“Go and sell lots of books!” said my friend Raquelita when I left Taos on October 14th to participate in the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. I nodded, encouraged. ¡Pues claro! Wasn’t that the point of attending a book fair after all?
Lorraine López, a creative writing professor at Vanderbilt University, is not only a great writer, but a terrific coordinator as well. She had managed to organize two panels for the festival. One was Cuentos Frescos, in which she read from her novel The Realm of Hungry Spirits (Grand Central Publishing, 2011). Marisel Vera read from If I Bring You Roses (Grand Central Publishing, 2011) and I brought Habanera, a Portrait of a Cuban Family (Floricanto Press, 2010).
I had already read The Realm but there is nothing like hearing an author give voice and flesh to her own words. Marina, a witty young woman in search of spirituality, came to life in the elegant Old Supreme Court Room throwing rotten grapefruits to a pushy ex-lover and an impertinent babalawo.
Marisel Vera introduced Felicidad, a Puerto Rican girl who goes grocery shopping for the first time in the U.S., and the place was instantly filled with garbanzos, gandules, juicy pork chops and aji peppers. I was so hungry for Hispanic (or Latino, we will get to that later) food that my mouth started to water.
As for my novel, the protagonist’s grandmother, modeled on my own abuela, came out as a Cuban version of a modern cougar, una puma cubana.
The foundation for our second panel, “The Other Latin@,” started as a labor of love by Lorraine Lopez and Blas Falconer. They put together a collection of essays that will be released in November 2011 by the University of Arizona Press. Lisa D. Chavez, a Chicana poet raised in Alaska and now living in Albuquerque; Helena Mesa, a Cuban-American poet residing in Albion, Lorraine López and I pondered about our Latinidad issues while Blas Falconer moderated the panel. Net time I would love to hear about his own Latino experience too.
Later I had the pleasure of meeting Carrie Ferguson Weir, who lives in Nashville where the event was held, and was surprised at how young she looked. After reading about how many things she has done and still does, I was definitely expecting una señora! (Ed. note: Carrie, la Tiki Tiki editor did not pay, or fish for, for that lovely compliment.)
I am back in Taos and now realize that the best part of these events is not really selling books, talking about them or even reading them, but meeting new people and forging ties with other writers. These ties will be further strengthened as we share our work with others. They will stretch from real life to the written (or blogged) page, and the other way around.
Five Tips on Starting a Novel
1. Write about s subject that you are familiar with. An adventure novel set up in Beijing may sound fascinating but unless you know the city quite well, it’s better to stay in a well known territory, at least at the beginning. I once happened to read a ms. about life in Havana where the main character “get off the subway at the Coppelia station.” This is sci-fi, I thought. (There is no subway in Havana, or anywhere in Cuba.)
2. If possible, establish a routine and try to write (or at least sit in front of the computer with the purpose of writing) one hour a day.
3. Don’t edit too much at first; let the ideas flow. You will have time to improve the style and work on the details after finishing the first draft. That’s why it is called, grossly but quite appropriately, the vomit draft.
4. When you are not sure about how a scene feels, read it aloud. It will give you great feedback about pacing and word choice. For example, the word “persnickety” looked great on the page but after reading it, I couldn’t imagine my fourteen-year-old character saying it with a straight face.
5. If the whole story is finished inside your cabeza and you feel the need to have an outline, write one. But don’t hesitate to go in another direction if a better idea comes knocking at your door.
“The beginning is half of everything.”
Teresa Dovalpage was born in Havana, Cuba in 1966 and presently lives in Taos, New Mexico, where she teaches Spanish and literature at UNM-Taos. Teresa has a Ph.D. in Latin American literature. She is the author of five novels — three in Spanish and two in English. She also has written a collection of short stories in Spanish and is a playwright. Read more about her at her site, her Spanish blog, and herEnglish blog.