Sunday, May 01, 2022

The Novel That Started This Blog

Almost eighteen years ago I started this blog to help me write my novel. I remember my colleague's then husband not agreeing with the idea. He thought it would keep me from writing. I always remembered that in the back of my mind.

My thoughts were that having a blog would keep me writing regularly and would sharpen my writing skills. I did in fact finish that novel, despite having this blog, but then I proceeded to sit on it for about six years before pulling it out and dusting it off again. 

A young woman whom I had mentored through the University of Houston's sales program in the business school also worked as an editor in the university's writing center. She was kind enough to volunteer to edit the novel and I was grateful to her for her commitment to the project. She edited each chapter and sent it to me for review. This was between 2012 and 2013!

The truth is, I started this novel well before having children with a word a day writing exercise. That means I started it around 1997 and periodically added to it. Then I picked it up in earnest again when I started this blog in 2004, when I was 34 years old. I don't know what happened to me over the years but it was as if I got tired of this novel. I got tired of adding to it, editing it and reading it again. 

Around 2006 I tried in vain to find an agent. I sent queries with a description of my novel and I received seven rejection letters. I know, because I recently went back and counted them. I know seven is nothing, but I didn't keep trying. Maybe it was because I had a two and a five year old at the time and a busy career. The years just passed me by and I wrote little things here and there and read in public. Sometimes I read parts of the novel. Friends would ask me when they would be able to read my novel and I always made excuses. 

In 2020 I was lucky enough to be invited to join the Central Nebraska Writing Group and I started writing a new novel in April 2021 with this group as my sounding board. I finished this novel that I love a few months ago and I'm in the editing phase now. 

My writing partner, friend and author Mari Beck recently told us in our writing group about a really cool new Amazon/Kindle platform called Kindle Vella. I went and checked it out and briefly considered writing something new, specifically for Kindle Vella. 

Then I had an Aha moment. The novel! The first one. The one I got tired of looking at but that has been edited. I need to revisit it one day. I can't keep pretending it doesn't exist. I need to put it out into the world, for better or worse. I read parts of it now and cringe at my 30 year old writing. I know it's not my best writing, but I wrote it and it's my story. 

It was like ripping off a Band-Aid and I had some anxiety before deciding to do it. My working title was Primas Hermanas, but I always worried that people would dismiss it if they didn't speak and/or read Spanish. My sister helped me come up with the title Broken Cousins because the story is about secrets, tragedy, and broken relationships in a family. 

I posted the first chapter on Kindle Vella today. Amazon takes about 72 hours to review it so I probably won't be able to share the link on social media until Tuesday or Wednesday. I am so excited that technology has made it possible for me to finally publish this long-awaited novel that I originally started 25 years ago! I'm excited and terrified all at the same time. 

Friday, December 31, 2021

December End of Year Recap and Gratitude

This is going to be a crappy recap of 2021 because I only blogged 9 times this year. I could complain about how we are still in a pandemic 21 months later, but I won't because there are a lot of things to be grateful for. #1 Science and how quickly they came up with a vaccine and booster vaccine.

Unfortunately I didn't know I had Covid when I got the first vaccine and I am extremely grateful that I didn't get really sick and die. I had many cousins and friends who didn't survive, so I know it could have happened to me. #2 I'm grateful for my health.

#3 I'm grateful for my beautiful children that continue to bring me joy. I'm so proud of the adults they are becoming and I can't wait to see what they do in life. However nothing gives me as much joy as seeing them become real friends.

#4 I am extremely grateful to have joined the Central Nebraska Writing Group late last year and starting to write my novel in April. I'm almost finished and I'm submitting it for consideration to a publisher in the next week.

#5 My career and that I have been working continuously for the past 21 months, despite leaving the Chronicle, going to work for Houston Public Media, and then coming back to the Houston Chronicle. I am very fortunate that they accepted me back. 

When I read my blog entry on March 21st, "The Universe is Shouting at Me," it makes me sad because I didn't do anything March-December to improve my health. I didn't exercise or eat better like I planned and the year passed me by. 

In April I talked about feeling like I'm on the cusp of something amazing and I truly believe it's going to be related to my novel. That was the month I seriously started writing it.

Later in the year I did my first 5k, the Rodeo Run and I got my first tattoo, a typewriter key with the number 9 to remind me of my writing and the 9 weeks I had a picc line in my arm. Even the tattoo didn't make me keep exercising! 

Despite all that, I am grateful that I was able to do another virtual 5K run on December 7 for the Houston Humane Society, even though I was so inactive lately. It's time to take my March post seriously and to get back in the saddle of my Peloton and on the streets running. That is my promise on this New Year's Eve. 

This evening I will meditate on what my word or words will be for 2022 and I'm going to work on setting up my day planner for a successful 2022, with exercise and eating right in my daily schedule. 

Happy New Year everyone and concentrate on the beautiful parts of your life. Concentrate on the good things and flip the script on the bad ones!

Monday, October 11, 2021

Writing Retreat on Sleepy Hollow Lake

I have technically been a writer since I was around 8 years old, when I first tried to submit something to Highlights Magazine and I was rejected. 

I Still Have My First Rejection Letter

If I remember correctly I was rejected with a form letter, so I replied with a follow up letter and the editor in chief wrote me this personalized letter thanking me for being so understanding. Apparently I was into persuasion and selling at a very early age!

So I have been a writer and a salesperson for roughly 43 years, but life has always gotten in the way and I've done a myriad of other things including, getting a couple of degrees, getting married, having a career, having a couple of kids, still having a career, getting divorced, co-parenting, being a lacrosse mom, etc... 

Now at 51 years old I am finally ready to get some serious writing done. Like serious writing.

I have been talking about going on a solitary writing retreat for literally five years or more. Well I finally did it! Last month I went to Goodrich, a little town north of Houston, right off 59 North and I stayed in an adorable cabin among a group of other lovely cabins owned by a lady named Sandy.

I found the Yellow Rose Cabin Bed and Breakfast when looking for a place to go, close to Houston. I thought at first that I was staying on Lake Livingston and only found out later that I was actually going to be southeast of Lake Livingston on another small lake called Sleepy Hollow. How fitting is that for a writing retreat setting? Especially when you are a woman, in a cabin, alone, near woods and a lake...

My Cabin- The Blue Bird

The Dining Room Where All the Writing Happened

I absolutely LOVED my little shot-gun cabin! It was just right for me. I slept in one bedroom and used the other bedroom as my dressing room. (Seriously, the front door opened and there was a straight path to the back door.)  I had a full sized kitchen and I ate all my meals there. I didn't want to leave at all, so I could concentrate on just writing, so it was perfect. I had a great porch in front and in the back, for drinking my morning coffee, meditating and journaling. 

The host was also amazing! Sandy runs a great bed and breakfast and is only a phone call away. She lives in the big house on the property, on the lake, and her very first cabin, the Yellow Rose is right next to her house. It has its own set of stairs that lead down to a small dock on the lake. She has a variety of sizes of cabins, with her biggest one being the Lake House that, true to its name, sits right on the lake. That one is perfect for a big party, like an extended family. You can see almost all of her cabins on her website.

I almost stayed in the Texas Rose and I'm so glad that Sandy called me the week I was scheduled to go, to ask me did I mind switching with someone who wanted to rent it for three weeks. Although the Texas Rose is very cute, it would have been a tiny cabin, the size of an efficiency apartment or smaller! That's why I'm glad I got to stay in the Blue Bird Cottage.

I loved the solitude and being near the lake. I liked the location so much that I want to go back with the kids to enjoy a boat ride on the lake and I want to stay in the Hen Den. It's not on her website yet, but you can see it on her Facebook page. The Hen Den is right next door to the Blue Bird and is a pretty red house.

Back to the writing retreat part! I wrote Friday night, all day Saturday, with a few breaks, and Sunday morning. All in all, I ended up writing 3,200+ words, plus I got some research done. It was definitely SO worth getting away from the distractions of my house and concentrating on writing my novel. I needed this kick start so much and I am now halfway through my first draft. 

Best of all, I found a great, affordable place I loved and that I'll be going back to again. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a quick weekend getaway, not too far from home. It's not fancy or luxurious. 

In fact, I encountered a big outside roach one night in the restroom! If you stay there you have to be open-minded and realize you are staying out in the country, near a lake and everything that comes with that. 😀

Saturday, August 28, 2021

My Aunt Lola

One of my earliest memories of my aunt Lola involves baby powder on our socks and skating all over her wooden floor. I knew she was very strict with my cousins Riza and Carlitos, but when it came to her visiting with my mom, we got into all kinds of adventures that included “ice skating” across her living room in socks with baby powder. I never asked my cousins if they got in trouble after we left their hardwoods filled with powder! 

We would do “science experiments” with Selsun Blue shampoo in their restroom, we played “Happy Days,” with my cousin Carlitos playing the part of the Fonz and using the arm of the living room armchair as his motorcycle. We played in their backyard on their swing set, which I coveted, “house” in our outside washroom, even in the winter, and danced “ballet” and  pretended we owned a “fur company” at our other uncle’s house over his bakery.

Lola (Dolores) was married to my Uncle Carlos, my mother’s little brother, whom she loved dearly. My mother was thirteen years older than her brother and he was just a little boy when she married my father. She was very close to him and he called my mom “Madamita,” a nickname their whole family called her.

My mother and Lola were best friends. All those times that the kids and I were playing for hours, my mom, aunt and uncle were lost in conversation over coffee, pan dulce or Pecan Sandies. They never seemed to run out of things to talk about. We saw them every single week, because either we stopped at their house after our JW meeting or because they stopped by our house. Lola and Carlos are a part of almost every childhood memory I have.

The day that our Uncle Ismael died my mom and I were visiting with him at his bakery. He walked us outside to my sister Sarah’s car. She had taken us there to show my uncle her new Chevette. The pay phone in the bakery rang and it was my other sister telling us that Carlos and Lola were at our house. My mom, sister and I said goodbye to my Uncle Ismael, not knowing that it was the last time we would see him alive.

I don’t remember how long after we got home we got the call that something had happened at the bakery, but I remember my mom, dad, sister Hilda, Carlos and Lola all ran out the door and left us kids with the baby Susana and my older sister Becky and her boyfriend Raul, with hardly a word.

Lola and Carlos were there that fateful night that my uncle was killed in a robbery and my mother held her brother for the last time. My sister Hilda, who was a nurse, tried to administer CPR without success. They shared that loss and tragedy with my mother.

As I grew up and became an adult, Carlos and Lola were still constants in my home visiting my mom, always drinking coffee together and laughing at memories from over the years.

Lola would ask my mom, “Tell me again that story about the time Nico went to work in Arizona and you took the bus all by yourself to go meet him there.”

And my mother, the talented story-teller in her own right, would go into detail about the bus ride and the characters she met along the way.

It’s almost fitting that the night my mother died, Lola was with her. She and my cousin Nere, and their daughters, had gone to visit my mom and seeing how sick she was feeling decided to stay up with her after my father went to bed. Little did anyone know that it was the day my mother would die and Lola was with her when she took her last breath. For that I will always be grateful and I thanked her later. She was her best friend until the very end.

Sadly, over the last twenty-one years since my mother died I grew even further from my aunt and uncle. Differences in religion, or lack thereof on my part, probably played a role. I can’t say for sure, but never-the-less we drifted apart.

This weekend there will be a memorial service on Zoom for Lola. She passed away a week ago from meningitis. She was one month shy of her 76th birthday, too young in my book.

The last time I saw her and my uncle was at my father’s funeral three years ago. I had happened to see her a few months prior to that, at a cousin’s funeral. I sat next to her and my uncle in their pew at the funeral home and caught up with them. It was probably the last full conversation I had with them, the winter of 2017.

Although we didn’t speak these last few years, she holds a dear place in my heart. How couldn’t she? She is in every memory I have as a little girl. She and my uncle spent hours with my mother and loved her dearly.  I will always refer to Lola as my mother’s best friend. I love her and my Uncle Carlos because they loved my mother, and I wish I had remained close to them for that reason. Goodbye dear Lola, until we meet again.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Successful People in the Last Third of Their Life

I'm going through a mid-life crisis moment in my life, even though I'm way past the mid-point and more on the last leg. I'm on a growth path right now.