Writing

The Cemetery and the Swordsman

I’m going to digress from the writing talk to brag about a cool bit of my family trivia. My family, after all, has influenced me and provided plenty of inspiration for me as a writer.

It all starts with a cemetery. Okay, not really — it started in Spain with a boy and a ship in the early 1800s, but the cemetery is an important plot device.

Once upon a time, my great-great-great grandfather Jose “Pepe” Llulla owned this cemetery — St. Vincent de Paul. In the 1800s, Pepe Llulla was considered quite a famous duelist in New Orleans. The local joke was that he was such a deadly swordsman he needed a cemetery for all his victims. In reality, he rarely killed his opponent  — the cemetery was a business venture. Besides being a sailor, a swordsman and even briefly a farmer, he was also a businessman.

After his death, the cemetery was owned by his daughters and their husbands, two brothers — Manuel and Vincent Suarez. Eventually it was sold, but when I was a kid we would visit the Suarez-Llulla plots and my grandfather would tell us the story. A fantastic tale of a larger than life Spaniard who defended people’s honor with the sword and provided them an honorable resting place where flood waters couldn’t resurrect their coffins. Our family didn’t own the land anymore, we owned the history. But we weren’t the only ones.


More recently, the Llullas, who remained in Spain when Pepe left to conquer under the Dueling Oaks of New Orleans, tracked me down through the internet. This was in 2008. They let me know they had compiled a family tree and all sorts of research on Pepe Llulla. I got busy with school and lost touch, but today, 9 years later and 129 years after Pepe’s death, we all got together and headed out to the old cemetery.


When Pepe was alive Suarez and Llulla joined in this city through marriage. In 2017, we reunited in a cemetery.

Writing

I’m Not Your Supergirl

As a writer I get the awesome experience of exploring a variety of personality types, loosing myself in the different ways people cope. I, an anxious self-conscious person, can write a character who is confident and decisive, who battles her enemies by looking them in the eye and raising her chin. I love that, but I also can write a character like me, which actually I have discovered is harder. That character has trouble looking friends in the eye, much less enemies. She stammers over her words and hides her hands in her sleeves so you can’t see her fidget. She gets anxiety in the supermarket just as much as the battlefield.

The thing I find frustrating is that one of those types of people reads better in a book about teenage heroes. Who do my CP’s love? The character who faces her fears head on or the one who cowers a little and struggles but does the scary thing anyway? Well, the answer is obvious and I think, and this is just my personal suspicion, that they love the strong character and judge the timid character even more because she’s female. People yearn for strong females, but I think there’s a misconception about what that means.

A strong female character isn’t necessarily the ambitious take-charge woman who outshines all the men with her courage and daring. I don’t feel like I’m dishonoring my fellow women by writing a character who is always afraid and has a quiet voice. I don’t feel like I’m portraying a weak female. Women shouldn’t have to outshine men to prove our strength. A strong female shouldn’t have to be kickass and boisterous, she shouldn’t have to be the one with all the solutions. The key to a strong female character is making her human, with all the complexities and weaknesses and strengths that go along with that.

A reader  mentioned to me that they hoped my anxious character would become stronger later in the book and she does, but not I think in the way this person means. She faces hardships and fights, but she’ll never have the confident swagger of my other character.

I personally struggle with anxiety, it has always plagued me and I’ve accepted that it always will. I’m not bold and probably never will be. My voice is small, but when it comes down to doing what I have to do I have discovered I can do it even though I have to overcome a lot of personal challenges that some people perceive as weakness.

The danger of thinking kickass means strong and meek means weakness is that it does to women what societies have done for ages, stripping us of our humanity and painting us into a role. That thinking is just as dangerous as the one that relates girly characters to “weak” females. Like a love of pink and polka dots somehow diminishes the strength of a woman.

My job as a writer is to portray all of my characters as diverse and complex, thinking, feeling people. I’ve discovered the challenge of writing a character with more obvious weaknesses overshadowed by a character who is more conventionally strong. The comments of my readers just make me realize I have to work a little harder to paint these two different kinds of people in such a way that we can empathetize and root for them both. Somehow, I have to show my readers bold and brave don’t have to be synonymous.

Writing

Inspiration For the Introvert

As an introvert who digs her heels in when it comes to new experiences, it’s hard sometimes to appreciate all that the world can offer to a young writer. When it comes to new places, I’m eager to experience them, but when it comes to new people, I’m usually in full out panic mode unless I’ve had a few martinis.

This makes it pretty difficult to establish a well-rounded social circle that can offer plenty of insight into the diversity of the human condition. I have to draw from my brief encounters and my very small social circle. That sounds kind of ominous, doesn’t it? Like I’ve got my quick quotes quill constantly at the ready? I will Rita Skeeter your quotes into my prose with cold-hearted enthusiasm! I’m kidding. Maybe.

So, between side-eyeing my friends and co-workers when they indulge about the intricacies of their lives or even, you know, the interesting inflection and gestures of the AC repair guy or the barista at Starbucks, I get around my social anxiety enough to hopefully give a fair representation of diverse and believable personality types in my prose. Yes, hopefully I’m not filling my manuscripts with anxious introverts who spend way too much time in front of a computer monitor and/or coffeemaker.

What I’ve found works to widen my sphere of social interaction — most introverts would probably find kind of strange — is big events like concerts, music festivals or even political marches (yeah, I went to D.C. and participated in a sit-in last April. I definitely met some fascinating people with that experience.). These types of things give me the option of anonymity and if strangers end up talking to me it’s too spontaneous for me to work myself into a panic. This same strategy worked in college because randomly being called to critique my peers artwork inspired way less horror than waiting for the teacher to get all the way down to the end of the alphabet to call my name in speech class.

Obviously, this doesn’t necessarily help me function in daily life, but that’s a whole other post. Let’s just say I manage and have matured enough to brush off my awkward interactions instead of dwelling on it for ages. I call that progress.

psychiatrist1

Uncategorized · Writing

Forever Young

I’ve always been the kind of person who thought it was ridiculous that my mother’s friends liked to pretend they were 39 for as long as they could get away with it. My grandmother made her story so convincing, that when she passed away the family was quite shocked to find, on her birth certificate, she was several years older than we thought.

As I crawl closer to 30, I start to understand where they were coming from a little more. For me, it’s not the superficial part of it, heck, bar-tenders still look at me suspiciously when I hand them my ID and that always used to annoy the hell out of me. Still does. Maybe age makes us uncomfortable, not just because of social strictures, but because, as adults, we’re more aware of passing time and how quickly it passes. As kids, we’re eager for the next milestone, it can’t happen fast enough.

tumblr_myallca9ft1s3ulybo5_250

I don’t know how other people feel about it, some of my older friends scoff and are like, “thirty is the new twenty”, but to me it makes me feel rushed and a little terrified. I realize this is ridiculous, there are plenty of late bloomers, even people in their fifties still trying to figure shit out, but I had my plan when I was fourteen and it makes me uncomfortable that it hasn’t gone accordingly yet.

At fourteen, I had a vision of this level-headed successful professional writer who could talk as fast as Lorelai Gilmore and take charge like Emily. Wrong. I am still as tongue-tied and anxious as I was at fourteen except with better coping mechanisms. I can take charge better than most in a disaster, however, in social settings I have all of the Lorelai awkwardness, but none of the charm. And I am still not making money off of my writing. My fourteen year old self would be horrified to discover this floundering adult who replaced her.

Oh, to be a kid again and believe that having higher digits in front of your age is the magical remedy for all your short-comings and uncertainties. It’s not that I didn’t realize there would be plenty of responsibilities to go along with the wisdom of adulthood, I guess I just thought I would have some magical adult strategy to deal with it all.

One thing I could tell my fourteen year old self with pride is that, I haven’t given up. I’m still plugging toward that dream, still working to better myself (character development, right?), some days I backpeddle and some days I surprise myself with my progress. This is adulthood, it’s putting your big girl panties on and grabbing life by the horns even though you’re terrified. Even if you screw up and have to go pick up after yourself.

So, back to my initial point. Decades seem more like deadlines as an adult and that’s probably the wrong way to look at it. There are probably people past their thirties who might look at this post and roll their eyes. I still have a few more years before I actually hit thirty, but even if I do and I’m still shuffling through rejection letters, that doesn’t mean it’s time for quits. It doesn’t mean I ran out of time.

This thing that I do can be absorbing and frustrating, but I don’t know how not do it. I’m a story teller. I scribbled stick figures on post-it-notes before I could write the alphabet because I needed to tell my stories. I’m just gonna keep on plugging along, even if my only readers are indulgent friends and loyal critique partners.

Uncategorized · Writing

Writer In Progress

New Year, new blog.

I decided to take a break from my obsessive editing to create this blog. Okay, really I’m just procrastinating and trying to feel better about it by doing something semi-productive.

I’m an aspiring writer (in case you couldn’t tell by the title). I am in the process of editing my YA Fantasy. It’s, by no means, my first manuscript, but I would rather not talk about my previous attempts. Let’s just say my cat could probably do better.

I think I’ve come a long way and I’m determined to one day see my writing traditionally published. Hopefully, it will be the MS that I’m currently working on, but we’ll see.

Besides staring with glazed and watering eyes at a blinking cursor hours at a time, I’m also pretty fond of eating and sleeping. Kidding! (Actually I haven’t done a lot of either lately which is probably why I’m such a basket-case.) I’m a huge nerd, probably a cliche for a YA writer from what I’ve gathered from stalking my heroes. I nerd over everything from coffee and indie bands to Game of Thrones and the latest YA series I’ve glued my eyes to. I drive my friends crazy with obscure Harry Potter references. It’s very rare that I don’t have a book in my bag and a coffee in my hand.

I’m also a huge introvert and can go from staying in my house for days at a time to taking 18 hour road trips to backpack across impossible terrain. Every time I do these crazy nature things, I realize I am not only crazy, but I also apparently enjoy really sore feet and sore everything. It’s hard to regret getting to see sights like this though…

image

Pretty fantastic, right? It was definitely worth the sore feet!

So, besides nature and blinking cursors I have a Bachelors in Art which means I occasionally create things, you know, when I can be bothered between weeping over my manuscript.

Hopefully, this blog will be regularly updated. With what, I’m not entirely sure. We’ll find out.