When writing the truth is a good thing

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My journal, my favorite chipped mug of coffee, and my trusty computer. Lots of work and picking at wounds today.

Dear Reader,

The rain in Houston today was a chance to do something I hadn’t done in a long time, write something different.

I’m in the middle of a revamp for Jennie Manning. Lots of good stuff there and lots coming from workshopping. But today, I wanted to revisit something I began to write a couple of months ago. I’m not quite sure why. I have a feeling about these things and sometimes it’s about taking out of you something that won’t let you breathe.  

For me, that’s literal. Yesterday I had trouble breathing and needed to sit down for long periods of time. I yearned to write but had no idea what to say.

And then this morning, I knew what I wanted to do. Without planning or scheduling, I opened up the words I started months ago and read the first lines. It was the first time I had read them in months.

Wow! There was gunpowder on the page. I had written them with so much pain in my insides and then put them away because I couldn’t bear it.

Today, I must have been ready to make them into art.

I spent the better part of a rainy and flooding Saturday putting together a non-fiction piece with pieces of research interwoven in it. In addition, I’m using excerpts from my journal from the past year. As I read, I noticed something…I could track the pain in those pages. From the hopefulness to the despair, I could track my pain and unhappiness. I also saw the source of it.

For the first time, I wasn’t afraid to hurt. I wasn’t afraid of the truth in those pages or how I would feel about it now.

The past year, it was painful. More than it needed to be. People are cruel. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I know that more now than I ever have. My poor heart, it was taken advantage of by people unworthy of it. So it bled for a long time.

Today reminded me of how humans are made of elastic. We bounce back. We bend. We don’t break, not completely. Something tethers you to yourself, a version of yourself that allows you to come back. One only needs to look for it, hold on, and hope.

So I wrote and wrote and read through my journal and typed it into this non-fiction piece. A new world for me and I like it.

I don’t know what will become of this piece, but I’m glad I’m writing it, glad that I’m in the thick of it.

Until next time,

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Keeping the faith when everything goes wrong

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Have I ever told you that I’m a HUGE fan of Accidental Creative?

I love the podcast hosted by Todd Henry. He’s essentially the Jedi Master of creativity and flow and how to have a creative team. His podcasts are inspirational if you’re a creative in any capacity. I know it’s inspired me when I’ve lost direction or just need a boost.

His latest podcast, Mind Your Baseline, make me stop and think. In fact, I probably played it four times to make sure I was digesting the message.

Continue reading “Keeping the faith when everything goes wrong”

Dear Reader: Lessons learned while not writing

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Dear Reader,

It’s a beautiful fall like mid-morning in North Texas and sitting behind this keyboard while listening to relaxing music is heaven. I haven’t felt this good in a long time.

It’s been a while since I’ve written and updated you on my goings-on. It’s been a rocky four months in my writing life but what’s the writing life without a couple of bumpy patches?

I’m not going to spend tons of time in this letter discussing about the rough patch. I want to write about what I’m doing to get over the rough patch. Writers go through times — hours, days, months, years — where, frankly, it just sucks to be a writer.  For me, it came in the middle of a creative spurt where one day I was writing and the next day I wasn’t. Just didn’t want to write anymore.

Some would call that writer’s block. It’s not. Writer’s block doesn’t exist. I knew exactly what the book was supposed to look like. It was outlined. The ending was already written. I just one day wanted to stop writing…everything. The book, freelance pieces, even blog posts were not being written.

As you know, I’m truthful about my process — the good, the bad, and the very ugly. The very ugly turned its ugly head. I became depressed and thought that this was it, I was done writing. Writing would never happen again for me. All the doubts that a writer needs to lock away in order to do work seeped into my head: You’re talentless. Why do you spend so much time writing if you haven’t published one novel yet.  If you were really any good, you’d be on the third book already. Your grad school classmates are publishing, what are you doing? 

For awhile I believed it. So much so that I sank into a deeper depression and even reading was painful. It was painful to write and not to write. Friends told me to give myself time, that I needed time to become accustomed to my new life and surroundings. So that’s what I did. I focused on work, which, ironically, included critiquing student’s writing. I felt disingenuous, however — a writer who wasn’t writing commenting on writing. I hate that feeling.

But you know, sometimes, you just have to get out of your own way. Sometimes the not writing is trying to tell you something about the writing. (Tweet this)

And fake it until you make it is actually a thing.

Slowly, I began to feel less disingenuous with my critiques. I thought about my writing life as that, a life, not just a thing but an actual life that was meant to be lived. And so, I started to look for things where I can live my life. I returned to the practice of yoga, but this time more formally by signing up for a yoga retreat and attending yoga classes.  (My body is so sore at the moment! )

Then, on recommendation of a mentor, I started looking for a writing home, a critique group or workshop to join. A community. I’ve written about how writers need community but I had forgotten my own advice. (It happens.)

 

Soon, I began to take solace in my students. I may not have been writing but they needed what I had learned so far. And sometimes they made me laugh.

Flawless

Then yesterday something wonderful happened.

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Am I back to full form? No. I still have to work on the life part of the writing life. I still have to work on living. I plan to join one of the two writing groups I visited recently. Yoga will continue to kick my arse and I will use that practice to learn what I need for my writing practice — patience, challenge, acceptance, and process.

We had this saying in grad school, trust the process. By the end of our time at Goddard, it had been repeated to us so often we made a drinking game out of it. But those three words are as true as the words I love you. Trust the process. The journey is unique to each individual. That’s what makes it so precious. Trust your process, dear Readers. Trust that the moments you are living are the seeds to future amazing effort.

Trust. Trust. Trust.

With a full and humbled heart I remain…

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Dear Reader: What is the legacy of words?

Dear Reader (1)I stumbled upon a video this week of Kurt Vonngenut’s words being read by Benedict Cumberbatch. This event happened at England’s Hay Festival. From what I can tell, it’s a festival about all things awesome, including literary things.

This letter was addressed to someone who censored one of the writer’s books. It was not only censored but burned. BURNED! The letter was passionate and fiery and direct. The letter itself was art.

This video made me think about this letter and other letters by writers. I became sad that this art form was being lost and that learning more about our favorite writers — what items made them take pen to paper in an effort to convey an infinite amount of emotions and knowledge, and their thought process — was giving way to the blog post.

I know it’s ironic. Me of all people saying that, and writing that in this a type of blog post, but how I feel about writing letters, about artists writing candid letters, is the reason for so many things.

In grad school, I read letters written by Raymond Chandler to his agent and other writers. Those letters were part of a collection I found in a used bookstore in Port Townsend, WA. I have never read those letters in any other place but in that collection. Among the correspondence was a letter from Chandler to his agent about what he thought made a good detective story. It outlined what was important and what was, essentially fluff.

Obviously, as someone trying her hand in mystery fiction this year this piece of amazement was something I needed to hear.

That’s what letters are about. They teach. They add insight. They are time capsules, a page of history for all to enjoy.

The thought of not having access to these letters makes me sad. I wish there was a way for writers to write letters of note, at least to their readers. Just if it’s even to say hello or that the sky was blue. This is important for work and important for reading.

While I’m sure a tweet or a retweet can make a reader feel that their favorite writer is listening to them, and visa versa, a letter is so much more. I’m glad I’m writing weekly (or so) letters to you guys and I hope you like reading them too.

Creatively, this week has been disappointing in terms of volume of production. However, I am happy with the quality of production, which makes the past seven days redeemable.  I took to writing the last scene of the latest Jennie Manning story on my typewriter. I like using it and wished I could use it more often. There’s something about the way the keys hit the page. There’s a connection to the words there, an authenticity that a computer screen can’t duplicate. I’m not sure that authenticity is the right word but it’s the right sentiment, the trueness of the experience of writing. This is what I’m referring to — the purposefulness of words (since there is no deleting or backspacing), the rhythm of the keys tied to the fingertips, then the arms, the shoulder, the neck, the brain. That delicious, intoxicating rhythm when the brain is practically drilling the story onto the blank page. This is something that a typewriter can do that a computer can’t.

It was with this old-fashioned sentiment that I took to my machine and wrote out the last scene, at least a draft of it. I am not done with the story yet but I know where it’s going. The light at the end of the tunnel is coming ever closer with this story. This makes me happy.

Reader, you must think me old fashioned between the ode to letter writing and my prose creation on a typewriter. Ha! I’m far from it. Spend any time on this blog or on my Twitter account and you’ll know that’s not true. But something about these two things tie readers and writers together in a way few things can. And that’s the kind of writer I want to be, one who is bonded with their readers with sincerity.

Until next week,

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The next start over

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Today is the last day of things and the beginning of other things.

I don’t want to go into too many details but I am moving from Louisiana back to Texas. I’m embarking on a new adventure and I feel  a bit like the woman in this picture — on top of a mountain looking below at everything.

The mountain is my career and below is the path I took to get to this point. I can see where the path was smooth and even and where it was the most rocky. I see the fork in the road that I wished I’d taken and the ones I was glad to experience. So many lessons, so many years and the theme to all this is simple really.

Life is a series of starts and stops, start overs but no do overs. It’s up to you to make something of each start and stop. (Click to tweet this)

So here I am, at the beginning of the next start over with paths and paths of lessons behind me. I’m excited for what’s ahead and grateful for what’s behind me now.

You should know, dear reader, that during this transition you will not be left alone.  I’m taking about a month off but this blog will be active in the month of May (while I’m packing and moving). There’s a couple of posts in the can waiting to go live. I also have some friends stopping by to guest post. Here’s some of the topics they’re writing about:

Rising action in mystery stories

  • Lessons I learned writing my first novel
  • Why writers should blog
  • Self promotion 101
  • There’s more topics but I don’t want to give everything away!

Meanwhile, I can always be reached through social media, via Twitter or Google+ and see my move through Instagram.  And of course, you’re welcomed to follow.

I’ll be back in June! See you then!

His magic was my realism

Don't quit your day job. Writing with a 9 to 5

I was talking to a lady about my desk when the world heard of his passing.

“I’m not sure my couch would fit here with my desk. I’m a writer and I need my desk.”

I said that to the woman showing me the apartment. I am moving to a bigger place, in a bigger city, in a bigger state because my career just got bigger. I’m about to work at a university and advise students who will become amazing journalist. They will report and write and distribute the news in ways that we all haven’t even thought of yet.

My phone buzzed but it usually did with emails and texts and such. It’s the burden of being connected. It buzzed again. Even as I write this now, I don’t know why I didn’t check my phone.

Gabo died and I didn’t check my phone. I didn’t check it for a long time.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez was for me a teacher. I write often on this blog about voice — how I lost it and how I gained it back. But I’ve never written about what I did to keep it, to make it grow in strength and in consistency. I mean, what are you supposed to do once you have a voice?

You’re supposed to use it.

Garcia Marquez said it was okay to use it…and often.

That’s because in my voice was me, all of me. Everything that makes me who I am and all the things I have yet to become. It’s okay if sometimes the voice goes back to childhood because I am that person. It’s perfectly fine if my voice is cold and cruel because sometimes I can be that way, too. This was who I was and it was okay to be this person.

While writers like Junot Diaz, Roberto Bolano, and Cristina Garcia helped me find my voice, Garcia Marquez made it okay to be more than one thing, fiction writer and journalist. After all, it’s the story that matters. It’s the story. Always the story.

That’s when I knew I was a storyteller, not a writer. Story drives me.

I read the messages on my phone.  I didn’t stop to react to his passing so I dismissed it as another news event.

It wasn’t until the next morning, in the quiet hours, before the world began to bark, that my heart understood the messages.

El maestro had passed. Garcia Marquez was no more physically but had crossed into a place where he was immortal, where he’d live forever in the stories he wrote. This is when I realized one fundamental thing, the last lesson he would teach me.

Storytellers live forever.

There is an indescribable hole in my soul since his passing, as if a family member in another country had passed on before I had a chance to know them, before my eyes memorized the contours of their face.  I feel his passing deeply, beyond the meaning of words, in a place where only other storytellers dwell. My bones ache with sadness and the world’s colors are duller. It will be a while before the luster returns.

It may sound silly, all this feeling for someone I’ve never met. We all pretend to know other artists through their work. For me, that’s not so. I got to know myself through his words, his imagery. His magic and was my realism. His magic nurtured my voice.

In recent years, I’ve had the great privilege of being compared to Gabo but not in the way you’d think. His mastery of story was not where the comparison was made but in the strength and clarity of voice.  At one time, that terrified me but now I know that was the legacy he left for me.

Good night, maestro. The angels await your stories.

 

My other posts about Garcia Marquez

 

Other great Gabo stuff on the interwebs

 

What does your writing mean to you?

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Sometimes the present is so changed that the past is linked to the present only by a fragile word. To build something new, you must be prepared to destroy the past. – Yvonne Vera.

The first time I read that quote in Butterfly Burning I was in an immense amount of pain. I wasn’t in physical, but the internal pain was nearly unbearable. I was being pulled into several directions professionally. First it was my love, my work, journalism and being a reporter at a mid-sized daily. Then it was my first love, my future, writing and the MFA.

For a time there, it seemed that journalism demanded more of me than it had in the past, ironically during my graduate program. However, I wanted to give the program and this direction a fair shot.  I always wanted to write books and that they’d be fiction and that the road to finding my voice would go through this program.

What to do? Not sleep? Quit one or the other?

Then I read this quote. The word that linked my past and present at the time was safety.

Becoming a storyteller? Yes, that was in my DNA from the minute I could breathe. My brain doesn’t and can’t function any other way. But what made me (frankly) miserable during this time? Safety.

On one hand, I wanted to stay where I was as a writer and journalist because it was familiar. I found a sense of comfort in knowing things others didn’t, not because I gained that experience through learning but because I had some sort of seniority. I had become one of the “old timers” (mostly through attrition). Life had become predictable in a way and that make me feel so safe even though I knew that I was stagnating in my craft.

Me on the first day of grad school

On the other hand, this new thing, this MFA and this journey toward finding my voice? This was what I yearned for. New air. New thoughts. New muscles being flexed. I took to this life as if this was where I was meant to be. But this also scared me. There were so many unknowns. Would I…could I…actually become the writer I’ve always wanted? This was not the inverted pyramid of journalism but the truth of fiction where I could wound or heal myself with a phrase — there was no detachment.

Scared. I was scared either way.  Then I read this quote and it made all the sense in the world.

In order for me to stop being scared, I needed to be ready to destroy the past.

That didn’t mean to quit one or both — newspapering or MFA. That meant that I needed to rethink what it meant to be a writer and a storyteller. That meant I needed to define what that was for myself and how I could carve my own reality.

Once you understand the meaning of your writing, you can carve out your own destiny. (Click to tweet this)

That’s when I began to own who I really was — a storyteller who can tell a story in many different ways.  I chased stories with a new zeal and read everything I could get my hands on, including creative nonfiction. I wanted to learned how different stories and writers worked.

I became an apprentice to words. 

So now, among the sea of tweets and statuses and the speed of changing technology, I know that the world still needs storytellers. That talent is one of the building blocks of humanity. People will always want a story.

And that, readers, is the most freeing thing in this world.

 

It all comes back to the words

 

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Editor’s Note: This post is part of a 28 day blogging challenge from Imperfectblogging.com. The goal is to develop your blogging voice. To learn more, click here. But I’m so behind I can’t even catch up now so I’m kinda doing my own thing. 

Success. Love. Happy. Free.

These four words are something that nearly every human being I know wants in their lives.  How to get there is another thing entirely.

But this isn’t that type of site and I’m not that type of writer. I’m not here to tell you how to find these words in your life, however, I can help you find this in your writing.  Seven word advice. Ready?

It all comes back to the words.

Yes, that’s it. Very simple. The words. The writing. The act of writing. The preparation for it. The reading. All of it and the road to those 4 words comes back to that.

I re-learned that lesson today. My life currently is in the process of turning upside down in so many good ways — a new business to launch, clients to finish work for, an audience to build, a new job and therefore a move and a new city. So many things are happening at the same time and I am being pulled in so many different directions. It was no wonder that this morning I woke up in a less than chipper mood.

Okay, I was insufferable. I’ll admit to that.

And I know that when that happens, I have to think about the last time I wrote…anything. After some quick math, it had been a while, a very long while. Reading? Forget it. The book still had the bookmark in it from MONTHS ago.

I have all these amazing things going for me and I am beyond thrilled (though thinking about how I’m going to move my furniture is causing some gray hairs) but for me, the writer, it comes down to the micro level of things. It comes down to the words. That is when I am my most successful, I feel the most self-love, I am the happiest, and I am the most free.

LESSON: On the road to becoming a storyteller, one must figure out their own story if they hope to tell others. (Click to tweet this.)

So, I’m back to craving out time — getting up early or sleeping late. I know for those four words to happen, I need to go back to the practice and that starts with doing this.

The writing quote that keeps me going

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Editor’s Note: This post is part of a 28 day blogging challenge from Imperfectblogging.com. The goal is to develop your blogging voice. To learn more, click here. 

Sometimes life gets in the way of life. It’s just one of those things, I guess.

Here I am in a program to write a blog post everyday for the next 28 days and I am so behind it’s almost like starting over. Life has kept me from becoming more consistent with this challenge. Add to that that I’m so ridiculously behind on my Jennie Manning story, I just want to crawl into a hole and sleep until it’s over.

But here’s a little thing that I’ve learned about writing and life: sometimes it’s just a series of starts and stops. Starting over is the new starting over and the only way to fail is by stopping.

That’s why I love this quote from Clarice Lispector. Frankly, I love everything that woman has ever written. Another one of her quotes is engraved on my laptop.

“I only achieve simplicity with enormous effort.”

Clarice Lispector

Both of these quotes give me hope and warm fuzzes but the first one, about questions and answers and writing, that one keeps me going when the copy isn’t flowing as it should.

See, writing whether it’s fiction, nonfiction, journalism, poetry, or some other combination, is about truth — finding it, exploring it, denying it, accepting it. Truth is in the center of all forms of art and that is what makes it beautiful. (Click to tweet this.)

I have so many questions about life, all aspects of it. Why do people do the things they do? What is love? What is the meaning of humanity? How does it all work?

So many questions but not that many answers. As a writer I need to explore, to make it understandable or at least to come to a sort of peace with the answers to the questions. Writing allows me that freedom. That reminds me of another quote.

“The great luxury of my life is the freedom to sit at this desk.”

Richard Rodriguez, Hunger of Memory

Luxury? Necessity. My pen will never stop moving. As long as I have curiosity and wonder in my heart for things I know nothing about, I will write to learn more about them.

Why do I have this drive? I guess every artist is looking for something…

chandler

 

 

The dinner party that will never happen

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Editor’s Note: This post is part of a 28 day blogging challenge from Imperfectblogging.com. The goal is to develop your blogging voice. To learn more, click here. 

Who would you invite to dinner (living or not)? What would the conversation be like?

That’s the assignment for today’s Imperfect Blogging. Since this is a writing blog, I thought it’d be easy to pick my favorite writers and maybe write a scene about how dinner would go. I’d write about what I would serve and the phenomenal, creative, inspirational conversation that would happen around my table.

But that’s not the dinner I want to happen.

The dinner I really want to happen will never happen. Because Death, the bastard that it is, is permanent and everlasting. Also because, just as bad and semi-everlasting, is Fidel Castro.

The dinner I want to have is with my family — my dad, my sister, my long lost brother, and my half sister and brother in Cuba.

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I’ve not written about my long lost brother, well, ever. I never thought we would find him. I was right. Last year, he found us. The thing about blogging is that everyone and anyone can look for you if they really wanted to find you, you just have to put yourself out there. I did. I wrote about my dad on one of the anniversaries. And then suddenly I get an email through WritingtoInsanity.com while I was watching a movie that was so ridiculously boring that I couldn’t recall it even if I tried.

My brother. He emailed. He’d been looking. It took a good 10 minutes before I could react.

When I finally saw a picture, I could see dad in his face. Mr. Fernandez lived in the face of a 40 year old man from Arizona. Dad died wanting to know his son, to hug him, to talk to him, to explain so many things. He wanted to explain to him that life did what it did and that was why they didn’t grow up together. He wanted to ask him about his life. He wanted to tell his son about his (there’s so much to tell). Simply, dad wanted to be a dad to his son.

But that didn’t happen. No matter how much we search and tried, we never could find him. I’m glad that he found us.

So, it was up to me to tell him everything daddy couldn’t. I was able to tell my brother that he had another sister here, in the US and another brother and sister in Cuba. He told me I had three nieces and a nephew. And darn it if one of my nieces doesn’t have the same facial expressions that I do, which I learned from dad.

My sister in Cuba and my sister in Texas were stunned to hear that we had found him. They want to get to know him, embrace him into the Fernandez family. They wanted to welcome him home.

But the Castros being who they are and the sticky red tape being, well, sticky, that’s a long way off. Way off. Not saying it couldn’t be done, but we’re not there yet.

I’m recalling all this because today is dad’s birthday. He was a spring baby and it seemed fitting because he was a person of constant renewal.  “No te aogas en un baso de agua” (don’t drown yourself in a glass of water) he’d say. That’s because there were an infinite amount of ways to move, or solve a problem, or do whatever.

I wonder sometimes how that dinner party would go. It would be a long one (the family tends to be long winded). There would be plenty of tears, some yelling, laughing, anger, and love. Above all love. I’d serve roasted pork. Dad would watch me make it and give me some tips and then I’d hand him a beer and tell him to go watch the game. My blood sister would arrive late and she’d make a bee-line to the rice and beans and ask me when dinner would be done. I’d slap her hand away from grabbing a mouth full and tell her to go sit with dad. My Cuban brother and sister would put on music and dance and that’s when the party would start. Loud talking would sound like yelling. The trio would teach my blood sister to dance salsa even though she’s got moves no one has seen yet (her words not mine). The smell of a wonderful dinner would wrap itself around this moment. That’s when I would wish and pray that the smell of pork and yucca would just keep this moment going forever and that time would be my friend again.  My long lost brother would arrive and that’s when I would emerge from the kitchen, to watch the moment I’ve always wanted to see, the reunion of the Fernandez children with their father.

Then, the healing begins….