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!


7 05 2010

Being a writer can be damned lonely. Maybe I’m feeling this way right now in particular because I just found out that one of my ‘Uncles’ (a family friend that I grew up with as a little girl) just passed away yesterday, and that his funeral is tomorrow, and I got the message about it on my cell phone voicemail. And that I’m sitting here alone, and feeling sad and isolated from my family (whom I have a very difficult relationship with), and wishing on some level that things were different.

And then, I thought, let me write about this. Because writing is the one thing I can do when I’m feeling lonely that sometimes—not always—but sometimes, makes me feel a little less so.

Which is ironic, because writing is a very lonely act. I think that’s why when we get together with each other—especially when we find a group of writers we like and vibe with—it’s like we can’t get enough of each other. That’s what happened a couple weeks ago after the reading I did with a few other writing buddies from last year’s VONA workshop for writers of color. Five of us read at a local cafe to a small but attentive audience, and then we proceeded to head out to a nearby restaurant/bar to hang out, eat, talk writing, laugh a ton, and just be.

It felt good, warm and right to be there with them. We don’t hang out all the time—I hadn’t seen one of them in almost a year—but we share a bond as writers that I don’t find with other people, even other artists. And these moments of connection with other writers can do a lot to assuage the intense loneliess I sometimes feel when it’s just me, here, at my laptop, at home alone or even in a cafe surrounded by a sea of strangers, typing away, trying to articulate something that dwells deep inside my psyche—and sometimes succeeding, oftentimes failing.

I think this loneliness factor—that the act of writing by its very nature is a solitary act—is what spooks a lot of people about writing. I was at my dentist earlier today getting my teeth cleaned, and talking about my writing and other work, and he said, “Well, it’s a gift, isn’t it? Not a lot of people can write.” I wanted to say, “Well, they can, it’s just that they choose not to.” But I decided to just nod and let him stick metal instruments into my mouth.

Sometimes—I would say maybe 30% of the time—the loneliness and the solitary nature of writing doesn’t bother me. At these times, in fact, I enjoy it. The loneliness becomes a blanket of serenity, giving me the quiet stillness that allows me to really listen to my mind, to let the images in my head flow out of me, to allow my consciousness to pick up on the subtleties of language and meaning that otherwise get drowned out by the quotidian distractions of modern life. At these times I guess I’m able to transform or distill the loneliness into concentration—and the result is often decent, if not good, writing, and a full feeling of satisfaction which motivates me, ultimately, to keep writing during those times when the loneliness just feels shitty and well, lonely.

But right now, I’m remembering Uncle Tito, and allowing the loneliness to wash through me, and letting it work for me by writing about it here. And maybe you, a writer yourself or an aspiring writer or just someone who likes to read about writers, will feel a little less lonely because you’re reading this.

Or maybe not, and that’s all right too.

Reading on April 24 in Oakland

17 04 2010

I’ve been so busy with consulting work that I’ve neglected to promote this reading I’m doing next Saturday, April 24 at 7pm at Woody’s Cafe in Oakland, not far from my house. I’ll be reading with fellow alums of the VONA 2009 fiction workshop with Junot Diaz. The other folks who will be reading their work are Gessy Alvarez, Alison Cross, Miguel Jimenez and Roopa Ramamoorthi. Not sure yet what I’m going to read, but I promise I’ll entertain you. Should be a fun time, so stop by.

Seven-Day Challenge: Write a Story Each Day

9 03 2010

Ok, time to get serious now, folks. Time to stop frakkin’ around and spending my writing time blabbering in my journal or waxing philosophical about books or the careers of other writers. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that, but my fiction writing is never going to get done if I never, well, DO IT. Nike’s right, and so are all the writing teachers and buddies I’ve ever had who would keep encouraging me to ‘just write’. Because reading about writing or talking about writing can never replace the most important act of a writer—to write!

So I’m giving myself a personal kick-in-the-butt challenge, and I’m making this a public commitment to you so that I will (hopefully) follow through on it. It’s one of the reasons I started this blog, to hold myself accountable to something larger than myself, even just symbolically, so that I wouldn’t backslide into unproductive patterns of not-writing or (even worse) coming down on myself for not writing. This blog’s purpose is to keep me writing, and to keep you posted on my writing life in order to connect with you, but also to keep me motivated to keep going. Writing can be such a solitary and lonely practice, and I need all the help and support I can get.

Ok, so here’s the challenge—partially inspired by the challenge I put out to my friends on Facebook not long ago, to write a short short story in their status updates, which I’m glad to say several friends did—I am going to write a short story of any length (and I mean any length—like if I can tell the story in five words then it’s all good!), one per day, for the next seven days. I will start with today (Tuesday, March 9, 2010) and end next Monday (March 15, 2010). The purpose of this kick-start exercise is two-fold: one, to get me back into the practice of writing; and two, to help me hone my storytelling skills so that I can finish some of the fiction pieces I’ve been working on and get them out into the world. This challenge is also partially inspired by a workshop with Ana Menendez that I wish I could take at the Centrum Writers’ Conference in lovely Port Townsend. Ana’s workshop is going to do what she calls a “Van Gogh Story Marathon” and write a story a day, with the knowledge that even a master of craft like Van Gogh started out with terrible paintings, and through practice, practice and more practice, was able to improve and become one of the most celebrated artists of all time.

Unfortunately, as much as I love Port Townsend, where I spent a fair amount of time last year during my Windcall retreat, I don’t think I’ll have the funds to make it to the conference this year. So this seven-day challenge will be my own homegrown version of Ms. Menendez’ marathon. The stories all need to have a beginning, middle and an end, and I’ll be focusing on completing a narrative arc, as small as it may be, in each piece. They don’t have to be perfect or even that good (and most often will not be). The point is to write something, finish it, and post for public consumption.

I will post my first story by the end of the day, and would love any and all feedback on it once I do. Wish me luck! And if you’re so inspired and need a kick-in-the-pants exercise like this to get your writing going, please feel free to join me in my challenge. Write away!

Favorite Writers: James Baldwin

28 02 2010

This is the first in a series of posts that I will write occasionally—when I can’t think of writing anything else—about some of my favorite writers, my literary influences I guess you could say. The first on this list—though by no means my ultimate favorite writer, as it seems impossible to me to have only one favorite writer—is James Baldwin, since I will be leading an online discussion of his first novel, Go Tell it on the Mountain, as part of a Goodreads group I started called Literary Fiction by People of Color.

Strangely enough, considering how many Ethnic Studies classes I took in college, I have just recently discovered James Baldwin as a writer. The first time I read his work was when I bought a copy of Notes from a Native Son many years ago. It’s Baldwin’s first collection of non-fiction essays, titled in response to Richard Wright’s novel, ‘Native Son’, one of the seminal texts of the Harlem Renaissance and of African-American literature overall. I have to say, I didn’t take to Baldwin’s non-fiction very readily. Perhaps it seemed too dated to me at the time, although now when I go back and read it I can see how we can still draw lessons from it even today.

So I left Baldwin alone for a long time after that, convinced that he was one of those ‘great writers’ that I just didn’t like. It wasn’t until Chris Abani recommended I read ‘Giovanni’s Room’, Baldwin’s second novel, while I was in workshop with him at VONA a few years ago that I gave Baldwin another try. I loved Giovanni’s Room, and learned a lot from it about writing. It’s a perfect gem of a book, and Baldwin was only 32 when it was published, and already a literary sensation.

I’ve always identified with writers who pushed the envelope of what was socially acceptable to write about at the time, and Baldwin is a shining example of a writer who challenged conventional values by writing gay or sexually ambivalent characters long before this was seen as socially acceptable, even in literary circles. (Some might say it’s still not very socially acceptable to do so, but all things are relative).

He also wrote about race and gender relations, with a stylistic subtlety and precision that I’d venture is yet to be matched. And not only did he write about controversial topics, but he did so with such elegance and technical control, with such compelling emotional weight that the controversial aspects of his work would, over time, seem to me almost background notes to his literary mastery. To narrowly categorize any writer as merely ‘Black’ or ‘Gay’ or ‘Female’ is often an act of ignorance, but to do so to a writer like Baldwin is almost a literary crime.

Feel free to join the Goodreads discussion if you’ve read the book before, or if you’re interested in reading more literary fiction by people of color. The group is 300+ members strong now, and reads a different book every month. Hope to see you there.

Well-Loved and Falling Apart

15 02 2010

books i've loved

Every once in a while, maybe a couple times a year, I get obsessed with organizing my books. Being a writer and a fairly avid reader, I of course have a lot of books, although I do a fair amount of purging when I organize them and, as I get older, find myself giving away or selling more books that I just know I’ll never read. Intellectual vanity becomes less and less important the older one gets, and there comes a point when one just has to admit to oneself that the fact that a book has sat on the shelf for a good five years without once being cracked open probably means it will never be read in that particular home, and should be passed on to someone else who might actually enjoy it. During today’s book-organizing round, the books I’ve decided to pass on include Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune, two books on anarchism, and redundant copies of books by Audre Lorde and James Baldwin.

On the other hand, there are books that I’ve read so much, that are so well-loved that I kept them despite the fact that they were probably not in great shape when I first got them (or ‘liberated’ them from my school library, as it were), and that then deteriorated even more in the years since. I thought it would be interesting to pull these books out off of my shelves to see what they were, and also to remind me to replace them someday with more handle-able, less torn and thumbed-through versions. As I wrote about in an earlier, also provocatively-titled post, the condition of the books I read has been only a recent consideration for me. It’s partially because I’m getting older and having the means to consider buying newer, perhaps hardcover versions of books I love, and also that I have realized that I may actually want to leave these books for my future children or other loved ones (or just Posterity), but I’ve actually been wondering if I should replace these very well-loved, well-read and falling-apart books.

Now, there’s something to be said in my mind about keeping these books—torn and tattered and often coverless though they are—the way some people keep old teddy bears or other childhood toys even though they’re not so pretty anymore. The love shows on these shabby but sentimentally important objects, I guess you could say, and in a world where new seems to be better, this means something to me. So I haven’t decided whether to chuck / recycle these old books, or to keep them in some storage unit in my apartment, like a literary time capsule, so that I can pull them out someday and see just what were some of the books that had such a huge influence on me.

It’s interesting to see what these titles are, as well, for they do say something about my literary interests. The oldest raggedy book is a paperback copy of the first volume of the classic compendium The Greek Myths, by British poet, scholar and novelist Robert Graves. It was also likely the first book I ever stole from a library—specifically, when I was in fourth or fifth grade. Greek mythology, as anyone knows, is a veritable soap opera-like collection of stories filled with enough kinky sex, barbaric violence and political intrigue to make our modern-day television shows and so-called avant garde books look mild in comparison. I mean, the Greek goddess Athena was supposedly birthed, fully-armed, from her father Zeus’ head after he ATE her mother Metis because he wanted to literally swallow her intelligence! The little girl Rona thought this was all fascinating, and was thrilled to find that such scandalous literature was not only freely available but also encouraged. My grammar school teachers were equally thrilled that I was so interested in classical Greek mythology.

The second of my tattered texts is by another British writer, George Orwell, the dystopic classic 1984. This book blew my mind too, and I’m pretty sure I also stole this one from my school library, now that I look at it and see the ‘Good Shepherd School’ stamp on the inside cover. Orwell has influenced my writing in that I am often drawn to writing futuristic work that may not be dystopic all the time, but that definitely has dystopic elements.

Two of my other well-loved, well-worn books are by women, and will likely get replaced, although my current copy of The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which is a revisioning of the King Arthur legend, has a lot of sentimental value to me as it was a gift. And The Heart is the Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, was another library liberation. What a bad girl I was—geeky, but bad.

Do you have any books that you’ve loved and read so much that they are falling apart? What are they, and where / when did you get them?