Hello All! Apologies for being a tad late this month. Between turning in the final pages of my manuscript (YAY!) to working with our incredible partners for the Jewish American Holocaust Literature conference at The Betsy Hotel, to preparing for the first annual All Roads A Cappella Festival on South Beach, and also getting my little one ready for the opening of her show (she’s a fairy in Peter Pan), I’ve been a tad behind on things. Look at it this way—I’ve given you a whole other time zone to consider: Miami Time. Miami Time is a geographically diverse, non-specific time that adheres to multiple time zones depending on the time of day and what is happening at that particular moment and to who. It’s a thing—look it up.
This month, in honor of Nanowrimo (which I will attempt—next year) and also in response to the #777 challenge originally posed by Heather Demetrios to Lisa Papademetriu who later challenged me, I’m going to post a few thoughts on community. But first, let me explain what the #777 challenge is. Basically it’s a dare to post seven full lines of a current work in progress from page seven, seven lines down.
I have no idea why Heather chose the #777 model and I have yet ask her but being that she is a friend, fellow VCFA grad and also an amazing YA author, I went for it. Also, I’m likely to do whatever Lisa P asks of me so here goes:
This is an excerpt from my newly completed middle grade novel Vanessa Fuentes for President. It’s technically still in draft form but at least you’ll get the idea. It’s the story of a type-A girl trying to win an infamously difficult election for school president. Vanessa tries to keep everything in her life under control and ends up threatened to lose everything—including her best friend. It’s a middle grade novel about friendship, acceptance and the possibility that a student at Palm Middle is channeling the spirit of Guy Fawkes.
Here’s the excerpt:
Vanessa noticed Alex Martinez digging frantically as if a long and arduous search for buried treasure had ended in his backpack. He put crumpled papers on his desk, three notebooks that looked like they were bought ten years ago, pencils with no erasers, pens with no caps. He put a half-eaten apple on his desk, took a big bite out of it then threw the apple core back in his bag. Vanessa nearly fell out of her chair.
“Cochino!”* she whispered, but loud enough that he heard.
When I looked up the definition of community I found this: “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”
I think to some extent all people search for their communities because community is what binds us together. I can write for hours and hours and the only thing I hear is the sound of clacking on the computer keys and the voices of my characters as they reveal their story to me on the page.
But when I am at an event or a reading, I always feel the sense of belonging to the tribe of writers. And the interesting thing about Miami is that it has this sense of connecting multiple communities together.
I have come to love the quirky intricacies of my birth city. I get to see first hand all the incredible initiatives individuals are doing in Miami. This is of course in part because The Betsy Hotel and The Writer’s Room have so many different types of arts partners and the nature of my “day” job is such that I engage with many of these organizations. What I see from my vantage point is the way these organizations are connecting Miami, the community, not just their specific areas. They are all part of the Miami story.
It’s kind of neat to see actually. Every time an author comes into residency at The Betsy they’re astounded by how many artistic organizations there are in Miami. When the authors arrive in The Writer’s Room I usually sit and have “coffee talk” with them. It’s a sort of informal welcome and when they find out I’m also a writer, they immediately feel a kinship even if the genres or areas of writing we inhabit are not the same. Usually the conversations flow between craft and what to do in Miami. And when they experience the Magic City for themselves (or I take them), they are usually reticent to leave.
Kesley Osgood, author of the book How to Disappear Completely: On Modern Anorexia (Overlook Press) wrote to me after her time in The Writer’s room last month and commented how she was “homesick” for the Writer’s Room. She went to Barry University and gave a talk as part of her community give back and was completely taken by how Miami had grown and yet felt familiar (Kelsey spent a few winters here and hadn’t returned for a number of years).
Dr. Guy Stern, a Jewish German expat who enlisted in the US Army and was later trained as an interrogator as one of the famed “Ritchie Boys” who returned to Germany to interrogate Nazi soldiers during World War II stayed with us for about ten days. The 92 year-old scholar and former provost of Wayne State University lectured in a series of events with Florida International University’s Exile Studies Program as well as the Coral Gables museum. I brought my 82 year old dad (and former veteran as well) to the hotel to talk with him and the two spoke for over an hour and shared stories from their respective tours of duty. They were from disparate parts of the world but the sense that they shared something historical persisted in the connection. Perhaps our connection to community also exists in our sense of history?
I go back to my fellow young adult authors who originally posed the #777 challenge. I accepted the challenge yes, because we’re friends. Yes, because we graduated from the same school. Yes, because we write in the same field. It is all of these things that inhabit my sense of fellowship with them. I write different types of stories than Heather and Lisa. I couldn’t write a story about anorexia as convincingly as Kelsey or even begin to fathom a life like Dr. Stern has lived but their stories make me feel a sense of community to something larger than my own specific role.
We’re all different, and our humanity is what has the capacity to bring us all together. How else can an exhibit called, “From Swastika to Jim Crow” have such a deep impact for so many different kinds of people? That exhibit, currently at the Coral Gables Museum is quite captivating. Jewish scholars who were kicked out of their university posts in Nazi Germany and later welcomed into teaching posts in traditional southern black colleges really said something to me about the capacity for community. What we do to connect ourselves further to one another depends on how far we’re willing to go to accept challenges from each other.
Last Month’s Quote Quiz was, From what novel is this quote from? “You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.”?
The answer is No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
Quote Quiz of the Month (November 2014):
From what novel is this quote from? “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
I’ll post the winner in next month’s piece.
Till next time. From The Writer’s Room at The Betsy-South Beach,
*Cochino is a Latino pejorative for “pig,” meaning a person of uncouth manners or questionable morality.
PABLO CARTAYA is an author, Knight Literary Programs Manager at The Betsy-South Beach, an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a contributing editor of LitChat. He is a lover of books, family, food, and random quotes. He calls Miami home.
The Betsy-South Beach is an award-winning 61-room boutique hotel that expansively embraces community through a program called PACE (philanthropy, arts, culture and education). The Betsy-South Beach is a 2012 Knight Foundation Arts Challenge Grand recipient for its cornerstone program, The Writer’s Room (www.betsywritersroom.com), and is also the host hotel for LitChat’s bi-annual global retreat. The Betsy is located at 1440 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, Florida. (305) 531-6100 www.thebetsyhotel.com.