If I Had One Last Post

For the last few months I’ve been quietly writing… trying to get to a place in my novel where I can seriously begin editing it down to a tangible piece of fiction, one of which I can have edited for review.

Almost 3 years have past and every fiber of my body wants and needs this story to be told. Its unimaginable how much I want to see it printed, binded and know that people, even if it’s just one person, one person that will  feel the love, see the tragedy and witness the joy within the story I’m trying to tell.

No End in Site

While taking a few creative writing classes this fall I spoke with a few writers, those who are also writing books or have already completed one. One Instructor told me it took him 8 years to get their first one out, another said five! I freaked out, in my mind I don’t want to take that long, in a way I can’t. But then I know I want to do it right, and I still have a lot of learning (editing) to do.

Part of my drive is also stemming from the need for it to be over, not the process of writing- that has been an adventure and I’ve gained and continue to grow from it. Its the need for the story to be done.. need to let it go. You see, the story I’m writing is very personal to me. For more reasons than one, the weight of my characters in my mind seem to be getting heavier, especially when at times it can be difficult to find a way out of the maze I’m creating.

I often wonder if its wrong for a writer to feel that way, wanting the story to be over. My guess, it’s a natural one, one that I suspect other writers at times feel. I also realize this feeling comes from being too close to the story and dwelling on it even on the days that I attempt to give myself respite from it. For example, on one of those ‘days off’, I was online listening to music- that was when I ran into the video below. I was so moved, at first I cried, then I watched it again, then again… then, I started feverishly writing. I made adjustments to the plot, emphasized things I knew I wanted to show but felt weren’t clear…… all inspired by the images I was seeing and the music I was hearing.

(Note: Expand the video so you can see it enlarged on your screen….trust me its better bigger)

The three minute and 55 second piece was created by a Videographer named Paulo. He mixed the modern electronic music of James Blake with a choreographed piece from the late Pina Bausch‘s stark depiction of the Rite of Springto make (in my mind) a piece of art in its own right. It exemplifies the second underling story within my novel… the discourse of love, loss, fear, anger and desire. It depicts the laborious requirement of it, both dirty and beautiful. I believe the quote from Marguerite Duras, author of The Lover and  The Malady of Death best describes the images within the video when she stated:

“…in heterosexual love there’s no solution. Man and woman are irreconcilable, and it’s the doomed attempt to do the impossible, repeated in each new affair, that lends love its grandeur.”

– Marguerite Duras

Clearly for me, its hard to see an end in site when I’m still making changes, editing huge chucks of narrative and still questioning the direction of my story. In my heart I know its not a bad thing to take this long, especially when I want to do it right- my story deserves it, they, my characters deserve it, I want to be proud. Truth be told, I know myself enough to know when I actually do finish, I will be upset for the loss of finally being done.

So, if I finished my book and had one last thing to post, it would be of this dance, this song, this art, this love that I’m trying to communicate…even to that one person that will eventually get to read it.

Writing My First Sentence Took 12 Trys And It’s Still A WIP

Work In Progress, that is. This summer while on a mini hiatus from my novel I was asked by Potomac Review’s Andrea Pawley, a fantastic writer and author, to guest blog on their web site. I was honored, so of course I said YES!

Whenever I’m asked to guest write, I always like to explore and share the issues I struggle with as a writer. My hope is that other writers will benefit from my mini  Aha! Moments, thus gaining a little more sleep during those late nights staring at their computer screens.

This time around I shared my observations and learning experiences when developing the first sentence for my current novel.  I explored the why and how. Here’s a small peak into my post.

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The Hook: First Sentences Are Not Easy For a Reason

The truth is no one ever judges a book by its cover (We hope); they judge it by its first line. A Creative Writing teacher explained her method of book selection. She opens to the first page and scans the first line. If in those few seconds it doesn’t grab her, she walks away from it completely. She’s not alone. Most publishers take only 20 seconds to read the first paragraph of your story before they decide to either dump or read on through the next five pages. Your story is riding on that first sentence; make it memorable.

I Am The Queen of Run-on Sentences

When I first started my novel, there were two things I knew with clarity: how the story should begin and how it should end. At first, the task and responsibility of the first sentence was difficult for me to grasp. I knew I wanted the first sentence to convey cherished love, the innocence of a young boy on the cusp of adulthood, loneliness, a sense of time passing, urgency and sacrifice. My first reaction was to jam everything into one long monster run-on of a sentence. Staring at the page, I was heart broken. All of the words seemed to all collapse onto themselves. I had no first sentence, and there I stood stuck.

Until I read this….

“A good first line should be as good as your favorite film quote. Something that even when taken out of context has power – the power to make someone laugh, think, gasp or grimace.” – Christopher Jackson

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You can read the full post at Potomac Review- A Journal of Arts and Humanities

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Like The Tin Man, The Scarecrow and Lion…

I’ve been away from writing longer than I would like to admit. Letting life’s setbacks stop me from doing what actually makes me feel good, connected and fulfilled.

So like the Tin Man, I’m oiling my joints and refueling the heart I’ve given to this story
Like the Scarecrow, my thoughts and ideas are intertwined together
And like the Lion, I’m gathering my courage and jumping back in…

Six Hours, Eight Minutes & 2,858 Miles—The Length of Time To Tell The Truth

When I began my novel, one of the first questions I answered to myself was where my story would take place. Ultimately Washington State seemed the best choice for the setting of my novel. To those I shared my story’s premise I’ve defended my choice, always feeling confident in the real locations of Seattle, Bremerton and Bainbridge Island Washington.

Picture of my online researching

This was, of course, until I was reduced to a bumbling tourist when the receptionist at the Bremerton police station asked ‘Why here, why my city?” For the first time in my travels and writing adventures I was stumped on how to answer this seemly simple question. Now, I’ve answered this many times over, but somehow needing to answer her, a native to the very place i was writing about, colored the matter differently.

Obviously, It was a valid question. What could possibly be the motivator for a 30 something-year-old Puerto Rican woman from New York City, who had never been anywhere near the Northwest travel 3,000 miles to this wet vastly green and other worldly place? Why not create a fictional world, perhaps resembling a “somewhere” but primarily imagined?

The short answer: I wanted a small town or city that could be in a sense isolated from the world, both in distance to Seattle but also within it’s natural landscape. I wanted a working class community that had areas with socioeconomic issues. Each of these things needed to be overshadowed by a large city within its direct view (Seattle).

It was through preliminary research and general knowledge of Seattle that lead for me to believe Washington State could be the perfect setting for my story.

With the help of Google Maps, online photos and movies showing me the topography of the western Olympic Mountains and the eastern Cascade Range I saw how the area seemed like an eden sandwiched between their peaks. This capsule of land masses contain deep blue bodies of water, lush parks and forests, rich farming and food communities. Each of these things seemed to be intertwined within a rich Native American and Navel Military history. All the amenities of the region perfectly served the narrative in my story.

Naturalism in Literature & Pathetic Fallacy

Why is the location, whether imagined or chosen even important? I believe the physical location or world within a story can play a role in the daily functions and actions of the characters. If you delve a little deeper it can be used as the external force that shapes your character behavior, pushing the story forward. Your setting can be another cue to your character’s personality, their conflicts or the current state/future that will be foretold. For example: If you create the world within your story as a barren place, devoid of resources, it can be reflective of the internal and emotional support your character may be lacking.

The “Real” Reason Why I Chose Washington State: Each of the locations and settings are naturalistic representations of my characters. They mirror each of their hopes, desires and regrets.

  • Seattle “ The Big Cityis the dark harshness of life, poverty, violence and filth. Each of these things is reminiscent of his past and family, all the things he is running from. Of course this is where the challenge is met, where family and love comes from the very place he despises.
  • Bremerton represents the hard working civil servant he is. It is the distance he has found and creates for his son, away from the pain and hurt of his family.
  • The mountain ranges are the ruggedness and harshness he carries within himself along with the beauty he exudes during his happiest moments.
  • Bainbridge Island is the false tranquility he desires, the loneliness he feels and isolation he has already created.

For these reasons Washington State is the right place for my characters to live. So, after a year and a half into my story, I made the decision to go to the place I had been daydreaming and writing about.

I was terrified. I was afraid that when I arrived it wouldn’t be what I had imagined or wrote it to be. But mostly I was afraid I had made a mistake in using the real instead of a imagined world.

6 Hours, 8 Minutes and 2,858 Miles Later….

When I stepped off of the plane and walked out of the terminal the first thing I did both out of necessity and curiosity, was take a deep breath in. It was more than what I believe my imagination could have come up with or at least accurately depict.

Seattle was hip but still had a flare of grunge throughout the seams. Bremerton was filled with hard-working craftsmen and engineers, each working on military submarines and monstrous air-craft carriers. Bainbridge Island was engulfed by rich green forests surrounded by pebbled beaches, truly paradise.

I was beyond excited to be there. Even the jet lag and three hour time difference didn’t stop me from staying up late each night preparing for the next day of visiting, talking, picturing, smelling and touching.

With every day that passed I began to feel my novel coming life. I began to believe if written effectively, readers could relate to and connect with these characters as well as the places. It’s not to say that a world completely created by a writer cannot convey the same buy-in from your readers, but for me it was what I had wanted for this story and needed to help improve the writing of my third main character…setting.

Walking on the actual beach of Fay State Park in Bainbridge Island I could easily visualize their first date and physically plot out a picnic with his son and wife. Yes, I’ve walk on beaches before, many in fact, from the salty sweet cold waters of Portland Maine to the still tropic ocean of Isla Mujers in Mexico. I could and have taken those examples in my writing, however being there, rolling the scenes around in my mind, gave me conceptual and logistical clarity I needed.

Many writers choose to invent just the town (and the people in it) and leave the country and state and its political system intact. This can be an easy way of going about it, it avoids continuity issues. You are the creator of that world, therefore it is. However, if you use a real location you’d better get the details right and that can only come through careful research.

So, did I have to actually go to Washington and walk the path my characters are walking to write a good story? No, I didn’t. But by basing my story on a place that isn’t fully imagined, it is providing me with the motivation and tactile information needed to help me bring to life the relationships, the love and the loss, each transpiring within the characters I’m creating.

From Google Searches To Actually Living It!

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It was the difference between knowing there are active volcanoes near Seattle, to seeing them so close you want to know what the escape routes are if they went off.

It’s knowing the state is comprised of dense forest, snow capped mountains, lakes and an ocean but not realizing it meant the air was so crisp and clean it felt like new sheets of white paper never written on.

The road I chose for them to meet on. From a Google Map to seeing it, walking on it and driving through it was absolutely amazing!!

It was not wanting to go inside even though the early spring wind smacked me in the face as I stood in the very front of the ferry, eyes wide open anticipating how the new land I was approaching will look and be like.

It was hearing first hand the fish mongers boasting their fresh catch of the day.

Doughnut Making Ladies!

It was smelling ruby red fruits and sweet veggies waiting to be picked

Playing tourist!

I will never forget looking at those mountains..

[CLICK ON PICTURE] Nor will I ever forget seeing that volcano (My iphone 3Gs photo: Look carefully in the distance, towards the left you will see a white peaked mountain. ) Mt. Rainier is only 54 miles from Seattle… OBJECTS ARE NEARER THAN WHAT IT SEEMS!!!

Pulling My Head Out of the Electric Oven

Top Left to Right: Adela Florence Nicolson, Alejandra Pizarnik, Alfonsina Storni, Amelia Rosselli, Ana Cristina César, Anne Sexton, Beatrice Hastings, Charlotte Mary Mew, Deborah Digges; 2nd Row Left To Right: Inge Müller, Ingrid Jonker, Gertrude Bell, Jane Aiken Hodge, Elise Cowen, Katherine Lawrence, Penelope Delta, Robin Hyde, Pamela Moore; Bottom Row Left to Right: Helene Migerka, Sara Teasdale, Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva, Sarah Kane, Rosario Castellanos, Sylvia Plath, Veronica Micle, Victoria Benedictsson, Virginia Woolf

Writing; Death As A Possible Side Effect

“Natasha, you’re a crybaby!”

My cousins would tease when I was little. Running to take refuge in the arms of my aunts, I cried until hiccupped sobs only remained and fat tears streaked down my face. I was rocked in the comfort of their arms, quietly being assured everything would be okay.

At the time, I was the only girl in my extended family. My cousins ensured I was subjected to the random taunts most little girls at the age of seven have the pleasure of bearing. I was teased for everything I did and couldn’t do; crying only made it worse but I couldn’t help myself.

In my young mind I couldn’t understand and always wanted to know “How could they be so mean to me?” After all, I hadn’t done anything to them but trip on my own shoelace or couldn’t draw as well as Daniel. But in one thing they were right—I was a crybaby. And 30-some-odd years later I still am, sort of.

Today, I am a combination of being innately sensitive and slightly insecure. Each trait is mixed with a certain ‘awareness’ of brutal truths life imparts. In some ways because of this I do not differ much from that tanned Puerto Rican girl of my past. Creatively speaking the petri dish of my life has, at times, created a crippling affect in my ability to cope with the disappointments most of us can face. But more than that it has helped me become an intuitive person to life and people.

This complicated mix has been a curse and a blessing, both in my writing and understanding of others. For so long I felt alone in this acute knowledge. I was the only one screaming in a room of silent spectators. However, in becoming the writer I strive to be I’ve come to comprehend (some) artists and writers swim within the same realm of sensitivity, awareness and creativity.

DEATH BECOMES HER

“Artists are so sensitive.”Perhaps. And while there are many deeply rewarding aspects of being creative and highly sensitive person, it seems to me, this way of being, way of perceiving life and people can take an emotional and mental toll on writers, fine artists, actors, singers and comedians.

Each of the women depicted in the image above are Pulitzer Prize Winning poets, authors, story tellers and creators of real and imaginary worlds. They took their own lives (violently and otherwise), and the stories that still lied within them to the grave..to be forever untold.

But what makes us so different? Are we more susceptible to Mental Illness like the doctors and scientist try to correlate? Why are some of us pushed enough through the threshold of hurt, pain and disappointment to want to end it all? We want to stop asking the questions of why or looking for hope, however small it may be?

Demons.

As a writer I will take a biased stance. It seems some artists such as painters and sculptors can utilize their medium to exorcise their internal demons. The monsters they wrestle with can be force outward on a painted canvas and given a physical so that the creator can be relieve of the their burden. Writers however, can grapple with their monsters internally and dwell within this chaotic world for long periods of time before they can expulse the heaviness away from themselves.

When I write, I am always asking the question why. Why is love often pushed away? Why do parents turn a blind eye to their children in need? Why do we fail even when we work our hardest?

At times I use portions of my life to help ask and answer these questions. This seemly simple act requires me to relive some of my most hurtful life moments again and again. I do it once as I outline and another hundred times as I write and then edit. Play, rewind and repeat. Play, rewind and repeat.

The constant sourcing of one’s own life becomes taxing. It can wreak havoc on any writer’s emotional state, especially if you are close to the work of which you are writing about. It’s an issue of reliving and revisiting the monsters that have been tormenting you either consciously or subconsciously.

This is not to say all writers and artists are tormented creatures seeking the answers and meaning to life. But one cannot deny the many instances where the pain of a writers life translates on the written page affects not only the reader but writer themselves.

Take Dorothy Allison, author of ‘Bastard Out of Carolina’. Writing late nights after working all day on legal pads, writing the story of her life, and the abuse she experienced. From it came the semi-autobiographical book that became pivotal to her life and work as a writer. This constant revisiting can be overwhelming for a writer. Even Stephen King wrote a large portion of his most infamous works, while high on cocaine and alcohol. Was ‘Cujo’ a written manifestation of his own internal monsters?

Awareness.

Certain gifted writers can have extraordinarily high standards for themselves; they have low tolerance for mediocrity and develop a strong level of frustration during the execution of their work. They can have acute awareness of life’s complexities and consequences while having a strong need for self-determination and self-actualization; each ideal applying a level of pressure on them. In some cases this weight is enough to push an artist to extreme measures of abuse and suicide.

I Am Woman, Hear me Roar.

What is it about the inherent demands on female writers that lead to so many deaths of women writers? Is it the clashing of who we are as caregivers, lovers and strong holds in the home front all the while grappling with our identity and self-worth, a convergence that leads to disaster? From Anne Sexton to Rosario Castellanos, each creative maverick taking their own lives while coping with loved lost, death, abandonment and abuse; each having an “acute awareness” leading to distress over their own personal and social conditions. Quite possibly an existential dread creating depression causing their own death.

Lady Lazarus herself, Sylvia Plath, not only tried once to end her life, but it was on the dreadful third attempt did she finally succeed. At approximately 4:30 am, Plath had sealed the rooms between herself and her sleeping children with wet towels and cloth, placed her head in the oven, and turned the gas on. They found Plath dead of carbon monoxide poisoning. She was 30.

Although not suicidal, there are many times I feel the world I live in is not meant for me. When I know the heart I have easily breaks when the hope I have fails. Sometimes my active awareness is good but many more times I wish I wasn’t so sensitive. There are days, weeks and months that go by where I don’t want to understand the unspoken actions and behaviors of people or the inevitability of our lives. At times having the distinct feeling of not belonging, of feeling too different.

By no means am I comparing myself to Woolf, Hemingway, Burgos or any of our past writer heroes, but even at my level, swimming within the waves of awareness, sensitivity and creativity, has not always been easy to navigate. It has caused me to see life with a sense of futility as well as hope. And instead of taking refuge in my writing I at times become stunted. I stop completely, letting the weight of my pain, personal setbacks or hurt take over.

It isn’t until I read the work of others or speak to a caring friend do I remember what I had forgotten, that there has been and will hopefully always be calm under the words and in the worlds I’ve created within my stories. Although trudging through the unpleasant actions of my characters, mulling through the muck of the repercussions is not easy, I try to push through, always seeking out the reasons why.

Now, far from the tender age of 7; my life and its hurts have become more complex and colored within many shades of gray. Yes, it often does lead to some tears shed. I also realize my willingness to give has left me opened and exposed. I’m exposed in my writing, exposed in this post and in my love for others. In the end all I can be is myself and use my openness to help me become a better writer while hopefully achieving some internal peace.

Virginia Woolf,  Died March 28th, 1941- Drowning

** Note: This particular post was inspired by my sense of feeling overwhelmed and pulled in by the tide of the story I’m creating. At times the need to source deep emotions and feelings from my own life makes it hard to stick to the narrative thread of my story and even my blog. It’s during these times I need to pull away and regroup. This is where I’ve been the last couple of months regrouping. I now find myself in a slightly better place. A space where I can push forward with research, writing and blogging. Fastening my seat belt and turning on the ignition I’m moving forward with my narrative for the next steps towards completion. It’s my hope that this post and my blog itself helps others not feel so alone as they may go through similar experiences, because you never are.

1:20 am -When Music Mirrors Your Story

Every once in a while a really great song will play from one of my Pandora stations, and when it does it triggers me to stop what I’m doing, close my eyes and listen. This doesn’t happen often. Most times the music I listen to becomes white noise as I write, but when a good one streams in, I ride the wave of the song and carefully listen  to the lyrics. Both the sound and words create a scene, a feeling and an emotion, a lot like a story.

Tonight, when this  particular song came up it reminded me of my protagonist and the internal struggle they are going through. Whenever this happens, music mirroring an aspect of my story, it feels really good. It reinforces that I just may be  capturing an idea, a feeling or an emotion in a way that is universal to a reader or group of readers that may also connect with the story I am creating…. at least that’s my hope.

Its a great song by funk and soul singer. It originally came out in 2001. I hope you enjoy  it.

‘Push & Pull’  -Nikka Costa

Mr. Nothing’s got a lot
He’s got a lot to say
He’s good at being what he’s not
Gives nothing away
Another day goes on by
And he never speaks his heart
He takes his chance with what he’s got
It’s too late now to stop

You push and you pull and struggle with the knot
It’s tying you up while you’re fadin’
You give and you take and take what you got
Round and round ’till it breaks and
You push and you pull and struggle with the knot
It’s tying you up while you’re fadin’ into your lie

Mr. Nothing is late
He’s running out of time
He questions whether chance or fate will ever show a sign
Looks to the sky above
For a glimpse of what it means
And never never never make
Make no sense to him

You push and you pull and struggle with the knot
It’s tying you up while you’re fadin’
You give and you take and take what you got
Round and round ’till it breaks and
You push and you pull and struggle with the knot
It’s tying you up while you’re fadin’ into your lie

You push and you pull it

Fiction Is My Truth

Image By-Antonio Bolfo/Reportage by Getty Images

Writing Too Close To The Truth

When I first began writing this novel I was moved by a person, a life and a family- the greatness of it, tragic and beautiful. I befriended a long time veteran of the police force, and in return I learned about a world and a life I had never given a second thought to. Each time we spoke I would quietly listen to stories of life altering experiences that dealt with two decades of witnessing the ugliest most part of people- both horrific and heroic.

With a new found respect, I was inspired by his strength and in awe of their steadfast dedication and endurance to keep waking up each morning to do it all over again, it became one of the many reasons why I began writing my novel.

Obviously I’m aware of the origins of my story, however not since the beginning stages of my writing had I really thought about the difficulty I had when trying to create fiction from something real. It wasn’t until one of my a brief #ROW80 updates that I thought about the muses that inspire so many of our stories.

We’ve all heard at least once in our life, in order to be great or begin to be successful you should write or talk about the things you know. This concept can be applied to many professions including writing.

Even during a fiction writing class, I recall my instructor saying that most first-time writers in some way shape or form often write stories and create characters that are composites of themselves and their own lives.

Knowing I could write about the experience that moved me enough to start writing again; I took to my computer and created the outline to my novel. The first few months of writing began as a page-by-page biography of sorts. I didn’t mean to be so literal as I didn’t want my story to be a work of non-fiction. The anonymity and trust of my Muse was and will always be extremely important to me.

With this in mind, I wanted my story to contain the seminal feelings and ideas that moved and inspired me when I first felt and heard them. I just didn’t know how to go about it.

“Fiction is the truth inside the lie.-Stephen King

Take Stephen King as an example. The protagonists in a large number of his fictional worlds are writers, and the settings take place in and around Maine (where he lives). His writing tends to carry a constant theme of isolation, either through the physical state his characters live in or within the internal conflicts they struggle with; this can be seen as a parallel interpretation to a writers life as they create. But these are not literal translations of his own life. Even when you read his book “On Writing” you can see how both similar and dissimilar his works are to him as a person. However, they still carry the essence of who he is, almost like a marker that says hey “That’s a Stephen King story’.

So, a few months into my own writing I began to take a hard look at my inspiration. I started pulling apart the cogs that created the structure that stood in front of me. By doing so I began to understand the foundation that built the real world I felt inspired by. The concrete and mortar was made up of universal truths, most of which we have all experienced at one point or another in our own lives.

It was the idea of family and the potential dysfunction of it; the experience of love and betrayal, the concept of fear and regret; purpose and loss; identity and legacy. These were the ideas and feelings I wanted to write about.

Soon I realized that my story needed to be more than changing names and locations. I began creating a world and a cluster of people that contained their own realities. The causalities of my main character wouldn’t be the same as any one person I knew in my life, but of the experiences, thoughts and feelings that I knew could happen depending on the choices I decided he/she would make in the story.

Now I’m beginning to understand that we contain a full catalog of knowledge both real and imagined, each tucked away within the fibers of our brains waiting to be called upon. Our minds contain countless hopes, dreams, observations of life and experiences- each available to us as we create the worlds within our stories.

So, still using as an outline the initial inspiration that lit the fire under me to write, the story that I’m creating today has become a mosaic of all the people I’ve met, information that I’ve read, watched and learned over the span of my lifetime. The words that I write are ideas that I imagine and some things that I have been witnessed to. It contains small nuggets of experiences and feelings that I have felt as a child and as an adult.

Either through writing prompts, a picture, a song, a news article, a scent, a person we may meet or even through something we have touched, I believe we have most of the tools needed to begin creating a great fictional piece of literature…even if it’s based on something real.