Counting the days until March 15 when new short fiction by yours truly will be featured in Kartika Review, Issue #17, Spring 2017, including work from Anthony Tao, Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan, Seo-Young Chu, Kimarlee Nguyen, and other great writers. Coming soon!
Most days I feel like a mess, other days I know I’m an educator, a wife, a mom, a hiker, a home cook and gardener, but I love the days when I can call myself a “Writer” and thanks to Melissa Sipin, I got a chance to escape the imposter syndrome and discuss some of my greatest loves and life’s passions. Professor Jee Yoon Lee, who teaches at the Georgetown University Writing Program, has created an incredibly comprehensive website featuring Asian/American writers and artists with “Writing Like An Asian.” The scope is astonishingly wide and the interviews are deep, such as Q&A’s with Sipin, Barbara Jane Reyes, Marianne Villaneuva, David Mura, and the list goes on and on.
Here’s a taste:
Every word I write is summoned by my mixed race heritage, and the hundreds if not thousands of miles my grandparents traveled from the Philippines and from Mexico to make a life for them selves and for our family here in the States. I feel in some sense I am re-telling the same story, the origin of our mixed ancestry. How opposing forces from different parts of the world came together to make new.
As the semester winds down, as the grades are slowly being tallied, and, hopefully, soon to be posted, yours truly now has a chance to return to the research for an upcoming conference. I’ll be presenting come mid-June at the 19th Annual UK’s Great Writing International Creative Writing Conference hosted at Imperial College, London, where I’ll continue work on multiculturalism and creative writing. Two years ago, I presented on the global imagination focusing on Kiran Desai’s Inheritance of Loss. That paper has lead me to riff off of Junot Diaz’s “MFA vs. POC” (Dismantle:An Anthology of Writing from the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop 2014), inspiring the below paper title and proposal:
Craft is Culture: Writing & Reading A Global Imagination
“In my workshop we never explored our racial identities or how they impacted our writing—at all. Never got any kind of instruction in that area—at all…” Junot Diaz states in his “MFA vs. POC” (New Yorker, 2014) thereby igniting an urgent conversation about diversity in the literary arts. For historically marginalized artists, creative writing begins and ends with perilous tension. If we write and read from this premise, we are primed and prepared for the necessary conflict to fuel our art. How do we engage and interrogate craft to help us explore our understandings of identity and politics, and, conversely, how do we test notions of identity and politics to enrich and deepen our craft? Recognizing that craft is culture and that tension drives all creative writing, this presentation explores reading and writing practices to incite a global cultural imagination that ultimately pinpoints intersections where truth meets art.
Some of the core texts (though by no means not all) informing and inspiring this paper are:
Other authors I’ve been madly copying notes from are depicted above. From my research and brainstorming for the paper presentation, I’ve also crafted a creative writing class proposal that has been accepted as one of Saint Mary’s College’s 2017 January Term courses. More on this to come!
I’m also hoping to organize for either Fall 2016 or Spring 2017 a panel discussion with writers of color who focus on craft and culture in their work, and I would love to start an anthology series as well as run an annual conference, possibly even a writing retreat on the topic. There is so much to be done. This is only the beginning.
Huzzah! An homage to Calvino, my first real stab at short short fiction, “The Rift” earned finalist recognition for The Center for Women Writers International Reynolds Price Short Fiction Award and is now included on Puerto del Sol’s first digital issue Vol 51.1.
Please check out “The Rift” here and share the love with your favorite readers. Thanks always for your support.
With new work soon to be featured in BorderSenses, the literary review will be kicking off the release of the upcoming issue on Tues, November 3 at the Black Orchid Lounge (6127 N Mesa St #A) at 8pm.
The event is in concert with the Barbed Wire Open Mic Series, and BorderSenses will be featured. Though yours truly will not be able to attend, for all those in the area please check it out and spread the word. Mark the calendars and plan for a celebration of great writing!
(Jaipur Literary Festival, 2014, Panel session on the Global Novel with Jhumpa Lahiri, Jonathan Franzen, Jim Crace, Maaza Mengiste, Xioaolu Guo moderated by Chandrahas Chaudhry. Presented by British Council).
Returning home after a three-week trip, presenting at academic conferences and checking out the sights and sounds of Oxford, UK, Lisbon, Portugal, and its environs, yours truly came back to a warm welcome from writer Barbara Jane Reyes, inviting yours truly on a Virtual Blog Tour (see her original post on the virtual blog tour here), which is defined by Vince Gotera below (borrowed from BJR’s post):
The “virtual blog tour” is an excellent, friendly way for writers, artists, and other creative folks to bring attention to their own work as well as that of others. It begins with an invitation from another artist or writer. Then in your blog you acknowledge the person who invited you, answer four given questions about your work and your process, and then invite three other people to participate. These people then do the same thing, referring their blog readers to the blogs of three more people, and so on. It’s a wonderful sort of “pyramid scheme” that’s beneficial for everyone: the artists and writers as well as the readers of their blogs. We can follow links from blog to blog and then we can all learn about different kinds of creative process and also find new writers and artists we may not have known about before.
In case you didn’t know, Barbara was and still is to this day my Virgil to the Bay Area. When I became a NorCal transplant from the City of Angels, it was Barbara who plugged me into the writing community, Barbara who introduced me to PAWA Inc, which if you haven’t checked out, you really should, and Barbara who continues to blaze the trail that I’m panting to keep up with. So hats off to BJR, who continues to inspire and provoke imagination, intellect, and engagement. Barbara’s work is fierce both on the page and as a leader in the literary/arts community. She pushes the boundaries of word and meaning while drawing the reader into urgent intimacy. See for yourself.
I was never a Santacruzan queen To witness, to make way,
Black eyeliner, push up bra Our thirst and our wedding bands —
I was never a curtsying debutante To fill stone jars with water, to wed,
Loud, gum-smacking babygirl Our glamour and our armor.
I was never a tiaraed Miss Fil Am To transfigure, dazzling as the sun.
Source: Poetry (May 2014).
I love how she plays with form in the poem above, and the contrast in imagery that bumps up against one another like tectonic plates, shaking our world as we know it. Her work is simultaneously both present, in and of the moment, anchored to a particular time and region, and also timeless, stretching across centuries and continents. Please do yourself a favor and read more of Barbara Jane Reyes’ brilliant work.
A manuskript about Filipino Overseas Workers also known as OFWs or what I’m calling our 21st century troubadours.
Recently presented two papers on the craft of writing the global novel/fiction (see video above) or inciting a global imagination, which I’d like to pursue further, exploring how writers tackle through craft transnationalism, identity, and politics on a global scale.
Researching Portuguese & Spanish explorers for another projekt.
Hoping soon to do more research on transculturation during Elizabethan times.
2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I’m very much interested in this idea of the global novel or world literature (again, see above video), which I riffed on at this summer’s conferences. From the papers I presented, one of which is titled “Then the World Widened: Daring Creative Writing Students to be Cartographers of the Global Imagination” below is an excerpt, which to my own surprise pretty much sums up what I’m fixing to do with my literary pursuits:
The global novel shuttles across language borders, geographical and political boundaries, and historical epochs. Writers who take on the task of using the globe as setting and world history as backdrop are today’s cosmographers, aiming to chart where we have come from as a global society and where we may be heading. In the quest to map the core and periphery or the Global North and the Global South, these writers reveal where and how ethnic, economic, gender, political, spiritual and other divisions intersect, contradict, or complement one another. Global novelists incite what Viktor Shklovsky calls “a world-awareness”1. …For Shklovsky, art aims to reorganize or re-envision the world, and this world awareness reaches beyond sensation; more than seeing or feeling, it requires active participation, agency, and a deliberate problematizing of awareness. Art, in this sense, is purely experiential, it is the inciting of awareness or inciting a global imagination for the reader to construct meaning and participate in the storying process.
3. Why do you write/create what you do?
Its the best and only way I know how to live.
4. How does your writing/creating process work?
I try to read, watch, and eavesdrop as widely and attentively as possible and am inspired by labour and geography. For some reason, I can’t tear myself away from the idea that how we make a living, how we pay our rent/mortgage, feed our loved ones, and spend most of our waking hours is intrinsic to how we find meaning and place. Of course this can be devastatingly limiting and deterministic, but more often than not, I find that exploring how vocation & occupation shapes a person and therefore a world is completely astonishing.
And now onto my favorite part of the Virtual Blog Tour, introducing four–though its supposed to be three, but I’m following Barbara’s lead because these writers are the bees knees–four brilliant literary artists. Please peep out their work!
Raina J. León, Cave Canem graduate fellow (2006) and member of the Carolina African American Writers Collective, has been published in numerous journals as a writer of poetry, fiction and nonfiction. Her first collection of poetry, Canticle of Idols, was a finalist for both the Cave Canem First Book Poetry Prize (2005) and the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize (2006). Her second book, Boogeyman Dawn (2013, Salmon Poetry), was a finalist for the Naomi Long Madgett Prize (2010). She has received fellowships and residencies with Cave Canem, CantoMundo, Montana Artists Refuge, the Macdowell Colony, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, Vermont Studio Center, the Tyrone Guthrie Center in Annamaghkerrig, Ireland and Ragdale. She also is a founding editor of The Acentos Review, an online quarterly, international journal devoted to the promotion and publication of Latino and Latina arts. She is an assistant professor of education at Saint Mary’s College of California. http://rainaleon.blogspot.com/
Emily Breunig, from childhood onward, has lived and worked in all sorts of places, from California’s Central Valley to Texas to New England, China to Sweden to Southern California. She is fascinated with dislocation and the way that it impacts life in nearly every corner of our world–along with the tales people tell to make sense of it all. In her writing, she aspires to explore what this all means for individuals and their relationships with others as they struggle to find a community. She holds a BA from Yale University and an MFA from St. Mary’s College of California. Her first novel is represented by Levine Greenberg and short fiction is forthcoming in Pasiphae, from Valeveil Press. She lives in Silicon Valley. http://emilybreunig.squarespace.com/
Marianne Villanueva is a fiction writer who writes everything from opera librettos to short stories to novellas. Her work has been published in The Threepenny Review, ZYZZYVA, The Chattahoochee Review, J Journal, Juked, PANK, Word Riot, The Crab Orchard Review, and many other places. She is currently working on a collection of linked stories. Her blog is Kanlaon: http://anthropologist.wordpress.com/
Gregory Leadbetter’s pamphlet The Body in the Well was published by HappenStance in 2007. His book on Coleridge’s poetry, the transnatural and the dilemmas of creativity, Coleridge and the Daemonic Imagination (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) won the CCUE Book Prize 2012. He has written radio drama for the BBC, and was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in 2013. He is Reader in Literature and Creative Writing at Birmingham City University, where he leads the MA in Writing and the Institute of Creative and Critical Writing. www.gregoryleadbetter.blogspot.co.uk
2014 has already begun with some sweet honors. The second weekend of January not only included a visit from my cousin Evan Napala of the DC-based band Cigarette, who’s music you should give a listen to here. That Saturday, yours truly gave a quick and dirty Composition presentation at a faculty development workshop for Saint Mary’s College, and the weekend was wrapped up with a reading on Market Street in San Francisco at the Hazel Reading Series.
Set in a gallery where artists paint, run a printing press, and fashion clothes, a uniquely SF space that invites the city to joins in full force, The Hazel readers included the below, each invited by last reading’s previous writers, also listed.
Rashaan Alexis Meneses invited by Allison Landa Sarah Frisch invited by Miriam Bird Greenberg Mei Li Ooi Carolyn Cooke invited by Ahmunet Jessica Jordan Monique Wentzel invited by Lydia Fitzpatrick David
Hazelers are asked to introduce themselves and talk a bit about the piece they’ve chosen to read, which may be something they consider experimental.
Fiction writer and former Stegner fellow, Sarah Frisch posed a speculative piece also about giving birth but played with the idea that men do the deed while their women partners can only stand by and watch.
Mei Li Ooi was most inspiring with a performative piece utilizing the whole space at the front, assuming the role of each of her characters to capture both the audience by emphasizing tone, mood, and the urgency of her story.
Professor and Department Chair of Writing, Consciousness and Creative Inquiry in the MFA Programs at California Institute of Integral Studies, Carolyn Cooke grabbed our attention immediately with a story about San Franciscan insomniacs.
And last but certainly not least, current Stegner Fellow Monique Wentzel read a most intriguing short story about a hole that opened up in the south of U.S. endangering a whole town and all the living.
Each of the writers were phenomenal, and as the organizers had introduced at the beginning, organic themes and threads surfaced with each work. The audience was treated to surprising commonalities such as male protagonists and the theme of birth. The next Hazel Reading Series is 5-7pm, Sunday, February 9, 1154 Market. Its a true literary gem in the Bay Area. Many thanks to Erica Eller, Sara Marinelli, Shruti Swamy, and Mei Le Ooi.
This winter’s schedule might not include teaching classes but that doesn’t mean there’s plenty of homework and reading to do. At the start of 2014, along with the ongoing and maybe some new creative writing projects, the research question rattling this mind is can post-colonial discourse(s) inspire, challenge, and inform the craft of fiction writing? Pictured below are just some of the authors who may or may not light the path with a little Djuna Barnes thrown in for fun.
Forty five minutes outside of Edinburgh, tucked in a hidden pocket of Midlothian, sits a 15th century castle where I spent my June at the Hawthornden International Retreat for Writers. Not even the bus drivers knew of the castle. Kept a secret, deep in a Scottish glen, the ruins, renovated in Victorian-era, were tipped on a crag overlooking the River Esk, and here I continued my ongoing education of reading and writing for a summer month.
But the story doesn’t start here.
If we were to go all the way back, it would have opened two years ago when at a faculty gathering poet and friend Raina León prodded me to apply. Get thee to a writing residency was her imperative, and she clued me in on this gem of a fellowship with a low profile at Hawthornden Castle. Thank you, Raina.
This fellowship is sponsored and run by the great patronage of Drue Heinz of the Heinz company. Publisher of The Paris Review, she established the Drue Heinz Literature Prize and the Drue Heinz Lectures in Pennsylvania. Deepest gratitude goes to Ms. Heinz and her staff.
There is no magic I know of that got me to Scotland for a month of committed writing. Persistence and focus is what I brought to the table. Applications to these residencies are something like gearing up for grad school. Long and involved forms that demand you know who you are, letters of recc to prove you are who you say you are, and a writing sample that speaks to enough people on the committees that matter. I’ve been applying to residencies off and on since grad school, which means I’ve lived in hope for over six years. Let me say again, persistence and focus.
The plane trip from San Francisco to Edinburgh was another test of patience: ten hours trying to sleep upright, a three hour layover in Charles de Gaulle, where splurging on Lauderée French macaroons was worth every euro, and a final two hours that seemed like forever before touching down in Scotland.
The sun still had a good hour to set when I finally arrived around 10pm, which I would later learn was the badgering hour. Jet-lagged and frazzled, I met two of the writers who I would live with for the next four weeks, one of whom was an East Coaster turned Bay Area based. She happened to know many of my colleagues and writer friends back in California and thankfully made me feel that much closer to home despite being a continent and ocean away.
Born to John Drummond, the first laird at Hawthornden Castle, William Drummond (1585-1649) turned laird of the castle himself at 24 when his father died. A poet and historian, William Drummond read well and widely, tackling the History of Scotland during the Reigns of the Five Jameses as one of his many literary works. Over 400 years later, in his study, a room where he was known to pace between tackling quill to paper, I stared out the window that overlooked the gravel driveway, pulled my hair out rearranging scenes and crossing out swathes of paragraphs, and dragged myself to bed, willing myself to sleep at midnight even as the last sun rays still poked their way through the west-facing window.
On the first full day since my arrival, still adjusting to UK time, I woke at 5:30am to metallic squabbling and screeching of what I thought to be baby dinosaurs nesting right outside my western window. One bird would start up and then her siblings, would follow in discordant chorus. Almost every morning, afternoon, and early evening was graced with their shrill choir, and not only did I viscerally experience the scientific fact of how birds are cousin to pterodactyls and triceratops, but I understood how quickly and deeply I’d been thrust into nature. The castle was immersed in all things wondrous.
Evenings made the badgering hour when the lawn in front of the castle became a buffet table for a family of five hungry badgers. Stags, doe, and their fawns were frequently spotted on the road that led to the castle. Peregrines learned to fly just across the river, and we watched them from the castle garden at lunch time as they tested their wings. Spiders insisted rather persistently to claim the sinks and bathtubs as their resting spots. They were known to creep up cozy into our beds on more than one occasion.
I never knew I could be so jealous of poets.
These daily and nightly encounters with all things feathered, eight-legged, doe-eyed, antlered, and winged charged the poets, and they wrote with a sense of immediacy that doesn’t really jibe with long form fiction. One evening, a bat flew into the drawing room, circling over our heads for a good seven minutes. We tried to guide it out the window, but s/he seemed to enjoy our company more. Eventually, tiring of us, s/he took to an open casement and was gone. The next day, all three poets reported writing poems of our vespertine encounter. I hadn’t ever felt so keenly envious of poesie writers up until then. What I would have given to slip out of time for a day or two, to step away from my projekt and write in attendance to the here and now with such urgency? Fictions writers, particularly those noveling are stuck in another time zone and geography that rarely meshes with the present moment. We are caught in a loop of our own making.
We were there to write.
And we did. Everyday, at least six days a week, from eight in the morning to at least five in the evening. Oh, there were mid-day strolls along the castle grounds listening to the songbird soundtrack that ran from sun up to sun down, late afternoon jogs on the Old Railway to Dalkeith, and jaunts to Lasswade’s The Laird & Dog pub, which was the closest and easiest access to Wi-Fi. All sworn to an informal oath of silence while in the castle, Hawthornden’s motto was “Requiescat in Pace,” and from nine in the morning to six in the evening, we maintained relative quiet, so all writers could work in peace and decent ease.
With no internet access, limited mobile service, and a vow to abstain from talking, the task of writing wasn’t necessarily easier but the setting secured focus and commitment to both the projekt at hand and the vital art in which all writing thrives, the act of reading. In a recent Guardian article “publicising a novel – the problems,” (Thursday 25 July 2013) Anakana Scholfield speaks to an issue close to this heart:
…why is there so much fuss in the media about how to write a novel – “everyone can become an author” – when the more important thing is how to read one?
There seems to have been a shift from a reading culture to a writing culture, a diminishment of critical space for the contemplation of literature. Writing needs to be discussed and interrogated through reading. If you wish to write well, you need to read well, or at least widely. You certainly need to contemplate reading a book in translation, unlikely to be widely reviewed in newspapers, many of which are too busy wasting space on “how to write” tips and asking about an author’s personal fripperies. It’s a great deal more fulfilling to read and think about a fine book than to attempt to write one.
Six years into the projekt, reading is the through line that keeps this writer grounded as the shape and meaning of the story collapses, condenses, and often over complicates itself, constantly morphing like land shifting under volatile forces. To write is to read. There’s no way around it. But how to keep up the art? How to maintain the necessary strength and focus for such a vital skill? You’d think that as one grows older, reading would become easier, but it doesn’t. Its just as much of a challenge as it ever was. Technology and the ten million distractions aren’t just to blame. The old adage the more I learn, the less I know seems to confound the reading eye. The mind skitters, won’t settle but jumps with expectations, preconceived notions, rather than sitting with words, images, sentences. Slowing down to savor syllables seems a fleeting wish. The reading mind must be taught and re-taught, and taught again. Its a muscle that can easily atrophy.
Reading at Hawthornden was s-l-o-w. As it should be.
Decades into becoming a “professional” reader, its hard to come to literature with an open mind. The more one reads, the more layered the lenses the reading eye gains and cannot shake away. So we must learn to read through prisms, knowing these prisms can be switched, combined, simplified, or complicated.
Prismatic. Requiring constant practice. The conjoined arts of reading and writing remained the main focus, but not the only activities at Hawthornden. There were encounters with Crusties, treks to the Pentland Peaks, and day trips to Edinburgh. But that’s all to come next…
For another a peek at the Hawthornden experience, check out poet and professor Gregory Leadbetter’s post “After Hawthornden” on his site.
Blushing intensely right now not just because I’ve been tagged by Marianne Villanueva as “The Next Big Thing” but I’m also shamefully late in responding to the recognition, but in the spirit of better late than never, here are some musings over this meme’s query. Cheers, Marianne, for the shout out!
4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I wish I was more current with Filipino actors, but there’s no getting around the fact it’d have to be an APC (All Pinoy Cast).
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
6. Who is publishing your book?
One step at a time, please, thank you.
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Probably a year and a half. I’ve been on negative one draft for the last two or three years…
8. What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?
I’m stealing as much as I can from Kiran Desai’s Inheritance of Loss, and I would love to nab from Carsten Jensen’s We The Drowned, but that’s just me dreaming. Oh, and there’s some heavy borrowing from Fitzgerald’s Gatsby in terms of POV and who is or who isn’t the main character.
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The NY Times article cited above is the primary mover for this; there’s also my grandparents on both sides who immigrated for love and labour. A PBS documentary, The Learning, from the POV series really resonated and keeps me on the straight and narrow when I lose my way with the manuscript. I’m hoping to show my students the film this Spring 2013 when I teach for the second time L&CS 123: Modern Global Issues. The projekt is very much based on ideas about diaspora, cosmopolitanism, geography & the body, and globalization.
From the POV website:
The Learning is the story of four Filipina women who reluctantly leave their families and schools to teach in Baltimore. With their increased salaries, they hope to transform their families’ lives back in their impoverished country. But the women also bring idealistic visions of the teacher’s craft and of life in America, which soon collide with Baltimore’s tough realities. A co-production of CineDiaz and ITVS in association with The Center for Asian American Media, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and American Documentary | POV. (90 minutes)
Finally, DRM Irving’s Colonial Counterpoint has been a wonderful resource and fount of inspiration. Here’s just a taste on why from Chapter 1 “Colonial Capital, Global City”:
Manila was the world’s first global city. Its foundation as a Spanish colonial capital in 1571 forged the last link in a chain of trade routes that encircled the Earth. For the first time in human history, there emerged a system of transoceanic connections that allowed for the regular transport of people around the world and sustained exchange of ideas and commodities. Early modern Manila’s interstitial function in opening (and in some ways closing) the Chinese market to the world, together with its role as a cultural, commercial, and geographical nexus between Asia and the Americas–and, by extension Africa and Europe–endowed it with a global economic and political significance, outstripping that of any other city in the region…Manila was, essentially, a microcosm of the world. (19)
10. What else about your book/your writing might pique the reader’s interest?
Two words: Murder Mystery.
And to pay it forward, I’m expected to pass the mic around to five writers who I consider “The Next Big Thing,” and they are: