an MFA. It’s up to the writer to ensure that this happens. Readers shouldn’t be spoon fed  but stimulated, enticed to move onto the next chapter and given the best material the author can provide.

With a PhD in Nursing focused on Theory Development and Research I have a certain set of skills. Not having an MFA has sometimes sent me into a cycle of despair. I contemplated returning to a graduate writing program but decided it’s not for me-at least based on what today’s tarot spread showed me.

I love writing poetry and have a couple of poems slated to come out in the Spring/Summer of 2015 issue of Sinister Wisdom. I believe that means something but I do think I could use some fine tuning in that area. I’ve just started an online writing course at the Writers Studio Workshop. I tend not to advertise but their method is simple, fun and not personally degrading as I’ve experienced at some other schools of writing.

The first poem I remember my mom reading to me when I was teeny was Abou Ben Adhem (May his tribe increase) by James Henry Leigh Hunt. I remember the vivid imagery that I experienced as I heard the words. I hope to be that sort of poet one day and this is precisely why I look toward refining my skills.

Abou Ben Adhem by Leigh Hunt

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
“What writest thou?”—The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still; and said, “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.

 

Who are some of your favorite poets and what poems sit deep inside of you?

Writing: creating a vision board

Pouring my coffee this morning I was struck by a great idea. The thought that I’d put together a book of short stories about the different neighbors in my novel Covering The Sun with My Hand held me bound. The book I envision will manifest with a little spit and polish and lots of elbow grease.

I love my characters in the novel. Each one has a story and a life. Some of it was left on the cutting floor during edits. That process did not lessen the depth of each character. It’s just that sometimes backstory is backstory until it becomes front page news.

The front of my refrigerator has become my vision board. I’ve drawn book covers on small index cards of projects that I would love to complete. Covering the Sun with My Hand was one of those index cards. I’m three quarter way through Coney Island Siren, that novel that slipped in by way of my God card. The day I placed the cards on the fridge I left a blank one up there too. This is my God card. My vision is nothing without my HP’s vision. It’s not actually a ‘blank’ card but more of an ‘open’ card. At this point I know the difference between what I want former and what my HP wants for me.

Have you created a vision board? What have you experienced by doing so? I’d love to hear.

Writing: looking backwards at 2013

Cover Latina Book Club

My debut novel Covering the Sun with My Hand was released in May of 2013 and it’s been a whirlwind for me ever since. My dream of being published with one of the “big” houses wasn’t realized and it was the best thing that could have happened for me. Instead I was invited into a small, new publishing company called Aignos Publishing. I thank my HP for that one.  Since I have no idea what might have happened had that dream come true, I’ll write about what did when my novel was born.

Aignos I know

I got a family. The entire group at Aignos Publishing has become very important to me. Since my first call from then Editor in Chief Jonathan Marcantoni, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and developing friendships with many new people.

My book is one of the 2013’s bestsellers at La Casa Azul Bookstore in NYC. Really. My book is wedged under Junot Diaz, Pulitzer Prize winner for 2008 and Ernesto Quinones, one of my literary heroes. Check out  http://luchalibrosnyc.blogspot.com/

Latina Book Club named my novel as one of its best for 2013. http://latinabookclub.com Believe me, I’m thrilled that “powerful, emotional, uplifting” are words that were used to describe my book!

Alan Weinberg, consultant to the NY Times, wrote that he was “looking” at me along with Junot Diaz and Lorena Fernandez. This rather heady piece of information can be found at the Latina book Club website in their December 21, 2013 post where he responded to their outcry for recognition of Latino authors. Talk about a Solstice surprise!

Being interviewed at Nuestra Palabra: Having Our Say with Bryan Parras and Liana Lopez reminded me of why I wrote it and for whom. The incredible work done by this organization astounds me. Please check them out and get involved if it sings to your heart or even makes a chirp.

Going to various events at La Casa Azul Bookstore, PRIDA Comite Noviembre’s gathering of artists and authors, Brooklyn Book Festival, amongst many others has helped me to meet readers, other authors and become a part of a group that, unfortunately, I didn’t really know existed sitting at my desk in front of my computer.

Where I’m moving in 2014 as a new author remains to be seen. This may seem like a brag blog. Maybe it is. One thing I’ve learned in 2013 is that it’s important to “Shine my shine!” I hope that you do the same.

See you in 2014!

 

 

 

Writing: A dash of humility

20131015-183820.jpg

I happened upon author Wally Lamb’s Facebook page. Wow. He has lots of friends and humility. His cover photo shows his novel covers. Wow again. Simple. I’d been browsing through a friend’s face book page and saw she was friends with Wally Lamb. So I went to check his page out.

I didn’t try to find his website. He must have one. Most of us do. That face book page satisfied me. It seems Mr. Lamb is writing another book and is just as excited as everyone else-us, his fans. I decided not to try to friend him. What would be my motive? It’s just nice to know he seems like a regular person and I love his books.

There are other “famous” authors’ pages I’ve tried to check out. They aren’t easily found. I’ve gone to their websites and they aren’t blogging like the rest of us wannabes. One author, who I used to respect, has a line on her website home page that says I’m not blogging because I’m writing. Oof, that one hurt. Another well respected author I’ve loved had a place on her home page where one could contact her. I tried. She never answered. Why? Because she’s probably writing.

Is it a sin to be accessible to your readers? How does one go from being a hopeful author, to one who is grateful for their fans, to I’m too important to connect with my readers? This curious writer would love to know. Hopefully as I grow as an author I can avoid the pitfalls of being too big for my britches. Wally Lamb did it. Maybe so could I.

 

Choosing what to write

Puerto-Rico-beach.jpg

An opening line turned into a paragraph. It was glorious.  The sun, the sea, a boardwalk and a young woman who was looking out into the vast ocean and sky. The seagulls call and land at her feet. Her hair is blowing in the warm breeze. But wait…oh no. I find out she’s standing with some dude that isn’t the kind of man that shares my existence. He’s the kind of guy I avoid. He’s careless. Okay, maybe not careless. He’s violent. With his words and with his hands. Ugh.

This isn’t the type of book I want to write. But I continue to tap onto my laptop keys. The story emerges. Domestic violence. Not my favorite subject. In fact, it’s one that has kept me frustrated in my work life. I’ve sat across too many pretty young things that wouldn’t think of leaving these situations- not even for the children. So, I hesitated but the words kept flowing and I kept putting them down on paper. Because edits were due for my recently released novel Covering the Sun with My Hand I was able to put that manuscript away for a while. That’s over. That book is done and available on store bookshelves and on Amazon.com.  I took the manuscript back out and added more dialogue, more scenes, more details. The story is being to tell itself with all my reluctance.

Then I get another break. I reluctantly agree to work on Fridays, my sacred writing day, for several weeks. I’m not so thrilled about it. Doing psychiatric evaluations in a room the size of a thimble in a women’s shelter in NYC is something I can do even if I’d rather be writing. I do it. Then I find that there’s something poignant about sharing this space with mentally ill women. I begin to realize is that many of these women have fled other states in order to escape their violent husbands and boyfriends. When I begin to write their stories down I realize many of them have been physically assaulted by men in their lives since early childhood.

As I gazed into the swollen and bruised eye of one woman trying to get her to go for medical care it occurred to me that this was probably the 901th time she’s been punched. She’s tired. A scratched cornea doesn’t sound all that terrible. She probably can’t see what she looks like anyway because she’s lost vision in that eye. My heart opens and breaks a little. I can tell she feels that in the way she turns her head and gives me a half-smile. She agrees to go to the eye doctor like they told her to in the emergency room. I think the smallness of the room allowed for the intimacy and helped our energy vibes touch each other. I hope she goes.

As I write another line in the book I’d come to dread about domestic violence, I know now why I’ve been told to write it. It’s a gift from my Higher Power.  I’d wanted to write a story about ‘pretty.’ You know what they say. God laughs when you’re making plans. She must have been rolling on the floor watching me this time.

I carry on…

 

 

Interview with Author Karina Guardiola Lopez

Eleven

(Eleven Lopez)
Author, Lyricist, Writer and Poet

Karina Guardiola Lopez (also known as Eleven Lopez) was born in the Bronx, raised in Queens and now resides in Spanish Harlem, New York City. She is an author, poet, lyricist and educator. She has written two poetry books which are available on Amazon, Barnes and Nobel and Itunes.com. When Karina is not working on her poetry, she works and counsels the homeless, foster care and underprivileged population of Manhattan and the South Bronx. She is currently pursuing her Masters Degree at Baruch College and is also working on a third book. For more information you can go to about.me/K11Lopez.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading along with Eleven and love the way she plays with words to create genuine and needed observations of the world we are blessed to live in! – Theresa

Welcome! 

What are your genre and your intended audience? My genre is Poetry/spoken word and my audience is pretty much anyone who wants to hear what I want to share.

What are you currently writing? Right now, I am currently working on my third book.

When do you make time to write? The moment I see that I am free. Sometimes if something inspires me, I will text it to my phone, type it into the computer or even write on a napkin. I try to keep myself writing at all times.

What would you have done differently in your writing life? If anything at all? I should have taken more publishing courses in college which involved intense editing.

Tell us about your marketing strategy. Honestly, I do not have one. I wish I had someone to market me. I try to do the best I can by posting events, poems and photos on social networks, but I feel everyone should have someone doing that for them.

Does your spiritual or political life influence your writing? If so, how? Yes, very much.  Although my faith is present in mostly all of my works, there is a handful of works from the perspective of others, whether it was inspired from a debate, intimate conversation or something I overheard. I try to write about the human condition.

Do you have a particular theoretical foundation that keeps you afloat? My faith is my theoretical foundation.

What would you like to see in your literary community? I would like to see more support of other artists instead of making it a competition. Humility is key to achieve that.

*How long have you been writing?* I have been writing since I was about 9 years old. I was very much into short stories and children’s fiction. When I was 11, I created a hard cover for my book report out of a cereal box; it was a biography of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I then started to  write poetry until I was around 16 years old.

 

Writing: stopping to breathe

Theresa's inner child writing

My inclination to post this pic is because I need to get back to basics. Within the last six weeks, I’ve had a book launch at La Casa Azul Bookstore.

1booklaunch

The experience was surreal and beautiful. My friends surrounding me, my family beaming at me, my fellow authors reading pieces new to me and pieces that I’ve loved for a long while, the sounds of the no. 6 train making its way through East Harlem on a balmy Friday evening. All were blessings.

Theresa-1signing

Me smiling. I remember when all of my adult pictures showed a cynical smirk. I’m not that woman anymore and haven’t been for a long time. Signing copies of a novel that I swear I channeled. This story was spiritually ‘given’ to me to tell- a gift that I’m proud to have taken care of and cherish.

fire escape

My novel’s back cover. The fire escape I played on with my cousins. This was the fire escape I envisioned in my novel. The same one my cousin Mike, Uncle Louie and I ate lunch under realizing that the restaurant was Mike’s apartment when we were kids. The same lunch where I received a call and put my phone aside not realizing it was the call I’d been praying for many months from my soon to be editor- Jon Marcantoni from Aignos Publishing. Serendipitous you say? Me too.

Barnes and Noble

Barnes and Noble- where I read last night with Women of Color Writers’ Community. Thank you, Sister Bisi and all the very talented readers that took part in this event.

La Marqueta

On Sunday the 18th of August I will be sitting at a table selling copies of my book at La Marqueta in East Harlem as created by Maria Aponte- writer, performer, poeta who is gifted with inexhaustible energy with others all equally creative!

1Book1

So, tonight I will sit at my little table and write. Keeping it simple. Going within where it all begins.

 

 

 

Letting the story ‘write’ me.

 

Download photo.JPG (1242.2 KB)

I’m learning to listen to the voices that I hear when I’m writing. It makes the experience so much easier. Some people call it listening to their muse.  Others say that they’ve done that since they started writing-many published novels ago.

During the process of writing Covering the Sun with My Hand I did that. I didn’t get the stories sequentially, though. I heard bits and pieces and thought that was that. It wasn’t. I had to use that gift I learned in graduate school called ‘logical sequencing.’ In the thick of revising I found myself putting various sections together known as ‘right ordering’ them.

Between finishing up my recently published novel and my current work I actually completed another. A different genre- mystery. I love mysteries but mine is not dark enough. Yet. I need to be able to cut my teeth through it. I’ve often said that I like to write in the minor keys.

I wrote that story, the story didn’t write me. There’s a wide chasm between the two. Writers recognize it. It’s when you manufacture something for the sake of it. There’s nothing wrong with it. The process has its good points. I practiced my grammar. I practiced putting a story together. I practiced dialogue. I practiced character development. Maybe I’ll eventually let it out of the desk drawer and send it to a publisher. Or not.

My current story is writing me. I sit on the train and hear the words flow through me. I pull out my smart phone and instead of playing Bejeweled or Candy Crush, I set the words down in the notebook feature. I was gifted with four poems yesterday as I traveled my 20 minute ride from Manhattan to Brooklyn. When I reread these words last night it helped me to understand my new protagonist, Maggie Fuentes, a lot better. She’s so unlike me that I’ve had a hard time getting her motivation. Because I listened, now I do.

The process goes on. I listen. I write. I understand.

Write on, friends!

Self-editing your novel

Library Reading Room

There are steps to editing your book that a writer can and should take prior to submitting manuscripts for publishing. Why risk an unwanted rejection or two or ten? The goal is for your story to be published. Here are some things I did that I found helpful.

Use resources- There are many books on the market that will help you as the writer to edit your book prior to submission. My favorite happened to be Browne and King: Self-editing for fiction writers. Others are Eats, shoots and leaves by Lynne Truss and The elements of style by Strunk and White. Read them. You and your prospective editor will be glad you did.

Beta Readers- After workshopping, editing, and re-editing, I gave it to a couple of people to read including my daughter. She has no qualms about pointing out my faults. She had a grammar teacher extraordinaire and knows grammar. Find ‘my daughter’ in your life. There is one. Ask for help.

Read Aloud- Reading your piece out loud can help shine a beacon of light on your errors. Do you want this? Yes. It may just not make sense when your ears listen to what you’ve read.

Be honest- Embrace your editor within.  Just because you like a particular passage in your story, ask yourself if it truly belongs there. I had to whittle away things that I thought were witty, passions of mine, and situations that weren’t really germane to my novel. Think of it like cleaning the clutter. The house looks so much better without it.

Hide your manuscript– Put your ms in a drawer for a while or keep that file closed on your computer. It can be horrifying when you look at it again and see all the errors in it. Yes. That piece you were so enamored with might be awful.

If you decide to hire an editor prior to submitting, I bet you’ll find one who will be happy to work with you in getting your manuscript into tip-top form for publication. An editor who is interested in your work, what you have to say, and how you say it will not be turned off by some errors. Do your best but don’t get paranoid about your submission. There wouldn’t be editors if writers didn’t need them. My editor helped me say what I needed to in a different way. Let’s face it. I’d been staring at my manuscript for a few years. Her eyes were fresh and it shows. Authors who self-publish might also try some of these steps. Unfortunately, many people can’t find publishers because the work isn’t edited well. Stepping out of our egos takes some ego strength.

Lastly, accept the number of revision your work may need. I spoke to a young writer recently who thought that ‘real authors’ write their books in a jiffy. Not so. Writing is a process not an event. Have fun.When you’ve polished your work to the point that you think it’s ready for submission, bite the bullet and do it.

Rejection Row

istockphoto.com
istockphoto.com

There’s a narrow street called Rejection Row that leads to a lane that is lined with agent offices. This lane leads to Editor Street that when followed one eventually finds themselves on Publishers Boulevard. Far off into the horizon is Bookstore Expressway. Some writers veer off toward Self-publishers Highway. If a writer doesn’t allow themselves to be distracted by the multiple turn-offs that seem to pop out of alleys and dead end streets then there is the great possibility of reaching one’s destination.

There’s a book I toted that recounted tales of many successful authors who received multiple rejections during their early years. Some writers have said that they papered their walls with rejection letters. Others shared they’ve been asked to have their books published with a previously desired company, once they sold 750, 000 copies via the self publishing route. All that write these stories have pretty much withheld the “How ya like me now?” way of dealing with these circumstances.

I received an email inviting me to a writers’ pitch conference I had gone to two years in a row. After sitting with more experienced writers’ who helped me hone my pitch, I delivered it and was honored to have several well- known editors ask for my first fifteen pages. There were a couple of agents who asked for my pages too. To make a long story short, none accepted my novel.

NY writers perfect pitch
NY writers workshop perfect pitch conference

The important parts about the pitch conference were agent interactions. One agent asked me to change the format because she was interested. She became disinterested once I changed it. Another one sent me in-depth questions about my protagonist’s motives. I worked hard on that one and resubmitted it to her. About four months later she called me to say she ultimately decided to pass. This rejection didn’t smart so much because another editor had accepted my manuscript two days before she emailed me.

What’s more important about particular rejections is that individuals took time to contact me and made suggestions about what might work to enhance my writing. Thank heavens they did, since so many others have not answered at all. And still yet, another important concept is that I took suggestions without guarantees but intuitively allowed myself to let go and be guided by experts. Of course, I’m not working with them but they gave me valuable information. I received keys to the car from them and directions on how best to get to Bookstore Expressway. There were some detours on the path but I will soon reach my destination. Then it’s on to Marketer’s Road…