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





Where I’m At and Where I’ll Be: Macondo, PAWA blog, Litquake

28 07 2010

I’ve been pretty absent from the blogosphere of late—busy with my consulting work and getting ready for the Macondo Workshop, which is where I am at this moment, typing away in my dorm room—but I am doing stuff, as I mentioned in my last post, just not talking about it here. Still have to figure out how to make time for my blogs so that they can reflect what is going on in my life. Any suggestions folks have on how to do this would be most welcome! It’s all about balance.

As evidence that I’ve been a busy girl, I helped interview a couple of fellow Pinay VONAites from this past summer for a post on the PAWA blog. Thanks to Barbara Jane Reyes for hooking us up.

And my writing buddy and fellow speculative fiction writer Claire Light asked me to read this coming October at the annual Litquake festival in San Francisco. This will be a reading sponsored by the Carl Brandon Society, which supports the development of science fiction/speculative fiction writing by people of color. I’m honored to be part of this particular event, and to participate in Litquake for the second time.

But for now, here at Macondo, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and/or connecting on a deeper level with some amazing folks, like:

Gabriela Lemmons, a poet who’s one of the founding members of the Latino Writers Collective in Kansas City, MO. The group sounds amazing and breaks all the stereotypes many of us have about whitebread Midwestern life.

Veronica Reyes, an accomplished educator and poet who hails from East Los Angeles, and has been cracking me up and keepin’ it real the way only El Lay folks can.

Poet and political activist Vanessa Huang, whom I met at VONA a couple years ago. She’s currently working on a book of poems and self-organized what sounds like was an amazing feedback session from her community of comrades and poets back in Oakland. I hope she writes about it as it sounds like a fascinating complement to the traditional writing workshop that’s much more rooted in community.

The fierce poet and editor Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhran, whom I bonded with the second night I was here after I had a mini-breakdown (long story). We then realized we had a LOT of acquaintances and friends in common back in the Bay and that we even used to hang out at the same queer dance club back in the ’90s! He just finished editing an upcoming issue of Yellow Medicine Review that will be the first of its kind, as it will feature writing by indigenous queer folks from all over the world.

Ching-In Chen, a poet who published a book, The Heart’s Traffic, last year and recently completed her MFA in Creative Writing at UC Riverside. Ching-In is smart, funny and super-talented. I’m glad I could catch up with her here to get my signed copy of her book.

And poet and fellow Bay Area nonprofit worker Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano, whom I know because I did some fundraising consulting with the organization he works for, Justice Matters Institute, a few months ago. It’s been good to briefly connect with Lorenzo as a writer here at Macondo.

More updates to come soon. Got to rush off to workshop in a few—my day to get critiqued!





Gearing up

13 06 2010

Sorry I’ve been so absent, but work has been super-busy lately, and I anticipated that my writing life on all levels would fall off during this hectic time. But I was okay with that because I have two writing workshops coming up: next week at VONA in San Francisco, and next month in San Antonio when I head to Sandra Cisneros’ Macondo Workshop to study with one of my old professors from Cal, Carla Trujillo. I’m really excited about both workshops and looking forward to talking about writing, being around my writing buddies and meeting new ones, and just immersing myself in my literary world and leaving my everyday work-world behind for a few weeks.

Of course, my ultimate goal is to merge these two worlds more fully, and I’ve taken a few steps in that direction, but still have a ways to go. I did get one of my short stories placed in a publication recently—and, even more exciting, will be getting paid for it too!—but I’m hesitant to say where just yet since things in the literary world can be a bit unsure at times. Like the fact that I never got any copies of one of the anthologies in which one of my non-fiction pieces was recently published.

In any case, I’ve got a lot of reading to do in the coming few weeks, and will be doing a fair amount of writing too, I’m sure. Will try to blog during the workshops and fill you in on what’s going on.





Acceptance

7 04 2010

I just found out today that I was accepted for this summer’s Macondo Foundation workshop, which was founded by famed writer Sandra Cisneros as a place to nurture writers whose work is socially engaged. I thought it was quite a long shot for me to get into the program—which is really more of a community that includes access to a residency program and other cool support systems—so I am thrilled to have been accepted.

This writing life is so fascinating—just a few days ago I was feeling a bit down about how I haven’t had any of my fiction published yet (although I am going to be sending a few things out soon), and then this happens. It’s a bit of a roller coaster ride sometimes, this writing life. But it is MY life now, and I embrace it with open, welcoming arms.





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.





Time to Write, Part II: Deadlines as Lifelines

30 01 2010

I’ve been feeling stressed but also blessed these last few days—and feeling more like a ‘real’ writer than I have in a while. I’ve been writing for, literally, hours each day, and there’s nothing like actually writing and producing work that you know some people are going to read (or that you’re going to read out loud, as I am on February 11th) to make you feel like your writing really matters.

I’ve also been logging a lot of hours writing grant proposals and reports for Generations Ahead, a cutting-edge organization working to make sure that the new genetic technologies are being used in an ethical and socially just way. I feel honored to write for them, as they’re doing important work that no one else really does, and it’s fascinating (and sometimes scary) stuff.

I’ve also been working to meet two important deadlines for my creative writing: an application to the Macondo Workshop, a program started by Sandra Cisneros. It’s a pretty competitive program, only eight people get in every year, but it sounds right up my alley. I submitted my application on Wednesday—wish me luck!

The other deadline I’ve been working on (and need to meet this weekend) is for a writing residency at Blue Mountain Center in the Adirondacks. I’ve been there once before and it’s a beautiful place—and I’ve realized that I need large blocks of uninterrupted time to really get deep into my writing.

All these deadlines, while stressful if I let them get to me, have also motivated me to get all this writing done. I’ve been editing like crazy, combing through my work with a fine-tooth comb until I feel like I’m getting cross-eyed, and getting feedback from some of my writer friends, which has only made my writing stronger. My experience as a fundraiser with all those grant deadlines has helped me recognize that these deadlines can really be lifelines—helping me get off my butt and away from the Internet and TV, and helping me get to writing.

So if you need to figure out how to give yourself more time to write, give yourself some deadlines. Better yet, to make sure you won’t just keep changing the deadlines to accommodate the rest of your life—which I often do when I set my own deadlines—commit to meeting a deadline for a writing contest, a fellowship program, workshop, or a writing group. This means making your intention to write public, and committing to someone other than yourself to give your writing to them to read. This is a good thing, although it can be scary at first.

This is how deadlines can really be lifelines—because they give life to our writerly intentions, cut through procrastination, force us to focus, and help us realize our own goals. And then, when you’re done with all your deadlines (as I will be by next Tuesday), you can kick back and take a little vacation from writing—and watch all the DVDs or read all the trashy novels you want—until the next deadline comes along.





Riding the Wave (or, Glad to Not Have Writer’s Block Right Now)

20 01 2010

There are rare moments for me as a writer (and for many writers, from what I’ve heard/read), when your writing flows more smoothly than usual, when you can’t wait to sit down and start your hands moving, when you feel like writing is one of those things you will never stop doing. You actually enjoy the writing, even when it’s not coming out perfect–you enjoy the act in and of itself.

I feel fortunate to be having that feeling right now–yesterday and today. And good thing too, because I’m on deadline–actually, two deadlines–right now. I’m trying to finish up the application essays and my manuscript submissions for the Macondo Workshop, Sandra Cisnero’s annual writers’ workshop, and Blue Mountain Center’s residency, which takes place at a beautiful retreat house in the Adirondacks.

I’m not a particularly prolific writer–the combination of my often-annoying but sometimes useful perfectionism and my propensity towards distraction by work, house chores, my husband, whatever whatever, for hours on end being the cause–so I find these moments to be precious. I gotta milk them for all their worth. And obviously, when I have things I absolutely have to get done because of deadlines (I’ve tried to come up with less morbid, more positive terms, but ‘deadlines’ just works for me), it helps not to be blocked.

But is it the deadline that somehow breaks through my writer’s block? Or is it the fact that this blog and the other one that I started in the past week have helped me cut through some of my usual resistance to sitting down and typing? Who knows? I’m not going to question it, I’m just going to go with the flow and hope it takes me in the direction that I want to go.

And gets me to meet those deadlines!