Away and home again.

Home is a wonderful place to be. I love opening the front door after a long trip. I love breathing in the sanctuary that is uniquely ours.

That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy being away. We did, very much so.

Las Vegas was hot. But it was a welcome change from what we’re used to in the UK. The GCLS conference was excellent, and I got to see lots of people I haven’t seen in years. I got to moderate, read, and answer questions. On awards night, I got to see my name up on the screen Whalen they read out my category, and that felt pretty damn amazing, I have to say.

I got to meet new people, which was great. I got to spend time with my bestie, with my wife, with my boss. And I got to see my dad and step-Mom for the first time after 33 years, which unnerving and intense. And good.

Washington was really fabulous. We spent the mornings utterly relaxed, and the afternoons doing whatever came to us. We went to a waterfall, we took a little motorboat out onto the sound and chased bald eagles across from island to island. We relaxed. We spent time with my mom and even went to an outdoor concert.

And now… home. Nic caught a nasty flu bug and she’s been down for the count since we got back. I’m determined to fight it off, but we shall see. Thanks so much to everyone who hung out with us, who laughed with us, and who listened to us. I’m feeling a whole lot of grateful.

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Who would you be?

What do your memories mean to you? How much a part are they of your fundamental personality?

If you had amnesia tomorrow, if you didn’t remember the experiences and people in your life… would you be you? Or could you be anyone you decided to be from that point forward?

If, say, you were an asshat before your amnesia, but it had to do with all the stuff in your backstory, would you still be an asshat without your memories? Or would you be some totally different version of yourself, the person you might have been without your particular history?

Example: I hate seafood. Hate the taste, hate the smell. Mom hated it, so she never cooked it. But what if I didn’t have that memory or knowledge? Would I possibly like fish?

This is the question plaguing me at eleven on a Saturday night while I’m in the bath after a migraine day.

The good things, too.

I wrote a blog on my author site about depression and anxiety. If you want to, you can read about that here. It’s an honest depiction of what it’s like living on that particular merry-go-round.

Today, we’ve heard about the second celebrity suicide in a week. It’s awful, and sad. It’s prompting a lot of articles and letters about people not being alone in darkness and how to love and help someone who has depression. It’s nice to see the words.

A few other words I’ve seen have me thinking about something else. My friend wrote to me about gratitude, and how she wants to pay more attention to it on a daily basis instead of only when faced with other people not having what she does. And I read an article about empathy, and about remembering the things that make you smile.

So, along those lines, things I’m grateful for and things that make me smile:

  • My wife, who makes me laugh constantly and rolls with my truckload of crazy like it’s a grocery trolley.
  • My mom, who encouraged me to be whatever I wanted to be.
  • Our beautiful home, that reflects who we are.
  • The 16 types of birds that come to our feeders. Even though they’re messy buggers.
  • My 21 year old car that just keeps going. And the nicer one that’s safe and warm and comfy.
  • Travel! I love traveling to new places.
  • Trees. Especially when they’re singing with the wind.
  • Coffee. And coffee flavoured things.
  • Friends who are there, even when you don’t talk for ages.
  • Books, words, ideas.
  • Getting to do what I love, from home, in my sweats, next to my wife.

So, so much gratitude and beauty. Today, with the darkness and tar at bay, I can see it and hold it close.

How about you?

Dig deeper

When I’m particularly moved by a story (or piece of music, which is still a story), I find it amazing. That someone could create something so rich that it makes me hold my breath or cry is astounding.

We watched The Greatest Showman tonight, our second time seeing it. And I cried, and laughed, and believed wholeheartedly in the romance just as I did before. When it ended I was emotionally drained in the best way. And then we watched the extras… you should definitely do that.

It’s making me think about characters and the way we build them. About conflict and the way overcoming it takes us into the character’s emotional journey in such a beautiful and empathetic way. In the extras, watch the actor who plays the bearded lady sing in a rehearsal. Then listen to what she has to say about being able to bring her personal struggle into that character. It’s absolutely no wonder how she could capture an audience with This is Me.

So, that’s my writing advice this month. Dig deeper. FEEL what your character is feeling. Understand it on the deepest level you can, and don’t hold back. Don’t head hop and skim the surface by bouncing back and forth. Stay with them, get under their skin, and give them the time to feel the feels. Bring all that stuff to the page. Make your reader cry. Make them laugh.

Make them believe.

Friends, Death, and Bawdy Jokes

This is going to ramble a bit. Bear with me.

The news

I received news today that an old friend of mine passed away suddenly from a short illness. I was in shock at first, and then Nic held me as the tears came.

I hadn’t seen this friend in many years. Even before she moved back to the US we’d lost touch. Thanks to FB though, we managed to occasionally nudge each other, and seeing her face always made me smile. She was one of those people who never complained though she had every right to, and she was always quick to crack a joke or check in on you. I feel the world has lost a beautiful soul.

Aside-ish.

I’m not good at keeping in touch with people. I’m not friend material. I’m too awkward, too tired, and too wrapped up in work to be what a real friend should be. It doesn’t mean I don’t care, I’m just incredibly shit at reaching out of my shell and showing it. I think about people far more than they know.

But Renee’s death has made me regret being that way. Because life…it’s so fragile. It can disappear in an instant, and it’s so terribly…final. I can’t say goodbye. I can’t thank her for the terrible cups of tea and for the fantastically bawdy jokes. She’s just gone.

Our time can come at any moment. Regrets are waiting, poised like runners at the starting line to catch up to at the first available shot. I regret not keeping in touch, not knowing if she finally found that sexual dynamo she’d been looking for, not just saying hi. I hope she knew how many people cared for her.

Another Aside-ishness.

I think the internet has changed the face of friendship. Before it, we lost touch easily. People moved, grew up, got married, got divorced… but they weren’t on our path anymore, so we knew none of it. The friends you kept were the ones you made an effort to see and/or talk to.

Now, even old elementary school people you knew are “friends” on social media. We peer into one another’s lives from a distance, “like” a post, but rarely have a real conversation. So what is real friendship now? I just know I suck at real human communication, and I also know the likes of FB friendship can be shallower than a pond in the Sahara.

My point?

I have no idea. Perhaps it’s to say tell the people close to you how much they mean to you. Make sure they know, before you don’t have the chance. Choose your friends wisely and well and don’t be an attention Scrooge (like I am). Love.

Holding onto my tail

In just a few days, there’s a big thing happening here.

Backing up…

For the last eight years we’ve had the annual Bold Strokes Book festival in Nottingham. Every year the UK/EU authors come together for a weekend of LGBTQ fiction. This kind of thing happens often in the States, but opportunities to do it in the UK aren’t as frequent.

It’s been a great eight years. And over the course of those eight years, I’ve been nagging at the boss’s boots to join us. Then we got to talking about doing the biannual retreat here…

And here we are. At year nine, we’re doing the retreat for BSB authors/staff/family, and that will be followed by the annual LGBTQ fiction event. Twenty-eight authors, along with their family, partners, friends, etc, will be in Nottingham for an entire week. There’s been loads of planning, a zillion emails, a quadrillion phone calls, and even a three way international Skype conversation… I’m constantly telling myself the glass is half-full, and it won’t go down in a ball of literary fire… but my naturally Eeyore nature is convinced my tail will fall off any second.

eeyore.jpg

On Monday, people start arriving from all over the world for this very special week. If I said I wasn’t crapping myself about it I’d be lying. As the Notts ‘host’, and the person who begged for the opportunity, I’m praying everyone has a good time and feels the  trip was what they wanted it to be. We’ve sold a lot of tickets (nearly sold out) which is fantastic, so at least the yearly pressure of will anyone show up? is absent.  And I get to see a lot of authors I’ve now known for many years, which is always a bonus. It’s really a great group of witty, lively, kind, people and I’m lucky to be associated with them. (It’s also the second year I’ll be attending as an author, which is also exhiler-fying.)

You should join us, if you can. The event itself is May 5th-6th at Waterstones, Nottingham. You can buy your tickets here. It’s a fun, friendly weekend of books, authors, and community. The after parties are lots of fun, too.

And if you do come, remind me that my tail is still attached, would you?

 

Another label…WoC

I’ve been thinking about what it means to write characters of color, and what it means to be a writer of color. I’m in a place where I’m trying to understand where, and if, I fit.

My surname is hard to pronounce if you’re not from a country where Spanish is spoken. Hell, even my teachers in LA often got it wrong. And it’s long enough that with my first name, one of them often got cut off on ID cards and such. Sometimes I was Victor.

Being mixed race is easier when you look white. And I do. I have thick hair, but that’s about all that marks me as Latina. I was still harassed in school occasionally when people heard my last name, but more often than not, it wasn’t long before they forgot.

Except…I feel Latina. I like being Mexican. I like the culture, I like the food, I like the emphasis on family, I love the language. But…

I also grew up socially White. I didn’t face the same barriers many Latina women do because of stereotypes and prejudices, and I admit to feeling guilty about that. I’ve enjoyed an amount of privilege because of my fair skin and blonde hair, though I certainly never hid my background. And I’m distanced from really being a part of the Mexican culture because I didn’t fully grow up in it.

I think there are probably many people like me, who feel a little bit rootless. From two cultures but not entirely a part of either. So can I call myself a writer of color? Are genetics enough, or do I have to have had the lived experiences too? I write under a pen name I chose for specific reasons; is that an erasure of my Latina identity?

As writers, I believe we tell stories of humans, and remembering that there are humans of every shade is important. When I wrote a Mexican-Haitian character in my second book, she felt very real to me, and I love her. But I wonder how readers envisaged her? Did I do her justice? It’s an incredibly important question and one I don’t know the answer to.

I don’t have an answer to these questions yet, but somehow it feels important to keep wrestling with them.