Key West: Hangin’ with Hemingway

In my last post, I mentioned that I was recently in Key West, soaking up the sea and much longed-for time with family. I got to swim in turquoise waters, stuff myself silly with seafood, and wander streets lined with tropical trees and homes that, to my untrained eye, blended the beach architecture of my childhood with southern-Victorian and Spanish styles.

But of course, no writer’s visit to Key West would be complete without a stop at one house in particular: The Hemingway Home and Museum.

I’m always a bit embarrassed to admit this–after all, I have a Masters in English and American literature–but I haven’t actually read all that much Hemingway. I did read his “Hills like White Elephants,” a short story that exemplifies Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory (the concept of writing around a particular subject–here abortion–without ever explicitly naming it). But my research emphasis in my degree was Romantic, Victorian, and Post-Colonial British literature, and Early American and 19th-century literature. Chronologically-speaking, Hemingway came a little too late for me.

But a few years ago, I picked up Paula McLain’s historical, Hemingway-themed novel, The Paris Wife. Obviously, this book is A) fiction (and therefore, a not-necessarily-rigidly-factual interpretation of history) and B) more focused on Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, than Hemingway himself.

Continue reading “Key West: Hangin’ with Hemingway”

Rejection & Resilience

The “R” word’s an ugly one. Nobody likes talking about it. But rejection is a major part of a writer’s life. There’s not a conventionally-published author alive who hasn’t experienced that sting. Nobody–not even the J.K. Rowlings out there–make it through this biz without a few scrapes.

This week, I received a rejection letter (couldn’t we bibliophiles have come up with a less brutal term for this? What’s wrong with “No Thank You Correspondence?”) from one of the literary agencies to which I’d submitted my novel.

It was actually a relatively flattering letter as far as they go. But in the end, they still said “no.” They couldn’t offer me representation. You always know this is a possibility, of course. But you hope really, reallyreally hard that this time, the answer’ll be “yes.”

Reading the rejection, Professional Lauren appreciated the speed of the agency’s response. Treasured the compliment to my writing talents. Tucked away the constructive criticism for analysis and implementation. Continue reading “Rejection & Resilience”

Look What Came in the Mail….

Yesterday brought an exciting surprise in the mail, all the way from the U.S. of A.: my new book, Insult to Injury: Violence in Spanish, Hispanic American and Latino Art & Literature.

Right there on page 94 of the anthology, starts Chapter 7… my chapter!

“Brutality, Borderlands, and Bildungsromans: Violence and Cultural Conflict in Rodolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima and Américo Paredes’s George Washington Gómez

This may call for a celebratory class of wine with my gal-pals. (You know who are are!)

(P.S.–Aren’t I spoiled? Check out the lovely Valentine’s Day roses my husband made sure I had at my day job.)

Wasted

Here’s another one of my short-fiction assignments from my undergraduate degree in Professional Writing….

WASTED

A time-warp had swallowed the months since I’d last stirred the air here—the NYU lecture hall hadn’t changed a bit.

“Mags!” Professor Beckett’s beard scratched my cheeks as he kissed one then the other. “Great to have you back, Tex.”

“Thanks.”

He adjusted his horn-rimmed glasses, his lime-colored tie, casually preening as always. “I want to see you after class.”

Before I could ask why, he’d flounced to the lecture hall’s front, out of range of interrogation. Uneasiness simmered in my gut.

Glancing at the clock, I moved for the nearest empty chair. My uneasiness boiled into discomfort when I realized who occupied the desk neighboring mine, but it was too late to find another seat without it becoming awkward. Tentatively, I lowered myself into my ill-chosen chair. Continue reading “Wasted”

Characters & Complexity

Recently, I had a bizarre moment. A person (we’ll call them Person #1) who has largely been kind to me–even going out of their way to be so–was portrayed by someone else (Person #2) as having a completely different, far less amenable side.

The tricky part of this was that I totally buy Person #2’s take. I trust their opinion, believing them when they say they’ve had this bad experience. But I also don’t think the kindness shown me by Person #1 is totally fabricated.

So it was throwing me for a bit of a loop, trying to square Person #1’s very-opposed-but-apparently-equally-genuine qualities. I kept thinking: “How can they be like this to me, then turn around and act like that to others?”

Here’s the truth, though: People are complicated, complex, mysterious creatures with shades of motivation, perception, and desire that can be difficult to impossible to untangle. Sure, some universals exist (at least among those not tormented by serious psychoses): We’re all selfish. We all want to love and be loved. We’re all afraid of something. We all see ourselves as the hero of our own story. But we can never entirely know what it’s like to inhabit another person’s shoes, because each pair of shoes is so marvelously unique. What to me looked like dissonance within Person #1’s character made perfect, logical sense to them.

I sometimes feel badly because I’m prone to the writerly habit of seeing the living, breathing people around me in character-terms. I pick up this person’s quirky gesture. I crib that guy’s unique cadence of speech. I tuck people into categories: courteous southern gentleman. Friendly, fun-loving party girl. Brash, bullying Type A father. Continue reading “Characters & Complexity”

Romance: Formula & Fizz

I’m so grateful for my beta readers. By the time a manuscript is ready for eyes other than mine, I’ve sunk so many hours into the beast that total objectivity is no longer possible. This is the point where my test readers become my knights-in-shining; they tell me what’s working and what needs a tweak (or overhaul).

Recently, a reader for my young adult novel reported apathy regarding the book’s central romantic pair. For her, their tie to one another wasn’t compelling enough for it to seem justified when the heroine surrenders her dreams in order to remain with the hero.

Obviously, I would’ve preferred for her to gush over my love birds. But this kind of honest feedback is enormously helpful, indispensable… and a good reminder of the two elements essential for writing the kind of romantic relationships readers want to sink into:

  1. Puzzle-Piecing (Yup, this is a newly-coined term, à la yours truly.)
  2. Chemistry

Continue reading “Romance: Formula & Fizz”

Writing: Resources & the Road Forward

First things first: an ENORMOUS (terribly belated!) thank you to everyone who voted in my poll on Twitter-style novel pitches. With your help, I went into #PitMad with enthusiasm–and I’m thrilled to report, not without result. By the close of December 1, my pitches for my 1920s historical novel had received a total of four likes–two by literary agencies, and two by independent publishing companies. I’ve since fired off all requested queries, synopses, and reading samples. Thus far, one entity has requested a full manuscript. Hooray! One entity has given the project a pass. Awww…. (This is an excellent example of how peculiar art businesses like writing are–what prompts one person to seek more will be un-alluring to the next.) Where things go from here, literally only God knows. But it’s encouraging when people out in the mystical realm of publication evidence interest in  your ideas. And despite my temptation to be discouraged by one person’s “no,” I’m also in wholehearted concurrence with The Baffled King blog: when someone requests a full manuscript after reading your sample pages, it’s essential to make a moment to celebrate that victory, even if no contract follows after. Little victories are victories nonetheless.

Baby steps, right? Continue reading “Writing: Resources & the Road Forward”