Gardening Tips from Mary, Mary Quite Contrary

Mary Mary quite contrary

How does your garden grow?

With silver bells and cockle shells

And pretty maids all in a row

 

I am a terrible gardener. More to the point, I’m a reluctant one. I find people and animals more rewarding than plants, so it’s hard to make myself pay the attention necessary to keep them alive. My mother is always trying to encourage me to plant things, but I always say the same thing,

“It doesn’t work.”

But she buys me plants which I promptly kill. I like gardens, but they’re for other people. I imagine those people are also great at craft projects and make their own sausage. I picked my creative outlets, so I had to think of this from another angle. I like practicality, so I decided to try practical gardening.

So I tried this year to keep a small herb garden. I cook a lot and I was tired of throwing out unused fresh herbs. At first it worked rather well. I cheated and bought one of those already started herb gardens which all sit in the same pot from the farmer’s market. After watering them for a few days I caught the planting bug and bought a few more. Then a vacation dawned and I actually worried about their well-being without me there to care for them. I bought those water globes, but there weren’t enough at the store for all my plants. So, I consigned the un-globed to Mother Nature and hoped for the best.

I returned to a still thriving garden. I was surprised and even more surprising was how much I cared. So I kept watering and tending. I even started snipping some for dishes that needed fresh herbs. I felt smug—the way you do when you buy all organic and free trade—and planned for more plants.

Then the inevitable happened. My cutting had damaged them. It kept raining, so I reasoned I didn’t have to water them as much. The purple basil lost its purple. My tarragon wasn’t growing any leaves. I started to lose interest. And then two incredible things happened.

Garbage flower

Random plant growing from dead bulbs

 

First, the sunflower seeds I leave out for the birds and squirrels had been planted and I had a surprise sunflower blooming in my garden. Then a blub I had thrown in an old garbage can because it had died began to grow. It made me think of the nursery rhyme, Mary, Mary Quite Contrary because if you looked in my old garbage pail you’d find a light bulb, shriveled tulip bulbs, and kitty litter left by the previous owners to keep the pail from tipping in the wind.

My planned garden was dying, but a new magical one was flourishing. The sunflower already had its “day in the sun” and now the garbage plant is flowering. Hubby wants to kill it because it brushes against the car when we leave the garage, but I refuse. It’s become my affirmation. All summer I felt guilty because I wasn’t able to get my writing done. But now I know it was lying dormant, just waiting for the right time to flourish.

 

Plant growing in a garbage pail

Flourishing plant growing by itself

Transformations with The Little Mermaid

Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid in Denmark

Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid in Denmark

 

Having a blog has taught me some interesting things about myself. Some things I already knew and the blog just solidified the fact (i.e. I thrive on deadlines because without them my default is lazy). Some were funny (like how ridiculously happy it makes me when someone leaves a comment). How guarded I am was a big surprise.

I like meeting people in person. I strike up random conversations on mass transit, waiting for my daughter to be dismissed from school, in elevators, etc. I’ll answer questions, give advice and even share my phone number if I think we’re going to be friends (I know this is totally against what Winnie the Pooh taught me when he sang “Be too smart for strangers.”). I really like to share because invariably it leads to others sharing with you. I’m not a blabbermouth, but I’m rather open.

Not so with the internet. It took me two years to put my real name on the blog. I still don’t have a Facebook account because I’m uncomfortable having people randomly find me (I know what you’re thinking—but you have a blog!) and I do as much as I can to avoid signing up for anything that requires personal information. It’s something I continually struggle with—transformation is tricky. It’s like my relationship with the Little Mermaid.

I have a real problem with The Little Mermaid. The Disney version tells the story of a 16 year old who falls in love with a man she’s only seen once and proceeds to defy her father, give up her legs and voice to a sea witch, and then find a way to make the prince fall in love with her. Being Disney, she is able to persevere and win his love after which her father gives her legs and she and Prince Eric sail off into the sunset happy and married. Her age is my biggest qualm because as the mother of a headstrong daughter I shudder at how easily King Triton gave into Ariel’s hissy-fit. It’s the same reason I really dislike Romeo and Juliet (two teens throwing the ultimate hissy and make good on the threat “If I don’t get my way, I’ll just die!”). Despite writing YA I’m against hyperbole.

But the original story has her trading her tail for legs, which makes her the most graceful person on land but she must experience the pain of walking on dozens of knife points with every step. What did I learn? Real transformation is painful—a constant battle. Even after all that pain the tragic Little Mermaid opted to let her true love be happy with another instead of taking his life to regain her tail. I’ve never been a fan of martyrdom, but it makes a point.

Now, I’m almost ashamed to say, I finally read the original work by Hans Christian Andersen. (Imagine someone with a blog about fairy tales not having read a fairy tale!) In the real story she does lose the prince (and a chance at an immortal soul), but because of her selfless act she’s asked to join the “daughters of the air” who after three hundred years of good service earn an immortal soul. Being air she can bring breezes and “carry the scent of flowers through the air, bringing freshness and healing balm wherever we go.”

What all versions have in common is sacrifice. To get what you want, you may have to give something up. For me it’s anonymity. That’s probably why I started this blog by rewriting fairy tales…it gave me a place to hide.

After two years of blogging, I think I’m finally ready for my land legs even with the risk of stabbing knives (Does that count as hyperbole?). I still have issues with The Little Mermaid, but I understand what it’s like to know where you want to be and pursuing it.

Welcome to the new Fairytale Feminista blog, answering life’s questions one fairy tale at a time. See my new About Me page!

The Valiant Little Tailor and Other Brave Declarations

If ever there was a fairy tale character to look up to, I think Grimm’s The Valiant Little Tailor should be at the top of the list. Here was a man who had no problems telling the world about his amazing deed, even though the “seven in one stroke” he killed were only flies who wanted his jam. It led to other great deeds with giants, unicorns and even marrying a princess.

The reason I admire the Valiant Little Tailor (or VLT for short) is his ability to declare his accomplishments to anyone and everyone he meets. I think we all have parts of ourselves of which we’re proud, but don’t date tell anyone. Mine is easy—I’m a writer.

I know that sounds like a statement from Captain Obvious, but I find it challenging to tell people I’m a writer. I have this recurring fantasy where I finally tell everyone while simultaneously passing around copies of my newly published book. In a sense, I’m a closeted writer and I only tell people I trust to keep it quiet.

But why? As I continue to navigate the publishing world, words like platform and following keep popping up. I know my silence will only hurt my chances of generating buzz and keeps me from things like Facebook and Twitter. Even this blog has the name FairytaleFeminista, but I’ve never listed my name. It’s hard to put yourself out there, but people who want to make their living in creative fields have to do it constantly.

Writing becomes so personal because it’s mostly you and your words inhabiting a cozy universe of your making. In this world you can delete the unpleasant bits, reword the awkward phrases, and configure personalities that fit into your creation. When your writing becomes public, you can’t erase what other people think, do, or write about your work. And honestly, who’s a bigger control freak than a person invents people and decides their fates based on the needs of a plot. Doctors have nothing on writers when it comes to a God complex!

Was VLT on to something? Should we just emblazon our truth on a sash and wear it out in the world? When is the right time to “come out” to friends and family about your literary aspirations? Will it be more like a debutant announcing herself at a cotillion or am I declaring my alternative lifestyle, horrifying the practical 9 to 5ers in my life? Well, I’ve taken a few positive steps in that regard and introduced myself as a writer to a stranger. That was easy. Let’s try some more.

Hello, my name is Ivia Cruz and I’m a writer. I’ve written three novels and I’m working on a fourth.

That felt good.

Now what should I do about that LinkedIn page?

How about you? What’s your VLT story?

Community in the Wilderness: Searching for a Writer’s Group in the Wilds of the Web

“Why did you start a blog?”

It’s a question I get asked periodically by people who don’t write blogs. The honest answer is “platform”. It’s one of those buzzwords you can’t escape if you go to conferences, subscribe to newsletters, and generally stay abreast of the latest in writing and publishing. You hear it often enough that you begin to feel inadequate or inauthentic as a writer if you don’t have one. So, kicking and screaming I began a blog that focuses on fairy tales. It made the best sense because the YA series I’m working on is based on nursery rhymes and fairy tales.

At first, it was a chore. I agonized over the About Me section, trying to sounds both informative and pithy enough that other people would want to read it. I tried to look at it as my “trial by fire” because whatever I wrote would immediately be critiqued. At least that’s what I thought until I realized how hard it is to make your lone voice heard in the cacophony that is the blogosphere. But even when I wasn’t read, I felt as though each posting was a courageous effort to put myself out there–proof I was a writer each time I clicked Publish.

My best day was when, out of nowhere, a random person started following by blog. My initial reaction was, “Why are you following me?” But soon that gave way to real happiness and a renewed optimism in this process. Maybe blogging could be rewarding. Maybe I could grow to love it. Well, I was happy that I could at least find times to like it.

I kept writing. I also kept blogging and reveled in every new follower. I would post and click (too often) on the Stats page to see if my post was being viewed. Often I would be disappointed by the turnout. Sometimes I was surprised by what really got people’s attention. Nevertheless, I continued hoping to find the magic recipe of topic and writing that would make readers want another helping. Then I fell into what all bloggers can attest to.

Call it Blogger’s Blahs or Poster’s Paralysis, but I felt discouraged by the lack of interest and my lack of ideas. It came in waves, and then the Blahs ebbed because a new reader joined or a new comment would buoy me. The realization was almost anti-climactic. What I really wanted was not readership, I wanted community.

Deen Village Scotland

My search takes me everywhere

Blogs about how to find a writer’s group or a critique circle are endless. They have stories of writer’s being bestowed with the friendship of like-minded writers like the Commandments. It all sounds so warm and inviting, a stark contrast to the solitary clicking of cold computer keys. You’re encouraged to branch out, make connections, join clubs and all will fall into place. Well, after a few hits and misses and, just like the querying process, you’ll find the perfect match for you. It’s like blind group dating or “Naked and Afraid” writer’s edition.

My attempts to find my tribe have been mixed. I have one writer friend who is very dedicated to helping me with my writing and we’ve forged a friendship of respect and reciprocity that makes me believe in serendipity. But you learn early on that you need lots of eyes on your work.
The rest of my circle (non-writers all) have fallen away, unable to keep up with the back and forth of rewrites. For once I could say without fear of sounding clichéd—It’s a writer thing, you wouldn’t understand. So, my search continues. Blogs exist to create a virtual community, but eventually virtual isn’t enough.

Why did I start a blog? The short answer is to find more readers, but now I know it’s really to find more writers.

Why did you start a blog? Is it the same reason you keep blogging?

Music For Writers

 In the course of my life I’ve had many music teachers for piano, voice, music theory, and music history. I’ve taken classes in movement and drama, but I always knew that I would never be a professional musician. For me, music was another language in which to communicate. And even though I never had any problems with performance, I felt the conversation was between me and the music. It was almost religious. But let me not get too grandiose because my three B’s are Bach, Biggy and Fall Out Boy. What I really want to explain is what music has done for my writing.

When an idea first hits me, it’s usually a concept.

Setting: a beach with green sand and a solitary palm tree and three coconuts are left. 

Then I think about what that could mean to the people on this random green beach.

Problem: 4 friends and only three coconuts and they’re lost.

After that it’s a game of which sounds more like a story you want to tell a friend over drinks.

Solution 1: One friend shares the coconut.

Solution 2: Two friends fight until one is left standing and gets the coconut.

Solution 3: They play Rochambeau to figure out who should get the coconuts.

Solution 4: They crack them all open and put them in a vessel so they can all share.

Solution 5: They discover that the green sand is really enchanted and can add it to sea water for desalination saving the coconuts for cups and the coconut water for added flavor.

I don’t get around to figuring out what the characters are like until I know all of that first. Sort of like learning a piece of music.

I find a piece I want to play or sing, but it’s only a concept—notes on a page that sound one way in my head, but may change when really examined. I try to understand what the piece is trying to convey to others. Then I play with the different ways to express that idea. It all sounds very technical until you get to my favorite part—the characters.

Characters are the best part of writing a story and the way I make the story real. What kind of people would make any of those solutions worth retelling? I need a martyr for solution one. Solution two needs aggressors. The last three needs clever, outside-of-the-box thinkers and a leader to orchestrate it. But I still need to know about what makes them tick. That’s where music really comes in. My secret, which really isn’t a secret but more of my trick, is to find a song for each of my characters.

Since I love all kinds of music (even crappy pop music that is specifically for booty shaking) I have quite a wide selection. I also use songs for interactions between characters and situations in which characters find themselves. For example, one of my character’s from a novel I wrote is very independent and generally shuns help, but at a certain point she needs to ask for help from the last person she thought she would. While I was writing the scene I could hear Jill Scott’s I Need You playing in the background. Another secondary character had a lot of backstory I needed to keep in mind about why her life turned out as it did and I listened to Cath by Death Cab for Cutie.

I’ve used Broadway show tunes, Hip Hop, classical, Dixieland jazz, opera and anything else that will make me better understand this person I’m trying to invent, but probably already exists in the strains of a melody.

Now I keep in mind all the things my music teachers have told me in the past that can help me finish it.

  1. Always keep your nails trimmed
  2. Practice everyday
  3. Rotational neglect (when you obsessively focus on one thing and then leave it alone for a new obsession that requires your attention)
  4. Remember when it’s hard why you love it anyway

I may have learned to write through years of schooling, but music is what helped me become a writer. And prepare for the appalling lack of income! 😉

Will Multicultural become a new genre?

When I was an undergrad, I had a work-study in the school career center. My main role was internet research, a sweet gig for a sophomore which came with an office and unfettered access to a computer. One day I was called into a planning meeting for a networking event. What made it different from the other networking events was its focus on multiculturalism. The office hoped to attract multicultural alumni and connect them with multicultural students. It was an excellent idea until I pointed out what I thought was an obvious glitch. Multicultural included the GLBT community and would attending our networking reception as say a white male, automatically out that student as gay? Here I was, a 19 year old intern and I’d stumped the professionals. Then I asked, perhaps naively, why the event had to be labeled as multicultural since anyone answering to that label should feel free to come to all networking receptions?

I bring up this odd memory because I’ve been looking at literary agents “what I’m looking for” blurbs and noticed an odd trend. Some list within their interests “multicultural”. Is that a genre? I always assumed that when they listed categories like YA, sci-fi/fantasy, thriller, and such they weren’t specifically asking for white. For that matter, if they could, would an agent say they were interested in white lit? I think the backlash would be tremendous. I thought the publishing community was in the business of supporting those who create engaging stories with protagonists we can connect with and antagonists we love to hate. Does that have a color? A gender? An age?

I’m well aware of the current hue and cry being sent up to make literature more inclusive and I agree that it should. I just wonder if trying to get more diverse will create a sort of literary segregation where multicultural will become its own genre. I’m sure there are those who would applaud the shift, but I think it would miss the point. In an age when the world is getting smaller while at the same time we’re becoming more cosmopolitan shouldn’t we embrace the idea of multiculturalism as a foregone conclusion? Not doing so sounds as antiquated as referring to female medical professionals as “lady doctors”.

Then again, I remember going to a writer’s conference and having a pitch session with an agent who felt my YA fantasy wasn’t edgy enough because the protagonist was too optimistic and attached to her mother. She explained that YA audiences expected more angst and snark. I wanted to explain that snarkiness doesn’t fly in all homes, and particularly not in a Hispanic home, but I was too crushed to say anything after my protagonist was labeled middle grade. Would a separate category give my protagonist better opportunities?

I don’t know what the answer to this question–it’s becoming a trend. But my research into NA and my adventures in publishing (or pre-publishing I should say) has given me more perspective. I’ll take my cue from those NA writers who said the best way to change the market is to be a part of the market. Labels are a marketing tool, not a definition as to how I should write my stories.

In the end, the career center decided to have a networking reception open to all and attracted students from all walks of life, but they still opted to call it a multicultural event. I still think it was just an event.

At the Crossroads of Fairy Tale and Folklore

According to my outdated (read: paper copy!) Webster’s Dictionary the definition of fairy tale is a story about fairies, magic deeds, etc., while folklore is defined as the traditional beliefs, legends, etc. of a culture. So does that mean all fairy tales and folklore have in common is etc.? What’s etcetera anyway in this case? I like to think that the etc. in a fairy tale are the traditional beliefs and legends and the etc. in folklore are the fairies and magical deeds. Which means they’re the same, right? Well, now I suppose I have to address the 800-pound gorilla. That gorilla is called culture.

Does culture determine whether a story is a fairy tale or folklore? Does that imply that anything that doesn’t originate from Northern Europe (from where most popular fairy tales come) is folklore? Moreover does that imply that Northern Europe doesn’t have a culture? Neither should be the case. Fairy tales started out as folklore which became so popular that they transcended culture. That means that all folklore, despite culture, can grow to fairy tale status. All they need is a little push in the direction of popularity.

One of the barriers to wider appeal for many folk tales is language. Would we love Grimm’s Fairy Tales or the stories of Hans Christian Andersen so much if someone hadn’t decided to translate them? We should invite more cultures to the party. Right now the subject of diversity is really hot with writers, especially YA/MG writers of which I am one. It’s kind of a minefield of emotions, political correctness, and common sense that everyone has to wade through. As a parent, I want to make sure that my daughter sees herself reflected in the books she reads and the shows and movies she watches. As a writer, I want to insert my reality into my writing (even though I write mostly YA fantasy). But as a bona-fide member of the person of color club, not to mention being part of the largest minority–womankind–I feel as though I shouldn’t have to bang the drum too loudly because it’s worse than preaching to the choir. Instead of asking for change, I’m going to make change (I know there’s some funny cashier joke that I should make, but I can’t think of one–any suggestions?). For my own edification and hopefully for your enjoyment, I want to explore folklore that begs to be more popular, starting with my own.

 

 

What’s in an age appropriate label?

As some of you already know, I’m a writer. As to the titles of my works that can be found on a shelf or e-book, let’s just call me pre-published. I’m working on the third book in my series called Rhymes & Misdemeanors, a YA fantasy. But as my series progresses, following the adventures of a 17 year old girl on the brink of adulthood and magical chaos, it’s getting darker. The themes are becoming more mature as she matures, which is what you hope for in a character arc. However, it’s bringing up all these questions.

For one, can it still be called YA if the dark turns in my series include murder, betrayal, and sex? Yes, I said it. My book now has sex. And not illusions to sex, a whole chapter dedicated to my protagonist losing her virginity. The series didn’t start that way, but now I have to think about labels when trying to market a YA book with a less than YA element.

For another thing, why do I have to give my book an age label? As a parent, I know it’s important to let your child read age appropriate stories, but when I was 12 I read The Godfather! How much credibility do I have there?

So I went in search of the elusive label called New Adult or NA. I find it oddly poignant that NA also means not applicable because that’s how my series is starting to feel. It starts very YA and then becomes something more nebulous–adult yet pre-adult. That used to be Young Adult. Now we have New Adult, the 18-25ish set. It’s HBO’s Girls in book form for which I have little patience. But I didn’t want to dismiss it outright, so I started by looking at book covers. With precious few exceptions, NA books have an entwined couple with a slightly suggestive title hanging overhead, or it’s a woman-child with a determined look in her eye and a bare-chested man in the background and a single word title capturing the moment. This is not what I wanted. I have nothing against romance, or even erotica, but would I be lying to my readers if I slapped NA on the spine and they hoped to find YA’s sexier older sister? My book is about a girl who is trying to find her place in a world that says her desire to be more should be tempered by her sex and her station. Would NA audiences accept that as a viable topic?

Not wanting to be swayed by marketing tricks, I sought out the source of some of the less risqué titles of NA. I found a wonderful community of writers who think NA can be more than just a one-trick pony and prove it with their work. However, their optimism was tempered by the reality and some came out and said that NA audiences would feel tricked if romance wasn’t the main plot. But I’m heartened by a recent blog series written by one of those supportive authors, Jill Archer, whose blog is asking that very question. The authors she interviews also seem equally as optimistic and it gives me hope. (Read about it here, here, and here)

But my questions still stand. What do you do with a story of a young woman who is working her way to and through adulthood who actually manages to mature? Do you give her a new label or stick with the old one and hope her readers grow with her? The idealistic answer is “write your story and to hell with the labels”, but what’s the real answer? Maybe like my protagonist, it lies somewhere in between. I’ll make my own niche in both. In the meantime, I’m going to write my story and worry about marketing later.

The Danger

All endeavors have their pitfalls. Lawyers can become too jaded. Doctors–to robotic. Policymakers–to self-interested. And it doesn’t stop at professions. A mountain climber will tackle an even taller mountain because she hasn’t found one that has beaten her–yet. Surfers are always searching for that big wave and there’s a moment between doubt and sheer terror where invincibility washes all questions away. For every creative person the next work, the next piece, the next manuscript digs a little deeper (you hope) until you reach a core where only you live. That’s the danger. Living inside your head so much that no one can get in. That’s what all these risks have in common–standing in your own way.

Now that I’ve made this post sound so esoteric, let me bring you back to earth. I’m a writer and one of the things I write (obviously) is this blog. I concentrate on fairy tales, myths, and such and how they speak to us now. Not on an academic level, although it can sneak in there sometimes, but on a everyday human level. What does that mean? It means that I tend to spend a lot of time in my head figuring out what I think, feel, and believe regarding entertaining fiction. But living in my head I have a tendency, as many of us do, to overanalyze–to reach for something that maybe no one else sees. Nothing’s more jarring to an analyst than someone who reads your thoughts and comes back with, “Really? You went there?” “Yeah, I went there! And what?” Okay that’s defensive, but you get the point. But when you can’t find something in your bag of tricks, you tend to reach for snark.

This idea has been swirling around in my head for a while now and it started with Frozen, the new Disney movie sensation. I won’t pretend that I didn’t love it–because I did both as a parent and as a life-long lover of all (well, almost all) things Disney–but it’s gotten a little over the top. People want to dress up like Ana and Elsa, they record themselves singing, Let it Go, for public consumption, and they overanalyze the message. Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate the fact that (spoiler alert!) the main idea is true love which doesn’t involve a prince. I’m writing a series trying to debunk the myth that all girl-power adventure stories have to have a romantic focus. I just think that the cult-like following it’s attracting is…I’m searching for a word that isn’t too judge-y…unbelievable. It’s middle-aged women obsessing over Twilight unbelievable. Okay that was judge-y. Then I go back to my defensive analyst and hear others saying, “Yeah, I went there! And what?” To which I have no response.

We all have our own obsessions. Mine just happen to be quiet and solitary, while others can be loud and in your face. I came to blogging kicking and screaming and still haven’t joined Facebook or Twitter. I’m not secretive or shy, but I find I’m intimate. I’d rather have drinks at a bar than shots at the club. So, to end this long digression here’s the danger of blogging–living in your head and then being too judgmental of other people’s headspace. While it can be constructive, sometimes is can be cruel (like my Twilight remark). And though I don’t promise that I’ll always be big enough to take the high road, I like to think that I’m conscious of the danger.

Early Inspiration

The first stories I told as a kid were ghost stories. You know the ones I’m taking about. The mysterious drip that came from nowhere. The woman with a ribbon around her neck. The hook in the car door. The Lady in White. The list goes on and on, but they were stories we told each other at slumber parties, at recess, and especially at Halloween.

IMG_3437

As an adult, I look back at those stories with a hint of longing. Longing for the time when Halloween was atmospheric and eerie. Now it feels more repulsive and gory. Scary yes, gruesome no. Whatever happened to The Wolves of Willoughby Chase or The Watcher in the Woods? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please look them up as examples of stories with real atmosphere.

Being a writer has made me more proactive. If I feel there’s an absence of something I want to read, instead of complaining I write it. So, despite being a rather mediocre poet for some reason Halloween puts me in mind to rhyme.

All Hallows Evening

Quiet creaking

Gentle shivers

Paces seeking

Lighted slivers

         *

Moonlit pools

Carry secrets

Hungry ghouls

Hide in thickets

          *

Unsuspecting

Wander through

Anticipating

Only you

          *

Finding barely

What was sought

Knowing faintly

You’ve been caught

           *

Night of Hallows

Veils thin

Until the morrows

Stay in!