Grandma goes to CUNY

For one hot moment I returned to college. Forget about the fact that I have a PhD. A degree that had more to do with my writing than my nursing career but I’ve never given it much credit. Research and theory development? What could be better for a writer? Instead, I pined over the ever elusive MFA in creative writing. I applied for that degree a year ago in the CUNY system and was rejected. I was disappointed but since I believe the Goddess knows much more than I, I thought I let it go. I didn’t.

The pangs of I-must-be-missing-something continued to be strong. As an over fifty Latina there weren’t many opportunities for us to pursue art and writing degrees back in the day. Many of us stuck to school programs that would guarantee beef in our sopa de fideos. Our families dictated our choices. A few of us were able to pursue those creative degrees and I have no idea how.

I drew creatively as a child and the drawings helped me to make sense of lonely days without my sister by my side. Pencil and paper constructed the worlds I lived in after school. I believe my pictures were early attempts at storytelling. I had a friend in grammar school who pleaded with me to help her enter into her first choice of high schools. I did most of the illustrations for her application portfolio to Art & Design. It was meaningless to me until I met her years later and she told me that she designed baby clothes for a living. Then it mattered a bit more. I realized how out of touch with myself I’d been as a teen and felt the first pangs of regret.

To fill that longing I recently registered for an editorial processing course at CUNY. These  in-person classes took place for me after a nine hour work day. I thought I could overcome that. I decided to ignore my fear that the professor would call on Ashley… Jordan… and then me, Grandma. My grey hair was a beacon among the twenty year old blondes, candy apple reds, and brunettes.

I hesitated to share with my spouse the two episodes when the security officer asked to see my ID or some proof I belonged in those hallowed corridors. She loudly asked me whether I had an adjunct faculty badge and when I said no, asked if was I a professor. No, I am a student, I replied. Twice.

I shared my tale with my spouse, in spite of my ego. It turned out that during her recent return to CUNY for undergrad music courses her experience was worse. She’d been escorted out of the music room when she’d attempted to practice the piano by security officers who couldn’t believe she was a student. Twice.

I found I was exhausted in the morning without the pleasure of a real hangover. I didn’t have time to create in my mind the lovely stories that tend to bubble up there when I am calm. The informational sheets the professor handed out covered either something I already knew or my real-life-editor had discussed with me. I didn’t need to spend two and a half hours in class with two and a half hour commutes for validation or to revisit an old dream that had already been fulfilled.

I didn’t go back to class last night. I’m finally a college dropout and I’m proud of it. I ate dinner with my spouse, worked on my new novel outline, and chatted on the phone with my dear Uncle Louie. I woke up this morning refreshed.

I am a writer. An author. I’m growing my creative life as I hadn’t for years. It’s never too late for us. This growth is something that I’m now sharing with like minded individuals who have also woken up and said, it’s my turn. The kids are grown. The parents have been satisfied. We’ve survived and now we will flourish in creating those parts of ourselves that have been patiently waiting for us to reawaken.

What is your dream?

xoxo
Theresa

Read that baby

My editor has made many “suggestions” like get rid of all the quotation marks I use (like that one), stop all the ellipses, learn the difference between using “the” and “my” (there I go again with the quotation marks) and many others (like not using the word many twice in one sentence). It’s a lot for me to ponder when all I want to do is get my story going and done! Impatience is one of my faults.

She revised my manuscript for Coney Island Siren and I not only received advice but mini-lessons regarding more incisive writing. One suggestion was to read my sentences aloud. Okay, I thought. I can do this. This isn’t the first time that I’ve heard it but this time I figured I would actually do it. Wow.

I’d finished all of her suggested revisions and then started reading it aloud for my daughter who listens to me when she visits from Texas. My spouse, goddess bless her, was in the room too. Half way through the page I realized I had no feel for the protagonist. Who the hell is talking here? My structure was off and sounded way too formal. No easy-listening rhythm here. Back to the drawing writing board.

This time around, I’ve read it aloud sentence by sentence. Would Maggie say this? Does Frank really sound like this? Am I letting my characters speak or am I speaking for them? It’s slow-going but fun. I’m pleased with the results. I’m accepting the fact that my revisions still may need more revising.

Recently, I read a few pages at Bluestockings with La Pluma y La Tinta. As Raquel Penzo puts it, I’m an OG. Vet of the reading force. We’d started that workshop group in my living room about eight years or so. I have lots of writing and reading experience but am always open to learning more about the craft. While my other two novels are good friends of mine, my new work requires nurturing of our relationship. No matter how long it takes.

This short video is me reading some of Coney Island Siren. See you on the boardwalk.

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The Search for Latino/a Mysteries

I’m on the case. After browsing through many mysteries at a very popular bookstore in Brooklyn, I came home and took a picture of one of my bookshelves. I had to prove to myself that there are books written by Latinos. It’s true, there are no Latino mysteries anywhere in my apartment. The lack of them remains to me, a mystery.

I’ve had notions of various mystery storylines taking residence in my brain. I decided to check out some of the more popular Latino/a novels and this is what I found. Unfortunately , not too much! Sarah Cortez and Liz Martinez edited Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery in 2009- published by Arte Público Press. Sunny Frazier, Acquisitions Editor at Oak Tree Press gave it a great mention on her website Murder Circle.  I tried to download the book by Kindle. It doesn’t exist there. I tried to buy it at Barnes and Noble, one of the last bookstores in my neighborhood. It didn’t exist there either. They promised to order it for me. Weirdly enough, one Amazon write up says the reader will be disappointed… A potential reader may not finish that review and move on to something else. But wait! It goes on to say disappointed that the stories are not traditional tales. That does not mean that the stories are disappointing. I’m afraid that as we hurriedly read through cyber reviews that we won’t press the arrow to the next page and miss the opportunity to read a complete and favorable review. 

If my Latino Mystery curiosity attack was strong enough, I might have ridden the train up to Harlem and attempted to find my desired book at the Latino bookstore- La Casa Azul.  I’d like to support this burgeoning bookstore and I will, but after the week I had, my feet found their way home. I’m intrigued by thought of going there and seeing all the wonderful goodies that I’m sure are waiting on bookshelves for me. One blog site aptly named La Bloga does address Latino mysteries. I read about Chicana mysteries and about mysteries set in Brazil. Great stuff. Now, tell me about what we’re doing on the East coast.

When talking about Latino mysteries my spouse and I chuckled as we envisioned the various layers of a Latino/a mystery. We laughed at the thought of a gripping tale written by Latinos, about Latinos, for Latinos. I held my sides, it felt as though they were splitting or was that my pants? Why the laughter? You’ve got to remember that I’m a writer but Latina first. There were a quite few counterintuitive thoughts going on in my head. My first hand knowledge has shown me that some of us Latinos are heavy into denial. My own personal circle would rather uncover lids over pots of arroz con gandules than to delve into facts. Just writing that makes me feel as though I’ve betrayed! Betrayal! Another thing I try not to get caught at. The idea of getting past the bochinche- gossipand interpreting facts, not based on loyalty, is essential to solving a mystery. Inquisitiveness, betrayal, and delving into the unknown are ingredients for my best reads. Getting into the crux of the matter is fine fodder for an excellent mystery but may not be on the agenda of some people I’m in contact with on the daily. I’d love to seek out some good stories- not of the standard telenovela  kind (sorry Abuelita). So, I’ve begun a new chapter and promise to pass on what I’m learning. Now that I’ve ordered it, I can’t wait to receive my copy of Hit list: The Best of Latino Mystery in the mail. I’ll be sharing my thoughts with you about it when I finally get to nestle with it on my pillow at night.

I’m putting the call out here, folks! Let me know of a Latino mystery novel that has kept you spell bound. I want to read the ones I can identify with on this side of the country- and the West too! If you’ve written a Latino/a mystery contact me. Let’s talk! If you’ve been stirred in any form by what I’ve said here, let the world know.

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Nocturnal Muse

The clock glares 3am. My eyelids have once again popped open. It’s as though an electrical switch has been flipped up. Frankenstein’s gadgetry turned on high voltage! I wake up like Frank, too, with a low moan and a stiff stretch. I have the three am blues!

I’ve spoken to so many people who’ve complained about waking up in the middle of the night. I’ve sat there counseling them on the wonders of sleep hygiene as I secretly gloated about my enraptured nights of dreaming. We’ve talked about limiting caffeine intake, no daytime napping, drinking a nice decaffeinated herbal tea in a sweet ritual designed solely for the individual.  I’ve even suggested that they write down what comes to mind during this quiet time. The list goes on. I was sure that if they attended to these routines that they would sleep as blissfully as me.

For some reason my nights have changed. I’m really not up agonizing over gut wrenching personal problems, thank the stars. There is no mouse chewing at the corners of my mind. The fact is that I’m just up.  Sometimes I’ve been hungry and a banana has done wonders to quell the pangs in my belly. I’ve contemplated making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and placing it next to my nightly glass of water. It will be ready and I won’t have to take the stairs to the kitchen and step on the dogs’ toys strewn on the living room floor.

There was something different the other night about it, though, and I decided to vary my routine. Getting up at six am daily for a very busy life, I despise having my brain turned on in the middle of the night but I chose to go with it rather than against it. I began to listen to the words that were banging in my brain. The images that were playing around in my inner vision were begging to be put on paper. So I shuffled out of bed in that moment of surrender. I began writing the poem that was coalescing in my head. This moontime madness had become an adventure for me. My style of writing was a bit different I realized as I read the words that were flowing out of my fingertips. Suddenly I was very glad that I’d decided to listen to my nocturnal muse. After a few minutes all was quiet. I put my pen down, ate a banana, went back to bed and fell into a deep sleep.

There was a difference in my attitude and in how I allowed the night hours to interact with me in this new way. I believe I was able to get in touch with a slant of me that I hadn’t been privy to since I tend to explore my creative side during the daytime.  Something special happened by sitting in the quiet of the darkened sky. My feminine creativity side came shining through as the moon above me did. This interior was dark, a little eerie and totally unexplored before that night. I’m anticipating traveling around it again the next time it wakes me up in the middle of the night.

Having reread my poem in the light of day I know that something special happened when I decided to listen to what had woken me. My writing may take on new forms such as that short rhythmical poem that I wrote. I’m considering rewriting it as a short story. When I sit in front of other bleary eyed individuals I will have something to share from my experience. Waking up at three am I may not have to be infused by the strong electrical current that Frankenstein was but maybe by the softly lit energy of the moon that is just as powerful.

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!

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.