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Pleasure or Pain?

LastConception-CoverDoes writing give you pleasure, or is it a pain? Are you struggling through every line, wishing it would end, or enjoying the process word by word? Do you write out of necessity, or as a hobby, or pleasant pastime? Writers’ have argued through the centuries about whether writing should be, or is, a process of hard labor, or whether it is a joyous exercise in reflecting oneself and the world in which we live.

Some writers’ say they cannot live without writing something every day. Others tells us they write in spurts, when moved to do so, or have long periods of inactivity and/or creative ideas. And a few cannot stop writing once they get started and write manically, without pause or respite.

I’ve been told that writing involves a high degree of masochistic tendencies if you are not writing solely for pleasure, but to have what you’ve written read and accepted by others. There is a lot of truth in this, as so few writers ever receive any recognition, let alone financial rewards, for there many hours of plotting, research, editing, characterization, and marketing.

From my experience, writing can be both pleasurable and painful, whether it is for personal or public consumption. Scribbling, or typing, refried storylines again and again, is easy, but artistically boring. Writing something that has never been put together in quite the same way, can take hours of painstaking thought, and pleasurable results. Then again, the results may be painful to see, and not as joyous as the process.

So, this may sound weird, but unless it is a wee bit difficult, or challenging, I do not enjoy writing. That doesn’t mean I prefer an extremely intimidating project, but one that calls me out to do my best, improve my skills, and look at an issue, or story, with fresh eyes. Writing something I’ve written a thousand times before, though perhaps monetarily rewarding, is more painful than a new challenge.

What’s your hit? What’s it like for you? Do you cringe at the thought of a deadline, having to think of an idea, or putting an idea on paper? Or, do you get excited each time the words in your head come out on the screen as you envisioned? Pleasure and pain are somewhat subjective, but are also very real. I guess the real question is whether pleasure or pain is the driving force behind your writing, or any aspect of why you write at all.

Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba, The Last Conception, and Loving Annalise, are some of Gabriel’s most recent works of fiction. They were pleasurably painful to write.

Fictional Realities

41jh2yi72qlThere is a friend of mine, who worked with me as a nurse at hospice a few years back. One day, after work, I met her husband. When I asked her the next day how they’d met, she told me she’d been married to his brother. Well, I thought, that’s interesting. Tell me more. What arose from her telling was a story that sounded like a movie. She isn’t the kind of person who jokes around, so I knew she was telling the truth, though it could have been the best of fiction. That’s when I decided to make it just that – a fictional story based on real life. Loving Annalise was the result.

After years of poverty, heartbreak, loss and betrayal, Tomas enters Annalise’s world and shatters the iron casing she’s erected around her heart. Tomas is kind, intelligent, romantic and handsome, but he’s also her husband’s brother! Once Tomas and Annalise meet, they are forever intertwined and repeatedly ripped apart by fate, self-doubt and blackmail. Her husband, Jens, is a brilliant, jealous and manipulative scoundrel who keeps her psychologically under lock and key, until her passion for Tomas sets her free.

Writing Loving Annalise is the second time I’ve written a novel based on historical realities. Buddha’s Wife was the first. Though most of the people in the story existed, and some of the places, times, and words are reported to have been accurate, the majority of the conversations, interactions, and story-line were imagined. Like Loving Annalise, Buddha’s Wife is based on history, and people that were living breathing beings.

Loving Annalise, and Buddha’s Wife, are the only time I have written stories in this fashion. Normally (whatever that is), I either write straight fiction, or non-fiction, about a specific person, place, or issue, and do not attempt to combine these disparate genres. That doesn’t mean that parts of my life, and personal experiences, do not influence or become part of my writing, but not intentionally (that I am aware of).

Taking Liberty With the Truth

586613838e010d433bacb209ce65ea56c69e859e-thumbFor my satirical book of koans, stories, and words of wisdom (Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire), I used the same format that was used in the 1961 classic book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings. Zen Flesh presented the sayings, teachings, and koans of real Japanese teachers, whereas Zen Master Tova takes liberty with a fictional character and the truth, to put it mildly.

From Zen Flesh, Zen Bones

Nan-in a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “You are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty our cup?”

From Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba

“Do cats and dogs have Buddha-nature” Sister Sexton asked Master Toshiba.

“Yes.”

“Can cats and dogs attain enlightenment?”

“Yes.”

“Can all animals reach Samadhi?”

“Yes.”

“Do insects and bugs have Buddha-nature?” Sister Sexton persisted.

“Yes, they do,” The Master, patiently replied.

“Is it possible for vegetables, fruit, and flowers to see their true selves?”

“Yes, they can.”

“What about dirt, grass, trees, rocks, and water?”

“All life can become conscious of its true nature, even if it does not have a consciousness, as we know it.”

“Then surely, all women and men can awake to their Buddha-nature and find peace?”

“Yes, all women can express their Buddha-nature and attain enlightenment.” Master Tarantino paused, “As far as ‘all men’. I’ll have to think about that.”

Perhaps this use of fact and fiction are more intertwined than we like to believe, and history is permeated with realities which have been diluted, reinterpreted, and/or intentionally changed, in order to favor, or present events, or beliefs, in the manner and fashion that the writer in the moment chooses, or “believes” to be true. Read Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba and do your own sniff test to see if any of it rings true, or it is a total farce.

A Multi-faceted Ruby

NairobiBloodstarNairobi Bloodstar by Carole Hall
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

You know a good writer when you read one. Carole Hall is such a writer. Nairobi Bloodstar pulls you into Kenya in the late forties, as if you were just there yesterday. The characters (Charles, Karl, Annalisa, Nils, M’tebe, Michael) are flesh and blood men and women that could have been historical figures, though this is a work of fiction.

Starting at Karl and Annalisa’s mining operation in Kenya, the story follows each individual, at the points where they are related and intersect, and there individual lives, thoughts and feelings. It is like a great ensemble cast in a play, when they are all believable and well played. Ms. Hall’s writing style also reminds me somewhat of Agatha Christie, who was one of the most adept of all time at describing her character’s appearance, emotions, thoughts, traits and personal history.

The story takes place as a number of countries are seeking independence in Africa from the English, Portuguese and French, and at the same time Jews are fighting to establish Israel in Palestine, and protect their new nation from assault. There are romances and alliances throughout, but in many ways (to its credit), they are the background and not the main entre. Individual and national independence, as well as finding personal happiness, are at the crux of this tale. Choices are made, with many unexpected results.

There are no pat answers, conclusions, or moral certitudes in Nairobi Bloodstar, much to its credit. There are people from a variety of cultures who are genuine and will have you caring about each one.

Searching For Someone

Some people are easy to find. Others, not so much. Especially when you are trying to meet up with someone to interview for a story and/or book. That’s what I’ve discovered through the years in my attempts, and some success, in tracking down people I’ve wanted to talk to, especially those that are well known.

With the internet it has become easier to get people’s information and background, but getting their contact data, or getting through there gate keepers (managers, agents, family, lawyers, etc.), is another matter. It can take persistent emails, and calls, to get a response, let alone an interview.11898_cover_front

When I was putting together a book about loss and grief sometimes being the catalyst for people to not only change their lives, but to also create social movements and influence public opinion (Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call), it literally took years to get ahold of everyone and complete the interviews.

Obviously, people who were less known were easier to contact and meet, but women like Nancy Goodman Brinker (who started the Susan B Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, after her sister Susan died); Candace Lightner (who founded Mother’s Against Drunk Driving, after her daughter Cari was killed); and Leah Rabin (who gave speeches about reconciliation and peace around the world, after her husband, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated) were another matter.

The difficulty isn’t always due to an individual’s reluctance, or apprehension, about being interviewed, or not knowing who you are (if you are not a known author, journalist or organization), but most often it is their schedules. They have limited amounts of time, and some are booked years ahead. In those cases you have to be willing to go where they are and get whatever snippet you can.

I’ve also had unsuccessful attempts at getting interviews for different articles. and news organizations, as a freelance journalist. Even though I went to Rwanda twice, I was never able to meet with President Kagame. The closest I got was his press secretary. An interview with Christina Aguilera and Joan Baez has also alluded me, after many attempts and conversations with there managers.

If you need to interview people that are heads of government, well-known in entertainment, or in social movements, don’t give up before you try. Be persistent, yet courteous; creative, and respectful; and be able to explain briefly (in a call, email, or personal contact) why you want the interview and who you are.

Articles: http://tinyurl.com/glpyt2p

Books: http://tinyurl.com/z8pdtj7

Connect the Stories


Some writing “experts” once told me that the best way to write a novel is to first write short stories. They said, “If you can write a good short story, with a beginning, middle, and end, then a novel will easily follow. All you have to do is use the same characters in one short story after another and string them together.” Turns out that they were right, in most respects, but not always.

From my experience, it is extremely difficult to write a good short story, and more difficult to string a number of them together for a book. I’ve had some success with shorts, with some of mine appearing in Go World Travel, Listen, Los Angeles Journal, Japan Airlines/Wingspan, Omega, Enigma, and the Roswell Literary Review. As you can see from the following description of my collection of short stories, Saint Catherine’s Baby, which was released 7 years ago, I hadn’t yet figured out how to keep the same characters and storyline for a novel.

Saint-Catherines-BabyAn eclectic collection of short stories that include Ruthie and her obstinate elderly student from Germany (The English Lesson); Stephanie, who waits for the unorthodox return of her deceased father (Dressed In Black); Walter O’Brien, who discovers a young couple and their child in an abandoned monastery on the West Coast of Ireland (St. Catherine’s Baby); Shannon, on the run at a shoe store in Chicago (Sizing Up Shannon); Jacque, meeting Rosalita’s shocked parents in New Mexico (Framed); and Joshua Johnson, a school custodian whose mother may have interfered in his love life for the last time (The Sweetest Man).

It still rings true,  writing a good short story is a great beginning for a novelist, and also some of the most difficult writing to do. Character and scene development, crisis, insight, and/or conclusions, must all be created within a limited number of words. Some writers can also write great books, without ever having written a short, and vice-a-versa. To this rule, if you choose to call it that, does not apply to everyone.

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