Dear Reader, I just posted my second essay for the essay a week challenge (#52essays2017). Wow, so glad I was able to get this one out before it started to get busy this week. School… More
Happy Hispanic Heritage Month! Yes, it’s the time of year where we celebrate the contributions of Latinos and Hispanics (for some there is a difference). It’s also a time to celebrate the independence day of many Latin American countries. In the next month, several countries will celebrate their independence day including my own fellow Chapines of Guatemala! (El Salvador, Honduras, and Costa Rica are the others who celebrate today. Tomorrow Mexico celebrates.)
So when I came across book tuber My Name is Marines, who created a list of books she’ll be reading in celebration (#hispanicheritagereads), I was down! Love this idea.
I’ll be celebrating as well. My list won’t be as long as hers but I can at least give suggestions of some reads. Ironically, some of the authors listed below are my friends so, you know how it goes when you’re a writer and you’re the LAST person to publish a book.
My shame is real guys. So real.
Also, I wanted to pick books by Latino authors you may not have readily heard of. I wanted this to be an opportunity to give some exposure to some fellow Latino writers who also deserve some light on their amazing work.
Okay, here we go. Let’s start with…
Short stories or short story collections
I am teaching House Made of Sugar to my English composition class. I have been for about a year and each time I teach it my students fall in love with it. I fall deeper in love with it. It’s about superstitions, love, marriage, and lies. That’s the simplified version of this story, which doesn’t do it justice but hopefully, it’s enough to make you want to read this story, which you can read for free at Longreads.
The story is part of Silvina Ocampo’s collection Thus Were Their Faces. I haven’t purchased it yet but I’m excited to add this to my collection.
Another short story collection that I so want to check out is Daniel Jose Older’s Salsa Nocturna: Stories. Here’s what Goodreads has to say about the collection.
A 300 year-old story collector enlists the help of the computer hacker next door to save her dying sister. A half-resurrected cleanup man for Death’s sprawling bureaucracy faces a phantom pachyderm, doll-collecting sorceresses, and his own ghoulish bosses. Gordo, the old Cubano that watches over the graveyards and sleeping children of Brooklyn, stirs and lights another Malaguena. Down the midnight streets of New York, a whole invisible universe churns to life in Daniel Jose Older’s debut collection of ghost noir.”
Ghost, ghouls, and noir? I’m there. I saw on Amazon that this has been re-issued with two new stories and that fits the timeline of his Bone Street Rumba series. So I’m interested to read this, especially since I’m not familiar with the series. However, I am familiar with another novel he’s written that’s turning into a series, which is…
Shadowshaper! I can NOT accurately tell you how much I LOVED this book. I don’t read YA usually so I didn’t know what to expect when I picked it up. Just decided to read it since I’m one of his Twitter followers. And WOW! This book is an adventure that involves a family secret, murals, paintings, and the battle to save the world.
What I LOVE about this book is how Older treats Afro-Latinidad in this book. I saw myself as a young girl and I never see my youth reflected back to me in books ever. This made me love it even more.
Recently, this book won the Best Young Adult Fiction category in the International Latino Book Awards.
Island of Dreams written by my awesome, amazing friend Jasminne Mendez. She won the Best Young Adult Latino Focused Book category in the International Latino Book Awards in 2015. This is her memoir told through poetry and short stories. She’s dealing with some big things here — identity, family, self-discovery, assimilation, as being Dominican in America (which is easier said than done sometimes). One of my favorite poems is about her grandfather and everything she knows and doesn’t know about him. Heartbreaking. Real. It be like that sometimes.
I’m not a poetry person. I’ll read it but it doesn’t hit me like fiction or non-fiction does because I’m a prose person. However, I do enjoy reading outside my comfort zone sometimes.
Leslie Contreras Schwartz’s Fuego is on my list to pick up. Yes, another one of my friends. I’ve heard some of her pieces in this collection and I enjoyed them. When I think of her poetry, what I’ve heard so far, I think of a snapshot of survival and the price of motherhood.
Her collection is on my list and I can’t wait to dive in. And since she’s a friend of mine, I’m sure that I’ll be asking her questions.
From the bed of the hospital, to the classroom of fourth-grade refugees, or the icy waters being swum by a long-distance swimmer, Fuego is a book that explores the extraordinary in the ordinary, the body as a surreal form of existence. At the core of the book is the theme of survival and the awe at being able to survive, and the glory of being ordinary and alive. In this debut poetry collection, Fuego explores the failure and blessing of childhood, the surrealism of birth and motherhood, and the estrangement of the body from itself and others.
Hanging Upside Down is what’s on my nightstand right now. My friend Anthony Otero (who will be on the blog soon) self-published this book and also the follow-up, Book of Isabel. I may be biased (I am) but it probably should have been picked up by one of the major publishers. Otero protagonist, Luis, gets into one bad situation after another and most times without even trying. Women are his downfall and his salvation…sometimes.
I’m in the middle of reading this one and want to get into Book of Isabel, the follow-up, soon.
Well, there you go. That’s just a quick snippet. There are definitely more books to explore and more authors but this should get you started. And yes, I haven’t added non-fiction yet to this list. That list will be coming soon. Perhaps later on in the month. We’ll see.
What a wonderful way to spend a Saturday afternoon!
The national organization, Women Who Submit, organized a national Submission Blitz on Saturday. Blitz as in everyone get in Formation and submit your stuff. Stop playing.
And I got in Formation — seven times. I submitted to seven publications and I’m actually eyeing two more that I’ll submit to in the next week. By far this is the most I’ve submitted in one month. My goal from the beginning of the year was to submit to three publications each month. So far I’ve been doing that except for the past two months (post coming up on that.) So I’ve definitely more than made up for the lack of submissions the past couple of months.
— Tintero Projects (@TinteroProject) September 10, 2016
But here’s the awesome thing about the blitz, at least in Houston…the ladies who showed up to blitz were all women of color. All of us worked on our pieces and submitted them to places that, truth by told, weren’t ready for us. We had an opportunity here to really embrace the writing life, the scary part, the part where we expose our vulnerable underbellies to the world.
For me, it was empowering and a bit scary because this fiction writer submitted creative non-fiction and poetry for the first time. I’ve been working on Jennie so long that I hadn’t written any short stories. For the first time, my submissions did not include fiction.
So we’ll see what happens. I can say that I received one rejection on blitz day but that was a submission from a couple of months ago. I hope that’s not a sign.
So here’s what I learned about submissions to lit journals during the blitz:
1) Have a bio ready
It’s interesting how many journals ask that you submit a short bio along with your piece. I was actually surprised. Thankfully, I had something already written up that I could edit quickly but some of my fellow writers didn’t and they had to write one on the fly. That’s not an easy thing if your brain is already in submit mode and not in composing mode. Do yourself a favor. Write a short bio that you could use whenever you need. It can also be the last paragraph in your cover letter.
Talking about cover letters…
2) Learn to write a cover letter on the fly
This one kinda drove me nuts. All of my submissions required a cover letter, which is odd since there is a debate on whether lit journals actually read them. Some want to be seduced by a cover letter. Others just go straight for the entry.
Yeah, it’s a thing.
So, I defaulted to this little piece of advice for writing one. Basically, it shouldn’t take long to write one but there are some things you should follow, other than your basic grammar rules.
3) Be brave
So, I submitted to Tin House. THE Tin House. When I woke up Saturday morning that wasn’t something that I thought I’d be doing but there it was.
Sometimes, you just gotta be brave and hit submit. What’s the worst that can happen? Someone is going to say no to your poems? A no is better than a nothing, which is what you hear when you don’t submit. So be brave and hit the button already. You never know.
4) Love exporting into Word docs
My love for Scrivener knows no bounds. I heart that writing program so much I purchased it for every writing machine I’ve ever owned. My favorite thing is using the export button when I’m going to submit. Literally, it converts it to a Word doc and all I have to do it type the title in and give it a once over.
Seriously, I highly recommend Scrivener. And there’s a new iOS version I’m currently playing with.
5) It’s always better when you make it into a party
The best part of the submission blitz hands down was being among kindred spirits. We literally cheered each other on as we submitted our pieces. We could bounce ideas off each other. When one of us had a question, another person could answer it. And, of course, food and drink. Everything is better with food and drink.
— IcessFernandezRojas (@Icess) September 10, 2016
Would I do this again? You bet I would and I hope that the organization plans another blitz and that more women and women of color submit our incredibly important and needed work out to the world.
Write (and submit) on!
Good Sunday morning! I hope you’re doing well and that the writing is flowing as well as the coffee and that you’re doing the work you’ve always wanted to do.
It’s been a busy week for me and this upcoming week will be even busier. But I wanted to share this essay with you from my friend Vanessa Martir’s website, Digging into Memory. She is an essayist, poet, fiction writer, and all around badass. This year, she’s pledged to write an essay a week and man, she is sticking to it! Great job, Vanessa!
This particular essay I’m sharing from her series has so many truth bombs. Love me a good truth bomb. The first sentence alone drips with truth and feeling. Here’s another section that jolted some truth in me, when she talked to writer Chris Abani about self-care:
“Then he got serious and said that I will come up with ways to take care of myself, like the boxing I was doing at that time and my walks in the forest. But there will come a time when those things won’t work and I will have to reinvent my methods of self-care. ‘You will always have to reinvent those ways, Vanessa.'”
I haven’t written much about self-care on this site but I’ve hinted at it. (This will be something I’ll be correcting real soon.) Part of the writer’s life is to dig deep with your work (yes, even genre writers have to do this. Especially genre writers, I’d say.)
Sometimes, while digging some emotions/feelings/thoughts bubble up that you don’t want to deal with. We have to pick at the scabs and pour alcohol on them to re-bleed on the page. It isn’t pleasant. It’s not supposed to be. But the craft is empty if it isn’t followed by the emotional work. That’s what makes it authentic.
I’ll write more about this soon. In the meantime, read Vanessa’s essay and her Relentless Files for more truth bombs. Definitely worth the read and the time invested.
Doing the work,
*An essay a week in 2016*
Here’s the thing no one tells you about digging into memory and writing about the ghosts that haunt you: you will have to relive those moments and it will leave you reeling and you will carry that reeling in your chest and you won’t know what to do with it or yourself, and you will snap at people, the people you love most, who hold you when you’re heaving, and you won’t know what to do with that pain so you lash out and you can’t help yourself…in the moment, you will blame those people, say it is them, their nagging, their demands…and only later, when you’ve had time to calm fuck down will you see that it wasn’t them, it was you and your shit coming up…and you will be so fucking sorry but sorry doesn’t heal the pain you already caused…so what…
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I am so excited to be featured on Trevor Boffone’s website today. I love sharing what I’m working on and my thoughts on the writing process but I forgot to add…I’m still working on the Afro Latinos anthology! Yikes! That was my bad.
Hope you enjoy the interview!
Name: Icess Fernandez Rojas
Hometown: Houston, TX – baby!
Residence: North Shore
What is your earliest memory of writing?
The womb, as I was writing my grievances for the tiny room of which I was assigned. I’ve been giving my mom headaches ever since. Ha! It’s part of my charm, she says.
How did you become a writer?
That’s a really hard question. I wrote short stories and things in school and as a hobby (it is no longer a hobby). I always knew I’d write books but I believe that I began learning some of the fundamentals of writing as a journalist. It’s a great training ground for the nitty gritty like writing to a length or word count, writing on deadline, keeping the reader in mind, asking questions of characters (sources). However, I think what launched my writing ahead, really solidified it in my head and brought me…
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Someone recently posed a question to me. When you think about teaching creative writing, what does that mean?
The answer was easy and came to me quickly. This is all about empowerment. Writing, especially creatively, is about being empowered and empowering others.
This is why I love teaching writers. In my career, I’ve taught children, college students, and adults.
And each time I’ve taught, no matter what the age group, something magical happens. Students’ opinion toward writing change and, while they may or may not get into it, they start appreciating it and writing becomes accessible.
For me, English wasn’t always accessible. That’s because another language came off my tongue first. My first language was Spanish. I went to kindergarten not knowing that much English, just whatever I heard on Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. I remember a teacher thinking I wasn’t very smart when I first started school. Surprise, surprise, East Harris County in the 80s was not nice to daughters of immigrants. My mom, with her limited English, complained to the point that the teacher was fired.
I was put in ESL classes and had to have extra tutoring in English. My mom would read to me every night in her broken English until I practically memorized books.
And then, in 5th grade, something amazing happened. I skipped a reading level. Now I was one level away from the gifted kids. That’s when I made a promise to myself. I was going to do this English thing — reading and writing — better than the smart kids. If being able to command this language in the written form was seen as a magic trick, I was going to do that magic trick better than anyone else.
By high school, I was in English honors courses and taking AP English classes. For me, writing was empowerment. It meant that I could write and understand the world around me in a way that other people couldn’t. And that meant, if I got really good, I could write my own ticket in life.
Empower: (verb) give (someone) the authority or power to do something.
Fast forward to my first adjunct English class. I started my college teaching career in Louisiana. And in my class, I had students who were parents, adults who worked, folks who returned to college after being gone for awhile. For all of them, English was the subject that they couldn’t pass. They weren’t good at it. I didn’t understand. They grew up speaking this and reading this language, why was it so difficult?
Because no one told them that this space was for them and that they’ve already succeeded just by showing up. No one told them that this is how they make a mark in the world and that these words are just building blocks to create the thoughts in their heads.
No one told them that their voices matter.
And my existence tells them the opposite of what they’ve have been lead to believe. If that’s not empowering, I don’t know what is.
In life, as I’m learning, you get a microphone, a chance to do or say things that help impact the world. The size of the microphone depends on popularity, I’m sure. For example, Beyonce’s mic is bigger and has a longer reach than this website. But this is MY microphone, my change to change the world. While Queen B does it with music and concerts, I do it one student at a time, one word at a time, one class at a time.
When you make something that was formerly non-accessible completely approachable and relatable, you’ve just empowered someone. That’s why I teach writing.
So here’s my new motto: Empower to elevate.
Feeling like She-Ra,
This post right here!
I love it when a great writer posts what I was thinking. Here’s an example. Especially during this election season, stuff like this needs to be said and often.
Last night, as Simone Manuel stood on a podium to be the first black woman to earn an individual gold medal in swimming, NBC decided it was more important to cover Russian gymnastics from several hours before…
Dear racists of America, we are coming for you. Coming for your pools and your balance beams. We’ve already come for your NBA, NFL, National Leagues (yes, Dominicans & Puerto Ricans count). We been done came for your Pulitzer Prize, your Nobel, your White House.
We, people of the African diaspora, have proven that we are some of the baddest folks on land, but now we came to claim air and sea. Watch us fly through the air on the floor, the vault, the uneven bars. Watch us glide through water so fast, even your shit talking about our hair can’t stop us. NBC, you can cut away to something else—
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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.
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,
This is a website about writing. And the writing life. It is about dispelling those myths about what the writing life actually is.
It takes courage to live this life. It takes more courage to live this life as a writer of color. Today is one of those days where writing is my salvation. Reading is my salvation. And reflection is needed.
As a writer of color, I can’t ignore a day like today when we are mourning the murders of two black men at the hands of the people who were sworn to protect.
I’ve personally seen both sides of officers. I live in Texas — guns, God, family and country — is the motto of every die hard Texan. We have an allegiance to those who put their lives on the line, a duty to support them to the ends of the Earth. It’s a blind duty that has hurt more than helped. It has hidden instead of honored.
I was about six when a Harris County deputy slammed my father to the ground in the front yard of our house. I was in the car. My mother came out and screamed at the top of her lungs, “He has a heart condition.” The shrill is still there as I remember this memory. The only other time I heard my mother that way was when we found my dad had passed away.
That day of the bad deputy, I yelled, too. “Get off my daddy!” I wanted to get out but he had closed the door. Dad told me not to get out for any reason. “Get off my daddy! Get off my daddy!” My piercing screams filled our family car. My ears rang, the tears like coals on my checks. I banged on the window
The deputy’s knee was in the middle of his back and dad couldn’t breathe. Then, the deputy looked me. His cowboy hat didn’t hide the angry in his eyes. My pigtails didn’t make my anger any less than his. I hated him, right there, for doing this. Why? Why would he do this to my daddy?
Because Dad didn’t immediately stop when the deputy put on his lights. But the deputy flashed his lights in front of our house. Dad pulled into the driveway because there was no other room on the street. Did he deserve what happened for that?
The deputy stopped. Picked Dad up. Ticketed him. And left. I never saw him again.
We, at the time, were one of the few families of color in the neighborhood.
Flash forward many years, on vacation to visit family in Central America. Dad stays behind. Mom receives a phone call. There is a shooting. An attempted robbery at the house as Dad was coming home at night. Guns were drawn. Dad shot first. He is alive.
When we arrive home, our driveway is still stained with the bad man’s blood. Dad is still shaken. It was the typical stand your ground case. No charges.
A deputy, different than the one from my childhood, drives by the house to check on us. He asks us if we are okay. When he catches me speeding in the neighborhood a week later, he looks at my face and he sees trauma. A warning. “Call if you need me,” he says. “Anything. That’s why I’m here.”
I don’t see him again after that.
Yes, I’ve seen both sides. But I see one side more than the other. That 6-year-old girl is frightened. She doesn’t want to see anyone else’s daddy on the floor. She doesn’t want anyone’s mommy crying. She doesn’t want her tears to be repeated. And yet they are. So many times.
See, to be a person of color right now is to live in a constant state of fear. Alton and Philando and Trayvon and Sandra and Tamir and everyone else is the reason why. Because I never saw the good deputy again but I see the bad deputy all the time.
Because when I get pulled over in the weeks after Sandra for a taillight being out, my body tenses even though it’s not my fault. Because if I had known the light was out I would have replaced it. Because I place my hands on the steering wheel and hold my breath. Because I am grateful that it’s a busy street down the street from my house. Because my body relaxes when I see the deputy is black. Because he just wanted me to know it was out. Because I tell this to my mom and her eyes grow wide and she realizes that her daughters are in constant danger. Because the country she immigrated to, worked in, and built a life in are hunting her greatest assets and there’s nothing she can do.
I’m tired. For me, the hunting of black bodies didn’t start in the past couple of years. It started when that deputy slammed my dad on the ground of his own home.
I write. Write about this. I share my story. I share that I’ve seen the good and the bad. I share that the bad has cause trauma. I share that I have no solutions. What I have is a magazine, a notebook, and some books to read.
So, I immersed myself in self-care today until the words bubbled like grease. I poured them into this blog post. Now, I spread them like dandelion seeds across the universe and watch what grows if anything.
That is what the writing life is today for me. Sometimes, that’s all it can be.
In a state of sorrow and fear and praying for strength,
Dear Reader ,
Here’s my big announcement.
I’m offering creative writing classes in a couple of weeks. Online!
Yes, that’s the big announcement. I haven’t taught my online class since 2013 and so I’m opening up and teaching “How to write like a Rock Star.”
The class is the jump start you need to work on your fiction and your non-fiction. With this class, I’ll teach you the beginning how-to to get your writing in gear, on point, in process, and on the page.
Here’s more information about the classes. They’re going to be offered soon. The exact date will be determined by the class. Also, it’s SUPER cheap.
Hope to see you in class,