I connected with María Victoria de Lourdes through Twitter, checked her webpage and was impressed by this author’s work. I asked her if she would come and be a guest in my blog, particularly to talk about how she got into writing. She kindly agreed but told me she’d written a post about that already that I might want to use. When I read it I couldn’t think of a better way to introduce her than to use her post. So here it is!
María Victoria de Lourdes
From the Imagination to the Page
I am often asked to talk about how I became a writer. In this space I will share my learning down the path of this wonderful literary adventure. I should first clarify that to me, at least, being a writer is not the same thing as being an author. I have been a writer all my life, ever since I learned to write. The decision to become an author and publish my work came much later. After I had a fit.
I can’t remember when or how I learned to walk, ride a bike, or roller skate, but I remember well the moment when the ever-so-patient, Sister Carmen, guided my hand over my calligraphy notebook and taught me to write. From her I learned that when my pudgy round letters “held hands”, they actually formed words. The first word I ever wrote was Mom. Exactly the word I needed. I had lost my mother when I was three years old, and in my childish mind I thought that if filled my whole notebook with that word, she may come down from heaven and visit. I missed her.
From that magical instant when I learned to convey my feelings on paper, I gave in to the exercise full time. Paper was never enough. It was expensive in Mexico, so I would beg my friends in school, not only to share their lunch, but also a clean page, just one, as there was always something very important I had to write or draw. I journaled with fierce devotion. In the act of writing I found a a best friend. It was my solace and my hope.
In the beginning, I specialized in writing long, elaborate, letters. I wrote them to whoever would read them, and even if they didn’t. My favorite aunt, Aunt Cris, who lived in a ranch in Cordoba, was one of my first un-willing pen-pals. She never did like to write, not even her name, busy as she was taking care of her four children, her husband and the ranch. Out of pity, no doubt, she indulged me and for every ten lengthy letters of mine, she werote back a succinct telegram, shorter than a tweet. I am certain she did it in honor of her dead sister who blessed her from the heavens. I anxiously looked forward to her replies. Nothing made me happier than to see the elderly mailman approach our house, riding his bike down our street, sweating under the hot Veracruz sun while happily whistling. He was always in a good mood. When he handed me the mail, he would say “Here you go Blondie, but don’t be sad, there’s no letter for Little Lulu today.” On the days there was a letter for me, however, he would ceremoniously kiss the envelope before handing it over through the iron gate. My delight was so profound that I could have kissed him in the spot if it weren’t for the fence that separated us. Through the gate he would had over the mail and through that same gate I would gift him a cold glass of water. Thus I was raised. To never deny anyone respect or water. That very afternoon I would rewrite my prompt reply to poor aunt Cris. Another long letter filled with clichés, love and nostalgia. Dramatic prose has always been my literary style.
When I reached puberty, I became a poet. And since poetic inspiration comes from being in love, I fell in love with everyone, even the cocotero (coconut seller). It is true. I don’t know whether or not he was handsome, but to me he seemed divine. He was the same age as my brothers, tall and thin and had dimples. I’m sure he knew I had a crush on him, because every time he saw me, he giggled. And so it was that every afternoon, right after I finished my homework, I would casually walk along the boardwalk just to watch him work. The hours would fly by, watching him trim the palm trees with his machete. Nothing seemed more romantic than this platonic, impossible, love affair, that defied the conservative protocol of Veracruz’s proper society where “nice” girls should get married (without tainting their virginity) with boys from “good families”. My notebooks were filled with tacky poems repeating the same theme: the schoolgirl, still in uniform, ran away with the cocotero in his coconut trolley. I never confessed my forbidden love, because I would have been sent overseas, which is exactly what happened anyway, but not for being a lovelorn poet, but for being a dunce who could not learn English.
In the United States, I finally learned how to read in English, mostly to satisfy my insatiable hunger for literature. The kind family that was my hosting family owned only one book in Spanish: the Bible. They were Evangelists and they felt compelled to save my soul from the Pope’s deluded ideology. I tried to oblige, and read the big book for the very first time (in those days we were not allowed to read it). Much as I tried, I could not get past our Lord Jesus Christ‘s genealogy. I fled to the library and, with a dictionary in hand, I spent my long hours of solitude and longing engrossed in Hans Christian Andresen’s and Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales. Gradually, I progressed from Children’s Literature to the Great ones. The best reward was to finally be able to read Oscar Wilde in his native tongue!
Writing in English was not as easy. In fact, I must confess that I am still perfecting the technique. To this day, I don’t dare translate my own blog entries. I have long believed that translation is an art reserved for people from outer planets. (Note from Translator: not true, she’s really good at it too). There are three things that I can only do in Spanish: write, pray, and love.
One good day I fell in love with my true prince, and given that he liked music (he plays the piano), I immediately ventured into musical composition. The fact that I was never able to figure out the ants on the pentagram never stopped me. My love was such that the lyrics flowed in English with great ease and little variation: I love you, I want you, I need you. My prince welcomed my serenades with the typical smile of a well-educated gringo. Not once did he complain or comment about my blatant plagiarism of his most favorite British band.
Years later, after we were married, I attended the university and pursued a degree in literature and creative writing. Those were the most wonderful years. I had a part time job at a hospital to pay my tuition and help with my husband’s tuition as well. Going to school was simply delightful. Wise teachers introduced me to the most wonderful books ever written. Narrative writing opened my eyes, and for the first time, I realized that my words were sticky and overly sweet, worse than softened bubble gum. The overuse of adjectives was not a narrative “style”, they toought me, but pure tackiness. My mentors gently helped me awaken the merciless editor in me who, with a red pen, showed me to be demure, succinct, and purposeful. Now the editor is out of control. She torments me each and every day. I detest her and yet, I also need and respect her.
The decision to publish my work came years later. I was working as a law professor at the University of Washington. My sons, Nicholas and Manolo were teenagers and were very busy with sports. They rarely dinned at home. On those rare instances when they joined us for dinner, we, the parents, would shut our mouths and listen. Every question could be interpreted as an invasion of their privacy; every suggestion a sermon.
It was during one of those rare, family meals, when my sons talked about the race issue. They didn’t know who they were, they said. Were they white, black, yellow, or exactly which color? Their college applications had that very question: what is your race? If they selected Hispanic, their applications may be given deference. According to the definition of Hispanic in the form, it was clear that if their mother was Mexican, they were Hispanic. The fact that they were bilingual, and that most of their family lived in Mexico, also put them on that “box”.
To me, the issue was clear, but not to my sons. What about the skin color, they asked?. How Mexican was I, being so white? Miguelito’s mom, for example, she did look Mexican. And Miguelito also looked Mexican, which is why he has been chosen to play the role of Cesar Chavez in the school’s play. Nicholas, on the other hand, was as white as flour, with ginger hair that made him look like a Viking. Manolo, on the other hand, was closer to “looking Mexican”, he had dark hair and dark eyebrows, which is why he had been accepted into the Chicano club at school, but not without difficulty, because, actually, he looked more Arabic than Latino. It was true. Manolo could have been from anywhere. He could even be the cocotero’s son.
I stood up, went to my office and got my Mexican Passport. I sat it on the table and reminded them that Miguelito’s mom had been born in Minnesota, did not know how to speak Spanish, and had no idea on how to cook black beans. My children were not convinced. They looked at me suspiciously. Maybe I was not the person they knew, after all. Maybe I was hiding some terrible family secret. I suddenly realized that my children had no idea of how diverse Mexico and our roots really are. I realized that how little they knew about their ancestors, and that with so little understanding, they could never feel proud of their heritage. That same night I called my father and asked him to help me write the story of our family.
When I finished the first chapter of that first novel, I sent it to my brother, Tali, so he could give me feedback. Unbeknownst to me, he, in turn, sent it to an editor in Mexico. A few weeks later, Tali called me to tell me that the editor had sent him an urgent fax, requesting my novel for publishing. I felt flattered and scared. The novel existed only in my head. Now I would actually have to write it!
And that is how my career as an author began. After fifteen years in the business I have learned that being an author means being the owner of a small business. You need to secure financing, set up shop, sell your product, obnoxiously, manage accounting, negotiate agreements, and generate content, because without content, there is no product to sell.
Often, I think of the cocotero on the boardwalk. There he was, selling coconuts each and every day. Sometimes his only clients were the flies, which he swatted away, without frustration, with a red bandanna. In better days, he would sell out and then, he would quickly, and happly, go swimming in the sea. I try to be like him. When I get rejections, I swat them away from my life, without frustration, like flies. When I do well and sell my books, I try to return to my beloved sea, my home, Veracruz. In the end, the entrepreneurial effort is the same; it requires tenacity, discipline, persistence, faith, and patience. Most of all patience.
To end, I’d like to share that that my purpose as a writer is not the same as my purpose as an author. As a writer, I will have reached success when the editor in me, whom I call Mrs. Doubt, doesn’t use her red pen. I don’t strive for immortality with my work but I do want to respect the time my readers gift me when they read my work. My goal is to present them with my very best effort. As an author, I will have reached success the day I can live from my books. I don’t seek fame (God deliver me from that woman!), nor do I strive to become a best-seller, but I would like to make a modest living with the income from my work. On that matter you, my dear readers, have the last word.
- Census Rethinks ‘Hispanic’ (hispanicbusiness.com)
And now it’s usually the time when I tell you what I’m going to be posting next week and make some kind of announcement. Well, I’m not sure what I’m going to post on Tuesday (I have a couple of ideas doing the rounds in my head but haven’t decided yet) and with regards to the announcement…Yes, I have one. Or rather, it’s an update from the post on Tuesday.
If you remember I told you about the giveaway Mary Meddlemore (my friend, author and oh, such a fascinating character) and I had organised. From the 10th to the 14th of the month we’re giving away 6 of our books. Yes, there’re novels (paranormal romance, sci-fi), collection of short stories, another one of my novellas from the series ‘Escaping Psychiatry’ and my book ‘The Man’ (I could not resist giving you the link to the great feature Freebooksy have posted about it) in Spanish and English.
Just in case you’ve missed it, here is the link…
How is it going? We think well. We’re both pretty new at this (I had a giveaway for another one of my novellas and for Mary it’s the first time), and only published our novels a few months ago (not 3 months yet) but we think it’s going OK. But of course, it’s only the 11th. We still have a fair bit of time left. And we wondered…OK, we’ve posted in our blog about it, we’ve told our friends in Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Google +, LinkedIn…We’ve told people at work, neighbours, friends…No, we haven’t shouted from the rooftops (I leave in a small house, I don’t think it would have much impact), but…we thought (rather, Mary suggested. Credit where credit is due), why don’t we ask the people who read our blog for ideas?
And here we are…She’s posting about it and so am I. Of course, please feel free to share with everybody, but if you can think of other things we could be doing (doable…, legal…timely…), please let us know…
You can leave a comment here, or send me a Tweet (@OlgaNM7), or leave me a message in my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/OlgaNunezMiret), or if you check my webpage (www.OlgaNM.com) I also have my e-mail address there.
Any suggestions or ideas are welcome.
Thanks very much for reading and thanks on behalf of Mary and me for downloading. And of course thanks to the marvellous María Victoria de Lourdes for her fantastic post.