Thursday, February 4, 2016

People Watching - A Writer's Hobby

by Sparkle Abbey

If you haven’t heard, Iowa was quite a big deal this week. According to the NBC evening news Monday night, the whole world watched as we were the first state to caucus for the next president of the United States. We’re not sure the whole world was watching our state, but we were certainly watching the folks around us.

As writers we love people watch, looking for something that might spark an idea for a character or storyline. The clothes someone is wearing, a subtle hand gesture or facial expression, a speech pattern, any and all of that can inspire our characters.
Photo: Laura Arenson

There’s no doubt about it, we hit the jackpot of people-watching this week. At their core, people are fascinating. And we have to tell you, folks are enthralling when they’re crammed in a hot, stuffy auditorium, passionately trying to convince the room-at-large to vote for their candidate of choice.

There are a few people who literally thumped their chest in emphasis, others who shared heartfelt stories of how a candidate had personally helped them, moving listeners to tears. There were some who were so relieved to be surrounded by like-minded people for the first time in months they radiated relief.

There were a couple of young twenty-something girls who caught our eye. Or more accurately, our ears. They chatted excitedly, heads together, giggling about how there were so many good-looking single men in the room. Men with jobs. They plotted how to snag a picture of a good-looking guy on stage who was about to make a speech. Within seconds, the tall blonde pulled out her cell phone to capture a quick photo of the “hot guy” under in the guise of recording a woman’s impassioned speech. Somehow, those twenty-somethings will make it into a story.

All thanks to the Iowa Caucus, we’ve collected details this past week and have refilled our pool of creative ideas. What about you? Where do you people watch?

Sparkle Abbey is the pseudonym of authors Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter. They write a national bestselling pet-themed mystery series set in Laguna Beach. The first book in the series Desperate Housedogs, an Amazon Mystery Series bestseller and Barnes & Noble Nook #1 bestseller, was followed by several other “sassy and fun” books in the series. The most recent installment is Downton Tabby and up next is Raiders of the Lost Bark.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Secrets Are All Out Now

Juliana at Red Canyon Falling On Churches, Colorado

February 3, 2016

The Secrets Are All Out Now by Juliana Aragón Fatula

I promised my students that I would tell their story. The secrets are all out now. In 2009 I taught teatro at Cesar Chavez Academy in Pueblo, CO. My teatro students had been studying Los Vendidos by Luis Valdez and learning protest songs about the Delano Grape Strike, like No Nos Moveran.  They were told by the principal that their performance at Cesar Chavez Day was cancelled. The administration was afraid my students political performance piece might offend some guests.

My students wrote a formal complaint and walked into the principal’s office and told her, “Why did you hire Mama Fatula to teach us Chicano History, if you’re not going to allow us to perform teatro?” I taught my students what I had learned from El Centro Su Teatro Chicano Cultural Center in Denver, CO in the 90s. I taught them how to make picket signs and protest injustice with civil disobedience. Thank you, students, for being in my corner when my administration tossed me under the bus. I was so proud, I cried.

The next year, I taught Language Arts in my hometown, Klanyon City. I had come full circle. I taught in the same building I had attended in the seventies. I gave my students a writing assignment: a biography on our President of the United States, Barack Obama. I had no idea the chaos that would ensue.

The class divided in half right down the second row. One side of the room of students walked out of my classroom. Needless to say, the parents were called, the complaint was filed and administration changed my assignment to a biography on any famous person of the students’ choice. The tragedy is that the students who didn’t walk out; the ones who had my back and said it was an interesting assignment were going to write the bio on President Obama and their parents praised me for giving the assignment, but the students caved under peer pressure and instead wrote a biography on Dr. Seuss. I love Dr. Seuss. Who doesn’t. But come on.

The principal told me, “You grew up here. You should know better.” I answered, “I thought all of the Klan was dead.” But now I know.  The first black President in the U.S. is history, but in my hometown, when he was elected, the students did not get to watch his inauguration on TV because a gun toting maniac decided to storm the building and remove his children from school that day. The police were called. No one was harmed. Well, not physically. Those students witnessed racism in person and up close. I wrote a poem about it called “An Educated Chicana.” I’d like to share it with you, but the profanity prevents me from publishing it here.

It’s true that in my hometown, I’m known as a trouble maker.  I stick out because I’m a feminist Chicana badass that tells the truth; we’re rare here in Klanyon City, oops, I meant Cañon City. Por ejemplo: in 1972, I led the first walk-out at my junior high. We were protesting for the right to wear jeans to school. (Hard to believe, but true.) The students won the privilege to wear jeans from that day on. We made history.  I was a leader when I didn’t even know what a leader was. I was only fourteen.

My students are now in their first year of college. And I know my life lessons taught them more than what they could have learned from a textbook because I taught Chicano History. I pulled a Louise. That’s what my family calls it. My mom’s name was Louise and she was a badass, too. One of my favorite quotes, “Well-behaved women rarely make history.”

I’ve learned so much from other writers. Much more than I learned in the university. The master writers I’ve had the opportunity to work with have taught me that as a writer I have a voice, something to say, and an opportunity to speak my mind on issues that I care about. So, I offer my readers a bit of my history, culture, language, wisdom.  I am an educated Chicana and teach my students about social justice, to be proud, stand tall, continue on to higher education. I taught those at-risk-youth how to think globally.

I was born and raised near the Chicana neighborhood known as Tortilla Flats. It’s where the braceros lived when they migrated here from New Mexico to work the orchards, fields, mines, farms, and ranches in what is infamous as Klanyon City, CO, the KKK headquarters in the 1800s.

I come from a long line of storytellers.  I’ll never forget the story my father told me about my hometown. As a child, my father and grandfather witnessed a black man being hung in Chandler, Colorado, from an old cottonwood. The Klan was there in their cheap sheets.  Dad wanted to help him, but my grandfather said, “There’s nothing we can do to help him, if we go down there, they’ll hang us too.”  It was 1927. My father was then ten years old.

That was my first glimpse into the racism in my hometown. I knew we were different because we were dark skinned with dark hair, dark eyes. Mexican Indians. My father was bullied in school for not speaking English. His name was Julian Aragón, pronounced with the Spanish j like Juan, Juanita, Julio, Juliana.  So they changed his name to Jack.

I was told by my kindergarten teacher, “we speak English only, therefore you cannot be called:  Juliana Aragón, you are now Julie Ann Aragon, Jew Lee Air a Gone. They anglicized my name.  My identity, my culture and language wiped away like dust on an old piano. It is a common story among my Chicano friends from all over the country.

Well, all the secrets are out now.  I’m teaching social justice and using my gift of writing to tell my father’s stories, to tell the real history of my community, not just the white history but also the history of people of color. I haven’t forgotten them. I write their stories. I share the truth, not the facts, but the truth. My students learned from me to write poems and stories that they care about, and they have made me extremely proud. You can read some of their work in the anthology I edited and published by Conundrum Press, This Is How We Poet.

I’m indigenous. I’m Chicana. I’m proud of my heritage both the Mexican and the Indian. If you don’t know the difference between Latina, Chicana, Mestiza, Mexica, Mexican Indian, ask me some time and I’ll spell it out for you. I’m an Educated Chicana and I’m a teacher.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

One of My Favorite Places in California by Marilyn Meredith

This is a great shot of Morro Rock in Morro Bay. I've visited this area many times and always find something new to enjoy and love. Besides all the beautiful vistas, there are some great restaurants with fabulous seafood.

Here's a photo taken through the window of one of the restaurants.

Because I love the area so much I decided to write a Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery set in my favorite beach town. Most of the Crabtree mysteries are set in the mountains, much like where I live.
When her son who lives in Morro Bay plans his wedding there, of course Tempe and her husband, Hutch join in the festivities.

The tale spills over into the nearby towns including San Luis Obispo.

There is much Indian lore in the area--and of course much of it centers around the mystery itself.

Do any of the rest of you write about places that are special to your heart?


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

There’s a Double Meaning in That

by Bethany Maines

In Much Ado About Nothing Beatrice and Benedick, the worst of rivals, are set up by their friends to fall in love.  So that by Act 2, Scene 3, when Beatrice says, “Against my will I am sent to bid you come into dinner,”  Benedick believes that Beatrice is madly in love with him, while Beatrice believes him to be an ass.  After she exits, he says in all smugness, “Ha! Against my will I am sent to bid you come in to dinner. There’s a double meaning in that.”

Someone I know once asked an English teacher how he knew the author intended the symbolism the teacher was accusing him of.  The teacher replied, “It doesn’t matter.”  As an author this makes me want to poke him in the eye just a little bit.  But in the end he’s right; stories mean something to a reader independent of the writer’s intentions.  Each reader brings their own experiences to a book and a writer can’t predict them.  So how can an author prevent his readers from pulling a Benedick and seeing double meanings where none are intended? 

It’s a very secret and advanced technique called (wait for it): educated guessing.  And good beta readers.  As an author I try to learn about other points of view, so that I can write stronger more realistic characters and then I rely on my writers group to read through a piece and throw up flags around text that might unintentionally carry a subtext that’s either offensive or poorly thought out.  It’s hard to think that something I’ve written could be construed as offensive, because after all, I am I and I’m awesome and I have only the best of intentions.  But we all have prejudices or periodically spout unexamined notions that have been fed to us by society. 

An easy example is “pink is only for girls”.  This statement is both observationally false (been to the mall lately?), and historically inaccurate (pink used to be a boys color). Color is a product of light bouncing off a surface or being absorbed (we see the portion of the spectrum bounced back); any deeper meaning has been assigned to a color by humanity. So unless my character is a sexist and I need him or her to say total nonsense about gender roles, I probably shouldn’t write that and a good beta reader should flag it as a problem.  With any luck I can keep the unintentional double meanings to a minimum.  I don’t want to be a Benedick.

Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, Tales from the City of Destiny and An Unseen Current.  You can also view the Carrie Mae youtube video or catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook.