Saturday, December 29, 2012

I headed out of town yesterday to visit my family in New York.  During the 4-hour car ride, I discovered a whole litany of awesome web series written by great young writers.  It all started by watching the latest episode of a web series I watch called Awkward Black Girl written by and starring Issa Rae.  Then it was Roomieloverfriends and The Couple written/directed by Dennis Dortch - all stories of young 20/30somethings navigating their way through life.  I was excited, entertained and damn near emotional as I sat glued to my i-Phone pretty much ignoring my husband (sorry, baby) during our late night ride to New York.

I enjoy art - whether its a good movie, play, book or song - I love getting lost in someone elses universe.  I think art is humanities most important contribution.  I love the way my soul feels when I hear a good song - traveling through my body awakening every twinge, pinch and feeling - or the feeling I get when I read a good piece of poetry or prose, that has its own sound and rhythm  - or a movie/book whose characters stay with you for years like remembering an old friend... there is nothing like it. 

I loved the shows because they explored the humanity of black folks in a way that isn't present on mainstream television.  If an Alien was dropped on Earth from a distant planet with the sole task of blending in amongst black women - and their only preparation was watching VH1 for 24 hours  - could you imagine what that impersonation would look like?  I'm thinking a woman with a long, blonde/auburn wig, head to toe designer print, looking to marry and/or become impregnated by a rich athlete/rap star,  using the world "bitch" at least every third sentence and/or beating said "bitch" in a classy establishment once a week and having a default setting of offended for no good reason. 

Entertaining... but sad.

Needless to say, I am glad to see that the Internet would give them a slightly different impression. 

Rumor has it (if you get your rumors from The Washington Post), Ms. Rae is developing her own show for ABC with Shonda Rhimes (another one of my favs).  She is quoted as saying her dreams of opening up television for "relatable" people of color may be coming true.  Ack! I hope so Issa. Maybe there is room for my books somewhere after all!


Love and Light,

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

I hope you all have an amazing Christmas!  It would be disingenuous of me if I didn't mention how deeply affected I have been with the unspeakable loss at Sandy Hook over a week ago.  I mourn deeply every time I see those little faces on the news.  Last week when I watched my own children in their Holiday concert, I couldn't help but get emotional in remembrance of all of those parents in Connecticut who were robbed of so many precious moments like the one my children and I shared.  I remain painfully aware that the only thing that separates us is miles because we all could have just as easily been the target of such a vicious, random attack. 

This Christmas, I hope you all hold tight to your loved ones.  Take a moment to breath them in, memorizing every smile, every little laugh and every silly moment.  Remain conscious of just what a gift each day is.  Each day you have the opportunity to tell those close to you that you love them and look into their eyes and hear it right back is nothing short of a miracle.  I take nothing for granted this holiday season.  My hope is the same for you.

Love & Light,

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The benefit to living in a smaller metropolis (than in NYC where I grew up) is that I have a unique relationship with the places I go.  I have a favorite check out lady at the grocery store.  We chat about our kids and the Ravens and she knows exactly how I like my groceries bagged. I have a favorite coffee lady at Starbucks who knows to add extra cinnamon to my cinnamon dolce latte and makes sure its not too hot when I have a kid in tow.  I also have a favorite table at my favorite local cafe/bistro which not only feeds my soul on days where I just need solitude but it also gives me a unique view of the whole place - people, windows, fireplace and all - allowing me to dream up new characters and worlds.  I thought I'd hate losing the anonymity of living in New York City but it turns out being known makes me feel a part of something.  Like together we form a community and somehow that makes us special.

Our old tree before it was cut down :-(.

I was sitting at my favorite table Thursday afternoon - getting some work done and as usual, obsessing over the path my novel is taking.  As I round the corner to the final pages of my novel, I am struggling to find an ending.  I popped open the 2013 Novel and Short Story Market and came across an article called, Ten Writing Pitfalls: And How to Beat Them by I.J. Schecter.  I won't exhaust you with details because I think if you're a writer you should buy the book (and I'm pretty sure I could get sued) but I found one pitfall interesting.  It discussed finding an ending.  Schecter noted that often times while struggling to find an ending, writers often miss the fact that their book could have ended pages ago.   This advice is not new to me - on one of my first days in my novel writing workshop, I asked my instructor why I kept reaching a point where I couldn't write.  "What's wrong with me!?" I exclaimed amongst strangers on a late September evening.

First she said - are other things going on?  Yes, I thought.  I have a two year old and a five year old and a day job and a husband and a mortgage and bills...

"Not really," I lied.

Then, she said, "Maybe your novel is finished already?  Maybe the story is in the part you have written."


I remember finding truth in her words when she said it but in the last few weeks, I think I may have lost sight of just how true they were.

I have 59, 257 words that I love dearly - but that last thousand or so may just be my attempts to wrap things up.  I realized the things I have written recently don't feel genuine to me.   I think that may be because I am trying to wrap my protagonist's life up in a neat bow when 1) that just isn't going to happen and 2) I think the novel ended about a chapter ago.  There are parts of the novel that I miss and that I desperately want to develop but I keep telling myself it would just  pull him back and not get him to where he needs to be.  Maybe my protagonist will never be where he needs to be?  Maybe he needs to be pulled back? Maybe that's just how life is?

Well, in any event, I can't wait to let my new perspective loose on my manuscript (right now I am blogging/cooking dinner but my manuscript is peeking at me in my toolbar... such a flirt, that manuscript).  I may not meet my deadline of being done before the end of the year but I think 2013 will definitely see the completion of something I can truly be proud of!

By the way, you can buy The 2013 Novel and Short Story Market here.

Love & Light,

Thursday, December 20, 2012

This week's quote is by Silvia Plath.  Just in case you don't feel like making the often tedious eye ball trek to the left margin of this page, I will repeat it here because I feel like that last part is the theme of my week. 

 "And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
Sylvia Plath

I'm in a "listen to Tracy Chapmen [or insert your tragic, overreflective musical choice here] and feel like a tortured artist" kind of mood.  It may or may not have to do with extreme sleep deprivation and my children-are-crazy-itis.  Or it may have to do with losing confidence that may or may not have been based on my belief that everything I write... is magic.

I submitted a piece of writing to my writer's group for critique on Saturday.  It truly is an awesomely diverse group of people from various backgrounds and genres.  Anyway, the piece was something I drafted a few weeks ago in the second half of my novel.  It was a rough draft and still kind of raw.  Overall, the piece was well received but some feedback focused on the inadequacies of the piece.  For instance, some pacing seemed off and another part lacked believability.  As I was driving home, all I could think about was criticism of the piece (because, you know, everything positive scurried out of my brain and onto the highway behind me and was run over again and again like a lost possum).  Then, about half way through my drive, nothing but the hum of my car engine and brush of the rushing wind against my windows, I had that moment... you know the one...

"What if no one wants to read this novel but me? (and those obligated by marriage, consanguinity and friendship)"

I started thinking about the story and the characters and the time and the words and my day job and my kids and... next thing you know, it was Thursday and I hadn't written anything all week.  What's up with that?  So I know the rule... don't wallow, force yourself to write... right?

So I googled.  Even when my creative self is bound and gagged in the figurative chains of worry and self doubt.  I'm still an awesome googler.

And I found this.  I'll let you know if I'm out of my funk next week.  If you just happened to find yourself here feeling the same way, feel free to commiserate in the comment section and THEN use a prompt.  If forced creativity doesn't work, next week, I will be leading a skype group where we will stare in our mirrors and chant, "I am friendly... I am a good writer and gosh darnit, people will enjoy reading my work."

Love & Light, 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

I promise this will be as painless as possible.

I am struggling with audience.  My novel is about a male college student, Nate, who struggles with drugs, alcohol and monogamy.  I know what you're thinking but he isn't just an asshole.  Nate is trying to escape.  He is trying to escape an abusive past and a younger sister he carelessly abandoned in the wreckage.

When he meets a beautiful woman who challenges him to be more than he ever thought he could be, things seem to turn around but you know what they say about bad boys...  Needless to say, he has a very difficult time changing his ways.

Nate is an unlikely protagonist but he is painfully human... oh, and did I mention... he just happens to be black.

In my Advanced Writing Workshop this fall, we each presented 35 pages of our manuscripts.  I was scared out of my MIND.  My class was mostly made up of older white woman and I just wasn't sure they would be receptive to a promiscuous black guy in college. My fears were proved unfounded when my manuscript was extremely well received.  My classmates talked about it enthusiastically for the full hour devoted to my book and I left the group feeling foolish that I thought the book was somehow unidentifiable because of race OR that my audience would only be other black and brown people. 

At the end of class, as I was basking in the positive reviews, an older black woman, Sharon*, whispered to me softly, "What are you going to do about race?"

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"His roommate is white," she said as if that explained it all.  I nodded, puzzled and not really sure what she meant.

My novel is not autobiographical but it is very reflective of my upbringing.  I grew up in Queens, New York, which is arguably one of the most diverse places on the planet.  My friend circle was like the UN and none of us ever noticed or mentioned it - unless it was when I was trying to bum a spinach pie off of my Greek friend's mom... those things are DELICIOUS. I digress.  I spent most of my childhood feeling pretty boring because as a black American from New York, I didn't have any unique food to eat or cultural dress.  I wore jeans and ate pizza.  So, the diversity in my book isn't some big post-racial statement, it’s what I know.  That's not to say I didn't experience racism.  That is totally not true.  However, when it came to my friends, we were people first.  The skin we wore and the culture we belonged to just added to our imprint, it didn't define it.  

I came home and mulled over Sharon's statements with my husband.  About half way through the book, my protagonist is involved in an interracial relationship.  The character, Allison, is one of my favorites.  She is funny, kind and just an all around awesome person who I would love to be friends with (weird writer moment).  Anyway, she is white.  Other than describing her as blonde with gray eyes, I have done very little to establish her as white.  Allison and Nate don't talk about race, they don't obsess over race... they just exist.  I wondered… should I be addressing it? Am I doing a disservice to the historical struggle of African Americans because of it?  I also have a gay couple in my story... should I be discussing their struggle too?

My conclusion was no.

Allison is white because... well, because sometimes people are white.  And Nate is black because... well... because sometimes people are black.  They get together because sometimes black and white people do that.  Sure, even in Nate's universe racism exists.  Maybe he was racially profiled before the story began.  Maybe someone gave him and Allison a dirty look at a restaurant.  It happens.  It hurts but my book isn’t about that.

The thing is, when I sit around the dinner table with my sons at night, I don't say, "How was it being black today?  What did the white people do?" My pillow talk with my husband doesn't usually start with "How does it feel to be oppressed?" 

We are just people. 

Complex emotional people with complex unique, individual problems.  I am resentful of a society that has made it an issue.  I am aware of the different set of rules for my sons as they grow older.  I will be sure they are aware of it too but in my house, in our private moments, I choose not to be defined by it.  I thought about Sharon's statements quite a bit and ultimately decided not to go out of my way to address race at every turn in my book.  It's not true to I am - and it wouldn't be honest.  That's what writing is about right?

As I move forward and identify my genre, I often wonder what shelves my books will end up on.  Will I be in the African American section because my protagonist is black or will I end up in the fiction section because my protagonist is human? 

Frankly, I just want to be on the shelf.

Love & Light,

Saturday, December 8, 2012

One afternoon in my Advanced Writing Workshop, our class engaged in a lively debate about character development.  One man noted that characters are more crass now - he gushed over a time when ladies were ladies in novels and gentlemen were gentlemen (we had just finished critiquing a 50 shades kind of story, can you say awkward?).  He didn't understand the trend towards crass language and "in your face" popular literature.  Our lecturer, Barbara said, first - this romantic, pure time never existed.  She said Shakespeare had one of the most foul mouths in literature, it was just that no one understood it (AMEN).  Second, she said our characters lead us - sometimes we just don't have the luxury to  make them neat and tidy - legs crossed and polite as can be.  In particular, she said as writers, our job is to get our characters up and walking and then you just follow them around. I wrote that down in big letters in my notebook!

Writers, how often do you find yourself setting out to write one scene and you end up writing something totally different? Or how many times have you found yourself writing a scene and not only does some third character show up, she/he is louder than everyone else! In the first chapter of my book, my protagonist is reminiscing about his first time.  I didn't really intend to write it but the experience and his encounter with the woman took on a life of its own which ended up being an integral part of my protagonist's development.  Lisa, his first, was loud, vivid and you would have thought she was sitting in front of me as I was writing.  I pictured her sitting at my kitchen table (where I often write on my laptop, its by a big picture window that looks out on my neighborhood).  I pictured Lisa sitting in the chair across from me, obstructing my view of the window, wrapping her chewed fingernails on my table, rolling her eyes saying things like, "No, no, Faye, I was wearing my white sneakers" and "Hold on, at first, he didn't want to kiss me".  After awhile I had to tell Lisa to quiet down - this wasn't her story.

I've read that writing takes place in the subconscious part of your brain.  When you are in another level of consciousness, not quite present in reality (I told you we were a creepy breed).  That sort of lends itself to the truth of Barbara's statement doesn't it? I go back to that statement quite often in my notebook. As a reminder of why it never quite works when I try to make my characters anything other than exactly who they are.

Love & Light,

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hey folks! Welcome to my blog and my official coming out party! Yup, I, Faye McCray, am stepping out of the closet as a WRITER.

I have been writing since I knew how.  It started in birthday cards to my big brothers (apparently one involved an exploding birthday cake, hehe, I was a weird kid), moved on to endless notebooks and continued throughout college.  I always knew I LOVED to write but I had no idea how to go about making it a sustainable career.  So, like many people without a plan, I went to law school!  After almost seven years of practicing law, a husband, two beautiful baby boys and some freelancing later, I decided to no longer fight that voice inside of me that is constantly calling me to write and JUST DO IT.  This blog will document my journey!

Right now, I am still working full time as an attorney which I am coming to terms with (read Writer with a Day Job by Aine Greaney, you will too) but I am about 53,000 words into my first novel.  I am hoping to be completed by the New Year.  I just finished an awesome Advanced Writing Workshop with Barbara Esstman at The Writer's Center where I received some great feedback and learned a ton.   I also belong to a great critique group in Baltimore.  If you are a writer, I can't overestimate the importance of finding a circle of other writers.  We are a strange breed that finds divine contentment in making things up... think about that for a minute... who better to obsess over your imaginary friends with than other writers?!

Well, strange or not, I love to write.  I talk to my characters during my (lonely) commute to work, I memorize places I visit so I can write about them and I wake up in the middle of the night to scribble descriptions of hands in my notebooks.  I'm twitching, I'm itching... oh no, I caught it - I am a writer! Hope you will hang out with me as I head down this journey - whether I am a mass producing author who continues to produce in death or a little old lady with a ton of books under my bed, I am not stopping.

Love & Light,

Get your momma's 2-step on ya'll!
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