Q & A -> Writing Questions Answered

Every time I log into Goodreads, the empty space after the “Ask the Author” questions stare back at me. This week, I finally took some time to sit down and focus on these questions. Hopefully some readers will find solace or camaraderie in my answers below. Happy reading and happy writing kindred spirits!


How do you deal with writer’s block?

Honestly, I don’t really think writer’s block exists. If it does, it’s surely not an illness that afflicts creative minds with symptoms like, pulling your hair out in front of computer screens.

It’s an old-as-time battle between your will power and procrastination. It’s a vicious fight between your goals and the pile of laundry accumulating in your closet, between waking up early or sleeping-in, between forcing yourself to sit-down at a desk or running three miles.

There will always be something you should or need to do, that seems more pressing than writing. To me, writers blocks is a series of days where I gave into that “other thing I need to do.” It’s when I haven’t written for four days straight because I didn’t make writing my number one priority. When the days sans writing swell up, sitting down to write Viola’s next adventure seems that much more intimidating and overwhelming.

All this to say, for me, I conquer “writer’s block” by sitting down, lighting a powdery candle, setting a timer, and jotting down words. When I sit down, I know full well, that the first words taking shape from my graphite wand are rubbish. On the other hand, I also know that once I sink into the world I’m conjuring, I can create something magical.

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My Lab


What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Creating something from nothing. For me, telling a story and building an empathetic connection with a stranger or friend through a series of symbols, is nothing short of alchemy. ❤


What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

Begin. Try a pencil. Write for yourself.

Beginnings are the hardest part. Whether it’s waking up at 5 am to write before I hustle off to work or beginning the first page of chapter, the first five seconds of commencing my writing ritual is the most difficult hurdle to jump. Endure that brief moment of weakness and don’t think too much about it.

If you are feeling stuck, try long-hand. When I started writing Lost in the City of Flowers,  I started with a small laptop I bought for $200. I often got frustrated and would delete whole pages at a time. On a whim, I bought a Moleskine lined notebook and tried writing a chapter the old-school way. Now, I can’t invoke the Histories of Idan without a notebook and a pencil. After I write a chapter in long-hand, I type it up a few days later. This process helps me edit without being too hard on myself too quickly.

Will people like my book? Who will want to read it? What if people hate it? Questions like these, ones that every writer may grapple with, will kill any writing courage I have mustered. Write what you enjoy. Write because you need to. Write because you love to.

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Fresh Notebook


What are you currently working on?

Torn by Salt and Satin is the working title of book 2 in The Histories of Idan series.

Viola’s must travel back in time to save Mrs. Reed, who has gone missing in 1789 Paris. In a place on the cusp of rebellion, Viola becomes an apprentice to  Jacques-Louis David, a ward of Thomas Jefferson, a friend of Marie-Anne Paulze in her quest to find a missing drawing, and her mysterious patroness before the bloody axe of the French revolution falls.


How do you get inspired to write?

I get inspired by listening to music and letting my imagination wonder. While I was writing Lost in the City of Flowers, I listened to Lord Huron’s Lonesome Dreams album on repeat. The album almost felt like it was written for my heroine and I. Every morning, before I would write a single word, I would listen to Ends of the Earth and would really inspire me.  That said, if you lack inspiration, I would suggest looking to other art forms and art practices to kick start your writing.

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Front Stage @ Fillmore Theater – Lord Huron


 Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?

The initial goal of The Histories of Idan series, is to get people excited about art history and to introduce the subject in an adventurous albeit quasi-fictional way. With this in mind, I try to look back at my own art history journey, to pinpoint artists or time periods seduced me. Jacques Louis David, and the cultural makeup of the French Revolution have always fascinated me and I would be remiss to not write a book that focused on this glorious time in art and human evolution.

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Research Trip to Versailles, 2014

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MIA Writers Institute

“Raise your hand if you want a contract with one of the big five publishing houses?”

This question, was the icebreaker to my two-evening workshop at the annual Miami Writers Institute. Every single hand in the classroom, including mine, shot up. In the first hour, The Book Doctors quickly dashed every aspiring writer’s not-so-secret dream of landing a big book deal, touring the country, and being on the Ellen Show. Continue reading

Sila’s Gift

Time, heartbreak, and Christmas.

Yesterday, I went to a Creative Mornings event to hear Natalia Martinez-Kalinina speak about time. She explained how phrases like, “Time heals all wounds,” or  “Only time will tell tell,” are tokens that give us the illusion that we can control time.  We have named it, measured it, manipulated it, and even tricked it but it remains as incontrollable and illusive as ever. In my case, there will never be enough time to heal the sorrow I feel since my beautiful mother suddenly and without warning passed away. Only today did I realize that I may never be “ready” to accept the waves of emotion that surface when I hear flamenco songs, drive home from work, try to fall asleep, smell incense burning, or see white roses in bloom.

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Sila at Christmas

My mother, Sila Amelia Montoto, absolutely loved this cheerful season of the year. The celebrations,  acts of kindness, and the spirit of giving were all traits she embraced. Both her heart and mind were open and accepting beyond reason. She loved cooking elaborate feasts of turkey, black beans, mashed potatoes, and flan for family or lonely souls she had met just the day before. She loved watching Christmas movies but hated musicals.

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Christmas, circa. 1990

“You made this when you were in 1st grade,” she would say every year as she handed me a glittery pinecone to hang on our tree. She would sing “Santa’s Coming to Town” the whole year. It didn’t matter if it was boiling or freezing or even what season it was. She would sing it to us before we went to bed or hum it to herself while she was cooking. I can’t see a Christmas light or presents stacked in store-front windows without thinking of her smiles or busy hands. Without a doubt, this has been the most difficult Christmas for me to enjoy or appreciate.

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Bows and Paper

Although it is hard to confront such colossal emotions, I knew I needed to find a vessel to explore them. Thankfully, she left me one. Shortly after my mom passed, I found a folder with some pages she wrote. At first glance, I realized that the type-written pages were the beginning of a novel she had always wanted to write. The pages are filled with memories inspired by her childhood in Cuba. Till now, I have not been brave enough to read them.

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England, circa. 1991

At the same time, the pages have been weighing on my conscience. Questions like,  “Is it fair to keep these pages to myself?” or “Am I strong enough to read them?” were plaguing me.  In the end, I’m resolved to publish her work through this blog in a series of posts about my mother. It was her dream to publish her stories and she would have loved to have all of you read them. Sila was as unique as her name. She was so dynamic and impressionable a person, that to spend only one entry or to tell only one story would not be nearly suffice.

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New Mexico, circa. 1996

This will be a series of  Christmas presents for all of you who were lucky enough to have met her or for those who haven’t to get to know her. Before I let her start, I wanted to say how grateful i am for all incredible support my family has received through hugs, cards, company, and the gofundme. Your kind words and acts gave me strength during my darkest days.

 

Leaving the Finca + Changing Lives II

 

The nightmare started. The horrible reality came so unexpectedly shattering the world we loved, all the familiar things, putting a feeling of emptiness inside you… A feeling of loss, like when some one you love dies or goes away. Nothing is ever the same without them. like that tonight. 

Mamá came into our room. She woke me and asked me to dress quickly. She picked up Jose still in nightclothes and quietly walked out of the room. Mamá was crying silent tears. I know those tears so well. We must hurry, I know. I stand in the middle of my room and look around trying to remember everything. Knowing that I may not touch or feel my dolls, my funny clown with the faded nose, or my ballerina. She is so graceful in her pink and lovely gown… Then I remember to look under my pillow. I must take my medallion with me. Abuela gave i to me. It’s Santa Teresa. She brings me good luck. I like to take my medallion everywhere I go. It makes me feel safe. 

The jeep waits outside. I am cold although it is rather warm. Papa is not here. Where are you papa? I want you close. I know you will not let them hurt us. Mamá sits quietly still holding little Jose close. He does not understand what is happening. We are going to “Abuela’s house,” that’s all. Miguel drives the jeep in silence, occasionally wiping his face. I know Miguel is sad. We have lived in the finca for so long. He will miss us. I will miss him. I am so sad. I think I could stop breathing, but I will not. I cannot. I close my eyes and pretend I am having a dream.

“Tomorrow will be another day,” my Abuela always says. “We cannot keep days from starting. Each day, each sunrise is different. With every sunrise, we know we have made it through one more day. There is that quiet place inside. We must find it when we want to stop breathing… and breathe again.”

We are coming into the town. It is very quiet, it is late. Everything is dark. The lights are shut off early now.There is not enough electricity for the future. We have to safe and be wise and responsible. We must think of the future. It is the most important thing. That is why the lights go off so early. All is dark as we drive by. No one can sit in froth of their T.V.s or listen to the radio, except twice a week. We live in the country. That makes it a little different. 

Miguel stops the jeep in front of “El Cuartel.” he has good cigars with him. He will offer some to the compañeros. They will talk a bit. He will laugh and tell them how the gusanos lost the finca. How right it is. Our family has been greed and taken advantage of all the poor in the town for so long. It is not right.  It is time to be just, and thanks to “El Comandante en jefe,” everyone is the same now. We hear their laughter, we wait in the jeep, Mamá, Jose and I. It is late. I am sleep. I am sad. I know what Miguel is doing. He is “pretending.” His “other” voice is talking now. He must pretend for the compañeros. He must make sure we are safe.  

L’art pour l’art

Picasso, Dali, and milk cartons.

It’s been too long since I last wrote to the explorers that find this tiny thread among the interwebs. I have no excuse to offer other than that life experiences pushed me off my path.

For those of you who have written blogs at one time or another, rekindling it is a daunting task. I contemplated whether I should start a new one or if I should just abandon it completely. Even now I feel tangle of excitement and embarrassment as I write this.

To kick-start the blog, I asked my friend, writer, and world traveler, Anna Tomas Moreno, to grace this blog with her presence. Below, she shares her thoughts on the annual Gràcia festival. While I was living in Spain, friends took me to witness this wonderful happening of neighbors banding together to create ephemeral art. Without further ado, I’ll let Anna capture the true spirit of the festival…

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L’art pour l’art at Barcelona

When I write about fine art or urban art (which comes from the hands of neighboring communities), everything flows, everything finds its proper place. I get carried away by a delicious stream that never sways as an illogical tide… Because that’s art. Live, feel, dream.

Tableaux of Artists

When my friend Maria invited me to contribute to her blog with this post on Mozart Street during the Celebrations of Gràcia in Barcelona (just a second and I’ll explain more about this festivity), I really started analyzing the concept of “urban art” and what value we give to certain pieces. Can we laugh of art? Can we make fun of it? Can we modify it?

Habermas and then Andy Warhol showed us the power of Art commercialization. I must admit it, it’s dizzying to think about quantifying the value of masterpieces like “Las Meninas” by Velázquez, the “Guernica” by Picasso, Modigliani or even Van Gogh.

“Les festes de Gràcia”, an annual festival in one of the most popular districts of Barcelona, has been held for decades already. Streets in the Gracia neighborhood competes among themselves to achieve the best exterior decoration. Each street transforms their space from one side to the other of their narrow dimensions. Only recyclable materials can be used, so the neighbors spend weeks before asking all residents to donate used objects such as water bottles, newspapers, and milk cartons.

Litchenstein in Paper Clouds

Litchenstein in Paper Clouds

Every street secretly picks a theme and brings it to life. This happening is truly an amazing act of community spirit that still exists nowadays. All their collaborative efforts culminate with a summer week that allows visitors  to walk through different themes and locations, from Japan, the Paris of the twenties, the world of Avatar, or in this occasion through a different Art Museum in Mozart street. The neighbors decide whether each of their creations goes with the theme, the materials used, and if the tone should be a parody or honest, to faithfully recreate their vision.

Calder Canopy

Calder Canopy

For this one week, the streets of Gracia illustrate just how elaborate urban art can be. The immersive and ephemeral nature of the exhibits create fa truly magical experience. Each day I wandered the streets, I discovered a different piece. Even through the most poignant and ironic interpretations, I felt trapped by the installations artistic beauty. Even while typing my visceral experience, I still feel like I can touch the artwork, even with the tips of my eyelashes.  Far from what we think some times, art is there: in every corner of our city, our room or/and every human being.

Ode to Girl at a Window, 1925

Ode to Girl at a Window, 1925

Therefore, I think it’s true, and more when it comes to artistic semantics and experiences: a picture is worth a thousand words. This is why I leave you with my selection of the Museum Mozart, which won the 5th position in the competition, even if I considered, like many more, the first place, specially after crossing all the streets with camera in hand.

Ode to The Scream, Edvard Munch, 1893

Ode to The Scream, Edvard Munch, 1893

Can we laugh about art? Yes, of course, and give our version accommodate it, and defend it or criticize it. Art is a broad discipline, involves everything we do, even a gesture. A brush or piece of chalk often makes us smile for its ability to highlight the passionate intensity of many spirits. And, last but not least, it shows that, in the end, life is nothing more than the pursuit of delicious golden crumbs.

Paris III

Paris III – Day IV

Worth the wait and the selfie sticks.

  • Before I fell asleep, I thought, “After I stop for a pain au chocolat, I’ll just mosey on down to that jewel of a museum, the Louvre.” Too bad it was 9 am when I rolled out of bed. By the time I arrived at the old palace, there was a long coiled line waiting for me.
Louvre Lobby

Louvre Lobby

  •  It was really wonderful to see so many people waiting to walk through the galleries of the 13th century monument. After about an hour of waiting, I was trying to stay positive. At the same time, I secretly wished someone could hold the line for a coffee run or that there was a fast pass for those that were not there to just see the Mona Lisa.  It’s true I sound prickly but you really could tell who had come for selfies by the sticks locked and ready in their hands. Regardless, it was pretty amazing to think about the thousands upon thousands of people who still visit museums, especially in this”digital age” when many artworks are available online.
History of The Louvre

History of The Louvre

Historic note: “The first stone of the Louvre was laid in 1202. Originally designed as a major stronghold (thought it never came to be used as such) and a treasury. Not a palace to be lived in, it was only in the reign of Charles V (1364-80) that the Louvre, with windows struck through Philippe’s grimly functional arrow-slits and with fancifully decorative pointed roofs superimposed, became a palace fit for a king.” – Alistair Horne, Seven Ages of Paris: Portrait of a City

Vue de la Grande Galerie, Victor Duval, 1880

Vue de la Grande Galerie, Victor Duval, 1880

  • Two hours later, I finally made it pass the stone threshold. I bought my ticket and quickly plotted a plan of action. With only five hours to look at hundreds of works, I had to prioritize and make some tough sacrifices. Anything not French, was out. This was a research trip after all. “Focus, focus, focus…” I constantly chanted as I passed tempting exhibitions. First priority, was to focus on the building. Viola, the heroine of The Histories of Idan, would soon sneak around these lofty wings and I needed to have enough details to describe them to readers.
Staircase

Staircase

  • While I studied my surroundings, I noticed no one really looked closely at the building. If it was not so important for Book II, I might have missed a lot of details as well. Although the building has changed substantially since the 18th century, like many buildings in Paris, it has its layers.  When you peel away one layer of paper or paint, a different taste of a different era is exposed. As one of the first museums in the world, it has morphed from a fortress, a palace, artists’ studios, and finally into a haven for art and its admirers.
Fortress Foundation

Fortress Foundation

  • After focusing on the building, I made me way deep under the museum to study its fortress beginnings. From here, I went up to explore the Rococo, Neo-classical, and Romanticism galleries. It was exciting to imagine, Viola scurrying around corners of the palace searching for forbidden live drawing lessons or spying on artists in their studios.

“The Louvre was both the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture  and the Académie d’Architecture. It held collections, artists’ studios, and lodgings were found in various odd corners of the building described as long badly lit corridors with endless stairways. The artists’ apartments were like little birds’ nests up beneath  the roof.” – Howard C. Rice, Thomas Jefferson’s Paris

Self Portrait, Jacques Louis David, 1794

Self Portrait, Jacques Louis David, 1794

  • As my time began to run out, I had to see Leonardo. For Lost in the City of Flowers, I had spent so many hours reading about THE Renaissance man, that I couldn’t leave without paying my respects. On my way to visit the Italian master, the number of visitors thickened. I stopped a long while at the Virgin of the Rocksbefore visiting Leonardo’s main squeeze.
Italian Wing

Italian Wing

  • Hopefully, the picture I snapped, speaks for itself. Although I had seen Leonardo’s work once before in a temporary exhibition at the National Gallery in Washington D.C., seeing his work again, was an emotional moment. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if some of the visitors near me had read  Lost in the City of Flowers and that maybe it changed the way they thought about Leonardo da Vinci? To some of my fellow visitors, he might be more than the man who painted the Mona Lisa. 
Mona Lisa's Room

Mona Lisa’s Room

  • With some more time and help from Viola, people might look at the Louvre a bit differently.  No longer will it be a vessel for art but a reflection of our rich collective history.