Alisa Valdes's Blog
August 14, 2013
I’m moving this blog, and would love for you to come along with me! From now on, I will be blogging at http://www.alisavaldes.com, under the tabs “writing tips” “recipes” and “diary”.
I hope to see you there! Please make sure to sign up for my newsletter to get all blog updates. Thank you!
PS – Today’s writing tip is up! Go see it!
Filed under: Tips for Writers
August 12, 2013
Empathy. It’s that amazing gift that allows us to feel for others — and, I’d argue, one of the essential qualities needed to write compelling fiction. But is empathy limited, as many scientists have long argued, only to human beings among all the animals?
According to a new study out about dogs, the answer is a resounding NO. Dogs are also great empathizers, both within their own species, and beyond — and especially with their human “owners”.
For years, human empathy has been measured in the laboratory by observing whether or not a person yawns in response to the yawn of someone else. A contagious yawn indicates the presence and functionality of “mirror neurons” in the second yawner’s brain, which take outside information about others and internalize it in ways that actually allow us to “feel” what others feel.
Interestingly, sociopaths and autistics tend to lack functional mirror neurons and tend not to yawn when other people yawn. I wish I’d known this a few years ago, because I would have just yawned in front of The Cowboy and known right off the bat that he lacked empathy, instead of having to witness him beating his dogs before it hit me. The Cowboy, like so many sociopaths, enjoyed justifying his own blind brutality by saying that’s just how nature does things. But science is proving abusive idiots like him wrong.
Now, researchers in Japan have found that dogs also yawn in response to seeing their owners yawn – but not so much to seeing others yawn. This means that dogs love us, and feel our feelings. Dogs have empathy. I’ve long suspected this, because my own dog Topaz will always try to comfort me when I’m sick or sad. She’s amazing like that.
Bonobos comfort friends in distress.
Similar research among primates shows that all apes have empathy, with bonobos actually having MORE empathy than human beings. In other words, it is no longer correct just to say someone who is compassionate and kind is “humane.” Rather, empathy is the norm among mammals, and as many have long observed, human beings could learn a lot about kindness from their fellow creatures, including their dogs.
Filed under: Diary, Motivation, Opinion & Current Events Tagged: Animals, bonobos, compassion, empathy, mirror neurons, Science, yawning dogs
August 11, 2013
I was standing onstage before a packed auditorium at the El Paso International Museum of Art yesterday, getting toward the end of my keynote presentation for the Wise Latinas International Mujeres & Amigas Conference. I was talking about the plans to make my first novel into a film, and about how one of the important marketing pieces we are putting together for this venture is assembling an email list of people who pledge to attend the film on the first weekend it is in theaters. I mentioned that the African American film community had done something similar 20 years ago when they created the First Friday movement.
Suddenly, a woman stood up in the back of the room. “I want everyone here who plans to go to this movie the first weekend to stand up, right now!” she cried. Without hesitation, hundreds of people, mostly Latinas who, like me, are sick and tired of their lack of non-stereotypical representation in US film and TV, got to their feet. Some were senior citizens, others were adolescents. As I stood there, I got goose bumps. My heart raced. Tears formed in my eyes. I have known, logically, that there is a tremendous audience for this project, and this knowledge has propelled me forward as I formed my own production company, put together a kickass advisory board, and have begun to solicit investors and sponsors. But it was not until that moment, that incredible moment, with all of those women demonstrating their solidarity with me and my vision, that it REALLY hit me: We are on to something that is not just big, but HUGE.
This moment came shortly before another women asked me my opinion on Devious Maids. When I answered, simply, that I found the show pathetic, “not because there’s anything wrong with being a maid, but because there is something pathological about an entertainment industry that seems to think that’s all we are,” this same crowd broke into thunderous applause.
There are nearly 60 million Latinos in the United States, with $1.3 trillion in buying power. There are zero movies being made about us, and the few films that feature us show us as sickening stereotypes. I see you, all of you beautiful Latinas waiting for someone to tell a story of you that makes you proud, that gives you hope, that reflects you as you really are. And after these magical moments in El Paso, I know that you guys see me, too.
Let’s do this.
Filed under: Alisa Valdes, Diary, Film Updates, Valdes Entertainment Enterprises Tagged: Alisa Valdes, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, dirty girls social club film, el paso, latinas, texas, Valdes Entertainment Enterprises, wise latinas international
August 10, 2013
Every Saturday I pick a fabulous, inspiring woman to celebrate as an example of what it means to be a “sucia” in the Dirty Girls Social Club sense of the word — which is to say a fierce, fun, educated, professional woman who doesn’t let anyone hold her back! The term sucia is used ironically in the book and film, to poke fun at those in traditional Latino society who’d say such awesome women were “dirty” or scandalous. I pick each week’s sucia from names nominated through my Facebook page. To nominate someone you know, be sure to “like” my author page on Facebook and join the conversation! Click here to like my author page!
This week’s amazing and inspiring woman is Kim Trujillo, nominated by her sister Sharon. Kim is a former TV reporter here in New Mexico, a talented actress and model, a great mom and a tireless crusader for film and the arts. Yay, you, Kim! Thanks for inspiring us, for being strong and letting your light shine.
Filed under: Diary, Motivation, Sucia Celebrations Tagged: inspiring women, sucia celebration
August 9, 2013
I’m pleased to announce that the gorgeous and talented actress Gina Rodriguez has signed on to star in the Valdes Entertainment Enterprises film adaptation of my bestselling female friendship novel, THE DIRTY GIRLS SOCIAL CLUB!
Gina is a rising star, a fascinating woman, and we are honored that she has decided to join our team!
We will be posting exclusive interviews and behind-the-scenes updates with Gina and the other DGSC stars via a special email list just for people who sign up to pledge that they will see the movie on opening weekend!
If you are interested in receiving these emails, please make sure to subscribe to this blog to get notified when we’re ready for you to sign up!
Thanks again, Gina, and welcome aboard!
Please help support this film, either emotionally (by clicking “support”) or financially (with a donation) by visiting our Fundly page! Thanks, guys!
Filed under: Film Updates Tagged: Actress, Alisa Valdes, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, dirty girls social club, dirty girls social club movie, Film, fundly, Gina Rodriguez, independent film, indie film, latina film, latino films, Star, women in film
In thinking about what makes writing good, I realized that many of the same qualities exist in good people.
1. Clarity. Good writing is clear. It makes its point without confusing you or weighing you down. Clear writing comes from people who’ve put time and energy into learning to write just enough. Good people are also clear — clear about their vision, their goals, their beliefs, and clear about what is right and wrong. Clarity in people means a strong moral compass.
2. Honesty. Good writing is honest. In nonfiction, this means it is true — or as true as the biases of the reporter will allow. In fiction, this means emotionally true — a story that makes you feel something real. Good people are honest, with themselves, with you, with the world. You cannot have a good story without emotional truth, and you cannot have a good life without honest companions.
3. Empathy/Compassion. In order to connect with readers, good writing has empathy and compassion, both for its characters and also for the reader herself. Good writing takes into account the feelings of its subjects as well as the needs of its readers. Good people are empathic and compassionate, too. They feel for others and they care. This is why sociopaths, while superficially charming, can never be good writers…or good people.
4. Unselfconscious. Good writing doesn’t get in its own way; it paints a picture, describes a scene or feeling, and then steps back and lets the reader experience grace. Self-conscious writing tries too hard to impress everyone with how smart and snarky it is, and makes sure the writer, the egotist, gets in the way. So too for people. Those who are self-conscious are too focused upon themselves and “impressing” you to actually be present in the moment or even to hear what you’ve said; interaction with them is painful and awkward.
5. Relaxed. Good writing is able to relax. I’m reading a great book right now, by an accomplished academic. He writes casually about complex subjects, because his compassion and empathy drive him write for a broad audience, in a fun and engaging way. Good people can also be quite busy, and famously accomplished, but they don’t let this stress them out. Good people know how to relax.
What do you think? Are there any other similarities you can see between good writing and good people? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Filed under: Alisa Valdes, Diary, Tips for Writers, Writing, Writing & Books Tagged: good people, good writing, what good writing and good people have in common, what makes writing good
August 6, 2013
Aspiring writers love to ask me where my inspiration comes from. It’s easily in the top three questions I get asked, when I’m asked about writing. The top three questions I get asked when I’m not being asked about writing tend to be, “Why are you late?” “Who the f*&k do you think you are?” and “What’s that smell?” Ah, but that’s another story for another day, and perchance for another blog altogether.
So, where were we? Right. Inspiration! That elusive spark that Thomas Edison famously accused of accounting for only 1 percent of any work of genius, the other 99 percent being ascribed to sweat which, come to think of it, makes me feel a bit better about the last question listed above. Inspiration! The spiritual, emotional and intellectual rocket fuel that propels all creative people to action — but where does it come from? What, exactly, inspires a writer to write?
I think the answer is this: Each writer finds inspiration in her or his own way. Okay, my bad. That was actually the chickenshit answer. The airy-fairy touch-feely hokey-pokey mambi-pambi answer. I don’t think any of you have come to this blog looking for cloying cliches or boring bromides — or, for that matter, annoying alliteration and pugilistic pedantic pedagogery. No, no, no. You’ve come here for advice. Real, solid, I-can-use-that-shit advise. So here it is.
1. Read something great. In the same way that leafing through a fitness magazine will either inspire you to give up and grab a bag of chips, or to lace up your sneakers and go a-jogging (or, in my case, a-flopping) a great piece of writing will inspire you to either delete Microsoft Word from your computer altogether, or to sit yourself down in a big old puddle of words and snuffle about in them, like a happy little pig.
For the record, “great” is subjective. Some people, for instance, think Ke$ha is great. I’ve seen them. They wear glitter like body lotion. They are allowed to think Ke$ha is great, and you are allowed to have your own opinions about what makes writing great. You are even allowed to disagree with important and musty people, like college writing teachers, about what makes a bunch of words all strung together in a certain way great to you. My opinion on the matter leads me again and again to gorge at the trough of Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and Dean Koontz. You are free to disagree, just as you are free to smear glitter in your armpits.
2. Listen to people talk. Language is a living, breathing, evolving creature that exists invisibly in the air all around us. It is musical, magical and melodious — and I can’t seem to stop littering alliteratively this morning, and for that I am truly sorry. At least I’m not wearing body glitter.
Anyhoo, it can be inspiring to just go somewhere and listen to people talk. A cafe, for instance. I suggest you not be part of the conversation yourself, because I want you to focus on how other people put ideas together and spill them out into the world. You don’t have to be creepy about it. Okay, that’s not true. You probably do have to be just a little bit creepy to listen in on other people’s conversations in a cafe. But that’s just part of being a writer. Just try not to get yourself arrested, and if you do get arrested, don’t blame me for your having a wish to be a creepy writer. We are a creepy lot, at least sometimes. We get inside people’s heads, and their hearts, and we pay attention to the cadences of their speech. We try to catch the slippery fish of people’s words in the furry nets of our intentions. Creepy!
Do this: Try transcribing scraps of overheard conversations, just to see how they look and feel when transferred to a page. This is going to help your dialogue a great deal, though I am assuming, perhaps unfairly, that your writing includes dialogue, which, if you are, say, writing a blog for NASA on rocket robotics, it might not. Apologies. If your writing doesn’t include people talking in it, this exercise can still be useful in helping you to experiment with and develop a unique and compelling voice in your writing.
3. Listen to music. I think of music and language as being inexorably linked. Language began as an auditory experience, when our grunting and gesticulating sprouted linguistic legs and slithered out of the sea of ooga booga and galloped onto the grassy plains of poetry.
Nothing gets me more focused and motivated, emotionally, for writing, than music. When I’m writing fiction, I even create playlists for each of my characters. I will also find a song or set of songs that define the emotional arc of a particular section of a story, and I will listen to this as I write, or at least before I write.
Plus: Music is powerful, and can move you to do great things. Have you heard about those studies that show people actually experience pain less when they are listening to music while suffering? Exactly. Er, not that I’m calling writing suffering…except that it can be, sometimes. Crank up the jams, yo.
4. Exercise. There are lots of reports from lots of people about how their best ideas come to them while working out, or while taking a shower. Science types tell us that this is because, contrary to the dumb jock stereotype, exercise makes you smarter. Increased blood flow to the brain during exercise helps that mass of gray matter to work better, and some studies even show that exercise helps us to grow bigger brains. I get a lot of my ideas when I combine music and exercise together, entering a sort of glassy-eyed trance state on the treadmill. This scares other people at the gym, but I don’t care because it makes for great writing. Priorities! Exercise will also help you to build stamina, which you will need if you hope to write a book or two.
5. Join a Writers’ Support Group. Nothing motivates us more than accountability. Knowing that you have to get together with a bunch of other writers every week or month will keep you on track. It will also be a great place to get feedback on your writing, unless, of course, you join a writing group full of sucky writers, in which case it will ruin your writing. So don’t do that. Join a writers’ support group full of good writers, if you can.
Filed under: Diary, Tips for Writers, Writing Tagged: get inspired, great writing, how to get inspired to write, how to write, how to write a novel, music and writing, writers' support groups, Writing, writing tips
July 30, 2013
All good stories, whether they are fictional or non-fictional, must begin with your hero in an emotional place quite different from the spot where he or she will end up.This is true of novels, memoir, literary journalism and films, and most of these stories — at least the ones that don’t try narcissitically to impress you by jumping around disjointedly in time, making you figure out where the pieces go (yes, Tree of Life, I’m looking at YOU) — start with the hero experiencing his or her “life as usual,” and your audience parachuting down into the middle of it.
When I say “hero,” I mean your lead character, the person (or, sometimes, animal — or, even more rarely and spectacularly, something else) whose journey we are going to watch unfold. The word “hero” should not be taken literally, though in many cases your hero might, in fact, be precisely that, running into burning buildings to throw babies out and whatnot. Heroes, for literary and storytelling purposes, come in many forms, and their heroic journeys are as limitless as the imaginations of the people who write them. A hero could be Twilight’s Bella, the somewhat uninteresting and plain girl who falls in love with a twinkling vampire and must eventually give up everything she once was to be with him. A hero could also be literally a spoon, a dirty sock and a can of beans, as is the case in the perhaps too creative universe that exists in Tom Robbins’ Skinny Legs and All.
Now, today’s important writing tip: To make your story work, you must start it at the beginning, and the beginning MUST be before your hero even realizes she or he needs to take a journey at all.
This is often the part of storytelling that trips new writers up. A new writer, excited by the conflict and transformation that is to come for the hero, and eager for the hero to change because, hey, that’s the payoff, cannot help but to tell too much to the reader or viewer too soon. To write well, you must write dispassionately, meaning you must already be emotionally resolved YOURSELF with the story, so that there is no compelling personal reason for you to rush through any of it. If you are still getting an emotional thrill from the plot, it’s not time to write yet. Live the story yourself, in your mind, revel in the beauty of the journey, then forget all about it, and get down to the business of chronicling the trip moment by moment as it happens for your reader. Not for you.
What do I mean by this? Think about Harry Potter. We start the journey with Harry living as usual, underneath the stairs, tortured by his aunt and uncle and cousin, unaware that his life could or ought to be different, resigned to his fate. That Rowling takes the time and care to paint this untenable situation so well, whilst never revealing that her hero himself recognizes the need for something new, or indeed even an awareness in him that he deserves better, works like a charm to propel the reader or viewer onward into the story. We recognize that Harry’s life is awful before he does; we are rooting for it to change; we know more than our hero does about himself — and THAT, my friends, is the key. Take your time creating life as normal, but do not forget for an instant that you are undertaking a tricky balance, between allowing your reader or viewer to come to the conclusion on their own that change is necessary, and your hero’s inability as of yet to see it. You want your reader or viewer to almost scream at the page or screen — “Do something! Fix this! Before it’s too late for you!”
Imagine if the Harry Potter story began with Harry surly and hating his aunt and uncle, trashing their house, breaking their windows, smoking in the bathroom and talking to snakes. Not only would he be an unsympathetic and confusing character, we’d have no sense that we, his audience, were helping him along toward his transformation through our sheer force of will. You want your readers to understand your hero’s world completely, so completely that they will see the need for him or her to leave it behind before the hero does. The satisfaction, for those who read or watch a story unfolding, comes from the tension of uncertainty, relieved by the release of eventual resolution. To rush the beginning, to imbue your character too soon with too much insight about their situation, robs the reader or viewer of the cathartic release. Good storytelling is done by people who already know the story, and delight in letting their audience figure it out themselves.
* If you’ve enjoyed this writing tip, but wish for more specific advise or guidance with your writing, please send me an email, at firstname.lastname@example.org, with your contact information, so we can schedule a one-on-one writing coaching session. Make sure to sign up for my newsletter and this blog, for weekly writing tips in your inbox.
Filed under: Alisa Valdes, Tips for Writers, Writing Tagged: harry potter, how to start a story, how to write a movie, how to write a novel, screenwriting, scriptwriting, the hero's journey, tom robbins, twilight, writing tips