Dear Reader, 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… More
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,
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.
P.S. Want to go ahead and get on the interested list? Fill the form below. I announce classes to my list first.
One of the very first things I heard during my VONA experience was this:
“You are allowed to take up space.”
The words weren’t foreign to me but how they were put together were. Space? I nodded thinking that I knew what that phrase meant.
All through my week, I kept hearing that phrase over again like a mantra in yoga class. During our workshops and in conversations with my workshop leader, this phrase was the bad penny of conversation but, like with everything else from that magical week, I took it with me to mull over and consider.
Fast forward to this morning and my scrolling through social media. Forbes posted this gem and the first item on this list was this:
Don’t apologize for taking up space.
But this time, after more than a year, I know what that phrase means. I feel it like one feels cold or warmth. I feel it like how one feels pain. It is instinct now.
For people of color, women of color in particular, we play this inherited game. We walk into it really, the second we accept our first job. We learn to get better at it. We shrink ourselves in ways we’re not conscious of. We learn when it’s best to talk in the meeting even though we had that great idea two weeks ago. We learn to dress professionally, with just enough colors to be seen or even be considered fashionable, but mixed with enough muted colors to blend into walls and cubicles. Our voices are softer and lower, our tones calm, our speech rates slower so that we are understood but don’t come off as “passionate”, a code word for threatening. We change the texture of our hair — we relax it, we weave it, we place it in buns or ponytails. Our laughter in the workplace is limited least we are thought of as lazy and non-compliant despite working longer hours and working harder.
In short, the goal is to take up enough space to be seen as a professional but not so much that we’re seen as intrusive.
Writing is like that sometimes. Take up enough space to do your art but don’t demand any more than that. And getting paid for your writing? Well, that’s absurd! Writing for art? Who do you think you are? Hemingway? Writing the truth of the world around you — well now you’ve gone too far!
How dare we ask to take up the space that is not only due but required to just make sense of the world around us? I, as a writer, a woman of color, the daughter of immigrants, an Afro-Latina, take up this space because, simply, I am human.
So, nah, I ain’t sorry. I am allowed and required to take up all the space I need.
That is what independence is to me. That freedom of being and creating in my space. Being who I truly am. Not apologizing for it because none is necessary. I am human after all and we need what we need to survive and thrive in whatever way we chose. If that means I take up more space than I’m allotted then so be it. Making myself smaller physically or on the page serves someone else, serves a game that I’m not willing to play anymore.
I am allowed to take up space. I don’t have to apologize for it. I am free.
Happy Independence Day,
It has been such a whirlwind the past couple of months so I apologize for not writing and checking in.
In between teaching English at community colleges, writing, submitting, and living something needed to be sacrificed and sleep wasn’t one of them.
So, let’s get this update started. What have I done? What have I created? Am I achieving my goals from my resolution?
Let’s start with April
Made four submissions (yay!) Got three rejections (womp) and waiting for one more.
Read a new piece, Confessions of the Child Not Coming, for the Nuestra Palabra 20th anniversary showcase. It was so much fun and it was great to see the old gang again.
Began semi-secret new project, which I don’t want to announce until it is completely finished. Sorry, no update for this.
I’m working on non-fiction pieces! YES!! Flash memoir! Some thoughts from reading Citizen, which is amazing and you should definitely pick up.
Jennie Manning got a couple of raised eyebrows from agents. We’ll see what happens next. She got a deep polish during April which means she’s shining really brightly.
Kinda took this month off. Between grading and submitting grades and knowing that I’d have a relatively active summer, thought I’d take some time off. However, I did finish and submit my piece for the Kimibilo Fellowship. It’s a sci-fi piece and I LOVE it.
So far, I’ve concentrated on teaching creative writing to kids during a two-week camp. That camp just finished. So I’ll be back on the grind and prepping for Kimilibo here in a few days.
Thoughts about my progress
What do I think of my progress so far this year? It’s okay. I’m always going to push myself for more but I want to increase my number of submissions. However, to do that, I need to concentrate on writing more single, one hit things — flash fiction pieces, poetry, memoir, flash memoir, etc. I’ve written so much on Jennie that I need more stand alone pieces.
My submissions calendar is a bit sparse now. I hadn’t really updated it since taking May off. So I’m going to be adding more due dates and maybe revisiting some of the publications that posted new calls for submissions.
So…here’s the thing with my writing short stories. They all become novels. Seriously, I am having the most trouble with this. Two short stories now have novel heartbeats. So I’m going to retool this resolution to focus more on flash fiction with 1,000 words or less on the page most likely focusing on a single moment. Anything more than that I’ll have another novel project on my hands and NO! that can’t happen again.
Also, I haven’t thought or started translating any of my pieces, which is a goal I had at the beginning of the year. I’m thinking I may lay that aside and concentrate more on making the writing more impactful and deeper. I still want to work in Spanish and in translation but I may have bitten off more than I can chew.
Self care: I’m doing it. I’m listening to my body more and to my thoughts and making sure that I’m not overdoing it and that I am expressing what needs to be expressed. I’m also creating art which helps with the healing. This is extremely important because if I don’t take care of myself, how am I going to create art?
So that’s it. I give myself about a C+ on my goals which means I’ll need to step it up. I think I have a game plan already. There are two pieces that are boiling in my head at the moment that may be ready soon for submission. We’ll see.
Alright everyone, off I go and return to my writing hole.