The Next Big Thing


Poet Ivy Alvarez, whose latest book Disturbance is forthcoming by Seren Books in 2013, invited me to participate in this self-interview blog meme called The Next Big Thing, where I get to share a little more about my next big thing, my novel-in-progress.

Writers participate by answering several questions (about their book/blog/their writing), and then tag 5 other writer friends to post their own “next big thing” the following Wednesday. Ivy’s instructions were for me to post by or before Wednesday, 19 December. In consideration of the holiday, I asked my five authors to post by 31 December.

What is the working title and genre of your book?

Maganda’s Comb is the working title for my urban fantasy novel set in a contemporary NW town.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

Maganda’s Comb emerged from a snippet of a Filipino folktale that attributes lightning to Maganda, the First Woman in Tagalog tales. The folktale says that as Maganda combs her hair, the sparks create lighting that reaches from the heavens to the earth. From this image came a series of questions – what if a US-born Filipina had Maganda’s comb? What could she do with that elemental power and why would she need it?

Which actors would you choose to play the characters in a movie version of the book?

I’d like to see a relatively unknown FilAm actress to play Corrie but it would be cool if Hugh Jackman or Russell Crowe would play Dominick. But that could be because I have Les Miz on the brain right now.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Confronted by an ancient, deadly evil she has accidentally released, Corrie must use her wit and heritage to hunt and stop the demon Dominick before he kills again.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency or publisher?

I hope to find representation and a traditional publishing house for Maganda’s Comb, however, I’m open to the possibilities that come my way.

How long did it take to write the first draft?

Stories roll around in my head all the time, so it’s hard to pin down exactly when an idea becomes a project. I completed a full draft of Maganda’s Comb during NaNoWriMo in 2005, which means I cranked it out one in 30 days.

What other works compare to your book?

Maganda’s Comb would be shelved near titles such as Someplace to be Flying by Charles de Lint, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card.

What or who inspired you to write this book?

Urban fantasy stories have been both my guilty pleasure and my writing compulsion since I was a teenager. The novels of Charles de Lint, Neil Gaiman, and Orson Scott Card expanded my idea of ‘reality as we see it’ yet I wanted to see myself in their stories. If I lived in a magical world where spirits walked among us and unseen powers could be tapped, what would I do? Corrie is my alter-ego in this fantasy world, someone a little naive about her heritage and the world in which she lives, but also strong and capable. Maganda’s Comb is the first of what I hope are several novels set in and around Jessup’s Cove, a place where magic and heritage blend into high adventure.

What else about your book might pique interest?

Maganda’s Comb leans heavily into Filipino myths and the FilAm immigrant experience. Very few books, fiction and non-fiction, center around Filipino history and my books provide a glimpse into one person’s perspective of FilAm culture.

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Tagged Authors:

Cathy Adams, author of This Is What It Smells Like

Karina Cooper, author of The St. Croix Chronicles

Cami Ostman, author of Second Wind

Judith Pullman, author of two self-published chapbooks Encounters with the Pane of Reality and Markbody

photo credit: Brujo+ via photopin cc


Line in the Sand

When is a story your story to tell? When do you know that a story you’ve been given is one you can share?

I’m wondering this tonight because I have a story about one of my relatives, one I’ve heard before, but finally took the time today to ask the right questions, to find out the little details that make a story more complete. What year? What hospital in Spokane? How long did she stay? Did she take a train to Montana? Why did she go back?

I wanted to write it out here on my blog, but I haven’t asked her if it’s okay to write her story publicly. It’s not a story she would write herself. I’ve asked her to, asked her to write all about her life, because it’s a piece of history her family would like to know. She’s tried, she says, would like to write it all down finally, but I know she doesn’t actually write it out. I even gave her a journal about a decade ago to help her along but she would rather read about interesting things like the way scientists think the universe works. I can’t fault her that, I guess, since it’s hard for me to write about my life and it’s what I’m learning to do right now.

Her story is one I think needs to be written, reflected on somehow. I could write it, I suppose, from the perspective of how her story impacted my life, but still, is that enough ‘distance’ to give me the right to tell her tale?

When someone’s story intersects our own, when does the writing of it cross that line? And what’s that line for? Morality’s sake? Respect? Other writers have crossed that line, I think, writing about their families in unflattering ways, not caring what the individuals thought. “If you don’t like what I wrote,” they say. “Then write your own version.” This sounds a bit bullying to me, but what is a writer to do? We don’t grow up in a void or write in a perfectly objective way. We have to, at some point, involve someone else in our stories because memoir is as much about relationships as it is about meaning. Maybe memoir is really a bit of both, the making of meaning from the relationships we have. There’s experience too, writing about experiences we’ve had, but these can be dry accounts if they lack the context of a relationship.

The part of my project I’m working on requires that I see myself and my husband as characters living a life where they don’t know how things will turn out. I do. I know how things turn out in the end, maybe not what it all meant, but at least how it all ended up happening. I’m building a scene to show our relationship to each other and our lives, hopefully giving perspective on the choices we made. Working that scene on paper feels different that telling my relative’s story. For one thing I was there and can speak to what, at least from my perspective, was happening at the time. I wasn’t alive when my relative made her decisions, can only speculate on what she overcame within herself to make those decisions which really were quite uncharacteristic of her. She was a different sort of person during that time than when I knew her, more willing to take risk, more willing to just see what happened if she took advantage of an offer.

She speaks of that time with great fondness, proud of her accomplishments and a little amazed at herself for having the audacity to do the things she did far from home. She possessed a quiet sense of adventure I rarely saw when I was getting to know her, but there were glimpses here and there if I really thought about it.

That might be one way to get to that story, writing about how I approach adventure, what I was taught about thinking outside the box, and how that’s reflected in her story.

Might be a cool thing to do.

I’m not sure that I’ve necessarily figured out what ‘the line’ is that I keep trying not to cross when I’m writing a personal story, but I see a bit better how I can take someone’s story that intesects mine use it as part of a larger story that focuses on the relationship I have with them.


Necessary Magics

“For me, the art of language, the heft and pull of literature, the act of attempting to craft something elegant and large are intrinsically tied to a conviction in something transcendent. When I stopped believing that this kind of beauty could exist, I could no longer work on my novel.” – Lisa Jennifer Selzman 

I often feel guilty about the Hawaii Project: guilt for having taken so long to write it, guilt for taking the time away from my family to write it, guilt for even entertaining the notion that writing about postpartum depression is ‘appropriate’ material. These guilts come in little phrases like “It’s been 14 years, how could you think it’s timely?” and “You’ve got kids and a job. You should be taking care of them and not writing.” Not to mention “Don’t air your dirty laundry in public.”   
Lisa Jennifer Selzman’s column in the November/December 2011 issue of Poets and Writers,
Why We Write – A Necessary Magic, reflected what I feel every time I step up to the keyboard – writing while mothering a child in a hospital is nearly impossible; finding the strength to write when your child is home again takes recovery, not just from the trauma but from essentially a loss of faith. 

“Words, always until then my solace, were feeble. They meant nothing to me. They might as well have been black checkers on the page, or pennies, or cough drops.” 

What does a writer do when that magic is gone for all the right reasons? Feelings of loss are doubled – your child is in danger: she no longer lives the happy, healthy life you hoped for. Your child is in danger: there is no time to do anything but exactly what needs to be done to keep her alive. Losing your writing seems a small price to pay for the chance your child will survive. 

“It wasn’t so much that I didn’t have time to write, although that was certainly an issue. It’s true that I was drained, functioning for months without deep sleep…Plain and simple, I stopped writing because I didn’t see the point.” 

But the sacrifice takes a toll. The artist unable to express their experiences is like a person who has lost connection to their senses. Blindness. Numbness. Loss of hearing the music of words so long familiar before your child has become ill. 

“With her sick, I moved encased in a scrim that muddied colors, turned food chalky, shortened sound…The most dramatic adjectives — words like desolation, agony, and torment, straight out of a fourteenth-century epic–suddenly become relevant and authentic.”

Sometimes, no, often I struggle to dampen those impulses to write with words with Epic Proportions. Tell it simple, I’m directed, tell it straight. Let the moment speak for itself. But sometimes the abstraction pops up because the memory of all those details are just too hard to bear remembering again. The scent of disinfectant that cramps your stomach in fear. The sight of an examination light you shy away from, remembering a time when you could not look away. The certain smoothness of surfaces that remind you of hospital equipment. Cracking those abstractions open requires a trust that reopening those memories is worth the pain. 

“I hovered two inches above collapse, getting everything done…this is the world without art. This is the real world.” 

Before Hawaii, I was a fiction writer too, and I hope to write fiction again once this memoir is completed. The Hawaii Project though is a story I am compelled to write and is the sole reason why I’ve thrown myself into learning how to write memoir these past few years. I want to tell the story right, to have both the art and the reality sit right next to each other just like they sit next to each other in my heart. 

“I wish I could say I had an epiphany, a moment of intensified certainty, but the way back to writing was subtle…I have to breathe. I have to write.” 

Being a writing mother isn’t easy, but it’s who I am. So, it took me a while to get here, but that’s because I was being the mom. Now I’m easing into being the writer who is also a mom. And having the faith to tell the tale.