multicultural
does not describe me fully
it is where to start



Sunday, August 30, 2009

How The Rediscovery of My Father's Words Led To My Writing Fiction


If I haven’t yet summarized my novel Hidden Warriors, it’s because I’ve been afraid to read it again and find out it might be terrible. This was the first novel I ever wrote, birthed in a time of great upheaval in my life. I had walked away from my career the year before. My marriage had ended. My father died not long after. In retrospect, it's not surprising that I might try something new like writing fiction. How it actually happened though still amazes me.

After my father's death, I began transcribing his poetry, essays, and sermons to distribute them to family and friends. It was challenging work for several reasons. Many of the audio tapes were of abysmal quality. Despite that, his familiar voice still rose above the scratchiness, and I grieved that I would never again hear him speak directly to me. More than once, I almost abandoned the project, convinced I was only prolonging my grieving process.

As if that weren’t already challenging enough, my father’s sermons, essays, and poetry were all in Spanish, no longer my primary language. I found myself rummaging through my father’s huge unabridged dictionary, trying to find words no one used in ordinary language—at least I didn’t recall them—never sure whether I was even searching for the right word, given the awful quality of the tapes.

Several months later, having listened to the final tape and transcribed the last sermon, I sent out the material to family and friends. That was when I realized that, instead of prolonging my grieving process, my transcription project had actually eased my transition into a world where I could no longer pick up the phone to talk to my dad. That was not the only surprise. After my immersion into the Spanish language and my father’s poetry, I woke up one morning with the lines of an unfamiliar poem swirling in my head. I wrote down the poem and, for the next few months, found myself writing poetry in Spanish, something I’d never done before! And, no, I’ve not looked at those poems recently either for the same reason I haven’t dared to reread the last draft of my first novel. I’d rather keep alive the memory of how magical a time writing those poems and that novel was for me.

The period of writing poems in Spanish lasted about half a year. One morning, as surprising as when it first appeared, the impulse to write poetry vanished. Soon after, though, I found myself, again, waking up with material sloshing in my brain that seemed to want to be written down. So I did. That turned out to be the beginning of my novel Hidden Warriors, and, for the first time in my adult life, I felt I was exactly where I should be, writing novels. My writing craft has improved since then, and I have come to appreciate how the hard work of creating a novel involves taking that initial magical moment of inspiration and, through dogged hard work, transforming it into something in which story, characters, dialogue, conflict, and style cohere. I wonder, though, if any of my subsequent novels and short stories would have been written had I not undertaken transcribing my father’s work.

A brief note about Hidden Warriors. A businesswoman on the verge of being named CEO must track down her former husband, a globe-trotting photographer, to find out why she has received a mysterious emerald-like stone. Andrea and Luke Norman then have to confront their unresolved past, a quest that takes them to New Mexico, New York, Chicago, Brazil, and Peru.

4 comments:

Hank said...

One can enjoy an artist’s work without knowing how the work came into being, but it is always interesting to discover its genesis and evolution.

Barb said...

Your story proves there is no simple answer to how one becomes a writer. What a unique spiritual, emotional and artisitic journey- with no small amount of hard work.

Connie said...

Your path reminds me of El Pájaro Solitario and its 5 conditions:

“Las condiciones del pájaro solitario son cinco. La primera, que se va a lo más alto; la segunda, que no sufre compañía, aunque sea de su naturaleza; la tercera, que pone el pico al aire; la cuarta, que no tiene determinado color; la quinta, que canta suavemente.”
San Juan de la Cruz - Dichos de luz y amor
(Sacado de relatos de poder, de Carlos Castaneda)

Judith Mercado said...

I'm posting this for Paul Santiago, who said on FaceBook:

I really enjoyed reading "How The Rediscovery of My Father's Words Led To My Writing Fiction"

Even to this day, I recall your dad's voice. It was a unique voice & your dad & my dad not only were brother-in-laws, they very close friends. I remember when he used to call me "Pablito". And he drove only Oldsmobliles. I love your dad & miss him just like I miss my dad. Keep up your great work. Love, Your cousin Paul