Unlikely writing inspiration

During our recent trip to Key West, Florida, we made it a point to visit the Butterfly Museum, the Lighthouse, and the Haunted Ghost tour. We joined groups of people at America’s most southerly point where a little girl gave us the evil eye for enjoying our lime fruit bars. Yes, our tongues had turned green.

One site we visited was Ernest Hemingway’s Key West Haven. We went on a whim. I’m not particularly enamored by his writings. Less so of his multiple marriages and even less so his dance with spirits that I’m sure contributed to his suicide. Nevertheless, I was taken by his life as I climbed the stairs, ambled through his garden, and enjoyed the many five fingered cats that lounged throughout the house and grounds. Hemingway had a full life, had boxing matches on weekends with his pals, and lived passionately doing what he loved. Much of his life focused on the military and his writing.

We had glimpses of the tools of his trade. There were several typewriters on display throughout the house. Photographs and letters written by and to him had places of honor on the walls.

I was very much taken with his writing room. While I could do without the mounted heads of hunted animals, the cushioned chair and ottoman were definitely something I could and wanted to sink into. The writing table and book shelves that lined the room were absolutely enchanting. It reminded me how important it is to take up space as a writer. I often feel as though having a laptop is enough. It can be. But it doesn’t have to be that way all of the time. 

Something moved in me as I gazed at his office. I imagined my own room changed a little bit here and a little bit there. While I have a space, it’s gone through multiple reincarnations, if only in my own mind. With all of my baggage and history with owning myself as a writer, Hemingway has inspired me to take up some more room as I develop my art and craft. He’s again sparked the passion I have for living as a writer.

I’ll let you know how it evolves ❤️

Theresa


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

Writing: On Thin Ice

Park Slope sidewalks are covered in thin, crunchy ice this morning. I know this because I navigated my two doggies on their walk. I kept my balance because I’ve added the occasional plank to my basic workout. My core is strong. I was grateful that when Ginger refused to budge and Chutney cut circles around me with her leash that I didn’t slip.

These streets are a great metaphor for the slippery paths in our creative worlds. In writing and publishing, the landscapes are always changing. What is solid ground today can turn into a slick surface at rise. I’m learning to find and create railings to hold on to like I did this morning on my walk.

Last week I wrote about my excitement returning to the playwriting course. I’m still excited about the writing but was  disappointed to hear that my mentors are not interested in staging my play after all. I was stunned when I received that talk. I was still in the same emotional and mental place as I was during our last conversation. But a change had taken place. People change their minds all the time. It’s part of human nature. They move on to what is beneficial for them. I get that. There are no contracts signed.

Life is a process. I’m learning to surrender. What I may want or think is right for me may not be. I’ve had a lot of practice dealing with the changing landscapes over a lifetime, but especially so during this last year. I’m listening to the voice that whispers in my ear, Hold on to the railings, Theresa. I’ll help you find them. More will be revealed.

Happy Writing!

Behind the Scenes

I’m always concerned with what’s going on behind the scenes with my characters, their lives, and their narratives. Only a fraction of the fullness of a character’s being is presented on the pages that end up in a novel. Much of the information that is kept out is trivial. For instance, time in the shower or bathroom aren’t usually included in a scene unless the protagonist is taking a luxurious bubble bath.

As a writer, I tend to keep some details to a minimum. In real life, I do the same. In August of last year, I wrote about the upheaval of my life when my father was found disoriented in town. Our lives changed. We moved him in with us. Alzheimer’s. This meant learning how to navigate the elder care health, legal, and economics fields and find out how they pertained to us personally. It meant having a home attendant, actually a parade of home attendants, coming into my home. The downsizing of my personal space came right along with all of that. My office is now the dining room table. My Dad is safely ensconced in what used to be my private space. The honored space I meditated, prayed, and wrote in daily. I’m learning to do those things in other ways. It’s not easy but it is. Is. I am. I am learning and doing in different ways.

During these past several months, I cut ties with my publisher and re-edited my novels. They are again available in softcover and kindle on Amazon.com. I also quietly birthed my first poetry book, Answered by Silence. The poems tell the story of my life after the death of my sister when I was eleven years old. Life was not easy then and it’s not easy now. Challenge is a major code word that I learn and relearn to decipher. It’s akin to the mysteries I write. My second Daisy cozy mystery is slowly developing. I’m still writing and in the middle of collaboratiion with a wonderful new editor for my third novel, Coney Island Siren. These things are all happening. Very slowly. I’d almost forgotten how to get into this website. That’s the way life is sometimes. As my Mom used to say, This too Shall Pass.

This is my life behind the scenes. I’ve been weakened in some ways and strengthened in others. One day at a time.

Happy writing!

Writing anyway

A couple of Saturdays ago, I received a call that my father was found disoriented and dizzy in town in Puerto Rico. Thanks to the officers and fine neighbors he was returned home safely and I flew in as soon as I could get a flight.

My spouse was supportive as always, and took on the role as apartment bathroom renovation overseer. This wasn’t easy because under the tiles and behind the walls the contractors found HGTV disasters.  I’m  on the island now and our puppies wait for me by the door but know I’ll be back. My job supervisors and coworkers have offered every support as we construct a solution for my absence.

My Dad and I are waiting to see his doc who was on vacation. He is still confused and absolutely refused emergency services. How do you spell “stubborn” not a new trait but one I’ve come to accept throughout my life. He joked a little yesterday and we made bacalao and ñame. It was pretty delicious and brought me back close to my roots. He’s eating well and listens to me, mostly. I walk around in flip flops and shorts and post beautiful pics on social media. Photos that I took on furtive trips to the beach where I meditate when I feel it’s safe to go out. I chat up my friends on the phone and take deep breaths when I think of how temporary life is.

The path of solution is created with one small pebble or rock at a time and I’m patiently doing my part. With all of my anxiety and dis-ease added to my Dad’s, I’m flabbergasted that I’ve been able to write. My vision of writing in Puerto Rico, in an unhurried state has manifested. Of course I didn’t want it this way. This is a bittersweet time and I’m going along with the spiritual guidance that is whispered to me from the majestic waves of my Mother Ocean.

In the meantime, I write anyway. The overwhelming message that I’ve received is one of caring for myself during this time of change from my family, friends, and my very lovely neighbors here on this island of mine. Writing is saving my life, while I walk along with my Dad, just as reading and playing dolls saved my life as a little girl. My characters live and share their stories with me as they witness the creation of my narrative. So, as I ‘one day at a time it,’ I will continue to be in gratitude for all I’ve received and for the opportunity to give my Dad what he has given me- love.

To be continued…

Happy writing!

Writing: being in the middle

Social media forums such as Facebook and Twitter have me thinking about all the books I haven’t written and all the planned creative work that sits on the shelves in my mind and office. I curl up my toes at the photos of people who are seemingly doing it all. They are guest appearing and guest blogging all over America, while getting their writing published. On my good days, I cheer the completed projects and am contented to be connected with such illustrious  people. On gloomy days, I ponder all I haven’t done yet.

I remember being taken aback when I went to Julia Alvarez’s website that showed the covers of her published books and a note that said something to the effect of ‘I’m not blogging because I’m writing.’ Boo-yah! This was on the heels of being advised of the necessity of blogging to connect with readers and writers alike. I’m told my writing career depends on it.

If you take a good look at my blog post dates you’ll see I don’t blog all that often. People haven’t swarmed to read every word and make insightful and inciteful comments. On a day of light, I congratulate myself on the creative work I’ve offered to the Universe and on a somber day, think it’s never enough and possibly, I’m not enough. Being in the middle is a perfect reminder that ‘shoulds ‘and ‘coulds’ are to be avoided in my vocabulary of words.

As a ‘literati’ (dubbed years ago by my doctoral dissertation chair) which can be defined as one of the educated class or one interested in literature (I like the second definition better, yup) I must be true to the rhythm of the words that flow through me and to the ever changing patterns of life. I’m well aware that to compare is to despair.

I’m proud of the creative work I’ve completed and birthed into the world and excited about the new creations waiting to be born. Gestation periods vary, some creations are birthed rather quickly, others are high risk and need extra help, while others are endured and enjoyed simultaneously. It’s essential for me as a writer to ‘be in the middle’ and do my part just for today.

Blogging has helped me to develop the muscle of not ruminating over a brief written piece, to happily realize I can change my mind about my opinions, and to continue developing my voice on paper. I also get the pleasure of sharing myself with others and that is something that is often missing in the isolation of writing as a practice. So for today, I will blog, as well as continue digging into my other projects. A few are standing in the wings, readying to take their places on stage.

Happy writing!

Writing: Timing, distance, and target

I was briefly a martial arts student at the age of twelve and returned to training when I was in my thirties. My first instructor, Mr. Aaron, was a great storyteller. He told tales of how he could kick as high as his head but when I attended his Saturday classes he couldn’t quite reach that height anymore. I stopped attending because he thought I should be able to “handle” dressing in the room with the boys. The other girls in the class had already stopped taking the classes. I eventually figured out why they left one by one. I tend to hold onto things tenaciously-most times that quality is a strength of mine.

The second time I began training was because my children were taking classes and my friend, another mom, and I decided that we could do more than sit and wait for hours on end for them on Saturdays. The style was Okinawan Go Ju Ryu. I learned about the nuances of walking the warrior path between hard and soft ways-which is what Go Ju means. I ended the training just shy of testing for my black belt. It was a tough decision to stop a discipline that I’d become committed to over the years. I guess, ultimately, I learned that I’m a warrior that leans toward a peaceful way of life from a different path. There were several things that I learned through the years of learning Karate that have changed my life forever. One of them was the concept of ‘timing, distance, and target.’ This concept shows up every now and again and I experienced one in my writing life.

Being a quasi social media junkie, I was in full glee mode when I shared on Facebook that I was changing the title of my new mystery, Nights of Indigo Blue, that was published in September of 2015. Facebook did what it does best and I quickly received several ‘likes.’ I also received a private message from an acquaintance who advised me ‘writer to writer’ that I should employ the help of a proof reader for my book. She made it clear that this would help me to avoid my previous issue of having multiple editing errors as in my first book, ‘Covering the Sun with My Hand.’ I must admit that the message quickly put me in a funk. I  know how important it is to have the ability to self reflect and self critique and I try my best with that. What smarts is that I think it was meant to ‘take me down a peg.’ The message is that while I’m being published that my work is not quite good enough. The person’s spouse had already confided to me that there were glaring errors in my book that should have been avoided when we met for lunch about a week after that particular book launch- a time that I was pleased as punch after a fantabulous event for my beloved book. Sigh.

I’m not perfect and don’t do any of this alone. I have a great team and we work together well. This message had already been shared. I think her advice was a definite case of poor timing, distance, and target. It reminded me of standing in the dojo, training place, with a fellow student who should have been trading taps to the ab region. Instead, after the fifth or so repetition he somehow punched me right in the face. It was wrong in every way but he shrugged and said he hadn’t meant to hurt me. The timing, for me, was awful. The ‘writer to writer’ message could have been shared during a more neutral time. The distance was too close to home in terms of my default state of negative thinking of “not being good enough.” The target was perfect for the messenger but, alas, not for me.

Writing helps me to make sense of my world. Talking things out do too. When I shared this with my editor she reminded me we worked together on the book and the publisher was on the team too. It reminded me that I hadn’t done this alone and there was nothing to feel shame about or to hide. Being part of a writing team is awesome. There will be messages given in a poor manner. I don’t have to wait for a sucker punch, there will always be someone there who will be happy to do the honors. If and when a punch does come sailing toward me and I don’t duck in time, I know that it may smart for a while and then I’ll be okay.

Happy writing (and editing)! Go in confidence of who you are and the knowledge that life can be challenging just as we are simultaneously rewarded.

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: “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

BklynBookFest 2014

BBF2014-12014 was my second year joining in as an author at the Brooklyn Book Festival. If you’ve never been there it’s almost impossible to imagine the number of people and books that line the streets. It was almost just as hard for me to believe that I was actually taking part in such a wonderful event. I sat eagerly waiting for my first sale of the day.

Somewhere in the middle of the afternoon I relaxed. I hadn’t sold any books and listened to fellow Aignos author, Manuel Melendez, share his tales of no sales at other similar events. Chris Campanioni, the third Lapizero of our Aignos team sold several of his books and then Manuel sold a few too.

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At some point someone randomly walked over and bought one of my books…I was relieved and thrilled. A few seconds later another woman who said she much preferred an ebook bought one too. It all happened rather fast. Two books sold in about six hours. Manuel said I sold them because my spouse who is developing a reputation as a ‘lucky charm’ had arrived moments before the first book sold.

Maria C. Ferrer of Latina book club shared a couple of minutes at our table. She’d just spent some time at La Casa Azul Bookstore’s Booth enjoying some of the readers there. Raquel I. Penzo of La Pluma y La Tinta hung out for a few minutes talking with us about writerly events in that jaded way she seems to have and that we all love her for.

I’ve had time to think about selling two books. Am I upset? No way.

There are countless authors, writers, and there are probably millions of books for sale. I’m one of many. I’m proud of my writing, my novel, and my journey. I’m grateful to have my dear friend fellow authors to hang out with during long hours. My idea of authorship has changed. Of course I want to sell books but the carmraderie of being with others and growing as a business person is something I cherish.

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