The Indie Experiment-The Truth

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

The Indie Experiment: The Truth

 …the thing about hiding, even if it’s just one small part of who we are, is that it doesn’t hurt anyone but us–I’ve been re-reading this line for the past half hour, trying to figure out a way to frame this part of my journey. It’s a scary part and a sad part and something I don’t know how to talk about because I never really have before. Not like this where anyone and everyone can hear me, not without ducking or dodging or hiding or making myself sick. I don’t want to talk about it but I have to. I know that. Because this is how it all began, how I wrote something down and it changed my life, how it changed me.

The Things They Didn’t Bury isn’t a story about a girl looking for her mother or a girl falling in love for the first time or a girl growing up and coming into her own. It’s about me and I didn’t even realize it until I was over 70,000 words and four drafts in. When I was sixteen I found out the man who’d raised me wasn’t my biological father. One moment I was whole and happy and safe and the next I was empty and full of cracks, pieces of me scattered in people and places and memories I’d never known. For a year I didn’t try to fill them or fix them; I didn’t acknowledge them at all. Instead, I did what my family did best, I buried that secret so far down that pretending it had never happened was almost as easy as breathing. But the thing about cracks, about pain, is that even when you can’t feel them there, even when you’ve convinced yourself that they never existed at all they still do. They are invisible and when they are invisible they are dangerous. Because when you can’t see the cracks you have no idea when they’ll split you in two.

A year after I found out that I was the family secret the man who’d raised me got sick. My father was dying and we didn’t even know it and suddenly that year of pretending was all waste. Because it only made losing him that much harder. I hadn’t dealt with things because I hadn’t known how and even when I started writing it wasn’t to pull me out of anything, it wasn’t to work through my feelings, or to serve as some kind of cure. I was writing for escape. And yet, I hadn’t escaped a thing. Because after finishing The Things They Didn’t Bury, after reading the final version of something that had been in a constant state of evolution for three years, I was faced with all of it. Everything that I’d felt, everything I didn’t want to feel, everything I thought and believed and worried about. I was faced with the truth of me. My truth. And I finally realized why I hadn’t broken down, why I hadn’t given up after being abandoned by one father and burying another. Because those things that were inside me weren’t strangling me anymore. They weren’t stewing and they weren’t ruining and they weren’t hurting me. Not like before. Because they were trapped somewhere else, in that story, in those words.

Words. That’s what saved me. Even when I wasn’t paying attention. Even when I was just trying to escape. They saved me anyway and they keep saving me. When I’m afraid of failing or I’m afraid of being rejected or I’m afraid of feeling. Writing lets me feel things without being cut open, without being destroyed. Writing lets me say anything and be anything. Writing lets me share and connect and discover. That’s why I write and why I can’t stop. Because writing frees me from the shame of secrets. Writing lets me tell the truth.


Introducing The Indie Experiment

I’ve blogged a lot about self-publishing, about how to know if it’s right for you, about how to keep your expectations in check, about how to make sure you’re absolutely ready to go indie. Because it’s tough out there. My first year as a self-published author has come and gone and the truth is I don’t have much to show for it except a bunch of real-life examples of what not to do and an insatiable, although some would say insane, desire to share those with all of you. So I shall. From beginning to end, every wrong turn and accidental success, every embarrassment and every dream come true. Because even though I’m not rich and famous that’s still exactly what happened. My dream of becoming an author came true and if that’s not a story worth telling then I don’t know what is.

The Indie Experiment:The Beginning

I wrote my first novel when I was in middle school and it was called “Screwed”, no sexual innuendo intended (Come on, I was twelve). I remember spending half an hour just picking out the right font–probably something swirly, probably something lime green. It was about a middle school, of course, and the main character just could not catch a break. I seem to recall something about a swirly and her losing her retainer in the cafeteria garbage. I spent all afternoon typing it up and at the end I was so proud that I did something that I’ve been reluctant to do since. I asked someone to read it. It was my mother. I think she’d been vacuuming and her clothes smelled like pine-sol, something I noticed because I was hovering over her shoulder as she read. I don’t remember what she said afterward. Something good, I’m sure. Something encouraging. Even though it was terrible. The next day I deleted it.

Eighth grade I thought I’d try my hand at poetry. Well, more like I was forced by my English teacher. I think I was just relieved that we were finally going to take a break from grammar. I hated grammar. But luckily for me the school was having some kind of contest and everyone was asked to participate, the best poems from each grade being printed and bound in a collection that our parents could then purchase, because you know, schools don’t sell enough useless shit in the name of school spirit. I wrote two poems about dying and one about patriotism (that last one was required) and miraculously they were chosen to be included in the anthology. I thought I was the shit. Until we got back to learning grammar.

I wrote sporadically, usually just when it was required for class, but fast forward to my senior year of high school (because I really don’t remember much in between) and that’s when I really started to get the “itch”. No, not that “itch.” The writing “itch.” I can’t really pinpoint the first story or the first moment when I started thinking about writing again but we were getting assigned to read a lot more contemporary fiction and I really loved my teacher and I guess I was just thinking about my future a lot more and what I really wanted to do with it. My high school years had been mostly devoted to volunteering with the National Honor Society and I’d even gotten a scholarship for having the most community service hours. I was getting ready to apply for an internship at a local non-profit, expecting to work in some field where I could go to work every day and try to save the world. But then something happened. It crept up on me, I guess, and I’m not sure what to call it except the truth. Of who I was and who I wanted to be. And I wanted to be a writer.

I’d always loved to read more than anything. More than playing sports, more than socializing, more than…math. Okay I love everything more than math I just couldn’t think of another example that wasn’t already summed up by everything. But you get the picture. Reading is definitely to blame for my current affliction and I remember having an especially revelatory moment during my senior year while reading The Kite Runner. The book literally took my breath away. It was perfect in every way, in every way that I wanted to write and think and be. I wanted to write stories like that. Sweeping emotional stories about family and culture and love. And then, in the midst of me grappling with the decision between pursuing writing and social work I got an idea. It started with just two people, a boy and a girl, and that was all it took.

The Things They Didn’t Bury changed so drastically from those first scribbled notes I made when I was seventeen. It changed countries and even changed wars. But what remained the same was the love story and now whenever I get an idea for a story that’s always what comes to me first–the people, that central relationship around which everything else in the story orbits.

I spent a lot of my senior year in the library doing research and taking notes. But even though I’d always been a good English student and had always gotten good grades on everything I’d ever written, I still wasn’t sure that I could write a book. Sometimes, even after writing five, I’m still not sure. But so began my volatile relationship with self-doubt. It also didn’t help that during my last semester of high school they finally decided to add a Creative Writing class to the schedule, except it was “invitation only” and I wasn’t invited. I was secretly devastated. And secretly I still am. But I like to look at it as my first real moment of defiance. Because who cared if I wasn’t invited into their stupid little writing class? I was still going to write and more importantly I wasn’t going to stop. Not then. Not ever. And once I had that realization, that not writing was not an option for me, the decision was easy. So easy that I waited until the day of the deadline to turn in my declaration as an English major. And even though I’m sort of living proof at the moment (although I partly blame this damn recession) that what people say about majoring in the arts is true, I also wouldn’t change a thing. Not one second. Not one day. Not one word. Because when I’m off the clock and not busy making someone else money, that time is all mine, and without everything I’ve learned there’s no way I’d be able to spend it becoming the person I’ve always wanted to be.

Holiday Sale!

*My ENTIRE backlist is still on SALE for just 99 cents now through the end of the year!*

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*Get your copies for NOOK and KINDLE today! And thank you to everyone who’s already gotten their copies!*

Merry Christmas Eve!

In honor of the holidays as well as the publishing anniversary of my first book, The Things They Didn’t Bury, my ENTIRE BACKLIST is NOW ON SALE for just 99 cents through the end of the year! This past year has been full of so many firsts. I moved out of state for the first time. I published my first novel. And even though it’s been an emotional roller coaster sharing my work with the world, slowly but surely, I’ve reached more readers than I could have imagined and I’ve developed so many special relationships with those readers. That’s truly been my greatest joy this year and I just want each and every one of them to know how much they are appreciated! Here’s to an even more amazing 2014! Merry Christmas!


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*Get your copies for NOOK and KINDLE today!*

Why I Write What I Write

*To celebrate my one year blogging anniversary, I’ll be posting some of my favorite posts from 2013 through the month of December*

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 sorted 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.

*Originally posted on 5/30/13*