Dear 2019: You were one year full of surprises, plenty of rejections, and two much needed, last minute acceptances

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Dear 2019,

What a difficult year you have been with unexpected challenges, surprising scares (that thankfully turned out to be nothing more), and seemingly endless rejections. You held out until the very end to sneak in two amazing acceptances. How could I have anticipated that 2020 and the new decade would kick off with the honor and opportunity to be  a Bainbridge Resident with Seventh Wave and an early summer stint at the Wellspring House Retreat in Massachusetts? But you knew, didn’t you? Oh what a trickster, year you have played.

2019, your lessons were many, some more difficult than others, but I’m grateful to you for once again proving that persistence, commitment to the craft, and being real to my own authentic voice can keep me moving forward, keep my writing growing, and the stories flowing. Thanks for strengthening the will and renewing my faith.

Yours truly,

R

P.S. Here’s to 2020 and new beginnings:

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Presenting at Hedgebrook Bridging One Day Retreat for Women Writers

Bridging: A One-Day Writing Retreat

With Keynote Speaker Karen Joy Fowler
At Saint Mary’s College of California

 

Logo: In Collaboration with Hedgebrook

Hedgebrook and SMC MFA in Creative Writing are collaborating to present a one-day writing retreat for women.

Date: Saturday, June 10, 2017

Time: 8:00 am – 9:00 pm
Retreat Schedule

Location:
Saint Mary’s College of California
1928 Saint Mary’s Road
Moraga, CA 94575

I’m honored to be facilitating a writing workshop on applying for residencies and fellowships at this year’s Hedgebrook Bridging One Day Retreat for women, taking place Saturday, June 10, 8am-9pm, in collaboration and hosted at Saint Mary’s College of California, MFA Creative Writing Program, with Karen Joy Fowler as keynote speaker. I’ll be presenting alongside literary luminaries: Raina León (poetry), Angie Powers (fiction), and Jill Kolongowski (non-fiction)
Partial scholarships are available, and the fee is reasonably priced ($130), including three meals and happy hour. Please consider saving the date and spreading the word to fellow women writers. You can find more details here.
Also, if you haven’t had a chance, please peep out my latest story, “The Expectant” included in Kartika Review, Issue #17 alongside an interview with Vanessa Hua.

Final Prep for Panel Talk, Life After The MFA on November 20, 2:35-3:35pm, Hagerty Lounge —

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Life After the MFA: Four authors discuss life after the MFA and cover topics such as agents, teaching, the PhD, a Fulbright, and writing residencies.

Here’s the skinny on what I’ll be covering.

Why a residency or fellowship?

  • In grad school I learned the definition of revision but only after grad school did I really learn what revision felt like, and during each residency I got eyeball deep in revision so I know what it smells and tastes like and what it means to be swimming in it. It takes years of uncertainty. Years of reading great works and years of learning how to read your own so that the project can tell you what it needs.
  • Residencies allow yourself to quiet the mind, settle the body, roll up the sleeves and be immersed in the world of the work.

Background & History of MacDowell 

  • MacDowell is the oldest in the nation, 1901, a composer I met there called it the cultural and artistic matrix of not just US but international artists and creators
  • There are approximately thirty fellows in residency in any given time, including video artists, sculptors, writers, playwrights, etc. Some of the recent notable fellows ach room has a set of boards, called headstones, where past fellows inscribe their name and the date of their stay, some of the greatest, though by no means not all include: ZZ Packer, Michael Chabon, Tillie Olsen, Richard Yates, R. Zamora Linmark (two fellowships at Mansfield!) Jean Valentine, Tayari Jones, Mary Jo Salter, Susan Steinberg, Lysley Tenorio, and Julie Orringer.
  • Each fellow gets a cabin with a fireplace, about a five to fifteen minute walk from the dormitories where most writers stay and you share a bathroom in the dorm.
  • Fellows eat together for breakfast and dinner in the main lodge. Lunch baskets are delivered  to each cabin and the food is obscenely good.
  • Fellows share their work every other night after dinner.
  • There’s always a library and generally limited phone and internet access.
  • January in New Hampshire was like Moscow.

Hawthornden Background & History

  • International Retreat for Writers started by Drue Heinz of the condiment empire, before that the castle was owned by poet and historian Sir John Drummond who was friend’s with Samuel Johnson and even had Dorothy and William Wordsworth stay there.
  • 45 minutes outside of Edinburgh in a very rural and beautiful corner of southern Scotland.
  • Working castle, rooms are varied, shared bathroom, spiral staircase, freezing even in June, runs from September to June one month, six writers, meet for breakfast and dinner with a personal chef who made baked ham and sticky toffee pudding that had us in tears of joy.
  • Library and castle grounds to walk.
  • All sorts of magical animal encounters- kestrels, peregrines, badgers feeding on the lawn at dusk along with bats. Evening sightings of stags, and fawn. A bat flew into the drawing room, where met every evening for pre-cordial, sherry, all the poets wrote about their bat and stag encounters, and the fiction writers were generally chained to the universe of the project, could barely take time out to write about the landscape and experience because you’re taking time out. Had never been so jealous of poets
  • One of the many traditions practiced at the Colony is for fellows to give presentations of their work, whether it be a reading or an open studio, you’re encouraged to share your artistic endeavors. The idea wasn’t that appealing, really, until a fellow explained that its best to present earlier rather than later during residency so that other fellows will have much needed context in terms of why you’re here and what you’re doing. This context cements a substantive foundation to conversations at dinner, breakfast, random encounters on the hallway or on the way to the studio. The whole purpose of the colony is not just for individual, solitary work but to be a part of the community, and being a part of a community means sharing.

 

APPLYING

  • Maintain contact with professors from graduate school since they are the community who will support you through this creative journey, and be sure to make the recommendation letter process as easy as possible by giving at least two months advance notice with all the supplies already stamped and addressed, ready to post. Keep a short sample, CV, and statement handy if they request it to refresh their memory about you and your work.
  • 344 Questions: The Creative Person's Do-It-Yourself Guide to Insight, Survival, and Artistic FulfillmentKeep refining both your artist statement/letter of intent and the writing sample. These are the two legs you’ll stand on when you face the faceless committee. Keep a list of questions and journal freewrites in response to keep the artist statement/letter of intent urgent and relevant. It should change as you evolve as a writer. I love this little gem of a book 344 Questions?: The Creative Person’s Do-It Yourself Guide to Insight, Survival, and Finding Artistic Fulfillment which I crack open every now and again just to exercise and play with portrayals of self. These musings come handy when piecing together and updating the artist statement.
  • Literature Summary Description (MacDowell Colony)

In two to five words, please describe the work you are proposing to do at the Colony. You will have an opportunity to describe the project in greater detail in the next step of the application. Examples: memoir, historical novel, short fiction, prose poetry.

In the space below, please provide a detailed description of the project you intend to work on at the Colony. If you have already begun the project, tell us where you are in the work process and what you hope to accomplish with your residency. The text field is limited to 2,500 characters including spaces.

  • Intended Project (MacDowell Colony)

Please provide a brief synopsis of the creative work you propose to write if offered a Residential Fellowship at Hawthornden. This may be work already in progress or work still in its infancy. You should be sure to mention any necessary research that you may need to undertake while in residence. Please limit your description to this sheet only.

What to Bring

What to Bring

  • SPACE- All your favorite creature comforts: chai tea, scented candles, warm socks, an eye mask, if you have trouble sleeping in strange places, blank pads of paper and post-its, permanent markers, push pins, chocolate, nice stationary and stamps to write to loved ones, a wall calendar to keep on task, a hard drive to back up regularly, a pocketknife, and gin, lots of gin or your personal choice of poison because you deserve it after a long day’s worth of reading and writing.

Wrapping Up

  • Renewing vows to writing.
  • Relearning what it means to read.

Save the Date: “Life After the MFA Panel” @ SMC 11/20/13

Interested in writing fellowships and residencies? Yours truly has been booked in advance to talk about recent fellowships at The MacDowell Colony and the International Retreat for Writers at Hawthornden Castle in Scotland UK for Saint Mary’s College of California’s MFA Creative Writing Program Panel: “Life After the MFA” Wednesday, 20 November, 2:35pm, location on campus TBA.

Hope to see you there!

1928 Saint Mary’s Road, Moraga, CA 94556 (925) 631-4000

Post-Residency: Was It All A Dream?

A GravestoneIf New Hamspshire were a lover, she would be bitter at times and take to teasing her admirers. One day, her sky is scintillating, crystal clear, the air crisp as an autumn leaf, but she will turn on you the following afternoon. Storm clouds troop across what used to be a dome of limitless color, and the woods that shivered bright in all shades of brown and black turn somber in a heavy veil of mist. The contrast chills the senses. Sheer blinding light reflected from the snowfall seems as if it could stretch for infinite infinities is cut short by startling stone grays and blues from rocks defying the snow, and the endless trees that turn darker the whiter the landscape gets. The white tries to blanket every surface, and there is no escaping it except to take cover indoors then, before anyone knows it, the ice melts, the sound of rushing water surrounds, you, as if the whole world will slip into a steady stream.

In this setting, I renewed my commitment to writing, vows sanctified by fellow colonists, board members, and the gentle and caring staff of MacDowell. Being at the colony is a recognition of faithful commitment, acknowledged by a historic institution, sanctioned by a tradition, a national and international culture that carries the  legacy of what art is, what it could be, and what it has meant since 1907.

This place serves something like a training camp for creative types turned athletes. Here we learn the loneliness of longPeterborough Town Library distance running or how to build stamina for short fevered bursts of process and creative output. In the utter silence of our studio, we test the elasticity of our strengths, learn our weaknesses, and strategize how to tone our creative muscles, so we can re-enter the other world, the world of earning paychecks and paying rent or mortgages, which is someone else’s fantasy we’re obliged to participate in from time to time, but not while at MacDowell.

An hour feels like three in our studios. It’s amazing how much work you get done when you sit down to it, and let your mind settle with the tasks in front of you. There is this idea of being social and creative, and the two are sometimes mutually exclusive, and sometimes they go hand in hand. You learn the dance of both at MacDowell.

in case of emergency break iceAside from missing my MacDowell family, comprised of composers, architects, a martini-making photographer, a dancing upholsterer, ping-pong playing poets, novelists, playwrights, filmmakers, and interdisciplinary practitioners, if there is anything I could wish for is a residency solely for reading. To sit with a book and immerse in words is also an art, which takes discipline and practice. Of course, a residency dedicated solely to reading may be asking for too much, as if MacDowell doesn’t spoil one enough.

What I’ve learned & accomplished @ MacDowell include some of the following though it will take a while to fully digest the experience:

  • Revised 250 pages of the novel.
  • In revision, imagine each word costs $5. Figure out how much you can take away from and still have the essence of the story intact. Think Minimalism.
  • Do not dance with long johns on.
  • You will over-eat.
  • Life is not about looking for answers, but seeking big and meaningful questions for the chase of a lifetime.
  • Spotted, deer, one bushy white-stomached squirrel, two crows, flocks of turkey, which are bigger and blacker than the California ones.
  • Met my family from Maine and am amazed and inspired by their love.
  • Survived 7° weather + snow + 50mph wind.
  • Snow plows make me think of Москва.
  • There are no Targets in the UK.
  • A folly is a nineteenth century typology for landscape with no functional purpose.
  • Never fly United. Never.
  • I miss my MacDowell family and dearly hope to reconnect in person soon.
  • Thank god for Facebook, really!
  • If you’re deep and close enough to the projekt, it will tell you what needs to be done and instruct you how to proceed.

For safe-keeping in planning the next residency, which is just around the corner, here’s a list of what to bring for next time:

  1. blank pads of paper and post-its
  2. permanent markers
  3. push pins
  4. chocolate
  5. chai tea
  6. nice stationary
  7. wall calendar
  8. scissors, tape, and other small travel office supplies (check out Muji)
  9. scented candles
  10. gin
  11. beer
  12. extra batteries
  13. extra plug for mobile phone and Kindle
  14. lighter and/or matches
  15. hard disk
  16. good hand lotion
  17. pocketknife

Thank you MacDowell for a dream come true! Here’s hoping for a return visit soon.