Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Singing the Revision Song!

I love when good things start to happen. Changes occur, ideas bubble to the surface, and voila! A new story appears. What was once a small bud...a bare dream, reaches up and finds its way.

Well, here in New England, nothing's budding out there. It's cold and slushy outside today, and travelers are struggling to make their own way up my icy hill. I've got my butt in the chair and I've got an idea...or two. I'm back to my sister story again. For as much as my own sisters drove me crazy growing up, I'm loving them both to pieces right now! What fodder they've given me for my stories!

Yesterday, I got a little bit of a break...an email from outside my own small circles, with a few pretty terrific suggestions for my manuscript. A few friends joined in the conversation, and now I'm back at it again. Some people hate revision, but oddly enough, I like it. The characters are all there, but the puzzle pieces need a little moving, so...hello revision! Here I am again...marinating my story, and letting new thoughts sink into my brain. I've got my laundry list, I'm clearing the wreckage. And already, I'm seeing things I never saw before!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Calling on the Universe: A Few Answers to the Questions of Ethnic Writing

The universe has been talking to me! For a long time, it was an absolute no-no to write about your own childhood and encapsulate it in the period in which you grew up. My childhood was set in some pretty turbulent times, and much like the kids of today...if we ever thought about it, we'd never have left home. But we did. In fact, we left home for the scope of an entire day and no one panicked or even noticed at all.

We had a lot of freedom, but we also had some pretty serious rules and social mores to live by. Consequences were swift and final. We were, after all the first generation of immigrant parents, the sons and daughters of WWII Vets. We were brought up on some pretty fear-based ideology. My tribe was Irish. We were typecast...strongly encouraged to stay with our own kind. People had their places, afterall.

The backdrop to all this was the Cold War, the Apollo flights, the Beatles, and the Vietnam War, with actual shots of the day's combat showing up on tv each night. The hippie generation was already sporting their rag-tag, ripped jeans...burning bras and all sorts of other unimaginable things. Rebellion!

It was right about then that people of color made their way into my life and onto my block. I had a new friend named Roland. I'd watched his house being built all summer long, and couldn't wait to meet him. I finally had someone to walk to the bus stop with, and I didn't care about the color of his skin, but I knew the adults around me did.

Fear ruled the adult world, and stereotyping was the order of the day. It would, in their minds, keep us all close and locked up within our own tribe. But the battles outside were raging. The cork was already out of the proverbial bottle. My sister was riding a motorbike...she'd bought a German car, and was dating boys that were...NOT Irish!! And she had friends that were people of color and different ethnicities too. We knew people were talking. But...too bad. Hello freedom!

So now? Characters of color are turning up in my writing. But I would never go there without doing the legwork, checking in with the real representative principles of this type of story. I, myself, love books with people of varied backgrounds. I cherish the wide array of friendships I've had in my own life. But I know that doesn't qualify me as an expert on this topic. I have no right to take liberties in the ways of another cultural/ethnic group's story unless the characters themselves are honest and authentic. No cheesy, gratuitous writing of any kind should ever make it out into a public arena. For that, we all know, is just plain putrid!

I want to thank everyone for the thoughtful responses on FB this week! Please feel free to join my blog and stay close to the conversation. I welcome your thoughts and ideas. My friend Barb left me with a wonderful link I'd like to pass on here. Also, Mitali Perkins fills her blog with many wonderful entries related to life and people in a globally diverse world. There's a list of selected reads and a pretty terrific interview with Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, author of Eight Grade Superzero. Years ago, I went to Whispering Pines Writing Retreat and met Sharon Flake, the author of a favorite of mine, The Skin I'm In. Sharon says she "writes about hope in hard places." She inspired me then, and made me think hard about my roots growing up. I think she planted a seed for me about hope...not so much in hard places, but in hard times.
Right now, that is the seed that I'm exploring. It's a little seed, so we'll see where it goes from here.

I also came across a great blog entry by JA Konrath. What a classic! He talks about knowing the industry and knowing the facts, experimenting, listening, asking questions, taking chances and staying alert. Sage advice! I'm grateful for all the ideas that surround me. But I'm most grateful for the compass that points north every morning at 5:30, and the characters that appear on the page.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hearing Voices...and Going Along for the Ride

I've been wrestling with a few wonderings for about six months now. Can white authors really write African American characters well? You see I have some great characters talking to me, and I'm wondering if a) I have the right to put them on the page, and b) if they'll they sound authentic enough. I love these characters. They came to me in the middle of writing Eggshells. I shared the two chapters I wrote as a result, and my writing friends looked at me like I was crazy.

They weren't judging me or anything like that. They were wondering why, after I'd invested a full year and a half in writing of one novel, I was getting sideswiped by another. The answer was simple: I was hearing voices. I knew in my heart I was coming to the end of Eggshells, and those four girls had become a part of the fabric of my day to day writing life. I lived and breathed inside the heads of those characters...and letting go was hard. Ending a book feels like death to me. So...my brain was doing a round-up; raking through all the possibilities and sending out a notice for free auditions!

Chrissy showed up first, and she was African American. I'm white. What? It's true. She had some pretty sassy stuff to say. I loved it! But my writing friends were not loving it, they saw this as a loss of focus. I was wondering about my sanity too. So I set it all aside and got back to the four sisters. But now? Eggshells is finished, and I'm doing what Patricia Reilly Giff tells me to do...move on and keep writing. I've found a white friend for Chrissy, and I think I now understand why Chrissy showed up in the first place. I'm a writer. I hear voices and put them down on page. I believe in the full palette of color that comes through in character...these characters need to bump up against one another. So now? I'm just going along for the ride!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Blue Skies and Letting Go

Finished. Well, for now at least. I'm learning the practical art of letting go. Eggshells, my baby girl manuscript is in its best possible shape for now. It's a story of four sisters, each one unique in their age and stage, but also in the special hopes and the desires...the dreams that fuel them.

Gypsy is the fourteen year old sister, kind of the soothsayer/poet in the family. She has a knowing sense that danger lingers on the doorstep. Caroline is the wild child. She thrives on drama and takes risks the others wouldn't even dream of. Dee is the straight arrow...she's stuck her finger in the flame and learned from it. But Dee is also the family secret-keeper. She fends off the vicious attacks of the gossipy neighbors. There is plenty to talk about, that's for sure. And Kristen is the beautiful, blonde haired older sister. Married with a baby of her own, she still looks back. Understandably, Peter has had enough. But on one hot summer night at the end of June, Gypsy's sheers kick up alongside her window. Mom will take a fall and Caroline's risky flirtation will have a disastrous consequence. One that will topple them all. Eggshells is the story of four sisters faced with an unimaginable public disaster and how they pick up the pieces and put it all back together again.

This is my baby. My fledgling novel waiting to find its place on the stage of the publishing world. Letting go, for me, is the hardest part of all. I have many projects rumbling around, penciled in on the pages of my journal. But these four girls and their struggles have captured my every waking hour for the past year and a half or so. Today, it's official. I'm moving on, opening a new file, and letting my mind race off in another direction toward that new story that is waiting out there in the wings! I'm sure there'll be a sister or two...because that is, in the end, the stuff that I am made of!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Angel Birthday

No wrinkles,
no lines,
or grays.
Just that smirky
and her
little leftover wink

We celebrated our
days together,
hers just a day before
a big splurge!
A creamy bakery cake...
of course,
and in good times...
Dinner out
at a real restaurant...
with waiters,
and tablecloths,
and red leather

So today,
that day before
I'm remembering,
and sending
a little wink
her way.

I'm sure wherever
she is...
there's whipped cream,
and lemon...
and lots
of licorice,
and laughter