The Ones We Leave Behind

alone-beautiful-black-and-white-girl-lonely-Favim.com-356698Last night, I was inspired by two posts made in a shared Facebook writers’ space that I’m a member of (the Writers Review and Support Resource Group), I decided to go digging for some of my old work that I’ve never published. I found lots of pieces that will–justifiably–never see the light of day, a few that might be worth sharing with some polishing, and some that I’m not quite sure why I left them behind.

The thing of it is, writers have dozens of voices in their heads almost all the time. Characters whose voices you can hear as clearly as though they stand next to you whispering in your ear. But you have to be selective. Some you listen to, others you leave behind. Not because their voices aren’t valuable and poignant and full of promise, but because there are, after all, only so many hours in a day, a week, a month, a writer’s life. Deciding which to leave behind is very difficult. You want to listen to them all.

My little exercise in creative archaeology last night yielded a story, a voice I listened to for awhile a long time ago. It is the voice of a young woman who is deeply alone, living in less than perfect circumstances, feeling unwanted and yearning for something better. She makes a bold step to find her something-better and steps into a world of people whose lives could not be more unlike hers. I called this story, ‘In the Nothing’.  And the main character’s name is Trinity, because I felt she was three people in one — the person she is in her world, a rough and underprivileged section of Washington DC, the person she is in the rarefied world of Upper Northwest DC where the more privileged reside, and the person she is deep inside.

I don’t know why I decided not to finish Trinity’s story. Maybe her voice fell silent for awhile. That happens sometimes. Now I feel like I’m ready to listen to her and finish her story, probably sometime in the fall. But for now, I would love for you to meet Trinity, one of the ones I–for a time–left behind. Get to know her here.

Happy Reading.

-N-

Who is Dylan Acosta?

Well, first and foremost, she’s the main protagonist in ‘The Seduction of Dylan Acosta’, the book that I’m offering free on Amazon.com until January 9th.

But second, she’s the character I am most conflicted about in anything I’ve ever written. I like to write about women who are flawed, yet strong. Women who make a fair amount of mistakes – as do we all – but who have a core that’s solid and admirable, even if you don’t admire everything they do.

Riley in ‘Commitment’ knew who she was, except in terms of her relationships with men. She understood her own view of the world and politics and was super-intellectual, but where men were concerned, she didn’t know herself very well. She had certain standards for a relationship that it turns out she herself was not meeting, though she didn’t admit it at first. But otherwise she was a woman you could admire, who was strong-willed enough to tame a strong man and bring him to his knees.

And Tracy in ‘Unsuitable Men’ was scarred by her past but managed to hold it together and present a face to the world that was very formidable and even intimidating. Even when she might lose the love of her life, she was aware that she could and would survive it. And Shayla in ‘Secret’ is in every way a survivor. She weathers great trauma and left all who were dear to her rather than accept their defining her as a victim.

But Dylan Acosta. Oh, Dylan. This character is the one that I related to least. She is a bundle of uncertainty and self-doubt, who refuses to accept that she is loved, and seems hell-bent on compromising and thwarting the love she gets from those around her. She self-sabotages constantly, and lights fuses in her own life and is surprised when the bomb goes off. I had a difficult relationship with her. She was like the friend you alternately want to save, and choke to death. The person in your life who so frustrates you that you very deliberately expose yourself to her only in small doses.

I felt about her the way you probably will when you read ‘The Seduction of Dylan Acosta’.  So feel free to let your frustration fly free in your reviews on Amazon . . . or on this page. And tell me: how do you feel reading about characters that you don’t relate to at all? Or if you related to Dylan, how so?

Nia

The Itch

itchy-dogOn December 22nd, I was convinced I couldn’t write another word. Not. Another. Word. I had been polishing off some edits of ‘Secret’ and my brain felt like it was about to explode. I decided that there was no rhyme or reason for the pace I was keeping. I could just stop. At least until the new year, I would stop writing and give my ideas time to marinate, grow full and robust until I was ready to work again and they would by then be brimming over with flavor and texture and dimension.

But here it is, a mere week later and I already have The Itch.

All writers get it. It’s that irrepressible urge to go to your computer, or your notepad and pen and write. You go through the motions of doing all the other things you need to do in your life: you shower, you eat, you take care of your family if you have one, you pay your bills and try to concern yourself with mundane details. But really, your mind is elsewhere. A little voice inside is begging to be listened to and it’s whispering, ‘You have to write!’ I can’t remember not hearing that voice, having that itch, feeling that urge.

And now it’s back. Fed in part by ARC reviews of my latest book, The Itch has become a full-sized rash and I woke up this morning at 4:37 a.m. staring at the ceiling, wondering whether it would be foolish to get up and visit with Trey and Shayla, Darren, Tess and Paige, characters in ‘Secret’ who clearly have more to say. I managed to get back to sleep, but now am thoroughly convinced of what I honestly knew all along.  The only way- the only way– to get rid of The Itch is to scratch it. So that’s what I’m up to. The hell with waiting until 2013.

Happy Reading!

-Nia-

Voice Part V

Story of My LifeIf you grew up in the ’80s, a lot of this book will resonate. ‘Story of My Life’ is about a disaffected, privileged young woman who lives in NYC, and has everything she needs in a material sense, but a distant relationship from her parents who substitute money for their love and attention. Throughout the book you see a young woman, left to her own devices to figure it all out, amidst parties, drugs and similarly alienated friends and family. She yearns for more but can’t say what the “more” is, because she’s never really had it. But what she does have are ample opportunities for sexual and other adventures that she describes with such distance that it breaks your heart.

It’s written in the first person, the protagonist is female, and the author – the amazing Jay McInerney – is of course male. But he wrote this young woman so well, it’s amazing. You know his work; he wrote the acclaimed ‘Brightness Falls’ and ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ which became a movie. For my money, he’s the writer whose voice, more so than any other, captures the soul of New York City and the many people who try to invent and reinvent themselves there. This book, ‘Story of My Life’ was read aloud with my college roommate over a single night. We LOVED it because NYC loomed large in our lives at the time. Both the book, and the memory of that night with my roommate (and still one of my dearest friends) are incredibly important to me. I hope you read and enjoy it.

-Nia-

Voice Part IV

ImageThe stories I like best are the ones where I feel as though what’s not being told is far more important than what is. ‘The Secret History‘ by Donna Tartt is one such book. There is a subtlety about her voice in this book that you can’t help but admire if you’re a writer because you understand how irrepressible the “urge to tell” is, if you’re a storyteller. Another thing that makes this book incredible is that it has so many characters and yet each one is very much an individual, and their relationships with each other are so complex and well-developed.

If I had to think of one word to describe the voice in this book, it would be ‘disciplined’, or perhaps ‘controlled’. It doesn’t sound complimentary, but I definitely mean it as a compliment, because I think that’s the hardest thing to develop as a writer – control and discipline in how you use your voice. Lots of reviews say the writing is overwrought, but I disagree. I think they’re just a teensy bit envious, frankly. Her choice of language seemed to me to be very deliberate given the setting and characters. And oh yeah, great plot as well. Read it.

-Nia-

Voice Part II – ‘Caucasia’ by Danzy Senna

I won’t review this book here, except to say that I gave it five stars. One of the reasons I loved it was not just the unique nature of the voice, and of the situation it portrays, but because it is about several of my favorite topics: race, identity, and relationships. And as a bonus, it addresses some of the wrongheaded decisions parents make in the name of improving the lives of their children.

The tone and pacing of the story is definitely not for everyone, and if you need “action”, you will likely not appreciate ‘Caucasia’ much because almost all of the action is internal. I read this book years ago, and wondered then, why no one told me about it sooner. So many great writers, so little time . . .

-Nia-Image

Going Long

I’ve been trying, but I can’t do it.

After many, many weeks of “studying” the contemporary romance genre from a writer’s perspective, reading as much as I can get my hands on, downloading material to my Kindle like a woman possessed, reading reviews of other authors’ work and detecting patterns of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, I finally understand something. The average romance reader seems to want their resolution around page 250 or thereabouts. On rare occasions they will accept your going on for another 25 or so. Beyond that, there is impatience. And I think I understand. Honestly, two hundred and fifty to three hundred pages is sufficient to complete the basic romantic arc in most circumstances, unless there is a fair amount of suspense and action also involved. Or, let’s face it, if you’re a very skilled writer who can communicate vast amounts of information with relatively few words (which not many writers are).

Turns out, I just can’t do it. Certainly, I could work harder to say more with less or get a real cutthroat of an editor, and I think depending on the voice, in some circumstances I probably should. But sometimes it’s just not possible for me and now I think I understand why.

When I was writing Commitment, The Seduction of Dylan Acosta and Unsuitable Men, I never envisioned them as romance novels in the purest sense. I saw the main characters’ relationships with themselves, and their process of self-evolution as being equally important as whether or not they ended up with the person they were in love with. I wanted to say more about their lives and their worlds than that they had fallen in love, faced some trouble getting together with their love interest and then finally gotten it together.

In ‘Commitment’, I wanted to explore image, fame, the changing face of hip-hop (an art form I’m still very much in love with – as an aside, if you’re in love with it too, you MUST check out  The Anthology of Rap by Adam Bradley and edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) and a man’s process of learning who he is. In ‘Unsuitable Men’, it was about Tracy and Brendan falling in love, but also about Tracy learning to overcome demons from her past that made her loathe herself and love only her outward appearance. And in ‘The Seduction of Dylan Acosta’ it was about how not knowing who you are renders you susceptible to all kinds of influences that would seek to define you. The romance was the carrot to lure you in, but I hoped the core of the stories was more than that.

In ‘Unsuitable Men’, for instance, I debated with myself for days whether the main protagonists should end up with each other at all. And I was aware that if they did, what would be most satisfying to the reader would be a ring and a wedding. But that outcome didn’t make sense to me, given the very difficult journey of acceptance and self-acceptance that the Tracy character was embarking on. She wasn’t ready for any of that. Her love of herself was too new for her to have perfected love with another person to such a degree that she could marry them. So I just could not deliver that ending. Likewise, I find it difficult to deliver the standard 250 – 275 page romance and say all that I want to say.  And that has had me very conflicted.

No resolutions reached yet, but something tells me that when I come out on the other side of this debate, I’ll probably still go long. At least a little.

-Nia-