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.

——-

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

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

Advertisements

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!

.

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.

A Writer, The Big Apple and the Great Escape

I was asked to be a guest writer on The Life of Riley, a fantastic New York driven blog that covers the literature and arts community of the city.  Here’s a great peek at the article.

.

New York City is a hotbed continually producing world renown and influential writers; it is clear it’s the environment conducive to attaining resources to those who seek them out. So, over the last six months I decided to retool my artistic process strategy for better effectiveness. By doing so I’ve been able to meet inspirational people, find stimulating places write, share my work and participate in writing groups.  Wondering how I manged to completely overhaul my situation?It was exceedingly simple; I gave myself time to actually see what was right in front of me.

Once I started looking for opportunities finding them became easier….For the full article go to The Life of Riley

Quick Links To NYC Writer Resources (Click Below)

A month long of research, calling and visiting places- Take advantage of it!                      From one fellow writer to another. Hope it helps!

Music & Writing

The Push Pull of Love

Within my novel I’ve been  attempting to show the universal experience of pain, regret, love and family. Suffice it to say, far too often  these topics tend to drudge up my own personal experience with these same issues.  Essentially, this is where I use my poetry as a cathartic process of releasing the things that weigh heavy on me.

So, in between my novel-writing I’ve been working on one particular poem that speaks of my own intimate experience with the push-pull of love, anger, longing and desire. Honestly, I’ve been having a lot of difficulty with it. My words have been feeling like a tangled web of hair, unable to comb through. This is where music often helps me…it puts me in the right mindset.

Pandora, my iTunes and CD collection are always on or within reach. I’ve even gone as far as using my Sound machineapp on my iPhone to use as I write. Depending on the particular scene I’m working on (hospital setting, outdoors in a park) I pick from the various sounds they offer. There I have a sampling of thunder storms, forest sounds, rain falling on a tin rooftop, traffic and distant train sounds. It may be a bit weird but for me it helps.

For my novel and this particular poem the song below is always looping in the foreground. I feel like the music embodies the idea of  leaving behind while moving ahead. You can almost sense the movement as you listen… well at least I do 🙂

I hope you enjoy it.

“Untitled #4” (a.k.a. “Njósnavélin”)  -By Sigur Rós
The song had a Hollywood debut in the movie ‘Vanilla Sky’ during the final scene.

The Quest Stands Upon the Edge of a Knife…

FINDING A FELLOWSHIP OF WRITERS

A New Year as I Identify My Goals


In my cramped New York City apartment the clock hit 12am. As the seconds ticked down, all the images and sounds, tastes and smells of 2011 fought for a space in my mind and heart- each taking refuge.

On the first chime I attempted to drive out the not so great memories of the year that past while on the second I savored in the good ones. By the twelfth chord my thoughts blended harmoniously on the people I wish to think of while recalling the ones I didn’t, often the same between the two.

Thankfully the war that was waging in my head and the tears that began to swell was interrupted by the sight of my self-absorbed Major kissing Lady Gaga, by the embrace of Dick Clark and his wife and finally in the vain of Alfred Eisenstaedt infamous V-J Day photograph, I watched as Jenny McCarthy made-out with a NYC Police Officer.

The last two years had been hard ones, plagued with a few of life’s hardships including the death of two family members and ending with a broken heart. Suffice it to say 2012 couldn’t have come any sooner.

I immediately began to wonder what the New Year would bring while seriously contemplating what I wanted to make of it. Above everything writing was and is going to be at the forefront of my goals. At the risk of sounding cliché my story…this story will be told and I’m going to kick ass at it.

So, during one of my many late night writing sessions I had the movie Lord of the Rings playing next to my Word document. I briefly glanced at the minimized screen just as Cate Blanchett spoke these words to her ‘Ring Bearer’

The Quest Stands Upon the Edge of a Knife. Stray but a little and it will fail.

– Galadriel

Almost instantly, I realized that I am the Ring Bearer in my own life. No, I’m not trying to defeat the Dark Lord and save Middle Earth. But in my own way (perhaps you as well) I am traveling and living within my own quest. Attempting to accomplish something I never thought I would.

But with that we sometimes need a little help. A fellowship perhaps. A fellowship of writers and artists alike.

More than anything, what has helped in my writing has been the connection with others. It started with creating my blogs and signing up for Twitter. Then National Novel Writing Month arrived and I participated fully. Each provided the push I needed each day to write.

Now that NANOWRIMO is over I went scouting for other challenges to connect with. In doing so I found A Round of Words in 80 Days. Unlike National Novel Writing Month you set your own writing goal for the 80-day stretch as you connect with other writers. You identify what you want to accomplish and post it. Fellow #ROW80 participants will connect on your blog and Twitter to see your progress and give a hand of encouragement. Sounded great to me so I started.

However, this had me thinking…how many other writing/ word count challenges are there? Quite a few (I’m sure many more that I’m missing)

  • National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO): Quoted from their site “Its a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000 word, (approximately 175 page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30.”
  • A Round of Words in 80 Days (#ROW80): Run by Kait Nolan. Here you set your own writing goal for the 80 days. There are 4 rounds a year, each running 80 days. Thanks @JayrodPG for this one!!
  • 250, 500 or 1000 Words A Day: In this challenge you try to write 250, 500 or 1000 words a day (pick one of these goals), at least six days a week. Their website is also a great resource on Word Count meters to place on your blog no matter which challenge you participate in.
  • 100 Words: In this challenge you set out to write 100 words a day. A fellow blogger just informed me about this one. Since the word count is so small you have the time to really take a close look at what you are writing, how it is said and determine if what you have written is actually moving the story forward. In other words, does it have purpose. Thanks Nancy at http://wordsforgotten.com/ you rock!!!
  • May Novel Writing Month (MayNoWriMo) : The rules are simple: Name your word count goal for the month, begin writing at 12:00 AM on May 1st and reach your word count goal by 11:59:59 PM on May 31st to be called a winner.
  • Academic Book Writing Month (AcBoWriMo) Writing for an academic audience. Total word count goals you set – journals, book chapters, books, doctoral thesis, or academic reviews.
  • Six Sentence Sunday (SSS): BRILLIANT!! Its a way to share a tiny portion of your work with other writers, authors and readers as a means of gaining interest in your work or for feedback, support and encouragement! The idea of Six Sentence Sunday (SSS) began with Sara Brookes. Participating is easy. Pick any SIX sentences from your work from any genre, whether WIP or published (you don’t have to be published to participate) and post them on your blog on Sunday before 9 AM EST.

So, with my new writing schedule in one hand and a growing fellowship of writers in another I saddled up on my horse as I make my way to complete my ‘precious’…novel that is. ☺

Money & Fellowships: Creative Writing

Hi Fellow Artists, Writers and Creators!

As I mentioned before, I’ve been trying to transfer my skills as a 8 year grant writer and non-profit fundraising veteran to help myself obtain grants and find unique learning opportunities as I continue my path in becoming a professional writer.

Well, it hasn’t been easy. Give me 2 hours and a computer I can find a $500,000 grant for a youth program, domestic violence support services and even find donors for a community arts program; I could write the entire proposal, draw up logic models, breakdown process/ outcome objectives and create a full budget – but finding grants in the arts for individual people, well… it’s a B*#&%

In any case I found some great fellowships for Creative & Screen Writing. Why should I keep this information only to myself but share with others and save you some time? Just because they don’t work for me, they may help you.

I’m only posting updated and more comprehensive programs/ grants that I would want for myself and others. Submission dates may have passed but ALL the websites are active and grants are still being awarded. I went through each and tried to summarise to save you time.

CHECK OUT:

QUESTIONS & COMMENTS: Although I am not an expert creative writer I am however, rather good with grants and soliciting for funds, so leave a comment or send email, I will try my best to help. OR if you have info to share GREAT!!!!

I WILL BE UPDATING THIS EACH MONTH SO COME BACK !