I attended my first writer’s conference in 2001. I didn’t really know what to expect but I was excited to meet other writers and I assumed that we would have a lot in common. After all, we shared an obsession with writing and we were all trying to get published for the first time. One thing I was sure of was that I would find new friends with lots of shared interests.
That first morning, I put on a new dress and stuffed my manuscript in a shoulder bag which I quickly decided was far too heavy to carry around all day. I took it with me anyway and stood in line to purchase tickets for one-on-one consultations with agents and publishers. The tickets were expensive and the consultations were to last only ten minutes, but we shelled out the money anyway. As I surveyed the crowd, I was sure I would find kindred spirits here.
We entered the hotel ballroom that had been converted into a large waiting area and I was hit with a wall of desperation, the barely controlled energy of a thousand people frantically hoping to be discovered. Some prayed silently for a chance to be in print. One woman fingered a rosary. Others talked nervously to anyone who happened to be nearby. I took it all in, wondering how long I could tolerate this frenzied energy before I passed out.
To keep myself conscious, I asked people standing around me about their writing projects. One nervous man confided that he was writing about a love affair with goats.
“Do you think that’s too much?” he asked me.
I wracked my brain to think of something positive to say. “It all depends on the writing,” I said finally.
He was satisfied with that and left me to find someone else with a different opinion.
An elderly woman with a soft voice tapped my arm, “And what are you writing about, dear?” she asked me.
“My twelve years living in Tokyo.” I answered. “How about you?”
She looked at me with sudden disapproval. “I don’t like foreign books. I’m only interested in my family history. I can’t imagine wasting time on anything else. But I can’t talk about the details of my manuscript,” she whispered. “Someone might steal my ideas.”
“Well, I’m sure no one knows your family history as well as you do,” I said.
She nodded curtly and narrowed her eyes in suspicion before drifting away to speak to someone else.
I can’t remember the topic the next person was writing about, but I do remember thinking to myself that it was the last subject in the world I would ever write about.
That’s when I noticed that the woman in front of me had a small cockroach crawling in and out of her dreadlocks. I contemplated how to handle this situation without making a scene.
Finally I touched her on the shoulder and said, “There’s a little bug in your hair, let me remove it for you.” I brushed the cockroach onto the floor, certain that no one had seen it.
Suddenly the woman’s companion, a pale, nearly hysterical man began screaming, “That’s a cockroach. Oh my God. There was a cockroach in your hair!”
The woman shook out her dreadlocks and thanked me. “Well, now I feel right at home,” she joked.
I laughed and nodded. No one else laughed.
I wanted to talk to her further but it was time for her to enter the consultation room where bells sounded every ten minutes, reminding the writers inside that their consultations were over. She hurried inside, abandoning me beside her anxious companion who was suddenly embarrassed and refused to speak to me.
Later that day, I met a large, muscular man who resembled a drill sergeant. He was writing about his experiences as a recovering psychotic. By recovering, he meant that he still heard voices and saw visions but he managed to cope with them. I was leery at first, but soon discovered that he was the sanest person I had ever met. “I know exactly where my insanity lies,” he told me. “Not many people can say that.”
Next I met a gray-haired man who flirted with me and tried to steal the credit card out of my purse while pumping me for writing ideas. He laughed apologetically when I confronted him. “Writer’s conferences are the best places to steal ideas,” he told me, as if I should have figured that out already.
That’s when I took refuge with the poets. We sat in one corner of the lobby, segregating ourselves from the crowd of writers who were talking loudly on dozens of different topics. A few historical fiction writers sat down with us, basking in the calm of our relatively quiet group.
Since then I’ve managed to find several good friends who are writers and I’ve come to the realization that what writers share doesn’t have much to do with writing at all. What we have in common is the fact that we are all storytellers at heart. We all have an important story to tell. We have an intense desire to be heard. And each one of us has the right to our own unique, creative voice, no matter what topic we write about.
I take my hat off to all published and aspiring writers. We share a unique journey in which we create, inform, entertain and inspire. Like the storytellers of old who traveled from village to village delighting people with their words, we are an extremely valuable segment of society and just maybe, we have more in common than we think we do.
Every day the girl sat in the garden and visualized her tremendous dreams for the future.
‘If only I could change and become the type of person who does all the things in my dreams,’ she thought.
‘I want to change,’ she thought.
(‘But I couldn’t do that.’)
‘I want to change.’
(‘But if I did that, everyone would be mad at me.’)
‘I want to change.’
(‘But it’s too hard.’)
‘I still want to change,’ she thought.
Day after day she sat in the garden, hoping for and resisting her dreams in equal measure. The flowers bloomed and the butterflies came and went.
Eventually she forgot about her desire for change. She forgot the dreaming, the hoping and the resistance to her own dreams. Instead she sat in the garden, loving the beauty of it.
Then one day, she grew up. She changed and became the type of person who did all the things in her dreams. It wasn’t difficult. All the days of dreaming and resisting the dreams had been difficult. When change finally happened, it was as easy as the smallest flutter of a butterfly’s wing.
“If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.” ~Author Unknown
Soon after The Wife of John the Baptist was published, I decided to enter it in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Competition. I wasn’t sure if I would win anything. After all, it seemed like a long-shot. Thousands of novels were entered and my novel was just one out of the many. It took the judges a long time to read through all the novels and I almost forgot about the contest entirely. Then one day, I received an email telling me that I had been selected as a semi-finalist. I was thrilled. Now my novel was one out of the few.
I’ll have to wait until July to find out if I won or not, but until then I’ll just be happy I made it this far. If you want to read the first few pages of the novel and submit a review, follow the link above and see my entry. I’ll look forward to hearing what you have to say.
I didn’t expect my life to change when I entered the sparsely-furnished, literature classroom at the Universidad de Veracruz in Xalapa, Mexico. The long-haired, political-activist professor who arrived late was a bit of a surprise, but that would pale in comparison to the stories and novels he was about to introduce us to.
We didn’t have any books. Instead the professor handed out faint, mimeographed pages containing the stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, master of magical realism and literary journalism. We read them aloud while our professor became increasingly animated in his enthusiasm, pausing only to push the hair from his eyes. As the stories came alive, we realized that this level of learning could not be contained to a bare and dusty classroom. Some of us accompanied the professor to a series of cafes around town, drinking beer until we were tipsy, talking for hours and filling our hungry souls with the delicious adventures of shipwrecked sailors, old Caribbean soldiers, ethereal beauties and the ghosts who coexist with the living only because they are too stubborn to succumb to death.
The world of magical realism was an epiphany and I suddenly realized that life was not the black and white, cut and dried reality I had learned in hometown America. A whole new world opened up in which the supernatural, the spiritual and the physical all coexisted in an exotic mélange that changed my view of life forever.
This epiphany was to set me on a lifelong pursuit for adventure, travel and opportunities to experience different cultures; a continual thirst to see the world through different eyes and to write about it. For the first time I had been given license to be the person I really wanted to be. The magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez had given me the freedom to soar.
When I ran home after class and told the senora in the house where I lived about my discovery, she handed me a succulent plateful of carne de res, arroz and the bright red flower petals known as colorin. I told her how wonderful it was to read about a world that was turned upside down but that made so much sense at the same time. She looked at me with a dry expression, “Es normal,” she said. “That’s how we all see the world.”
Her comments made me smile. I borrowed an antique typewriter and with senora’s blessing, I started writing my first, full-length novel on her kitchen table. The family’s elderly, maiden aunt, Tia Pilar showed up even before I was finished with page one. “I will keep you company while you finish your task,” she explained. “We will be like sisters every afternoon.” True to her word, she showed up each day to sit nearby fingering her rosary, while my own fingers tapped on the typewriter keys. She only stopped coming when I had finished the last page.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez opened my young mind to the unlimited possibilities of imagination, creativity and diverse cultural experience. It was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received and in a very real way it changed the course of my adult life forever. So today, as I pay homage to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I dust off my tattered copies of his books, open One Hundred Years of Solitude and begin to read. Here once again is the band of ragged gypsies who arrived in the mythical, Caribbean town of Macondo, bringing with them the learned alchemist, Melquiades. In turn, Melquiades brought the first magnets that anyone had ever seen in Macondo.
The gypsy dragged the enormous magnets behind him through the streets of the town while “pots, pans, tongs and braziers tumbled down from their places,” and followed him down the street.
“‘Things have a life of their own,’ the gypsy proclaimed with a harsh accent. ‘It’s simply a matter of waking up their souls.’”