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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Fictionalizing the Truth


Last night I finished editing the final version of The Kite (one of the stories that will be included in the aftermath of infidelity anthology). Its working title is still Bloody Trail of Disenchantment, though I admit that is quite a mouthful.

The Kite is a vignette, as it does not tell a whole story. It hints at parts that are still largely unknown. The story was a little problematic as it has been a source of some internal wrangling.


Last year, I started writing a few pieces and The Kite was one of three delicate pieces that I wrote and set aside. The stories, it turned out, included sensitive material. Painfully, it occurred to me that they also had a theme of unconditional love and betrayal.

These were not just any stories. These were my stories. To my horror, they aligned perfectly for a new memoirs collection only half-mockingly titled Daddy Issues


Each story included a relationship with a father figure who strayed. In each story, I witnessed the infidelity or became aware of it in unexpected ways, and it certainly colored my interaction because it went against everything I'd been taught about love, respect, commitment, and truth.

Beyond the trust issues, there was a lot more that these stories had in them that bothered me greatly. More importantly, I was unsure if I wanted to write another memoir collection of stories.

I put the stories aside and got busy with other projects, but found myself questioning whether to pursue the stories. I decided to try to fictionalize them just as The Mistress took shape, and later the idea for the upcoming anthology.

In one instance, the two people whose marriage I reference have passed on and I never spoke of what I knew – as I was sworn to an uncomfortable silence (part of the theme of the story).

In the second story, I used all the characters with only minor tweaking because he is long dead and she is lost to Alzheimer’s. I wonder how she would react to my writing the story (fictionalized or as a factual memoirs). I know she’d be secretly proud of my writing, although I doubt she’d praise me – she would boast to others, though.

She would be, however, vigorously displeased that I put out her business "out there."

I would, probably, counter that I only spoke the truth. And she would, just like her mother before her and her mother’s mother, dismiss my lack of propriety by sucking her teeth and giving me the silent treatment for an hour or two (maybe longer).

She’d be annoyed but she would grudgingly admit I told the truth, as I remembered it. As things stand, she may not even remember the incident itself any more. She’ll never see the story.
What I have left is a telling of the events that strip it of melodrama and trauma, and only hint at the emotional damage without wallowing in it.

But if it’s the truth, why include it in a fiction anthology? Because I firmly believe that truth, as much as I herald and respect it, as much as I consider it a higher principle – almost a religion – is relative. 
My truth is my fiction because memory is selective, even in the ethical and well-meaning.
When your truth is a memory seen through the eyes of a damaged child, it’s no sin to call it fiction. It may just be the more humane way to deal with it.



Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Expectation of Privacy and Social Media

Life offers the truly observant an opportunity to experience a variety of circumstances, emotions, flavors, and things that sometimes defy definition. This is how we grow and learn. It is how we make sense of our world and our specific role in it.


Who among us writers hasn't found herself furiously taking notes in public -- because you've thought of a great story idea or overheard a fabulous bit of dialogue or seen a feature that screams CHARACTER -- and had people give you the evil eye as they suspect you are violating their privacy?

I remember a writer friend getting caught overhearing a conversation and documenting it, and a child accusing her in public, "She's eavesdropping!!!" 


Enter social media and now you have a new beast to contend with...


It’s not social media per se, nor is its existence at fault – get that right. Users need to understand media, how to use it and how to curtail others’ access. We’ve turned social media into some surreal, hellish horror porn version of the universe Warhol envisioned.

In the last five years, I have witnessed love and conquest, courting and marriage, birth and death, divorce and rebirth in a way I may not have even if I were living next door to some of these people.


I have seen marital squabbles unfurl on social media and recognized the ugly monster before the couple realizes it themselves. Sometimes being in the midst of an emotional whirlwind or a tempestuous rage, they never realize that others may be privy to their breakdown. And if they do, it stops mattering and turns into a contest, as these things often do, where one must win over the other.

We’ve gone from living part of our lives publicly to living our emotional lives publicly to a no-holds-barred exposure of every aspect of living thrown into the ether for all of humanity to see.


It makes for an interesting time to be a writer or a social anthropologist, but it also means that you no longer get to imagine what happens behind closed doors. You get front row seats now. You also get to comment and put in your two cents in things that until very recently was the kind of thing only your BFF, clergy or therapist knew!

Knowing this, and knowing writers, I wonder how people remain as unabashedly oblivious to their virtual nakedness online. Have we become so accustomed to the behavior we are now blind and ignorant of its consequences?


It’s like when they first installed cameras in Congress and everyone was self-conscious and soon enough C-SPAN was a place to see otherwise stiff and suited statesmen picking their nose absentmindedly.

But back to writers and having full access to the lives of others on social media. As writers, we internalize, appropriate, and rewrite what we see and experience. There are big questions that social media open up, such as: do we change the definition for “expectation of privacy”? Or is it open season if folks do not filter for their own privacy? Is it reasonable to expect privacy when you do not protect the details of your life and put them out there for others to see, witness, experience, read, view, listen, share, and comment on it?


How exactly do people who expose every dark corner of their existence to the critical lens of social media define “privacy”? Or is privacy the thing one claims a right to when one feels the heat of exposing their own nakedness?

I just started writing a scene and it reminded of someone I know. Then I realized that this person and their partner had gone through a rough patch, very publicly. I stopped writing. In fact, it spooked me into scrapping the idea altogether – not only because it felt as if I was dragging their life across my fiction (I wasn’t, at least not purposely).


The definition of topsy-turvy: “reality” television is our new pulp fiction. How do we fit social media into the process of writing? It must be a consideration as we are all a part of it. But do we treat it as adjoined living rooms in some sort of virtual complex or a street corner in that proverbial superhighway?


Discuss…



Friday, May 15, 2015

One Last Tribute for B.B.

I emerged for some air, as I worked my way through a couple of freelance projects, to the news that B.B. King was gone. The thought brought me a wave of sadness, and then I smiled.

VO: You got the blues, girl! 
[Sound FX: distant guitar riff]

There will be endless words written about the man, his music, and his gigantic influence on blues, rock, and even pop music for over half a century in an international stage.

Every decade of my life has a handful of B.B. King songs and each adds value to big moments – from friendships to breakups, from births to deaths, from laughter to tears, from life-affirming magic to soul-crushing disappointments.


His music has been there, in my life, since I was in the womb. In fact, he had a really great year right before I made my own debut and I know for a fact that I was exposed to it.

B.B.’s passing reminds me that some people I have loved dearly are no longer in my life and it amplifies the sadness. Still, in the back of my mind, I can hear the guitar wailing The Thrill is Gone… That was the first B.B. King song I ever learned, but it means so much more to me--it links me to him in so many ways, and to people I loved, and a time when I was the happiest and the most miserable I have ever been.


I wrote a piece about meeting B.B. and listening to him play at the Blue Note in New York, one of my favorite memories. In fact, the mini-memoir was one of the first things I put out when I started publishing, and the first I translated to Spanish.


I wish I would have the opportunity to do that again, to sit in a small room and listen to B.B. make deliriously and heartbreakingly beautiful music. I wish I could have another moment with him because the last one still touches me deeply.


And so, finally, Lucille is silenced because nobody will ever touch her the same way, and I feel her pain. The sound, though, the sound remains deep inside me because it is part of the soundtrack of my life.

I am grateful I could look the man in the eye and thank him, just thank him for the music. All my vinyl, CDs and digital files aside, it was that fleeting instant that means the most to me. But I am grateful to have the music to remember him, and my own living blues. I will be blasting the blues all weekend long, that's my tribute.



If you'd care to read an excerpt of my B.B. story, you can read it here: http://bit.ly/1FozAQ3 (http://bit.ly/1IChbzY in Spanish)



Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Dynamic Duo Excerpt

I have been writing and find that some ideas I had are bearing no fruit. This is not as upsetting as it sounds. I've always maintained that writing is a learning curve. As long as the words flow, it’s never wasted. Dialog and scenes, plot lines and settings not used remain in an inactive directory that may be accessed at any time -- and I have plucked details from rejected stories and inserted them into published works.

Most of my creative writing right now is about stories on the aftermath of infidelity. Some of it introducing characters, or dialog between antagonists, such as this moment when a woman runs into an ex-lover:
To follow the progress of the upcoming collection, visit http://www.facebook.com/mistressbook


Unexpectedly captive in a hug I wasn’t sure I wanted to reciprocate, I felt myself grow cold.
“Of course,” said Josefine, “you know Bill.”
She did not mean to be malicious. She didn’t know we’d had an affair. She always suspected it was more than just a playful acquaintance.
“No,” I said and turned my back on him as I tried to walk past him. “I can’t say that I do with any degree of certainty.”
He grabbed for me, thinking we’d embrace or kiss, or something far more civil than my actual response. He looked baffled by my rebuff. And if I know him at all, he thought he deserved better, ‘I was a generous lover to her!’
“Laney?”
I glared at him and at his hand on me and, instinctively, he let go.
“Mr. Green,” I acknowledged him, but the contempt dripping off it made it sound as if I were a tween addressing a substitute teacher.
“Of course you know me,” he said and smiled. I saw him restrain himself and rein it in before he called me “babe.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his wife peek through from behind him. She had a neutral look but I knew she was more than just curious.
“I know you’re a liar,” I said softly, making her strain to hear what I was telling her husband. “But I assume you’ve enough sense of self-preservation to just drop it.”
For this particular story, I have the wife and former lover join forces to become a sort of surreal dynamic duo that goes out into the world to bring some twisted justice to it.

It may lead to nothing, but getting there is an interesting exercise nonetheless.

Doing research and further reading may lead to the conclusion that it has been done. This does not mean you can’t do it, it simply means that if you commit to doing it, you must improve on its treatment.

I’d written a few ridiculous scenes, but it is a delicate balance. Do I want to make it a humor piece or a plausible story? How much drama/tragedy ought there be in the collection?

Shall I try micro-stories or respect the characters enough to allow them a word or two beyond a Spartan, minimalist existence on paper?

Then I remember that I wanted to write at least one food porn story and I hear my inner editor beg, “Go long!”

Someone once told me that writing was like a drug, and certainly, it has a euphoric aspect. The art of creating possesses and transports you. And it may be that the idea in your head is far more ambitious than what you can deliver in reality. The beauty of it is that you can try and try again until you get good enough to pull it off.





Friday, April 10, 2015

The Kite - read the story for free!



Are you ready to get all judgy on me? 

The Kite is the first story for the upcoming anthology, The Bloody Trail of Disenchantment – which I realize is a mouthful. In The Kite, a woman reminisces about her idyllic childhood, her adoring daddy, her very first kite, and the moment everything changed.


You can read the second draft over at Wattpad or at Amapola Press here. You can comment on it, and feel free to critique to death for all it is worth, I welcome your feedback.
The Bloody Trail (which is a better, if slightly sinister title) will include stories about the aftermath of infidelity from various perspectives. That’s the goal, whether I can pull it off remains to be seen.
It occurs to me that at the end of my first story, I may not have answered the obvious questions that readers would naturally have. 
The experiment is to determine whether I have touched on what makes the story not just a good read but a memorable, emotional journey for the reader.
So I hand it to the world and let it judge the story in its infancy. Do the readers see the possibility of a good story that would or could grow on them?
There’s always the chance that a troll or two might make it into the process, especially because you may comment anonymously. That ought to make it even more interesting!
I’m not writing by committee, nor do I suggest anyone try that. I want to write, put the work up for review, and be responsive to criticism. I believe this exercise will make for an interesting developing experience. Or it might be a disaster. (In which case, it will make for great story fodder for a comedy!)
I think I know what the story is missing, but it will still be interesting to see how others judge it. That the experience may go from humbling to humiliating is just a risk one has to take when involved in creative pursuits. If nothing else, it might be a good way to develop a thicker skin.
FYI, the covers are placeholders—but feel free to critique them as well, if you have something constructive to add. In for a penny, in for a pound, right?





Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Civil Rights Means Everyone

There has been a lot of talk about marriage equality and the right of corporations to behave as individuals and protect their religious ideals. (Does anyone really believe the Governor of Indiana was shocked about the backlash?)

There are moral and legal implications to what is happening, and inevitably, there will be consequences to society – in the arts, literature, film and pop culture.

These are big picture issues currently handled by little people with little minds, handing out hate as if it were corn kernels to pop over the embers of the hell they are igniting.


Why do we need to protect a social construct that was meant to protect money and estates, but it has been dressed in the divine to inflame the moral rectitude of the righteous?

In my mind, marriage equality is simply a matter of equal rights. It is about civil rights, period. It is a human issue not a sexual one. In addition, sexual issues are the business of the partner(s) involved and no one else: not your neighbors nor the Church, and especially not government!

Kerry Washington received the Vanguard Award from GLAAD and her speech was a thing of beauty. In it she spoke, as a member of the media, about telling stories of inclusion in the media.

If you haven't seen this, please listen to her speech. It is a good message.

It starts with writers and artists before it moves to TV and film.

Everyone needs to write what they are comfortable with, or they can break out of it, it is their choice. Treatment of different kinds of people in literature makes for a more complete canvas of the world we inhabit.


In my world, there are a variety of colors and shapes, ethnicities and nationalities, sexual and asexual preferences, religious affiliations and political stances. The motto of Amapola Press is “Expand Your Horizons” precisely because we all should strive to break out from our own provincial inclinations.

When I wrote Justified, the narrator was first a woman, but I felt that people would think it was me. Instead, I chose a gay man based on someone from my past. Would he have minded that the character I based on him was a murderer? No. I know he would have loved it. Yes!

I know because I based Edmond on my late uncle and he would have been tickled pink (literally) to be in my first novel. I can almost hear the cackles.


When I wrote Because She Was A Woman, I tried to be inclusive. After all, I am the product of several generations of mixed marriages, and I want the worlds I create on the page to be as diverse as my own DNA. In fact, some of these marriages and liaisons were viewed as illegal, immoral, and an affront against God. I am none of these things. I am simply a product of love that transcended prejudice.

BSWAW included a Vietnamese, a Black poet, a couple of Latinas, and I included groups that may not be the sexy ones we see in popular culture. It was important to me that the women I wrote about were not a homogenous glob of undetermined nature.


All these little labels serve a purpose – they define the culture that shapes us. As adults, it is our job to outgrow these boundaries and become who we are, to come into our own, never letting these boundaries limit us nor allowing others to use them to keep us down. That’s just bullshit!

So far, the stories I have begun for The Bloody Trail of Disenchantment include a story based in a post Reconstruction community in an unnamed city. I will be including at least one story with LGBT protagonists, not because it's the trendy thing to do but because they are here, they live and love, and for the purposes of these stories, they cheat too.


I’ll write of their cheating, not because they are damaged, but because they live and love just like the rest of us – they make mistakes because they are only human!

I also realize that some family, friends, and readers don't necessarily agree with what I wrote here or the ideals of equality I propose -- whether for religious or other reasons. I respect everyone's right to have an opinion and a personal sense of morality, so long as it does not infringe on the rights of others nor lessen those who are different from them. Anybody or entity that enlists people to devalue others is not ethical. Please rethink your stance, I beg you.







Thursday, March 19, 2015

Married Dating Goes Viral

I am getting a kick out of writing about the aftermath of infidelities – because it takes the romance out of the story and the battlefield left is replete with human drama. 

Perhaps because I am researching the topic, recently I have noticed the culture of infidelity has been in the news with some alarming frequency – or maybe it was there before and I did not notice.

In the last few weeks there has been a mention of Ashley Madison cited as cause in several divorces. This Internet dating service for married people’s motto is “Life is Short. Have an Affair.”


One of the cable stations is doing a new reality show based on a community of swingers. It hasn’t aired yet and already there are family values protesters threatening boycotts and all sorts of fire and brimstone and the collapse of Western civilization (again).

Finally, there was a BBC article about Gleeden being sued in France. Gleeden is another online dating service specifically for married women. The interesting part of this is that apparently the French have codified fidelity.


Article 212 of the French Civil Code:
"Married partners owe each other the duty of respect, 
it springs from fidelity, help and assistance."
My opinion has always been that marriage is a social contract, but it is a Catholic organization that has begun proceedings here--so even if the civil judges agree, that association might be the end of the argument because Church and State are very much separate in France. 

To me, the truly funny part is that it has always been the French who have been on the vanguard of what is cool in infidelity.


Don’t misunderstand, I am not condoning cheating, what I am saying is that in literature, film, fine art, song the French have cast the lover as something of no consequence. If you go by popular culture alone, everybody in France has a lover.

Of course, you haven't truly reached acceptance until the news media starts to apply puns to the phenomena and getting details of the digital age totally wrong: Married Dating Goes Viral!

Discretion in such things is relative and has always been so, from royal courts to modern day, and it inspires the idea of writing about infidelities across different ages and times.

Fifty years of French films on infidelity

The idea that the French will fight for fidelity is both hilarious and ludicrous. It’s the equivalent of screwing for virginity! But it probably will make for a good, and farcical story. I’m thinking a bastardization of the Don Camillo stories but with antisextivists (devout activists who want to make sure nobody has sex).

And that is how inspiration works around here…