The Indie Experiment-The Decision

Self Publishing, Writing Process

My Indie Journey From Start to Finish:
The Indie Experiment:The Beginning

The Indie Experiment:The Decision

The Things They Didn’t Bury was still in the Scraps of Incoherency stage by the time my first year of college rolled around. I sat down to work on it every once in a while, but the truth was, it was the idea of it that excited me most of all. Putting the pieces together was fun but using those pieces to build something with depth and meaning and, oh yeah, words, was hard. Writing was hard and even though every time I did it, something surprisingly good came out of it, I was still treating it as a hobby and not my life. I’d discovered this passion but there was still this part of me that was afraid to follow it. And it certainly didn’t help when everyone and their mother had the same opinion about majoring in the arts. That it was a waste. That it would lead nowhere. That it was only for self-indulgent hippies (even though most college students are self-indulgent hippies). So I was afraid. I was afraid of so many things–being vulnerable, being honest, being a failure. And I delayed the inevitable, keeping my consideration of majoring in Creative Writing all to myself, and even more than that wishing it would just disappear. But it didn’t. Even when I almost did.

November of my first semester of college my father was diagnosed with cancer. After six months of misdiagnoses they finally found the thing that was killing him and it was too late. It gutted me. For a year I watched him dwindle down to sharp edges and pale skin, my giant amazing father suddenly smaller than me in every way.  And there was nothing I could do about it.

My first semester of college was a blur. I dropped out of every club and missed every game and wandered from class to class without speaking a word to anyone. And when the spring semester rolled around I took the bare minimum, torn between wanting to hide at school so I wouldn’t have to see him hurting but knowing it would hurt me more if I didn’t. So I stayed home with my father while my mother worked, making him toast and eggs in the morning and fixing him lunch and showing him how to work the laptop, all while swallowing glass. Choking on it until I could be alone in my car, parked in some grocery store parking lot or waiting for the gas nozzle to click off, strangers staring at me as I screamed into my steering wheel.

But in the midst of all of that there was a bright spot. Just one. I took my first Creative Writing class that semester, the roll call only six deep, my teacher the spitting image of a girl laying on the grass at Woodstock, and I loved every second of it. We focused on short stories and the first one I wrote was about a single dad who lived with his two kids in some imaginary town in South America called Paloma. It was uber-literary, full of imagery and run-ons, and totally pretentious. But even through all of that muck my teacher still said it was good and the most revolutionary part was that I believed her.

When they moved my father to a hospice facility it was right down the street from my school and I would curl up in the chair next to his bed with my moleskin notebook and just write. For hours, for weeks, that’s all I did. I would sit and write about these strangers who were feeling what I was feeling or feeling what I wanted to feel and I could see every heart like it was my own. I could see the world in all its mysterious connectedness, the threads between us all growing slack and taut. I could see the world, ugly and broken, naked and beautiful. For the first time I could see the world. And for the first time I didn’t feel so alone.

When you watch someone you love die everything has more meaning and everything has more urgency. And I was filled with this sense of urgency to make a declaration–about myself, about my words. That I was full of them. That there was nothing in the world that made me feel as free or whole or brave or alive. So I made that declaration, choosing the arts when everyone said not to, choosing to follow my gut even when I was terrified. But I had grown so much in the past year, I’d seen so much, done so much. I’d sat by my father’s death bed and told him goodbye. Something I still can’t believe I survived but something that made me strong. And in that moment of standing in my truth, I needed to be. Because I’d seen my place in the world. I’d seen the world and I knew that I was never meant to stand apart, alone. I knew I was never meant to be one tiny blip, a place marker, a point of reference. But I was meant to be the thread between those points, weaving words into the holes and empty spaces between us. I was meant to be a writer. Because that’s all writing is at its essence, a declaration to the world that says, “I am here and I am with you.” And even though it doesn’t always feel that way, when I am writing I know that nothing is more true, for all of the people I’ve met, all of the people I’ve had to let go, and all of the people still waiting, I am here and I am with you. Even when our hearts are broken we are not alone.

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Why I Write What I Write

Writing Process

During a brief period in high school I thought I’d wanted to be a journalist. I hadn’t really gotten serious about writing yet. I knew that I liked it but I didn’t do it enough to know which avenue I preferred. But I knew that I’d always wanted to travel. I liked the idea of having an adventure—of seeing things and doing things that most people haven’t. It sounded exotic and dangerous and terribly exciting, everything an introvert like me would spend hours fantasizing about but never actually gather the gall to do.

I’d also been a really socially conscious teenager—at least I liked to think so. That combined with my mild self-righteousness and know-it-all attitude made me the perfect candidate for future congresswoman or UN Ambassador. Except without all of the smiling and hand shaking and general pleasantness that accompanies public figures working in the humanitarian field. I was more of the overzealous, angry variety. To me every injustice was an outrage. I cared about the fate of humanity to such an extent that the only emotion I could manage most days was anger. Yes I was a very strange kid.

I thought I was going to become this big time journalist working for National Geographic covering political prisoners and terrorist groups and the plight of the poor and I’d live out of a backpack and I would save the world. I mentioned I was self-righteous right?

But then I went to college and I took a news writing class and it was absolutely tortuous. There were too many rules. And while I understood that writing for a newspaper was not my ultimate goal and that there is room for narrative in journalism, I just knew that there was absolutely no way I’d survive that rite of passage let alone subject myself to it as an unpaid intern.

I was also taking Creative Writing courses around that time. I hadn’t declared it as my major yet but I was getting there. I had some amazing teachers. One in particular wrote both fiction and non-fiction and we really connected over the social bend to the pieces I was turning in. I was obsessed with South America and the drug war and all of the conflict in that region. I was writing about The Dirty War in Argentina and drug mules in Chile and the people living in the Andes whose native tongue was almost extinct.

There is something just so haunting and supernatural to me about Latin culture and there’s something terribly romantic about the way it clings to its traditions so fiercely, the past so intertwined in the present. Every Latino grows up knowing at least a few parables and old wives tales by heart, even ones as Americanized as me. It’s a culture built on stories. And what writer wouldn’t be drawn to that?

But I wasn’t just drawn to the subject by birth. I’ve always struggled with my identity. My mother is Hispanic and my father was white. My grandparents only spoke Spanish in the house when they were trying to hide something from their children. And even though my mom learned it anyway, she never spoke it with me—maybe because my father wouldn’t have been able to understand, maybe because she was trying to distance her new family from something I wasn’t quite aware of yet, or maybe because she just didn’t think it was important. But that cultural void was always there.

Growing up I was the only Hispanic girl in any of my AP classes. All of my friends were white. I was basically shunned by the other Latinas because apparently I thought that I was too good for them. Not only that but I didn’t speak their language. Something that I still feel a deep-rooted shame about to this day. The truth is people look down on you in the Latin community if you’re not fluent in Spanish. It makes you seem like you’re trying to distance yourself from your culture, like your ashamed of it somehow. And that makes them ashamed of you.

But even though I grew up, on the one hand feeling abandoned by that part of my culture, there always has and always will be this insatiable desire to feel like I’m a part of it.

That is the real reason why I’m so obsessed with writing about Latin culture. Because I just want to feel like I belong to it somehow. And when I started writing fiction and I realized that I could explore that same culture and those same social issues without following all of those ridiculous AP style guidelines I knew I’d finally found the right path.

My first book uses the backdrop of the Dirty War in Argentina to explore family, racism, and the concept of identity. My next book, set to debut this summer, delves into the complexities of family responsibility, good vs. evil, and the quest for redemption. But that’s not really all they’re about. Every book I’ve ever written, every book I ever will write is also about love. And while these two books may be violent and dark they are also about two broken people, their pieces so inexplicably tangled, trying to assemble what’s left of themselves into something new.

I’ve talked about broken characters before, about their importance, and about our draw to them. But when I talk about wanting to make readers feel recognized and connected, it’s much more personal than that. Because I want to be recognized too. I’m looking for a connection with my readers just as much as they are with my characters. Two books down and I’m still just looking for a place to belong in this world. Whether that’s within a culture with a sordid and seductive history, within a family that’s still drifting, our anchor lost three years ago this month, or in a community of pixelated strangers, all of us shouting into the void that is the internet, waiting to be heard. I’m still looking, waiting, and that’s why I keep writing. Because I’m still waiting to find where I belong.

Coming Up For Air

Mental Health, Writing Process

I’ve been heads down on book 4 for the past eight weeks. It’s shorter than my other books, a different genre and category too, but still I’ve never finished the first draft of something this quickly. I still have some loose ends to tie up before I can abandon this draft for a while and work on the 4th draft of book 3 but I’m so close. My brain knows it and my body definitely knows it. I came into this weekend feeling drained and tired and numb. Not just because I’ve been writing like crazy but because of the reason why I’ve been writing like crazy.

I’m the kind of person who hates asking for help. I hate inconveniencing people and even more than that I hate feeling like I owe people. But recently some people in my life have stepped up and offered to help me financially so that I can try and turn this whole writing thing into an actual career. I haven’t made a decision yet on whether or not I’ll take them up on that offer. But even so that feeling of responsibility still weighs heavy on me. And honestly, it always has.

I don’t just work so hard for me. I do it for my family; for the people I care about. That’s why I write every day. Even when I’m tired. Even when I’d rather be doing something else. I’m trying to build up my backlist in hopes that one day one of my books will take off, that it will entice people to buy the others, that I’ll be able to make a comfortable living doing what I love so that I and the people I care about won’t have to struggle anymore. Because that’s what these last three years have been since my father passed away—an emotional, financial, spiritual struggle that I’m still battling on a daily basis.

But what if I could change all of that? If I just keep pushing, exhausting myself, worrying myself sick, what if all of that hard work pays off? I can sacrifice my sanity for a little while longer can’t I? These are the things that keep me up at night. Especially when I realize that I’ve lived in Florida for a year and a half and I haven’t really seen any of it. I’ve only been to the beach a handful of times. I haven’t done any of the normal touristy things people do here. I haven’t made any meaningful connections with anyone new. I’ve been sleeping here and going to work here and hiding in my apartment on the weekends writing, but I haven’t really lived here.

So I’ve felt stuck. Because what’s more important—my responsibility to my future or my responsibility to my present? The here and now vs. the what could be.

I went to the beach for the first time in almost a year this weekend and while I was just wading there, feet barely skimming the sand, I realized that the answer is both.  It’s possible to suspend yourself in that illusory place between the present and the future without losing your mind. It’s possible to stay tethered to your goals even when you decide that you need a break. And I did. I needed a break. So I took one and even though I can feel that guilt just below the surface, I’m going to ignore it. I’m going to loosen my grip on the future and I’m going to let myself breathe.