What’s your writer’s purpose?

Dear Reader,

I have an interesting story to tell.

A good friend told me this the other day and for the first time I believed this of myself. I’ve spent much of my adult life telling other people’s stories, learning and writing about what made them interesting to read for cities in Texas, Kansas, and Louisiana. And finally someone has noticed that my story was at least as interesting as the folks I wrote about.

The person who told me this was my very good friend and a friend to the site, Ashley Northington. She guest blogged on the site over a year ago and gave us some insight to book launching.

So if Ashley says I have a story to tell, then I do. I’ll be telling that during the Dream Fest Digital conference in November. Ashley has invited me to speak to tell my story and I am so thrilled to do so. (More info when the date comes closer, including how you can participate!)

My story isn’t a Cinderella tale, that chick has nothing on me. It’s a story about dreaming, crashing, burning, and stubbornness. It’s about walking through fire, facing your own demons and figuring out how to win against them, even if you can’t. Above all, it’s about survival. Scrappy with a shank in your hair survival.

Sounds interesting? Not as interesting as living it.

I have a couple of weeks to solidify what I will say to the world but what about you? What’s your story?

Writers have the best stories. We just do. It’s kinda our thing. We are the keepers, creators, and tellers of the human condition but, often our stories aren’t told.

That’s why so much of our work is autobiographical. Even fiction writers. (We tend to put everyone we know in a story eventually.) Because even just a sliver of truth belongs to us.

So, I’m asking you, writer…what is your story? Is it also one of survival? Triumph? Pain?

Writer, do you know why I’m really asking these questions? Because I want to know, and I want you to know, the answer to this question:

Why do you write?

Yes, I’m speaking to purpose. Why do you do this? And no, the answer is not just simply because I can’t NOT write. That’s a given. Why. Do. You. Write?

Chris Abani, the amazing writer, had this writing group during a conference a couple of years back. I was in grad school at the time and we shared space with the conference. At lunch, a large group of writers would sit next to me at the table, their eyes like the inside of a watermelon. They were sniffling and some were still crying.

“What’s wrong,” I asked concerned.

“Chris Abani asked us why we write,” one of the said.

“Okay. So what’s wrong with that?”

“It was bullshit. He kept saying bullshit until we finally got down to the real reasons.”

“Oh, shit!”

That was scary but damn if I wasn’t jealous. While they all looked like they were drained from the tears, they looked light, liberated from whatever was weighing them down. They looked ready to do the work. Darn straight I was jealous because I wanted to be that liberated, that in touch and in tune with my purpose.

Because purpose is everything. It’s the game AND the game changer. It is the and all stories. You ain’t got purpose, you ain’t story. Period.

Since then, I’ve done my own crying and soul searching and dragging. Last year, I broke down at my own writing workshop. I stopped writing for more than a month. I created space for Afro-Latina writers. I wrote about the darkness, embraced it, gave it a kiss and put it on paper. I flirted with death time and time again and inked my demise. There was more crying and soul searching and soul hearing. And more until there was purpose.

I write because I want my humanity acknowledged. I want to be seen. I want to be heard. I want the world to know I was here and existed and I had something to say.

Note: that doesn’t mean that I am seeking acceptance. That’s not my purpose. It’s nice but not my purpose.

See, that’s why Ashley said I had an interesting story to tell. And I do. Just you wait.

What’s your story, writer? Why do you do this? Why do you write?

For your first answer, whatever that may be, I call bullshit. Try again. Dig deeper. It’s good for you.

Dig, writer. Don’t make me get Chris Abani to come for you.

 

Well wishes,

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Don’t call me brave. Call me chingona

Dear Reader,

I’ve been thinking a lot about bravery recently, what it actually means and what it takes to be brave. This bravery thing seems like a simple thing to figure out but I’m not quite so sure.

I’ve been called brave once. About a year ago. See, I did something that most people wish they could and I’ve been fortunate to be able to do. After working in journalism most of my adult life, I walked away from a career and a stable paycheck and decided to start over. All the way over and do what is in my heart to do. That means not taking opportunities unless they fulfill me in some way.

That is why I was called brave.

But is that bravery? That act of drawing a line in the sand and saying, “Here. I want to stop with this ridiculous merry-go-round here.” Is that brave or is that just being fed up?

Listen, I don’t want you walking away from this post thinking that I left the evil mass media. Yes, I have my opinion about what happens inside America’s newsrooms and they are strong opinions, but it was the best gig for a long time. It was a gig that allowed me to go on assignment in Mexico twice. I knew the news before the rest of the city. It allow me to impact the world in a substainal way and for that I’m grateful. But I want more. I want to write and write well and write books. It was kinda my thing for a long time, something I had to keep hidden at times.

This writing thing, this gave me my voice and empowered me to be a journalist in the first place. See that sentence. That’s an important sentence, reader. The order of it is so telling. WRITING came first, not journalism. For some people it’s the other way around.

Yes, I stepped off the merry-go-round a year ago. Not an easy year but I still wouldn’t call myself brave. I didn’t run into a burning building to save a baby. I didn’t fight in a war. I didn’t put on a uniform and swore an oath to protect. I didn’t stare down the barrel of a gun so others wouldn’t. That’s brave. All of that is so much bravery. No, all I did was demand more for myself and my life.

All I did was try to live the life I always wanted.

Actually, when you see it on the screen like that it reads a bit selfish. Who am I to demand that of the universe? To be happy, to live my waking hours doing something I love and to help humanity in that way? That’s selfish! That’s … audacious.

Yes, that’s what I am. I am audacious. I am a high clearance level chingona who defied textbook definitions of things a long time ago. I am a chingona who is learning her lessons from the university of hard knocks with a major in I do what I want. And yes it comes with bumps, hill sized bumps, headaches and heartaches, but love is like that sometimes – worth the fight and being fulfilled up to the brim.

Please, don’t call me brave. What I am doing isn’t bravery.  I want more for my life than what I settled for originally. I’ve chosen that road Robert Frost talked about. I don’t know if it’s made all the difference because I’m still creating it as I go.

Bravery means there was fear to overcome but I was too busy wanting to live a life (and keep it) to live it in fear.

 

La Chingona,

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Top 5 links to read this weekend

Dear Reader,

There are lots to read out there after the events of this week. I’ve tweeted a bunch of them out though I’ve been quiet on Facebook. Thought that there should be at least one place to escape.

So the links I have below are a mixture of self-care, business writing, and prompts. All empowering things to help you spring into action.

Because this is when we should be writing, by the way. This is when writing can be both escape and revolutionary. It’s your choice. Remember, it’s about a writing LIFE not just what happens on the page.

I REALLY wish I was going to this but, alas, I will be elsewhere when the class begins. He’s amazing and has written plays that not only entertain but make you think. He’s in Houston for this class and it’s a bargain to get to study and write with him.

  • If you’re not in Houston and need some writing direction in your life? Try this prompt. 

It’s from my other friend, poet Rich Villar, who teaches at the School of Poetic Arts in NYC. He, along with they great folks at Sofrito for Your Soul have partnered for this prompt.

I love this prompt not only for poets but for prose writers as well. One thing that we do well, unfortunately, is that we can grow words about place like weeds. Here’s an exercise that can keep you focused.

I’m not quite at that point in my life yet but it’s nice to have this list of books that can be guiding forces. Look, every writer has the potential to be a creative entrepreneur regardless of how you sell your art. The business part of the writing life can always use a polish.

I’m into self-care this week. I unplugged from social media for long chunks of time. And I was so grateful that I did it.  I also spent time with friends and protected myself from what was happening for awhile. It’s not avoidance because I came back but the break away gave me time to collect my thoughts, reflect, and remember some good life lessons.

This makes things all that much easier for novelists. Researchers have done the work and say all books follow one of these six arcs.

There you go, enjoy!

Oh, and as a reminder, I am teaching  an online writing class in the next couple of weeks and would love to have you guys join us!

Take care and keep going,

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Big announcement tomorrow!

Dear Reader,

Sorry for the late note. Things are moving lightening fast on my end of the world and I have an opportunity to strike while the iron’s hot!

I have a big announcement tomorrow. Wednesday. July 6.

Yes, this is the announcement to announce the announcement. I actually think it’s more of a heads up.

I’ve had so many people ask me when was I going to teach writing classes again. The answer is soon. Really soon.

More details tomorrow. Like noon-ish.

Until then!

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P.S. Want to go ahead and get on the interested list? Fill the form below. I announce classes to my list first.


The Writing Life: February and March progress

 

Dear Reader,

Yes, I am alive. There’s a reason for the radio silence and it’s a good thing. I’ve been writing and submitting and teaching and grading.

Oh, all those papers.

So many that I have just looked up and realized it’s the end of MARCH! MARCH!?! What happened to February?

Wait, it’s April. Yikes!

For January, I posted an update about my writing life. My goal this year, at least one of them, was to demystify what some people believe the writing life is. I don’t sit in coffee shops all day. (Though I am now.) I don’t sit and think about life and it’s meaning. I work. Hard. I have a day job and my writing. Oh, and a life to live. That’s the most important part.

Let’s talk about the work, the writing, what keeps you motivated, or, at least, me. February is when all the grading started so I slowed down. I ended up doing the following:

March was way slower. In the middle of all the papers, all the living and all the madness. Here’s what I accomplished:

  • FINALLY finished my non-fiction essay.
  • Submitted said non-fiction essay.
  • Learned that my panel that I submitted to a conference in Madrid, Spain in January was accepted!
  • Reading (still) The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani.
  • Listening to The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. (Thanks, Audible!)
  • Started a new personal essay
  • Jennie Manning chapter 4 completed, chapter five rewrites.

Two slow months, but here’s the thing. Now that I see it written down I don’t think these months are slow. I’m surprised I got done what I got done with all the things that I needed to get done. So, I’m cutting myself some slack. I did alright! #givingmyselfcredit #slay

According to my goals for the year (yes, I still consider them from time to time) I’m don’t what I’m supposed to. Here’s the list.

  1. New short stories? I’ve revised old ones which feels like new material
  2. More submissions? Uh, yes. Totally have submitted more this year so far than I have in the past two years. My Submittable account tells me that.
  3. Work more in non-fiction? I just finished an essay that took me many months and many more Kleenex to finish. I’ve already started the next essay and have located others from my past to revise later on in the year or early next. New project? Good Lord, I hope not. Ha!
  4. Continue my Afro-Latina journey? Always.
  5. Jennie Manning? It keeps going. I’ll be writing her own separate update but I’m excited where it’s going. The finish line? What finish line? Kidding. End of the year the good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.
  6. Translation? This one is the only goal I haven’t started yet. For now, I’ve put this on ice until I have fewer things on my plate.

So there you have it, my months of living this writing life. That’s what it’s like living this writing life. It’s not always glamorous but it’s worth living.

Writing On,

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6 opportunities for writers of color this month

Dear Reader,

I got a fantastic shout out on Facebook a couple of weeks back from George “Urban Jibaro” Torres. I’ve known him for awhile now through Twitter. He was one of the first Latino social media folks I met many moons ago.

He urged writers of colors to follow me because I was listing out opportunities for them. I was so honored and humbled by that. He hit on something that I didn’t know was doing.

In recent months, I’ve noticed an urge to create or to announce opportunities for writers of color. Whether it’s retweeting things I find or putting together a list like this, I find it a great privilege to curate this information to give writers an opportunity to practice their craft.

So, I’ve put together a special edition of writing opportunities geared specifically for writers of color. Let’s get your writing to the next level, folks. Vamonos!

World Wide Network of Artist Residences

I came across this website a couple of weeks ago and I instantly bookmarked it. Wow! A list of residencies to apply to around the world! Does that mean there could be a residency that allows me to go to Paris and work on my book? Yes. That’s exactly what that means.

Although you may not be at that point in your writing where you are ready for a residency (I would argue you are) it’s good to go through the process. Things like CVs and artist statements and project statements take time. So it’s nice to have an opportunity to write something you wouldn’t usually write and have it ready for other opportunities.

So enjoy Germany or Austrailia or wherever you’re going next.

VONA/Voices

I. Can. Not. Say. Enough. Good. Things. About. VONA. When I got ii, it was kinda a blur. An unbelievable excellent blur of awesomeness with Sunday morning pancakes and warm syrup. Around for more than 15 years, this weeklong workshop at the University of Miami, gives writers of color critique and feedback on their writing in a constructive and awesome space.

There’s space here for everyone, literary, genre (sci-fi, fantasy, mystery), poetry, travel writing (YES!), essay, political writing and more. New this year is a young adult writing workshop with Daniel Jose Older, writer of Shadowshapper.  Hurry if you’re doing this one. Applications are due March 15.

Kimbilio Fellowship

This one I am really excited about.  I was accepted to last year’s class but couldn’t attend. They extended an invite for this year and I thankfully accepted.  #Kimbilio16, y’all!

Kimbilio means safe haven in Swahilli.  Here’s a bit of their mission statement.

We are a community of writers and scholars committed to developing, empowering and sustaining fiction writers from the African diaspora and their stories.

Projects include readings, presentations at professional conferences, social media networking, and an annual summer retreat for fiction writers who are members of the Kimbilio community.

What I found really interesting about this residency/fellowship/awesome opp is that its alumni gather to read in different areas of the country in addition to creating a community. And we all know how I feel about writers having a community.

I’ve already just finished reading one of the faculty member’s short story collections and I was blown away. So, this seems like an exciting place to be. (They’re near Taos, NM for a week in the summer.) Applications are due April 15.

National Parks Foundation

National parks. Writing. Dedicated Space. What else can I say about this opportunity?

Listen, so each national park from New Mexico to Hawaii to the Eastern seaboard has its own deadline and stipulations. Some have stipends while others don’t. All are residencies with your own place to sleep and be, but stuff like wifi…I dunno.  Each park is different and offers different experiences. You’ll have to click each park at the link above and see the specific requirements.

Glendaliz’s List

My friend Glendaliz (also a VONA alum. Hint, hint) has been gathering a list of these opportunities longer than I have. She has a list going on her own site with opportunities that seem really fun and interesting.

She also does webinars on how to apply to residencies and covers things like how to write an artist statement. Check her out on her site. She’s a wealth of info and is always applying to these opportunities as well.

Journals featuring writers of color

Meanwhile, there are journals who are looking for work from people of color. Thanks to WritersRelief.com for putting this list together!  Some good stuff here.

Alright then! Seems like we all have some work to do. Residencies. Workshops. Submissions. Writing. Get to it, folks!

Write On,

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Valentines Day Treat: The Last Single Girl

Dear Reader,

As I was working on the blog today, I came across this story that I wrote for my then site, Writing to Insanity, in 2009.

This was me pre-MFA, pre-writing workshop, pre-everything when I was trying things out with my writing.

Man, I enjoyed this story that I decided to spruce it up a bit and re-issue it for Valentine’s Day. It’s a short story in six parts.

So, for you, my readers I re-present The Last Single Girl: A Love Story from the Gods.

Enjoy,

~Icess

Everything in its Place | Icess Fernandez Rojas

I’m so excited that this story found a home! “Everything in its Place” is different for me — voice and structure. I’ll write about the revision process for this piece soon since how it come to be is its own story. For now, however, read, enjoy, comment, share.

THE FEM

She is speaking. Her mouth moves but the words are soft like her brown skin and now I want to touch it again, strum my fingertips against it, make more memories from it. There isn’t enough time, there is never enough time when we are in this space. Time is cruel and so is this, what we are doing. The giving and the taking. There is pain and agony coming for me and for her, but her mouth is the color of strawberries.

Today there is breakfast. Yesterday there were good-byes, the could have and should haves of rewritten lives.

“There’s just no getting over you,” I say.

“There shouldn’t be,” replies.  

*

She returns to the room in her blue dress with little yellow flowers. I saw the fabric in the store earlier that summer and the pattern reminded me of her— beautiful and unexpected. I knew her…

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Afro-Latinos, Black History Month and Twitter

Dear Reader,

I LOVE me some Black History Month!

This is shocking because I never use to feel like this. Here, in a column I wrote for The Guardian, I talk about how folks will honor African American History but Afro-Latinos, our history and our heroes and heroines are left out. They’re also left out of Hispanic Heritage Month too but we’ll deal with that in September.

Listen, my black speaks Spanish. And I love learning about African American History. Love it. But I want to know about my history. Who are the people who fought in wars and made discoveries? Whose names are all but forgotten? What are the issues they have confronted and overcome?

What I love about social media and Twitter is that Afro-Latinos have been able to organize themselves a bit. Janel Martinez over at Ain’t I Latina? profiled Juliana Pache, creator of the hashtag #BlackLatinxHistory

And it’s amazing! People are posting photos of our beautiful leaders, singers, creators. Past AND Present. How amazing is that!

We’re doing what I wanted to do when I wrote that piece in The Guardian, we regaining part of our narrative, part of the Black History narrative.

So to add to the work my fellow Afro-Latina sisters are doing, I’ve been putting together a Twitter list of Afro-Latinos– organizations, publications, people. As I find folks, I add them to the Twitter list and so that column on my Tweetdeck continues to grow.

Click here to check it out and/or to follow it.

It is empowering to see writers, creators, politicians, leaders, entrepreneurs tweet on this list.  I hope you enjoy it.

Meanwhile, I saw this on Twitter and I wanted to share. Happy Black History Month!

P.S. If you’re an Afro-Latino writer and you’re reading this, I’m working on something big you may be interested in. 

And if you want to hear some Afro-Latina literature from some up-and-coming writers, you’re in luck!

Growing into my blackness: Reflection on Langston Hughes

Dear Reader,

I have a confession to make.  I’ve never read Langston Hughes.

Nope. Not in a class. Not out of class. Know of him. Know of his work. But never really engaged with it.

Yes, I know. I am a special kind of person. Got it.

However, I am growing into my blackness. That means I didn’t learn what it meant to be black until after I became an adult. My dad was Cuban and my mom Guatemalan. My friends were white and Latino. Black folks just didn’t know what to do with me growing up in East Harris County. To them, I was some weird freak, this little dark girl who spoke a different language and acted funny. She didn’t know who Teddy Pendergrass was (not until I moved to Detroit for a summer on an internship). Frankly Beverly and Maze (during my time in Shreveport when I went to a concert) or any other artist that encapsulated the black American experience.

So yes, I am coming to Langston Hughes late. I’m growing into my blackness. I’m joining the party already in progress, but I’m joining the party.

Today, followers of the VONA Facebook page were challenged with some “homework“, reading the poem I Look at the World by Hughes.

Here’s a copy of the poem if you haven’t already read it. 

My original thought was oh what a nice poem. Sorry but I’m a prose person so it takes me a while and a couple of readings to get into a poem and unpack it.

I know now that it’s a call-to-arms, to awaken the creative thinking to get out of where you are.

It’s short but packs a punch. I see that in the first stanza. What gets me, to the heart of me, is this line:

This fenced-off narrow space
Assigned to me.
Here is where I nod. I said yes to this. I know what this cage is. I’ve lived in it even without knowing. There are consequences when you leave your space, there always is. But to be awoken, to open your eyes to reality, IS to want to break from the change. I continued reading.
Here is where I nod again:
And this is what I know:
That all these walls oppression builds
Will have to go!
Oh, this gave me anxiety. Of course, they have to go. Of course, they can not be allowed to stand. But how? This reminded me of something someone said to me once. One day you’ll get to the point when the cost of opening up is less than the cost of closing yourself off.
Is it better to say in your cage knowing its wrong but playing it safe or to tear down the wall knowing that it’ll be difficult and could hurt. I guess that will depend on how you badly you want change.
Another thing that gave me anxiety is all the internalizing in this poem. The eyes doing all the watching are in “black face” and “dark face”. It’s not from or of. That word choice is telling, putting the reader in the poem, making them part of the changed world. This continues to the final stanza, when the narrator is looking at their own body. It’s that internal, self-awareness that leads the call to arms.
I look at my own body
With eyes no longer blind-
And I see that my own hands can make
The world that’s in my mind
Then let us hurry comrades,
The road to find
This call-to-arms is empowering. After self-realization and awareness comes action, and that action comes from creating. This is a solution to being caged, to waking up and realizing that one is in a “narrow space”. Escaping comes from creating, whether it’s art or opportunities.
A lot of punch in three short stanzas. A lot of meaning in few words. A lot of thought in how this fits into the bigger picture of the world.
Like my fellow people of color, I have felt imprisoned, caged, corraled, into situations that were not my choice. That is what was “assigned” to me. A label: angry black woman.  A characteristic: lazy, whiny, ugly.
The moment we don’t believe those labels, or even chose our own (writer, activist, entrepreneur) we wake up to the realization of who we are. That is when we need to escape those other labels. And we do that by creating work that reflects our lives and time, actively developing and strengthing our voices, creating opportunities for growth and abundance.
Ironically, that’s how I’m growing into my blackness. I own my label. I embrace it. Afro-Latina. Writer. Daughter. Sister. Chingona.
Eso mero. (My blackness speaks Spanish)
Thank you for the lesson, Mr. Hughes. It definitely wasn’t lost on me. Happy Belated Birthday.
Schooled by poetry,
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