How to Build a Tiny Writing Space (within which you will write brilliant fiction)

I have made six different plans to create a writing space for myself this year. They ranged from most work (move miles away) to the least amount of work. The least amount worked. Let’s explore these plans.

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PLAN A

The first plan was to move west and buy a much bigger house where the exurbs promise lower home costs (and values). I’d get me a giant office for writing and books and records and all great old things.

That plan failed.

PLAN B

Stay in town but move to a moderately bigger place with an office for me.

That plan failed.

PLAN C

Stay put. Staying is great. Simple living is great. My wife and kids were happy. We love our neighbors. My three-year-old couldn’t imagine not living next to “Uncle Charlie.”

I, however, wasn’t as thrilled. After all, I needed a space to compose a masterpiece. I needed a sacred space, a space for prayer, meditation, and fiction writing. No such space existed in my house.

Plan D

Build a writing shed.

This plan got off the ground in a big way. I researched building codes. I purchased a shed to be delivered just before the summer. I would add heat and AC. It would be perfect. But a financial crisis or two declared to me, “you are broke, dude. You can’t afford a new home, new shed, or new shoes.”

These dudes and dudettes had some sweet writing sheds:

Plan E

Abandon Your Family

I decided that, even though despair was setting in, this plan of abandoning my family to be a bohemian somewhere south of the border was probably not ideal, especially if I wanted to write with integrity.

Plan F

Use the space you have. This is the plan that I recommend. It is the plan that I did. Here is how you can do it.

STEP ONE- Set a Goal

My goal is simple: to hear the voice of God and write fiction that shares that voice. For this, I need a contemplative, mystical, sacred space: a space that inspires awe.

STEP TWO-Find a Closet or Corner that You Can Use

This step was hard. We are thankful for our 3 bedroom 2 bath, but it is about as small as a 3 bedroom 2 bath can be, and we don’t have a garage. That means there are virtually no unused corners when you have a family of five.

There was, however, one space. It is a closet under the stairs. Harry Potter style. It had no doors; it leads to the crawl space; it was filled with tools and board games. Te ceiling is quite short. It was perfect.

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Step Three-Build Your Space

I put in some sick flooring. I painted the studs—no drywall, that would take up another .75 inches of my 5 ft by 3 ft office with sloping ceilings.

On the back of the unfinished walls, I painted with chalkboard paint. It worked perfectly. It looks very old and very writerly.

Step Four-Fill Your Space With Items that Will Help You Achieve Your Goal

I had two goals while filling this space:

1-It had to be functional. When you have 15 square feet, and you are a 220 lb man (all muscle, seriously), you need to make the space count.

2-It had to feel sacred. Writing novels sucks. Writing a second novel is in some ways easier than a first, and in other ways absolutely soul crushing. More posts to come on that.

Goals one and two are at odds with each other. I left out some things that I would have included. I wanted more icons and paintings, but four pieces of art and a few knick-knacks will have to do.

I added a few shelves to house my tobacco pipes, knick-knacks and records. After all, we have to inspire awe. MP3s don’t really do that.

Here is a picture of one of my favorite additions. It’s an antique PO Box. I keep notecards with next steps of my novel in it. It is functional and really cool and old.

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Here is the cheapest, smallest record player I could find. It’s not the highest quality setup, but the low-fi sound adds to the mystique. I also keep the record player on my desk while I write. The turning record is therapeutic if not mesmerizing.

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The DESK was a concern at first. There is no room, so I had to make it movable. It is on hinges and attaches to the wall.

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In trying to create a new voice for a new novel, I have begun to write by hand more. That means notebooks, which are certainly not as functional. But I cut a hole under the other side of the stairs. This section is basically the crawl space, but I can remove a little access wall and reach a portable file cabinet when I need to look at some older piece of writing.

I have also sworn never to have distractions in this room, other than a book or two and records, so I am using a seven-year-old Macbook. I removed the wifi card a couple of years ago. No other computer will enter this space.

Jonathan Franzen argues for this sort of distance from the Internet while writing fiction. His reasoning is that he doesn’t think writers will research well with the Internet. I’m not sure what that means exactly, but my concern is that I’ll GChat and judge people on Facebook too much.

Step 5—Keep Your Space Sacred

This is a writing space. You don’t do anything else in here. You can read for inspiration, meditate, pray, but you can’t do your bills or grade papers or surf the web. That will lead to you being a total failure as a writer and as a human being.

Step 6-Write

I’m rereading Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird. So I’m trying to write in this same space at the same time everyday. I want to write early in the mornings, but it doesn’t work, so I am writing just after the kids go to sleep. I’m allowed to write in here at other times, but I HAVE TO WRITE at my designated time.

Go and do likewise. IMG_1849

Indie Publishing: A Vast Vulgar and Meretricious Beauty [or] 10 Reasons I’m Trolling Gatsby (#11 is so Meretricious, you won’t believe it)

…He must be about His Father’s business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 9.40.39 AM

 

When I learned that Gatsby was turning 90 today, I immediately texted my publisher and said, “Let’s make the Kindle version of TRORP free.” No other event has prompted me to give my book away for free. I haven’t trolled any other anniversaries or events or people (though I’m still considering a lawsuit as publicity stunt against Dos Equis’, Most Interesting Man…After all, no one is more interesting than Rey Pescador, but I digress).

So what spurred my generosity? Why am I trolling The Great Gatsby (hereafter Gatsby not to be confused with the character Gatsby)?

I’d like to say it’s because I am fighting overpriced ebooks. I’d like to say it’s because Gatsby a couple of years ago we sold Gatsby at a school book fair and the list price was 15 USD. It pissed me off that my low-income students had to shell out that much money for a book that should be public domain and is so short it costs like .08 USD to print.

I could say it’s because I love Gatsby. I teach Gatsby to several classes every year. Some parts I read out loud every year. I like doing this. One such section is in chapter six where, our buddy, Gatsby is first born from “the platonic conception of himself.” Fitzgerald describes this lovable (but ultimately creepy, right?) dreamer as in “the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty.” Honestly, meretricious wasn’t in my working vocabulary the first time around. So here is the definition.

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The archaic definition as Gatsby as prostitute is interesting. This less-than-precise definition of Gatsby selling out for Daisy works. The other definition is better; though I think both work for the topic of the day: book marketing.

A few days after my first novel was published last summer, I sat in this tacky cabana in July heat in some exurban midwest waterpark mentally exploring the emotional desert of literary postpartum and emotional vulnerability. I knew that a few people were reading my book. PEOPLE WERE READING MY BOOK— my book that I spent years on, my book that was everything I believed and loved filtered into the fantastic tall tales of a beautiful Latino literary superstar. It was my best attempt to show the beauty of the world. It was for sale. It was a terrible feeling.

What made it worse was that I had to market it. I don’t mind marketing things. But the idea of spending my days online trying to convince someone to buy my novel that had no real reviews and a no name publisher made me realize that I might be another one of the millions of “Indie” authors in the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty.

Part of my goal with Rey Pescador’s story was to criticize academia and literary fiction while criticizing celebrity culture. It’s a sometimes harsh satire of America, but by writing and publishing this satire, I became a part of the industry that I criticized. I didn’t become part of the MFA generated literary fiction world that disappointed me from refusing to fly high enough. But I was now part of an industry that didn’t even attempt to, as Pound says, “make it new.” I became an Indie Author. I am an Indie Author.

We, indie writers, are all Gatsbys, and I don’t mean that in the sense that we are dreamers pursuing some idealistic version of the world where readers read and writers write and there is a book for everyone to read and love and a book for everyone to write. Honestly, I’ve always been too much of a lit snob for any of that stuff. What I’m saying is that we are Gatsby because we are also selling homemade intoxicants intended to make easy cash and help people escape the shitty reality of their lives.

At a literary festival last month, I was on a panel on speculative fiction. Almost every other person said they wrote and read to escape reality. I’m as guilty as the next person of wanting to escape reality—more guilty if you consider my Netflix history. I binge watch bad TV. I escape. I ignore my daughters and wife whenever a computer is around. Twitter and Facebook are there.

Is there a time to use reading as an escape? Maybe. It’s not my form of escape. Mine is TV. But escape is not something I find very virtuous. Escape, if not inherently a vice, can become one–in America it has certainly become an addiction.

Escape is easy in America. What’s hard and important and worthwhile is engagement. My novel, The Resurrection of Rey Pescador, is about this idea. Like Gatsby the titular character is larger-than-life and a product of his imagination. Also, like Gatsby the narrator is a passive observer. Both Gatsby and Rey escape the reality they thought they controlled and their narrators are left determining what is meaningful in life.

It’s a book about the virtues of engagement and the folly of escape. It’s a book about the danger of distraction and entertainment. It’s a book about the beauty of the mundane. But here is the problem I am facing: How do I market that type of book without selling myself, without becoming what I criticize? How do I spend hours on social media promoting a book that is about its dangers? How do I do that without becoming meretricious?

My solution is this– this article right here. My solution is to write about it in a blog post. After all, blog posts solve all problems. I wanted it to be a grand essay on the meaning of art and beauty and marketing, but it’s a blog post that I had little time to write; it’s meretricious, I suppose.

By doing this, I will make my free giveaway a holier-than-thou argument about Gatsby being too expensive and about how the 5,459 published free books ahead of me on Amazon’s free list are cheap. Yeah, that’s how I can do it. But isn’t describing Indie publishing as meretricious make me the second definition of meretricious? Aren’t I selling myself even more than Rey did during the chapter “We Also Sell Mattresses?” (READ MY BOOK TO GET THE REFERENCE!)

I think I am. I think I have.

But if this plan doesn’t work, it’s no matter.  I’ll just join the crowd. I’ll grow my list of followers longer. I’ll tweet on, with prose against the current, borne back sanctimoniously down a screen.

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Oh, yeah…the book is free here.

 

My Writing Process Blog Tour |OR| How to Create Swag in 21st Century Prose

A student of mine once wore an aphoristic T-Shirt that said something that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since, “Swag,” it said in bold letters, “Don’t come cheap.”

The student didn’t say much else, but we’ve always been…(alright I need to stop the Gatsby alluding before it gets out of hand—sorry).

Ah, swag, that essence of the gods. It certainly don’t come cheap now, does it?

Of course writers know this just as well as high school football players. Swag in writing, that lucid prose that illuminates the mind and sings to the soul and catalyzes the glands—that don’t come cheap either. It requires a process with strict, conscious discipline to rules and ritual.

So here is my writing process. Well, it’s actually more of a rule of writing life.

 (by the way this is part two of my writing process blog tour. Read the previous post and check out Brie Gowen’s website. She’s the one who invited me on the tour!).

 

Rule 1-Don’t write.

 

This one I’m good at. Instead of writing, try to commit to something actually worthwhile like watching TV or working or spending time with family.

 

Honestly, there are too many writers out there and too many books (seriously, if you have a critical synapse in your brain and search Amazon or Twitter for books indie or mainstream, you will cry over the quality and quantity of books).

 

I’m not saying that fewer people should write. Writing is a great hobby. Even this post is an exercise in that. I’ll write it tonight, throw it on my blog, and someone will read it. That’s great.

 

But writing a novel—dedicating hundreds of hours to one project with the risk that no one will read it or it will be the same as everything else—is a terrifying concept. I did it, and I’m terrified. What percent of novels are great, truly worth your time when there are so many good shows on Netflix (have you seen The Wire? I haven’t and I might be missing out big time if I read/write a novel instead)?

 

Don’t write. I’ll say it again: Don’t WRITE! Try to find something worth writing instead. Try to find meaning in life. Try to hear the voice of God. Then if you’ve heard it; if you truly believe you have some truth to share in the midst of this metal world (to borrow an idea from David Rosario the narrator in my upcoming novel), then write. That’s when you skip to rule five.

 

If you are obsessed with a character and his/her life for years, write it. If you carry around a notebook and laugh out loud in the supermarket line because you think of a joke your character says, then write it. Write it again. Write it a third time. Have someone smart edit it (for me it’s my brilliant wife).

 

Then get it published. If no one wants to read it, well you got to hear the voice of God. Not a bad way to spend a decade.

 

Rule 2-Notice everything.

 

If you’re coworkers say something interesting, write it down. If you can’t write it down, or are busy eating cake from the treat table, remember it, at least. Remember the cadence and the syntax. Remember the emotion. Remember the glow of synthetic light. Remember everything.

 

Write everything down.

 

Borrow your wife’s iPhone, because yours is not smart; then jot down how the character felt at some dance in high school. Then go home and realize it is horrible, delete it. Feel the same emotion later, notice where and chronicle how the molding around the stage in this old theater looks like ivory soap, then realize that simile sucks and move on.

 

Rule 3-Listen to your favorite album, something with complexity, something that doesn’t gloss over the reality of life.

 

Listen to that same album over and over for a long time. Write about a man killing a dragon. Only it isn’t a dragon, but really, it is. Have that be the climax of the novel.

 

Then eat a scone. You’ve done well today.

 

Rule 4-Go to Church

 

While I don’t write “religious fiction,” my fiction is inspired by my faith more than any other area of my life. Actually, I don’t really see any area of my life being separate from faith, which is important for the reasons below.

 

Believe the world is sacred. Believe people can be made holy. Then fall in love with the richness of an ancient faith. Spend time weekly with people saying words that are ancient and beautiful and true. Find beauty in routine.

 

There are novels that have inspired me, that have made me need to write, but more often than not it’s a sunset or a sacrament that gets me to steal my daughter’s marker and write on the back of a bulletin. It doesn’t mean that I’m writing sermons or theology. The robot fights in my book came to me during a 9-hour summer grad class about theology. Never be preachy or didactic in your fiction (unless a character is), but do write after hearing a sermon or lesson.

 

Rule 5: Location, Location, (I hate myself for writing this cliché, but it’s a blog, right?), Location.

 

If your kids are awake, you need to leave the house and go to Starbucks or Caribou or that awesome hipster coffee shop two towns over (the problem is that their tables are sticky if it’s humid out, and it’s humid right now).

 

If your kids are asleep, sit in your blue Lazy Boy (that isn’t actually a Lazy Boy and isn’t blue because it has a chair cover to match the earth tones in the basement). Put on a record; obtain the following supplies:

 

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Seltzer water
  • A bandana (shout out to my boy DFW)
  • A computer (or notebook or typewriter or alphasmart [seriously, not a bad option]).

 

Place those items next to the chair. Realize that you need to shave. Shower and shave (preferably with a safety razor or something retro). Then turn on some music and write.

 

Rule 6: Win the Pulitzer or Something

 

We began with an aphorism from one of my students, let’s end with one: “Let Your Haters Be Your Motivators.” Actually, this smacks of rap tropes, and it may be from a song, but I learned it from one of my student’s essays.

 

My point is this. MFA programs and undergraduate creative writing classes have taught us to be good at receiving criticism. They have taught us to write clean prose that says something beautiful about monotony. That is noble. But that isn’t what gets you excited about writing. You get excited about Jay Gatsby, about Fitzgerald’s obsession with Zelda and perfect prose. You get excited about Shelley saying ironically, “Look on my works ye mighty and despair.” You get excited to see that Hemingway told Fitzgerald to “Kiss my ass,” after receiving criticism on A Farewell to Arms. So write something bigger and better than everyone else. That should be your tertiary goal (behind hearing the voice of God and writing something beautiful and true).

 

Listen to other’s critiques, but don’t write for other people’s approval. Write to say something beautiful, true, and unique. Otherwise, you might as well catch up on The Wire.
I’m not saying I’ve done this. But I believe in that lucid prose that draft after draft recedes before me. It has eluded me before, but that’s no matter—tomorrow, I’ll sit in my blue chair, pound on my keys, and watch letters create words that create something eternal. And one fine morning…

 

So I beat on, against the current of contemporary fiction, borne back ceaselessly into…another dimension where my MC Rey Pescador lives…it’s kind of a long story.

 

But don’t worry you can buy it soon. Follow me on twitter, or follow this site for news on pre-ordering my novel soon.

 

It was all true,

Alfred Cedeno

@reypescador

 

 

 

 

 

Rey Pescador Takes Flight

Today we launch my new novel!

Yes, that is right Rey Pescador–the sultan of syntax, the king fisher, the bard from the barrio, the prince of poetry–TAKES FLIGHT today!!!

Even if you can’t read. The cover art (front and back) is worth it!

http://www.amazon.com/Resurrection-Rey-Pescador-Alfred-Cedeno/dp/0990353826/ref=sr_1_1_title_0_main?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1404856946&sr=1-1&keywords=rey+pescador

 

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-resurrection-of-rey-pescador-alfred-cedeno/1119923505?ean=2940149818945

Rey Pescador
Rey Pescador

 

 

The Resurrection of Rey Pescador is available for pre-order!

Click here to to buy my book! 

Here is the amazing cover by George at Winslet Press and the description:

Best cover ever
Best cover ever

 

His meteoric rise and fall are legendary, but Rey Pescador’s greatest adventure remained a mystery.

Until now.

When David Rosario finally confronts his absurd past, he composes a series of tall tales and love letters that both chronicle Rey Pescador’s tenure as the world’s most famous man and finally confess his love to the mysterious Rebecca.

David’s one-sided feud with Rey, his cousin and best friend, humorously catapults this adventure across continents and worlds.

It shatters genres in its wake.

Believing that even post-modern life is filled with mythical elements and that common robot fights contain deep significance, Rey Pescador seeks an artistic escape from an undying, scientific world. In the process, he becomes America’s most beloved anachronism.

From his first public invocation of the muse to his spontaneous bout with an imposing heavy-weight in Madison Square Garden, his performances transcend reality. In the wake of an unexpected decline in popularity, Rey s manager promises fame beyond his imagination.

But at what cost?

My Writing Process Blog Tour PART II: How to Create Swag in 21st Century Prose

A student of mine once wore an aphoristic T-Shirt that said something that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since, “Swag,” it said in bold letters, “Don’t come cheap.”

The student didn’t say much else, but we’ve always been…(alright I need to stop the Gatsby alluding before it gets out of hand—sorry).

Ah, swag, that essence of the gods. It certainly don’t come cheap now, does it?

Of course writers know this just as well as high school football players. Swag in writing, that lucid prose that illuminates the mind and sings to the soul and catalyzes the glands—that don’t come cheap either. It requires a process with strict, conscious discipline to rules and ritual.

So here is my writing process. Well, it’s actually more of a rule of writing life.

 (by the way this is part two of my writing process blog tour. Read the previous post and check out Brie Gowen’s website. She’s the one who invited me on the tour!).

 

Rule 1-Don’t write.

 

This one I’m good at. Instead of writing, try to commit to something actually worthwhile like watching TV or working or spending time with family.

 

Honestly, there are too many writers out there and too many books (seriously, if you have a critical synapse in your brain and search Amazon or Twitter for books indie or mainstream, you will cry over the quality and quantity of books).

 

I’m not saying that fewer people should write. Writing is a great hobby. Even this post is an exercise in that. I’ll write it tonight, throw it on my blog, and someone will read it. That’s great.

 

But writing a novel—dedicating hundreds of hours to one project with the risk that no one will read it or it will be the same as everything else—is a terrifying concept. I did it, and I’m terrified. What percent of novels are great, truly worth your time when there are so many good shows on Netflix (have you seen The Wire? I haven’t and I might be missing out big time if I read/write a novel instead)?

 

Don’t write. I’ll say it again: Don’t WRITE! Try to find something worth writing instead. Try to find meaning in life. Try to hear the voice of God. Then if you’ve heard it; if you truly believe you have some truth to share in the midst of this metal world (to borrow an idea from David Rosario the narrator in my upcoming novel), then write. That’s when you skip to rule five.

 

If you are obsessed with a character and his/her life for years, write it. If you carry around a notebook and laugh out loud in the supermarket line because you think of a joke your character says, then write it. Write it again. Write it a third time. Have someone smart edit it (for me it’s my brilliant wife).

 

Then get it published. If no one wants to read it, well you got to hear the voice of God. Not a bad way to spend a decade.

 

Rule 2-Notice everything.

 

If you’re coworkers say something interesting, write it down. If you can’t write it down, or are busy eating cake from the treat table, remember it, at least. Remember the cadence and the syntax. Remember the emotion. Remember the glow of synthetic light. Remember everything.

 

Write everything down.

 

Borrow your wife’s iPhone, because yours is not smart; then jot down how the character felt at some dance in high school. Then go home and realize it is horrible, delete it. Feel the same emotion later, notice where and chronicle how the molding around the stage in this old theater looks like ivory soap, then realize that simile sucks and move on.

 

Rule 3-Listen to your favorite album, something with complexity, something that doesn’t gloss over the reality of life.

 

Listen to that same album over and over for a long time. Write about a man killing a dragon. Only it isn’t a dragon, but really, it is. Have that be the climax of the novel.

 

Then eat a scone. You’ve done well today.

 

Rule 4-Go to Church

 

While I don’t write “religious fiction,” my fiction is inspired by my faith more than any other area of my life. Actually, I don’t really see any area of my life being separate from faith, which is important for the reasons below.

 

Believe the world is sacred. Believe people can be made holy. Then fall in love with the richness of an ancient faith. Spend time weekly with people saying words that are ancient and beautiful and true. Find beauty in routine.

 

There are novels that have inspired me, that have made me need to write, but more often than not it’s a sunset or a sacrament that gets me to steal my daughter’s marker and write on the back of a bulletin. It doesn’t mean that I’m writing sermons or theology. The robot fights in my book came to me during a 9-hour summer grad class about theology. Never be preachy or didactic in your fiction (unless a character is), but do write after hearing a sermon or lesson.

 

Rule 5: Location, Location, (I hate myself for writing this cliché, but it’s a blog, right?), Location.

 

If your kids are awake, you need to leave the house and go to Starbucks or Caribou or that awesome hipster coffee shop two towns over (the problem is that their tables are sticky if it’s humid out, and it’s humid right now).

 

If your kids are asleep, sit in your blue Lazy Boy (that isn’t actually a Lazy Boy and isn’t blue because it has a chair cover to match the earth tones in the basement). Put on a record; obtain the following supplies:

 

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Seltzer water
  • A bandana (shout out to my boy DFW)
  • A computer (or notebook or typewriter or alphasmart [seriously, not a bad option]).

 

Place those items next to the chair. Realize that you need to shave. Shower and shave (preferably with a safety razor or something retro). Then turn on some music and write.

 

Rule 6: Win the Pulitzer or Something

 

We began with an aphorism from one of my students, let’s end with one: “Let Your Haters Be Your Motivators.” Actually, this smacks of rap tropes, and it may be from a song, but I learned it from one of my student’s essays.

 

My point is this. MFA programs and undergraduate creative writing classes have taught us to be good at receiving criticism. They have taught us to write clean prose that says something beautiful about monotony. That is noble. But that isn’t what gets you excited about writing. You get excited about Jay Gatsby, about Fitzgerald’s obsession with Zelda and perfect prose. You get excited about Shelley saying ironically, “Look on my works ye mighty and despair.” You get excited to see that Hemingway told Fitzgerald to “Kiss my ass,” after receiving criticism on A Farewell to Arms. So write something bigger and better than everyone else. That should be your tertiary goal (behind hearing the voice of God and writing something beautiful and true).

 

Listen to other’s critiques, but don’t write for other people’s approval. Write to say something beautiful, true, and unique. Otherwise, you might as well catch up on The Wire.
I’m not saying I’ve done this. But I believe in that lucid prose that draft after draft recedes before me. It has eluded me before, but that’s no matter—tomorrow, I’ll sit in my blue chair, pound on my keys, and watch letters create words that create something eternal. And one fine morning…

 

So I beat on, against the current of contemporary fiction, borne back ceaselessly into…another dimension where my MC Rey Pescador lives…it’s kind of a long story.

 

But don’t worry you can buy it soon. Follow me on twitter, or follow this site for news on pre-ordering my novel soon.

 

It was all true,

Alfred Cedeno

@reypescador

 

 

 

 

 

My Writing Process Blog Tour Part I: A Confession

 

Background: This is a blog tour that Brie Gowen invited me to. She’s awesome and is signed with the best publishing company ever. Go to her website and read her stuff.

Before continuing, I must make a confession. I kind of botched the whole blog tour thing because I didn’t get other bloggers to continue the process. So this is the end of the line (like my family’s proud lineage if I don’t produce a male heir), unless you’re an awesome fiction writing blogger who wants a shout out. If so, let me know.

I’ve also botched it in another way. I was supposed to answer four questions, but I’ve answered two and wrote a whole post on the fourth question and kind of ignored the third. Forgive me, reader.

 

Question 1: What am I working on?

 

I am working on the tales of Rey Pescador and his merry band of Geniuses. It began as a fictional blog with a few other friends who had characters in the same universe. We all had characters who were in some ways our alter egos. I had two characters who were opposites and best friends (because I’m narcissistic, I guess). That was seven years ago. My novel on Rey Pescador and David Rosario will be published in July, so I’m starting to plan a new novel. I’m thinking a tragedy in the same universe of Rey and David. It will be about joy and time travel.

Question 2: How does my work differ from others of its genre?

 

This one is easy because I don’t really know my genre. I have always seen myself writing literary fiction with a bad attitude, so I try to break literary fiction conventions as often as possible by adding “genre writing” tropes in a humorous way.

 

That said the novel really differs from everything. I’m not saying I’m revolutionary; after all, novels follow rules because they work, so mine might be the worst thing ever. The proverbial jury is still eating Chipotle in some conference room.

 

My novel The Resurrection of Rey Pescador is certainly speculative fiction, probably science fiction, but it differs from other si/fi because it is much more concerned with character than technology.

 

The other genre that it’s pretty close to would be tall tales. It differs from that because it’s not about Paul Bunyan; it’s about Rey “the Bard from the Barrio” Pescador. Don’t forget it.

My next post will cover:

Question 3: Why do I write what I do? (implicitly)


Question 4: How does my writing process work?

 

 

 

Start a Garden: A Review of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

As I approach the publication of my first novel, I’m feeling like a fraud (it’s my default setting). There is so much that I haven’t read. I’ve read virtually no science fiction or speculative fiction in general, and I’m about to publish a book with robot fights. So I decided to use the old library card and finally read some science fiction.

 

Here is a morsel of what I found in Phillip K. Dick’s Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

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The earth is really hot.

 

Mars is not so pleasant itself.

 

The more evolved you are, the more angsty you are.

 

Precogs make dumb decisions too.

 

Structurally, Three Stigmata is really two books, two worlds, both filled with sex, escape, harsh elements, neither with satisfaction, love, or sacrifice. Neither world features round characters, but even the tired sci/fi tropes and stereotypes (including some unfortunate sexist and potentially racist portrayals) help ask Dick’s worthwhile questions:

 

1-How do we find meaning as an advanced species?

2-What good is reality in a world of pleasurable simulacra?

 

Without giving away too much, I will say that Dick’s potential answers begin when Leo Bulero (angsty hedonist precog refugee) meets the lovely Anne Hawthorne (neo-Christian proselytizer): a future Romeo and Juliet in the making…well, not really, but that book needs to happen.

 

Not only does Anne Hawthorne share the name of one of the great Puritan writers (who changed his name from that infamous Puritan, Hathorne), she shares one of her Christian ancestor’s greatest traits–forgotten by some fundamentalist ancestors and by the general public–a love for the world, for the land:

 

No wonder she hated it on Mars; historically her people undoubtedly had loved the authentic ground of Terra, the smell and actual texture, and above all the memory it contained, the remnants in transmuted form…Well, she could start a garden here…

 

This isn’t the fundamentalist Christianity that decries the earth and waits for it to burn. This is a neo-Christian whose ancestors loved the world deeply. Just as Anne loved the earth, so Bulero must learn to love Mars, which he kind of does:

 

But I’m not returning to Earth; either I make it here or not at all..it will be here on this miserable planet, this ‘promised land’… Tomorrow morning, he decided, I’ll begin clearing away the sand of fifty thousand centuries for my first vegetable garden. That’s the initial step.

 

Ultimately, Dick achieves what Science Fiction writers ought to by creating a legitimate tension between humanity and a land made strange by technology. He also creates a plan of escape. What should we do when the earth is boiling in anger? When simulacra trump reality? When escape is simple and so pleasurable? When sex is detached, impersonal, and filled with remorse?

 

Well, we could start a garden here.

 

The Revelation to Al Cedeno: Starbucks Edition

Originally on The Guilty Conscience, 6-25-13

I have lived in Wheaton, Illinois for almost ten years now. My home town (which is almost double the size of Wheaton) has no Starbucks. Wheaton has like fifty, or something. That is to say that I am a stranger here.

I ordered a grande dark roast and sat in the corner and bemoaned the energetic Monday morning conversations. I became the critical punk kid that I try so hard not to be.

Then behold the Lord spoke to me and showed me a vision of a strip mall so holy that everyone who walked in would be transported to the roasting house of the Lord. And immediately around me were seven tables representing the seven pillars of evangelicalism. At each table sat evangelicals serving “the work of the Lord.” The Lord said I shouldn’t judge them, but rather I should love them. I should speak to them.

To the seven tables at the Wheaton Starbucks on this morning, I say:

Table 1

To the three College Church people discussing:

1-How the large, talented church in the Christian guitar playing, Ultimate-Frisbee-playing capital of Protestantism can’t find any Guitar players to help lead worship.

2-Flannery O’Connor being the ideal Christian author. She gets it.

By the authority of someone who has overheard three minutes of a private conversation and therefore can judge, I urge you to strum proudly. You have so many amazing ministries, especially to those struggling with disabilities. Keep fighting the good fight; untuck your shirts and welcome the wounded and God will provide one whose fingers press the fret board with skill and strength. I say O’Connor may get it, but there are others who get something else. So read some David Foster Wallace or Cormac McCarthy.

Table 2

To the table where a Taylor University admissions advisor in full Taylor garb and a NAME TAG works and presumably waits for a recruit:

I say remember the English word for pagan comes from the word for country folk #uplandisboring. I mostly jest. Christians have long learned from those who isolate themselves in the desert in community seeking vision from God. Let us know if you get any because that would be pretty sweet.

Table 3

To the fifty-year-old woman who drinks an ice coffee and reads a commentary on Exodus with a yellow highlighter:

I’m liking the Macbook and highlighter. Keep reading about Exodus, but don’t forget to check out the church fathers. Those guys were legit. Don’t fall into the enlightenment idea that you with your highlighter and concordance will have a better understanding of the Bible than those who studied under the apostles or that you can ignore the entire history of the Church and understand the Bible with fresh eyes. Dive into the ancient and ongoing conversation of the Church of Jesus Christ, who with the illumination of the Holy Spirit, see the Father through the Son.

Table 4

To the very organized man with a military demeanor who drafts the second thorough outline for “Worship in the Park 2013:

Everything we do in the park should be worship. I love the outline (so does God), but make sure that you are willing to rip it up if the Spirit so leads. And if you ever feel like comparing yourself to a “liturgical church” by saying, “We don’t have a liturgy at our church,” remember that outline. Remember that outline, brother.

Table 5

To the fifty-something-year-old woman (who from a distance looks 32) with platinum blonde hair and a CAMP HARVEST shirt:

You may have felt that you strayed too far south from the mothership, but we love you. We love Pastor James! Even though he said that congregationalism and infant baptism are from Satan. I think he was using hyperbole, so don’t let that keep you from dialoguing with faithful Christians who have democratic ecclesiastical structures or who think children can be in the family of God. Dialogue is important and Christians have been doing it for millennia. Check out and join the conversation. Most importantly, I can see the love of Christ in your face, which is pretty awesome. Keep that going.

Table 6

To the large man (not as large as me) in a Wheaton Christian Grammar School (a.k.a. WCGS by those who are in the know) who greets a mom and her daughter (who is also wearing WCGS garb) warmly:

Keep educating, brother, and don’t tell your students that gym class is the most important class. It really isn’t. English literature is.

Table 7

To the late 20s man, browner than the rest, with taped-together hipster glasses and hair extending six inches in every direction of his massive head, who writes a novel about a man trying to get to heaven and curiously thinks he is different than these people:

You are different. They are different parts, but one body. You are best when you use your voice. So use it and remember the reading from St. Augustine on this the Feast Day of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist: John is the voice, but the Lord, “in the beginning was the Word.” John is a voice for a time, but Christ is the eternal Word from the beginning.”

It was all true,
Alfred L. Cedeno

 

Confessions of a 1:1 English Teacher or Why a Technophobe Gave 100 High School Students iPads  

 

It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet 

connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

Jonathan Franzen

Disregard all of Franzen’s rules for writing.

Alfred Cedeno

Prone to dramatic gestures, I once drove a large American truck over a small American computer. It was winter, last winter, actually. In fact, it was almost exactly one year ago. I decided that the internet was a synthetic place that had the power to rip one’s soul from one’s body, or something like that. And even if that wasn’t true, it was a place with enough articles on Chicago sports that I would be so distracted that I would never become a great writer, husband, teacher, and father.

So I decided I would follow the footsteps of my buddy Bill who sold everything digital he owned and bought a record player and dozens of books and notebooks. I would be a Luddite, a great thinker, a great man.

I had been down this road before.

  • I sold my iPhone for the dumbest phone I could find.
  • I deactivated Facebook before non-college students could even activate.
  • I sold my PS3.
  • I sold my Wii.
  • I wrote a science fiction novel where the protagonist is basically the only man in the world not controlled by technology, and therefore, the only real man.

I guess you could say through my whole life I’ve been running from technology, but that would only be true if I noted that I always ran right back into its warm, semiconducting arms. This is to say the above opening paragraph overstated my conviction. Perhaps it wasn’t conviction at all, but sanctimony–which I’m also prone to.

Here are the facts:

Fact-I did run over the old Macbook with my truck, but the truth is it was a midsize truck, not a large one.
Fact-I wasn’t completely determined to become a Luddite.
Fact-I still had an iPad from work; I still had a computer from work; I had a brand new Mac Mini at home.

So why did I run over the Macbook?

  1. It was old. And selling it on Craigslist seemed like too much work.
  2. I thought I could be less distracted with a desktop computer.
  3. It was the type of gesture that could eventually lead to a post like this.

 

After all I had more important things to do than read every article on Jay Cutler’s newest injury. I wanted to read more books, drink more tea, and write fantastic fiction that would glean my teeming brain.

Just under a year later, I am teaching in a pilot 1:1 program where every student in my classes has an iPad. I chose to be in this program. In fact, I begged to be in this program. In high school I refused to have a cell phone, and now I am the one passing iPads to every student in my class.

Why? Aren’t they going to be distracted all the time? Aren’t their souls going to be ripped from their bodies as they enter a solely synthetic reality? Aren’t they going to cyberbully?

Why would someone like me–who loves all things ancient, corduroy, and tweed; who teaches Thoreau in a way that might make my students leave for Walden and never look back; who would certainly live in a cabin in a National Park if it wasn’t for his wife and daughters–subjugate my students to the incredible device of distraction and consumption that is the Apple iPad?

I have several answers, but the main reason, the thing that finally convinced me to jump overboard is simple: distraction.

Students are distracted by these devices. They were before I gave them one. They will be for decades after they leave my class, that is, they will be if they never truly consider the purpose and implications of these machines. A classroom that explores these topics through research and argument seems like the best place for these discussions, the best chance that the next generation will be better than their parents at having self-control with technology. It also seems like the only way my students will be creating authentic pieces of writing.  After all, where do students read and write? Online. Who is else going to teach them to do this? No one.

Last year I forgot to copy a handout for my 8th period class. Rather than scrap the lesson, I said, “Who has a smartphone or iPad with you?” Every student in the class had one. Every student. This was in the first year of our pilot program when only about three kids in the class had school-issued iPads (given for another class). Yet they all had smart phones already. One of my biggest classroom management issues from the first day of student teaching in 2007 was electronic devices in the classroom. In fact, I have been at four schools and I have heard teachers complain about few things more than electronic devices in the classroom.

Students are distracted. I am distracted. I fear distraction. But I am cocky enough to think that I can overcome it without firing up a V8 in cold December and neutral dropping over all of my students’ iPads and phones with American trucks.

Though that might be fun too.