“I’m not a writer,” I whined.
“You’ve been writing a blog for years,” my husband said.
“But I’m not a REAL writer. I can’t describe people and places in flowery detail.” My husband gave me a pained look. That settles that, I thought to myself as I walked over to my latest craft project ready to take it up again, but my husband was not finished.
“We’ll set it up as a separate blog. You have time to write while I’m at work and Sophia’s at school.” I was tempted to list all the things that housewives do during the day that are never noticed: the beds that make themselves, the laundry that appears neatly folded atop the family dressers, the cupboards magically full of organic vegetarian food choices, the Sisyphean work of women. I decided to hold my tongue, sensing my husband’s insistence was a genuine effort to support my artistic growth and not simply create more work for me.
The previous day, a group of my girlfriends from Los Angeles had driven down to visit me in San Diego and we’d walked over to a little neighborhood bar for a drink. Two of the girls were writing a play called The Barber of East L.A. and were doing research by gathering oral histories from women who had grown up in East L.A. during the 1960’s and 70’s. Halfway through the interview one of the playwrights, Raquefella turned to me and suggested, “You should write a book.” I laughed it off but continued to think about the idea.
I had casually mentioned the comment to my husband before going to bed and this morning he brought up the subject again with renewed enthusiasm. “I’m going to set up the blog for you,” he told me. We had recently been to Comic-con, where I discovered that a friend of mine had written her own comic book. The idea had thrilled me and my husband knew it. He had found the perfect bait. “Maybe if you start writing, an illustrator will read it and help you turn it into a graphic novel. You can call it The True Life Adventures of Violence Girl.” That did it. I had been a voracious comic book reader as a child and still enjoyed graphic novels. The succinct text in graphic novels was not intimidating yet I also knew that many graphic novels had complex themes and ideas. I thought of my story in those terms. I wanted my book to be easy to read but challenging in terms of ideas.
The following Monday morning I stared at the laptop on the kitchen table. I walked by it, grabbed a box of old photos and let the memories wash over me. I looked at an old picture of my mom and dad, took in my earliest memory and started to write.
Every morning from 10:00 to 12:00 I’d sit at the kitchen table and write. I’d send my blog post to my husband, he’d edit it for me and give me immediate feedback. The journey was therapeutic. Suddenly, scenes I had blocked out of my memory were coming back to me. On more than one occasion I called my husband at work, crying, my stomach in knots, sobbing “I can’t write this, it makes me sick.” Other times my husband would call me from work to tell me he had laughed or cried at a particular entry.
A few weeks into the process our daughter told us she was being bullied at school. I had spoken to the school administration on several occasions but the situation had not improved. Back in Arizona the prices of houses had dropped dramatically and our old house was still on the market. We decided that my daughter and I would move back into our old house so that our daughter could return to her former school while my husband applied for a transfer at work.
I continued to blog and send my entries to my husband everyday. Now that we were living apart, sharing this intimate part of myself with him made me feel close to him despite the fact that we were living in different cities. The deeper I dug into my memories the more I learned about myself. I started to see recurring themes and cause and effect because I was looking from a new perspective using my writer’s vantage point. I understood that the seeds of feminism had been planted in my childhood. I saw that my punk stage persona had been an outlet for the impotent rage I had harbored for years.
At the same time, I was picking up followers on my blog. People were reading at their desks at work or at their own kitchen tables. If I tried to take a day off from blogging, I heard about it from my readers. It dawned on me that these people were following a story and expected me to finish it. Not only that, they expected a new entry Monday through Friday. I established a routine, I wrote everyday after my daughter left for school. I would not allow myself to start any other project or leave the house until I had written the next part of the story. I pretended I was a real writer, I visualized chatting about my book on Oprah. I thought about who would play my father in the movie (Edward James Olmos).
When the story was finished, I posted a question to my readers: “Who should I send this to?” We brainstormed together; I felt like I had a think tank behind me. We decided to approach an independent publisher called Feral House. I sent them an unsolicited manuscript with an introductory letter and within the week, I received a call on my cell phone: “Alice Bag, you sent me some of your writing. You may not remember me, but I met you many years ago…” It was the head of Feral House, and he wanted my book.
Alicia Velasquez (AKA Alice Bag) is a musician, Craftivista, author, blogger, junior pastry chef and master trouble maker. Her book Violence Girl is available now at http://feralhouse.com/violence-girl/