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.

‘The ringing bells of the piragua cart…

‘The ringing bells of the piragua cart clicked clacked down the cobbled stone streets of Casica Blvd. They chimed the ugly truth that began to penetrate his mind.

It seeped through his skin like the cherry stained lips of school children licking the shaved mountains of ice. Each sparkling flake of snow flying out into the same sun that pressed upon his exposed face- blinding him from focusing on anything other than the past.’
-Sitting in a restaurant on Ashford Avenue, Condado Puerto Rico. I took this picture while writing this passage from my novel. It felt good.

Grants & Money for Writers/Artists

As much as I would like to say that I am full-time published writer, traveling from one city to the next on book tours, negotiating with producers for movie right deals….Alas no,  this is not the case.

I actually work full-time at a university as a grants (federal and private  foundation) administrator.  I’ve spent the last 8 years of my life cultivating private donors, researching and writing many grant proposals; each in an effort to obtain funds for many great non-profit programs I believe in, many of which work with the communities  that mean the most to me… Youth & Teens, HIV/AIDS programs and of course for Artists.

YES, I’ve been able to secure large amounts of funds (yup, a lot of $$) for non-profit organizations and groups over the years.. However, now that I am finally doing what I want to do most I’ve been trying to translate this skill  to help myself as a new writer.

Well, it’ has not been easy to say the least. Competition is high and resources are always limited. So in my research and learning this ‘new’ craft of trying to find funding I thought I share some of the things I have found…maybe something that may not work for me may work for you…..

QUESTIONS & COMMENTS: Leave a comment or send email,  I will try my best to help. OR if you have info to share GREAT!!!!

WHAT WILL BE LISTED HERE? 

  • Info on Fellowships
  • Info on Grants
  • Helpful Links
  • Info on Proposal Writing Tips
  • Info on Free Writing or Artist Contests

STAY TUNED AN UPDATE WILL BE POSTED SOON on the top Home Page!!

My story takes place in the state of Washington

My story takes place in the state of Washington.  More specifically Bremerton and Bainbridge Island.  I wanted and needed a place that could be detached from the world, both with its physical isolation but also carry a sense of beauty.

Each of these things needed to be overshadowed by a big city in its direct view (Seattle).

Having never visited Washington I needed to familiarize myself with the area. I Googled and printed information on the local high school, where the police station was located and visited numerous realtor web sites and identified my main character’s apartment and layout.

After downloading numerous maps of streets and neighborhoods I said to myself….

1) I need to get my butt over there soon and

2) I need more information.

With that, I made up in my mind that this coming year I will fly out to WA for a few days and two, I decided to pick up the phone and call the Bremerton Chamber of Commerce.

I explained who I was and what I was doing (writing a novel that takes place in your neighborhood) and how I needed some information. The friendly voice on the other line replied “Sure! That sounds exciting, I think I can help”.  With that she sent mountains of maps, demographic information, newsletters and special events calendars.  I was so excited to open my mail each day until it arrived.  A little shy and nervous to call…but I’m very glad I did.

Thank you Bremerton Chambers of Commerce!!

Mapping out the Road they meet on…

Writing By Hand

I didn’t have my computer at the cafe last night, so I wrote…..by hand, with my best pen in my worn spiral notebook….

It felt good.

FYI excluding a few cross-outs its a really good way to not self edit (which I suffer from…badly) You can’t really go back and erase…you’ve got to keep moving.