Boxed In?

For many years I’ve tried to define my writing niche – my little genre box. The truth is that I don’t have one. For some reason, I cannot box myself in a particular genre. I cannot define myself as a (fill the blank) writer. When asked the question, I cannot say that I am a romance writer, a mystery writer … so I usually answer with “I am a fiction writer” or “I write fiction.” It is not that I won’t commit to a genre or that there is a lack of clarity. It is not that I cannot decide on one particular genre and stick with it, as many experts suggest. I have pondered my reasons for not going inside the box many times. The only answer I can come up with is that I want to be open to write the book that wants to be written.

I labeled my first published novel a paranormal romance for lack of a better genre definition, but truthfully, I don’t feel that I am a paranormal romance writer. The novels are more inspirational in nature than romantic, and they have a supernatural vibe. The current story I am working on – The Five-dollar Miracle – is an inspirational story and very different from my other books. One theme that seems to filter into my writing is that of the divine and the supernatural working together. It is the only thread that seems to give my writing a cohesive element. Other than that, I am open to any story that wants to be written.

So what am I? I guess that when forced to stick on a label, I will call myself an inspirational fiction writer but that feels a bit too boxy for me. Instead, I will let inspiration mold my pen and trace a path. Of course, this is irreverent to traditional publishing/writing and to the mighty pen gods, the omniscient powers that be. I am at peace with that.

What I Read

I’ve been asked before what kinds of books do I read, and my answer always comes as a surprise. I describe my reading as being all over the place. I read everything that peaks my interest. In my library, you will find positive thinking books, self-help, fiction, physics, science, religion, classic works, reference books, financial education, and even fairy tales. I don’t think I have a favorite genre or category; I read what seems interesting. The fiction category is very wide, and I prefer mysteries but will also read inspirational stories, as well as light hearted ones. I stay away from romances unless they are more infused with mystery, adventure, or the supernatural. I don’t like overly romantic novels, and certainly dislike explicit ones or erotica.

Over the past couple of years I’ve read a lot, mostly with the intention of going through the backlog of books that have piled up over the years, although I am always reading something. I like to read hardcopy. I tried to get used to e-format but could not. I found myself losing interest in what I was reading, and even not wanting to go back to the ebooks I had started reading. I honestly don’t know why this is, and if I have not embraced e-reading by now, it is not going to happen. I find that I have a short attention span for e-reading but I can sit with a book in my hands for hours. In the meantime, I am not buying any more books until I force myself to make a dent on my library shelves. Instead, I will keep a list of new books I want to read. Some books I will keep, some I will read a second time, and other books I will give away. I will keep antique tomes because they represent a collection I’ve started and would like to keep growing. I will keep any new editions of the classics.

I am also not a fan of audio books, unless it is in the self-help/positive thinking category. When I used to drive everyday to work, I listened to those, but not so much these days. These days I’d rather sit with a book and enjoy the feel and scent of its pages, the scent of a story.

One of my oldies

The Day I Almost Died

This is a short story that came to me this morning, and I decided to include it as today’s blog post. It is a bit grim but not so grim. Eventually, I would like to publish a few of my short stories in an anthology. I hope you enjoy this one.

It was a sunny day; I saw it cloudy. The silence was too loud inside my head. The stillness, a cloak for the raging waters of my soul. I glanced outside my window. The trees moved to the gentle breeze as a dance of death began inside my head. I could hear the deaf sound of loneliness; it had become my lullaby. Isolation became the clothes I wore daily. I searched the empty corridors of my heart over and over; I found nothing. It had morphed into an empty shell of despair, a chamber of hollow beats. There, I found nothing that would justify the next heartbeat.

A chilling breeze danced nearby; Death awaited. I could feel her mutable presence begging me to speed up the process. I was ready. How did it get to this moment? Did it matter? I didn’t require an answer. An answer made things complex. I heard the doorbell. I ignored it. It rang a second time, and a third, until it became noise. I placed the gun next to an empty picture frame. Somehow, I never got to place a picture in it. I counted twelve steps to the door. I opened it. I didn’t bother to bolt it anymore. I had no cares. I forced a smile. It almost hurt at the corners of my mouth. No one was at the other side to return my crooked smile. I looked around; no one was there. I stepped out on the front porch. No one was there.

I saw a splash of red fluttering to my left. A cardinal perched on the Forsythia bush surely made a nice contrast to the bright yellow buds. How did I never noticed that before? Something scurried up the old cedar tree. It was a squirrel, then came another, and they chased each other up and down the old cedar.

“That old cedar must have seen so much,” I mumbled.

I sat on the front steps. A crow marched unpretentiously on the horizon. It almost shimmered as the sun hit its feathers. I felt the warmth of the sun on my skin. How long had it been? A busy party of little brown birds scattered throughout the ground looking for food. A reddish wasp rested atop a chair, as if thawing from a frost or waking from a dream, its wings resting downward. The sun’s warmth felt good on my skin. Everywhere I looked I saw signs of life. Life was everywhere; I could see it if I cared to see it. I felt something fuzzy rubbing my leg in a rhythm.

“Where did you come from, lil’ fellow?”

The disheveled black kitten was skin and bones; I could count its ribs. It kept rubbing against my leg, and I could hear a faint purr becoming louder. It was so tiny. I picked it up and it nuzzled against my arm, then it nestled. I sat out there for a while. The kitten fell asleep in my arms, and I observed the rhythm of life around me.

“What am I going to do with you lil’ fellow? It looks like you will be needing me for a while, at least until you fatten and grow up a bit more.”

The crow restled with a worm until it came out of the ground. The squirrels moved on to another tree.

“What should I name you? Hum, let me think. Aha, you shall be called Rigor, but we’ll leave the mortis out; how is that?”

Rigor became my inseparable friend for the next 15 years. To all, he was a black cat; to me, he was life, and a constant reminder. During that time, I never found out who rang the doorbell.

My Obsession with Westerns

I don’t know how it started, but lately, I have been watching the old westerns. It has become an obsession. I cannot get enough of Bonanza, Wagon Train, and The Rifleman. I love the story line on these westerns, but also, I find myself mesmerized by the background in a scene – the furniture, décor, especially in La Ponderosa. Love that place. This has peak an interest in possibly exploring western novels. I have not read many western novels; in fact, I have only read one, which I enjoyed very much – The Last Hunt by Cliff Burns. I also love the cover.

Other than that, I have only read western comic books when I was a kid. One thing I remember, and that is my grandfather and I watching together western movies and series on TV when I was a child. It brings warm and happy memories.

There is something spellbinding about a western. Its uncomplicated simplicity and easy flow takes me along for the ride. It feels natural. It is like a fresh breath of air. Will I ever write a western? I don’t know. I would have to read plenty of them (and I mean plenty) before attempting such an adventure.

Millennials

The other day, I was thinking about previous generations, as well as historical novels. I am not sure what prompted the thought, however, it took me all the way to the Millennial generation.

Usually, there are many generations represented in a story. Writing characters that are defined by their generation is not an easy task. In memoirs, the generational gaps and influences are more easily identified and naturally present than in a work of fiction. Futuristic stories present a challenge when timelines cross, even when a futuristic novel is all made up as far as time, place, and life of the characters, in general. All this made me think about my generation as well as one generation that in my opinion, has been misrepresented – the Millennials.

I am from the later years of the Baby Boomer generation, one of the largest and most talked about generations in the USA. Baby Boomers have met their counterparts in the sense of a most talked about generation, and much has been said about Millennials. Unfortunately, not all positive, and many times disserving.

Millennials were born between 1981-1996. Many points of view describe Millennials in a negative way, from being lazy to overly sensitive, and many other labels in between. Many times, when I hear someone complaining about Millennials they are unknowingly referring to someone who is from a post millennial generation. It seems to me that Baby Boomers and Millennials tend to clash the most. I think Baby Boomers have a hard time passing the baton, especially, to a generation that likes to do things differently.

There are many things I love about Millennials. I love that Millennials are very creative. They seem to enjoy the process of finding new ways, especially when things that were done “the Baby Boomer way” do not work for them. Society has changed so much in the past few decades, and many of our societal rituals and processes have undergone dramatic changes, many times due to technological changes. What worked for Baby Boomers may not work as well for Millennials. Many of them might see our system as broken.

Millennials seem to operate more openly, in general. They seem to view their day as a whole. I find that my generation compartmentalized everything – work, home life, social life … . One of the biggest sins in the “work life” for my generation was to bring your personal life to work. Your personal issues were very private and should remain so. Millennials are not bothered by this, and they do not understand why an older person might be annoyed by this behavior. This wholesome and open approach to living engulfs many facets of the Millennial’s life. I love that they seem to find time to have fun while living. Baby Boomers scheduled fun for a more appropriate time – when they were set in life financially or on a well deserved vacation. Baby Boomers worked hard all their life, many times postponing the joys of living until the golden years. Of course, the times, challenges, and the economy were different those days, and this post only makes a general comparison between these two generations. It is not meant to be judgmental of any generation.

I love that Millennials see the world in a global way, less regional. We are one planet, and that makes sense to me. They love to travel and explore, and see traveling as a way of life, not as a vacation. This view makes them more open to other cultures. I love that Millennials seem to process information differently than previous generations. This fast and focused way might render them insensitive to previous generations sometimes; even labeled as having no good manners. I am not a scientist or in the medical field, but I have read that the brain constantly makes connections and those connections are based in part, on outside stimuli. We can all agree that things have changed a lot in the past few decades. I love that Millennials have a sense of humor, a bit different, and it might render them insensitive to previous generations as well.

Many Millennials are parents by now, others are starting careers, and in a way, one day they will become the Baby Boomers of future generations, and maybe then, we’ll understand each other better.

How do you represent a particular generation in your novel?

The State of a Nation

Yesterday, I found myself thinking about many things going on in this nation – political, moral, financial, social, ethnic … the list goes on. At first glance, it appears as a big mess going on in all directions. One particular issue I thought about was the new abortion law in New York, and the same issue and political mess in Virginia (USA). I’ve always been a very open minded person and one to consider many points of view before making up my mind. This is one issue that no matter how I look at it, I cannot understand or justify. How is it not a crime to end the life of a baby, especially at the point of delivery? How is it not immoral? We call the construction of a border wall immoral, but not the killing of a baby? How did we get here as a nation?

I was asking myself that when these words crossed my mind – “The state of a nation depends on the evolution of its people.” A sort of answer to my question. Then, I thought about these two words.

Nation – An aggregation of people organized under a single government. (American Heritage Dictionary) 

Evolution -A gradual process in which something changes, especially into a more complex form. (American Heritage Dictionary)

What have we evolved into? Our currency reads, In God we trust.

Genesis 1:27 – God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.

We have not understood the meaning of life.

 

The Story of Your Life

Photo by Maria Diaz

I believe we are open books, living stories. I believe that there is a book (the book of life) with our story and name in it, and we are free to fulfill that story or not (free will). Sometimes, it feels as if we are on track, everything goes so well and things flow accordingly. At other times, it feels as if every step we take is met by a struggle, a stumble, or a road block. Sometimes, it may feel as if one cannot move at all. Life block, I call it, similar to writer’s block.

The flow of life may not be smooth at times, but it is always constant. From the minute we open our eyes in the morning (or at night) we are making choices/decisions. From what to wear, eat for breakfast, or even if we will get up at all, get to work … to more complicated choices such as career, marriage, and many other issues. Every time we take a step forward (or backward) by deciding, whichever that might be, we are writing the story of our lives. However, it is not only about “me” because those choices/decisions cross over to other people’s lives. I may think that I am living “my life” but my story is intertwined with the story of others. It is happening right now, as I write this post. Someone out there will read it eventually, and will think about these words – our stories have crossed. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” – Luke 6:31 Could not have said it better.

As writers, we love to make up stories; its is the air we breathe. However, the most important story we’ll ever write is our own.

The Ever Presence of God

Today, I sat to write a blog post. I stared at the wall. Nothing came to mind right away. It felt as if the inkwell was dry. I thought about writing as a topic, maybe a secondary theme in my novels; the inspiration eluded me. Only one single thought kept crossing my mind over and over, a sort of phrase – the ever presence of God. After I dismissed it a couple of times, I went back to writing as a topic, and then, I surrendered to this phrase and decided to go with it wherever it took me.

Sometimes, we feel alone, lost, and the disappointments in life have piled up on top of one another forming a huge mountain, unsurmountable, at least to our human eyes – the mount of “if and nevers.” It starts eating away your thoughts, your inspiration, your confidence, your happiness, your trust. Then, you feel removed from purpose, far away from your Creator, unable to hear or feel the divine presence.

I looked up the word ever. Ever – At all times. At any time. In any way or case; at all. (American Heritage Dictionary) Then, I understood. The ever presence of God is constant, at all times, at any time, in any way or case; at all.

It is good to know this. It is a good reminder. It is of comfort to know this. The ever presence of God is. Whether we feel alone or far away. It just is, and ever present. Today, I sat to write a blog post. The ever presence of God was there.

To Know, and Know Well

“Write what you know.” I’ve heard this advice many times, and have to admit that I did not realize the depth of it until the other day when I was thinking about the past decade, when a lot of changes took place in my life. Previously, I thought that it referred to field of study, work, expertise, and current/past endeavors, the intellectual and methodology areas, for most part. Rarely did I think of all the emotional impact that living brings to writing. Aside from memoirs, DIY/expert books, educational, and self-help books, where the emotional and factual views are strong, other genres seemed to me a bit more “creative and imaginative” as well as less constrained and more freely approachable.

As writers, many of us are observers and draw much inspiration from our environment and practically anything that crosses our path. However, we tend to forget where we have been in life, emotionally, and tend to dismiss our feelings in those life situations as past. This information is permanently attached/stored in us, and ready to be used as inspiration on our next novel. It will serve us when describing a situation , a similar place, a character that is feeling something we already experienced.
Yes, we have all experienced life in different ways, at many levels. Have you ever been wronged in some way, betrayed, tricked, taken for granted? Ever suffered the loss of a loved one? Have you ever been through so much that it hurts to remember? Have you been so happy, in love, elated, and/or experienced the most sublime of moments in your life? Have life been good to you? Then you can describe with vivid intent how your characters feel in similar situations, making them as human and real as you can. You are writing what you know, and know well. The rest is up to your creativity, passion, and imagination. For writing what you know goes beyond expertise, it transcend your intellectual knowledge of the physical, it duels in you, forever.

A book can be inspirational, educational, entertaining, instructional, helpful, and so many other things, but it can also be a healing tool for the reader as well as it’s author.

In Retrospect

I have done a bit of soul searching. In retrospect, a lot has happened in the past 7 years, including my decision to publish independently. Time goes by quickly. There are so many things I’ve learned that to sum it all in one post is not easy, but what I can do is write about a few things I learned in the process, and how important these became in my decision to continue on this path.

I have narrowed it to four points that represent the most challenging elements during that time.

Timing – I had to learn to recognize my own timing and honor it. This was not easy for me. As a person who likes clarity, does not tolerate drama too well, and likes things straight and to the point, I have to say that timing translated into being patient with myself, allowing the time I needed to learn much of the craft and some of the technology attached to it, as well as weed out information while learning to recognize the pertinent information and disregard the rest. Impatience and rush/speed did not have a place in this process, as it was one of discovery and education. The bulk of it happened in the first two years, and it was frustrating at times. I needed to know many things about the writing process but also discover what was right for me, my working style, my pace, my ethics, and what I wanted from it all. And as we all know, the learning process never ends, but I could figure out where I was headed as far as publishing venues and method. Independent publishing was the right venue for me, as far as fitting my personality, work ethic, and writing goals. For me, timing was one of the most important elements during this process.

Commitment – Once I had an idea of the process, had gone through much of the raw learning steps, and mentally dealt with the immensity of the amoutnt of information that was being put out there by other indie writers (which was all over the place and in a broad spectrum), I was able to make a commitment to myself with some clarity as far as what I wanted. During this time I found it very challenging to not fall prey of the publishing frenzy that everyone seemed to have at one point – to publish volume at a fast pace, inundating Amazon and other venues with electronic books. I had to shake off the feelings of “being behind” and replace them with my own sense of what felt right for me, and at what pace. Once I understood what I wanted out of it, and made a long term commitment that had no monetary value attached to it, it became easier to deal with those feelings of “being behind.” The commitment did not come right away but as a result of going through the timing and education process.

The Others – Not minding the Others. The Others refers to what other people thought about my decision to write and publish independently. From views that were as narrow as the eye of a needle to more aceptable views and opinions, many times not solicited, I had to learn that all of it was inconsequential for me. Questionable motives, hurtful comments, and very ortodox views about the craft, had to mean absolutely nothing to me as far as entertaining them in my mind. The Others had no say as far as I was concerned. Learning to deal with the negative during this process determined the next element – Trust.

Trust – Trust is an ongoing issue when it comes to my writing. Not only do I have to trust my internal process and the pen, but also, the inner me has to let the writer out. If you tend to be demanding of yourself, and a bit hard on yourself as well, like I am many times, then trust doesn’t come easy. If by nature you are a trusting person, I think it will flow a bit easier, but if you are not, trusting may present a challenge when it comes to writing, as well as any other endeavor. Trusting the process, trusting yourself, and trusting God, comes all wrapped in a package that you unwrap many times, over and over. I view trust as the most challenging element on this journey, mostly because it determined if I was to take the plunge or not. Trust also refers to keep the commitment when results do not match expectation, and goes hand in hand with faith. Faith is defined as confident belief, trust, conviction, loyalty, allegiance, and also, as the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

Trust is an ongoing element. In retrospect, in the past years these elements have been present in my life and most influential as far as my writing journey. As far as summing it all up to this point, I identify those elements as the most important ones in my experience so far. I hope that if you are starting on your journey as a writer, this post offers a bit of help or at least some clarity. Of course, each journey is unique.