Summer of My Father’s Gun: A Neighborhood Story

New story! Summer of My Father’s Gun is now on Kindle!

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007S0QAJK

If you don’t have a Kindle, download a free app for PC, MAC, tablet or smartphone by clicking on above link and then on Free Reading Apps.

Or you can click here:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=sv_kstore_1?ie=UTF8&docId=1000493771

About the Story

 The narrator, Margarita, moves into a mixed Cuban/Anglo neighborhood that boils not only under the merciless South Florida sun, but also with the raw emotions of ethnic tension, adolescent restlessness, family breakup, paramilitary maneuvers, child beatings and wife stabbings.

While the move is a new beginning for her troubled parents, the twelve year old – deathly afraid of burglars but harboring a heart made for freedom — revels in the open spaces of her back yard and in the privacy of a room of her own. Curious about the neighbors, anxious to make friends, and feeling a tug of womanhood in her loins, she discovers the true meaning of courage when called upon to use her father’s old gun.

Setting

The story takes place in the mid-1960s, a time of radical transformation in South Florida. As more Cuban immigrants surged into the area, Miami went from a sleepy town to a perky metropolis filled with the clanging and scraping of construction: mega highways, waterside condominiums, and strip malls saturated the landscape.

Today, a forest of international banking institutions and skyscrapers line Brickell Avenue next to Biscayne Bay while thousands of tourists from around the world rove the streets of downtown and South Beach in search of the trendiest discos, restaurants and shops.

Outside of these glamorous areas, Dade County consists of solidly ethnic communities. This was not the case in the mid-1960s. The majority of the neighborhoods back then were divided between Anglos and Cubans; the two groups lived together, clashed and made peace. It was this historical moment that I wanted to capture.

Novels of Place

For inspiration, I read Sandra Cisnero’s novel The House on Mango Street about a young Mexican girl, Esperanza, coming of age in a poor ethnic community. I strove to shape my story similarly. While my neighborhood was modestly blue-collar—and mixed in ethnic origin — the residents were as troubled and downtrodden as those in Cisnero’s Chicago.

I also consulted Harper Lee‘s To Kill a Mockingbird, a fascinating novel about race and class in a southern American community, and studied the ways the author shaped her six-year-old protagonist. Scout Finch, despite her young age, is an active, dynamic participant in the plot and causes a lot to happen. I filled my main character with energy and ideas.

Both authors make setting central in their narratives, painting vivid pictures of the communities that are inseparable from the action.

The Familiar and the Exotic

Neighborhood stories are particularly impactful because they revolve around two painful life events: the search for identity and the coming of age. These narratives rely heavily on exotic settings to create texture and layers. Most Americans have no idea what it’s like to live in an ethnic community, usually a microcosm of a nation left behind that houses and protects a group of people marginalized from the rest because of language, income level, politics, religion or all four at once.

The writer Stuart Dybeck, a second generation Polish-American, gives voice to the residents of what he calls “the urban ghetto.” He focuses on the community where he grew up surrounded by Poles, Czechs and Hispanics and chronicles his adventures in two story collections: Childhood and Other Neighborhoods and The Coast of ChicagoThe setting drove me to these books.

There are so many ethnic enclaves whose stories still need to be told.

Challenges 

I wrote Summer of My Father’s Gun for a creative writing class at Florida International University, and it was a disaster. I spent months reworking it, trying to create tension in the plot and feeling as if I were applying just one tiny brushstroke of paint on a vast canvas. I added, deleted and rearranged scenes to increase suspense. I built and tore down the characters. I looked up facts in history books.  Then I stopped. I realized I could go on revising and editing forever.

Publishing to Kindle posed its own problems. I am my own editor and must be particularly careful to make sure formatting, spelling, and grammar are flawless.  Many writers hire editors to perform these tasks, but, at the moment, I am a one-woman shop.

To help with the editing process, I used a program called “autocrit.” You can download it for free on http://www.autocrit.com.It helped me identify redundancies, repetitious words, passive verbs and many other style issues. This exercise sent me back to the writing table for more revisions.

For me, the real learning takes place in the rewriting process.

I hope you like my neighborhood story!

“Summer of My Father’s Gun” is part of a story collection entitled Through the Branches of the Guava Tree showcasing the lives of Cuban exiles.

Other stories from the collection:

“The Button Box”

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00731D3PI

“Beyond”

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006T0Z122

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!

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.

Welcome to My World of Writing!

In this blog, I will be publishing memoir, short stories, personal essays and poetry. I will be discussing writing, literature, culture and the creative life.

I will begin with sections from a book-length memoir, but  occasionally digress to other forms of writing to give you a sensation of reading several works at once.  Many readers, including myself, often stack  a handful of books on their night tables to savor as the mood unfolds.

The memoir, LEAVING LITTLE HAVANA,  has been my major creative undertaking.  For ten years, I have imagined and reimagined the narratives of my life and finally glued together all the flying — and  jagged — pieces of a particular time and place.

While the book tells my story, it brings to light the plight of thousands of people like me: the children of the first Cuban exiles who abandoned their homes almost immediately after La Revolucion in 1959.

Here’s a brief synopsis:

It is the story of a girl uprooted from her comfortable middle-class home in La Habana by parents desperately fleeing for their lives in Fidel’s communist Cuba. Haunted by memories of loss of home and family and fighting to overcome cultural and language barriers, she rebels against her immigrant parents and descends into drugs and sexual profligacy while she searches for love and attention. She deals with the pain of a philandering father, who eventually abandons the family, and a mentally ill  mother, who weeps for a lost life back in Cuba and hears voices outside her window.

The teenaged girl must fend for herself and struggles to survive in a low-income Little Havana neighborhood. She talks her way out of a
shop-lifting charge, plans her own quince mini-extravaganza, and sidesteps a high school ruling that bars her from graduation.

Only when her fellow students from Miami High School go on to prestigious universities like Radcliff and Harvard does she pull herself back together. She begins taking journalism classes and lands a spot on the community college newspaper as a reporter. She applies to half a dozen universities and gets accepted to all. She chooses the one farthest from home, marries her boyfriend and sets out — husband in tow — on a quest to construct a future as a writer.

In the same way that DON’T LET’S GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT by Alexandra Fuller and ‘TIS by Frank McCourt examine life in a foreign country, my memoir takes a look at how immigrant children either survive or self-destruct in a new land they must eventually make theirs. While many memoirs by Cuban-Americans, such as SPARED ANGOLA by Virgil Suarez and WAITING FOR SNOW IN HAVANA by Carlos Eire, revolve around childhood scenes in Cuba and explore the experiences of a boy, my book is the first to focus on the journey of a Cuban girl struggling to learn the value of her own inner strength as she clears a path to her dream.

The immigrant experience leaves a permanent imprint on all children who start life anew in the United States.

I look forward to reading your aesthetic and intellectual responses to my work.

Leaving Little Havana by Cecilia M. Fernandez is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.