The Most Influential Figure in My Life Made It to My Books, and I Didn’t Know It.

Most of us can think of someone who has been the most influential person in our lives, whether as a child or an adult. For me, that person was my grandmother. I was raised by my grandmother. She was a strong woman, a Christian woman full of faith, a hardcore Catholic who spoke in tongues and prayed the rosary everyday. A woman filled with the Holy Spirit every single day of her life. She also had a strong character, and authority. To me, it seemed as she was always in control, no matter what was going around her. Her faith sustained her. She was compassionate, but never weak. When she spoke her mind, she just did, but never offended anyone. She had poise, presence, and good manners – good manners were very important to her. She was known in our small neighborhood, and was always eager to help in what she could. She never denied a glass of water (or coffee) to a stranger that would stop at our house. I never heard her complain about anything, but heard her sing throughout the day. She was frugal, but never in generosity. She also had a softer side, which she let out from time to time. Her word was law. She was a warrior.

It wasn’t until I had finished writing The Dinorah Chronicles trilogy that I realized one day how much Olga Gartier (the leader of The Blue Lily Society, the protectors of Dinorah Sandbeck) reminded me of my grandmother. I had drawn so much from my grandmother’s character to create Olga Gartier. The physical part was unlike my grandmother, the opposite, but her character was were I could clearly see her. It was a pleasant discovery, joyful. I even dedicated to her, in memory, the first book of the trilogy – Ramblings of the Spirit.

I have never met anyone like her in all my years, and she remains in my heart, memories, and somehow, inside the pages of my books.

When Others Don’t Understand What You Do

This is a light humor post, but one that will resonate with many writers who have gone through similar situations. It is written in the spirit of encouraging new and aspiring writers, as well as the veterans in the field whose work have not been found or given recognition. Consider this scenario, very common.

“What do you do?”

“I’m a writer.”

“Hum, a car dealership writer, an underwriter?” (Fill the blank on this one)

“No, I write books.”

“Oh …” (followed by a blank stare)

For most people, unless you last name is King or you live at a coastal mansion, you are not a real writer. You are “playing writer” or are going through a phase. In their minds, Writing books = $$$, and a real writer is supposed to have status of some kind. You become one when you achieve this. If not, why do it? Sometimes, we entertain those same thoughts and feelings; you know what I mean. It seems to go deeper than that.

I would like to share a funny story, a conversation I had along those lines. About two years ago, a nearby neighbor had someone fixing her roof. She knew the person since he was a kid. He was starting his roofing business and she needed a new roof, so it was a perfect match. I was at her home when he arrived for that day, and since I had some questions about metal roofs, we began a casual conversation which centered on the type of roof for my 1910 farmhouse, which has an old style construction (beams) and an original stone foundation. The weight of a new roof on the structure was my main concern. After a few exchanges, he asked me what I did for a living. I told him that I was a writer, without going into much detail. Immediately, he shared that he always wanted to write a book and that he knew someone who worked at a local radio station “BUT” she was a “REAL” writer. (Imagine my polite smile). I asked him, “Really, and how many books does she have under her belt?” He answered that she had written a book sometime ago. I smiled, but could not help myself and said, “Oh, just one? I am in my sixth, and it doesn’t get any easier.” I thanked him, waved a goodbye, and walked home. Now we know who will not get my business when it is time for a new roof. I will hire a real roofer.

This is a perfect example of how writers are viewed based on status, which usually equals money in the mind of many people. Which brings another issue – fame before talent. These days, if you are a celebrity a publisher is ready and waiting, and your celebrity name/status precedes your book. You can write about anything and it will be published, promoted, and praised, because in most minds, celebrities can be writers. Ask a Cover Girl model what she thinks about that.

At another level, the sting is more bothersome when it comes from someone closer, who is viewed as a line of support, such a family or a close friend. A friend related to me how annoyed and hurt she was when her mother became very excited about someone’s first book, a person she barely knew, but not hers (many) because her books did not sell much. OUCH!

When I published my first novel, I was excited and proud of myself. I had prepared and waited years for this. I gifted a copy to someone I truly thought would be happy for me, and whom I knew for over 30 years, and for whom I had been there always as needed. Her response baffled me. She threw the book on top of the dinning table and said, “I won’t be reading it; I don’t have time for that.” I was shocked. I did not have a quick comeback for that one. It is different when it doesn’t come from a stranger.

People had asked, “Do you make any money?” or “How much money do you make doing that?” One of my favorites is, “Oh, you should write a book about this or that; I bet it will make money.” We know it doesn’t work like that, and for most of us, it is not even about the money. I am sure you have many similar stories as well. My point to all this? Many people don’t understand what writers do or why we do it. In truth, it is not about how many books, or how much money you make … it is about perception, people’s values, and about what it is important to them, ultimately the reason why they don’t understand what you do. Hence why you should be above it all, don’t give it two thoughts, and keep on doing “your thing.” When people don’t understand what you do, it is inconsequential as long as you know why you do it. Never judge a book by its cover?

The Right to Create Responsibly

These days, phrases and words like cultural appropriation, woke, and many other, are common in our vocabulary. We hear them in social media, the news … These concepts have become “a thing” and many are using them and are “finger-ready” to point it at the first sign of such heresy. The self-righteous mob found a new quest, and with it the holy grail of the times, the “woke” got up and chanted a new song of mob shaming. Just because we are so perfect and spotless, right? The taste of new blood becomes an obsession in social media, and in mainstream media as well. It has migrated into writing, with the latest censoring of old books, the shaming of “old culture”, and the removal of many from social media and the shelves. How will it all play out in the end? It is a question I ask myself. Will we become better people? Will we become better communicators and writers/creatives? Will we sensor ourselves, diluting the words as much as we can so we are not perceived as offensive? What about the writers who are in the historical fiction genre? How will they write a scene that has accurate historical influences in wording because it might be perceived as offensive? Will writers avoid certain ethnicities in their novels for fear of being misunderstood? Will writers of crime thrillers be accused of “inspiring” or “inciting” a crime if an unstable person decides to recreate that particular crime? Will authors be censored, arrested, and prosecuted? Will writing and every form of creativity become “illegal” in the future?

I ask myself those questions and many more. I don’t think I am too crazy and far off. Lone gone are the days when you and I could disagree on something, have a conversation about it, have an opinion, and express it freely without being chastised. We must respect one another by learning to listen to one another all over again, by learning to find common ground even when we disagree on many things, and by understanding that we are more alike than we think we are. As writers, I think that we should strive to write the best story we can write without being disrespectful while being true to the story and history, in the case of historical fiction based on facts. As humans, we are less than perfect, and I believe that most of us try to be as decent as we can, and strive to do better each day. When we look at another as a reflection of ourselves, most likely we end up seeing ourselves in that person in some way or another.

We are more alike than we care to admit (photo by M.A.D.)

Intermittent Writing

No one expected last year, and certainly, this year is already showing up as challenging in many ways for this country. It has affected people in many different ways and aspects of their lives. No one the same. This post is about an update on my latest novel, The Girl Who Could Not Love. What’s up with my novel? The quick answer is nothing is up. I have had to put it aside for a while, after periods of long intermittent writing. The past year has affected my writing in ways that I did not expect, after all, as a writer I enjoyed solitude, and it helped my writing in the past. However, I find myself with a dry inkwell and no desire to tackle my current novel, something very unusual for me. Everything that last year brought, which hasn’t changed much this year, played a number on my “little psyche” thus affecting my writing disposition. I have been busy with many other projects, but not with what I consider my most important and precious endeavor (it is to me). If you have been able to finish a novel during the past year until now, I congratulate you, and please, give yourself a pat in the back, because I know it has not been an easy task. God bless you. You are a Warrior Writer.

So what now? This post serves (me) as an outlet, a source of release, a sort of permission, a passing ritual, and an acknowledgement to myself – the writer – that it is fine to feel this way, that is is ok to put the guilt feelings of a writer aside, and to pick up that novel again sometime in the future, when the writer has healed the soul. For now, all previous self-imposed deadlines are released, and each day will be received and acknowledged with a grateful heart.

Totally unrelated – Find the bird in this picture.

Can you find the bird? (Photo by M.A.D.)

On Writing Prophecy

All tips I share on this blog are based on my experience, on what I have learned in my journey as a writer. I understand that every writer has her/his own road to take, own style, writing goals, work ethic … so what I share here is based on my perception, as far as my pathway takes me. When I wrote The Dinorah Chronicles, I did not plan to include a prophet in the series. This character appeared unexpected, and pretty much wrote itself – a child named Jenna Callaway, who was confused and scared about the gift of prophecy. Jenna did not know she had this gift. Dinorah Sandbeck, the main character in the series, helps her develop her gift, and eventually, the last prophecy comes through Jenna in the last book- Sunrise Souls. At first, Jenna wrote (in Latin) the words that she heard in her mind, without understanding the meaning. She kept it a secret, until she met Dinorah in book 2 of the chronicles. She delivers as few prophecies throughout books 2 and 3 (The Book of Sharon/Sunrise Souls).

Other than thinking that the wording/content should sound ancient/old, I did not have any other guidelines on how to write these prophecies. I relied on the deep connection that I felt with the story and the character throughout the series, and this is how these prophecies came about. These wrote themselves, and by that I mean that the flow of the words through the pen was smooth, not forced or over developed by a thought process. Here is a short excerpt of Jenna’s first prophecy. It is about a page long, and the rest of it can be found on The Book of Sharon on page 95.

“Write; write these words so the lost can find them, for they are searching in the days when love is scarce and the ego consumes the spirit. Do not think that I have abandoned thee, for when the heart searches, the soul is ready to receive. I am close to every soul of my creation. I do not cry with the vane, but with the humble, the seeker of truth, and the pure in spirit. When they cry, I console. Their path I make soft, their days I turn bright; not even the stars can equal in light. For the light I give is of the spirit, and the love I pour covers their scars. The heart I console, the mind I heal, the spirit I refresh.” (The Dinorah Chronicles – The Book of Sharon)

As a writer, I wish I could tell you more on writing prophecies for a story, but I did not follow any specific guidelines or writing rules, other than feeling connected to the story and letting the pen flow freely, as it wished. In my experience, there has to be a connection when writing a story, otherwise the story does not flow, feels forced, and sometimes, I cannot write even a word if I feel the connection is missing. There are many ways in which you can connect with your story, and as personal and varied as writing is for you – writing everyday or when you feel it is the best time of day, clearing your mind before you write, whether that is exercising, taking a walk in nature ,,, relaxing, or anything that feeds your inspiration. In my case, I love to observe nature, and I always say a short prayer before I write. Whatever fuels your pen, and makes you closer to your story. Sometimes, it is just simplicity in our lives.

The Book of Sharon (Book 2 The Dinorah Chronicles) is available in eBook and paperback via Amazon.

On Writing Anarths and Other Celestial Beings

When I think of heaven, I think of blue and white (Photo by M.A.D.)

When I set out to write Moonlit Valley, I didn’t know it would take me to a highly organized, supernatural world that operated on Earth through many beings, one kind called Anarths. Anarths are celestial beings who take human form in order to fulfill their assigned duty on Earth. They do not age, possess strength and speed abilities, are capable of traveling between realms in less than milliseconds, and possess enhanced senses, hence why human emotions overwhelm them. They are sentinels of Earth and they monitor and protect key humans who are important in human evolution according to a divine plan. They are not angels, and are a few ranks below.

Writing Anarths presented a challenge – they were not humans but they had to act human-like. However, for the sake of these characters in the story, they had to be written in a distinctive way, that is, aside from their supernatural qualities. They also could not resemble each other or act like clones; they owned their personality on Earth. They experienced emotions, so they could not behave like robots or android-like. They had to present a soul-like side, even that they didn’t have souls. Description/descriptive behavior and characteristics were good to a certain point, so I relied on dialog to achieve this.

Another challenge that presented itself later on, when these characters made it to The Dinorah Chronicles, which had a story time lapse of 20 plus years forward, was the need to evolve them along with the humans they interacted previously, but because they didn’t age, they could not be “totally present” in some parts of the story. They had to act more human-like across the whole series/story and throughout the years, but also develop a familiarity with certain key human characters in the story. All this had to be reflected in the dialog throughout the trilogy. Because they had blended well with humans, they had acquire certain personality and behavior patterns that had to be reflected in the trilogy. Simply, they could not have remained the same. One way to achieve this was to make them sort of “break a few rules” but without sacrificing their righteousness. Their personalities and behavior throughout the series had to evolve without being to evident, because after all, they had a divine makeup, and a divine purpose/duty, which had to remain untouched by me (the writer). An example of this is prohibited and brief, but necessary, negotiations with a neutral element of The Other Side in order to obtain information that would advance the cause.

A simple example of the use of dialog in the early stages of an Anarth who has been assigned on Earth but has not spent enough time or develop many human relationships yet, would be something like this:

Human dialog“Hey, why are you not going?” or roughly “Hey, why aren’t you going?”

An Anarth would say it like this – “What is the reason for you not attending?” or “Does your intended absence has a purpose?” or “Is there a purpose to your absence?” There are many ways to construct the sentence, many variations, but all intending a certain degree of order.

Another simple example.

Human “Do you want lunch?”

Anarth“Are you in need of nourishment?”

An Anarth in the early stages of human contact would not say “can’t” instead, he/she would say “can not.” As relationships become stronger, the dialog evolves, thus becoming more relaxed. The darker (evil) the character, the more impersonal and less “caring” the dialog became. Writing these characters was fun and I learned much from their interaction and evolution throughout the story as I wrote them.

Moonlit Valley and The Dinorah Chronicles are available via Amazon in eBook and paperback.

Placing Yourself Inside the Scene

Sometimes, a writer must enter a scene that he/she is writing. By that I mean that the writer must place himself/herself inside the scene and next to the character in order to engage all the senses and see/hear/taste/feel what the character is experiencing at that moment. It has been my experience that when I jump inside the scene with the character (mentally of course) it helps me write the scene better, not only describe it better, but give it life. By experiencing the scene along with the character(s) it becomes more than watching it unfold, the senses become engaged at once, thus resulting in more vivid writing. I don’t follow this process with every scene I write (that would be too draining), only the ones that seem to have more movement or require a higher perception/involvement of the senses. Usually it is an important scene, a climatic scene that will result in greater change in the novel. It could be a battle, but it could also be a scene with less physical action but in which a higher level of the senses is needed. An example of this is the scene in the church parking lot in Moonlit Valley (chapter – The Battle). In this scene Rose is being attacked by The Other Side, a supernatural realm of evil. Rose is in between the physical/material and supernatural realms when this is happening, and no one can see this happening except the Anarths, her protectors. Although most of the chapter is very sensory engaging, here is a very short excerpt to give you an idea.

“I saw a shadow get near me. A blast of light took it out and left only a heavy smoke that seemed raggedy; the smell was the worst I had experienced. I saw the same happening all around. At one point, I wanted to vomit; I could not take the smell of putrefaction, decay, and sulfur surrounding me.”

Here is another example, same scene.

“I tried to run but I froze in place, unable to move a limb. I was cold, surrounded by a heavy mist of grayish color. A putrefaction smell made me nauseated. Figures were forming out of the mist, several of them approaching me, surrounding me in a circle, a circle of death.”

This is just a brief example of a scene in which I had to place myself next to the character (Rose) to understand her experience. As writers, we are used to hearing the phrase, “Show, don’t tell” as a magic recipe for better writing. There is some truth to it, but I think there is more to showing and not telling. There needs to be a balance between the two, and sometimes a writer needs to jump in.

MOONLIT VALLEY is available via Amazon.

The Five-dollar Miracle

THE FIVE-DOLLAR MIRACLE

The inspirational story of how a small miracle – a five-dollar miracle – changed a stranger, a pastor, a congregation, and an entire country.

The Five-dollar Miracle is my latest published book. I have to say that this one broke the mold for me. It is different from my other novels, and does not follow the same style. It does have supernatural elements, however, not in the same way as my other novels. I would say that this book took me by surprise, as a writer that is, because I never expected to write it. It appeared one day as a title in my mind while I was writing Sunrise Souls, and it did not leave my mind until I sat to write it. I had no idea of what it was going to be about, neither did I have any notes or plot idea, only a title. So I went with it for the ride.

My biggest challenge writing The Five-dollar Miracle was to trust the process. With no preconceive ideas to start, it was a bit “nerve-racking”? Every day, I sat to write trusting the process. I had to trust it because I had already announced it as an upcoming novel; I had no choice. I wrote in faith. Although compared to my other novels it is short, the story did not need any add-ons. I tried to make it longer; it did not work. The story was what it was. It is different, and reader friendly.

Currently, I am writing The Girl Who Could Not Love, and I have to say that it has presented its challenges so far. Most likely, it will be ready for next year. As it has happened to many of you, the current affairs in the country and worldwide, have influenced my mood as a writer, and therefore my pen. This book will be ready when it is ready, and I am fine with that. This one, as all my other novels, will be made available via Amazon in paperback and eBook.

On the Writing Front

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Photo by M.A.D.

What is happening on the writing front? Not much these days. The state of our country, protests, the pandemic, and the political turmoil, have influenced my writing mode, and mood. My mind and heart have not been in the right place, and I have not been able to write my latest novel – The Girl Who Could Not Love – after the first five chapters. I feel as if I am not connecting with my novel, my writing, and my thoughts have been scattered. This presents a reality; I will not be able to meet my original deadline. If I do, it would be a miracle.

Many of you are going through similar writing experiences. It is called being human, and not a writing machine. Many of us draw from our inner emotions when we write. It is understandable that there might be a storm in the sea of emotions during this time. I am allowing myself the necessary time to work through this period. I am being creative in many other ways, which helps my state of mind and heart. I have decided to approach the writing of this novel in a different way.

Usually, I write the first draft by pen and paper. It is my preferred method. My thoughts flow freely, easily, and at times it feels as dictation. This is not working at this time. it is rare that I start a first draft on the computer, although my first novel, Moonlit Valley, was a combination of pen/paper and screen time. This time, I feel I need grounding, a way to slow down my feelings, so my mind can connect with the story. At this moment, it feels as if the story is somewhere out there, floating in the air (or my brain) and I cannot access it. All I know is that it is there, present, and waiting on me to find a way.

While I was planning my work the other day, I happened to glance at the old typewriter in front of me. I have not written on it for sometime, and it occurred to me that it could be the tool I need to write this story. It could slow down my thoughts enough that I might be able to listen to the story, and it may provide an audible rhythm, which could be beneficial in harnessing my focus. I am going to give it a try. Maybe it will be the bridge between me and the story.

If you are struggling with your writing due to the present worldwide (or local) climate, see if you can find a way to jumpstart your focus, but allow yourself enough time to work through your feelings/emotions.

Secondary Themes

When I wrote The Five-dollar Miracle, I recognized the main theme as being faith, and much like the story I am currently writing – The Girl Who Could Not Love – the story developed as I wrote, with no preconceived ideas or outlines. However, as I wrote, the main theme became obvious. Usually, one expects a story to follow or develop around a main theme, and a few secondary themes appear throughout, but mostly, the main theme carries the story to the end. With The Five-dollar Miracle, I was a bit surprised at how many secondary themes I could identify once I finished writing it. It was never intended this way, but all these themes had a strong link with the main one (faith), and helped carry it, propelled it, which of course worked out well for the story. Some of these topics are:

Loss – different types, especially the loss of a loved one.

Financial ruin

Addiction

Righteousness – as a judgemental trait

The spirit of cooperation/generosity/kindness

Respect thy neighbor – accepting differences

Serendipity

I enjoyed writing The Five-dollar Miracle, and it was a welcomed change of pace, as well as refreshing. I am excited about my next novel, and can’t wait to finish it. From my point of view as a writer, it is presenting its challenges, something I welcome, while at the same time, I am hoping that the story flows well, and that by the end, I make peace with it.