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





VONA Reportback and the Real Work

28 06 2010

I was offline much of last week because I was at VONA, short for the Voices of our Nations writing workshop, at the University of San Francisco. I had the privilege and pleasure of being in an advanced fiction workshop with author and all-around-cool dude Mat Johnson, who wrote Hunting in Harlem and the graphic novel Incognegro, among several other books.

Despite the tough-looking photo on the home page of his web site, Mat was a generous and encouraging teacher. He gave lots of critical feedback too, don’t get me wrong, but what’s a writing workshop if someone doesn’t slice and dice your work? His case-study lectures on structure were especially helpful to me, and I made a note to myself that when I get stuck on a story, when it’s basically at the stage where I feel like I can’t do anything with it anymore, I should do what Mat did with our stories / novels-in-progress in class and figure out two things: 1) What’s this story about? and 2) What’s actually happening? We made scene ‘maps’ to identify what’s actually on the page (versus what we are ‘trying’ to write), which was extremely useful to all of us. It was also good to work with a writer (and especially a father) who has children and realize that it is possible to have a career and a family at the same time.

And Mat left me with a healthy dose of much-needed inspiration when he said to me a few times, “I can’t wait to see your short story collection. That’s a book I want to read.” (I recently found out that I didn’t make the cut for the Hyphen short story contest, although a friend and fellow VONA alum won the grand prize, Sunil Yapa. So while I’m happy for Sunil, I was a bit bummed.) But there’s no better anecdote for rejection blues than having an accomplished writer I admire telling me they expect more from me. Makes me want to get my butt in the chair and start writing! The same thing happened when I met Bino Realuyo for breakfast a few years ago in New York City and he told me, somewhat gravely, at the end of our conversation, “The next time I see you, I want to see your book.”

The Student and the Teacher: Me and Mat Johnson at VONA



And of course, the other magic at VONA is being around 60+ other writers of color from all over the country who are all dedicated to crafting their work and making it as good as it can be. I made new friends, as always, and got to reconnect with old writing buddies, and got terrific feedback on the short story I’m working on.



Me and Emily Yamauchi, a super-talented writer and new buddy



The view from the campus is pretty gorgeous, too.

View from Lone Mountain Campus, where VONA workshops take place

Been feeling a bit of post-VONA withdrawal these last couple days, which since this is my fourth time doing the workshop, I know is normal. And now the real work begins. I’ve set aside most of this week to write, and to hopefully put into practice all the brilliant advice Mat and my fellow writers gave me this week. Butt in chair. Write. Read. Write. Read. Write. Avoid Facebook and Twitter as much as possible. That’s my goal for this week. Wish me luck.





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.





Writing Workshops Comin’ Up

5 05 2010

Despite the fact that I have so little time to write creatively right now because of work overload (but hey, I gotta make my money somehow!), I have to find some time to work on the manuscripts I need to turn in soon for VONA. I just found out that I got into the Advanced Fiction workshop with Mat Johnson, but didn’t hear back about Week Two, for which I applied to Chris Abani’s workshop as my first choice and Tananarive Due’s workshop as my second choice. (Incidentally, I just finished Due’s modern-day vampire novel My Soul to Keep. I already turned in my manuscript for the Macondo workshop on revision that I’m signed up for with Carla Trujillo, who was one of my professors at Cal long, long ago when I was just an idealistic youngster.

I’m looking forward to having two, if not three weeks’ worth of ‘writing time’ to hang out with my literary buddies, talk about writing, critique each others’ work and generally cavort about town and have fun. I’ve never been to San Antonio either (or Texas at all for that matter) so I’m looking forward to doing a lil’ traveling this summer.

Keeping my fingers crossed that I get into a VONA Week Two workshop…wish me luck!





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.





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!