NaNoWriMo and “…the merging of two extremes…”

Today starts a month of writing for fiction writers across the world.  So, it’s for us who aspire to write but don’t get around to it.  It’s for us who have dreamed about writing fiction but who have allowed everything else to come first.  Or second or third.  The list that keeps us from writing is long.  Indeed, for some, it’s unending.

I have no idea how this movement to write, to encourage writing, to congregate around the written word for a solid month, started.  If you know, tell me.  But if you are a writer, if you know a writer, get involved this month.  Start writing, either along with the structured approach at NaNo or on your own.  For the supporters among us, love the writers in your life and do everything you can to help them write.  That may mean buying them tea.  Or sending them writing prompts.  It may mean waiting longer for a reply to your email.  It may mean leaving them alone.

So I’m going to include a few inspiring words about writing from some of my favorite places over the course of the month.  I’ll resist the urge to repeat some of the authors who I’ve interviewed on the blog.  But look there too, if you require great nudges.  I’m especially thankful this year for Marisel Vera who met with me a few weeks ago.  After our chat, I started writing fiction again regularly, after a very long pause.

Today’s quote comes from Richard Wright in the Author’s Note and in the text of Native Son:

In a fundamental sense, an imaginative novel represents the merging of two extremes; it is an intensely intimate expression of the part of a consciousness couched in terms of the most objective and commonly known events.  It is at one something private and public by its very nature and texture.  Confounding the author who is trying to lay his cards on the table is the dogging knowledge that his imagination is a kind of community medium of exchange: what he has read, felt, thought, seen, and remembered is translated into extensions as impersonal as a worn dollar bill.

We must deal here with the raw stuff of life, emotions and impulses and attitudes as yet unconditioned by the strivings of science and civilization.  We must deal here with a first wrong which, when committed by us, was understandable and inevitable; and then we must deal with the long trailing black sense of guilt stemming from that wrong, a sense of guilt which self-interest and fear would not let us atone.  And we must deal here with the hot blasts of hate engendered in others by that first wrong, and then the monstrous and horrible crimes flowing from that hate, a hate which has seeped down into the hearts and molded the deepest and most delicate sensibilities of multitudes.

For more information or if you aren’t familiar with National Novel Writing Month, click here.  Then, go and write.

Marisel Vera, Author of If I Bring You Roses, 3 of 3

Marisel’s debut novel is available.  I’ve shown you a few pictures from her first book signing, which was last weekend.  I’m thankful she has given us these three posts about herself, her novel, and her experience as a writer seeking publishing.  If you’re available, come out and meet Marisel with other friends, fans, and readers on August 28, 2011 at 8 pm.  She’ll be at The Nervous Breakdown Reading Series co-sponsored by Sunday Salon Chicago.  The location is Katerina’s, 1929 W. Irving Park Rd., Chicago, IL.

This is the last of a three-part blog series featuring Marisel, and today she discusses her experience pursuing publishing…

What a writer needs most is Faith. I had a huge crisis of faith some years ago which I wrote about in a blog post Forgive Me, For I Have Doubted.  Your readers can read it on or It was the moment when I just had to say I am going to keep trying, even if I never get published, I am going to keep trying. From that point on, I never looked back.  That same year when I sent off my manuscript to an agent, I got an encouraging letter back.  That agent, Betsy Amster, is now my agent.  She didn’t take on my novel then but it fortified my determination to continue.  My husband has been financially and emotionally supportive throughout the whole process and our children became English geniuses so I’ve had the luxury of in-house editors for blog posts, etc. I have direct access to Puerto Ricans and especially to my mother and godmother who shared many details about growing up en el campo. I also conducted extensive research in all things Puerto Rican.

In addition to faith, I believe a writer needs to learn the craft of writing fiction.  An MFA is nice but if you can’t do that—I didn’t have that opportunity—then take writing classes, a writing workshop with a writer you admire (I did that with Jonis Agee and Cristina García), get some writing books, find a few fellow writers whom you trust and critique each other’s work in a constructive way.  Last but not least, the big D.  Discipline. Schedule time for writing and force yourself to do it.  It’s not easy in the beginning especially if you have a full-time job and/or small children.  When my children were little and I was living inOklahoma without my sisters to babysit, it was so hard!  One day I read about how Toni Morrison as a young writer was writing with her child on her hip and the child spit up on the page.  She didn’t want to lose her thought so she wrote around the spit-up before she cleaned up the child.  I found that so encouraging! I was a writer and I would write and I would do what I had to do to write and nothing would stop me.

Michael, I’d love to hear from your readers and especially book club groups. I’m open to meeting with book clubs especially in the Chicagoland area and having video or phone chats with others.  My website is

As I said, Marisel would enjoy meeting a few of you at the Series this Sunday.  And finally, if you’d like to see a dramatic reading of a chapter from If I Bring You Roses, it’s in the link below.

Marisel Vera, Author of If I Bring You Roses, 2 of 3

As I said in my last post, I met Marisel Vera at the Printers Row Literary Festival this year, where we connected briefly over her debut novel.  The book is available.  I’m very thankful to put her before you on my blog and suggest that you go and get If I Bring You Roses.  

In today’s post Marisel tells us a bit about who she’d like to pick the novel up along with some insights into her background and how she came to writing.  Below I mention how you can see her this weekend…

It’s true that I’ve had a few friends and relatives look at me a little differently after reading If I Bring You Roses but, so far, everyone is cool even my born-again Christian relatives.  A few weeks ago, I wrote about being nervous of the novel’s publication in a blog post for which I titled Taking My Clothes Off in Public. Mostly likely, the majority of my relatives won’t read my novel and if they do and make a comment, I’ll just shrug my shoulders and say, “It’s literature.”

I would love for If I Bring You Roses to be taught in Eng. Lit classes in Chicago public high schools especially Roberto Clemente High School, my alma mater.  That would make me SO happy.  Perhaps some of your readers are teachers and could choose it. (Hint.)  It thrills me to say that it will be taught in a Latino Studies class at Vanderbilt University next Spring. This October, If I Bring You Roses will be taught in four classes at the College of Lake County in Grayslake,IL.  I plan to go in one day and answer questions from students.  I’d love to go to Clemente or other inner-city schools and talk to students too.

I believe that one of the reasons that it took me so long to pursue my dream of writing a novel is that although I read voraciously since I was eight years old, I never read a book written by a Latina or Latino writer other than Down These Mean Streets so it never occurred to me to think of it as a possibility. All the books I read on my own or were assigned in my classes were written by Anglo writers. Any one who is the child of immigrants knows that while your parents might encourage education, they want you to get educated so that you can get a traditional job like a teacher or doctor or nurse. No one ever said to me, Marisel, you have talent. I think you could be a writer. I think it makes a big difference in the life of a kid from the ghetto or inner-city, for an adult to say, Marisel, you can do it!

And I want you to know that you can meet Marisel.  She will be meeting friends and readers, signing books if you have them on August 28, 2011 at 8 pm at The Nervous Breakdown Reading Series co-sponsored by Sunday Salon Chicago.  The location is Katerina’s, 1929 W. Irving Park Rd., Chicago, IL.

Marisel Vera, Author of If I Bring You Roses, 1 of 3

I met Marisel Vera at the Printers Row Literary Festival this year.  She and Tayari Jones were meeting readers after a panel discussion.  We connected briefly over Marisel’s debut novel, which has now been published.  I’m very thankful to put her before you on my blog and suggest that you go and get her novel, If I Bring You Roses.  And I want you to know that you can meet Marisel.  She will be meeting friends and readers, signing books if you have them on August 28, 2011 at 8 pm at The Nervous Breakdown Reading Series co-sponsored by Sunday Salon Chicago.  The location is Katerina’s, 1929 W. Irving Park Rd., Chicago, IL.

This is a three-part blog series featuring Marisel where she’ll be telling us about her novel, her experience publishing it, as well as a bit about her life as a writer…

When I was 13-years-old there were a rash of house fires in the Pilsen neighborhood over on Chicago’s South Side.  Families with children died in the fires because the victims couldn’t speak English and when they shouted “¡Ayuda!” the firefighters couldn’t understand that they meant “Help!” Community leaders called for the firefighters to learn Spanish, but that infuriated many Chicagoans. I remember an on-air editorial about how everyone should learn English. This was America!  People wrote letters to the Chicago papers saying how the victims were at fault because they should have learned English like their parents and grandparents.

I was shocked and disheartened particularly because I didn’t have a voice as a young Puerto Rican girl in my own family. To my young self, what mattered most was that innocent people had died. Wasn’t it a good thing to learn a few words in another language if that would help prevent a tragedy?  I determined that one day I would write something to help people see how we were all the same whatever race, whatever nationality.

My novel If I Bring You Roses is a story about two people who marry and move to Chicago in the 1950s and how things happen and how they deal with it. That the novel is set partly in Puerto Rico and the couple is Puerto Rican is juice of the pineapple, the sauce of the beans, the ajo en mofongo.  Having said that, some readers will read If I Bring You Roses as a straight story about a man and a woman and a marriage while others will notice how the United States presence and control over Puerto Rico had severe economic repercussions that resulted in events that led to the mass immigration of Puerto Ricans to the mainland. I tried to be historically accurate and also captivate the reader’s attention with my storytelling.

I wanted to tell the novel in two voices, both female and male, because the immigrant experience is different for Latin Americans depending on gender.  In If I Bring You Roses, Aníbal is always wishing to be a man like his father. Aníbal comes from a culture where the man is king but in America, he is disrespected in the workplace.  His feelings of powerlessness compromise his sense of manhood.  In turn, the humiliation that male immigrants experience creates a cycle of privilege and subordination that ultimately disrespects women.  For Felicidad, who was a second class citizen in Puerto Rico and in her own family, immigration is the best thing that ever happened to her.  She can be independent and speak up for herself and for others and she is respected for doing so. The status of immigrant women from Latin American tends to rise in the U.S. while men lose their privileged status.

If I Bring You Roses is set in Chicago because I wanted to write about the first wave of Puerto Ricans who came in the 1950s like my parents and my uncles. I am a fan of multi-cultural literature and there is very little of Puerto Ricans in Chicago.  The closest I had to any literature about Puerto Ricans when I was growing up was Piri Thomas’ Down These Mean Streets and that was non-fiction and set in NYC.  Being Puerto Rican in NYC is not the same as being Puerto Rican in Chicago and as we Chicagoans know, New York City is not Chicago.

It was very liberating to write from Aníbal’s perspective. Loved it, loved it, loved it.  I do have to admit to a slight concern about how people who know me will think of me once they read how Aníbal thinks about sex. But not for a moment did I think of silencing him. I had to be true to him and Aníbal is a very sexual guy.  Sex is how he expresses how he feels. I found Felicidad’s character more difficult to write.  I thought a lot about her and what made her the woman she became and that helped me to understand her and to empathize and love her.