The Button Box: Memories of Fact and Fiction

My second story “The Button Box,” is now in the Kindle Store!

You can read it here:  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00731D3PI

If you don’t have a Kindle, click on the above link, go to the tab Free Reading Apps, and download a Kindle app for pc, mac, tablet or smartphone.

Here’s the cover!

I based the story on an obsession with a box that symbolized my start in life on an island in the Caribbean Sea. The island exploded in political turmoil, and my parents fled. I held tightly to the early years, listening to my parents’ nostalgic conversations about a lost life. I grew up and continued to mourn for a time and place I had only experienced briefly. I filled in what I didn’t know by looking at photographs and imagining what could have been. The images became memories; they felt real.

“The Button Box” tells the story of a young woman, tormented with dreams and memories of a box she played with at her great-aunt’s house in 1950s Cuba, who travels back to her homeland hoping to bring it to America. But it is not only the box she craves. Her secret desire is to stitch together the safe and comfortable life she abruptly left behind with the challenging life she has forged as a journalist in Miami.

Will she find the box? If she does, what will that mean to her life going forward? Can any immigrant unify two very different parts of herself?

Sigmund Freud proposed that “dreams [are] forms of ‘wish-fulfillment’—attempts by the unconscious to resolve a conflict of some sort, whether recent or from the recesses of the past” and could be used to determine the psyche of the individual. The writer Anais Nin, who I encountered as an undergraduate in Berkeley, drew heavily on the ideas of Freud, publishing seven volumes of a diary inspired by dreams, memories and the techniques of French author Marcel Proust, who, in is his eight volume Remembrance of Things Past, dissects mundane details to create a rich tapestry of experience.

Nin, Freud, and Proust. What joy to read their writing!

All three are embedded in my story of memories, a blend of fact, fiction and dreams. Many times, I find it hard to make a distinction.  I doubt what is real and then conclude the fiction is the fact.

I work shopped the story at the Paris Workshop, and, perhaps because my Cuban background seemed exotic,  fellow participants exclaimed, “Ahhh, like Garcia Marquez.” What my colleagues were expressing was a delight in the magical realism that I had injected into the story.  I ended it with a purely fantastical scene like those of many Latin American writers.

I work shopped it again at Florida International University, and the magical realism was knocked down; so I turned it into a personal essay with minimal bouts of fiction. But it seemed that the story didn’t fit into that category.  I have let “The Button Box” have its way. It is a remembrance of things past, combined with fictional elements to drive plot. And, as I recalled events and sensations, I conjured new ones and put back in the brush strokes of fantasy.

“The Button Box” is part of a short story collection entitled Through the Branches of the Guava Tree that focuses on the lives of Cuban Americans.   You can read my first story “Beyond,” also part of this collection, on the Amazon Kindle store.

Remember, you can download a Free Kindle app to read it on your PC, Mac, tablet or smartphones.

Hope you like it!

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My story “Beyond” Is Now on Kindle!

My story “Beyond” is now in the Kindle Store! Read it at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006T0Z122

It is my first– and humble– attempt at E-publishing fiction that has, hopefully, a semblance of plot.

Don’t have a Kindle? Click link above and download FREE KindleForPC! OR a FREE KindleForMac, Ipad, Iphone, Blackberry and Android phone. Once installed, register with an Amazon account, and search for my name!

Here’s the cover!

Loosely based on the life of an ex-boyfriend’s father, “Beyond” tells the story of the struggle for  economic survival and artisitc fulfillment by the first Cubans to leave the island in the wake of the 1959 revolution.

My tale shows Maximo, a struggling toy store owner and aspiring writer, tormented by desire for   his mistress and a longing to live the creative life.  On the evening of a small business exposition that celebrates the economic success of Cuban exiles, he fabricates a plan to escape from his humdrum life, pregnant wife and three sons. An unexpected catastrophe, however, forces him to place his plans on hold.

As I battled to construct a plot for my story, I realized how much of an impact the seemingly  plot-less early modernist writers had made on my writing style. Virginia Woolf, a member of the literary group that emerged on the heels of plot-driven Victorians such as Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray, had the most influence.

When I encountered Woolf’s work in an undergraduate literature class, I was mesmerized by the stream of consciousness technique she uses in the novel Mrs. Dalloway. James Joyce, another early modernist, employs the same technique in his epic Ulysses. These authors forged a different way of telling a story: they explored emotional and psychological terrains from the inside of a character.

When writing “Beyond,” I decidedly drifted — and stayed – into stream of consciousness mode to tell the story of Maximo. But something wasn’t working: Maximo thought too much.

In Lynne Barrett’s fiction workshop, I encountered the joys—and rigors—of constructing plot.  In her class, I struggled with making my characters do something other than think.

Lynne, a much revered creative writing teacher at Florida International University and author of the story collection Magpies, insisted that plot was the most important literary element.

“Plot drives a story.  Plot means that characters cause things to happen,” she said. “Then there is an effect from those actions.”

James Hall, another FIU writing teacher, agreed with Lynne.

“Read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee,” he said. “You will see that the main character causes all the action.”

Lynn blamed my inability to construct plot on the English lit major’s obsessive focus on language, theme, imagery, symbolism and setting. Nobody teaches plot, she said. She picked up a copy of The Poetics of Aristotle and handed it to me.

“Every drama has a spectacle, character, plot, language, melody and thought,” Aristotle writes, “but the most important is the organization of events, the plot….For tragedy is not an imitation of men but of actions and of life. It is in action that happiness and unhappiness are found, and the end we aim at is a kind of activity, not a quality.”

Finally, a feeble beam of light pierced the fog.

“I get it,” I said to Lynne. “Plot is the trunk and the branches of a story. Language, theme, imagery, and setting are the leaves.”

Lynne’s eyes widened. Who knew what she was thinking? But the image helped me with my plot creation.

“A principal means by which tragedy exerts its fascination,” Aristotle continues, “are parts of the plot, that is to say reversals and recognitions.”

I sped over to the section entitled “Parts of the Plot: Reversal, Recognition, Suffering” and read: “Reversal is a change from one state of affairs to its exact opposite…..Recognition is a change from ignorance to knowledge, leading either to friendship or to hostility…..A third element is Suffering (pathos)… an action of a destructive or painful description.”

I admit that the protagonist in “Beyond” does a lot of thinking. He goes on a stroll ala Mrs. Dalloway and Stephen Daedalus, and, while he walks, he plots.

Does it work? I don’t know. Few writers are ever satisfied with their writing. Henry James never stopped revising, even after publication.

Without a doubt, plot is a challenging piece of the fiction writing puzzle.

Beyond” is part of a story collection I am writing entitled Through the Branches of the Guava Tree, showcasing the lives of Cuban exiles.