Regaining Focus

My anxiety soared sky high when I realized that I no longer wanted to blog about blogging. In one of my previous blogs I wrote about what to do and what to steer away from after reading a gazillion blogs on just that. Fine and interesting. I needed and continue to need guideposts on blogging. So keep them coming fellow bloggers but I will bow out of that particular enterprise.

 It’s taken me several attempts at blogging to finally find my niche. As I read others’ blogs I thought long and hard about topics that are meaningful to me. Using time is a delicate enterprise. Blogging, writing poetry, an occasional short story and revising my completed manuscripts, while jotting down notes ideas about other novels, takes almost acrobatic skill.  

My days are filled with exploring the psychic and spiritual inner worlds of the people who sit with me. We piece together life’s puzzles making sense of the challenges and bountiful goodness that we experience in this incarnation. My writings are filled with these life stuffs so why shouldn’t my blog? Duh.

It’s been affirmed that when a person does something they love that the probabilities for success are higher. Good. I believe that success, measured, can only be self defined. Already, I feel in a great place. So- I’m back to a comfort zone in blogging. Mental health, psycho-spiritual realms and that sometimes broad and, other times, fine space of the in-between…writer’s block resolved.


Rejoice while Revising

Submitting a manuscript does a certain thing to me. It enables me to feel the joy of hope and optimism. I give myself whole hearted permission to fantasize about the cover of my novel and to luxuriate in the imaginings of an acceptance letter from one of America’s publishing houses.

I allow myself and my muse to observe, from the recesses of my mind, the scene of sharing the good news with my friends and family. They smile and embrace me warmly while telling me what a wonderful job I’ve done. Everyone is surprised and pleased that it all happened so fast. I’m assured that I’m so deserving of having my words in print.

Receiving rejection letters is another issue that I’ve written about previously. Looking at the awkward responses, I’ve sometimes thought of how I could have written a better rejection letter, about how a particular editor didn’t have decent syntax or that by the tone of their letter that they were afraid to work with the topic. I’ve been sure more editors would have preferred a simple love story featuring zombies and vampires.

To my surprise submitting manuscripts and receiving rejections has become something different for me. Instead of pointing my fingers at others, I’ve taken to doing personal inventories on my process. Doing this has freed me up! I am liberated. Taking suggestions has landed me into a very special time. I’m not in a hurry. I am enjoying reading the multiple books on editing and style like never before. The copies are almost dog-eared now.

My favorite days this past week were spent looking at how many descriptors I’d peppered into my text. I laughed at myself a few times. That felt really good. I even shared about the number of italicized pieces I shouldn’t have included in my work with a certain relish. I’ve told and not shown when I should have- just like the oral storyteller from which I descend. My many errors amounted to that same number of rejections. They are rich and I am engorging myself in their sweetness.  I am like the pears that swim in concentrated nectar. I will steep in dismissals and eventually yield with a piece that is the syrup of prose.  

While my feelings may last for today, or this hour, it is okay. It is enough.


Writing Respite

Taking a deep breath, after sitting to a cup of coffee with Browne and King, I came to some decisions this morning.  I will use these days of snow, quiet and what I thought was monotony to regroup. Having sent out a couple of manuscripts I’d been ready for the magical words- “We would love to publish your book Theresa Varela!” This didn’t happen but some other things did.

Instead of receiving all form letters I received a couple of glowing letters of rejection. This was a big step for me. Some editors read my pages and decided that my novels weren’t the right fit for their houses or still needed to be worked upon. One suggested that after I revise that I might think about letting them see my manuscript again. My plan of being in a 2012 line-up was thwarted. So I had to think about how I would accomplish my goals after having received much desired feedback. I don’t know if the editor or agent who takes the time to send suggestions and clues toward a better manuscript can truly know how much of a gift that can be.

I reviewed my manuscripts and could see exactly what the editors saw. I hadn’t been able to do that on the nights I sat scrambling at the keyboard. The ideas, plots and devices all wanted to be placed on paper. I heard the voices and let them speak through my fingertips. The unruly children in my brain coursed through the playground, lunch, music time and snack without me using better judgment. I never had them lay down for midmorning naps.

One editor suggested Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. When I read her email I looked up and saw that it was at eye level on one of my book shelves. I’d read it before in the pursuit of fine fiction writing. Now that I’ve finished my manuscripts I know exactly what the authors mean by ‘showing and not telling’ and ‘proportion’.

Meeting with my writing group during the initial stages of one manuscript was helpful as to the development of the characters. We didn’t actually help each other edit, since we hadn’t yet arrived at that phase. Summer and visions of lolling on the beach and slurping Italian ices prevailed. Fortunately we are back from our lengthy hiatus.

This period that I call “Post Rejection Blues” is something different than the usual for me. It’s a pretty and tranquil shade this time. I am listening to the experts and taking suggestions. I’ve also deleted full chapters. While initially painful I realize it’s important for me as the writer to know the background of some characters. The reader doesn’t have to know the details if I do my job in executing the action. They will ‘get it’ if I succeed in the writing.

For some reason, although this is all still writing, I feel as though I’ve been afforded a respite. A time to regroup, rewrite and revise. I’m looking at the woods at the back of the house as I contemplate all of this. The snow is deep and many of the trees limbs are quite bare. On one level it all seems quiet and barren. At a deeper level it is one of dynamic inner growth. The leaves and the flowers will flourish-when the timing is just right.


New Voices Reading Series

You are cordially invited to a special gathering of writers and poets as La Pluma y La Tinta hosts its first literary reading of the New Year. Join us as we share our stories with you.

Featuring workshop members Samantha Nieto, Raquel Penzo, Rebeca Toleda and Theresa Varela.

Our theme…Secrets. What lies hidden in the recesses of the mind? You’ll have to attend to find out.

January 29, 2011 6:30-8pm

Refreshments will be served so come for the wine and stay for the words.

Tickets are limited; get yours today!


Writer’s Run

Yesterday, I completed the Manhattan half-marathon. It isn’t my first but probably my most difficult half in a while. I came in about 20 minutes later than the previous one I ran about six month ago. I’d like to think that there were a lot of reasons why my time was what it was.

First, I have to admit, it was cold outside. The thermometer read 15 degrees Fahrenheit. I practically froze my fingers off when I decided to take my number tag off my jacket to place it on my pants. This way if I got too warm I could take the jacket off. Ha! That never happened. I’d been sick with an intestinal flu for the New Year and then with a whopping cold a week ago. The days in between that I had been feeling good had been inundated with snow. I am not a snow runner. I shake my head at all of the runners who glide by me as I trudge in my boots. So, I wasn’t as trained as I’d like to be. I can go on with the multiple excuses that I prefer to term as reasons, that I didn’t do as well as I would have liked. Suffice it to say that- “it is what it is”. I happen to love clichés and think they describe situations to a T. I’ve been warned about liking them too much in my writing but  today I am still tired after running the thirteen point one miles- so I feel free to use clichés.

Running that distance at my pace leaves me a lot of time for thinking. I thought about my writing and my goals. I thought of the personal time and commitment that I’ve needed to continue doing both. These activities have garnered very enjoyable times for me- like an autumn run in the woods or reading a piece I’ve written to a gathered crowd who shares the moment with me. Most times, in reality, the pursuit of the runner’s high or the nodded approval of an audience member is elusive. Most of the times it’s just me, by myself, moving forward without encouragement and more often seeing the bewildered look of someone who wonders why I do what I do. Running and writing take a lot of my personal time. It is a choice to take one’s time to do something that one loves, that sometimes may be quite difficult and most times a very solitary action. Having the ability to “go within” and “to go the distance” whether others believe in you, or not, is a feat.

During the half marathon I ran up Cat Hill in Central Park and remembered how difficult it was when I first began running. My chest would heave and I would look up at the large jet black feline statue wondering why I was doing this. Yesterday my breath was easier than during the earlier days of running and I enjoyed my progress. I also remembered when I found learning “point of view” to be a horrendous experience. My teenage daughter wrote up a crib sheet for me and talked me through many pieces I never submitted. I’m sure many editors would thank me for that. Today, POV runs natural and I like to think it’s because of the training, just as in my running skill.

In both running and writing I’ve taken workshops, shared thoughts and words with my peers and have had both wonderful and awful experiences. I’ve been competitive in both and have watched very skilled runners or writers blaze across the scene taking all of the attention I might have wanted. Those experiences have not stopped me. They’ve made me stronger and I continue to be eager to see where my paths will lead.

Just like in the running there are reasons that I’m not where I’d like to be. I’m sure of what some of them are but also know that there are reasons beyond my control. I am where I am. I saw a woman run past me and thought I should surely be passing her. I realized that I had no idea who she was, what her training schedule was like or anything about her. My streak of mid-pack competitiveness flashed for a moment and then it was gone. I’d sat to lunch with a friend the day before the race who is having his third or fourth book of poetry published in a couple of weeks. I am still waiting for my first novel to be selected. My turn will come if I persevere as he has. I truly believe that.

Challenge is an invitation to life. I will run, rest, write, eat, sleep, be a friend, and be a parent and a partner. I will enjoy the gifts that are given to me on both the easy days and the more taxing ones!


The Beginners Tips to Blogging Written by a Beginner Blogger

Although I’m fairly new as a blogger I almost feel like an expert. I attribute this state of mind to the multiple blogging sites on how to blog that run across my blogging streams. So I decided to pick out the tips I’ve read and reread several times and share them with you, just one more time. This is in case you might have missed the most important ones.

Blogroll please!

Be Consistent: It doesn’t matter if it’s every Wednesday, Thursday or heaven forbid, Sunday, but it must be there when you say it will. Patterns are important because your multiple readers will wonder what the heck happened to you if you didn’t post your entry. I’m only fairly new to blogging in terms of keeping consistent entries posted on my site.  This has probably shown that I am inconsistent and even worse! Unprofessional! So being consistent is probably the first thing I’ve learned as I’ve read the tips.

Name your blog with your real name: Use your real name unless you want to remain anonymous. I really don’t know how many of us writers want to be that. That’s not our point at all. We do everything else to see our names in print- so it’s okay. It’s not really to feed our egos; it’s all about easy recognition. When I was picking out the title for my first blog I had not yet achieved the level of self- esteem I have developed over the last couple of months of blog surfing. I named my first blog with a catchy phrase. If you happened to be a close friend of mine, you’d understand why I picked out such a cute name. Otherwise, you would have no idea. Unless you noted the picture I attached to it- the one where you couldn’t see my face. That led me to the profound discovery of naming my blog with my name. It’s okay. No one will think you are grandiose. It helps anyone who would like to read what you’ve written. Isn’t it much simpler to tell a friend that they can just look up your name rather than a charming expression they’ll forget before logging in to their laptop?

Find your focus: Maybe I should rename that to “find your foci.” There aren’t many of us that are about only one thing. I have many interests but I find it easier to know what I generally want to write about and let it move in a natural direction from there. I say this only after reading my early blog entries and seeing there was absolutely no focus at all. In the early stages of blogging I would write a blog on a whim, on a thought or on an inspiration. There is really nothing wrong with that- my muse would like me to share with you. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m no Julie and Julia. But there has to be some sort of focus. If there is no focus, why would your readers turn their television volume down just to log onto your site?

Be concise: Your readers are writers. They probably want to spend more time writing especially if they are working other jobs to pay the bills, like me. I get sort of glassy eyed if a blog entry is too long. I want to read a few blogs but I also want to make dinner, take the dogs out for a walk (they especially like that too) and play a game of X-treme Fetch (phrased coined by Ginger and Chutney but it sounds more like woof-woof when they say it). Be concise. I think this concept partners with being courteous to readers and can lead to more installments of a topic you’ve chosen to blog. The previous tip on finding your focus led me to realizing that I had to be concise. I’m getting better at it. Note the underlined tips in this blog entry. Most of my entries are told as short storylines. That’s okay because that’s how I happen to think and write but brevity is something that keeps me coming back to a particular blog.

Be Flexible: As a writer you are a creative being. No need to get stuck doing something one way and keeping it that way if you don’t like it. One of the most gratifying things I find about writing is my ability to be dynamic and fun. Change often takes not only my reader, but me, by surprise. No need to be stodgy when it comes to writing. As a writer of prose on my best days, I am sometimes struck with words that come together and what some, okay, basically me, would call poetry. Is there a place for poetry entries on my blog? Of course, it’s my blog. I have a separate blog site for my poetry. I’m thinking about entering my poetry pieces onto my main blog site. As you can see I’m not sure what I want to do. So be flexible, especially if you don’t know exactly which direction you’d like to take. I know that once it’s written and in cyberspace, it’s there, forever, for all eternity but energy changes and so do we as humans, I mean, writers. It’s okay to lighten up.

Blogging can be a scary experience for the novice. I know- I’m one of them. The multiple blog sites that offer help and clarify major points to blogging are welcomed by me. My greater task is to identify what I want to say and how I want to say it. Should my theme be whimsical, nautical or earthy? Only I can decide that but receiving practical knowledge from experts leaves me more time to consider a pink or blue background. Choices, choices…


Writing is akin to playing dolls

Writing is akin to Playing Dolls

I woke up this morning in an “aha!” moment- I had the great realization that writing is akin to playing dolls. This goes for the guys too! I played with Tressy, Penny Brite and Barbie-I am also showing my age.  The men I know played with GI Joe and then there was He Man and Skeletor and, well, you can name the others.

Writing was not something that I did as a child. I marvel at those of us who say they were writing their first stories and creating their own books as little ones. I read. And read. And read. The other thing I loved to do was play dolls and to create rooms, whole apartments, out of construction paper. Probably my first dolls were made of paper. The first were those my mother made by folding paper and, magically, after making a few cuts, voila! A string of paper dolls! I would talk for them and, boy, would they have conversations. These conversations I found were known as dialogue when I began taking my first writing classes as an adult.

In one particular class, the instructor concentrated on the dialogue. There should be no scenery, no back ground. The object was to prove that I could write those spare sentences that sounded as though there was more than one voice, two, or sometimes three. That was simple. I’d been talking in my head and sometimes aloud for my dolls, paper, plastic or otherwise for years as a kid.

The next thing was character development. I created the whole of my characters histories just as intricately involved as though they were people that really existed. All of my dolls had personalities. Would who expect Skipper, Barbie’s little sister, to ever say the same thing as Midge, her best friend, would? Really! Each doll and each character I’ve written about has their own special take on life, their own quirks and their own wardrobes-even if they occasionally shared shoes. Don’t best friends share clothes? In my first novel, Woman Found, Daisy and Letty are close. Letty puts up with Daisy’s shenanigans because they go way back. Their relationship goes further than the first page, they have a history that bolsters the story that we read and that is apparent.

Those apartments I made out of construction paper and, sometimes loose-leaf paper, comprised the background scenery for my characters. The dolls managed to walk through the 3-D walls I created with the aid of scotch tape. These structures didn’t have ceilings so I could place my characters where I wanted them. But just as in my writing I’d find my dolls where I hadn’t purposely placed them and then I just sat back and listened. Where do my dolls, ahem, my characters want to go? If I’m smart enough I follow them around-sometimes they know just a little bit more than me. Whole new storylines are created because I let my characters tell me what they want or who they really are-just as my Beautiful Crissy did!

So, I’m glad I had those dolls to start me in creating dialogue, character development and background/scenery creation. I’m happy that I learned to ‘talk in my head’ and that I’ve transferred that ability to talking on paper.


Choosing Books


Choosing Books

 Once I’ve mashed the black pepper and the fresh garlic cloves together in the pilón I find it hard pressed (no pun intended) to separate the two out. That’s how it is being a Latina who loves to write and loves to read. It took a while for me to identify that I was a writer or (insert dramatic drum role) a Latina! I was just a kid who liked to read books. I collected plenty of them! Along with our 45 records, we were as excited receiving books as when we were given ice cream treats from Dairy Queen. I especially liked girl stories. It’s sad to say that over the years I haven’t read a lot of what I considered boy books. The books with the Hardy boys on the cover never made it to my house. I guess I still have time to make an amends there but do I really want to?

Recently pitching my latest novel I came to realize that the pitch for the book is as important as the book itself-maybe more so. Picking out a book based on its cover is something I use as an initial tool in my decision making. I then pick out a couple of random paragraphs to read and listen for its singing in my heart. I recently read someone write that you may not be able to judge a book by its cover but you can certainly prejudge it. Well, I guess I prejudge. Is the title catchy? What is the picture on the cover? What are its colors? Can I carry it in my bag on my way to work? I still like the feel of paper in my hands despite the fact that I own a Kindle in my iphone. Somehow I like to visually see where my book mark is and move it aside knowing I have four train stops to finish my book. Sometimes I want to savor the ending and replace the bookmark closing my eyes two stops before its time for me to get off the train.

On my book list of favorite reads I wrote down Dracula by Brahm Stoker. I hadn’t read it in a very long time and I recently reread it on my Kindle. There were so many moments throughout the book that marked the probability of the anticlimax that when it actually happened I wasn’t prepared. I could have paid attention to the moving bar at the bottom of the device that shows me where I am in my reading but I didn’t. Needless to say, I loved every inch of the book but felt it finished prematurely. That was frustrating, if you know what I mean.

Recently I have been thinking of the Latina characters that I have come to know. A strong heroine is someone I have been missing. Strong Latino heroes are just a bit easier to come by. An Anglo author I have recently begun reading has Latino characters sprinkled in her book. I felt caught up short when one of the characters was a maid- just a tad bit recalcitrant in her job duties. Why did the character have to be a maid?  Why did she have just the right mix of arrogance and lazy in her attitude? Initially, I was a bit annoyed but then I thought- I know so many people like this that I needed to take it in stride. Was my feeling as a Latina author a fact? Shouldn’t I be true to realities? Just because the author had the character down ‘dead on’ did it mean I had to get on a soap box about the unfairness toward Latinas in writing? She had also written about a Latino character that is exudes Sexy with a capital S. Well, he may not be my cup of tea, but I can name you forty women I know who would be salivating over him. Okay. Fair enough. The characters are authentic and the story is a fun read. That is what I am looking for in a book.

In choosing books I can say my eyes are opening up! Peel back those layers, authors! I am starting to see in a whole new way. Characters must be real. They must be more than a one dimensional picture on the cover depicts them to be. I’ve taken pride in making sure my characters are just that, characters, not caricatures of people. It’s unfortunate that the book jackets don’t tell us who the protagonist’s best friends forever are and what makes them tick. Sometimes these characters have strong roles that we are just going to miss because we don’t know they exist. So for today, I’ve decided to shake it up and research more on the books I may pick up to read. I’ve started perusing book blogs and reading more about the possibilities available to me. I may actually begin to read the list of ‘recommendeds’ that others suggest.  I promise myself not to just depend on the cover picture of a boy or a girl anymore. Now, I think I may get to cook something, the thought of black pepper and garlic is enticing me into the kitchen.


Latina readership-writership

Latina Reader-Writership

A couple of years ago I attended my first meeting as part of a Latina Writers workshop and I was asked the question about how I felt being thought of as a Latina writer. The question perplexed me. I had never really thought of it as that. I think of myself as a Latina because I am of Puerto Rican heritage and as a writer because I write. I hadn’t thought to identify myself or pigeon hole myself into a particular category because I am an always changing person.

My first experiences with reading were of sitting at the kitchen table with tears streaming down my face as my mother read passages of Elsie Dinsmore to us. When she noted that we were particularly moved or excited about an upcoming chapter she would gently close the book and send us to wash our faces. My mother later told us she did this in hope that we would think to pick up the books ourselves. She hoped that her actions would foster the love of reading to us that we saw she had throughout her life. Well, I have to say that her ruse worked!

My mother received monthly selections from the Readers Digest Book club. She also “sent away” for The Best Loved Books- a condensed version of classics- and her shelves were filled with Agatha Christie novels. Those books were also a salvation for us through many a difficult day and night. When my older sister became ill and was hospitalized for months at a time, my mother and I toted our “favorites” to our days filled with hope and prayers for what I now think of as “our survival”. A few months after my sister died in the summer of 1969, I remember my mother picking up a couple of novels. She had no memory of the words she’d counted on during that time and reread them all. This was a habit I soon picked up.

I devoured Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames stories. The vivid images of Nancy searching out clues and Cherry falling in love, in her starched white uniform, helped to form the person I have become. There were no Latina heroines for me to read about. I did not cut my teeth on Esmeralda Santiago, Julia Alvarez or Ernesto Quinones. Junot Diaz had not yet been born. In fact, when I first read the title When I was Puerto Rican I was horrified! What was Santiago trying to say? I was still Puerto Rican and nothing I did would ever change that. It took me a while before I stopped balking and finally picked up the title. I am glad that I did.

I had lunch with another Latina who I didn’t know would become my lifelong partner. We ate at a restaurant where the waiter thought she was French, she of Brazilian and Mexican heritage. We laughed that afternoon and walked over to a bookstore. She bent over one of the shelves and picked up The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. She blushed as she handed it to me. I’m still not sure whether the blush was from the bend or the act of beginning a deep friendship and love and of sharing the gift of reading. I went home and read that book. I am still in awe at the simplicity of the woven words. I had finally found a place where I identified with the characters and the experience of Ms. Cisneros’ writings. I cried that my perceptions of loneliness, belonging and understandings were finally on page and I could identify with the messages sent to me via her words.

My ideas of Latina readership and writership traverse many areas. I will continue to write on the multiple layers of what makes me choose to read or write a book or a story and hope to hear back from you!


On which side of sanity

All too often we label ourselves as something we feel most comfortable with-a writer, a clinician, a parent and partner. As I create this blog I sift through my thoughts and my feelings, who am I today and who is it that I really want to project out into the larger world. I was given the charge of creating a platform. That was a tall order I realized when I began to think of my roles on this planet-they are many. I looked at the three blogs I’d been writing on-albeit all too infrequently- and noted that my persona has been divided up into different beings that all amount to one-me. My closest relationships know that I write poetry and stories and that I write prescriptions all day long in my work as a psychiatric nurse practitioner. They also know that, just like many of the people I work with, I listen to the voices that speak to me. I call these voices my spiritual guidance, my intuitiveness and my muse.  I am not concerned with others knowing that I listen to my inner voices to point me along in the best directions for me. Like the rest of us, I need all the help I can get. In my work, I encourage my clients to listen to their inner voices, as along as they aren’t disturbing, aren’t destructive and serve the client and others in a positive way. Yesterday evening I posted the second reading that I channeled for one of my spirit guides, Graciella La Gitana, in my weekly column Palabras. This column can be found on This site is a creation for the Latina Writers Workshop that I helped to found with Raquel Penzo and Rebeca Toledo. We write, we read and we help to provide a forum for very talented people to show their creativity. I think that some of my friends would laugh at this title “on which side of sanity.” We are all on one side or the other-at any given time! I happen to enjoy shifting my perspectives and love to show that in my different types of writings and readings. I have a couple of published research articles that are quite different to the poems I’ve written about my subway experience. As I continue to explore myself and share that in my writing, I hope to integrate more of who I am and will continue to share that in the writings that I share with you.