Saturday, March 19, 2016

machete writing

I'm at the very end of my book and ay, it hurts in a really weird way. I've been in a strange dance of transition over the last few month, shifting away from old, harmful patterns of anxiety. One of the biggest gifts has been the writing. I've been working on the fantasy book(s) for five years. I started in 2011, I wrote a little more than 50,000 words. I was happy with the book, I cried in places, I fizzled in wonder at my own imagination. I was curious about my character's backstory, began sketching it out, then I knew: I had to write that book instead. I had to build the world, or let the world tell me how it wanted to be offered to the reader. I started that in 2012, and now, four years later, I'm finally finishing it and ay, the grief.

I'm not a fast writer. I can be, when I write short stories they pour out of me so fast that sometimes I have a hard time keeping up. I've stopped writing poetry. But the novel writing process has been an unraveling, a process of finding each thread in the story, asking how to weave it into place. The story is weaving, the writer unravels. I say that as I've had to strip away so much of what I thought I wanted and trust that it would work out. I unravel, I am denuded. I've had to learn to really trust myself and that has been the hardest part of all. We are born trusting and somewhere along the way it is taken from us.

I think one of the scariest things about this is that I feel so incredibly alone in the journey. I feel like I have the machete in hand. I'm trying to do something new. I want to take a step forward but first, I machete. Idea: machete. World-building machete, machete, machete. Characters, machete. Fear, machete. I know I'm not alone, that story is as old as the first curious eyes that wondered at the world, but this particular story is mine. That's hard. I'm trying to do something I don't think has been done, at least not that I'm aware of.

I haven't talked much about what I've been writing, at least not online because I've been protective of it, scared to tell the world what I'm doing in case I fail, or in case there are hungry eyes who want to satiate themselves in theft. I know all writing, and especially a lot of fantasy, is derivative. And I'm writing the book I wanted, the book I needed as a young adult.

The world I'm writing is fantastical, but instead of being informed or inspired by the popular fantasy I was enamored with (am still infatuated with,) I'm writing a world informed by my ancestral cultures. Mesoamerican. Indigenous. I say informed and not inspired because I've made the active choice to attempt to create the magic, spiritual and social systems, not take or "borrow" anything from living or transitioned cultures. Those aren't my stories to tell, not right now, maybe not ever. But the landscape is home, the jungles and deserts, the ancient cities built by astronomers to reflect back the stories the stars dictated, the temples, the clans. I've inhabited my world with characters who look like me, my family. Brown skin, dark eyes, dark hair. The magic/spirituality is based on elemental magic. The magical creatures are echoes of the land, my Jaguar women, my desert Fire Warriors, the shamanic lineage my protagonist is born into. Matriarchy. Balance. Unrest. Prophecy. Loss.

I'm proud of the work I've done. I've written some really good shit. And I know I have work to do. The story and writing is only one part of the work. My fears are real and probably something all writers face. I don't know if the world of readers will respond. I can hope they do if/when this book is offered to an audience. This story is what I wanted when I was growing up: a story in a world where I could place myself without having to change my skin color, eye color, a mythic fiction where I felt I belonged.

There have been a ton of conversations right now about diversity in literature, and along with those conversations, especially lately, there have been dialogues about cultural appropriation. Because I'm writing a world of indigeneity, I am hyper-aware of appropriation. There are places, most likely, where I have fallen short. But the big things, the rituals, the belief systems, the archetypes I've tried to build, have been shaped to not appropriate. I hope. All I can do  in this moment is hope. And hire beta readers who will tell me where I've fallen short. I will listen. And do the work.

I love the world I've built. I love the clans. Utan, Airan, Ilkan, Ka-Lit. Dreamer. The temple city of Alcanzeh, the wider landscape of Mita. I love Indir, my gentle protagonist who has been thrown into a chaos she wants nothing to do with. Her two big secrets, one that can change the wider world, and one that changes her on a deep, personal level. Her two sisters, Delu and Zeri and the strange, often beautiful triangles of sisterhood. I love my bad guys, their complications are human and cruel. I love my magical creatures, stunning Ilkan Raru of the Jaguar clan who is all instinct and emotion. I love the strange little character Dua who showed up and fucks shit up in the greatest of ways. All the little seeds I've tried to plant along the way, watching them take root and grown. Pounding the plant against stone to extract the fibers, the combing and washing, the thread-making and weaving. The stones of the temples, the altars. The Songs. The ceremonies of birth, death and everything before, during, after.

I'm in grief. The breaking of the shell, the vulnerability of saying Yes, world, I followed my dream and now I'm going to offer it to you. I'm a ways away still, there are edits I need to make but the heart of it is there;  it is a true heart, my heart. And then the process of shifting from writing to the business side of it, trying to find an agent who believes in the work and all that can possibly follow. I'm grateful to be at the end of this project at a time when there are dialogues about diversity. The timing seems divine, but perhaps (yes, if I believe my own stories and I do,) all timing is.

Here's the song that made me want to write this book.