LOST & the Love/Hate Relationships with Your Favorite Characters

Big Sur, Big Sur California, pexels, piccing from pexels, elaina avalos
Photo by Piccinng from Pexels

I don’t live near the sea anymore. I thought I would miss it – but the mountains of North Carolina have taken up residence in my heart. I was raised beside the wild Pacific, on a ranch and vineyard, one of only a few along that shoreline, nestled into the mountains and hills of the Big Sur coastline. The coastal landscape along the winding Highway 1 is at once stunning and agonizingly lonely. It’s melancholy – like me. Giant Redwoods tower above you on one side and then within a few steps, cacti and wild California brush co-mingle with an intoxicating scent that you get to enjoy when it rains – or when the landscape is warmed on summer days.

It was there, on those lonely hills, that my life became both deeply painful and shockingly beautiful.
When I left California, nearly seven years ago now, I did so with little more than a weekend trip to the mountains of North Carolina to decide it was what was next for us. I knew very little about the place that would be come home to Jackson and I.

***

I put aside my novel, A Thousand Years, for a while. But I may have found a good way ahead for a novel that was floundering. It’s still a lot of work and a major rewrite. So much so that I’m contemplating making part of the wall in my dining room (that’s really just an office and a place for the dog to sleep her life away), into a plot wall. I have no idea how I’ll make this work, but in my head, it’s something like this . . .

🙂

But I’m thinking character’s names, important dates, scenes, etc. and then plugging in and moving around as need be. In part, this novel is two distinct stories – and that’s where it got weird and confusing. I wanted to get the thing written. But no matter what I did, I couldn’t fit the entirety of this story into one novel. It just didn’t want to work with me. What I’m saying is . . . it had a mind of its own.

If I’m honest, this “novel” should probably be written as a script. Except I have no clue what I’m doing in that regard. I have never attempted, nor do I know where to start, when it comes to writing a script. Two of my favorite writers, directors, and show runners – are the two men above (Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof). What they did with LOST – in terms of the characters, is and always will be inspiring to me. While I loved the storyline, that faithful viewers followed throughout its 6 seasons, it is actually the characters themselves that I grew to love more than the plot.

I didn’t care about all of the explanations about the weird things that happened on the island as much as I cared about the character’s journeys. They were weird, complicated, beautiful, and sometimes, really bad people. It was hard, at many points, to determine whether you hated or loved a character. Or maybe hated is too strong a word. Either way – they were complicated. A character like Sayid Jarrah, for instance, was terribly hard to figure out. He was a torturer – literally. Yet, he was deeply burdened by his past life – regretting all of it. He also found it much easier to slip back into his old ways when the need would arise. But I digress. The point was, I loved Sayid. But it wasn’t always easy to love him. Sawyer is another example. He was deeply, deeply flawed. He pushed everyone away and seemed, at times, to happily convince others to hate him. Yet, we learned throughout the show, what started him on this path. And that made all of the difference in the world in how you viewed him.

I love writers and directors who can tell stories like that – stories that make you love the characters in spite of their flaws, that is. All along, A Thousand Years, was a novel about family. The problem is, I started too far along into the story. Birdie Langston’s story didn’t start where I started writing the novel. It went way back. Way, way back. That became apparent quite quickly. Birdie (the protagonist) was trying to get through to me the whole time. I listen well. Except when it comes to writing. Sometimes I get something in my head and don’t see around the original vision, even when a bigger story is taking shape.

I’m now rambling on – but while I’m on my tangent – let’s talk about LOST again and how characters take on a life of their own. Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof could certainly clear this up for me, but there are times I wonder if two of the LOST characters were intended to become who & what they became (when the show runners began working together). Those two characters are Desmond & Penny. They played pivotal roles, in the development of LOST overall, in my opinion. But I’m not 100% convinced it was always meant to be that way. Or perhaps I should say, I’m not certain they started out this way. And yet, in spite of that, the two are among my favorites. They also happen to be the stars of my favorite moment of all six seasons of LOST. It’s hands down my favorite. There’s no way to explain what brought these two to this moment, so I won’t even try. But it is, without fail, the moment that always, always gives me chills. I have seen it dozens and dozens of times and it still gives me chills at exactly the same moments, literally every time. Penny is Desmond’s “constant.” And man, this was an incredible TV moment. It’s romantic, beautiful, and a bit of encouragement – for all of us hoping that rescue was somewhere on the horizon.

If I’m wrong, and Penny & Desmond were in the plan from day one – to always have this moment (that would usher in a whole new direction for the show) – it only drives home for me how important it is for the writer to take a backseat. A story that wants to be told should be indulged. Even if it takes you to Scotland, England, and a freighter in the middle of the ocean – way out of the action on the island.

And so, I’m back. But the clock is being reset and the story is starting somewhere else – in another day and time. It starts with the family that raised Birdie and the soil they love, the hard work that made them, and the determination – that created the woman that Birdie would eventually become.

National Novel Writing Month

Live Oak, spanish moss, elaina m. avalos, chasing hope, lacey mays
Photo by Ashley Knedler

November is National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo). I’ve been a NaNoWriMo participant since 2009. But until last year, I never actually finished a project. In 2020, at one of the wildest times for me professionally, I wrote a 51,640 word novel. The words poured out of me. The novel, A Thousand Years, has been varying states of editing for 11 months. I start in on re-write and it doesn’t feel quite right and I start over. It has been weird. I love the story. But it has changed dramatically from what I started writing in 2020.

As I gear up for NaNoWriMo 2021, I have a decision to make (real quick like). Do I focus in on a final draft of A Thousand Years, or do I write Sea Glass Hearts (which I’ve started)? I also have another book – still untitled, about a character named Lacey James that desperately needs to be written. I have until Monday to decide. I thought tonight I’d play around a little with all three and see if my muse catches fire. He’s finicky. So . . . eh, we’ll see what happens.

You can read some of Lacey’s story, here & here.

Sea Glass Hearts excerpts are here.

A Thousand Years, is here.



But Not Without My Muse

“Take me to the lakes where all the poets went to die
I don’t belong, and my beloved, neither do you
Those Windermere peaks look like a perfect place to cry
I’m setting off, but not without my muse

I want auroras and sad prose
I want to watch wisteria grow right over my bare feet
‘Cause I haven’t moved in years
And I want you right here
A red rose grew up out of ice frozen ground
With no one around to tweet it
While I bathe in cliffside pools
With my calamitous love and insurmountable grief”
– Songwriters: Jack Antonoff / Taylor Alison Swift

The writing muse is finicky. My current lifestyle makes him/her/it hide a little more than I prefer. I’m ready for change. “I’m setting off, but not without my muse.”

Things a Man Oughta Know

Can I just move in?

I came home from work tonight with a boatload of work to do before an insanely wild week, next week. But you know what, bro? I don’t wanna. It’ll be there tomorrow, right? Things that won’t be there tomorrow? My time this evening. My time writing, planning my vacation, and making myself a somewhat normal dinner instead of ordering takeout. So, on that note, for old time’s sake – here’s some random musings and favorite tunes this week . . .

1. It’s hot and humid in the south. In my corner of the south, it will probably be hot – off and on through October. There are times Halloween is chilly. And then there are other times when I hold Halloween/Fall events and I’m switching out hot cider and hot chocolate for water & extra ice. But, I digress. I have some big events coming up, in the midst of the super hot/humid that is our August. I’m not a fan. So this weekend, I am re-evaluating my clothing choices (haha) and may just show up wearing the most comfortable things I own, which may be things I would not normally wear to work. Whatever, bro. It’s mid-August in the south – you get what you get.

2. My dog – Abby the Wonder Dog – is the sweetest, funniest dog. She is hilarious. She is also weird and very particular. I’ve paid for expensive dog training for her. It worked for a while. But after a bit, she lost the most important part of that training, which was to peacefully co-exist with other dogs. She has her favorite dogs. But they’re few and far in between. This makes life with her quite . . . a pain in the arse sometimes. Like today. Today, I didn’t realize, while I cleaned up after her, that her leash wasn’t truly in my grip. She charged. You wanna know who she charged? A cute little blonde boy and his PUPPY corgi. You know how small Corgis are, right? Yeah, this is a puppy. She’s such an arsehole. She’s pretty big (54 pounds). But charging at a little boy and a puppy, I’m sure she seemed gynormous…

“I think I should lay down now.” – Abby

The photo above shows my dog in her natural state, which is being lazy. She sleeps most of her life. And she’s quite serious about it. She will nag me to go to bed if I’m up too late. Right now, I’m propped up in my bed, typing. I’m even wearing my nightgown (though it’s barely 6:30). This is her preference so she can contain me in one place and voilà, I’m close to my bed for her favorite thing – sleeping. But alas, when she’s charging at a child and a puppy, she’s menacing (looking). All she wanted was to run over, give everyone a sniff, and come right back to me. Which is what she did. She didn’t so much as lift a paw.

But boy did she scare that poor kid. I was horrified. I mean, you know how small corgis are, right? IT WAS A FREAKING PUPPY. Needless to say, there was a time when she was a puppy, 11 years ago, that I prayed she’d grow out of this. Nope. She’s 11 (aka 72 in human years). What a butthead. I kept apologizing to the little boy as Abby ran back to me wagging her tail. He kept saying, “It’s okay, it’s okay.” But not so much. When will she act like an old lady and be all uninterested in sweet little puppers? I told her she was rotten. And that she was going to get the silent treatment tonight. I think she prefers this.

3. I was eating vegan or maybe I should say partially vegan for a while. I kind of still am for breakfast/lunch, at least. This started when my rheumatologist suggested I was allergic to milk and egg whites. Do you know what has egg and milk in it? Everything. Everything has eggs and milk. I dumped tons of staples like the nectar of the gods that is mayo (that’s a joke, relax). I bought vegan mayo, vegan butter, coconut or almond milk yogurt, vegan cheese (my fav is cashew cheese from Trader Joe’s by the way), cashew ice “cream”, etc. I’ve added some egg and milk products back into the diet. But a product I probably will continue to use, is plant butter. It does have less fat & calories. But here’s the best thing about it – it melts super fast. Take a stick out of the refrigerator before dinner and by the time I’m ready to eat, it’s melty. If you’re a fine connoisseur of unhealthy foods, as I am – this is tops in my book. In related news, my favorite vegan finds include: Tattooed Chef Buddha Bowls, Daiya “burritos,” and Sonoma Flatbreads veggie pizza. In case you’re wondering why I felt the need to share this tonight, it’s because I had some on gluten free pasta tonight. Hey, I said random.

4. Did you know I love all things mid-century? Mid-century modern and mid-century ranch home architecture, (much of it anyway) is a true love (see photo above) of mine. I adore it primarily because of its incredible use of light, their enormous windows, and the way the inside and outside combine. As a lover of the outdoors (I sometimes think I could live off the grid in the wilderness), this is the main thing that draws me to it.

I could do without shag carpet. And some other weirdness from the era. Like racism. And fake plants in atriums. And rampant sexism. But yeah, much of it I adore. I love the movies, the barware & glassware (which I collect), and the cheerful colors or the way the decor matches nature. They really knew how to entertain, which is one of my absolute favorite things to find in thrift or antique stores (mid-century stuff used for entertaining).

Growing up in SoCal during the 70s & 80s, we were no strangers to this kind of architecture (combined with what is called Tiki Architecture in Mid Century Modern terms). In the town I grew up in, we even had an Eichler neighborhood. Palm Springs, where I would later shop – every weekend while living in the desert – was always fun with its mid-century modern style, literally EVERYWHERE. Eichler would be super disappointed at the cost of his homes today. He built them to be affordable and accessible. Now they’re anything but (almost 2 MILLION dollars in my home town). This is an Eichler-inspired home in Orange (where I grew up), that’s currently for sale.

So what’s the point? I don’t know. I guess I need to become a millionaire. You think I can do it? I have expensive taste. Expensive that doesn’t look expensive – which is the absolute worst. Can I become a millionaire whilst writing novels and working in the wine industry? If so, sign me up.

Alright, I think that concludes the random portion of my post. Or not. The music is probably random too. Whatever. There’s little chance you’re still reading so . . .

Things a Man Oughta Know – Top of the playlist heap, this week. This line, “If you really love a woman, you don’t let her go/Yeah, I know a few things a man oughta know”

An oldie (so old), but goodie. I’d forgotten how much I loved this song (You and I Both by Jason Mraz)

Kicking it way back to summers on Newport or Huntington Beach (1988) . . .

Man, the 80s were weird and wonderful. Lol.

Speaking of the 80s, I’m on a kick. Partly because of my new novel, waiting in the wings (Sea Glass Hearts). The novel, written about an abandoned 80s kid – who grew up on the beaches of SoCal – well, that’s where the music reminiscing comes from. I was born in the 70s so I have a healthy love of all things 70 music. But the 80s…that was when I was really falling in love with music (of all kinds).

I grew up in a very Christian household – like church on Wednesday, church twice on Sunday – we only listen to Christian music – kind of Christian household. No offense, Mom – but I’m so glad my Dad and my friends didn’t abide by mom’s rules (hahaha). I truly love music of all kinds. Imagine a life without memories like cleaning to “Thriller” in my Grandma Avalos’s house, and listening to Belinda Carlisle, KROQ, Depeche Mode, U2 (greatest album of all the times is Joshua Tree, by the way), on the beach all summer? Well, I can’t dudes.

So Depeche Mode has been high on the list lately.

Another favorite of Depeche Mode is Personal Jesus. This caused much scandal in Christian circles, back in the day. This article talks about the song and about what Martin Gore was going for when he wrote it. As the article mentions, some thought he was talking about the “commercialisation of religion.” What Gore was actually writing about was, oddly enough, the relationship between Elvis and Priscilla Presley (based on her autobiography).

“He explained: ‘It’s a song about being a Jesus for somebody else, someone to give you hope and care. It’s about how Elvis Presley was her man and her mentor and how often that happens in love relationships; how everybody’s heart is like a god in some way, and that’s not a very balanced view of someone, is it?”’ Deep, dude.

In related news, the best cover of Personal Jesus goes to Johnny Cash. I mean, I don’t know if anyone else covered it but he’s Johnny Cash. Unrelated, Hurt by Cash – so good. “What have I become, my sweetest friend?” P.S. June Cash in this video, oh my heart!

Also on the Sea Glass Hearts soundtrack & reminding me of the olden days (this time just after high school in 1995) is Everclear’s Santa Monica (and a few other songs of theirs). Loved their music.

They were always saying something emotional and angry:

I am still living with your ghost
Lonely and dreaming of the west coast
I don’t wanna be your downtime
I don’t wanna be your stupid game
With my big black boots and an old suitcase
I do believe I’ll find myself a new place

Like . . .

Father of mine
Tell me where have you been?
You know I just closed by eyes
My whole world disappeared

Man, The Black Crowes. They were so good. In later years, believe it or not – their one-time guitarist/vocalist, Marc Ford, would eventually become part of my church’s worship band. By the way, he happens to be married to one of my favorite singers ever (Kirsten Ford). Oh my! I just went down a rabbit hole and found Kirsten Ford on Spotify.

I can’t remember the name, but at one point, Kirsten and a few others from my church, had a band. My friends & I saw them multiple times at places like The Roxy, and Whisky a Go Go on Sunset in West Hollywood. Yeah, serious rabbit hole there. But fun to see that Kirsten & Marc were still part of Vineyard/Vineyard worship at least not too long ago. Anyways…

I’m about done. But while I’m reminiscing, here’s a “newer” song that is super melancholy and a California favorite. El Cerrito Place – either the Kenny Chesney (I never liked him until I heard this) or Charlie Robison’s version.

“Somehow I wound up in the desert
Just after daylight
There’s a Joshua Tree
Grows that little place you always liked
These pioneer town people
They ain’t got too much to say
And if they might have seen you
They ain’t givin’ you away
Now it’s been two days”

On that note, I’ve been random enough for the evening. But somehow, it has a little bit of the writing mojo churning. Music, as always, inspires me. I hope it’s enough to keep me going through the wild week I have next week. Counting down the days until I can vacay…

Wooden Saints & Pluff Mud

beaufort south carolina, elaina m. avalos, parris island, lowcountry,
Marsh sunsets

I drove south, about 250 miles, this afternoon. Though I’ve lived near the coast of North Carolina (aka Eastern North Carolina) for most of the last 20 years (with a few detours along the way), I saw country this afternoon I’ve never seen before. No matter how many times I encounter these backroads swamps, corn fields, or sweet potatoes – stretching out forever – nestled between thick pine forest, it still catches this city girl by surprise. It’s always a delight.

I’m in South Carolina’s Lowcountry now, staying at a sweet little Airbnb. My room – with a view of the marsh, is nothing compared to the gift of sitting on this quiet front porch this evening. Blessed quiet. I can’t tell you the joy of not being in an apartment today. The fan is whirring, I have a glass of wine, and I’m currently listening to Ray LaMontagne’s “Such a Simple Thing,” from this playlist:




I don’t know what the days ahead hold for me. I mean, who does, really? But sometimes we have these sweet breaks. Moments of pure joy & delight in the midst of the unknown. And today/tomorrow is one of those breaks for me.

I write about the places I know (California, D.C., and the lovely North Carolina coast). They are featured heavily in my fiction. But outside of Nicholas Sparks, there aren’t many traditionally published writers based in and writing about North Carolina – the coast in particular. There are books set in places such as the Outer Banks. But they’re not “North Carolina writers” and place isn’t something they’re truly intimately connected to. There are exceptions. They are out there. But, those writing about the Lowcountry of South Carolina are a whole other story, however. There are so many. Some of my favorites write about the Lowcountry. I crossed the Edisto River this afternoon, and though I’ve never been here, it’s a name I know well – as if it was an old friend.

For blog readers that aren’t familiar with the area, I’m about an hour and twenty minutes from Charleston, SC and about 50-ish minutes from Savannah, Georgia. The thing about Lowcountry writers is that they write these marshes, pluff mud creeks, palmetto tree, low-tide, and high-tide rivers and creeks, and sea turtle – places, as if the place itself is an actual being. The place is a character in the book. No one else, except maybe North Carolina’s Sarah Addison Allen (who writes magical realism – set mostly in western NC), does this. I can be corrected. Feel free to prove me wrong. But Sparks, though he writes of roads and places and events (New Bern’s Ghost Walk for instance) I know well – his novels don’t make the place a character. The places are written well. But they’re not living and breathing beings. The closest he gets to this is a A Bend in the Road (set in my beloved downtown New Bern – where I once lived).

beaufort south carolina, beaufort, parris island

Low County writers write this place as if it is a living and breathing being – as if the creeks, rivers, and marshes will rise up and chat with you – if only you would sit still long enough. My favorite book (one of my favorite of all-time) that does this is Sweetwater Creek by Ann Rivers Siddons. It may not be the most critically acclaimed novel I’ve ever read (though a bestseller), but I will tell you this right now, Ms. Siddons writes these marshes and creeks in a way that made me long for them as a home, though I’d never been here before.

Maybe one of the most famous Lowcountry writers is the Pat Conroy. Conroy had an ability to write just about anything in a way that made me want to read more. My favorite book of his, isn’t a novel, however. It’s My Reading Life – a sort of autobiography – only it’s through the lens of the impact of the most significant books he’d read in his lifetime. Though I wished to go to the Pat Conroy Literary Center while I was here, they’re not open until Thursday (insert sad face here). I will make it eventually.

“When I started out as a kid in Beaufort who wanted to be a writer I didn’t have the slightest notion how to become one…. My home state has given me a million stories and no writer who ever lived had such riches to choose from. What I owe South Carolina is not repayable.” ~Pat Conroy.

Eventually, I will make my way back up the coast, tomorrow. I may take the long route – but I’ll eventually find myself back in Eastern North Carolina. For how long, I’m not exactly sure. But I do know that this brief break in the pace of my every day life, is a kindhearted reminder, that I can’t lose sight of the main thing.

I’ve spent nearly twenty years of my life making my job the thing. It’s not that it’s not important. I would not trade these years. Maybe. I may not find myself outside of working for the federal government for quite some time. Who knows? I certainly do not. But I do know that I’m learning every dang day, to keep the main thing, the main thing. And the job just ain’t it. As I get ready to turn in for the night, I’m reminded of the pursuit of this thing that makes me who I am. The dream I laid down? It was for a worthy cause, surely. But sometimes comfort become a habit, one we’re meant to throw off.

Sometimes the place you’re used to, is not the place you belong. – Unknown


In the quiet of this cute little brick, ranch house – with its ticking clocks and wooden saints in the window – I’m reminded of the way I was formed and the way I grew. I remember the hard and rocky roads that brought me here. It’s all led to the words I was meant to write. There is redemption and restoration there in those hard places. There is restoration in the words I’m writing now.

elaina m. avalos, beaufort south carolina, beaufort, parris island


When you speak for a person (in your professional life), you can possibly (as I have) become uncomfortable with the push and pull between public vs. private. Even more so when your name is not easily lost in the Jennifer Smiths of the vast interwebs. When the vulnerability you know is required in your writing, exposes you to those you’d rather not be exposed to, you could (I did) shrink back, lessen your words, shrink what you once believed possible, and grow too comfortable with what was.

When I stood at the kitchen sink, in this quiet airbnb this evening, and looked into the yard, past the saint in the window, I remembered what it was like to learn from the artists I knew best (mostly my Grandmother) growing up. If I’m not writing “clear and hard about what hurts” (Ernest Hemingway), I will always miss the mark. I have been missing the mark for quite some time.

For friends still reading this far – here’s what I want you to do:

1. Keep writing (clear and hard) about what hurts (or gives you joy or sets you free or lights a fire in your heart).
2. Don’t hold back.
3. Chase (hard) after those things you know (in your soul) you’re meant to do and be. It may not happen over night – getting to this place you know you’re meant to be. But nothing meant for you will pass you by. Of this I am certain. So keep at it. Keep pressing. Keep waiting – but actively waiting with expectation and hope.
4. And then, keep waiting, hoping, & working.

I don’t know where the path is taking me, but I know what I’m called to do – wherever it leads. I think you know, too – friend.