Vivian Parkin DeRosa is a junior at Communications High School. She's an editor for her school's literary magazine and intern for Project Write Now. Her work has appeared in several small literary magazines and HuffPost. She's also been recognized by the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards. She's currently working on a novel.
For fifty years I wondered why my aunt would paint the sea green.
When I first saw her unveil her brushes and stare at the ocean, I expected her to pull out her palette of blue. But instead the overlapping waves were the hue of sweet spring grass sparkling from March snows.
I pulled out my drawing pad, which had been by my side since the beginning of high school. I sat and stared at the ocean and all I could think was blueblueblueblueblueblue.
In college, I decided she did it because of jealousy. Green is the color of wicked envy, crawling and infecting like invisible poison ivy. These were the years I dropped out of art school and went to law school instead. They said I showed potential in art, but I knew I couldn’t see green.
In my thirties, I concluded she was showing that land and water aren’t nearly as different as people make them out to be. This is what I told myself as I defended the obviously guilty and ignored my aunt’s emails on art openings. There isn’t green in law.
In my forties, I believed she did it for serenity. My yoga teachers told me that green is the color of tranquility. She was giving peace to the seas and letting the ocean carry it across the world. Then everyone can be happy. Except me. There is no green in happiness.
By time I reached my fifties, my aunt began to deteriorate. Last minute family reunions were scheduled. Flowers by the kilograms were delivered. I visited her in the hospital wing. Her hands seemed unnatural—they had cleaned the paint stains off. “Why,” I whispered, “did you paint the sea green?”
Her face fluttered for a moment. She was recollecting, gathering the moment. “The sea,” she said, “I painted it green?”
“Yes,” I said. How dare she play dumb on her masterpiece?
I left my blue paints at home that day. That was what she said.
I thought she’d say it as if she was revealing a secret, the magician’s trick, but she shared this casually, just another piece of information. I squeezed her hand, out of love and anger, terrible, unreasonable anger that I forced down to join the hordes of green that I’d collected.
A Conversation with Vivian Parkin DeRosa
1. Your piece “green” invokes a strong visual image of the color green that then forms a series of shifting comparisons that drive the narrative. How do you view the role of imagery and simile in writing, in “green” specifically and in other pieces more generally?
I think imagery and simile are so important. I use these literary devices often in poetry, but I think it’s important not to forget them when writing fiction. Metaphor and imagery serve as a magnifying glass. They take a small thing, such as the color green, and take a closer look at it. Once the reader sees it up close, they realize that it’s much more complex than just a color, and that it symbolizes regret and doubt. Great writing either takes small, simple things and turns them into grand complexities or takes big, difficult topics and compresses them into small understandable bites.
2. Fiction, as defined by Tim O’Brien, is for “getting at the truth when the truth isn't sufficient for the truth.” What about “green” renders it true, despite its fictionality?
I believe that many people are quick to doubt themselves and let these doubts disrupt their lives. Even when other people tell you that your art, writing, or other creative craft is “good,” the doubt is often louder. In “green,” I tried to take that to the extreme, where the character blames her own self-doubts on her aunt and even on a color. Believing you will never be good enough is unfortunately a universal truth.
3. Inspiration for fiction can come from a wide array of sources: snippets of overheard conversations, imagined characters, alternate selves. What originally inspired “green”?
My piece “green” was inspired by a piece of advice my grandmother gave me. When I was talking about my fear of “not making it” as a writer, she said that it was better to fail than to years later wonder, “What could have been?” I tried to write a piece about a character who was forced to live with one of those “What could have been?” scenarios.
4. How would you define your writing aesthetic? What images, plots, and themes do you find yourself repeating?
I find myself repeating…well, everything, since I love circle stories. I love stories that end where they started, except the character has grown in some way. I’m hesitant to define my writing aesthetic, since I feel like I must write much more before I can truly claim one style. Right now, I write as much as I possibly can. Poetry, fiction, memoirs, and more. Through them all, I often go back to relationships between sisters, mothers, and other women, space, death, and fingernails. (I’m always looking down at my nails when I write, so when I’m stuck, looking for an image, that’s the first one I default to.)
5. You mention in your biography that you have a current in-progress novel. Can you give us a brief synopsis?
The book is a coming-of-age story. I’ve written about 65,000 words so far. The book doesn’t have a firm synopsis right now, since the book’s premise might shift between drafts, but it will have a lot of stars, sisters, and soul.
6. You also mention that you edit your school’s literary magazine and intern for Project Write Now. What sorts of responsibilities do those roles entail, and how do you see them interacting and intersecting with your own writing?
As an editor, I help critique student work and decide what will best fit into our magazine. As an intern, I lead a writing group for other teens and help teach creative literature. I used to think writing was a solo activity, but having these literary jobs made me realize how necessary it is to have a community. The other teenagers and the adult mentors I’ve met along the way have inspired me to write, not to mention being an editor has helped me refine my own writing.
7. To you, what does it mean to be a teen writer?
To me, being a teen writer just means being a writer. Anyone who writes is a writer. I’d say the only real distinction about being a teenager is that you can rely on other people to house, feed, and clothe you while you work on your craft. This is a time to write and read as much as I can.
8. What are your current plans for the future, in your writing life and beyond?
My plans for life include:
1.) Going to college!
2.) Become an Emily Dickinson museum tour guide.
3.) Eat a lot of French baguettes.
My plans for writing include:
1.) Writing as much as physically possible. I admire the careers of women like Margaret Atwood and Joyce Carol Oates. Every time I go online it seems that they’re releasing another book of poetry or fiction. I love that they don’t limit themselves to genres.
2.) Reading voraciously. A vital step in the writing process!
3.) Publishing a book.