By Rachel Word
It’s funny how books sometimes “find you.” You are browsing the library for a new read and then one title just sticks out to you. For me, it was during my freshman year of college while studying creative writing at Susquehanna University that I found Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s books: or more accurately his books found me.
I worked at the university library that first year. I didn’t have many desk shifts, and my main job was to put books that had been checked out back on the shelves. Not a lot of fun, but as a writing major and avid reader, it was one of the best opportunities to be introduced to new writers.
The first of his books that “found me” was Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. This book caught my attention because I had seen the movie starring Javier Bardem, Benjamin Bratt, and Giovanna Mezzogiorno several years ago. I had enjoyed the movie, so I decided to check out the book.
Later that night when I settled into my bed, my pajama pants on, cozy under the covers, I opened the book and read the first line. It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love. And I laughed out loud.
Freshman year + unrequited love = the story of my life.
I had a huge crush on a trombone player named Dave that I played in band with. He was a senior (i.e. way out of my league) and I told no one about how I felt. Marquez’s book had found me just at the right time. I experienced a wonderful catharsis as I was swept up in the whirlwind love triangle between Florentino, Fermina, and Urbino.
Now that my interest in Marquez had been sparked, I started to learn more about him. He was born on March 6, 1928 in Aracataca, Colombia. When his parents moved away from the area, Marquez was taken in by his maternal grandparents. Marquez’s grandfather was affectionately known as the Colonel, because of his service in the Thousand Days War of Colombia, and had a large influence on Marquez’s upbringing. The Colonel was a liberal activist and well-known voice in the community. He was an avid storyteller and the one who ignited Marquez’s love for the written word by teaching him from the dictionary and taking him to circuses.
After reading Love in the Time of Cholera, I was required to read Marquez’s short story “Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” for my Introduction to Fiction class. This story depicts the ordinary life of Elisenda and Pelayo, a couple living in a small, banal town, whose lives are radically changed when Pelayo finds an old man, wearing tattered rags, who happens to have huge, angel-like wings. Elisenda and Pelayo take him in and house him in their chicken coop. Instead of helping him, providing new clothes, food and a warm place to sleep, Elisenda starts charging visitors an admission fee for visitors to come gape at the old man.
This very poignant image of an angelic creature being treated so poorly calls attention to the way that we all react when we see someone less fortunate. Think of when people turn their eyes away from homelessness or change the channel when a tragic news story begins. Marquez is challenging us to not turn our eyes away, and to address these problems head on in order to pioneer change.
I realized the effect that this story had on me when I worked at a temp job in near Washington D.C. There were many homeless people in the area that I was working in and one man in particular always begged for money at the top of the escalator leading out of the metro. Before I read Marquez’s story, I would have done the same as my fellow commuters. I would have walked by without acknowledging him. However, because of my experience with “Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” I felt a deep and tangible empathy for that homeless man. I made sure to never dehumanize him.
Marquez’s beautiful, eloquent novels challenge us to recognize the most valuable parts of life before our time runs out. Throughout his whole life, he urged his readers to bring love to the world. As he writes in Love in the Time of Cholera, “The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love.”
When Gabriel Garcia Marquez died on April 17, 2014, the writing world experienced a huge loss. Marquez won numerous awards throughout his career, including the 1972 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature, and moreover he inspired young and old readers alike to treat each other with dignity and respect.
We all have bad habits. Some people bite their nails, some leave dirty dishes in the sink, and some forget to foreshadow significant events in their novels.
Of course, we all have ways of coping and working to better ourselves, right? The dirty dishes can just start going into the dishwasher. People can start chewing toothpicks rather than their fingernails. Novelists can what? If you've ever felt simply stumped as to how to begin catching yourself at your own game when it comes to writing, here are a few helpful tips:
What are your favorite writing tips? What advice has made all the difference to you in your writing life?
Contributed by K.C. Mead, Editorial Assistant, Chrysalis Editorial
It is true that today more and more authors are jumping on the self-publishing train. However, there remains a vast body of writers out there still longing to attract the attention of the Big Six or land a deal with one of the many smaller presses out there. After all, there's just something especially delicious about knowing you've made it through the traditional filtration system, to have someone choose your work among all the other lovely shells along the shoreline.
Writer's Relief agrees, most of the authors who come to them for aid or advice dream of being among the small percentage of authors who publish their book with traditional publishing houses, like Penguin, Random House, or Hachette. Of course, the question becomes, how do you go about achieving this?
Well, Writer's Relief and I agree on this point as well—your best bet for success in this arena is to hire yourself a literary agent.
Although it's certainly possible to find a home for your manuscript without the aid of an agent, there are plenty of publishing houses (the Big Six especially) who will not even accept a submission if it doesn't come from an agent. Beyond this, of course, is the simple fact that agents are good for a great deal more than simply garnering publisher interest. To quote from Writer's Relief, here are just a few reasons why an agent is a fantastic tool for writers, no matter what stage you're at in your career:
Thus, for those of us still dreaming of the day that Random House comes knocking on our door for our latest masterpiece, finding a good literary agent is a must-do!
What have your experiences been? Do you have a literary agent? Do you want one?
(Writer's Relief blog: http://www.writersrelief.com/blog/2009/03/top-reasons-to-query-agents-first/)
Contributed by K.C. Mead, Editorial Assistant, Chrysalis Editorial
Check out this quote from a famous novel:
"There is no use trying," said Alice, "I cannot believe impossible things."
"I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
One of the secrets to creativity is seeing like a child sees--i.e. approaching each moment with naivety, "discovering" everything you come across before you question it, and throwing your whole being into believing things; believing that Santa Claus makes an annual journey, for example, or that your mother has X-ray vision, or that if you practice enough you'll be able to fly.
Or that when you grow up you can be a writer.
Lewis Carroll knew his stuff.
You've done it! You've finished your novel/memoir/screen play/etc, etc, etc. Finally, the hard work is over. All you have to do is send it out to agents or publishers. Easy, right?
Well, if you haven't already discovered the truth, let me enlighten you: sending your manuscript out to agents and publishers is no small task. First, you have to cull a list of agents and publishers that are interested in the book you've written. Then, you have to collect not only the addresses of these agents and publishers, but also the relevant editors (because no one likes an informal query letter). Then, assuming you've already got the "perfect" query letter written, you have to change the addresses and names on each of your letters, and email/mail the letters one by one.
While you may not find these tasks as mentally draining as writing the actual book, they are certainly less fun, and can take days--valuable days you could be spending (dare I say it?)...writing your next book ;). Slogging through such busy-work can deter even the most talented writers from getting an agent, and moving their manuscript from their desk into the hands of a publisher.
Don't let that happen to you.
Publishers and Agents(publishersandagents.com)will help you edit your query letter, and then send your letters (individually personalized with editor's names) to hundreds of publishers and agents interested in the type of book you are writing. Their lists are up-to-date, and they only submit to publishers with major distribution and non-fee agents with credentials. Their prices are reasonable ($240 for a fiction or non-fiction), and it's time and cost efficient.
This was how I found a publisher for Tobias Lanz' book, The Life and Fate of the Indian Tiger.Numerous people I know have used them and found agents. I will use them again.
These affirmations are two of five essential affirmations suggested by Pat Schneider, a writing teacher/workshop leader with a unique and affirming approach.** For inspiration and the guide that will beat the block, banish fear, and help create lasting work, I highly recommend her book Writing Alone and with others.
A writing exercise recommended by her:
Write something that feels too huge, or too dangerous, to tell. Courage is not the special prerogative of those who have experienced some dramatic suffering.
In Japan, Schneider led a workshop and a young woman named C. Misa Sugiura wrote the following:
When I was little, people laughed at me and called me flatface. They pulled their eyes into slits and said, Me Chinese! and laughed.
I didn't know my face was flat so I went home and looked in the mirror to see, but all I saw was my face. It wasn't flat, was it?
And I wasn't Chinese, but I looked in the mirror anyway and my eyes looked like eyes. Didn't they?
So I went to school and said, I'm Japanese and my face is like yours, isn't it?
And they said, No. It isn't! It's flat like a pancake. Me Japanese pancake-face! And they laughed.
And I went home again and I looked in the mirror and I cried because they were right.
Sugiura attended elementary school in America where she was ridiculed by her classmates. This piece, about personal shame and internalizing the taunts of others as true, is something many of us experience; it can take courage to write something so personal. And yet, hers is not a complaint, instead, as Schneider writes, Misa reveals the mind of the child: she does not analyze, interpret, or argue. And it works!
So now, you take a turn writing something that feels huge, or too dangerous to tell. Dig deep, be daring. Once you are finished, don't judge it. Let it stand as is. It's your voice telling some piece of your own story. If you'd like a comment about what worked or was beautiful or what touched me (no critique, only affirmation of your creative voice), send it to me. If it's too deeply personal to submit as a blog comment, use my e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the Sunday Washington Post Outlook section there is an interesting article on memoir by Jonathon Yardley, titled Shelve them under navel-gazing. More on that article tomorrow, but you can pretty much deduce his opinion and slant on the topic by the headline. (Definitely worth a read.)
I have written numerous memoir pieces, three of which have been published in literary magazines, and as a result have accumulated some insight into the subject. There are several questions you should pose before getting started:
1) Why am I writing this? (why are you?)
2) Should I be writing this? (worried about offending someone?)
3) Am I a good enough writer?
4) Will it be published?
I would suggest that if you have a strong need to write about your life, you should. However, if you write a memoir with the primary goal of getting published, you might reconsider. Writing it and getting published are two separate things. The first you have control over, the second far less so, unless you opt to self-publish. You should write for the sake of writing (I know you've heard this a zillion times, well maybe not a zillion, but you know what I mean). Let me add that getting short pieces published is far easier than a book length memoir, and this might be a way to begin.
Here's what renowned author Barbara Kingsolver has to say: Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer.
And I would add: don't worry about getting published, that's beside the point, and will come in due time, if it comes at all.
Let me know why you want to write a memoir and the focus of the piece or book, and I'll give you a few things to think about.