My Writing in 2010: A Review

2 01 2011

OK, I’m back. I always faintly regret telling my readers that I’m taking a break from blogging because, inevitably, saying so just makes me want to blog again! In any case, I though it would be a good time to do a quick review of my writerly accomplishments this year, just so that I don’t feel like a total failure. Seriously though, this taking stock at the end/beginning of a year has been very helpful for me in keeping my writing progress in perspective over the long haul, and 2010 was no exception.

This past year, to help keep myself motivated to do my writing, meet some deadlines and just stay on track, I bought myself a wall calendar upon which I wrote major due dates and such. Since 2010 is now officially over, I finally took down the calendar (which, quite honestly, I eventally started using to track pregnancy-related stuff!) the other day, and decided to take a look through it to remind myself of what I’d actually accomplished. So here are the highlights:

– Applied to and got into the Macondo Workshop, Sandra Cisneros’ program to nurture writers who also identify as social change advocates. I learned a lot, mostly about the writing ‘biz’ at this one-week workshop in San Antonio, Texas in July, and met some cool folks.

– Applied for and got rejected by Blue Mountain Center’s residency program (which ended up being a good thing because it would’ve ended up being when I was in my first trimester of pregnancy which probably wouldn’t have been too much fun!), as well as from the Hyphen Magazine and Asian American Writers Workshop short story contest. I was happy, though, for my former workshop-mate, Sunil Yapa, who won first place! And I got good feedback on the story I submitted from AAWW founder Bino Realuyo, although I didn’t show it to him until after I submitted it to the contest, which in hindsight wasn’t very smart. I should’ve gotten more feedback on the story before I sent it in. Lesson learned.

– I spent a lot more time writing this year than I have in a long time. Writing dates were a crucial part of this. I would show up to them even if I didn’t know whether my writing buddy would, which as Natalie Goldberg points out works well. I had fairly regular writing dates with a few folks—notably Claire Light, whom I met several times at Farley’s East in Oakland, and Melanie Hilario and her husband, Sam Sattin, whom I met fairly often in the latter part of 2010 to write, chat, eat scrumptious gourmet donuts and drink Blue Bottle coffee with at the fabulous Pizzaiolo in Oakland.

– I completed a self-imposed seven-day short-story challenge on this blog, in hopes of teaching myself more about the art and craft of writing short pieces, which I’ve always had a hard time doing in the past. This exercise really helped me get through the beginning, middle and end of stories and narrative arcs much more quickly, and also helped me write some pieces that I think I’ll actually send out for publication soon. I also got some good feedback on a couple of the pieces I wrote for the challenge when I submitted them as a part of my package for the Macondo workshop.

– I completed a week-long Advanced Fiction Workshop with the amazing, funny, prolific and generous Mat Johnson at VONA in June. I learned a lot about structure and story from Mat and from my workshop-mates, and had a great time as always at VONA, catching up with old friends and making new ones. Mat gave me some much-needed encouragement to work on what is now shaping up to be my first book—a collection of character-driven short stories set in a post-apocalyptic California, where technology has all but disappeared and human relationships and Mother Nature become the cornerstones of a new rural ‘civilization’. I made tons of progress on three of the twelve stories for this collection in 2010, and a lot of that progress can be credited to Mat and my VONA 2010 workshop experience.

– I had two public readings this year, neither of which I tried very hard to secure, but they were lots of fun and a good chance to share some of my work with an audience. The first one was at my neighborhood cafe, Woody’s, in Oakland, with some of my workshop-mates from my fiction workshop with Junot Diaz at VONA in 2009. The other was my second reading at San Francisco’s annual LitCrawl. This year I got to read with a group of writers of color for the Carl Brandon Society, which is all about promoting sci-fi/speculative fiction writers and fans of color. I got some great feedback on my story from new acquaintance Naamen Gobert Tilahun, who said my work reminded him of Ursula Le Guin’s! Super-cool.

– As far as publications, I did get several non-fiction pieces placed this year. One was a piece on living in a multi-cultural world in a cool new anthology from Beacon Press called Are We Born Racist?, edited by my old work buddy Jeremy Adam Smith along with Jason Marsh and Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton. Other writers who were included in the collection were Rebecca Walker and Bishop Desmond Tutu, so that was cool! Another piece I had published in 2010 was a nostalgic memoir-type short about my first ‘gay uncle’, which was printed in local literary mag Instant City. This story was as much an ode to the San Francisco of my childhood as it was a story about true family, deception, loss and memory. I am particularly proud of an essay called My New Sisters which was published in the online version of Yes! Magazine And of course I had a couple pieces published in the ever-useful Grassroots Fundraising Journal, the Editorial Board of which I joined in 2010 as well.

It was a busy year, and although I didn’t reach all of my writing goals in 2010, I did make a lot of headway and am proud of my writerly accomplishments. Of course, my writing has now taken a back seat to my pregnancy and impending mommyhood, but I have been doing a fair amount of journalling and will continue to push forward with my creative work in 2011. My next post will be on 2011 new year’s resolutions, but in the meantime, here are my writing buddy

Updates: Two deadlines and My Work in Print Soon

5 04 2010

I’m in the home stretch of a run towards meeting two deadlines this week, one for the Hyphen/AAWW short story contest, the other for this summer’s VONA workshops. My first choices for VONA this year are the Advanced Fiction workshop with Mat Johnson in the first week, and the Fiction workshop with Tananarive Due (whose excellent Black vampire book My Soul to Keep I’m reading right now) the second week. Backups are the residency the first week with David Mura, and Advanced Fiction with Chris Abani the second week.

I’m feeling pretty good about meeting both these deadlines. I just need to proofread my short story for the contest, and do a little more editing on the pieces I’m submitting for VONA. The seven-day short story challenge I gave myself a few weeks ago has resulted in some pieces that I’m revising and sending in as my VONA submission. Another good thing about these self-imposed writing challenges—the creation of more work that can become polished, publishable stories.

I’m also waiting to hear back from Macondo (a long shot) and Blue Mountain. Send in and wait, send in and wait—the writer’s life.

I also met a new writing friend today, poet Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano, who works for one of my fundraising consultant clients. It’s always nice to meet writers while doing my ‘day-job’ work. He’s heading to Denver for the Association of Writing Programs conference this week. Some of my VONA homies will be there. Part of me wanted to go, but couldn’t afford it this year—maybe next year.

Lastly, I found out that the new issue of Instant City with my essay in it should be out any day now. There may be a reading or two in the works to launch this new issue, will post details as I find out about them. It will be nice to hold it in my hands and to read my words in print and not just online.

Day Seven (sort of): Don’t Stop

17 03 2010

(Okay, so I know I technically skipped the last two days, but I am finishing up this challenge anyway. Better late than never, right? I’m quite proud of myself for having gotten this far, and hope you’ve enjoyed reading these short vignettes as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. For this last story, I’ve chosen to try and tie together two characters from different stories I wrote this past week: Rebecca from ‘Lazy Sunday’ and Trina from ‘The New Girl’.)

Don’t Stop (‘Til You Get Enough)
Copyright 2010 by Rona Fernandez, all rights reserved

Rebecca was in her living room, doing a runners’ stretch—her heel stuck out in front of her as she leaned over her left leg, stretching out her hamstring and calf. She was going to go for a jog for the first time in months. since before her best friend and exercise buddy, Trina, had died in a car accident on a rainy winter night, at the age of thirty-two.

“You can do it, you can do it,” she chanted to herself under her breath. She could already feel her heart beating a little bit faster—not because of the stretching, but just by the idea of jogging without Trina. She had avoided it for this long, and she was paying for it with her health. Eating donuts had replaced her morning jog—she craved the sugar rush and the mild sense of euphoria all the fat gave her—but overall, Rebecca had felt more sluggish than ever and she’d gained almost least ten pounds in less than two months.

“You can do it, you can do it,” she continued to mutter to herself. She decided she needed some extra motivation, so she turned on her stereo, put on some Michael Jackson, which never failed to make her feel better.

“Lovely is the feelin’ now…”

Rebecca swung her right leg in front of her now, leaned over and felt her muscles stretch.

A picture flashed in her mind, of her and Trina dancing to this exact same song during a junior high school dance. Trina had MJ’s hip-thrust down pat, but Rebecca could moonwalk better. Now, Rebecca giggled a little, but felt the familiar swell of heat in her face that signaled impending tears. She stood up, putting her hands in front of her face.

“Fever, temperatures rising now….”

Not again, she thought. It’s been almost two months. Why can’t I get over this? She squatted down low to the ground, trying to stifle the tears, trying to stuff down the wave-like feeling of grief that threatened to overwhelm her once again. She’d missed two weeks of work after the accident, and been a wreck when she went back. She couldn’t even bear to go see Trina’s parents in Daly City, despite the fact that they called her incessantly, asking how she was.

“Rebecca,” Trina’s mom would say on her voicemail messages, stretching out the ‘a’ in her name as if she were singing a song, “are you all right?” Mrs. Garcia rolled most of her ‘r’s, even when she was speaking English and not Tagalog. For some reason, it made Rebecca smile. “Come and visit us sometime, okay, hija? Okay, bye-bye.”

Keep on, with the Force don’t stop…

Thank God, Trina thought now as she squatted, for Mauricio. He’d fielded the calls when he was home, updating the Garcias on her status, letting her know that she was okay, that he was taking care of her. Rebecca felt a sudden pang of guilt now that she’d avoided her friend’s parents for so long, but she couldn’t bring herself to see them. Not yet.

Just then, as Rebecca stood up from her squat and walked slowly towards the front door of the apartment, Mauricio walked into the living room, freshly showered and changed and ready to leave for work.

“Gonna try again today, eh?” he said, looking at her with what she perceived as a sympathetic frown. Rebecca nodded.

“I figure it can’t hurt to lace up and warm-up at least,” she said, not sure if she was talking to Mauricio or to herself. “Once I get out there we’ll see what happens.”

Mauricio put a warm hand on her arm.

Touch me, and I feel on fire…

“Do you want me to stay home for awhile, make sure you’re okay?” His voice was comforting, deep. Rebecca resisted the urge to hurl herself into his arms and bury her body in the safety and security she could always find there.

I have to buck up and move on, she told herself. She thanked Mauricio and told him she’d be okay. He looked at her quizzically, as if trying to decipher her words and get to their real meaning, but he nodded and unlocked the front door instead.

“Okay,” he said, stepping into the hallway in front of their hallway. “You know you can always call—”

“Wait,” Rebecca said, feeling her heartbeat shoot up as she realized he was about to leave her alone—alone with her feelings, her grief, her memories of Trina, who died too soon, much too soon.

Mauricio paused, moved a few inches closer to her, waited for her to tell him what she needed.

Keep on, with the Force don’t stop…

“I love you,” she said, surprised by the words coming out of her mouth. She’d meant to say, Wait, let me walk with you down to the car, or Wait, give me a ride down to the Lake and I’ll jog back from there. Make some request to extend her time with him, to delay the inevitable—that she would sooner or later have to run without Trina, because Trina was dead.

Mauricio seemed as surprised by her words as she was, but he responded in kind.

“I love you, too.” He stepped forward and embraced her, enfolding her in the quiet, warm strength of his body. Rebecca exhaled loudly, felt the tension she’d been holding inside of her release.

“You can do it,” Mauricio said, and pulled away from her. He squeezed her shoulder and looked intently into her eyes. “I know you can.”

Rebecca nodded, smiling a little. She made a shoo-ing motion, telling him that he’d better get going or he’d be late for work. Mauricio kissed her briefly on the lips and left. Rebecca stood there for a long, lingering moment, a strange energy coursing up through the veins in her legs. It was that slightly uncomfortable, restless feeling—and there was only one way to get rid of it.

Don’t stop ’til you get enough…

She grabbed her keys and left the apartment, didn’t stop and turn back to turn the stereo off or grab a bottle of water, knowing that if she paused now, even for a moment, she would never go on. Instead she ran down the stairs, seeing the morning sunlight stream in through the glass doors on the floor below.

You can do it, she told herself silently. I know you can.

Day Six: Hitting the Wall

15 03 2010

I feel like I’ve hit the proverbial ‘wall’ today—I have no idea what I’m going to write. It probably doesn’t help that I’m PMSing, that it’s gorgeous outside and I’ve just spent the last two-and-a-half hours coming up with my first-ever PowerPoint presentation for a workshop I’m doing on Tuesday. Jeez, who knew that creating a frickin’ PowerPoint presentation could take so long! The result is that I’m a bit brain-mushy right now. Ugh.

But I know that I just have to write SOMETHING, whether it’s six, sixty or six hundred words. Just two more days of this (today and tomorrow) and I will have completed my challenge to myself to write a short story in one sitting each day for seven days. I’m quite proud of myself for having made it this far. It’s definitely been an intriguing ride experiment.

Okay, deep breath, exhale out…here I go.

The New Girl

Trina thought that the new girl in her seventh grade class at St. Bonifacio’s was stuck-up. She was one of those pretty mestiza girls that everyone seemed to think were so sweet, when they were really the biggest bitches of them all. The new girl’s name was Myra Melegrito, which Trina thought sounded old-fashioned and dumb. Isabel, Trina’s best friend, agreed.

“She thinks she’s so hot,” Isabel whispered to her as they waited for their teacher to arrive. They both stared at Myra—with her perfectly medium-brown, shoulder-length, slightly wavy hair, deep brown eyes, and skin the color of oatmeal—with visible disgust, their lips pouty, their otherwise smooth-skinned faces crinkled up as if they’d smelled something awful.

“My brother said she’s fast, too,” said Trina, leaning more closely to Isabel. “He said she already made out with Bryan Garcia and Jimmy Lee.” They both shook their heads, even though they’d both made out with Bryan or Jimmy at least once over the past two years themselves.

“Eew,” Isabel replied. “She’s only been here for like a month. I heard she had a boyfriend back in the Philippines too.”

“What a ho,” Trina said. Isabel nodded gravely.

The teacher walked in just then and greeted the class, but Trina couldn’t help but stare at Myra Melegrito. Secretly, Trina wished she could look like Myra. Trina hated her own stick-straight, blue-black hair that required at least two cans of Aqua Net a month, and she thought her flat nose and brown skin were ugly, not to mention her hips! Once she got her period her hips ballooned as if some invisible force had filled them with fat. Trina was tired of the cat-calls that they earned her on her daily walk home from school, and she did dozens of leg-lifts in the privacy of her bedroom to try to rid herself of her extra unwanted flesh.

Myra, on the other hand, was not only light-skinned, she was skinny. Not skinny in a bony, nasty way, Trina observed, but in a way that made her seem like she was floating when she walked. Trina watched as Myra raised her hand when the teacher asked a question, and she suddenly wanted to smack her in the face.

“Trina?” the teacher, Ms. Bonjean, called, pulling her attention away from Myra. “Trina, why don’t you answer this. I know you’re very interested in current events.” The rest of the class tittered, because Trina was always late turning in her weekly assignment: to read a local newspaper and write a report on a current event.

“I didn’t hear the question, Ms. Bonjean,” Trina said, her anger at Myra’s beauty shifting slightly onto the teacher. Ms. Bonjean frowned, then gestured to the class.

“Can anyone tell Trina what the question was, as she was clearly preoccupied with something more important than paying attention in class.” The teacher seemed to Trina to grin maliciously, which made her blood boil.

A couple students mumbled. Myra Melegrito raised her hand again, this time even higher. Isabel kicked Trina’s feet under her desk. Ms. Bonjean called on Myra, who was smiling.

“Yes, Myra.”

“The question was,” Myra said, her Filipino-accented English making her seem even more stuck-up to Trina, “what is the name of the Vice-President of the United States.” Then Myra, who was sitting in the front row (“teacher’s pet,” Trina thought disdainfully), turned slightly towards Trina, and looked her straight in the eye, her smile mocking and smug.

“Thank you, Myra.” Ms. Bonjean turned back to Trina. “Well?”

Two other students held their hands up, but Ms. Bonjean gestured for them to wait.

“I want Trina to answer the question. Come on, Trina. Myra was nice enough to give you the question. Now what’s the answer?”

Trina felt her breathing coming faster, and her hands got cold and sweaty at the same time. All she could think was how much she hated Myra Melegrito and how bad she was going to kick her ass after school. She’d go up to her at lunch and tell her, “You think you’re so pretty but no one here likes you. You’re a bitch and a ho.” The thought made Trina smile, a secret, mean smile. She glared at Myra but kept smiling. Trina thought she saw Myra shiver.

“The Vice President is George Bush,” Trina said flatly. “And the President is Ronald Reagan.” She turned to look at Ms. Bonjean, who seemed unimpressed.

“Very good,” the teacher said. Then she started talking about the upcoming election and how important it was that they all vote someday. Trina tuned her out, but noticed that Myra had turned back to the front of the classroom again. Trina took a piece of paper out of her desk—she had her own Sanrio Hello Kitty notepad and matching pen that her dad had given her the last time he came to visit from the Philippines—and scribbled a note to Isabel:

“That bitch is gonna get it.”

Trina passed it furtively back to her best friend, who giggled when she read the note. And then Trina waited, patiently, still smiling slightly, for the bell to ring for lunch.

Day Five: Lazy Sunday

13 03 2010

(I know, I know, today’s Saturday. But don’t people think of Sundays as lazy more than Saturdays? The whole Sabbath day of rest thing and all that. Enjoy and let me know what you think.–Rona)

Lazy Sunday
Copyright 2010 by Rona Fernandez, All Rights Reserved

Rebecca didn’t want to get out of bed. It was Sunday, the day of rest, and that’s exactly what she wanted to do. All day. In bed. Rest.

Isn’t this supposed to be the day the Lord rested too? She thought to herself, feeling the left side of her mouth tilt upwards in a mocking grin. Ten years of Catholic school had only drummed rebellion against all things religious into her veins.

She didn’t look over at her alarm clock, which also rested on Sundays, but she could tell from how bright the light was behind her ineffective Venetian blinds that it was at least 9am, maybe even 10 o’clock. She’d gone to bed last night on the late side, 2am, even though all she’d done was stay at home and watch TV and talk on the phone with Mauricio, who was still stuck in Chicago because of a snowstorm, or so he said. Lately, Rebecca’s detected a tell-tale note of protection in his voice, as if he was holding something back from her. More than once, when he’d come back from one of his business trips, she’d braced herself for a confession of adultery, but Mauricio had never delivered. Only come back and fucked her brains out—obliterating,for a few days at least, her doubts about the security of their relationship.

But is it adultery, she thought, if you’re not married?

She sat up in bed, almost as a reflex. The sunlight outside seemed to be calling to her. She wore some flannel pajamas that felt too warm and itchy now. She could tell it was going to be a nice day—no rain, maybe it would even hit 65. She imagined herself walking alone on a trail in Sibley park, and wished for the umpteenth time that she had a dog. She reached up to the ceiling with both arms, causing her vertebra to crack and pop in a satisfying way. She looked at the clock: 9:45am.

Bingo, she said aloud, snapping her fingers. She set her feet on the floor, felt the rough texture of her bedroom carpet. As she walked to the kitchen, trying to think of what foodstuffs in her refrigerator could be manipulated into something resembling breakfast, her cell phone rang, its tinny melody muffled by some kind of cloth.

Shit, she said. She couldn’t remember where it was. She shrugged, too tired to care much, and wended her way around the floor cushions she’d strewn in the living room the night before so she could watch ‘La Dolce Vita’ comfortably. Mauricio hated that movie, but she thought it was brilliant.

Just as she opened the fridge, she heard a loud clicking coming from the front door. Her heart leapt inside her ribs, knowing it could only be one person.

Hey, you awake? Mauricio’s voice called out at medium volume, probably not wanting to frighten her. She could hear him making his way to the bedroom, and she giggled to herself as she tiptoed out of the kitchen to follow him. Just the sight of his back—broad-shouldered and strong—walking away from her sent a tremble through her thighs.

Maybe he’s cheating on me, she thought, but do I really care? Am I just too lazy to give a shit? She laughed at herself, which made Mauricio jump and turn, dropping his carry-on to the floor with a thud.

Jesus, you scared the shit out of me, he said, clutching one hand to his chest.

Like a woman, she thought. This just made Rebecca laugh harder. She pointed herself towards him and ran, hurtling herself forward with all her weight.

Day Four: The Muse Visits

12 03 2010

She sat in a cafe, writing, trying unsuccessfully to drown out the noise around her by turning the volume on her earphones up full-blast. There were only a few people around her, but they all seemed to have voices as loud and grating as her neighbor’s nightly 4am car alarm. But she was here to write, and she was going to write if it killed her.

She was deep in the middle of a paragraph about a deathly-ill old woman who was contemplating a reconciliation with her estranged daughter, when someone sat down, abruptly, across the small wooden table from her. She looked up halfway, expecting to see a bothersome pseudo-friend (many of whom seemed to populate the cafe she frequented these days). She was prepared to give the so-called ‘friend’ a polite, helpless shrug, accompanied by her stock response to such intruders, “Hi, I’m writing.” The unsaid message: Leave me the fuck alone.

But as she lifted her eyes to make full visual contact with the person sitting across from her, she saw that it was a man, no one she knew, but someone she wished she did. He had a movie star’s square jaw, dark brown hair that was somehow both disheveled and put-together, and hazel-greens eyes that seemed to reach deep into her chest with their intensity. His skin was the color of the layer of tan foam on her macchiato. He had the faintest of smiles on his face, as if he was hiding some silly secret and wanted her to ask him what it was.

She braced herself to make sure she didn’t stutter. She didn’t take her earphones out, but she did turn the volume on her laptop down half-way, listening to Morrissey’s droning voice die down to a watery murmur.

“Um, can I help you?” she asked the stranger. He lifted his chin slightly in greeting, and she noticed a small cleft in his chin.

“That depends,” he said. Her fingers were still on her keyboard, and she wanted to get back to the task at hand: to finish this story whose resolution had eluded her for months, even years now. She didn’t want this stereotypically dark, handsome stranger to get in her way. She didn’t let her husband or her mother get in her way, so why should she let this guy?

“Depends on what?” she said, examining how his slim but muscled arms filled out the sleeves of the plaid button-down he wore. Nice.

“On what you want to do with that boring story you’re writing.” He glanced down at her fingers laid on the laptop keyboard.

“How do you know about my story?” She felt something cold and slick at the back of her throat. Fear. She glanced around at the gabbing people that, a few moments before, had been so annoying to her. She realized with a shock that the volume of their voices, like the volume of Morrissey’s voice from her earphones, had been somehow turned down. Did she do that? Or did this man have something to with it?

“I know a lot of things about you. About your story, your writing,” he said. His voice was at a normal level. It was as if some invisible bubble had descended around them, buffering all other sound to a low hum. She looked more closely at the man, and realized that he looked familiar—but he wasn’t anyone that she had met in waking life.

“You’re, you’re—Him.” She knew her mouth was hanging open, but she didn’t care. This was too much.

He nodded, seeming satisfied with her answer. A smile lifted both corners of his mouth, and he gestured grandly to her laptop.

“I’m here to answer any questions you have, but you have to write some more first.” She nodded, incoherent, and started tapping away on the keyboard, still staring at him, trying to absorb every detail about him—the gravelly sound of his voice, his long-waisted torso, the way his adam’s apple bobbed as he spoke. She didn’t even know what she was writing, but she knew whatever she was writing was going to be good. She felt a lifting in her belly, her chest, as if she was suddenly standing in an elevator that was swiftly going up, up, up.

“Good,” he said. “You sit there for a half-hour and do that. I’m going to get a latte. I’ll come back and check on you, and then you can ask me anything you want.” He stood up, and the noise of the cafe around her began to rise again. She reached out and grabbed his arm, and was shocked to find how solid he felt, how real.

“Hey, can you keep all that noise down?” she asked. He shook his head and half-laughed.

“I didn’t do that,” he said, patting her hand in an almost fatherly gesture. “You did.”

Copyright 2010 by Rona Fernandez, All Rights Reserved

Day Three: Six-word Story

11 03 2010

My last two stories have taken a lot out of me, and today’s going to be a busy (non-writing) day, so this six-word story is my version of a break. This is based on the ‘six-word memoir’ that SMITH Magazine came up with. Thanks to Kenji Liu for the tip! I’m probably cheating a little by including a title (making it seven words really), but who cares? It sounds more like a haiku snippet. It’s fun to tighten the narrative arc even more than I have in my previous two stories. It’s really possible to tell a story in six words (or even less)!


Looking, found love. Happy ever after.