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So I sat down this morning to work on something.

This emerged instead.

Not a clue. Only thing I can tell you is that it appears to be yet another step in my writing evolution.

 

And in the End…

“In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our brother Thomas—”

 

Lillian flinched. Outside of their wedding ceremony, she’d never called him Thomas. He’d been introduced to her as Tom—a solid, straightforward name that fit him like a glove to a hand. As their relationship evolved and became more, names were replaced with endearments. Honey, sweetheart, babe—light and sweet, words she might not ever have imagined directed toward her. Endearments she had quite honestly considered ridiculous and would have felt horribly self-conscious being on the receiving end of had they not come from him.

He had always found ways to challenge her—make her reconsider long-held stances and beliefs—and in doing so, had softened her. Made her more tolerant and understanding.

 

“And we commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

 

This, however… this she didn’t understand. They’d never discussed it. He’d given her no warning—shown no signs.

And she had no idea how to reconsider this. Or why she should even have to. An event of this nature had been so far beyond anything she’d ever expected to consider.

A funeral.

Her only experience with them had been via reading—dry, dusty history texts or the occasional novel. Certainly, she’d never expected to attend one. And had definitely never expected to arrange one, let alone for her own husband.

They’d long since had their plans in place. Cremation, then life was to go on as usual. Simple, straightforward, like the man himself—she’d thought. But then Tom had gone and gotten in that damned accident and all their carefully made plans had taken, as he was so fond of saying with that crooked half-smile, “a left turn to Albuquerque.”

It had never failed to draw a smile from her as well.

But not this time.

The officiant—a wide-eyed scholarly type she’d discovered dwelling in the ancient history department of the university—consulted the fragile text he held reverently in gloved hands. She’d told him it wasn’t necessary—he could simply read off a tablet or if he insisted could print the words and she would be more than happy to absorb the extra cost of using paper—but he’d been adamant on using the text itself. Lillian half-suspected the academic, never expecting to put years of study to practical use, was bound and determined to wring every ounce of ritual from what was likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

 

“The Lord bless him and keep him, the Lord make his face to shine upon him and be gracious unto him—”

 

They were approaching the end—she thought. With each word, the officiant’s voice seemed to slow, as if reluctant to bring this rare moment to an end, each syllable seemly dragged through a pool of molasses to emerge sticky sweet and thick with unfamiliar emotion.

 

“…the Lord lift up his countenance upon him and give him peace. Amen.”

 

He paused and stared at Lillian, his eyes behind the lenses of the old-fashioned round-framed glasses owlish, the light glinting off them, giving them an expectant gleam.

Ah, yes—he’d told her about this part.

“Amen,” she repeated softly, lips and tongue clumsy around the word, an unfamiliar bitterness flooding her mouth in its wake.

“Dr. Banks?”

She turned back to the officiant. “Yes?”

“This is when you place a handful of dirt on the coffin.”

She stared at the gaping hole in the ground—an ugly brown scar bisecting the pristine sea of gently undulating green—and felt the weight of every moment of this godforsaken day come to rest on her shoulders.

“Dr. Banks?” The young man’s voice was hesitant, yet oddly firm. Damn him. Damn herself for ever showing him the document outlining the extent of Tom’s requests—every instinct recoiling against the invasion of her privacy and the crudeness of what he was asking—and wanting to know if all of it was absolutely necessary.

Once the thrill of academic discovery had worn off, the young scholar had assured her that it was, indeed, all necessary. Not the individual steps in and of themselves, he’d explained, but rather, the spirit of honoring of the deceased’s final requests. That was the most important element of all—the honoring.

“It’s the last step,” he said softly. “I promise.”

Damn Tom.

Damn Tom to the hell she’d also only ever read about but in this moment desperately wished existed.

He’d known she wouldn’t be able to refuse. Had counted on her absolute inability to refuse him. Mostly because his requests were so few and so far between. And only for something intensely desired.

The officiant’s gentle urgings a sequence of nonsensical sounds buzzing in her ears, Lillian approached the mound of dirt piled next to the hole. Ignoring the curious stares of the groundskeepers, the only other witnesses to the proceedings, she scooped a small handful of earth into her hand, her nose twitching as the thick, unfamiliar smell tickled her nostrils. And if her eyes watered a bit as she released the mass it was because of the cold dampness of the dirt against her skin, the slight grittiness it left behind—not the crude, soft thump of it hitting a solid surface, the sharper report of a stray pebble against wood.

That would be ridiculous.

Wouldn’t it?

Swallowing hard, she accepted the officiant’s offer of a handkerchief with which to wipe her hands, murmured her thanks or some inanity, and as quickly as possible, made her escape—only to find escape wouldn’t be so easily achieved.

Because nothing about this day could be easy.

He leaned against her car with a casual insouciance betrayed by the dark suit and an air about him that suggested this visit was anything but casual. Finally.

“Lillian.”

“Seamus.” She nodded as she retrieved her keys. “I expected to be seeing someone today, but not necessarily here and certainly not you.” She hit the button unlocking the doors. “This is a bit below your current pay grade, isn’t it?”

“We figured a friendly face might not go unappreciated.”

Her brows drew together. “It’s been… odd, to be sure, but nothing I couldn’t handle.”

“Odd?” He laughed, the sharp sound startling a bird from a nearby tree with a squawk and an indignant ruffle of feathers as it flew off. “Only you, Lillian. You know, you don’t have to be a superwoman. The entire thing’s been a bizarre anomaly and there’s not a single person who’d blame you for being angry.”

“Anger’s a waste of energy.” Never mind that what she’d been feeling just moments earlier had skirted dangerously close to anger.

Seamus laughed again, softer, as he shook his head. “You’re some kind of woman, Lillian Banks.”

She sighed, even as a reluctant smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. “I’m some kind of tired, Seamus. So I’m sure you’ll understand if I want to get right to the point and learn why you were sent?”

He straightened, his eyes narrowing as he took stock of her with the sharp-eyed gaze with which she was intimately familiar. She should be. That same gaze had annoyed her no end growing up in the way that only an older brother’s could.

“This has to do with Tom, doesn’t it?”

He nodded, watchful gaze never leaving her face. As if concerned.

“Well?” Impatience made her movements jerky as she pulled the door open. “What is it?”

“There’s a problem.”

She gripped the door frame, idly noting how white her knuckles grew, how her wedding band stood out, a thin strip of rose gold, stark against her pale skin.

“With?”

But she already knew. And Seamus knew she knew. But he humored her and said the words anyway.”

“With Tom’s clone. He’s… not what you’re expecting.”

Where did it go wrong?

Where did it go wrong?

When did the change occur?

How did I evolve from the talented writer with so much promise to the afterthought? The one who doesn’t matter? The one whose only value stems from her ethnic/cultural background?

The one who’s passed from editor to editor and publisher to publisher, and no one know quite what to do with her?

Was it when a publisher decided they didn’t like my book and decided to cancel the contract? Was it when another author took offense at my name and decided to attack? Was it as far back as when I argued for a better title for my first book?

I don’t know. I just know it happened and it’s kept happening.

So I have to think it has something to do with me. Some intangible I have yet to identify.

It’s not the talent. That much I know. The talent’s still there—always acknowledged. The work ethic, too, since I’ve never once been late with a deadline, ever, and have worked diligently to give editors all they ask for. Those books I’ve worked so hard on have consistently won awards (even the one that was canceled by the publisher) and critical reviews. So it’s not about the writing. It never is.

It should be, but it isn’t.

So I don’t know what it is.

And I don’t know when it all went wrong.

All I know is it did.

There have been a couple of exceedingly thoughtful articles/opinion pieces lately that while different, are both about the pressure to conform, especially for girls. First was Amy Taylor’s brilliant piece in response to the Abercrombie & Fitch “Why we hate fat people” brouhaha, An Open Letter from a ‘Fat Chick’ to Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, and then today, I read Rachel Simmons’ The Damaging Message of Proms.

Both pieces are aimed a girls and young women and both spoke to me both as the young girl I once was and as the parent I am now.

Fair warning, I kind of suck at editorial/opinion pieces—there’s a reason I’m a novelist and not a journalist—my type of rambliness lends itself so much more effectively to fictional narrative than fact-based or opinion pieces, so if you continue reading, my apologies.

As an preteen/adolescent, I desperately wanted to conform… I thought. I blame ABC’s Afterschool Specials and McDonald’s commercials. While the Afterschool specials themselves were a little too preachy/Very Special Message for me, the McDonald’s commercials were like crack. They portrayed these groups of carefree, homogeneous kids (the 70s equivalent of the Abercrombie & Fitch “ideal”) cavorting along safe, autumn-leaf-strewn streets in some ubiquitous New England or Midwest Small Town on their way to share a bag of fries while sipping creamy shakes.

I grew up in Miami. Palm fronds, not autumn leaves were my norm. I was the only Cuban girl in my (then) white, middle-class neighborhood. My education, while typically public school for the 70s/80s, was differentiated by the fact that I was designated “gifted” and singled out to attend special classes twice a week. I was painfully shy and bookish and didn’t make friends easily.

But I had a McDonald’s.

So I’d hie myself off to Mickey D’s a couple times a week and pretend I was with a group of carefree friends with whom I could share my fries and cavort down autumn-leaf strewn streets. (First sign, maybe, that I was maybe destined to become a writer, but of course I didn’t recognize it back then.) I so desperately wanted to conform and be like everyone else— in a way, it was an expectation desired of me by my parents as well. After all, they were both immigrants and wanted the American Dream for their kids—one reason we lived in a white middle-class neighborhood in North Dade, rather than in the Cuban enclaves of Hialeah or South Miami which would have demanded a different sort of conformity.

At the same time, however, my mother, in particular, always made a point of stressing how different I was. How special. How I shouldn’t want to be like anyone else. Mixed messages, much? (Especially since “different” for her came with rules. It had to be “different” the way she wanted, not necessarily the way I actually was.) Ultimately, though, she wasn’t wrong. I really wasn’t like others and even as a kid, as much as I thought I wanted to conform, as much effort as I made at times, there was still an insidious voice within me whispering how it wasn’t me. Factors I had no control over, such as my ethnicity, my physical build, my intellect, coupled with my own personal interests and the pursuits I chose for myself (drum corps, classically trained pianist , figure skating) conspired to keep me just outside the norm. All through high school and even into college, I was at war with myself—fighting to be like everyone else while my natural inclinations led me down wildly divergent paths.

It resulted in a deeply unhappy and wildly insecure adolescence and young adulthood. I couldn’t help but make the choices I made yet found myself incredibly defensive and embarrassed about having to defend them.

I’m 45 now. I’ve lived in the Midwest and experienced those small towns with their autumn leaf strewn streets. I’ve done conventional in that I got the sort of college degree I thought I should. I realized, after a lot of trial and error how very not conventional and ordinary I am. I have reached a somewhat uneasy peace with my intellect. I have come to far more comfortable terms with my rebellious nature. I’m angry about all the time wasted as an adolescent and young adult; time spent chasing a concept fed to me as an ideal that took me a long time to realize wasn’t my ideal.

I wonder what I could have been, had I been more confident and less susceptible to all those images flashed before me during all those Afterschool Specials and McDonald’s commercials. Had I not had Brooke Shields and her slim-hipped 5’11″ body telling us there was nothing between her and her Calvins.

On the other hand, having had the experiences I had—even the educational background I have—did give me the confidence to make choices for my own kids I might not have been capable of making otherwise. I was able to recognize their differences very early on and rather than simply declare “Oh, you’re different, revel in it,” and expect that to be enough, I went out of my way to give them the tools to cope with their unique gifts. (Yes, all kids are unique & wonderful & mine aren’t necessarily Special Snowflakes, but they’re my Special Snowflakes, dammit.)

Because I saw in them shades of how I was as a student and because of my background in education, I was able to recognize that a standardized public school education wasn’t going to cut it for either of them. While it was important for them to grow up around family during formative years, we knew staying in Florida for the long haul wouldn’t be healthy for them, so we moved to Seattle where they would have greater freedom to explore who they are and who they want to be and where we’d have better educational opportunities for them.

The only conformity I wanted for them was to who they are.

I look at them now, at 16 and 15 and see the people they’re growing up into and while I still feel vestiges of anger for all the time I wasted trying to be someone I wasn’t—someone the ads and popular culture and even my teachers tried to tell me I should be—at the same time if it’s allowed me the perspective by which I can give my kids greater confidence and freedom to discover who they are, well then, I guess I’d attempt to conform all over again.

Because in the end, the rebel in me always wins.

 

So, some of you may have noticed (probably more of you have not) that for the past two weeks, I’ve been Up To Something. That something being I’ve taken a manuscript of mine, Between Here & Gone that is complete and have been putting up, chapter by chapter on Wattpad. Why?

The easy answer is, why not?

The harder answer is, as you might guess, a bit more complicated. Let me see if I can bullet point this into something that makes some sense.

  1. As I said, the manuscript is complete. *waits to hear cries of “But Barb, don’t you want to sell it?* Well, d’uh, of course I’d love to sell the thing. But it’s one of Those Manuscripts. The kind that has no real definition in terms of genre. It’s not YA or New Adult or romance or literary or… I mean, the closest you could come to calling it is maybe a commercial women’s fiction, but it’s not contemporary. It’s set squarely in the 1960s and it’s a bit of a coming-of-age story and…Well… you see what I mean about undefinable? This is the sort of manuscript that’s difficult to sell, especially when you don’t have a track record in said undefinable genre. And aren’t Nicholas Sparks (not that I’m bitter or anything…). It’s the sort of thing that because I don’t have an established audience, I suspect would make it difficult to self-publish, especially with my self-admitted suckagetude at self-pimpery. Y’all know how very, very bad I am at promo. Even this blog post is taxing my ability to jump up and down and say, “Heeeeeeyyyyyyy!! Look at meeeeeeeeeee!!! Pay attention to meeeeeeeeeee!!!! Love meeeeeeeeeeee!!!
  2. Another reason is because among my work, not just the YA, but the adult stories—let’s call it eleven completed manuscripts and probably a half dozen more in various stages of completion—this manuscript stands alone as its own beast. By which I mean it’s completely unlike anything I’ve written before and it’s unlike anything on which I’m currently working. Something else that makes it a harder conventional sell.
  3. It’s a safe experiment. There are those who would say it’s a risk—what if the story’s not as good as I think it is or if I turn off readers or… Screw it. No risk, no reward, right? I’m tired of being a coward, y’all. I write. I want to show that I’m not just a one-trick pony. I can write something other than multicultural YA and if publishing won’t give me the opportunity to show that right now, then it’s up to me to show off what I’m capable of.
  4.  I like this damned story. A lot. I’d love to know if other people like it as well. And being one who lives in her writing cave most of the time, it’s a way by which to get some immediate feedback. Okay, admittedly, I haven’t gotten a lot yet, but still, it’s feedback I didn’t have before.
  5.  But perhaps most importantly, I’m doing this because I’m a storyteller. I had this story I wanted to tell and so I did and now I want to share it.

Is it the best novel I’ve ever written? I have no measure by which to decide, really. I certainly think there are elements that are among the best I’ve written. There are probably places it could be better, but I could say that about everything I’ve ever written, published or not. Maybe even especially the published works.

What it comes down to is I really, really like this story and I wanted to share it. I chose Wattpad as my “publishing” platform, even though I’m not necessarily the site’s target demographic or write in what’s considered a popular genre for the site, because it’s basically idiot-proof. It’s a glorified blog with the novelization formatting built in, which makes it an easy task for me to post the chapters so it doesn’t wind up feeling like a chore or obligation. It’s fun. The most work I did was putting together a cover which, if I do say so myself, I think I did a reasonably nice job on.

So there you have it. Complete story. A 100K word book up for free. There’s drama and adventure and self-actualization and romance and more drama all set around the turbulence of the mid-1960s.

Between Here & Gone

Between Here & Gone

In 1959 Cuba, seventeen-year-old Natalia San Martín was nothing short of a princess, sheltered, pampered, and courted by her very own prince, a childhood friend turned lifelong love. She and Nicolas made grand plans to study abroad and travel the world, secure in the knowledge their tropical paradise—the home they loved above all others—would always be there for them. All that changed on the fateful New Year’s Eve when Fidel Castro and his followers seized control of the island, with tragic consequences for not only the island, but for Natalia herself.

Five years later, it’s the fall of 1964—the U.S. is a country hovering on a precipice of massive change. The halcyon days of the Kennedy Administration have begun fading into memory, as the ongoing Cold War, the escalating conflict in Vietnam, and racial unrest at home begin to erode the sense of purpose and innocence that had gripped the country for three short years.

None of which really matters much to Natalia. For her, purpose and innocence disappeared five years ago; these days, she merely suffers her new existence as Natalie Martin, firmly leaving her past where it belongs—until the moment it all catches up to her and forces her to face the choices she’s made.

 

 

Those of you who know me, know how difficult it is for me to pimp myself out, but here I am, donning the Purple Hat of Pimpitude: please, RT, share, babble, whatever floats your boat if you feel as if I’ve written something that maybe has/deserves an audience. I will forever love you (well, more than I already do) and if you’re really nice, I might even give you my firstborn.

A Wee Valentine’s Story

It began, as such things do, with a conversation on Twitter. The lovely and talented Janice Whaley was passing the time as she waited (and waited… and waited…) for her turn to audition for The Voice. That she was there at all was due to the Evil Influence of one James Roday, AKA the irrepressible Shawn Spencer from USA Network’s psych . Many who are fans of the show or of Janice or James or all of the above also know that James is a Damned Fine Singer. Don’t believe me? Just listen to the cover of Tears For Fears’ “Ideas as Opiates” that James and Janice recorded as a duet for Curt Smith’s birthday gift last year.

Anyhow, I digress, but not really, since this is all Very Important Information leading up to my part in the madness.

So Janice was passing time tweeting and she happened to mention what a fabulous cheerleader James had been throughout the whole process, from encouraging her to sign up for an audition to helping her figure out what to sing. Which, of course, led to envisioning James in cheerleading drag. Which begat envisioning his costar Dulé Hill in cheerleading drag. Which begat envisioning their costar Tim Omundson in cheerleading drag. (I know, I know, but look, my only defense is that we were trying to distract Janice and keep her somewhat mellow prior to the audition.)

At any rate, the madness culminated with Janice proclaiming this was all starting to edge toward fanfic territory. To which I responded if she made it through her audition, I’d write her a wee little psych-fic with Shawn, Gus, and Lassie as cheerleaders. Because c’mon, just having the guts to do what she did deserves some sort of reward, right?

Maybe chocolates would’ve been better.

But because writing is what I do and Janice did make it through her audition, I wrote this wee little tale—after I sent it to her, she asked if I would be willing to share with you lovelies online as a Valentine’s Day gift and because I adore Janice and I adore all of you, I said sure (and promptly downed a handful of Tums).

Now, because I am a professional writer and I’m sensitive to these sorts of things, the standard

 Disclaimer: Psych and its characters belong to Steve Franks & Co., NBC/Universal, and pretty much anyone else who isn’t me. This work of fiction has been produced solely for entertainment purposes, no infringement intended.

And if the Intellectual Property/Copyright Police come after me, I will take this down, no questions asked.

So without further ado, I give you…

Shawn & the Valentine’s Pyramid o’Doom

Barbara Caridad Ferrer 

For Janice Whaley whose talent, guts, and good humor are a constant inspiration

 ©2013

View full article »

Far be it from me to not do a roundup, but this year, it has to be a quickie, because a) I’m on deadline (and to quote Bill the Cat: ACK! Pbbbllllltttt!!!!) and b) I was spectacularly underwhelmed this year. So I hope you’ll forgive the brevity. Hopefully, the SAGs and Oscars will give us better material.

There was a lot of channeling going on this year. A lot of channeling.

Claire Danes channeled Gwyneth, Isla Fisher channeled Kate Winslet, Katharine McPhee channeled JLo, Alyssa Milano channeled a NYC Cab…

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Lucy Liu clearly took her inspiration from Carol Burnett as Scarlett O’Hara, except she opted to skin the parlor sofa rather than the drapes. Her hair also looked as if she’d reconstructed her braid after a quickie in the back of the limo.

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Moving along, it appeared that many of the actresses in attendance were extremely jealous of Angelina’s Leg and were desperate to inspire parody Twitter accounts for their own legs. I can only hope they were all wearing underwear, as high up as some of these slits went. (Too many to mention but any other fashion gallery will show many examples, I’m sure.)

I will give you one example of The Leg Thing, if only because she was such a huge offender from another standpoint. Halle, you’ve got great legs, we get it. More importantly, however. for the love of all that’s good and holy, don’t do that to The Girls. I mean, did she piss off her stylist or what? Did she actually think this looked good? (And watch—she’ll show up on all the Best Dressed Lists, just because she’s Halle.)

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There were a few gowns I liked—while I wasn’t crazy about the cut/fit of the bodice, I did rather like Jennifer Lawrence’s red ballgown and Naomi Watts’ claret sheath with the train. (Actually, Naomi’s is one that the longer I consider it, the more I like it.


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My favorite of the night, however, probably was Tina Fey’s gown from the early part of the ceremony itself—love the color, her hair, and of course, the sassy lady wearing it.

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Here’s hoping the Oscars bring some better selections overall (and more time).

*Images courtesy of People Magazine & Huffington Post Style. 

2012 Roundup ala Pop My Culture

Yeah, I know it’s almost the middle of January, sue me.

So I’m taking a page from Pop My Culture’s year-end two-part podcast and doing a Top 5/Bottom 5 list, a resolution (or as I like to call them, “revolution”), & Song of the Year. Why? Well, because the podcast was awesome (seriously, go listen, it’s brilliant) and more importantly, I’m sitting here, waiting for my hair to finish processing color and I’m bored. (And hoping I don’t come out looking like the victim of nuclear fallout.)

So, without further ado, we’ll start with the Bottom 5- in no particular order:

Rejection. As in, rejection letters from editors. They suck. Nearly 15 years in the business & they still suck. A lot.

In that vein, not yet selling an adult novel. Not adult as in X-rated, you pervs, but adult, as in a novel/story intended for adults. It’s what I started out with the intent to publish, and it’s still my first love. I have some really good manuscripts still waiting for their turn. Hopefully, someday, they’ll get it. In the meantime, I keep creating new ones. (More on that later)

Fifty Shades of Grey I’m sorry. I try very hard not to badmouth other writers and or books but the manner in which this book made its way to publication and the level of popularity its achieved is just mind-boggling to me. And I’m sorry—it’s just a badly-written book whose characters were blatantly ripped off from another franchise (what I think of that one is a different topic altogether). What really pisses me off is how so many friends of mine who write really fine erotica/erotic romance are being accused of “jumping on the bandwagon.” On the other hand, it’s also served as a windfall for them, so that’s been a positive.

Ignorance/Intolerance. Sadly, this one carries over from year to year, but it seems to become especially prevalent during election years. I’m very live and let live—I have friends across the entirety of the belief spectrum, albeit leaning a bit more toward the left, but my staunchly-held belief system is one should educate oneself, should stand firm in one’s beliefs and grant me the respect of allowing me the same. You come at me with ignorance and intolerance and I have no use for you.

Taylor Swift/Justin Beiber/et al They just set my teeth on edge. Luckily, my kids have never gone for super lightweight pop music, so I’ve been able to escape most of it.

Okay, Top Five, also in no particular order:

Being approached by Harlequin out of the blue to write two young adult novellas. Especially amazing considering when my agent made the offer my response was, “But… I don’t have any novella proposals.” They simply liked how I wrote and wanted me to come up with something for them. Which I am in the process of doing.

Television I’m such a workaholic, I don’t get out as often as I should to movies, so I make up for it by having a cable package with every channel known to man. And even so, I don’t see the movies I miss in theatres because there are so many good television shows going on that are just smart and engrossing and fabulous examples of storytelling. Copper, Longmire, Mad Men, Justified, Vegas—and as a corollary to that, watching TV with my kids. It’s been so much fun to introduce them to old favorites and to discover new ones together—Firefly, Farscape, BSG, Dr. Who, Sherlock, Person of Interest, various anime programs. They’re so smart and it’s a blast to get their impressions and opinions. (And oh my, are they opinionated. Can’t imagine where they got that from…)

Music Also a constant from year to year, but the things that made it wonderful this year was discovering new artists via satellite radio and the Shazam app (As my husband says, “For a free app, it’s cost me a metric assload of money. Can’t say he’s wrong.) New artists discovered this year: Delta Rae, Z.Z. Ward, honey honey, Michael Kiwanuka, The Last Bison, Audra Mae & the Almighty Sound, Amy Stroup, The Head and the Heart, the Lumineers, Clairy Browne & the Bangin’ Rockettes—the list just goes on and on, really…  (Go on, look surprised. I dare you.)

Twitter 2012 was my year of rediscovering Twitter. I had joined in 2009, somewhat grudgingly in that “It’s something I’m supposed to do for self-promo,” which most people who know me know I hate with the heat of a thousand suns, but after STARS released in late 2010, I got so sick of myself, I went on nearly ten-month twitter hiatus. I made a cautious return in late 2011 and slowly began restructuring my follow lists. Rather than solely publishing people I started following people in other artistic mediums and from there, just people whom I found interesting. I started actually enjoying Twitter as a social interaction tool—it’s actually a perfect method by which a shy, introvert can get to know people and ultimately, it’s allowed me to befriend and meet in real space, some fabulous people I absolutely adore, including Vanessa Ragland, one of the co-hosts of Pop My Culture which of course, prompted this rambly post. Cole, you’re next. It’s okay. I’m reasonably harmless.

Ballroom Dance What started out as research for STARS has turned into a hobby/exercise regime at which it turns out, I’m pretty good. It feeds into my artistic/creative/competitive sides and frees up the lizard brain to mull over the writing.

Writing Yes, I know this makes it six, but I’ll be the first to say I suck at math. Besides, it’s my list. 2012 returned to me the joy in writing. I didn’t finish any manuscripts this year, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t write, because oh my goodness I wrote. I wrote so very much that won’t ever see the light of day and I’m okay with that, because I wrote simply for myself, no expectations, no rules, just wrote for me and it was fun and it fed my soul and reminded me why I do this. Because I have to.

One more, because again, my list, and well, it needs to be added: Twenty. 2012 marked twenty years of being married to my best friend. I initially hesitated to include this, not because it’s not important (d’uh) but because I actually tend to keep my personal life more to the background. But hell, twenty years is pretty freakin’ remarkable, if I do say so myself. We went to Hawaii and fell in love with it, so that was another thing that was great about 2012, which I suppose technically makes it eight things.

Yeah, I really suck at math.

Resolution/Revolution Oy, I hate making these because it’s inevitably setting oneself up for failure, but I’ll give it a go: this year, I’ll finish Dorian, my adult horror suspense. There.

Song of the Year This is both an oldie and newbie: The Boxer by Mumford & Sons and featuring Jerry Douglas and Paul Simon. First off, The Boxer is one of my favorite songs of all time. You have to understand—I’m a musician’s musician. I always glom onto music/melody first before lyrics. I can hear a song once and repeat the melody back to you, but there are songs I’ve known for thirty years where the lyrics will escape me (weird for a writer, right?). But The Boxer has always been one of those rare exceptions. Those lyrics have just always hit me straight in the gut and always seem relevant to some aspect of my life. The final verse, in particular, seemed to really reflect this past year for me: 

In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminder of every glove that laid him down
And cut him till he cried out in his anger and his shame
I am leaving I am leaving but the fighter still remains

I mean, if that isn’t just the biggest “fuck you, you can knock me down, but I ain’t ever giving up,” ever, I don’t know what is—and as beautifully as Simon & Garfunkel sang it, there’s something so stunningly perfect about Mumford & Sons’ interpretation. The harmonies are as glorious as anything Paul and Art ever sang, but when it comes to the lead vocals, Marcus Mumford is just raw and gritty and he sings the lyrics with the sort of raw anger they seem to demand. Add in that Paul Simon contributes to the vocals and lap steel guitar legend Jerry Douglas adds his own unique sound to the mix and it’s the perfect marriage of old and new and goes to show how a great song remains timeless.

Not to mention, Marcus’ voice does funny things to my ladybits.

I guess all in all, 2012 wasn’t too terrible, although honestly, the Mayans were more than welcome to its remains.

So with that, I bid 2012 adieu.

Lately, I’ve been working on the synopsis/story outline for the new YA novella. Unusual for me, at this point, is to be working with my editor at tweaking the story before I’ve even written word one on the story proper. Yet, even this early, there are things I really like about the story about which my editor is saying, “We might want to rethink this a bit.”

Which just goes to show, the darlings, they can be killed at any point in the process and as an author, you have to be prepared to deal. Unless, of course, you’re one of those speshul snowflakes who exists in a vacuum and has reached a point where people are afraid/don’t bother to edit you any longer. In which case, I feel sorry for you because everyone can stand editing.

But that’s a post for another day. Today it’s about killing darlings and while I’m not prepared to share from the new story just yet (mostly because it’s really such a little thing and not much of a darling to kill anyway), I am willing to share one of my absolute favorite darlings from Dorian. 

Oh, how I love this scene. Like BURNING, I love it. I knew when I first wrote it that it was a hell of a scene. When my first readers started telling me that good as it was, it maybe wasn’t going to work, I rebelled. It was such a good scene, dammit. How could it not work? I moved it around in the narrative—I even tried making it the opening scene—but eventually, I had to acknowledge defeat and the fact that my readers, with the distance they had from the story, were right.

Great scene. Just not working for the story as a whole. Out it goes. But I still love it and pull it out from time to time to remind myself what I’m capable of producing.

 

***

The French Quarter, New Orleans

November 2005

Gabriel clenched one end of the tourniquet between his teeth and pulled tight, rapidly opening and closing his left fist and slapping the fingers of his right hand along the crook of his elbow, pausing only to feel for the telltale rise of the vein.  Praying for it to come up faster, sooner…

There… there

He unclenched his jaw, the filled syringe he’d been holding between his teeth dropping into his palm.  Quickly, he adjusted his grip and plunged the needle into the vein, his head dropping back against the weathered brick wall of the alley as the juice burned through his bloodstream and the familiar euphoria washed over him, ebbing and flowing in time with the rowdy strains of “Iko Iko” that drifted from some nearby club.

Look at my king all dressed in red

Iko iko an nay

“I bet you five dollars he’ll kill you dead,” he sang along in his head—he thought—until he heard the cheer and answering chant of “Jockomo feena nay!” from the group weaving through the lights glowing at the far end of the alley, pointing the way toward the noise and rowdiness of Bourbon.  A little more subdued, maybe, but signs of life were evident, the parties of the Quarter staging a return.  Celebrating survival.  Shooting a big, civic finger at that fucking storm.  That mean-assed bitch had blown into town, done her damage, then left them scrabbling in her left-behind shit like the goddamned Lord of the Flies.  But she could just go fuck herself—she’d been banished and they were still here.  Still here and not going anywhere.  Not anytime soon, no sir.

Sweat trailed along his scalp and around his ear, cold and sinuous as a snake.  No… no…  He fucking hated snakes.  Blinking rapidly, he tried to dispel the image, rubbing his back against the rough bricks to get rid of the feeling of something dark slithering down his neck and along his arm, leaving a dank, clammy trail in its wake, like it’d just come sliding up from the bayou.

The syringe dropped from suddenly nerveless fingers to join the rest of the crap littering the narrow alley—this sliver between two ancient buildings just wide enough to trap the shadows.  Perfect for a quickie, whether it was with someone—or something—you wouldn’t normally be caught dead with out there, even in the hedonistic surroundings of the Quarter.  Their remains lay underfoot: the mélange of cigarette butts and crushed go-cups, used syringes and condoms that had a way of tripping up tourists stupid enough to try to use the alley as a shortcut. 

Why was he thinking of all this shit?  He was trying to forget the bad.  Forget the sting of cold water against his face—cold that was alien to New Orleans in August.  Forget fighting against the wind and rain, trying to convince folks to leave, that he’d drive them to the Dome, to the Convention Center, to anywhere that wasn’t where the storm was trying to beat her way into their house… the House of the Rising Sun, the Crescent City, the Big Easy…

So easy… It had once been so easy.  It needed to be easy again. 

He never used to trust easy.  Easy was for suckers and the lazy.  Live long enough in New Orleans, though, and a body eventually succumbed.  Easy was their way of life after all.  Even when working hard, there was a welcome, sugar-drenched easiness about everything that made it home.

A screaming trumpet line wailed through the heavy, humid air bathing him in the soothing warmth of home.  So warm, even late, late at night, with the shadows and ghosts as his only company.  Just like he liked it.

The familiar lethargy began claiming him, sweet and relaxing, from his fingertips through his muscles and all the way down to his bones, making him feel as if he was sinking right into the weathered bricks, merging with the building.  So perfect.  He could be a sentry, standing guard, watching everyone go about their business… doing the things they did, good and bad, that gave the city a richness like sweet cream, that kept folks coming back, even now.  She was like a lady past her prime, ragged round the edges but still damned fine enough to attract all the boys and knowing it.

He smiled, rubbing his palms over the rough surface beneath them, caressing life back into the old girl, letting her know he thought she was still hot.  He’d never leave her for any of those sleeker, bigger cities with their promise of shiny and new.  Hell, why would he leave?  All that sleek shininess, it was bullshit—a smokescreen hiding all the same sorts of darkness.  At least New Orleans, she was honest and true. 

Rolling his head to the side, he peered down the tunnel-like expanse of the alley, the dark length lithe and supple, his beautiful girl reaching out to embrace him.  Slowly, he began making his way toward the movement—so fucking beautiful, bodies moving together, then apart then together again, a long, graceful arm reaching out to him, imploring, beseeching—

“Please—”

He blinked again, smiled at her request, tried to move a few steps closer, stumbling as muscle and bone rebelled, wanting to stay, the weathered bricks tightening their embrace as if wanting him to sink into every pore and crack.

“Help me, please—”

It was the darkest part of the alley and he was still too far away.  Too far and getting further, as the long arm reached out once more then fell away, the once-graceful fingers grasping at thin air, desperate for purchase.  Adrenaline surged through his system, fighting through the junk holding his body hostage.

He blinked furiously trying to separate reality and the fantasy—what if it was all a fantasy?  What if it was all real? 

What the hell was real?

Please—

He groped at the small of his back for his piece with one hand—reached into his pocket with the other.  Braced his legs.  Lifted the gun in what should’ve been a practiced grip.

Sweated as it trembled.

“Police—”  He flashed his badge.  “Step away and show me your hands.  Now!”

Except there was nothing there.  Nothing more than the stink of piss and illicit sex and the distant wail of a trumpet that sounded like laughter on the night air.

 

From A Tempestuous Noise

© 2012 Barbara Caridad Ferrer

It’s been… a week. To put it mildly.

I returned from a wildly successful and incredibly entertaining weekend at the Surrey International Writers Conference (writers, seriously, go to this conference. I cannot recommend it highly enough) to find that shenanigans were afoot.

What shenanigans, you ask? (Or maybe you didn’t, but I’m going to tell you anyway.)

Turns out that Lovely Agent had been working her beautiful magic, communicating with an editor at one of the Harlequin imprints who apparently is rather fond of my work (yay for editors being fond of work!). She’d sent my current available material and was waiting to hear back.

Well…

Haunted, the ghost/sci fi YA they couldn’t figure out how to make fit within their lines.

Breathe, the cancer spouse/love affair was perhaps a bit too darkly emotional for what they were looking for (but more on that later).

Dorian was just flat out too dark (yeah… that’s not a surprise and those who have read the partial will understand why I say that).

But Lovely Editor wanted to work with me so on Wednesday (The Diva’s 15th birthday as it happens), Lovely Agent called and said, “Hey, they have slots in a couple upcoming anthologies for which they want you to write a couple of novellas. You game?”

To which I replied, “Um… D’UH.”

Seriously—I’m a writer. Give me something I can work with and I’m a very happy camper and this… this is something with which I can work. The anthologies will be released through Harl’s Kimani TRU line, which is the multicultural YA imprint, for holiday 2013 and spring 2014. Totally in my wheelhouse and moreover, sounds like FUN, which is something that has been in short supply lately.

And in the meantime, new Lovely Editor has yet another proposal of mine in hand, which was one I came up with back in the day as an option book that never seemed to jibe with TPTB, but that I hope will work this time around. It’s a fun story, set in a fashion design school and deals with body image and perspective and presciently enough, kind of ties into the whole “New Adult” wave that’s going around.

And also in the meantime, remember that splendid time I said I had at Surrey? Well, I met another Lovely Editor, also from Harlequin, yet another arm of the company, to whom I pitched BREATHE. (For those of you new to these parts, this is That Book. The one I can’t let go of, because I believe in it So Damned Hard.) This particular imprint is one that I actually feel is rather well suited to a story like BREATHE, that’s a little outside the box and defies some traditional story tropes, yet is still deeply emotional and real and moreover, I really, really liked this editor a great deal and feel as if she’s also someone I could work well with.

So… I sit back and wait. (Story of my life.) But at least now I have something with which to keep myself busy. Already the ideas are percolating and I can’t wait for characters to reveal themselves although they better do it quick—proposal deadline is November 14th. My sister’s birthday, another lucky day.

And because I’m me, I celebrated by buying these. Go on… look surprised. I dare you. 

Yeah, publishers really CAN do that.

The latest kerfluffle to hit the net with respect to publishing has, of course, to do with The Smoking Gun’s report of Penguin suing several authors in order to recoup advances. Lot of authors (who should really know better) expressing outrage and even a well-known agent weighing in that if Penguin committed such an act against one of their authors why, they’d cut Penguin off from submissions.

Bitch, please.

Obviously, we don’t know all the facts, but of the authors cited, at least one of them delivered a completely fabricated tale under the guise of memoir. Gee, sounds like grounds for recouping a sizable advance to me.  Regardless, here’s what I know as fact:

Fact: Most contracts have provisions/failsafes written in to protect the publisher when an author fails to produce a manuscript (what they define as “failing to produce a manuscript” can be called into interpretation, which we’ll get to in a minute).

Fact: Every author who writes a book for a publisher, signs a contract.

Fact: It doesn’t have to be that you haven’t delivered the book—it can be that the book delivered wasn’t what was promised.

Fact: It could be that the publisher decides for whatever reason strikes their fancy, they no longer want the book, and they are well within their legal rights to do so, no matter how shitty and wrongheaded they are.

How do I know this? (And Lordy, I hate, hate, hate resurrecting this, but dammit, sometimes, it’s just necessary.)

Thank you and thanks to Barb for your patience as [Publisher] and I have taken more time to consider SO SHE DANCES. I’m sorry to send the news now that we’ve decided we can’t proceed with the publication. As personally committed to the project as I am and as much as I wish I could continue working with Barb on the book, I’m afraid it’s just too far from working as a [Publisher] book. By that I mean that, first and foremost, the characters aren’t developed fully enough, apart from Soledad herself, who is not coming across as a likable heroine to root for. Further, the style is overly wordy throughout, thus the story pace is slow.

I had hoped that [Publisher] and the other editors here would agree that further revision could bring the novel the necessary depth and emotional involvement, but unfortunately the group is unanimous in feeling that too much revision is required. And so we will have to cancel the contract now, with the provision that Barb will repay her on-signing advance if and when she sells the project elsewhere.

I’m so sorry to have to say goodbye to this novel. It’s painful to do so, but I’m hopeful that you’ll be able to find a home for the book on an adult- or paperback-original list. Please let me know if you’d like me to put [name redacted] in touch with you to discuss this further.

Yeah, the “Barb” in question was me. That was a letter I received nearly four years ago on a project I had sold nearly sixteen months earlier. Sixteen months of working on a manuscript, sixteen months of having more than one editor tell me how much they “loved it,” but when it finally went up to the final arbiter, the publisher, she decided she didn’t care for it and that, as they say, was that.

And because I had signed the contract, she was well within her rights to do so. And so, I had to sign a letter that read:

“The Publisher hereby exercises its option to terminate the Agreement based on an unsatisfactory manuscript delivered by the Author.

The book in question?

WHEN THE STARS GO BLUE.

Yeah. That one. The same book that wound up winning the International Latino Book Award as Best Young Adult Novel was the same manuscript deemed “unsatisfactory” (or in the parlance of my contract, “an unpublishable product.”)

I gave it one more revision pass on my own, basically to take out a few things I hadn’t agreed with at the time, but that I had put in to appease the publisher, and changed the title, but by and large, the book published by St. Martin’s as WHEN THE STARS GO BLUE was the same manuscript turned down the aforementioned publisher.

I won’t lie. That was the single, shittiest, lowest moment I have ever had in publishing. (And trust me when I say I’ve had more than my fair share of shitty moments at publishing’s hands.) To this day, it continues to fuck with my confidence, because by signing that letter, it was like a public acknowledgement that they were right, even though I knew (and still know) better. However, the simple fact is, I signed the contract that gave the publisher the right to cancel the contract and demand I pay them back.

Was it unfair?

Oh, hell yes.

Was it an abuse of their power?

Obviously, I believe so. The amount of the advance was an absolutely paltry sum (seriously, really paltry) by publishing standards and considering the amount of work I’d put in over sixteen months, never being late with a deadline, essentially being a Good Little Author, I thought it rather churlish of them to demand I repay, especially when you consider the amounts publishers (including this one) have let slide in the past.

However

They had every right to do so because I signed the damned contract.

The clause wasn’t a surprise—I was fully aware of its existence because I read my contracts beginning to end and ask about what I don’t understand. And it’s not an easy clause to have removed—trust me. I just never imagined it was a clause that would ever be invoked because honestly—the language: “unpublishable product,” seemed unthinkable. I’d already had two books published—had received critical acclaim and won awards—had proven I could produce a publishable product, so no… the idea that I could have a contract canceled because of that particular clause was near laughable.

*cue Fate laughing her snarky ass off*

See, here’s the thing— a term such as “unpublishable product” is an amorphous term—subject to interpretation. For that publisher, their opinion was that I had given them an “unpublishable product” and in retrospect, maybe I had, because that particular imprint certainly didn’t have anything like STARS among their titles or other acquisitions. Look at the editorial letter—they basically said they maybe thought it could find a home as an adult title.

My counterargument would be that they had contracted a book that was an interpretation of Bizet’s Carmen—did they honestly think they were going to get light and fluffy?

The truth is, that particular imprint should never have bought the manuscript. Because in terms of story structure, tone, and execution, I never wavered from the proposal I gave them, nor was it appreciably different from my previous novels. They knew what they were getting—or should have.

I will forever maintain that the bulk of error rests on their shoulders, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

Because I signed the damned contract.

And here endeth the lesson.

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