Family

It’s strange, isn’t it? How time and circumstances and distance can change friendships you once thought would last forever? You still love these people, you still care about what happens to them, but when you’re together…you can’t seem to find a common ground.

I used to be so close to my dad’s family. We lived in Mexico until I was eight, within walking distance of cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Even after we moved, we didn’t go very far; we crossed the border, drove for half an hour, and chose a house in that little town. We returned to my grandparents’ house monthly for family lunches, sometimes to celebrate someone’s birthday, sometimes for mother’s or father’s day, sometimes just because. And I always looked forward to it. Nana made fresh rice, beans, and tortillas. My uncles made carne asada or pollo asado (like carne asada only with chicken). My aunts brought cakes, sodas, and macaroni salad. We congregated around the table and in the adjoining living room to eat and to talk over the soccer game that always seemed to be playing on the TV.

Then my three younger cousins and I would run outside to play. We invented games and went on adventures, dared each other to try new things. Occasionally, we went back inside to watch the guys playing their video games, or we’d go into one of the guest rooms and play cards. If it rained, we’d play in the mud. If it was hot, we put on our bathing suits and assaulted each other with the hose. If it was cold, we’d bundle up real tight and chase each other until we were warm. We climbed trees, scraped our knees, ran through my tata’s field, rolled down dirt hills, rode our bikes along the canal. As we got older, we spent more and more time inside, playing card games, giving each other make overs, talking about life and boys, watching movies, hanging out around the kitchen table and listening to our mother’s talk.

The three of them made trips to my house too, for slumber parties during the summer. (This was after my sister and I were given our separate rooms.) I would blast my Christian rock music and we would dance or jump on the bed or throw pillows at each other. We’d stay up talking through the night, all four of us squished together on my bed because we couldn’t bear the thought of sleeping separately. We’d spend hours on the Slip-n-Slide in the backyard, and then wash up and play with my Barbies. Sometimes my sister would play dress up with us. We’d use sheets, rubber bands, and clips to create unique, old fashioned dresses. We’d adorn ourselves with clip-on jewelry and pretend to be princesses.

And then I started high school. I hung out with my sister, my big brother, and my older cousins more and more. I started dating and then had my heart broken for the first time. I went through a phase of depression, where the only thing I really wanted was to be older and wiser. I talked less and spent more time daydreaming about my stories, my music, my plans for the future. They ran in different crowds than I did, had mutual friends they wanted to talk about that I’d never met. They had church events and other family events they attended together that I couldn’t. Slowly but surely, this gap began to form between me and my three younger cousins. Then I graduated and moved to Arizona. I still visited home from time to time. I returned to my grandparents’ house for New Years or Christmas, glad to be among my family again. But each year my Spanish was a bit more rusty, my anecdotes a bit more awkward, and our conversations a bit more forced. I wanted to be around them. I cared about their lives and the things they were going through. I wanted to connect.

Why was it so hard?

We had something to talk about when I was getting serious with my then-boyfriend now-husband. My cousins wanted to know how we met and what our plans were. When we were engaged and planning our wedding, I had details to share. They all came, of course. They had to drive six hours one way to be there, but they were there. In the whirlwind that was our wedding reception, I got to give quick hugs and kisses. Then it was off to start married life. I’ve brought my husband for New Years these past two years. He doesn’t speak Spanish so I have to stick with him and be his interpreter. My three younger cousins shy away from him. I can’t blame them; he’s handsome and foreign. That can be intimidating.

I keep tabs on my dad’s family through Facebook and Instagram. My three younger cousins especially. They post pictures and short anecdotes that I like or comment on. We always wish each other happy birthday, sending our love and blessings. The cousin closest to me in age is going to university. The second oldest is so social; she’s always posting pictures of her and her friends going to youth group or camps or conferences. The youngest graduated from high school this year. I want to tell them how proud I am of their accomplishments, how great it is to see them flourish. I want to tell them that I still remember our adventures with fondness. I loved being their leader, despite the fact that I was responsible when one of them got hurt playing one of my ridiculous games. They weren’t just family, they were friends. And I miss them.

Most of the time, it’s easy to get caught up in my life here. I’m working, I’m going to school, I’m learning new things about marriage and being a wife, I’m writing, I’m hanging out with friends, and growing. But every day I go onto Facebook or Instagram and there they are. I can’t help but wonder: Will we ever be as close as we once were? Do they think about me? Do they remember?

Only one way to find out, right?

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The blank screen

So I’ve made it. In the Dark is scheduled to be published in January of 2018 by Tirgearr Publishing. Hooray! Now, I’m waiting. My newly appointed editor is supposed to go through the manuscript with me and give me some feedback. I then have to work on revisions, turn the new manuscript in by no later than October, approve a front cover design, wait for the launch party, and promote the finished product like crazy. None of which can happen until I hear back from my editor.

What am I supposed to do in the mean time?

“Work on one of your other stories,” you might say.

Well, here’s the situation: In the Dark, as you know, is waiting to be reviewed by my new editor. I can’t touch it. Asta and the Barbarians (I submitted it to Tigearr Publishing some time ago without even realizing it) is also being considered for publication. I can’t touch it until a decision is made. I Dare You to Love Me is being considered by someone from Filles Vertes Publishing. Guess what. I can’t touch that one either.

“What about The Sentinel?” you ask.

Ah, The Sentinel. The one story I can’t seem to get right, but the one story I can’t seem to give up on. This is the story that started it all.

I was in the fourth grade, my sister in sixth. She was tough, out-going, smart, and pretty and I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. Only problem was…she didn’t like me very much. Who could blame her? I was the kid sister she had to tote around wherever she went, take care of, and share all of her things with. She finally complained enough times to my parents and they decided it was time for her to have some privacy. She moved into the guest room and I suddenly had an entire room to myself. It was a hard time for me; despite her wild temper and all the “mean” things she said to me, I still looked up to her and thought of her as my closest friend. I hated that locked door between us, a constant reminder that there was nothing I could do to make her like me as much as I liked her.

I don’t remember how or when it happened exactly but, one day, that door was unlocked. One day, she let me in on a big secret: she was writing a story. Her love of Tolkien’s Middle Earth combined with the drama that she and her friends were going through at school created a fantasy adventure unlike any other. The novel came with hand drawn maps, dress designs, banners and family insignias, and strange new creatures that my artistic sister had come up with herself. And she shared all of it with me! She wanted to hear my opinion! Over countless hours spent sprawled on her bed, listening to her read and discussing ideas, we bonded. And she inspired me to write a story of my own.

Before then, the longest story I’d ever written had been four to six pages. Each page had a few lines of story and an illustration courtesy of my sister (when she had been in the mood to play nice). This was probably why she thought of me when she needed a second opinion on her story. She knew I could be creative and she knew I loved The Lord of the Rings so I would enjoy her fantasy world. I didn’t want to copy her story. I just knew I wanted to write. So I picked out a composition notebook from the stack my mom had and put pencil to paper. The plot didn’t flow well. The villains were pathetically two dimensional and cliche. The main character was too perfect. But it didn’t matter. I was creating something and I loved it.

When I was caught up on my sister’s story or when she was having  writer’s block, I would read to her from my story and we’d work on improvements together. We still share stories and story ideas to this day, across the miles and miles that separate us. I do more of the writing and she does more of the advising now, but we’ll always have this in common; the love of fantasy. We both want to see my first story published, despite the many, many changes it has gone through over the years.

But no matter what I do, I can’t seem to tell the story right. I’ve written up draft after draft, shared it with two beta readers other than my sister, tried to listen to everybody’s counsel, set it aside for months at a time only to pick it up again and make more changes. Each time I finish, I think I might’ve finally gotten it. I send it out to my sister and my beta readers with confidence. Then they give it back with more red marks than ever. I manage to improve some things only to make other things more unbelievable or dramatic or flat or whatever. I love these characters. I love this story. I love this world I’ve created. Why can’t I weave the plot correctly? Why can’t I tell it in a way that’s…whole and real and not cliche?

Thinking and writing about it now, I want to try again. But I know the moment I open up the document and stare at that blank page, it’ll all come swarming back to me; the problems, the criticisms, the questions that still need answering. The very long story that still hasn’t been told. And…

“…the blank piece of paper wins.”

Uuuugh.

There are three other works in progress I could focus on. I could write a sequel to In the Dark or Asta and the Barbarians, things I’ve been thinking about doing for a long time and just haven’t gotten around to. I’m sure I could pass the time until I hear back from my new editor. But The Sentinel keeps calling. Can I muster the strength to answer the call? Can I bear to face that blank screen again?

The plight of the married couple (I think this counts as poetry…)

They march about the house,

Soldiers pacing their designated wall.

With barely a glance at each other

They go about their business, big or small.

You wouldn’t know it if you peeked in,

But they’re married and madly in love.

A slip of the tongue, a word unsaid,

The wrong gift or lack thereof

Upsets the wife, frustrates the husband.

They stew and huff and grumble and then

An argument pushes them over the edge.

Where is your tolerance, your ability to bend?

It must have died at the end of your dating.

Didn’t you marry him because he was the best?

Didn’t you marry her

Because she was kinder than the rest?

How easily you both forgot!

Remember the silly girl you fell for,

The one who obsessed about her hair.

Remember the guy who opened the door

Let you go in first, let you have your way

Happily you once apologized and forgave

So she said the wrong thing to your mother,

So he left the sink dirty after his shave.

You were human then and you are human now.

Don’t yell, accuse, or bargain

Remember how it was then, let go, forgive

And try again.

The Dream

I finally got that “yes” I’ve been waiting to hear for almost five years. After sending countless query letters, doing research, writing and rewriting, working with beta readers, sprucing up my writer’s resume, developing a social media presence, creating a blog, and participating in Pitch Madness, a publisher has offered me a book contract for In the Dark.

Just like that.

It doesn’t feel real. Upon hearing the news, I felt elation, validation, pride, humility, and thankfulness. Now that all that has passed, however, I can’t help but feel a little strange. I’ve arrived. I’ve made it. It’s…over?

I’m not naive enough to think that the work is over. I’m sure I’ll have to go through several more editing, formatting, and cover design phases before the manuscript is actually published. Then after that, it’ll be onto the promoting stage. So why does this feel like the end of something? Well, I guess it is to some degree. It’s the end of this stage of my writing career.

How weird is that? I have a writing career now. Before, it was just a dream, a seemingly unattainable goal I had to keep trying to reach because I couldn’t imagine not trying. Now, it’s suddenly real.

I’ve mentioned several times in my blog posts how I’ve had moments in my life when I feel like an adult. When I take on new responsibilities, or when I’ve learned something new and good about myself, or when I’ve pushed my limits and come out victorious in the end, or when I’ve dared to go somewhere or do something that my younger self never would have. Then there are other times when I still feel like that clueless, sheltered, high school girl who doesn’t know anything.

This is one of those rare moments when I feel like both. Adults have careers. They accomplish big, life-changing goals and move on to the next item on their list. But are they ever afraid of what comes next? Are they ever uncertain? Do they ever feel a tiny bit of loss when endings come, even if those endings are good? Or is that just the child within me?

I can’t help but remember that scene in Tangled. Rapunzel and Flynn are sitting in the boat, waiting for the paper lanterns to appear.

Rapunzel says, “I’ve been looking out a window for eighteen years, dreaming about what it might feel like to see those lights rise in the sky. What if it’s not everything I dreamed it would be?”

Flynn says, “It will be.”

“And what if it is? What do I do then?” Rapunzel counters.

And Flynn in his casual way says, “Well, that’s the good part, I guess. You get to go and find a new dream.”

I guess that’s really all I can do, huh?

More details to come. 🙂