A Quandary in Exposure

Image by mikerigel

There’s an issue that’s been weighing on me lately, one that I think may or may not press on the minds of other writers seeking publication. It’s something I wonder about, I question, and then I throw out the window to hopefully see it splat against the wall because that’s how annoying I find this issue.

The issue? What people learn about you when they read a novel you wrote, and how much you cannot control the perception of you created by that novel and its moral or world view.

I think this accompanies the reality that when we write, the very cultivation of the words digs into our soul and pulls pieces out. I think this part is freaky and also exciting. It comes from the same part in us that rubber-necks alongside a car wreck and secretly smiles when a celebrity is arrested. It’s that kind of morbid fascination we have with pushing our boundaries, social or otherwise. It also lets us get to know ourselves and our world better, which is good, though can be a little embarrassing. But when you are writing in the hope of being published, this excavating also reveals the bones of the author to the reader (critics, friends, and bullies, alike) and that is the part that makes us recoil.

I recently did some work on my manuscript. Some necessary exposition, so to speak. This work will appear largely in the first third of the book. It deals in an aspect of the protagonists backstory that I have fought with putting in for every rewrite up to this point. I have lost the fight. My agent friend, in her editorial feedback, wanted to see this particular experience is technicolor. I wanted to hide from this particular experience. I wanted to hide from it, and yet I could neither change it nor make it less gut-wrenching.

This fact made me feel immediately exposed, like I am in front of a camera with noonday sun overhead. Whenever you write anything, it comes from a place in you. Either a place where you have been , or a truth you understand. We cannot be separate from our words, and therefore, when our words are read by others we cannot pretend it comes from a foreign place. It doesn’t. And owning that is what make this so hard. It’s also what makes it so rewarding for the reader.

Closings

Where have all the good bloodsucking corporations gone? Last month we learned that our beloved grocery store (the one very near my lovely, sunny apartment) was sold to a Walgreens. I learned this from one of the cashiers, a familiar teenager with long black hair and creamy caramel skin who was always a little aloof with me. As she rung up my diapers and box of Oreos, some toothpaste and a jug of milk —for the Oreos, milk’s favorite cookie — she leaned over and whispered, Hey, did you hear the Key Food is closing? I did a double take on the information, letting my mouth drop open, and groaned. Was this some sort of cruel joke she was playing on me? The frazzled mom who always argued with her son about buying a stick on tattoo from the vending machine.

The next few days would prove that this was not, in fact, some kind of belated April Fools prank, but was reality. When we decided to move to Windsor Terrace, this grocery stores proximity to our prospective apartment was a huge draw for us, newcomers to the Big City, and all. We felt safe with all that food and bathroom supplies across the street. Comforted that if we wanted a half-pint of Ben and Jerry’s after our son went to bed we could pop over easily and get it. Secure in the knowledge when it was blazin’ hot outside we could go stand in the freezer section for relief. This was all true for us, but overall, our plight is nothing in comparison to the longtime residents of the neighborhood.

This neighborhood is home to a lot of young families, but even more elderly residents, as well as a slew of independent businesses. The Key Food, for all intents and purposes, was the only supermarket in Windsor Terrace, a neighborhood packed with people dependent on that fact. I personally do not own a car, and am now being graciously carted to a grocery in Red Hook by my wonderful neighbor. My landlord’s parents live next door to us. They’re a lovely Italian couple in their 70s. They don’t drive, and aren’t in a position where they can walk down to 7th and Carroll St. to buy their groceries (then pay to have them delivered, and haul the perishables home.) The grocery gave them, and countless others, independence sorely needed and an ability to fend for themselves with dignity.

As I watch all of this unfold before my eyes, still a relative outsider in a neighborhood built by blue bloods, it pains me to see the lack of respect and consideration coming from this major corporation for the people they expect to patronize their store. Their unwillingness to comply with the simple request for a grocery section has shown their hand, and they’re already cheating. Where I come from, large pharmacy chains like Walgreens and CVS have food, wine and beer, along with aisles of shampoo and cough syrup.

In an online petition, written by one of the local business owners in Windsor Terrace, she goes so far as to tell Walgreens, “Don’t come here, we won’t buy from you.” And that is true. Many local residents have put signs in their windows that simply say: Boycott Walgreens. Others attended a rally at the Key Food shell where Walgreens reps discouraged further the idea that this neighborhood, and all the wonderfully weird people who live here, will not be seeing an ounce of sway on their part.

This little neighborhood war is a tragic statement, not only about this corporation, but about the thoughtless man who sold his grocery to a pharmacy. A man who made his money on the people of this neighborhood and then gave all of them the middle finger. Maybe that middle finger points to the real issue, the picture this paints for us a people. We talk a big game about respect, culture, and human equality in New York City, but we can’t get it right on a basic level. We can’t hear. This neighborhood has asked that they be heard. And Walgreens is choosing not to listen.

There is a real need in Windsor Terrace for a grocery. That need will exist whether Walgreens wants it to or not. Do I believe we’ll eventually let it go? Sure, some will, but others — those with deep roots here — are shaken where they live. Talking to neighbors on my block, many over sixty years old, the downturn in their eyes and the confusion is what registers most. And what about the fifty people now put out of jobs? The poor Walgreens CEO and Multimillionaire Key Food owner will say it’s just business, I get it. And maybe that’s true. But if they want to make money, they better start listening.

RTW Questions for YA Highway

So, this is the first time ever posting for a YA Highway prompt. The question is: What images inspire/ represent you WIP (work-in-progress) or favorite book?

My novel takes place somewhere nothing at all like the image I am about to post.

California Poppies by water

My main character, we’ll call her OP, pines for a place not unlike this one here, but it no longer exists. Since I have been writing in first-person, I find myself longing to be here too. This image represents so much to her. She places herself there in her dreams, longs for her mother who is no longer alive, but lived there. When I want to remember how she feels, I look at pictures of the coast in California, and then her aching becomes even more real to me.

Another image that comes into play a lot is this one:

This is a women’s changing room in Birkenau Concentration Camp in Poland. OP spent time in a place not unlike this for a period before the novel begins. This place is a huge part of her back story, and the story of the world she lives in. It’s amazing to try and imagine how someone would feel somewhere like this for weeks of their life, not really knowing if their life would continue.

Enjoy and come back soon!

The Value of a Job Well Done

Something I think about a lot as a writer (mom, twenty-something, wife, Sci-Fi fan, etc.) is how much pressure we put on ourselves to produce something valuable, and just what we allow to quantify value in our lives. When I was younger, I was mostly content with just thinking my writing was good, but not great, and assuming that no one would ever want to put their money behind my words. When I was younger, I had felt that time was a lot more infinite and that achieving ones goals was better left to truly ambitious women—like Nobel Laureates, or Oprah.

When I was in my early twenties I began working on my first ever full-length project. I say “full-length”, because it wasn’t a short story, novella, or poem. It was a screenplay, one I was fairly certain no one would ever put to film, but it was nonetheless a project I deemed worthy of countless hours of my life. My screenplay was the first time I just wrote a story because I loved it. I loved the heroine. I loved her battle and her drive. I loved the secondary characters and the sleepy, eerie gloom of the imaginary town where they all lived.

She was my first ever voice in my head that I couldn’t silence, and it was riveting. As time passed though, from the initial first draft to the fourth or fifth rewrite, I began to wonder what it was all for. Why had I put pieces of me into this work, pined for it, dreamed about it, only to just have a screenplay on my computer that no one would ever see made into a film? Part of the problem was I didn’t quite know what to do with it once it was finished, and part of the problem was I never really felt finished. There was always a better way to word a scene, a more compelling image. There was always edits.

I continued to work on my screenplay after our move to New York, until finally — one night while sitting in my old nursing chair that was serving as the best seat in the house while we waited for our couch — I looked up at my husband and friend with a smile.

“It’s done.” I said, hitting save again for good measureAnd it really was. Those characters existed somewhere in a fully-formed state. They were going on with the lives that I created for them. They were happy. This was a wonderful feeling, but also a deeply confusing time. I had been with them for so long that being away felt like a break-up, and even more, that screenplay’s unfinished state had protected me from having to create something new.

In the end, I still look at my time with that project as deeply valuable, even if no one ever takes it from my hands into the next stage. The value of it isn’t monetary, it’s so much more because it’s a finished work, even if there are still flaws. Every piece of writing is that way, even great works. The value in something you create is more about what it does for you as it’s author. Sure making money would be nice (*amazing*), and having your work read or seen is even more rewarding (*terrifying*) but that is not what makes being a writer (or any title for that matter) worthwhile.

I spend many hours in my day wandering Brooklyn with my son and dog, and even more hours trying to convince him to put shoes on, clean up cars, eat his broccoli, whatever. I spend this time not because I am being paid to, but because his life and his world are valuable to me. The reward is in the process of doing and in the fact that you can do it well if you remember that.

Valued.

This blog is about Writing (Or whatever I want, cause it’s mine.)

You may think my name is a pretty lame title, but consider that this blog will hopefully carry over into my splash as a published author, and then it may make more sense. Most of what you will read here will be about the process, which can be daunting, of getting a novel published. Though, there is no guarantee that I will not write about my son, Sam.

Or my dog, Samson.

But mostly I believe it will be about writing. Writing bleeds into everything I do, filling my world with ideas and voices I sometimes wish I could silence. One of these voices became the heroine of my first novel, and others sometimes find there way into the cracks and crannies of the narrative I’m trying to construct. Sometimes I have chats with them, which prompts my son to ask me who I’m talking to, and sometimes I just let them stew inside. I marinate them.

So, if you are a writer, or a reader, or a person who thinks children, yorkies, and Brooklyn, NY are interesting, then you may find this blog a welcome distraction. It may also be a useful tool to draw from, or a source of amusement. (If you think someone rambling on about YA romances or the crazy shit her son says is humorous.)Whatever it becomes, I hope we can learn from it together, or laugh at it together, or triumph in it together.

Alright, that said, I really must get back to work, and you probably should too since I’m posting this in the afternoon on a Monday. Enjoy your day, wherever you are, and remember to look around you. Inspiration is literally everywhere.