In Saltwater Spirits, we follow a spirited young woman named Norma.
The name functioned as a placeholder name while I worked on the manuscript for three years. It is the name of my Nenek, my maternal grandmother. As time wore on, I couldn’t bring myself to change it no matter how many times I tried to.
Writing is funny, maybe even a little mysterious. Something I’ve learned is that the story you start with is never the story you end up with.
At first, I was convinced I was writing a murder mystery with an amateur sleuth. As the story progressed, I was positive that I was writing a reimagination of my grandmother’s life. Why else had I stuck with the name ‘Norma’ for so long? There was no reason for it, and yet, I could not bring myself to change it.
As I continued, the story retained aspects of a murder mystery and autobiographical fiction, but it also became something else entirely.
Saltwater Spirits is a story about Norma, a maiden, in a time of her life when she wrestles with some of life’s big questions.
What does it mean to belong — to someone, something, to a community or to yourself? What is sacred —a house, a home, land? Objects, friendships, familial bonds, something else inside yourself? What does it mean when someone tries to take from you what you hold sacred? What does personal resilience look like in situations like this? Community resilience?
In the story, one of Norma’s most prized possessions is an old photo of her mother. I imagine this picture is similar to the one I have of my Nenek — well-worn and in sepia print. During the climax of the story, something happens to the picture of Norma’s mother, which determines a pivotal action she will take later on in the story. It is a moment of growth for Norma that an advanced reader has described as “badass.”
When I realized I was writing a coming-of-age story in the form of crossover fiction, it suddenly made sense to me why the book seemed to have a life of its own. Character names came quickly to me, as would setting and dialogue. The book also had its own timeline, separate from what I wanted for it.
The book was supposed to launch in the summer of 2018. During writing, however, I went through some significant life changes. I found out I was pregnant three days after signing the contract with The Self Publishing Agency. Nine months later, I gave birth to my son.
I like to joke with my agent* that while I gave birth to my son first, he is not actually my first child. This book is.
Much like raising a young child, writing a story is not about planning. It’s about learning to show up, doing the work and ultimately, surrendering any hopes and dreams you have for it.
My book, just like my child, has its own timeline and purpose. I had to learn to put aside my personal attachment to a particular name for the protagonist, story, and timeline for it to flourish. Norma is my grandmother’s name, yes, but it is also the name of a beloved character in my first book.
Saltwater Spirits, I can’t wait to see you fly.
Postscript: The title of the book, Saltwater Spirits, came to me on a bus ride in January 2019 while I was finishing the manuscript and working on edits. A poet told me recently that they get their ideas on the bus too!
* Hybrid published authors, like myself, do not have an agent. However, the person who facilitated the entire process of publishing is equivalent (or more) of that traditional role. Shoutout to Megan!