Friday, July 5, 2013

Meet - Minnie Lahongrais

To coincide with my Review of Divergent Lives, I am very pleased to have Minnie Lahongrais with me today here at Pinky’s Favorite Reads !

Hi Minnie !

Hi Pinky! Thanks for having me today. I’m so happy to be here!

Where are you from originally?

I am a native New Yorker, born and raised in a section of Manhattan called East Harlem, or “El Barrio.” I currently live in the Bronx in an area that offers the cultural diversity I crave.

Tell us your latest news?

I’m in the process of producing a radio show called “Pink Diamond Inspirations” which will air on a brand new Internet radio station,, founded by my friend Joseph V. Sultana.

I am grateful and overjoyed to have been given this opportunity!

That sounds fantastic Minnie, what's the radio show about?

My goal is to inspire people, women in particular and especially those who might be of a certain age to follow a dream. I believe that as women, too often we put aside our dreams for the sake of family obligations, then, when we near middle age, we remember the dreams of our youth.

As an independent author, I’ve had the good fortune of meeting other authors – both men and women - who have overcome many obstacles in their lives, who did not allow those negative experiences to stop them from pursuing their dream. They inspire me daily as I continue on in my chosen path as an author. My plan is to bring these people on the show, talk about those experiences and discuss how they overcame those hurdles in order to achieve their goal. In addition, we will delve into the mechanics of their writing process.

My shows haven’t begun to air, however, I do have several shows I’m editing and expect to begin airing them before the end of July. 

Well once you go to air, let me know, so I can help get your show out there for others to enjoy and benefit from!

If you could have a dinner party with any authors from any time in history, who would you choose and why?

I am somewhat of an unconventional character, a non-conformist. The author I most admire and relate to is Anais Nin because of the way she lived her life.

As a young lady in my pre-teens (early ‘70s), I came across her spicier writings. I was about to enter middle school and, at the time, had a glossy, romanticized idea about love. I thought every married couple was like my parents, who were married for 58 years before my father died in 2005.
Reading Ms. Nin’s vivid and graphic novels showed me otherwise and made me want to read everything she ever wrote. And I did. As a matter of fact, I still own and cherish some of her books, with pages now yellowing that I purchased in the late 70s -- almost 40 years ago. When given writing assignments in High School, I not only found it easy to complete these assignment, but I wrote the assignments with her in mind because I had read her books over and over. Her style was a huge influence on me.

Another author I would love, love, LOVE to sit around with is Ernest Hemingway. I like big personalities and I think it would be interesting to watch those two in a room. I believe the three of us could have been great friends. In fact, they are my friends -- in my head.

Here’s an interesting tidbit: In 1993, I worked as Executive Assistant at a small boutique hotel called The Hotel Elysee, famous for its Monkey Bar. Each room was named for a famous person who had stayed there. Ernest Hemingway kept a room there and I got to not only work there and access it, but assisted in the planning of its renovation! That would have been a wonderful experience for you !

What are your current projects?

Aside from my “Pink Diamond Inspirations” show, I am working on my urban fantasy series, “Resurrection of Dead Dreams.” This was the first piece I began writing in earnest in 2010, five years after my father died. The premise of this tale asks the question: “What if you had an opportunity to reunite with someone you’ve lost through death?”

Originally, I thought this story would just be one book but it turned out to not be that simple. The story grew and grew in my head and now it involves generations of a family of supernatural creatures. I believe this story deserves more time than I can give it right now, so I’m not rushing to get it done.

In addition, I’ve begun work on another story whose working title is “Skin Deep.” This story might be as close as I can get to an HEA – but don’t hold your breath! I only know how to write twists, murder and mayhem! There are many psychological elements in this story having to do with a certain type of co-dependency, which may or not be a bad thing … depends on what side of the fence you’re sitting on.

And, finally, there’s an idea I’m mulling for another fantasy story I’ve called “Trans-Celestials.” This story is still “in utero” and I’m only getting tiny bits and pieces for this one right now.

What book are you reading now and in what format (ebook/paperback/hardcover)?

I tend to read more than one book at a time. Every once in a while I want to crack the spine of a book, bring it to my nose and smell the binding glue. Sorry, that’s one of my quirks and I do it in private lest I be surrendered to some insane asylum. That said, I am almost done with the hard cover copy of “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. I absolutely love this story! I love its plot’s density – you have to really take your time with it. I love how the author goes back and forth relating each of the main characters’ POV. I think I know how it’s going to end – or at least I know how I would end this story – but I still want to be surprised.

I’m also reading “Split Decisions” by independent author Carmen DeSousa on my phone’s kindle app. I read on my phone in bed right before I fall asleep. I don’t sleep well. I often awaken several times during the night and then, I can’t fall back asleep because my mind is always racing. So I read or I use voice notes to record my thoughts.

Tell us a little about your background. When did you start writing?

I was educated in the NYC public school system, and didn’t finish college. My parents immigrated to El Barrio in 1948 and didn’t speak a lick of English; we spoke Spanish at home. My father took English lessons so he could get a job. I learned English alongside him. On Saturdays, we would spend the afternoon at the library. That’s where my love for reading was born.

Though I wrote for school assignments, I didn’t do any serious writing for many years for various reasons. But, I began to write in earnest on May 13, 2010. I remember the date because it was one week before my father’s birthday. I awoke that morning with heaviness in my heart and couldn’t see beyond that day, I was so depressed.

While riding the train in to work, I looked up from the book I was reading (“Rooms” by James L. Rubart) when I glanced over at the book in the lap of the lady sitting next to me. It was opened to a chapter called “When Dreams Die.” I wanted to ask her what she was reading, but had to get off and didn’t want to intrude.

As I walked to my office, I asked myself “What if dreams could be resurrected?” I began writing “Resurrection of Dead Dreams” on my lunch hour that day and the dam broke open and words rushed out of me.

That year, I learned of Nanowrimo. I put “Resurrection of Dead Dreams” aside to participate because I wanted to see if I could write something new under a tight deadline. My debut novel “Sinner’s Ride” was born during that frenzied month of November and released the following April.

Where do you get your ideas?

Everything I write has a bit of truth of my life in it. That is where I get most of my ideas. I love to people watch. Because of my vivid imagination, someone might catch my eye and I’ll try to guess what that person does for a living by studying their shoes. Or I might see a couple, say at a restaurant, and I’ll imagine how they might relate to one another.

With Divergent Lives, the premise of the twins wasn’t part of my original plan.

One day, I had a vision of a dead body in a foyer. I then took that scene and played it backwards in my head and wrote it out as I saw it. I thought that vision and what I had written would be the last chapter of this story. Now all I had to do was map it out backwards. I printed out what I wrote with the intention of reviewing it on my train ride in to work. The next morning I recalled a conversation I overheard as a child about a twin who died en utero and that set me on a much different path altogether!

What is your writing process?

I’ve written and published two books and the process for each was entirely different though both were character driven. I had in my mind an idea as to what kind of person the main character was going to be like for each story. Though I did psychologically profile each of the main characters in both stories, I actually met with psychiatrists while profiling Adina, Rhys John or “RJ,” my twins in Divergent Lives as well as Tommy and Mason, and Dr. Cohen and his wife/nurse, all of whom were my supporting characters. That was all the plotting I did.

Once I had gathered the typology for those characters, I sat down and started typing. When I dried up, I would print out whatever I wrote and read it out loud into voice notes so I could listen to it on my train ride. Sometimes I’d discuss what I was writing with my young attorneys at work and they would just listen and let me talk it through. Afterwards, I’d go into the ladies room and breathlessly record newly conceived ideas in voice notes to type out when I got home in the evening.

At this stage, my work is just a mish mash of scenes that I later weave into a cohesive tale.  However, going in, I know where I’m going with a story. The devil is in the details. (I love that phrase!)

Do you write full-time now?

Unfortunately, I do not. Please don’t misunderstand. I am extremely grateful for my job. I work as a legal secretary at an international law firm in the Times Square Area. I have been at this firm for eleven years. I love the people I work with and I enjoy the work that I do. However, since my surgery last year, I’m getting more and more worn out by the commute. I yearn for a time when I can work at my writing, navigating self-publishing and my radio show at my own pace, during hours that I set because I have a passion for what I am doing. I feel this is my life’s work. I feel I have a lot to do and lots to catch up on because I came upon this path late in life.

Can you tell us a little bit about Divergent Lives?

Let me start by saying that I am very proud of this piece.

Divergent Lives is the story of fraternal twins born to immigrant parents in the middle of a snowstorm in East Harlem in 1962. The mother, Cruzita, is in distress during labor and a C-section is performed. To everyone’s surprise, twin babies in independent placental sacs are taken from Cruzita. As initial medical examinations are performed, one of the twins is found to have a physical defect. Dr. Cohen, the obstetrician, decides on his own that he will not tell the parents of the other twin but instead will sell the child with the defect on the black market.

The biological parents never learn of this child.

This story is told in parallel as the two children grow up and develop sociopathic traits.

One of the two is a serial killer.

How long did it take you to complete?

I began work on this story in July of 2011 and released it December 12, 2012 on what would have been the 50th birthday of my main characters had they been real people.  So it was almost 18 months.

Are any of your characters based on real-life friends or acquaintances?

Some of my characters are nothing more than a conglomerate of people I know. In this case, Adina and RJ are pure figments of my imagination though they have traces of personalities of people in my life. Some of the other minor characters are based on real people.

Do you ever incorporate yourself into your characters?

I’ve often said that writing was quite schizophrenic. So the answer to that is “yes.” When I’m immersed for long periods of time in a piece, when I finally emerge from my cave, I have to make a conscious effort not to behave like my characters. It’s crazy, I know….

Tell us about your cover. Did you design it yourself?

The idea for an almost identical cover had been marinating in my brain since I wrote the first sentence of my WIP. Needless to say, the story and parts of the cover changed somewhat but I was able to keep all the elements I had in mind. Originally, I wanted to use a silhouette but when we (my designer, Renee Groskreutz and her partner, Andi Reis both of Ralph’s Design and Deli) and I weren’t satisfied with what we had, we came up with the idea of using a helix instead. Their idea to place it on the road with the blood splatter beside it was genius.

I wanted this cover to send a subliminal message that even though these two characters grew up apart from each other in vastly different environments, they still shared the same inescapable DNA and sociopathy.

The rural feel on the side of the road was for RJ – who grew up in a small rural town in Pennsylvania.  The urban skyline in the distance was for Adina representing NYC where she grew up and where they would eventually cross paths.

Where did you get the inspiration for your cover?

I had a vision. That’s the only way I can explain it.

Does your reading inspire you and your work?

I don’t read the genre I’m writing in order to keep my writing pure. Everyday life inspires me. Sometimes a news report I might catch will get the wheels spinning.

Where can we find you online?

Thank you, again Pinky for inviting me today. This was fun for me!!

I can be found online in various places.  See below.

This page needs work…but I’ll accept any friend requests J

1 comment:

  1. Pinky!! Once again, THANK YOU!!

    Not only was this fun to do, but it also looks great!!! I particularly loved the question about the author(s) I'd like to to have a dinner party with because you let me go there!!!

    Oh! Wait a minute...I just got an idea for a story! LOL!!!