The Recipe for Good Writing: A Gin Martini, Guinness, and Ampalaya or How It Went Down at the Fil Am Book Fest Panel “Writing Our Way Home: Shaping Tradition, History and Culture”

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Saturday, October 19, the stars and planets aligned not just because of LitQuake but because the Fil Am Book Fest II took place at the San Francisco Public Library. In the space of a single day, yours truly was afforded the rare and exceptional chance to reconnect with the most inspiring writers and caring colleagues such as Barbara Jane Reyes, Oscar Bermeo, Jason Bayani, Marianne Villanueva, Emily Breunig, Candace Eros Diaz, Linda Nietes, and Cecilia Brainard, who has been so supportive, a true guiding light since the very start of this writer’s life. Later, the evening of LitCrawl would allow for a quick reunion in the Mission at Muddy Waters Cafe with Rosemary Graham, Marilyn Abilskov, and Brenda Hillman. To share even five minutes off duty and off campus talking about life and writing with each of these luminaries was enough to keep this starved and over-worked soul going for the rest of the year.

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The gravitational force who coordinated, collaborated, and made this rare celestial alignment possible was poet and professor and Festival Director Edwin Lozada who serves as President of the sponsoring organization PAWA Inc, and it was PAWA’s steering committee made this international festival a reality. Maraming salamat to Edwin and PAWA!

For the space of an hour, in the hushed setting of the Koret Auditorium with a crowd of fifty plus literarastes, I was honored to sit down and talk shop with Luisa Igloria, Jon Pineda, and Lysley Tenorio, moderating the panel “Writing Our Way Home: Shaping Tradition, History and Culture” as part of the Filipino American International Book Festival (Filbookfest 2)- Likhâ ng Lahi. Writing Our Way Home: Shaping Tradition, History and Culture. So how did it all go down?

We started with the beginning, when I asked the panelists, where do you start?

Igloria: Its more about finding time and a sense of place. Electronic devices allow her to write everywhere, so its a matter or carving out the space.
Pineda: Carries a journal, a $1 notebook and he fills the pages with characters. Not necessarily their physical attributes but what the character wants. He writes fully knowing he’s going to throw all of it  away, but this is the fastest way to start dreaming about his characters. Its just a matter of allowing himself to explore, and in essence fail.
Tenorio: His writing is generally plot-driven, and he gets ideas from strange but true intersections, Filipino and American and Filipino-American. He cited his work from the story “Monstress,” which was borne out of horrible B movies that were spliced together–the worst movies of all time. He needs a sense of a beginning and an ending with a story, and so long as he outlines a rough plot that gives him no excuse to get through a draft.

Since all writers mentioned the use of media, we moved to how media shaped their process or inspired their writing. 

Igloria: Added that she uses media for quick answers to quick questions. She appreciates the ease and portability of interfaces. The way we wrote five to eight years ago has completely changed, and she’s also open to new ideas of media though she stresses that our most basic sense of media, the sensory apparatus of ears, nose, and eyes, which we all carry are important to keep open.
Pineda: Admitted he’s a very visual person and loves Google maps. The interface is so amazing, allowing viewers to drop down to street level and take a closer look. Its a great tool to find stories. He cited a recent digital excursion where he explored Google Maps and saw the image of a young boy wearing a T-shirt and so obviously giving the finger to the Google car driving by. It was such an instance of giving back to the man. He also encouraged writers to explore historical preservation societies because they have archives that really capture a way of life in the past.

Tenorio: Tries not to write too of the moment with new media but work instead symbolically or metaphorically. For instance, he was recently writing an opening scene that features a webcam though the device at first seemed clunky he later found that it was way to explore the tension of the moment.

Igloria– Added that she appreciates the more open sense of collaboration that newer technology has allowed such as the medium of the video poem where film artists collaborate on the internet. It’s an interesting process to see another form of expression.

We then moved from media to the body and covered an excerpt from Pineda’s Apology because his novel was forefront in my mind and specifically this quote: “It was not a dream, though it felt like one. A beautiful piece of memory that could make him cry. Exequiel woke now, feverish. Out of his head. He summoned it from the faint scar woven in the bottom of his foot. A story hidden in the flesh.” So many of the tales interwoven in this novel are told through the body. I’m curious to know how does the flesh experience–since this is such a visceral and at times violent set of interlocked stories–how does flesh dictate the telling of the novel as opposed to chronology? I’d love to hear the panelists discuss how the body dictates their work.

Pineda: Spoke of how the character of that passage is broken, dealing with his past and the scars, the wreckage of his life. Being mestizo his work deals around the body and especially when he thinks about transitions, and the space the characters inhabit, the body is a point he is constantly meditating on as a device.

Igloria: Emphasized how memory and lyric dwell in the same house. There is always a physical reference point. She recalled how as a child she asked for bedtime stories all the time so her mother started to make them up. The ear was the receptacle, receiving those stories, a physical reference point. Then there were the rituals impressed upon her in youth and up to motherhood from the menstruation rites of adolescence to the tradition of tying the umbilical cords of your children together to ensure they stayed close as they grew older.

Tenorio– Touched on the body in his story “The View from Culion” about a leper colony and the body was very much a point of reference in his story “The Brothers” of which one of the characters was transitioning to female before an untimely death. For him, these specific instances are when the subject matter needs to be rendered by the body. But his stories are not any kind of social documentary on what the body means for a specific experience or expectation. And he noted how one reviewer had called his stories “generic” as if the critic had been anticipating some sense of being transported.

This led to my next question about the sticky issues of authenticity and outside expectations. How did these writers deal with anticipations of others to be representative of preconceived notions about culture and place.

Pineda: Was very truthful and straightforward, calling those expectations ridiculous. He writes from an emotional place and dares to write about certain places even if he’s never been there before.

Igloria: Touched on the sense of complexity, how a writer of diaspora is like the turtle that carries its home with it. Geography is shared but not the only defining element to a work. She emphasized that a writer can limit herself if shes only thinking of geography as a setting when it really serves as an emotional space. Take advantage of the psychology of a space, she encourages.

Pineda: Believes that to have to prove you’re an ambassador or making a nod to a type of individual, well, that makes him think of the kid who gave the Google camera the finger. “The more I write the more I don’t want to care about outside expectations,” he added. “Maybe it comes from twenty years of rejection.” Its nice to get a review but he writes for the connection with the reader. It could be the Catholic in him he explains, this desire for communion but that’s what he aims for.

Igloria: Asked to recalibrate that question and instead posed what are we most curious about? Writing is trying to answer mysterious ineffable questions, that don’t jibe with outside expectations of readership. Its about trying to find emotional truth, trying to seek that thing that will feed a more basic urge.

Tenorio: Urged just write. “They say write what you know, but think I its admirable to write what you don’t know.” There are so many different levels of identity, he focuses on what is useful for the writing.

How has family shaped you as a writer? What memories or experiences in childhood and with family serve as foundational in terms of what inspires you to write and what you write about?

Igloria: Grew up in a kitchen and recounted a story when her family had taught her to peel lima beans at a very young age, so she peeled them all, one by one. And she tells her students to this day thar was her very first lesson in writing because of the time and focused attention required to do something so detailed and miniscule. These kind of domestic details were engendered in childhood, and she has to many countless stories of childhood and family to share.

Tenorio: Explained that he doesn’t write autobiographically. His life is not in his writing though the conflicts that his characters face may be emotionally autobiographical or similar to what he’s seen in himself or his siblings who had it harder to adjust to life in a new country.

Pineda: Spoke of his grandfather’s stories of Japanese Occupation and his father’s. Both were great story tellers, and it wasn’t until later when he learned of tales that his father had been holding out on because he believed if they were shared too soon then Pineda would try and replicate them. The basis of these stories were their intensity.

Finally, these panelists were almost stumped with the last question, which was what is the perfect meal after a long day’s worth of writing or what is the best dish or meal to sit down to after a day of writing?:

Tenorio: A gin martini.
Pineda: A coconut steamer or a Guinness.
Igloria: Wants something really simple like ampalaya, pinakbet. And she stated, “I do like me some coffee, at beginning, the middle and end.”

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Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, my leading lady, plus me.
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Hot Off the Press Literary Reading with Angela Narciso Torres

Re-thinking Panel Questions for Writing Our Way Home: Shaping Tradition, History and Culture” at SFPL this coming Saturday, October 19, 3-4pm.

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With only hours away, the questions are being finalized, some of them reconsidered for audience and accessibility thanks to a heads up from Lysley Tenorio about audience.
Proving once again that a writer’s work is never done, below are the revised questions, which will probably be tweaked and re-tweaked a few more times before put to the panel which includes Luisa A. Igloria (poetry), Jon Pineda (poetry, memoir, fiction), and Lysley Tenorio (fiction).
Fil Am Book Fest II is going to be an impressive and inspiring literary love fest. Here’s hoping to do the writers justice!
  • How do you start? When do you know you’ve come to the end?
  • Luisa Igloria’s newest collection The Saints of Streets (UST Publishing house, 2013) are comprised mainly of narrative poems. Can we talk about genre and shuttling among forms since Pineda has written a memoir, poetry, and a novel, Lysley moving from short fiction to a novel and Luisa focusing most recently on narrative within poetry?
  • How has family shaped you as a writer? What memories or experiences in childhood and with family serve as foundational in terms of what inspires you to write and what you write about?
  • Currently reading Pineda’s Apology, so his novel is forefront in my mind and specifically this quote: “It was not a dream, though it felt like one. A beautiful piece of memory that could make him cry. Exequiel woke now, feverish. Out of his head. He summoned it from the faint scar woven in the bottom of his foot. A story hidden in the flesh.” So many of the tales interwoven in this novel are told through the body. I’m curious to know how does the flesh experience–since this is such a visceral and at times violent set of interlocked stories–how does flesh dictate the telling of the novel as opposed to chronology? I’d love to hear the panelists discuss how the body dictates their work.
  • In Tenorio’s story “Felix Starro” the narrator contemplates age, time, and space, “I had turned nineteen three weeks before, on the plane to America. But I didn’t know exactly when it happened–that whole time in the sky I wasn’t sure if it was today or tomorrow, which country was ahead or behind and by how many hours or days…” Can you talk about geography and place. Is there as the title of the panel and conference suggests, a way to write home?
  • In D.R.M. Irving’s book on musical history of the Philippines, Colonial Counterpoint: Music in Early Modern Manila, (Oxford University Press, 2010) he posits that Manila during the 16th and 17th centuries became the first truly cosmopolitan city, linking the East with the West, the old world of Spain with the new world of New Spain in Mexico. Since each of your works are arguably transnational, do you feel that you speak to a new cosmopolitanism or that you might be  cosmopolitan yourself?
  • In the collection of essays Not Home But Here: Writing from the Filipino Diaspora, Luisa Igloria writes in her introduction of the “academic residence.” Might the panelists speak on multi-residences, be they academic, artistic, personal, familial, etc. and how they inform or influence your writing or shape the different self/selves as academic, writer, Filipino?
  • Who are you reading now?
  • What is the best dish or meal to sit down to after a day of writing?

Please spread the word and mark your calendars: 19 October, 3-4pm “Writing Our Way Home: Shaping Tradition, History and Culture”

Excited to be a part of this upcoming October weekend event. Yours truly will be moderating the panel “Writing Our Way Home: Shaping Tradition, History and Culture” with Luisa Igloria, Jon Pineda, Lysley Tenorio. Hope to see you there! For more info, click here.

Filipino American International Book Festival (Filbookfest 2)

Likhâ ng Lahi. Writing Our Way Home: Shaping Tradition, History and Culture

October 18–20, 2013 • San Francisco Public Library, Main Branch • 100 Larkin Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

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Excerpt on Lysley Tenorio’s Reading at San Francisco Philippine Consulate

On Wednesday November 28, after a wet and windy day, yours truly had the pleasure and honor of introducing my grad school mentor and thesis advisor fiction writer and Professor Lysley Tenorio, who’s new book, Monstress, a short story collection, was recently published by Ecco. Organized by PAWA Inc and hosted by the San Francisco Philippine Consulate, the literary event was started off with a welcome from the Consul General.

The introduction went something like this:

 A former Stegner Fellow at Stanford, Lysley Tenorio has received a Whiting Writer’s

Lysley Tenorio

Award, fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the National Endowment for the Arts. His stories have appeared in The Atlantic, Zoetrope: All-Story, Ploughshares, Manoa, The Chicago Tribune, and The Best New American Voices along with Pushcart Prize anthologies.

His latest book, Monstress published by Ecco/HarperCollins was reviewed in the New York Times where ANDREW HAIG MARTIN called his collectiona refreshingly off-kilter approach to the lives of Filipinos in America.”

Katy Waldman from SLATE.com wrote “it is the unassuming pitch of these stories that makes them so exquisitely deadly.”

And Dan Lopez in Lambda Literary described the collection saying: Hard lives and hard choices take center stage in Monstress, but this is no bleak landscape that Tenorio limns. Woven throughout the collection is a wry narrative of ambition. These characters whether they are gay or straight, American or Filipino, all share an abiding desire to succeed, their shared identity of otherness paradoxically empowering as it appears to disenfranchise. In that sense, they belong to a larger project of outsider fiction.”

To read more about the event, click here.

Rashaan Alexis Meneses

Last Call for Tenorio and his Monstress at the SF Philippine Consulate: Wednesday 28 November

Please join PAWA as we present Lysley Tenorio, author of the critically acclaimed Monstress. Writer and educator Rashaan Alexis Meneses will moderate.

When: Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Doors open at 5:30 pm | Event begins at 6:00 pm
Where
: The Philippine Consulate
447 Sutter Street San Francisco, CA 94108

Arkipelago Books will handle book sales.

 

About Monstress

Monstress introduces a bold new writer who explores the clash and meld of disparate cultures. In the National Magazine Award-nominated title story, a has-been movie director and his reluctant leading lady travel from Manila to Hollywood for one last chance at stardom, unaware of what they truly stand to lose. In “Felix Starro,” a famous Filipino faith healer and his grandson conduct an illicit business in San Francisco, though each has his own plans for their earnings. And after the Beatles reject an invitation from Imelda Marcos for a Royal Command Performance, an aging bachelor attempts to defend her honor by recruiting his three nephews to attack the group at the Manila International Airport in “Help.”

Lysley Tenorio reveals the lives of people on the outside looking in with rare skill, humor, and deep understanding, in stories framed by tense, fascinating dichotomies—tenderness and power, the fantastical and the realistic, the familiar and the strange. Breathtakingly original, Monstress marks the arrival of a singular new voice in American fiction.

Lysley Tenorio is the author of Monstress (Ecco/HarperCollins). His stories have appeared in The Atlantic, Zoetrope: All-Story, Ploughshares, Manoa, The Chicago Tribune, and The Best New American Voices and Pushcart Prize anthologies. A former Stegner Fellow at Stanford, he has received a Whiting Writer’s Award, and fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He teaches at Saint Mary’s College of California, and lives in San Francisco.

Born and raised in the seismically fractured and diverse landscape of California, Rashaan Alexis Meneses earned her MFA from Saint Mary’s College of California’s Creative Writing Program where she was named a 2005-2006 Jacob K. Javits Fellow. Nominated for a Sundress Best of the Net Prize, recent publications include a personal essay in Doveglion Press, short stories in the Australia based literary journal Kurungabaa, UC Riverside’s The Coachella Review, University of North Carolina’s Pembroke Magazine, and the anthology,Growing Up Filipino II: More Stories for Young Adults. She currently teaches as Adjunct Professor for Liberal & Civic Studies at Saint Mary’s College and will be a resident at MacDowell Colony in 2013. Her website is http://rashaanalexismeneses.com.

Please share the news and mark your calendars: PAWA Event with Lysley Tenorio, Wednesday, November 28, 6:30pm

[For immediate release. Contact PAWA pawa@pawainc.com]

Save the date, and please help spread the word!

Please join PAWA as we present Lysley Tenorio, author of the critically acclaimed Monstress. Writer and educator Rashaan Alexis Meneses will moderate.

When: Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Doors open at 5:30 pm | Event begins at 6:00 pm
Where: The Philippine Consulate
447 Sutter Street San Francisco, CA 94108

Arkipelago Books will handle book sales.

 

About Monstress

Monstress introduces a bold new writer who explores the clash and meld of disparate cultures. In the National Magazine Award-nominated title story, a has-been movie director and his reluctant leading lady travel from Manila to Hollywood for one last chance at stardom, unaware of what they truly stand to lose. In “Felix Starro,” a famous Filipino faith healer and his grandson conduct an illicit business in San Francisco, though each has his own plans for their earnings. And after the Beatles reject an invitation from Imelda Marcos for a Royal Command Performance, an aging bachelor attempts to defend her honor by recruiting his three nephews to attack the group at the Manila International Airport in “Help.”

Lysley Tenorio reveals the lives of people on the outside looking in with rare skill, humor, and deep understanding, in stories framed by tense, fascinating dichotomies—tenderness and power, the fantastical and the realistic, the familiar and the strange. Breathtakingly original, Monstress marks the arrival of a singular new voice in American fiction.

Lysley Tenorio is the author of Monstress (Ecco/HarperCollins). His stories have appeared in The Atlantic, Zoetrope: All-Story, Ploughshares, Manoa, The Chicago Tribune, and The Best New American Voices and Pushcart Prize anthologies. A former Stegner Fellow at Stanford, he has received a Whiting Writer’s Award, and fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He teaches at Saint Mary’s College of California, and lives in San Francisco.

Born and raised in the seismically fractured and diverse landscape of California, Rashaan Alexis Meneses earned her MFA from Saint Mary’s College of California’s Creative Writing Program where she was named a 2005-2006 Jacob K. Javits Fellow. Nominated for a Sundress Best of the Net Prize, recent publications include a personal essay in Doveglion Press, short stories in the Australia based literary journal Kurungabaa, UC Riverside’s The Coachella Review, University of North Carolina’s Pembroke Magazine, and the anthology,Growing Up Filipino II: More Stories for Young Adults. She currently teaches as Adjunct Professor for Liberal & Civic Studies at Saint Mary’s College and will be a resident at MacDowell Colony in 2013. Her website is http://rashaanalexismeneses.com.

On the PAWA Calendar with Lysley Tenorio for November 28, 2012

The Philippine American Writers and Artists Inc is rolling out their fall events, which include yours truly with Monstress author and my grad school mentor, Lysley Tenorio. Here’s hoping I can do him and his latest work justice in November. Mark your calendars and please share with interested parties. Hope to see you there!

monstress

PAWA Events

  • 11/28/2012: PAWA Presents Lysley Tenorio, Monstress. Moderated by Rashaan Alexis Meneses. More info TBA.