How reading inspires writing

Ken Tangvik is our Choices guest today. I “met” him virtually through the publisher we have in common, Aberdeen Bay, and read and loved his book, Don’t Mess with Tanya: Stores Emerging from the Boston Barrios. Here is my short review:

The Boston stories in Don’t Mess with Tanya, by Ken Tangvik, are beautifully and expertly portrayed. I liked every one – especially the story about Tanya, the young black woman, who gets back at a store keeper for treating her with distrust as she looks around his store. I also liked Matt’s story as he waits in a hair salon for his haircut. The women talking in the waiting area give him quite a lesson in how they live their lives.

These stories show the cultural and race diversity of the Boston community by portraying immigration difficulties and the violence the people have to contend with. However, it is not all dark. Love is portrayed as well.

So I’m very pleased to introduce you to Ken Tangvik and his wise words about reading and writing. The book he discusses here is one of my very favorites as well.

My Writing Journey
by Ken Tangvik

As a college literature teacher, I embarked on my journey as a writer through crafting short stories. I had the privilege of introducing drafts of the stories in my classes, using a pseudonym so that I could get instant, honest and often raw opinions. Students’ answers to my probing questions proved to be invaluable as I decided on what stories to toss, which ones needed major revisions and which ones called for some minor tweaking. Of course, eventually I would always have to fess up to my students and it was fun seeing their reactions.

Although I truly love the short story genre, like most writers, I have a novel churning away in my head. I know the story I want to tell, but I get overwhelmed by some of the big decisions that need to be made. Do I want to have a consistent point of view or have some variety? Should I tell the story in chronological order or jump around? How can I layer in enough suspense/drama to hold the reader’s engagement?

I suppose I should just get started and let those questions answer themselves, but meanwhile I keep reading both classic and contemporary novels to get ideas and inspiration. Recently, I enriched myself through reading Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. This novel, published in 2018, is brilliant. Owens tell a story of Kya, a girl who raised herself in the marshes and swamps of North Carolina after her family fell apart, mainly due to a violent, alcoholic father. The reader is blessed by incredible detailed descriptions of the flora and fauna within this rich ecosystem that is overflowing with an abundance of life. We learn how ferns, the ocean, insects, herons, crows, sea gulls and hawks can all play a role in a young person’s upbringing. Kya is immersed in nature which provides a perspective and intensity that is radically beyond modern normality. But nature cannot provide for all of her needs. As a teen, she is drawn out of the marsh by her desire for human companionship and intimacy.

Not only does Owens craft a credible, most unique coming of age story, but she also layers a traditional whodunit into the narrative. Someone is murdered in the swamp and Kya, a semi-mythical figure known as the “Marsh Girl” by the nearly townspeople, becomes a suspect. As Owens weaves her narrative, she plays around with chronology to keep the reader tightly engaged, looking for clues, testing assumptions, and yearning for justice and revenge.

Check out Where the Crawdads Sing and you will not be disappointed. Meanwhile, feeling inspired by Owens’ creation, I’ll try to get started on my novel.

About Don’t Mess with Tanya: Stories Emerging from Boston’s Barrios

As Boston’s demographics shift, a subtle cultural revolution swirls ahead, opening doors of perception. Jazmin, a Latina teen, explores immortality on a basketball court in Jamaica Plain. Tanya, a young black woman from Dorchester, confronts a store-owner over racial profiling. Matt, an Irish thug from Charlestown, learns “what women want” at a Caribbean hair salon in Mattapan. Rosa, a beautiful Brazilian house cleaner in Brighton, tests out a theory with her dueling boyfriends. These characters and others crash, clash, and commune in loosely-linked provocative stories that explore themes of culture, race, immigration, violence, love and spirituality. The engaging urban tales propel the reader into everyday dramas that are transforming Beantown’s social fabric.

About Ken

A native and long-time resident of Boston, Ken Tangvik is a professor at Roxbury Community College. A specialist in multi-cultural fiction, he has traveled extensively throughout Latin America and is moved and inspired by Latin dance. Ken is also a co-founder of the Hyde Square Task Force, a Boston-based award-winning non-profit that engages at-risk teens in Afro-Latin arts, college prep and community organizing.

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