Thursday, February 18, 2021

Story Seeds: Unbound Anthology Authors Discuss Inspiration
 This week, a collection of twelve authors, including me, celebrated the release of our new anthology: UNBOUND: STORIES OF TRANSFORMATION, LOVE AND MONSTERS from Five Points Press. On release day, several of us met virtually to cheer about our accomplishment. We also discussed our individual stories and our inspirations.

Those explanations were so interesting, I thought other readers and writers might enjoy them. So, I asked several of the anthology contributors to share their "story seeds" on the blog today. Thanks to Heidi Ayarbe, Angela Sierra, Emily Colin, John Klekamp and Fiona McLauren for letting us peer into their brilliant writer minds. 

Dorothy inspired me!

My husband and I were backpackers. For over ten years, we'd work, save money, go backpacking for three or four months (Europe, Asia, South America etc.). Spend all the money. Then start again. We traveled and lived in over 27 countries around the world.

24 years ago in Guatamala, we met Dorothy. She is a German woman, and every time we asked her about an experience .... anything .... she responded, "It's okay." A full moon hike on a pyramid in Tikal "It's okay." A delicious empanada. "It's okay."

Cesar (my husband) and I tend to be really effusive and emotional about life, and this one-note person just STUCK with us. Just two days with Dorothy, and we have a standing joke when something really has impacted us. “How was the wedding party?” “It’s okay.” “What did you think about our daughter’s recital?” “It’s okay.”

During all those years of backpacking, we met so many great people. There's a real culture of backpackers (one I often think about and miss!) I always wanted to create a story around these people who impacted my life, around what would happen if someone simply “disappeared” while backpacking.  What (and who) does that person leave behind?

So, there’s where THE THINGS LEFT BEHIND comes from.

“And, Dorothy, if you’re out there. I hope you continue to be okay!”

My inspiration for this story began with the name: Jolly.

The last part came from me, from my childhood trauma with weight. What could be worse, I thought, than having your defect be part of your name? Jolly as in not. As in irony. As in my sister, whom we teasingly call chuckles because she rarely does.

So I got the name but it went though many iterations. First it was Phat; then Fat but like Chow Yun-Fat. I combed Asian heritage sites looking for inspiration, but Jolly never quite came into focus.

And then Heidi invited me to be part of this Anthology just when I had begun to explore my roots in fiction, which was in itself an Unbinding.

See, as a Colombian kid raised in the United States, my first language was English. I learned to count, read and write in English; played hide-and-seek, had my first crush, sung lullabies and Christmas Carols all English. English is the language of my childhood, and so, my language for childhood and all things that come with it: humor, imagination. It is Fun.

But we moved back to Colombia and here I graduated from high school, went to collage, fell in love, got married, had a child, payed taxes. I was flirted with in Spanish, got hired, interviewed, paid, pulled over and asked for my driver’s license in Spanish. Spanish is the language of business, traffic insults, conception and birth and hospitals. It is Work.

When I sat down to write columns, articles, reports, presentations, lesson plans and student memos, they all came out in Spanish. When I sat down to write stories, they came out in English.

I thought I had to separate myselves, leave the US and English out of my daily life, Colombia and Spanish out of my stories, for they didn’t belong there. I was afraid I would be called inauthentic. A fraud. A snob.

And then came the call to Unbound, and I did. I wrote until Yolima Fatami sat there in the cross section where I had lived for many years and cried and yelled and played her violin while plotting her demise. And in writing her I released myself and gave myself permission to exist on the page as I do in the flesh, a motley mismatched collection of Spanglish words and customs, a woman with one foot in each world, both worlds in her heart. And a character on the brink of everything.

When Emily Colin approached me about joining the anthology UNBOUND: Stories of Transformation, Love and Monsters, I was beyond excited by the theme of transformation and how that affects us, inside and out. Writing a story alongside the juggernaut authors who’re in this amazing book was a great honor, and I'm blessed ot have been a part of it.

Why I wrote The Brollachan—a story entrenched in Scottish folklore and bound by the tale of two sisters—was as much to do with the emotional transformation the characters go through as the physical. It was a look into how people might not know themselves as well as they think, that we all have parts of ourselves that are darker than we might want them to be. While on the surface it is a story of the monsters around us, at its heart, The Brollachan is a story of the unknown, facing the darkness we find, and the bonds of family and what those mean to us.

I’ve long been fascinated by myths and legends of every country but especially those of my homeland Scotland, where monsters aren’t just separate from us—they are a part of us, they reflect parts of who we are; they show what we fear, what we wish we were, and what we wish we weren’t. And for me, that’s okay. It’s healthy. It’s good. If we didn’t have dark, we wouldn’t have light. And working through the dark parts of who we are helps us shine a light on others walking the same path.

When we decided to make “transformation” the theme for Unbound, all I knew was that I wanted to write a story set in the universe of my YA SevenSins series, a place where citizens live and die by—you guessed it—the rules of the Seven Deadly Sins. The first book in the trilogy came out last summer, and I’ve been having a fantastic time writing short stories set in this world before the launch of the second book this August. It’s been so much fun to explore the Seven Sins universe through the eyes of secondary characters—not to mention, it’s also given me great fodder for the second and soon-to-be third book in the series.

So, I had the setting—but what I couldn’t decide was what story to tell. I thought more deeply about the book’s subtitle—Transformation, Love, and Monsters—and then I knew. I wanted to write a story about the transformative, redemptive power of love…about how, for love, we’ll take unimaginable risks and battle almost any enemy—even the ones within ourselves. This past year has shown all of us what really matters, and how far we’ll go to protect the people we care about. I wanted to explore that more deeply…the way love drives us; how it survives even in places where people strive to stamp it out; and how it leads us to find strength we never imagined we possessed. 

The Seven Sins series has two main characters: Ari Westergaard and Eva Marteinn. I decided to write this story from the perspective of Ari’s mother, who we meet for a single, fraught instant in Sword of the Seven Sins, the first book in the trilogy. We never get to know her…but I wanted to. Without giving too much away, the short story that appears in Unbound tells the tale of how Ari’s parents meet, fall in love, and almost pay the price with their lives.

 The idea for Over Time popped up during an exercise at a writing conference in 2018. We were prompted to roll three of our favorite story elements into one plot. My story would have to include gay romance, time travel, and humor.

With only ten or fifteen minutes two write, I cranked out two mini chapters narrated by my two characters, Adam and Evan—a play on Adam and Eve.

I pictured Adam as a closeted teen in 1959 rural Texas hiding his truth (and a relationship) from his family and friends. Then there was Evan, living out and proud in present-day NYC, a popular social media influencer recovering from a very public dumping. That’s it. Like I said, we only had ten to fifteen minutes.  

But these two characters stayed with me. So, when Emily asked me to submit a story to UNBOUND, I instantly thought of Adam and Evan. I just wasn’t sure their story would fit the criteria of “transformation."

Originally, I had imagined them visiting a funky clock repair shop, finding a portal, meeting and falling in love. But that’s just a time travel love story, and where would they end up in the end? Adam’s world? Evan’s world? Or would they go their separate ways? What if, instead, they never meet? Wouldn’t it be more interesting if they traded places? The “transformation” would come from what Adam and Evan learn from the perspective gained over time.

I still haven’t gotten Adam and Evan out of my head. In fact, they're going to be there for a while. I’m now turning their story into a full novel.

About the Anthology:

A dull AP English assignment interrupted by the resurrection of a 5,000-year-old mummy. A “boy meets boy meets time travel” tale. An ancient evil summoned from the Scottish moors. A sentient garden turned matchmaker. A troubled teen who rehabilitates monsters. A sinister society where love is punishable by death. A medieval pirate queen in love with a ghost. A demon who rebels against her birthright. A mysterious Power that turns people to stone. A girl who guards the secret behind her best friend’s disappearance. A violinist on the brink who learns to listen to her heart.

The stories in this anthology have one common theme: Transformation. They include international ownvoices perspectives; a New York Times-bestselling author; Emmy, SIBA, and ILA award-winning writers; and emerging, independent voices in YA fiction. The collection’s authors, like its stories, are UNBOUND—diverse voices exploring identity, love, betrayal, and becoming. They give us a glimpse into what can be: stories of possibility, love, friendship, the monsters around us and within us.

UNBOUND is available now wherever you buy books online. The e-book version is permanently FREE at all retailers. The paperback and hardback versions are available at cost.

Click Here to Get Your Copy!

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