Tag Archives: the writing life

For Cristina without an H

For my entire life I have been two people. A real Cristina and an imagined Christina. I am Cristina, named after a client my mother had when she worked as a hairstylist that many years ago. TI am Cristina couldn’t eat at the table without a wet dishcloth because I would go into an instant hissy fit if food got on her face or hands and there was nothing to wash it off with. I am Cristina, an introvert who prefers the quiet of her home over public places, but can pass as an extrovert, though it will wear me out immensely at the end of the day. I am Cristina, who can’t hit a basket to save my life (or a net with a puck or…the list goes on). That being said, I did nearly start a one-girl stand-off in a pet store when the clerk told me that a dog that they were giving away free would be killed if it didn’t get a home soon. I am the real Cristina, who studied sports medicine because it was easy, but ached to be an artist, which I knew was going to be the most difficult, gut-wrenching path to follow. I am the real Cristina, who had cancer at 38 and knows now I won’t live forever, but doesn’t really know what to do with that information. TI am Cristina who cries at the littlest things, always has, Cristina who loves her children fiercely and thinks they are worth a million times more than the gross domestic product, Cristina who is generally a hot unorganized mess and readily admits it after arguing that she is trying her best and Cristina who wants to read and write more than she actually does those things and wants literary success but kicks and screams for the paltry little windows of time she has to make that happen.

For Cristina without an "H"

For Cristina without an “H”

For nearly all of my life people have been trying to change my name, trying to give my alter-ego its due. No matter how I often I say I am Cristina without an “H,” the “H” finds its way in. At times it has been nothing short of a migraine-inducing inconvenience. There have been legal documents that have had to be rewritten, applications that have had to be re-entered. Once I didn’t get paid for work because the bank couldn’t be sure that I was the person named on the check because there was an “H” typed in the name, though my last name Trapani-Scott is so unique that in the global community of the World Wide Web there isn’t one single other person with my exact name, H-less or otherwise. In recent years, I have even caught myself by surprise as I slip that H in there as I type my name. Sometimes, I do wonder what it might be like to be Christina with an “H.” Would she be all those things I never could be? Would she be charming and witty? Would she have always known what she wanted and be well on her way to solving issues of world peace while showing off her mad dribbling skills? Would she always know what to say to her children, know how to comfort them and protect them from sadness? Would she know how to bake the perfect cookies (Oh, I already know how to do that when the oven works correctly)? Would she have jumped that fast track to literary success and have that quiet little bungalow writing space set far off in a quiet corner of the yard where she is not bothered until she emerges? Would she, would she, would she?

Ah, but I am not Christina with an “H.” I will never be Christina with an “H.” I am Cristina without an “H.” I am not really two people and really I have Andrei Codrescu to thank for reminding me of that. He gave a reading here near my home. I, of course, had to go. I am a huge fan of his NPR commentaries. His voice, with that thick Romanian accent, draws me in and his words keep me in a space that makes long commutes dissipate into a space where I feel like I am being read to personally. Hearing that voice again with out the distraction of keeping my eyes on the road was that much better. After his reading, I purchased a book for which he signed. I told him to sign it to Cristina without an “H” (habit, of course). He had read a poem that evening that mentioned a Swedish princess named Christina. “Not with an “H” like Princess Christina?” he asked. I said, no. Then he signed the book. I didn’t look at it until I was in the car and on the road back home. In the darkness of the moving car I shined a flashlight that revealed the following inscription, “For Cristina without an ‘H.'” Yes, Andrei, here’s to Cristina without an “H.”

Writerly things I did on Sunday

I missed my what is becoming a regular Sunday post. I spent all day in Ann Arbor at the Kerrytown Bookfest. When I returned home my son asked me to take him out to practice

The issue of Michigan Quarterly Review I got with my subscription sign-up deal and the Ghost Writers collection I finally purchased.

The issue of Michigan Quarterly Review I got with my subscription sign-up deal and the Ghost Writers collection I finally purchased.

some driving skills for his test, which is today, and then I applied for a job while watching this week’s episode of Breaking Bad. By the time I finished will all of that, I had no time to post.

The Kerrytown Bookfest was such a treat. It was an entire event devoted to books and those who read and write them. It was like a craft fair, but the booths were all filled with books and people making bookish things. There were also speakers throughout the day that ran the gamut of genres. I was particularly interested in two talks that overlapped near the end of the event. The first was a panel discussion on women writers, moderated by V.V. Ganeshananthan, with Bonnie Jo Campbell, Lolita Hernandez, Natalie Bakopulos and poet Susan Ramsey. It was a fascinating discussion with fascinating women–an important discussion–the overarching theme, of course, being how the literary world continues to undervalue women writers and women’s points of view in writing. I say points of view, because our points of view are as varied as the number of women on this planet. There is no one way to be a woman and the literary world is rather single-minded if it continues to ignore these points of view. All of the women brought up interesting points, from Hernandez getting flack for being a woman writing about factory workers (which is personal for her since she worked in factories for many years) to Bakopulous finding Vogue‘s Edith Wharton photo spread as a metaphor for how the strong and complex female point of view is feared. I found her examples defining that point of view refreshing as I think about my own work and how I have viewed my novel character, Rosa. She pointed to the characters in the movie Bridesmaids. I realized there are similarities to the struggles Rosa goes through. I struggled with Rosa for a while, feeling that maybe she wasn’t outwardly tough enough, but hearing that discussion made me realize how I need to stick with her and flesh out all of her complexities. I need to keep my faith in her as a solid, interesting character and not be pulled by what I hear on the outside. For that, and more, it was a more than worthwhile discussion to hear. I had to duck out before it ended, though. I wanted to attend another discussion.

At the Kerrytown Concert Hall, the final discussion featured authors Matt Bell and Benjamin Percy discussing the intersection of the literary, the supernatural, and the strange. I am really really interested in exploring that intersection in my work. I am really really interested in reading Bell’s new novel In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods and Percy’s novel Red Moon. I had signed up for a Michigan Quarterly Review subscription and purchased a book I had been meaning toget  for a long time, a collection of ghost stories by Michigan writers called For Ghosts Writers: Us Haunting Them, which I know follows that same literary, supernatural, strange, theme that just seems so much a part of who I always was as a writer and a reader. Anyway, that was my book quota for the day, so Bell and Percy’s novels are on my Christmas list, or maybe my October book quota list, just in time for Halloween, though their stories are much more complex than simply lumping them into Halloween stuff. Anyway, that discussion gave me the equivalent of a writing caffeine jolt. It was as if I had downed ten Red Bulls. It was a mini-writing workshop-type discussion that I found well worthwhile, especially hearing not just the writing process of both authors, but the reading process. Both had their unique processes for dissecting the works of others to understand better their own process of storytelling.

I did attend an earlier talk by a couple of mystery writers. I can’t say I have ever really read mystery, but the discussion was focused on family and I found that also helpful in thinking about my novel, which does look closely at family.

The event was free, which was an added bonus, and open to the public. I wouldn’t say I am a collector of anything, but if there is anything I do collect it is books–books and art–but not with the intention that I will sell them for three times their value or anything. I just like books and art. So, any opportunity to celebrate books is a good opportunity (dare I say it) in my book.

Anyway, happy reading and writing. Now, it’s off to do some work on the novel and later hold my breath as I witness my son’s driving test. Yikes!

Process, writing groups and reviving this blog

Ice on my morning walk. I feel like I can see the universe in it.

Ice on my morning walk. I feel like I can see the universe in it.

I have been inconsistent with this poor blog. Chalk it up to an overload of classes (the never ending plight of an adjunct instructor) and the constant running that comes with having teenagers. Oh, there is also my guilty pleasure–a little Doctor Who. I am going to try to be more consistent, though.

As a fledgling writer I am trying hard to encapsulate an hour here and an hour there for some novel and short story revision. It’s at a point where I have some sparks of ideas, but I can’t really give them a lot of attention until the other projects are cleared away. That would be part of my own process. It has taken me this long to figure out that I have to work out my own process. These books that tout certain processes of writing as “the optimal” processes are lying. There is no one process fits all. Each writer has his or her own approach. Those approaches are as vast as the universe.

My process is scattered. Some days the best work I do is while sitting on my couch in my writing room. Some days I do my best work at a cafe. The most important thing is to be reading and writing at least a little bit most days. I write this to tell myself that as much as anything. So, to revive this blog I’ll share my trials and tribulations of living the writing life, as I have been doing all along, and I’ll bring in a bit of discussion on what I have been reading. In addition, I’ll share the images I get on my contemplative walks, another key part to my writing process.

My latest trial and tribulation of the writing life has been trying to find a writing group that I feel comfortable with. I had a perfect group, the Sistah Scribes, a while back. I loved the Sistahs. I grew with the Sistahs, but a we all scattered to different regions about the time I started grad school and couldn’t really commit to the time. After grad school, I wanted to find another group. I wanted to continue the momentum of growth that grad school gave me. Finding the right writing group is not easy. I was misled with how easily the Sistahs formed and gelled so well.

That’s not to say I haven’t gotten anything from the groups I have visited. I have. I’ve met some great people. There are ultimately either scheduling conflicts or the group is too big or it’s online or…or….or. Well, I’m giving it another shot. This time, though. We are forming organically as off-shoots of other groups, a little like the Sistahs did, so it looks promising. It’s a small group, another good thing. I can tell it is going to be focused and hopefully consistent. Mostly, it will be more at my pace. Weekly, is too often for me. I need time to write. So, we’ll see how it goes. I have a good feeling about it. Now, it’s off to get some work done. Must turn some stories that have been rejected around and send them out today. Happy writing. Today’s image is of ice. I know we want spring to stay, but there were some wonderful patterns in the ice during my walks these past couple of months. Enjoy.

Perspective: Why “to MFA or not MFA?” is the dumbest question I have ever heard

If I was given a nickel every time I mentioned I had an MFA in writing and someone told me in not so many words that it was not worth money, I would have paid my student loans off years ago.

First, I would never consider telling someone their dreams were worthless. Second, the debate is so tiresome. I understand people don’t want to “waste time” or “waste money” or “make a major wrong life step.” Still, to think that hard about it means those people who say mean-spirited stuff like “it’s not worth it”  have missed the point altogether.

We hear the sentiment “If you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life” all the time, but when someone actually adheres to that as a life mission statement, we tell them it’s a mistake. It’s not worth it. Perhaps those who say that need to look within themselves a little deeper.

I didn’t make the decision to get an MFA lightly. I wanted a new direction, an authentic direction, not a direction someone else felt was good for me. I wanted to do something that moved me. I had dreamed of focusing on my writing in that way for a long time, but had been afraid for one reason or another. One day, I heard one of those Story Corps interviews on NPR. In this particular interaction, a husband was interviewing his wife. She had stage IV cancer of some type. I don’t remember now what type. He talked of her strength and how she had not let her cancer stop her from following her life dream of getting a Master of Fine Arts degree in visual arts. That story stuck with me. After hearing that story, I wondered why I was waiting any longer to follow my heart and do what I wanted. I dreamed of teaching and writing and being home more for my children. I dreamed of being in a wonderful community of writers and making lasting friendships. Mostly, I dreamed of doing something I was so passionate about that I would literally tell people who thought I was crazy to bag it.

Some did think I was crazy, but I had had a lifetime of being sane, of being the good girl and doing what good girls do. Good girls are practical. Good girls do what they are told. Good girls do something like major in something that everyone around them thinks will be good for them, even if everyone around them has no idea who that good girl really is. So, I embraced crazy. I embraced the idea that I’d read in Anne Lamott‘s book Traveling Mercies that you have to leap and the net will find you.

I lept. I went for it. I didn’t think about the stupid debate. I just knew that I would make the darned thing work for me because I wanted to do it. I learned that rather than fear that the net won’t be there, know that the net is always really there. I wanted to dive into the study of something I loved. I was tested in many ways. My first attempt at getting into schools failed, but I tried again and got accepted to  two schools. That, of course, was not the most difficult test. Ironically, I was diagnosed with cancer in the midst of grad school. In the midst of working full-time, raising two children, and attending grad school, to be exact. I didn’t let it stop me. I finished. I did it. I wouldn’t change it or say it wasn’t worth it. I am doing what I love. I am writing. I am teaching. Do I still have loans? Yes. I’d have them if I did something others thought would be more “worth it.”

I posted a status on my Facebook page that says how I feel about this topic best. I posted it because I heard, yet again, someone who does not have an MFA tell me how worthless or useless it is to get one. I am proud of my MFA. I worked hard for it. I knew going into it that it was not the end all, be all to my writing career, but there is no end all, be all. There are only choices we make in the moment that help us see that this moment is all we have. We have to keep writing. We have to keep taking the path we know deep within is right for us.

Here is my Facebook status posted 3/2/13:

I got a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing because I followed my heart. I listened to the creative Crissy within. I got a bachelor of science degree in sports medicine because I was too young and naive to think for myself. In essence, I did what everyone thought I “should” do. I love words. I love inspiring others to discover they might love words as well. Nothing makes my life resonate more than spending a day working through even a single line of my novel. I have not taped an ankle in more than 20 years and I don’t miss it. I was never able to get a halfway decent job until I started writing. It baffles me how often I hear people tell me in not so many words how my writing degree is some how worthless. Not one person ever told me going into sports medicine wouldn’t be worth it. Perspective:/

Intro for Gearing Up to Get an Agent. Here we go.

Deana Barnhart
Love it, hate it
I’ll admit it. I have have a love/hate relationship with writing. I can’t live without writing. That’s the love. I can’t live without writing. That’s the hate. On the days when writing is good, I feel like I can take on the world. On the days when writing is not good, I want to stay under my covers, eat lots of chocolate and brood about why I ever thought in a million years I could do this thing called writing. To be honest, I have to share the good and the bad. It gives me the whole that is my writing life. Like many artists I’ve seen, if asked why I do this, I do this because I don’t want to do anything else. This is what I do. I am a 44-year-old mother of two (great kids), dog lover (shout out to Maynard the Wonder Dog), teacher, foodie (part owner of a Spanish-themed food cart with awesome chef hubby), lover of all things pastries, college English instructor, as well as a writer. I have one novel done and another in the works as well as bunch of short stories I am constantly revising. Eager to get to know other writers throughout this unique little gathering.
Answers to questions given by Deanna Barnhart, author and organizer of Gearing Up to Get an Agent.
Where do you write? I have a sacred space. Right now, I have let my son temporarily camp out at my sacred space as he is attending school online. So, I write on the couch opposite my sacred space.
Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see? I see the window on my left. It looks out at my neighbor’s house. The cat (my other favorite animal friend) is curled up on my little orange throw rug. Not to be outdone, Maynard the Wonder Dog has wandered into the room and plopped down right next to Thomas-Wilbur (the cat). I see my little table under the window that reminds me I have to organize my folders and books for school and set them up there. Ah, the distractions that take us away from writing are ever present.
Favorite time to write? I’d have to say morning, before family is up to burst the bubble of quiet I like.
Drink of choice while writing? Roos Roast Lobster Butter Love Coffee.
When writing , do you listen to music or do you need complete silence? It depends on the mood. Mostly, I like the quiet, but sometimes I find my playlist inspiring.
What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it? The manuscript I am working on now is called Monarchs in the Classroom. The inspiration comes from a conversation I had with my mother who was an art teacher. She talked about a science teacher colleague of hers who raised monarch butterflies in the classroom and that got me thinking about three characters, a teacher, who is dealing with issues on the home front, and two students, one who is wheelchair-bound after an auto accident and one who has fled a physically abusive father. This isn’t my completed novel that I will be pitching.
What’s your most valuable writing tip? The thing I always have to tell myself is that I just need to keep writing. I need to keep reading and writing. Each draft gets better. I learn so much from other writers and the process of writing. One of the newest things I’ve learned is that hearing books read from books on CD is another valuable way to get insight into good writing. Maybe, it’s the poet in me that needs that other level of hearing, not just reading a, book to understand what the writer is doing.
Can’t wait to get started.


I have recently been conversing with writing friends on the topic of rejection. There is no way to get around it as a writer. If you send work out, you are bound to get rejection letters. Most are of the form letter variety, but once in a while an editor will write a nice note about your work or add helpful suggestions (that might be sugar coating it a bit) for editing the piece. While rejections in any form sting, there are positive ways of looking at the experience.

1. The more rejections you have, the more work you are sending out there. I attended a workshop with author and University of Michigan MFA faculty member Peter Ho Davies many years ago. He said his stories were rejected on average about 12 times before they were accepted. The more stories, poems, essays you get out there, the more you increase your chances that they will be accepted for publication.

2. I always like to evaluate a story after it is returned. If I receive critique from an editor, I try to look at it as a gift. Gifts can be taken or thrown away. If you don’t agree with the gift, or don’t like it, throw it away. It is your work after all. If there is a nugget of truth to the gift, don’t take it personal, play with what is being suggested. I like the word “play,” because that is what it feels like when I am working on stories.


There is a ghost in my Gothic garden. This is what I spend my time doing when I am not working at the cart or writing.

3. I recently discovered that gardening and weeding and cleaning the yard are nice ways to work off any bad feelings associated with rejections and life, for that matter. It’s always good to step away and keep things in perspective. I could reiterate the stories of all kinds of famous writers who received harsh critique and rejection, but all you have to do is type something like “rejected authors” in Google and you’ll find plenty on your own. I figure they are like anyone else making a go at a writer’s life. They too must have felt the pangs of doubt creep in when those notes came in. What did they do about it? They kept going and going and going. They still keep going.

My mother used to tell me when I was running races, you are only as good as your last race. In other words, you keep going, keep trying, keep working to get better. That is really the best way to fight the doubt that comes with rejection.

My life as I envision it

I realize I have not posted in ages. It has not been for lack of trying. I have tried. Oh god, how I’ve tried. The words just will not come. I’m in a sort of writing limbo. I need to give myself time to come out of it. My method for this is to get some writing, any writing, done and forgive myself for the slow pace of it all. In addition, I am giving myself time with everything. There is no hurry. Sure, it seems like everything must be done right now, but not so. I have been working through some personal things that have taken up a lot of time and a ton of energy. For fun, and for a brief moment of escape I am going to take a page from my friend who once wrote in presence tense his vision for his life. I think it’s an exercise that life coaches and motivational people use, but I thought it might give me the boost I need this morning to begin the necessary steps to make that vision a reality. Also, my friend Cynthia Newbery Martin at her blog Catching Days shares  how well-known writers spend their days. Every time I read one of those posts, I feel like I am reading a bit about the life I envision.

My life as I envision it:

I wake up. Make myself a latte with no flavors. Have a delicious breakfast of fruits, nuts and coconut yogurt before going to my desk, which is in my writing office that had a big window that looks out a wooded area with a pond. I don’t look at any mail. I sit down and begin work on my second novel. My first book, “Sometimes the Smallest Things,” has been published by St. Martin’s Press and I am preparing to go on tour. My agent gently, or not so gently, nudges me to finish book two. I love the silence in the mornings and feel bolstered by the sound of birdsong and the soft rhythmic breathing of my dog who lounges at my feet. I work like this for a good three to four hours before I get up to take the dog for a walk and grab a sandwich. In the afternoon, I usually get a call from my son, who has a moment between classes just to check in. He likes to check in. I like to hear from him. My daughter calls, too, but later in the evening after she has spent time in the recording studio. I take a few moments to get the business of emails out of the way. I see that I have readings scheduled all over the country and I have been invited to lead a few workshops. This gives me a nice little nudge to work a couple more hours on my novel before doing some work in the garden. Jay returns home from his restaurant to have dinner with me before he is off again. Some days I go to the restaurant. I spend the rest of the evening reading and getting a few odds and ends done.

Okay, so that’s only one day, but that would be a nice day with a lot of nice stuff going on. Now, I do have some quiet time. It’s time to get to my projects, for real.