Monday, June 30, 2014

Why My Brother Should Be Dead

Most of you know that for the past 10 days, I've been in the "residency" portion of my MFA degree. While in workshop one day, one of the exercises we had to do was to free-write a story that began with the line: "This is a true story." So I wanted to share this one with you guys (and it is, in fact, a true story!)


This is a true story. We were living in this old brick house with creaking wooden floors in Hialeah. My mom was showing the house to a couple that was interested in buying it. When she came to my brothers’ room, she noticed that the window was open and two little hands, white-knuckled, were gripping the bottom of the window frame. She, of course, screamed and rushed to the window to find my blonde-haired brother beaming up at her, his body dangling on the outside of the red brick house. 

This should not have surprised her. Just before our house went up for sale, we had a permanent fixture at the bottom of our staircase: a queen-sized mattress. The sole purpose of this mattress was to catch my brother whenever he went flying off of the banister of our expansive wooden staircase. The antique chandelier that overlooked the first floor had several crystals and light bulbs missing from the times that Daniel jumped off of the staircase with an umbrella, perhaps in an attempt to fly like Mary Poppins or maybe he simply wanted to see if he could swing off of the chandelier. 

Prior to the mattress, my parents had tried putting up one of those child safety gates at the bottom of the staircase to prevent access. When that didn’t work, they put a net on the outside of the staircase to try to keep him from going through the slots in the banister. A week after the safety gate and the net were in place, my mother found Daniel laying unconscious on the first floor of our house, his blue gray eyes staring up at her. She, of course, screamed and rushed to his side, but after approximately 30 seconds, he jumped up with a grin on his face and ran back to the staircase. After this incident, she scrapped the safety gate and the net and put a mattress down as a last effort to try to keep him alive. This sort of thing became the norm in our house. 

When we moved to our new house in Broward, my parents bought us a large trampoline with a bright orange safety net around it. My dad would pull the trampoline over to the large oak tree in our yard and Daniel would climb to the highest limb, balancing precariously as the branch swayed beneath him. He would then jump from the tree onto the waiting trampoline, which bounced him almost as high as the safety net that surrounded the trampoline. Safety nets were not particularly effective in our household. 

Daniel on the slopes of Steamboat Springs, CO
 
One time, on vacation in my grandfather’s condo in the Keys, a concerned neighbor pounded on our door to tell us that Daniel was skateboarding off of the top of the two-story parking garage. My mom, of course, ran out of the condo — not to stop my brother, but to record him.



The first question that my professor asked when I finished reading the piece was, "Is your brother still alive??" I'm very happy to say that Daniel is, in fact, still alive. And I hope he stays that way for a very long time.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

I Need Your Help!

Hey friends!

As some of you know, I'm in St. Simons Island, GA at a writer's workshop. I went to a class today about writing a query letter (to send to agents re: my book) so I started working on my letter but want/need your help!

If you could read my book "teaser" and give me feedback, I would be eternally grateful.

The structure for this part of the letter is to introduce my main character, who she is and what she cares about. Then I need to show what my character wants most in the world and what the stakes are. The goal is to leave the agent wanting more. This would be similar to what you would see on the back of a book jacket/flap.

Here's what I've got so far:

Lara Chernov is a green-eyed teenage girl who is ripped out of her house in the middle of the night by her frantic parents, who are escaping from an enemy unknown to Lara. Her parents offer no apology or explanation. When the Chernovs finally settle in the small, Southern town of Barrington, a military coup disrupts the already-fragile Refugee Territory. The Territory is an autonomous colony within the United States, composed of refugees from war-torn Europe after Hitler manages to overtake the European mainland.

When a massive famine takes hold of the land and the newly-formed government outlaws ownership, Lara is left with few choices: will she escape to the United States with her father or will she fight for the place that she has come to call home? Trapped in a world of secrets, starvation and political unrest, Lara Chernov will learn the cost of freedom and the weight of an individual’s decision to take a stand.

I would really appreciate your feedback/questions/ideas! You can either share them in the comments or email me: tiffanynoellechacon@gmail.com

I'll be meeting on Monday morning with the agent who taught the class so prayers are requested for that! For anyone interested, this is the agency: http://ckwebber.com/

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What Does "Lights Out" Mean for Me?

All morning, I’ve been struggling with this question: what’s the literary equivalent of an athlete playing “lights out”? (For those who don’t know what “lights out” means, please Google ‘Kawhi Leonard, Heat v. Spurs game 3’.)



As some of you might know, I penned (or, rather, typed) the final pages of the first draft of my novel this last week (hurrah!) Probably for the rest of my life, I’ll be editing and rewriting said novel. Or at least, that’s how it feels.

But, the fact that I have a first draft gets me thinking about the next stage of this beautiful and horrific process. In order to get published by a traditional publisher (that’s the dream), I’ll need to find an agent. Apparently, that’s the hard part. So this summer is going to be spent going to workshops and conferences, networking with people and doing my “lights out” best to find an agent and get published.

This weekend, I’ll be at the Southeastern Writer’s Workshop in St. Simon Island, GA. It’s a small setting, which will hopefully be great for me to meet people and network.

The following week, I’ll be in the June Residency for my Masters of Fine Arts program at the University of Tampa. It’s a 10-day intensive program where we’re basically eating, drinking and regurgitating all things book-related.

In early August, I’ll be going to the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC and will be participating in a “Pitch Slam”, which is like speed-dating for writers and agents. They put you in a room with 50 agents and you have 90 seconds to pitch your book to any agent in the room. The agent will then have 90 seconds to respond to you, and potentially request a manuscript from you, and then you move on to the next agent. It’s a great opportunity to meet agents, get feedback, and maybe, hopefully, prayerfully, God-willing….find an agent. It’s a long shot (please see this article), but a girl can hope, right?


To play "lights out" means to leave everything on the court, to hold nothing back, and to do your absolute best. So, here's what I've decided to do this summer in order to be the "lights out" writer/connector/networker that I want to be:

1. I can't be afraid to take risks

I read an article recently that encouraged writers to take risks every day. With this in mind, I'm choosing to "leave everything on the court" with my writing, every single day. I am fighting to stay true to myself as a writer and to be vulnerable in every aspect of my writing. I know I won't ever fulfill this perfectly, but I sure am trying.


2. I can’t be afraid to talk to people and ask questions


According to an article I read this week from Fast Company, 70% of people claim that they’re shy. So, that means that pretty much everyone around me is also afraid to talk to people. So at these conferences, hopefully it’ll be a relief when I speak up (regardless of how awkwardly I do it)!



Also, if you’ve ever taught a class before and had a Q&A session afterward, you know how terrifying it is to stand up there and wait for someone, anyone (pretty please) to raise their hand and ask a question. Any question. Doesn’t matter if you don’t even know the answer or if it wasn’t even related to what you were talking about. So I’m making it my goal to craft a question for the speaker/lecturer for every single class that I attend this summer.



3. I HAVE to talk about my book


So, a few years ago I decided that I was going to learn Russian. I took a class at UF and LOVED it. And, I was actually quite good. However, I refused to speak to native speakers in Russian simply because I was embarrassed and afraid. Needless to say, I didn’t grow that much as a Russian speaker.

In some ways, I can feel similarly with my book. It’s vulnerable to talk about something that is so dear to me, and I’m so afraid of someone scoffing or mocking me or simply thinking not-so-good thoughts about me, that I don’t talk about it.

I’m grateful for my wonderful husband, who ALWAYS brings up my book to people and practically forces me to tell others about it. But now I need to be able to do that on my own. Confidently. With poise. And clarity.

We’ll see how it goes.

4. No matter what, I have to keep hoping, praying and persevering


Let’s say I get through this summer, and the stars did not align, and I didn’t find an agent (which, again, is very likely), I am resolving now that I will not give up. Please remind me of this fact later on.

As I continue in my journey, your prayers and supplications are requested and much needed. Thank you in advance! :)





How about you? Have you set any goals for yourself for this summer? Feel free to share in the comments :)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

4 Reasons Why I'm Obsessed with The Fault in Our Stars

(And Why You Should Be Too)


I’m sure you’ve all heard about the book-turned-movie phenomenon The Fault in Our Stars. I read the book a few weeks ago and saw the movie on opening night with my sister-in-law, Amanda. I’m not normally a “fangirl”, but I gotta tell you guys, I’m obsessed. And here’s why:

1. John Green


The only reason I even picked up this book is because I saw a YouTube video of John Green when he was on his way to TIME Magazine’s dinner to honor the “Top 100 Most Influential People” (of which he was named one of them). In the video, Green is downright hilarious (almost without meaning to be) while also portraying a humility that I don’t think is contrived. He is witty, fast-talking and the kind of person you want to be friends with. As soon as I saw this video, I knew I needed to read TFIOS.


2. It’s a book about teenagers who are dying and yet, somehow, it’s hilarious


I’m not really sure how Green pulled that off, but I was very literally laughing the entire first half of the book (and then, alternately, crying the second half…but we’ll get to that). The witty yet raw inner-workings of Hazel Grace Lancaster connected me to the character almost immediately.

Perhaps the funniest (and yet somehow poignant) scene is when Hazel is discussing her support group that her parents force her to go to. Here’s an excerpt:

To be fair to Patrick (the moderator of the group), he let us talk about dying, too. But most of them weren’t dying. Most would live into adulthood, as Patrick had.

(Which meant there was quite a lot of competitiveness about it, with everybody wanting to beat not only cancer itself, but also the other people in the room. Like, I realize this is irrational, but when they tell you that you have, say, a 20 percent chance of living five years, the math kicks in and you figure that’s one in five…so you look around and think, as any healthy person would: I gotta outlast four of these bastards.)

The fact that Hazel/Green is voicing this almost-absurd idea (emphasis on almost) that it’s a “competition” to outlast the other cancer kids is simultaneously heartbreaking and also, at the chance of sounding callous, pretty funny. And that’s how Green approaches the whole thing: he tells the truth, doesn’t sugar coat it and adds in a healthy dose of wit and humor so that you don’t just curl up into a ball and cry your eyes out the whole time.

3. It’s real


Like I said before, Green doesn’t sugar coat anything. He’s straight-forward and raw, which is refreshing. This isn’t a feel-good book about overcoming obstacles or miraculous hearings. This is a book about two teenagers with life-ending diseases who fall in love — it’s not sentimental, it’s not overly romantic, and (spoiler alert) it doesn’t have this spectacular happily-ever-after ending. But the authenticity of it all draws you in and wins you over.

This book also connected me to a world that I have not been in before and gave me a small vision of what it would be like to live with cancer. After Green’s honest examination of Hazel’s life and love, I feel like I’m able to empathize a little more with people who have life-ending diseases. And any book that can open up your world and broaden your horizons is a good one.

The fact that it’s all so real also connects you to the characters, which makes it so incredibly heart-rending as the story proceeds. You feel their struggle, their small triumphs, their grief and their hope. This isn’t an “extraordinary” story, nothing supernatural happens, there are no epic gunfights and no one changes the world. And yet, somehow it is still extraordinary, supernatural and even epic.

4. John Green


He’s brilliant.

In one of his videos, Green remarks about the first screening of TFIOS and how during the last 15 minutes, he got to sit in the back of the theatre. He said:



So, dear friends, if you are going to watch the movie or read the book, bring tissues.

That’s all.


Have you read TFIOS yet or watched the movie? What did you think?


Other articles you might enjoy:

Even After Death: Wedding Day Recollections 

Why I Don't Want You to Read My Book

3 Reasons Why Disney's "Frozen" Resonates with Us

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Does the End Justify the Means?

I just reached the 60,000 word mark on my book (61,975 to be exact)!! I’m currently writing the ending of my book and there are a few things that I’ve been thinking about a lot and would love for you to weigh in on them.

The first is the definition of freedom. I’ve been contemplating what “freedom” means to different people (in a political sense). For one political group, freedom/liberty might mean the ability to do whatever you want within a set of moral principles. For another group, this same freedom might mean the eradication of ownership. Another group might think that freedom is the lack of government.

What does freedom mean to you? Is anarchy somehow synonymous with freedom? Or should freedom have some sort of boundaries (or is that oxymoronic?!)?



The second is this: does the end justify the means? In some of my research I stumbled across this quote from Leon Trotsky:

“The end may justify the means as long as there is something that justifies the end.” - Their Morals and Ours



But this got me thinking…is there ever a good reason to kill? Do soldiers have the “right” to kill because that is their job or because someone poses a threat? If your family is in danger, and you kill someone to defend them, does the end (your family’s safety) justify the means (you killing someone)?

I’m forming my own opinions about these things but am interested in what other people think about these issues. Feel free to share in the comments.