Why 2016 is going to be amazing

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Kathy’s 2015 zine art project. Did this with my friend and helped us reflect on a year with lots of personal and professional growth.

Dear Reader,

I am so fortunate to know, although through social Kathy Murillo aka Crafty Chica.

She’s is just a ray of sunshine and BOY can she craft and blog and run a business. I’ve listened to some of her Periscopes and videos and I’m always in awe of her. Today wasn’t different.

My fellow blogger wrote a post about creating a 2015 zine to commemorate the big events and lessons of the year. It’s awesome and if you’re into coloring, you can be creative that way too.At the same time, my friend Tony wrote

At the same time, my friend Tony wrote blog post on his goals for 2016. Both of my friends are writing books and will be either in the middle or tail end of their journeys next year.

So they’ve inspired me to think about goals for next year.  For me, I feel like my year didn’t start until June so I only have half year of 2015 to think about. This was a fantastic year and I learned so much about myself as a person and a writer so it’s a bit sad that it’s ending. That doesn’t mean I’m not excited for the new year and the adventures it’ll bring.

So without much fanfare, this is my ONE goal for 2016.

Wake up and be freakin awesome

 

Yes, it’s just that simple. I want to continue the great success I had last year. I’m ending the year with a short story being picked up by The Fem Lit Mag (it’s called “Everything in its Place”), an anthology to plan and put together along with my co-editor, a two submissions, a book nearly completed, and a new short story in a new genre for me — science fiction.  That doesn’t include the Afro-Latina retreat, the reading, and VONA.

All this among the scariest time for me personally, and the ending of an abusive work relationship.

Frankly, I freaking won 2015.

But I guess if you want specifics, here goes. In no certain order my goals for 2016:

Write more short stories

I wrote a new one and edited a couple that I’ve written in the past. I forgot how much I love the short story, how compact it is or can be when it comes to revision. Working with “Everything in its Place” was so freeing. It’s a flash fiction piece, less than 800 words. The constraints meant that everything needed to be not only in the sentences but between the sentences. Lesson: stories are just as much as much about what is unsaid as what is.

Everything in its place

I’ll like to work with more short stories and try something new, genre, format, subject matter. My new sci-fi piece (which I haven’t named yet) was such an eye opener. I wouldn’t mind trying my hand at another one or at a couple of ideas for scenes. May they grow into something great.

I feel like I’m developing as a writer and that my writing is moving into a new direction. I’m finding it so much more important, now more than ever, to reflect my world and to lead my voice telling those stories.

More submissions

In 2015, I submitted to things and said to myself, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if I got this”.  Then came VONA, the Owl of Minerva, and now The Fem Lit piece being accepted.

What would happen if I did that more?

In 2016, I’m going to find out. I want to submit to more journals, contests, and opportunities.  You don’t win if you don’t play and I’m tired of not winning.

As a writer, as a woman of color, I have something to say to the world. I have developed and earned back the voice to say what I need to say. I’m telling stories, my stories, the way I want. It’s time the world read them

Continue my Afro-Latina journey

A retreat, a reading, and now an anthology. This was the year I came home to myself. I am Afro-Latina and proud of it. I am two in one. I do not choose, I am.

As a result, I will read more Afro-Latino writers. I’m currently in the middle of Shadowshapper by Daniel Jose Older (VONA alum as well).  I am so in awe of him and his effortless storytelling. I’ll be sure to write an annotation like I did with Graham Greene a while back. Lots to learn.

I want to write more about my experiences about being Afro-Latina in this “post racial” world. Oh, I got stuff to say.

And, of course, there’s the anthology. I can’t wait to work more on it and to finally call for submissions. A theme has been chosen. The wheels are turning and it’s baptism by fire. Thankfully, I enjoy learning this way. (Talk to me in a couple of months.)

Work more in non-fiction

I spent 12 years as a reporter so when I think about non-fiction I think articles.  I don’t think memoir or personal essay.

A good friend of mine keeps telling me, you should write a memoir. I keep telling her I haven’t lived a live worth writing about. How wrong I’ve been!

After this year, I have a story to tell and demons to conquer on the page. I am a writer in transition with a world in flux. That deserves an essay or two, don’t you think?

Jennie Manning, blogging, and translation

Jennie Manning is in an interesting stage — nearly done and ready for a full workshop. I anticipate dusting off my query writing letter skills. Wish me luck.

Blogging = oh my goodness what do I write about. I think that this blog isn’t the how-to-be-a-better-writer-in-5-easy-steps type. It’s the here’s-what-it’s-really-like-because-I’m-doing-it-now type.  I want to be a better blogger and write about EVERYTHING dealing with the writing life. Doubts? Yup. Rejection. Oh hell yes. Books (or lack of) that I’m reading. Sure. How to do awesome writing. When it comes up.

To demystify the writing life, I’ve got to also show you the ugly about it. This isn’t a life for the faint of heart. It takes some cojones to tell the world that you chose to be poor but happy. You should see that reflected here.

I am going to translate a short story of mine into Spanish because why not. It’s not like I have other things to do like teach, write, and publish. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Take care of yourself.

This doesn’t mean workout every day though I intend on going back to the mat and embracing yoga again. This means to speak my mind, to say no when the answer is no, to protect my sense of hope. Listen, my life scare was an eye-opener. I need to do things differently and not put myself in situations where people don’t care whether I live or die. Literally. I need to be strong enough to walk away and give my time and talent to the people and causes that deserve it. Frankly, I’m not dying so that other people a better sense of self or to extend their privilege.

This will be the most difficult goal to keep.


 

Basically, my goal is to make better art, get people to see it, and repeat. It’s a pretty ambitious goal list but 2016 is an ambitious year. It has to be, it’s going to be one for the record books. Are you ready?

Happy New Year!

How the worst time of my life became the best

 

 

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Welcome to Miami. There are palm trees everywhere.

Dear Reader,

Today, I am dreaming of Miami.

It’s been nearly six months since I last stepped foot in that town and it changed my life. That was when I felt something break inside of me and a shift happen. There was bound to be change. That was June 26.

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Me at VONA in Miami

It wasn’t even a month later that my life completely changed. I left a rough and difficult situation for home, where I wanted to be for so long. Looking back now, had I continued in that situation, I’d be dead within six months. That’s where my head was.

I’m not ashamed of it now, I was at one point suicidal. There was a time I curled up into a ball and cried. The crying didn’t stop and I soon found myself being diagnosed in a psychiatric hospital.

However, I had help getting there. I know now the dark side of humanity and that it pleased some to create the situations that lead me down this dark path.

So when Miami happened and that shift happened, a new life happened. Happened. Happened. Happened. I have that clear in my head, the last year happened, to me, around me, and in my heart.

During the week of Thanksgiving, I wondered if I would have something to be thankful for. I was upset that I wouldn’t. Surely this is the bottom of the low of my life. But a phone call from a former student, actually several phone calls from former students, reminded me how close I came to ending it all. They reminded me how life in 2015 started one way but is ending in a completely different way and that’s okay.

Those phone calls reminded me that, to live a life worth living it is not about how much of one thing or another you have. It’s about what you contribute to the world. And it’s being here when it’s easier to not be. It’s about feeling the dark and the light.

These past six months have been the most creative in several years.  I started a writer’s retreat. Did a live streamed reading. Won an award. Taught amazing students. Wrote a short story in a genre I never thought I’d write and I went to VONA where on June 26 everything changed. 

I’m not done. If all goes well I will finish 2015 with three more submissions to publications and contests.  And I’ve met my tribe. My beautiful Afro-Latinas who knew me before they knew my name. For them I am forever grateful. 

Dark comes in anticipation of the brightest light.  This is what I know  to be true. (Click to tweet this out.)

Miami, I love you. With every visit, I learn something more of myself. This last one was a doozy. Thank you for that.

Miami dreaming,

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That Latin Explosion documentary…incomplete

Dear Reader,

Sometimes being Afro-Latina comes with stomaching the obvious — being left out of the narrative.

I tried to avoid the HBO documentary Latin Explosion because I already knew what it was going to be, a celebration of Latino achievement in America.

And it should be celebrated — Rita Moreno, Jose Feliciano — their very presence started a chain reaction that allowed Rick Martin to dazzle at the Grammys or Shakira’s hips not to lie.

But where are the Afro-Latinos? Are we not part of the story?

Usually, we are not. Usually, we are the other, the dark-skinned tio in the closet no one talks about. The Afro part of being Hispanic, whether you’re Mexican or Argentine, is usually swept under the rug.

But this documentary is very music heavy. We talk about salsa and include Desi Arnez in the conversation. The Fania All-Stars are mentioned. And yet, where is Celia Cruz?

We talk about acting and yet where is the infamous Zoe Saldana who was in one of the highest grossing films in recent memory?

Continuing with actors, how about Gina Torres who has had an entire career with little recognition of her Latina roots. And she doesn’t run away from it either as we can tell from this video.

Can we also mention Laz Alonso who is an actor on The Mysteries of Laura, which was adapted from a Spanish television show?

I find it difficult that the Estefans were part of this documentary and didn’t mention their friend Celia once, or the fact that they made a living with beats that came straight from their African roots?

Like this moment never happened.

Or at the very least that her life was on Broadway. Yes, THE Broadway.

It’s harsh when not even your own recognizes you and most especially when they were your friends.

It’s obvious that the documentary made me angry but it doesn’t surprise me. I don’t like that as a people, Latinos are not united. We have the potential to do great things and yet we insist on not accepting and telling our entire narrative. We, as a people, seem to be okay to just tell one side of the story and accept it as complete — this is who we are, not that other side.

Newsflash, there were slaves in Latin America. They have last names  like Fernandez, Gonzalez, Guerra, Martinez. They speak Spanish. They dance salsa and bomba and tango. That music you are dancing to? Came from the motherland. That pride, part of that came from the motherland too. We are Latinos and we deserve to be part of the narrative of being Latino, not only in Latin America but here, in the US, which seeks to categorize us as African American.

Documentaries like this make me tired and upset. Story, my dear reader, is currency. Those with the currency have power and can frame the narrative in any way they choose.

That’s why it’s so important to tell our stories, the Afro-Latino story. It’s just as beautiful and varied as everyone else’s and it’s just as important to tell.

So, I’ll tell it.

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The best night of literature and words

 

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The most brilliant women I know. They make me look good.

 

Dear Reader,

I am exhausted and with good reason.

On Wednesday night, I was part of an amazing livestreamed reading. Culture, Love, and  Identity: An Afro-Latina Reading. 

It was amazing and just knocked my socks off. You know when you work on something for so long and you don’t know how it’s going to turn out but you just can’t stop to think about it. That was that moment.

Wait, it’s all jumbling in my head like a brand new jigsaw puzzle. Let me start where all things start, the beginning.

I had this idea. What if there was a writing retreat for Afro-Latina writers? Like why wasn’t there before? It just seemed to be this was a thing to do.

You have to understand, Dear Reader, that when I thought about this, it was for an award given by a lit journal. It wasn’t really thought out completely. It was half baked on its way to being fully baked, as most ideas are.

But then I won it and all of a sudden I became something more than a writer. I became a person who created space for other writers. I became a person who went from writing in the shadows to asking people to apply to spend a weekend in a Houston in Galveston, Texas. I became a person with a voice and an opportunity to do something different.

Talk about adulting.

And I took it seriously and it was amazing. The five ladies that joined in were just amazing writers and people. It was surprising how close we became in such a short period. So much so that I can’t imagine my writing life without them.

Then we did this reading. This crazy awesome reading of our work and now people are saying they were inspired. I read a section of Jennie Manning, my novel in progress, and now people are asking about my character.

And yet, this feels like my life’s work, something that I should do always and constantly. Something I should explore because there’s an answer there somewhere, I think, though I have no idea what the question is.

And so this reading happens. It happens the same week I grade what feel like a million papers. It happens the same week I get some distressing news from my past. It happens the same week I questions a list of truths I’ve grown up with.

This reading happens just as life happened. As it should.

So here, I give you the reading. I hope you like it. I hope it inspires you. I hope it fuels you.

As always I remain your humble storyteller,

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Can you create a community that’s been there all along?

We all need community. Writers are no different.

Dear Reader,

Today, I’m thinking about community.

On a day where most of the country is voting on local elections, it’s not a bad topic to think about. What is a community? How does one form? How does it govern itself for its collective goal?

Since coming back from the Afro-Latina Writer’s Retreat, I think about community all the time. It’s mostly in exclamation points like I can’t believe how awesome that was! I can’t believe how great those women are! How did I get so lucky! They truly get me!

That last sentence — they truly get me — that sentence is what my brain continues to mull over.

Afro-Latinos wrestle and consider identity. Given. Are we more one or the other? If we are truly both, why the guilt? Or why is my culture decided for me?

Never have I felt that four strangers (one I knew before the retreat) knew me in that way. It’s usually a matter of adapting. I adapt when I’m around my Latino and I adapt when I’m around my African-Americans.

It’s not that one experience is more than the other, it’s just that’s it MY experience. That’s my super power to be able to survive. This concept is difficult to explain unless you live in a cultural duality unless you live your life straddling that line. But it doesn’t stop me from trying. That’s what my work is about, it’s about voice. However, I’m also slowly adding identity.

This reading on Nov. 18 will be amazing. Everyone will get a chance to see and hear what I’ve been talking about. There is amazing art out there that’s created by those who seek to form their own identity.

I think what I find surprising is that this Afro-Latino community exists. It does! We have Boricua Chicks doing their thing and they do their thing well. We have my girl Alicia Anabel Santos, a member of the retreat, doing her thing as a producer of a documentary about Afro-Latinos. Just discovered this new blogger (new to me). There’s a festival? Yes, there is! And even the academics are helping to tell our story. And that’s just a couple of people who are doing their thing!

There is a community out there for me and since announcing the reading, we’ve been welcomed with open arms! We even got some press on it.

Community. It’s a thing. And it’s my privilege to join it already in progress.

Write On,

Icess

P.S. Spaces are filling up fast for Culture, Love, and Identity: An Afro-Latina Reading.  Make sure you reserve your spot. Click here to do it.

Power in numbers: AfroLatina, writing, and strength

Discover AndExperiencE ASIA

This week, I recovered from a memorable weekend. Not, it wasn’t a party type thing. This was a soul restoring thing. This was a game changing kind of thing. This was the start of something amazing.

But let us start at the beginning because, frankly, I was really bad at tell everyone what was going on when it was going on.

A couple of months ago, I was the winner of the Owl of Minvera Award, which is sponsored by the Minerva Rising Literary Journal. I won with a proposal that created a writer’s retreat for 4 to 5 AfroLatina women in Galveston, Texas.

That in itself is pretty cool. Here I was, a writer trying to revise my latest novel and now I was a person creating opportunities for other writers. What?! Yes. I became a person who rented beach houses, designed menus, thought about writing exercises, and hoped to create a space so fantastic that art would be created. It made me have a great appreciation for the people who put retreats together.

While it was one thing to plan the retreat, picking who would come to it was something different. In a quick turnaround, a call for applications made one thing clear — it wasn’t going to be easy choosing the ladies who will be part of this retreat.  There was so much talent out there. So. Much. Talent. This was crazy!

Through the process, I chose five ladies whose art was as deep as their desire to write.  I picked Alicia Anabel Santos, Guadalis Del Carmen, Maria Elena Montero, Marilou Razo, and Jasminne Mendez.

As a result, this past weekend was memorable, epic, and life changing. Yes, life changing. I have found another writing community. I have lived in my purpose and I love it.

As if that wasn’t enough, we are having an international reading Nov. 18.  INTERNATIONAL! That means that if you live in Paris, France or Paris, Texas you will be able to watch the reading!

The reading will be at 8 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Central, 5 p.m. Pacific. You’ll be able to watch it on your mobile, tablet, and computer. All you’ll have to do is click on the link. To get the link, sign up below.  We’re going to be sending it out the closer we get to the event.

Please, sign up and get ready to hear some great writing.

Calling all AfroLatina writers! A writing retreat for you

 

You know when you apply to something and you hope you get it but you know that the competition is stiff, but if you got it it’d be so amazing.

Well, that just happened to me. Continue reading “Calling all AfroLatina writers! A writing retreat for you”

The next start over

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Today is the last day of things and the beginning of other things.

I don’t want to go into too many details but I am moving from Louisiana back to Texas. I’m embarking on a new adventure and I feel  a bit like the woman in this picture — on top of a mountain looking below at everything.

The mountain is my career and below is the path I took to get to this point. I can see where the path was smooth and even and where it was the most rocky. I see the fork in the road that I wished I’d taken and the ones I was glad to experience. So many lessons, so many years and the theme to all this is simple really.

Life is a series of starts and stops, start overs but no do overs. It’s up to you to make something of each start and stop. (Click to tweet this)

So here I am, at the beginning of the next start over with paths and paths of lessons behind me. I’m excited for what’s ahead and grateful for what’s behind me now.

You should know, dear reader, that during this transition you will not be left alone.  I’m taking about a month off but this blog will be active in the month of May (while I’m packing and moving). There’s a couple of posts in the can waiting to go live. I also have some friends stopping by to guest post. Here’s some of the topics they’re writing about:

Rising action in mystery stories

  • Lessons I learned writing my first novel
  • Why writers should blog
  • Self promotion 101
  • There’s more topics but I don’t want to give everything away!

Meanwhile, I can always be reached through social media, via Twitter or Google+ and see my move through Instagram.  And of course, you’re welcomed to follow.

I’ll be back in June! See you then!

His magic was my realism

Don't quit your day job. Writing with a 9 to 5

I was talking to a lady about my desk when the world heard of his passing.

“I’m not sure my couch would fit here with my desk. I’m a writer and I need my desk.”

I said that to the woman showing me the apartment. I am moving to a bigger place, in a bigger city, in a bigger state because my career just got bigger. I’m about to work at a university and advise students who will become amazing journalist. They will report and write and distribute the news in ways that we all haven’t even thought of yet.

My phone buzzed but it usually did with emails and texts and such. It’s the burden of being connected. It buzzed again. Even as I write this now, I don’t know why I didn’t check my phone.

Gabo died and I didn’t check my phone. I didn’t check it for a long time.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez was for me a teacher. I write often on this blog about voice — how I lost it and how I gained it back. But I’ve never written about what I did to keep it, to make it grow in strength and in consistency. I mean, what are you supposed to do once you have a voice?

You’re supposed to use it.

Garcia Marquez said it was okay to use it…and often.

That’s because in my voice was me, all of me. Everything that makes me who I am and all the things I have yet to become. It’s okay if sometimes the voice goes back to childhood because I am that person. It’s perfectly fine if my voice is cold and cruel because sometimes I can be that way, too. This was who I was and it was okay to be this person.

While writers like Junot Diaz, Roberto Bolano, and Cristina Garcia helped me find my voice, Garcia Marquez made it okay to be more than one thing, fiction writer and journalist. After all, it’s the story that matters. It’s the story. Always the story.

That’s when I knew I was a storyteller, not a writer. Story drives me.

I read the messages on my phone.  I didn’t stop to react to his passing so I dismissed it as another news event.

It wasn’t until the next morning, in the quiet hours, before the world began to bark, that my heart understood the messages.

El maestro had passed. Garcia Marquez was no more physically but had crossed into a place where he was immortal, where he’d live forever in the stories he wrote. This is when I realized one fundamental thing, the last lesson he would teach me.

Storytellers live forever.

There is an indescribable hole in my soul since his passing, as if a family member in another country had passed on before I had a chance to know them, before my eyes memorized the contours of their face.  I feel his passing deeply, beyond the meaning of words, in a place where only other storytellers dwell. My bones ache with sadness and the world’s colors are duller. It will be a while before the luster returns.

It may sound silly, all this feeling for someone I’ve never met. We all pretend to know other artists through their work. For me, that’s not so. I got to know myself through his words, his imagery. His magic and was my realism. His magic nurtured my voice.

In recent years, I’ve had the great privilege of being compared to Gabo but not in the way you’d think. His mastery of story was not where the comparison was made but in the strength and clarity of voice.  At one time, that terrified me but now I know that was the legacy he left for me.

Good night, maestro. The angels await your stories.

 

My other posts about Garcia Marquez

 

Other great Gabo stuff on the interwebs

 

What does your writing mean to you?

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Sometimes the present is so changed that the past is linked to the present only by a fragile word. To build something new, you must be prepared to destroy the past. – Yvonne Vera.

The first time I read that quote in Butterfly Burning I was in an immense amount of pain. I wasn’t in physical, but the internal pain was nearly unbearable. I was being pulled into several directions professionally. First it was my love, my work, journalism and being a reporter at a mid-sized daily. Then it was my first love, my future, writing and the MFA.

For a time there, it seemed that journalism demanded more of me than it had in the past, ironically during my graduate program. However, I wanted to give the program and this direction a fair shot.  I always wanted to write books and that they’d be fiction and that the road to finding my voice would go through this program.

What to do? Not sleep? Quit one or the other?

Then I read this quote. The word that linked my past and present at the time was safety.

Becoming a storyteller? Yes, that was in my DNA from the minute I could breathe. My brain doesn’t and can’t function any other way. But what made me (frankly) miserable during this time? Safety.

On one hand, I wanted to stay where I was as a writer and journalist because it was familiar. I found a sense of comfort in knowing things others didn’t, not because I gained that experience through learning but because I had some sort of seniority. I had become one of the “old timers” (mostly through attrition). Life had become predictable in a way and that make me feel so safe even though I knew that I was stagnating in my craft.

Me on the first day of grad school

On the other hand, this new thing, this MFA and this journey toward finding my voice? This was what I yearned for. New air. New thoughts. New muscles being flexed. I took to this life as if this was where I was meant to be. But this also scared me. There were so many unknowns. Would I…could I…actually become the writer I’ve always wanted? This was not the inverted pyramid of journalism but the truth of fiction where I could wound or heal myself with a phrase — there was no detachment.

Scared. I was scared either way.  Then I read this quote and it made all the sense in the world.

In order for me to stop being scared, I needed to be ready to destroy the past.

That didn’t mean to quit one or both — newspapering or MFA. That meant that I needed to rethink what it meant to be a writer and a storyteller. That meant I needed to define what that was for myself and how I could carve my own reality.

Once you understand the meaning of your writing, you can carve out your own destiny. (Click to tweet this)

That’s when I began to own who I really was — a storyteller who can tell a story in many different ways.  I chased stories with a new zeal and read everything I could get my hands on, including creative nonfiction. I wanted to learned how different stories and writers worked.

I became an apprentice to words. 

So now, among the sea of tweets and statuses and the speed of changing technology, I know that the world still needs storytellers. That talent is one of the building blocks of humanity. People will always want a story.

And that, readers, is the most freeing thing in this world.