A Glad Heart.

 

 

aspen 100It is hard to know, with each piece of fiction we create, if it matters.  This novel I have finished does not challenge your knowledge of World War 2, or create a world where women act as hand maids but eventually rebel. It doesn’t expose the wrongs of the American justice system or enact a parody of our president. (That would be too easy).

So, does it matter?

The novel, just picked up to be published by Wido publishing, tells the story of three families in Sonoma, California. It weaves their tails together, their past, present and futures becoming entangled in the ways lives do, whenever we share community, geography, secrets, love and lies.

The characters are inspired by the people I know. They are frightened but resilient, lost but found, distant but attached, depressed but occasionally manic. They drink too much wine and occasionally share a joint. They push through grief with a paint brush, or a horse. They immigrate from far away places but hold firmly to the ground of the Sonoma Valley. They are family but not always related by blood. They seek answers about their past, dream of the future but have trouble being present. They are inspiring and frustrating at once. I know, as I have spent a lot of time with them.  They are all a little like me, and you.

I hope the novel matters, because in the end we all want our work to matter. But either way, it needed to be written, because the stories were waiting to be told. And it needed to be published, because they needed to be shared.

I’ve written this novel in various forms for years now,  changing the form again, and again. Thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert, I am finally sending it out to the world.

She writes in Big Magic:

“At some point, you really just have to finish your work and release it as is – if only so you can go on to make other things with a glad and determined heart.”

Ah, the joy of a glad and determined heart!

So here I go.

Below is the press release. I hope you’ll come to my author site and join my mailing list.  Most of all, I hope you read the novel when it comes out, and that you come to like these folks a little bit, and feel inspired to reach out to someone you love, or reach for a pen and write a love letter or lift a glass of wine and say a toast to those you’ve lost.

If so, then it mattered.

Press Release:

http://widopublishing.com/sonoma-valley-inspired-debut-author-joanell-serra-signs-with-e-l-marker-for-her-literary-novel/

Author site:

http://joanellserraauthor.com/

 

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Thoughts on the eve of May.

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Spring comes late this year.

Slipping in between the sheets just when I’d lost all consciousness, had shifted from a long winter malaise to a true coma. I can barely rouse myself to open my eyes as the room grows brighter.

My brain crawls from its winter shell, not unlike a hideous sticky butterfly after months in a chrysalis state. Only the butterfly is ravenous and her wings are tattered.

November was bleak. Like a prescient, irritating, bitter guest at the dinner table, predicting doom and sharing poor news.

Locking the windows on the last of the fall’s bounty. Finishing the Cabernet without sharing, cackling at racist jokes.

December was a long day with a narcissistic friend.

The exhausting false cheer of the worst possible season. The endless fatty meals, poorly planned conversations, missed connections, dropped lines.

The loneliness of the solstice, the boozy denial of the morning after. The crawl towards the always awkward birth of a new year.

January is best not spoken of.

February was worse.

Like a break up with an angry borderline, each day bringing its new agenda from hell. Cold hands, slippery wet steps, smelly dogs, tread-less tires on a sleek road, dark mornings, cream curdling in lukewarm coffee.

A month of shit.

March was still tough. Think of a long weekend with the relatives, the uncle on a bender, the cousins out of jail, a flatulent dog, cold spaghetti and stale beer.

You thought there would be an end of the madness, a bottom to the pit, the friend who came to rescue you from the relatives. But she never came.

Now, April had its moments. Early on there was a teasing wink from the sun. A smattering of flowers and begrudging smiles from strangers at the gas station.

But the rains came back, as if the bipolar x -boyfriend, institutionalized back in February, had broken out and returned.

This time there was no energy to bring cheer to the situation, to praise the end of the drought, to make the most of the mud on my shoes, to don a cheery scarf against the dampness on the back of my neck.

Fuck this, I thought, watching my windows smear.

My ever eloquent end-of-the-winter blues.

But today, Goddamn it, the sun is shining. April 30th, and it feels like the world has decided it’s heliocentric after all .

At the beach, the  puppy rolls ecstatically in broken mollusk shells, chases frightened children and barks at the surf. Yee haw, her bright eyes say to me.

I contemplate the possibility of summer’s ease.

Flip flops, long evenings, candle wax dripping on the picnic table,  a white dress over burned shoulders, berries plucked casually from the bushes along the path.

I watch the sun setting over the water, and feel myself waiting anxiously at the door for summer, my soul mate.

Like the repeatedly abandoned lover, I always take him back.

He rounds the corner, a jacket thrown casually over his shoulder, hope teasing in his smile.

“Miss me?”

Yes, you bastard, I did.

 

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Falling into quicksand.

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My dogs ran away one hazy afternoon, when I’d headed out for a consoling long walk through the marshes. I bent down to tie my shoe, and cell phone fell to the ground. I reached for it, placing the leashes on the ground next to me, at the same moment a random hare bounded by. I noted the strength and ferocity of his springing legs.

My shepherd mama and her daughter were off, running like they were race dogs and the shot had been fired.

I screamed for them to stop.

Mama dog didn’t turn. The puppy glanced back at me, her eyes seeming to say, sorry, but hell man it’s a rabbit. Their tails wagged as they plunged into the high brush. The marsh is a beautiful but eerie bird protection area stuck between a dubious part of the San Francisco bay and a highway. I watched the tall grasses move as the rabbit, and then the dogs, disappeared.

This area is both totally public and yet uncomfortably creepy. The mud sucks at your feet, there is random debris peeking out from the bushes – wet blankets, condoms, bottles – and it is full of places a psycho might hide. I never worry about the pyschos when I walk here, because I have my dogs.

Only now I didn’t.

That’s ok, I told myself, the sun was peeking in and out of the clouds, and I had hours before my next appointment. I would find them in a minute. Or a few.

I jogged down the main wide path, and then smaller, less trodden ones, yelling the dogs’ names until my throat grew dry.

I refused to think about all the worries that had sent me out for a long walk in the first place: some of the people I loved were hurting, and others were dying. We had real estate woes and career blahs, and a mundane to-do list a mile long. My car had no oil, my hip no lubricant, and my novel remained un-edited. Most of all, a frightening series of political events had led to the rapid decline of our civil liberties.

No, I would focus on finding my dogs.

A half hour in, the sky opened, rain descending across the marsh in sheets.

It’s Ok, I reassured myself as the cold water slipped down my collar. You’ve been soaking wet before and so have the dogs. Just keep going. My yells were dampened with the rain, they would never hear me.

After an hour, I found the pup, tangled in a tree, crying. She squealed and licked my cheeks as I untangled her leash and led her out. If she knew where her mother had gone to, she wasn’t talking. She pulled me towards the car.

Another hours later, still searching, I questioned for the first time if I would ever see the Mama dog, Cora, again.  She’d always had a wild streak. She’d been rescued from a field outside of Fresno when we adopted her. Maybe she had decided to return to her roots? I pictured her hitch hiking up 101, her ears cocked for a good ride.

She is also a ridiculously friendly dog to humans. She looks like Kujo, but if a burglar came to the house she might lick him to death. Perhaps she had gotten acquainted with one of the homeless folks from the marsh, and headed off for a more transient life? I could accept that scenario, if I just knew she was OK. I prayed. I bargained with God. I made a list of the reasons he owed me. I took it back, and pled my case differently, with less arrogance. I threw out a call to my angels, to Alla, Shira, and Mother Marie. I try to keep in touch with all of them, play my odds. But no-one answered.

Eventually, I took the pup home. She was wet and tired, hungry and dismayed. So was I.

I returned to the marsh alone to renew my search in the late afternoon. The rain had abated, but my voice couldn’t seem to project anymore, my throat too dry and sore. A small cold had blossomed into a flu-like event over the course of the day, and each step took effort. I imagined being on a Nyquil commercial, drinking a magic potion and being put to bed. My head throbbed and my fingers grew numb.

At one point. I heard a bark in the distance that I was sure was my dog Cora’s, distinct amongst the other dog barks. I ran towards it, elated. But of course the paths were muddy as shit.

Have you ever fallen into the cold black watery mud of a marsh? It’s quick sand, only colder, and it smells like farts of a rhino that ate rotten eggs. The slime threatens to consume you, leaving not a trace.

I scraped, clamored and yanked myself up.  My joints ached.  My arms seemed almost futile. Where was that upper body strength the yoga teacher promised? I found a stump and used it to pull myself out, slowly, my back covered in black sludge.

I lied on the ground, recovering. The sky was doing the beautiful thing it does in the winter, after a rain. Pink and purple clouds shifted across the dusky blue background, like dancers in gorgeous dresses, flirting with the sinking sun on one side, the rising moon on the other.  I stayed still. I watched.

I decided not to cry about my worries over my children, our lack of a housing plan, our president, my clients hard lives, my throbbing knee, and most of all my missing dog. I would not to get up either.  I watched the sky like it was the best show in town, which it was. When it grew dark, I finally gave up, and walked my wet ass back to the car.

I went home and did what I had to do: fed the pup again, took a shower, took a client call. I kept in touch with the police, the humane society, and the family. I prepared for the worst, and let the pup fall asleep on my chest, both of us scared.

Eventually, my phone rang. Did I have a dog named Cora? She had wandered into Cost Plus, and the staff were a little worried about her.

“She’s real cold, and she looks like she sure misses you.”

She better, I thought. Little fucker.

Here’s a picture of my girl, waiting in the store while I high tailed it over there.

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Back in the car, Cora shaking in the front seat next to me, I finally cried. She leaned over and licked my tears, remorseful. I took her home.

Here’s my life lesson. When you think everything sucks, it probably does. But tilt your head up anyway, and take note of the world’s beauty.

Be present for the sky, the sun, the rain, the clouds and the darkness. Get out of your own head.

If you don’t, the universe will knock you on your ass, dip you in mud, and leave you feverish on the banks of the river, until you open your eyes and pay attention.

Life Lesson #2. Don’t put down the leash, even for a second, in rabbit territory.

Darn Rabbit.

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Sixteen

My youngest child is sixteen today.

 

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He is still a child.

A simmering bundle of appetites. He will eat cake with abandon, roll hard in muddy Rugby fields, and drop his things across the house like change slipping from his pockets.  A hat, one sneaker, skate board hardware, candy wrappers, empty Arizona tea cans, and scribbled notes on photosynthesis all form a path from the front door to his boy lair. His clothes are piled like a small mountain range around the canyon of his bed, where he curls in innocent sleep.

He is a man.

He scoops the dog up in his arms, fifty pounds of wild. She calms as they merge, muscles wrapped around muscles. The dog acquiesces and licks his chiseled cheek, surrendering to his enormous heart.

On Sunday afternoons, his young amiga waits for him nervously on the corner. Her cheeks flush as she tosses her chestnut hair and steels her eyes to bring a seriousness to the encounter, then abandons it to grin and wave as we pull up. As he steps from the car to her arms, I know she does not see my child. She sees a kind and warm young man, his dark eyes inked upon her heart like a surgeon’s skilled tattoo.

He is a Mayan.

He comes from a land of turmoil, from a people of peace.  From the dream-like world of Guatemala. From a people who challenge the world’s oppression with only the blinding colors of an artist’s palette, woven into the fabric of their lives. The flaming red of too much spilled blood, the cobalt blue of the wide sky above Lake Atitlan, the yellow of the winter sun, the verdant green of the sweating jungles.

A people that call upon Gods that we dismiss too easily in an anthropological white-wash. Gods who fly with the wings of eagles, who spill the wombs of fertility to the dry earth. Gods who have forged their people — strong, fierce, wise people, in the fires of struggle.

He is a messenger.

At seven months, my small prince made his way from that far away world to ours, his tiny hands playing happily with our Westernized toys. He blew bubbles and smiles at the stewardess on the crowded plane and stretched his legs, already strong, to lift himself high.  He was sixteen pounds of joy, hurtling into our world like a comet, breaking us open to a different way of seeing, a new kind of love, a melding and reshaping of the family tableau.

There has been pain. There is always pain, when we stitch together disparate parts of the universe and try to call it the “same.”

But the edges have smoothed over time, each of us finding a new way to embrace the other, each of us finding a bottomless well of love for our boy, and our boy finding that no matter how deep he digs, no matter how far he goes, there will be more love. Always more love.

My youngest child is sixteen today.

He is launched into the world with the courage of a Mayan warrior, the heart of a loyal pup, the free spirit of a child, and the love of his tribe.

Watch him fly.

 

 

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Quiet Lightning. 11/7/2016 in SF.

Condo Condo by Blü Voelker

 

It is always awesome to be included in an exciting writing event. I’ll be reading on Nov 7, as well as have my piece in the book produced for that evening.

Thank you Quiet Lightning for including my work and encouraging writers. Th writers journey can be a bumpy ride through an intricate landscape. I am sure the evening will be a lovely respite a long the way for all of us!

 

Monday, Nov 7 2016 • 7pm doors / 7:30 show
The American Bookbinders Museum

355 Clementina St.
FREE + all ages

curated by Kelsey SchimmelmanChristine No

@ The American Bookbinders Museum


Wesley Cohen

josé vadi
Kate Ambash
Sarah Heady
Lorraine Lupo
Brennan DeFrisco
Cassandra Dallett

Elizeya Quate
Abe Becker
Allie Marini
J. K. Fowler
Sarah Henry
Keith Gaboury
Joanell Serra

 

 

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A Writer’s Bitter-Sweet Glossary.

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There are words writers know and love, or know and hate. It’s visceral.

Words that are tossed around so often we forget what they meant before they became industry-speak.

In the complicated, tedious, and occasionally brilliant “writing life”, in a vocation that is completely reliant on our ability to use perfectly chosen, accurate words, these words that have become so blasé they are mundane seem even stranger, when we step away from them. Or get close, and examine.

Submission.

Dictionary definition: The action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.

Writer definition – A written article, story, poem, or piece of fiction -a piece of ourselves – sent off into the ozone to be accepted or rejected. Perhaps by a superior force, but perhaps by an overworked, underpaid cynic, nursing her Scotch in the corner of a bar.

Rejection:

Dictionary definition: The spurning of a person’s affections.

Writer definition:

  1. Our work is found wanting, weak, off target. It doesn’t fit with this market and won’t sell. It can be overwritten, under-edited, weak on pacing, or overly plot driven. Maybe it lacks a likeable protagonist, or a hate-able antagonist?  It could be so beautiful, it makes someone cry . . . but they need a laugh. Maybe it’s funny enough to set a reader giggling . . . but this editor is feeling dark and moody. In short, our piece is not wanted. Most likely, we’ll never know why.
  2. Verb: To spurn our affections via automated email.

Literary agent:

Dictionary definition: A professional agent who acts on behalf of an author in dealing with publishers and others involved in promoting the author’s work.

Writer definition:

  1. Possibly a cheerleader, someone to champion our work. Otherwise an overworked underpaid writer who has switched sides of the equation out of frustration. A new college grad who had an unpaid internship for three months, and now calls himself an agent.
  2. A greed driven sycophant who might leave a novel on the desk for twelve months, during which time the writer cannot seek another agent or publisher.
  3. A hands-on editor, who spends hours coaching the writer through a rewrite, without any guarantee they will receive payment. In short, they are all over the map – wonderful, generous souls and clueless, unprepared newbies propelled by unrealistic fantasies of discovering the next Stephen King. Strangely, they are hard to get, even with the lack of credentials needed.
  4. The gatekeepers to the big publishers, and increasingly the small as well. Writers love to hate them. But we want one anyway.

Representation:

Dictionary definition: The action of speaking or acting on behalf of someone.

Writers Definition:

  1. The act of signing a paper with an agent – be he angel or sycophant. We may have our book shopped to publishers every-where, or the manuscript may quickly become the best place for the agent to rest a latte cup in the morning, next to a dying cactus.  We quickly know not to assume someone truly representing our interests.

Self publishing:

Dictionary definition: A writer publishes independently at one’s own expense.

Writer definition:

  1. We decide to invest in our work and share it with the world. We refuse to play the archaic game of trying to get published by the bloated “big houses” and receive 8% royalties on our life’s work, and we don’t wish to write vampire mysteries. However, the establishment has convinced most readers (and writers) that it doesn’t quite “count” because we didn’t get through the gates to the publishing heaven (AKA hell). It doesn’t matter if you’re Virginia Wolfe or Anais Nin. You are bravely offering your story to the world without an adequate marketing strategy.

A platform:

Dictionary definition: A raised level surface on which people or things can stand

Writer Definition.

  1. A place we stand on and tweet, snap photos, make pithy remarks, blog (like this), collect emails, and try desperately to garner attention before a market-driven literary agent (see above) Googles us, and decides not if our work has merit, but whether our platform can sell.
  2. A surface to stand on and rant at the Gods of Publishing.

 

Craft:

Dictionary Definition: Exercise skill in making something.

Writers Definition:

  1. The actual stuff we should be working on – pacing, plot, setting, and the intricacies of realistic dialogue. (Versus learning to be a sexy tweeter with a huge platform to dance around on).

Example: A rare writer’s conference or event will focus on craft. The workshops are like sipping superb, well-aged wine while eating dark chocolate. Inspirational writers, often who have no platform, share their experience, and we laugh together, easily. Life is good.

Publication:

Dictionary Definition: The preparation and issuing of a book, journal, piece of music, or other work for public consumption.

Writers Definition.

  1. Historically, to be accepted (not rejected) by a publisher. That someone will take our work and share it with others, and we will see our writing in print, on paper. It meant a “superior force” was saying, “This is good and we think others should read it.” It meant we could feel like a real writer.
  2. Currently, we are in the midst of a metamorphosis, in which publishing may be reverting to its initial, more pure, definition. To issue a book, or other work, for consumption by the public. To share one’s story.  We realize one can be a real writer, because one writes. Regardless of the gates, the keepers, the industry, the rejections and need for “submission.”

Conclusion: Writers write. We share our stories. We publish our work one way or another. And voila — we are real.

 

PS- I took the photo in Valencia, Spain, last summer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What to do in three days in NYC (according to a nostalgic Jersey girl who lives in California).

Labor Day Weekend in Manhattan.

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Eat a pretzel from the street corner vendor.    Buy a pretzel on your first evening, while waiting in Bryant Park for your husband who flew in separately. Realize street pretzels are dry and overly salty and that the taste could never live up to the smell. You don’t care because it is a beautiful Friday night in Manhattan, and this park, which you don’t recall being here when you were a kid, is lovely. Green grass, a main fountain, and most of all — New Yorkers. Sit back on the randomly placed chairs, feel your feet ache after a full day of travel, and watch the world. Lovers greet one another. Children climb out of strollers to reach the fountain spray. An elegant Asian woman hurries by. Two old men, bearded, play chess. A crowd of twenty-somethings fill the bar. Breathe in the magic of a warm summer night in a vibrant city.

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Bryant Park

Take the subway.   Nah, you did that when you were young and broke and had months, not days, to see the city. Walk everywhere, uptown, downtown, crosstown, then give up and grab a cab when you can’t walk anymore. Notice NYC cabs now have little TV’s.

Pay a fortune for Broadway tickets months ahead.   Have no real expectations whatsoever when you approach the half-price ticket booth, except to get tickets to something.

(This is what I learned from my parents, those many Saturday afternoons. The Zen of cheap ticket buying. We used to line up at the TKTS booth on Times Square while my father circled the block for an hour, rather than pay for parking. I can remember being dressed for the theater, cold air flying up my dress, without knowing for sure we’d make it to the theater. At 3:00, the sign went up. The plays that still had seats would be listed, and we’d start our list. What was our first, second and third choice. By the time we got to the front of the line, the plays would have changed and we would have to recalculate, checking the location of the seats, scanning the Times reviews, anxious about what we chose. We saw everything from Peter Pan and Cats to tiny obscure off Broadway shows. It’s in my blood.)

 See both The Humans and An American in Paris for half price, in great seats. Be blown away.

 

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Go to all your old haunts.  Explore new areas because Manhattan is a constantly changing animal. Walk the High Line and discuss the merits of urban planning and renewal. Check out the new Whitney. Eat an impromptu brunch in the Meat Packing District, which is now cool and hip.  Watch gangs of hipsters drink too many mimosas, and smile because you are not them.

 

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Rent Bikes from City Bike to just toodle around Manhattan. Are you crazy? You barely ride bikes in California. Why are you riding willy-nilly through Times Square, between screaming taxi drivers, pissed of cops and looming silveHmen on stilts? Return the bikes quickly before someone gets hurt. Take it as a momentary lapse in judgement brought on by Manhattan fever. Notice that your neck sort of hurts?

Visit everyone we know.  Plan to come back for a week just to see all the people we love in NY area. Make a list in the course of the weekend of whom you’ll visit. But this is your 25th anniversary, so wander, just the two of you, for days. Perfect.

 

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Skip Central Park. No. Never skip Central Park. Lie in the grass, watching people play, and think of all the times you were happy here. Remember the movies you’ve seen here. Walk down the Harry Met Sally pathway. Picture Woody Allen and Dianne Keaton strolling by. Consider another dry pretzel.

Have your dinner reservations set up ahead of time. Eat impromptu dinners at neighborhood places. Realize that nothing compares to being able to sit down to dinner at 10:30 on a balmy night, and not feel rushed to go. Chat with waiters from foreign countries, waitresses from Jersey, people who live in our Midtown hotel, tourists from Nebraska, restaurant owners from Greece. Try not to get sloppy and cry because you’re so happy to be “home” amongst people from everywhere, but you fly out in the morning.

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Battery Park

Ignore the pain in your neck.  Wake up Monday morning and realize the achy neck thing has turned into a throbbing infection thing. Find an urgent care. Get heavy duty antibiotics. Accept that you will never see a city without visiting its healthcare system. Be glad you’re in New York, not a tiny village in Timbuktu. Be grateful you have health care. Watch New York disappear in the rear view mirror as you drive to the airport, and wonder if you could manifest homesickness as a throbbing lump on the back of your head?

Don’t look at your phone too much, as it hurts your neck more.  Go through your photos one by one on the flight back. From that first evening at Bryant Park to the incredible colors of the sunset from Battery Park on Sunday. Look at your calendar, scheming to return. Be grateful that the universe conspired to get you there at all. Put some ice on your neck. Go home.

nyc

 

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