How redemption continues even after death

When I talk about my father and when I write stories about him, I chose my words carefully. His is a story of redemption. The success of that redemption depends on who you ask.

My dad was Osiris Fernández y Ferrer. That was his full name according to his Cuban passport. I say that with trepidation because I know that the age is wrong; he’s younger than the age shown. In order to leave Cuba in the 1960s, my grandmother lied about the birth date of her third oldest. It was like her gift to him, the opportunity to escape Fidel Castro’s Cuba as it began.

He wasn’t a nice man, my father. I know that now 15 years after his death. My dad wasn’t a nice man but he was always nice to me and I always sought his approval. I always had it. My life wasn’t as difficult.

My life wasn’t as difficult as my sister’s. My dad wasn’t a nice man to her. I wasn’t a nice sister to her either, a regret that I have asked for forgiveness for. My sister, I believe, has forgiven me. I haven’t.

And, if truth be told, I haven’t forgiven him either. See, in his world, there’s no way that he could have produced a child who was gay. In his world, he couldn’t have a brother who enjoyed the company of men. In his world, anything different wasn’t quite right. So my beautiful blood sister wasn’t quite right. She was a problem to be fixed. What we couldn’t see at the time was that she wanted a family and wasn’t getting it.

If the sins of the past come back to haunt, then they came back the first time I met my brother a couple of years ago.

Before dad met mom, he had a family. The particulars on how he lost that family included a gunfight in a bodega, the FBI questioning my brother’s mom, and my dad’s prison time. It was during that time my brother and his mother disappeared. Dad died wanting to meet his son and searching for him. It would be something I would try to carry on.

When I saw my brother, met him for the first time, I saw my dad. He had that same Fernandez confidence. My sister has that confidence too. Me? I take more from the Guatemalan side of my family than the Cuban. The swagger skipped me.

To describe the Fernandez swagger is to describe how a panther glides through the world. They own the world around them and they know it. Their steps are sure-footed. There is never a misplaced step in their walk or actions. They don’t apologize, they continue. They balance between the demands of obligation and hunger for something more than they had. The Fernandez swagger hypnotizes you to think or look one way, taking your attention away from everything else around you.

And my brother had. The undeniable Fernandez swagger. He was everything my father wanted. A man. Successful. Happy. With a family. And I was…not anything like him. At the time I was scraping by, recovering from the devastation. I didn’t have a family and biology would guarantee that I’d never have one of my own. And I was more grateful than happy. I had forgotten that happiness was an option.

We drank at the bar and took pictures while my mom talked to my brother. He filled in some gaps we had in our family narrative. When it came time to tell my brother what he was like, my sister and I started sharing our experiences.

That’s when I saw dad in a different light. Through my sister’s eyes, I saw him as a bully, not quite an abuser but right on the edge. What I thought was Cuban bravado was just him being an asshole. And then I saw the pain in my sister’s face I question whether my childhood memories were accurate or idealized.

Like when my dad would tell me stories from Cuba and say how much I was his life.

Like when my dad would teach me how to dance

Like when my dad would find the money to get me what I needed. College tuition? I’ll steal it if I have to.

Like when my dad would keep all the articles I published in the newspaper because he knew I’d be an important journalist one day.

Like when he would make sure I’d have a computer so I could do my writing.

Like when my dad made sure that the world was good and right because he wasn’t. Not even close

Like how I was the chance, his chance, to be redeemed as a father.

I’m not saying that sister didn’t have equal good memories. Dad loved my sister. But at the end, if you want to blame it on his illness then go for it, he wasn’t who he was when my sister was first born.

That swagger, the panther-like existence, blinded me for so long.

And THAT is a truth that is just as much as part of his story, his memory, as the time he would fry bacalao for me.  Dad is the ghost of regret for my sister, something she has to live with. My ghost was that I didn’t see it sooner and I didn’t step up to defend my sister when she needed me.

That’s the danger of death, isn’t it? To paint the dead with a luminant color. To speak ill of the dead, well, that’s just not right. But to remember them fondly while not accepting the good and the bad isn’t doing the dead justice at all. It paints them as two-dimensional characters, Disney- like, and strips them of their complexity.

It strips them of their humanity.

So I chose the words carefully when it comes to dad. He was a man who loved his family, yes, but he also was a man who had to have things his way. Dad was a man who loved his daughters, yes, but also elevated one and downgraded another. Dad was a man who loved Cuba and was indifferent to Fidel. He was a man who spent a lifetime searching for a son when he had a daughter who was starving for his acceptance.

He was a man with regrets. He spent a lifetime trying to atone for some things but made new regrets in the process.

Dad has grandchildren. He didn’t know them when he died. He only knew of the ones in Cuba but not the ones from my brother. If he were alive, I think he’s would have beamed with pride. I believe that eventually, he would have reconciled with my sister. It would have been a tough road but I believe they would have gotten there. He would have met his son and have reveled in his fatherhood. He would have definitely kicked me in the ass when I was down and out because I would have needed it.

Did he complete his redemption? No. Yes. Depends. If you believe in reincarnation, then my dad has reincarnated into another form, working off his regrets and learning to be a better being. If you believe in Christianity, he is looking down at us and smiling.  But if you ask us, the family he’s left behind, then the answer is that his redemption is still in progress. His redemption is us and the legacy he has left behind. The aftermath of his life is what we live with, seek to understand, and correct every day. We live with the complexity of his humanity intertwined with our own.

How perfect then that today, on the anniversary of his death, I seek to understand my dad as a person. A flawed man who loved with the same passion as he disliked. A man who made enough mistakes to fuel a series of novels and a tell-all book. A man who was, despite his transgressions, every bit as human as me.

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The Act of Patience in the New Normal

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The first ray of sunshine I saw after Harvey

Dear Reader,

The weeks after Harvey has been, let’s say, a crash course in patience.

Patience in and with FEMA.

Patience in myself and my own healing.

Patience in the new normal.

Patience. So much of it.

And then, without warning, or maybe with some warning, my sister in Cuba dies. She dies after the hurricane it but her death was a long time coming. As most Fernandez do, she suffered from high blood pressure and there was no medicine on the island.

Let me repeat that, an island with the best doctors in the world, the same that found treatment for a specific type of cancer, did not have blood pressure medicine for my sister. So she died after not being able to take her blood pressure medicine. She’s buried in Havana.

This was my Harvey aftermath. At first, I was mourning in private and then when I couldn’t anymore, I went to my Facebook page and announced her death.

They say, when you are mourning, it’s important to take time and mourn. It’s important to have a routine so you take comfort in it once you are done mourning enough.

Mourning enough? Who says what is enough? How do you mourn when a piece of your flesh and blood is in the ground?

I’ve cried enough tears to flood Houston all over again. I’ve yelled enough to make ears bleed. But I feel like it’s not enough.

So I go about my business, teaching my online classes, grading, running errands only because they have to get done. And when I drive around, I remember something I want to tell my sister. I begin to make a mental note to tell her the next time I call and then I remember. There’s no one to call.

When those times happen, I open up my bullet journal for the week she died. In the to-do list, my guilt is marked in black ink, the proof of how bad of a sister I truly was. I was supposed to email her the Monday before she died. But I scratched it out and moved it further in the week. But I didn’t end up emailing her. I was busy…with other people’s shit. Busy enough not to take 20 minutes to email her. Busy enough, just enough, to put her on my to-do list right next to “FEMA” and “finalize beginning online lessons”. Busy enough to write the words on paper but not do the action.

I had moved my sister’s return email three times that week — Monday, Tuesday, Friday — remembering her last email “Everything is fine. We’re okay. Don’t worry. Write me back.”  

That’s when I cry the most. When I remember how bad of a person I was to her.  

But patience. In this new normal. I live with regrets like boulders. They sit on my chest.  They crush me in the moments that I forget. Forgiveness right now is just a word in the dictionary, as foreign a concept as I have ever encountered.

But patience. This passes slowly, this grief, this guilt. These flashbacks of the one and only time I met my sister in Cuba. She was so happy to meet us (my blood sister and I). Hermanas. She always called us that. Not Icess. Not Leslie. But her hermanas. No names needed. Blood recognized blood.

But patience. When I hear her voice still in my ear. The Skype call surprisingly clear. Her reminding me she was an old woman. Me reminding her that we were ageless.

But patience. When I place my fingers on the keyboard and nothing comes out. I want to write about her, immortalize her in words with a poem, a story, a memory. My fingers freeze. My mind punishes me with blankness. Bad sisters don’t deserve to use their gifts.

But patience. Hiding my tears from my own mother, who is afraid I’ll go into a depressive state again. Mourning but not fully mourning. The agony of keeping it hidden is a kind of atonement.

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My dad and my sister. The last time they saw each other. 

But patience. Adding my beautiful sister to our family altar. The act of buying her flowers. The act of lighting her white candle. The sucker punch to your throat and you yelling to God and all the Saints how it was too early. The candle is too early. The white roses are too early. Her picture next to dad’s is too early. Not getting a response back.

But patience. A message. Dad, please take care of my sister. Watch out for her in the hereafter. Tell her that I love her. Tell her that I’m sorry.

But patience. Opening windows to sunlight is a kind of unexpected healing, just like the first time I saw the sun after Harvey. The world continues but in a different way and yet somehow you’re grateful.

The new normal is a reminder that life starts over again and again. Usually without warning. Always in the most inconvenient of times. And even here you must have patience. You must move in the world slowly but deliberately.  You must take care of yourself if only just enough. Your moments are deliberate. Your anger will subside. Your bargaining will stop. Acceptance? Only when you’re ready. You will know when. To hell with the world, you will know when.

The lesson is to be present beyond mindfulness. It’s the small things that bring you the most comfort. A message from a friend. Time with a loved one. The invites to attend events, even if you can’t, even if you’re still dying on the inside. The first time you smile or laugh is the biggest relief. The second biggest is, of course, remembering to breathe.

All this requires patience. And it will come, as it always does, when you least expect.

Like in a simple ray of sunshine after a storm.

The rain, the flood, the trauma

Dear Reader,

I wasn’t going to write, not anymore. I promised myself that this week. I was prepared to end my love affair with the writing life, not out of frustration but of trauma.

My words, they failed me and the energy wasn’t there to pursue them.

Since Harvey sucker punched Houston, I wasn’t interested in putting my experiences out into the world. Outside of my morning journal pages, I was not interested in pushing myself. But I did try. As soon as we returned from evacuation, I opened up my computer and put some words down but they weren’t right. I waited more days. Tweaked the words. They still weren’t quite right.

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When a writer friend led a Harvey recovery writing workshop, I thought this was my chance to write the words that would convey what I was feeling.

But I didn’t want to talk to anyone.

I still don’t. I don’t want to see my friends. I don’t want to see strangers. I don’t have the energy to answer the “how are you” question.

Not great, I want to scream.  I just want to sit still.

I’m faking my smiles. My bright eyes. I dance when people ask. I laugh at jokes, even if they are not very good.  I have a horrible poker face until it’s important to have one. That’s when I’m a beast at faking it.

Since the waters receded, I have kept myself together by diving into work. It’s a superpower, to throw myself into work like it was an emergency. That’s how I was prepared to evacuate–one duffle bag, priceless things in Ziplocks, to know what exactly to pack — antibacterial wipes, flashlights, ibuprofen, and know what to leave behind–my beloved memories only worth a breath in between sobs.

Then, today, it started to rain. Three weeks of dry since Harvey and now it’s pouring. And I cannot look at rain the same. Thunder is a warning, not a signal of a lazy summer storm. Rainwater is acid on my skin. The shiver in my bones originates from ghost droplets of Harvey rains scraping my back like the Devil’s fingernail.

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Images from Harvey and Irma (and what will be Maria) have carved themselves into the gray matter of my brain and I am scared in places only I know about or can access.  Rain now is a trigger. Where I have used it to relax from long, hard days or as soothing background noise to the writing, it is now a cause for concern. Rain sounds force me to look out my front window, mentally measuring puddles against ticking minutes. How fast do they grow? Will it flood? Can the drainage system handle it?

The bright yellow duffle that held my clothes and provisions during evacuation have yet to be unpacked. I’ve dug in there for some things but the big things like t-shirts and pants are still there, just in case.. Because hurricane season is not over.  Because I saw the image of five twisted hurricanes on the monitor today. Because people have lost everything and me very little and the next time it will be my turn. Because everything was taken away from me once before so I should be able to handle it a second time. Or a third. Or a fourth. Because I fake strength. Because I am good at lying when it counts. Because, because, because…

I don’t know what compelled me to write today. I’m not even sure how to end this thing, whatever it is. It feels like I’m rambling like my thoughts are shooting out of me because they don’t have anywhere else to go.

Or maybe this is the only way I know how to process and old habits die hard.

Or maybe I wanted to answer the how are you doing question without seeing people’s reactions. I can’t bare it. Not now. Maybe next week.

Or maybe it’s the rain triggering me in the way it used to, a signal that it is time to sit down, create, and share.

Until next time,

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My three guiding words for 2017

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 is back next week and the instructors came back this week. Lots to do, including syllabus and the first couple of days of lessons. So I knew I needed to get this essay out today.

Here’s a snippet:

My dreams use to fit on a small slip of paper, scribbled in black ink while sobbing in frustration, anger, and fear.

“What do you want, Icess? What the hell is it that you want?” I asked myself this through gritted teeth.

Not this, these feelings of inadequacy and of blaming myself. I didn’t want my job and I couldn’t figure out why. But the list I wrote. The scribbles. That was real. Super real. It was also the last time I dreamed really big. I dreamed so big that I was afraid of it and hid it under my desk calendar so no one would see it but me.

That time in my life was brutal. I don’t want to rehash that here but basically, this. It was brutal because I had forgotten how to do two simple things.

To read the rest of it, click here.

Wrapping up 2016 and looking at 2017

Note: This is part 1 of 2 of my new year resolutions post. 

Dear Reader,

Whoa! I didn’t think that year was going to end. Seriously, 2016 was…well…it’s gone now. Hello, 2017!

So, it’s been awhile since I did an update on how I was doing with my resolutions (from 2016). Seriously didn’t write anything for the last four months or so.  To remind you here’s what I said I wanted to accomplish in 2016.

And wow! While I didn’t accomplish all my goals, I accomplished enough that I am going to say I was successful with my resolutions. So definitely a successful year in writing.

Here’s what was successful:

2016 Resolution: More submissions.

What worked: I totally submitted more this year than I ever have. Total submissions are about 18 submissions. I say about because not every publication uses Submittable, which I use to track acceptances. Those weren’t on Submittable were email submission shops so this is a close guestimation. I have published four. A couple of editors want me to work on the piece submitted and to resubmit. Considering that the year before it was 2 may be three submissions, I’m doing okay.

Out of those 18 or so submissions, I have published four. A couple of editors want me to work on the piece submitted and resubmit. Considering that the year before it was 2 maybe be three submissions, I’m doing okay.

One major thing that helped was to give myself a goal of three submissions per month which is completely do-able.  I was able to do it most months (except for the months it got really heavy at work. One hundred papers to grade all at once? That’s a lot.).

Another thing that helped, a Submission Blitz. I totally wrote about it here. And I tried to go to as many readings and writing workshops that I could go to so that I could learn new things and so that I could fuel my gumption. Which I did and it was awesome.

2016 Resolution: Work more in non-fiction

What worked: Well everything, I suppose. I started writing an essay about my depression and it was one of the ones published this year. From here I started writing my memoir, which at this point is a hybrid of creative non-fiction and poetry. In fact, I worked more in those two genres than I did in fiction.

This resulted in a ton of new work and in doing one of this year’s resolutions, the 52 essays a week challenge created by my friend Vanessa Martir. She’s badass and she spent her 2016 writing an essay a week. I’m joining in this year along with more than 400 other writers. I’ll write more about this in my next post but here’s what I wrote for this week.

2016 Resolution: Taking care of myself

What worked: This was a hit or miss. I took care of myself when self-care was needed but that’s where it ended. It’s my fault because for this one I didn’t have very specific goals.

What I did learn was to listen to my body more and to obey it. When I needed time, I found it. When I needed quiet, I plugged in my earphones. I also learned to put myself first before the work, something I have huge issues with in the past. I’m a workhorse so forcing myself to stop working is a big deal. So I took more breaks and became comfortable knowing that the work would get done.

What I didn’t accomplish:

  • Write more short stories
  • Continue my Afro-Latina journey
  • Jennie Manning
  • Blogging

Jennie Manning isn’t completed but I continued working on the novel through the year. Blogging wasn’t as often as I would like (boo!) because it was sacrificed to write more so I don’t really feel that bad about it. I didn’t write one short story but I did attend a short story workshop.

So what about 2017? What do I have in store for this year? That you will have to wait until Monday. That’s when I’ll post my next #52essays2017 installment. And this one is a doozy!

 

Learning to write blackout poetry

Dear Reader,

I have been in that space between heaven and a traffic jam lately. With the new gig, trying to find time to write since the  Submission Saturday last month has been a bit difficult. Finding my rhythm is has been harder than I thought and I’m still working on it. Between grading, prepping classes, and trying to finish Jennie AND that project I told you about a couple of months ago, it’s all been overwhelming.

However, thank GOODNESS for Tintero Projects writing workshops this month! Each Sunday this month the organization, founded by my good friends Jasminne and Lupe Mendez, is hosting a writing workshop in different disciplines under the theme “Thrill You”. So by disciplines, I mean short fiction, poetry, playwriting, long form fiction, etc.

On Sunday, I  attended the poetry workshop. I’ve been writing a lot of poetry lately and even submitted some to publications. So I was interested in this workshop. (Last week’s was short fiction. Shout out to Hugo for leading that workshop.)

We worked on Blackout Poetry, a type of found poem that allows writers to create a new piece from an existing writing by blackout words and phrases they won’t use. Lupe, who lead the workshop, is in a middle of an amazing project and he’s using blackout poetry to tell such an interesting story through poetry. (I’m sure he’d rather tell you himself than me spilling the beans so I’ll invite him to the blog.)

Here’s a video on how to do it.

I’ve worked on Blackout Poetry before as part of a Writers In the School training session. At first, I found the form just weird. I wasn’t sure that the poetry I was doing in this technique was, for lack of a better word, right. But trying it again during the workshop, it felt more focused. I was pretty proud of the work I did that I’m thinking about working on it and submitting it.

Here’s some basic rules for creating a black out poem, according to Lupe:

  • Find whatever words make sense for you
  • Your marker is your friend ( You can take off the ending of words like -ing and -ed to help you out.)
  • You can black out as little or as much as you think is necessary
  • You can change the punctuation — add or subtract it.

Here’s one that I worked on when I got home.

Some black out poetry I’m playing with after yesterday’s Tintero Project poetry workshop.

A photo posted by Icess Fernandez Rojas (@writin2insanity) on Oct 10, 2016 at 9:05am PDT

 

I’ll be leading the Oct. 23 workshop focusing on thrilling super heroes and villains. If you’re in the Houston area, coming join in!

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Enjoy the writing,

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What to read during Hispanic Heritage Month

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 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…

YA

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.

Poetry

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 Amazon:

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.

Fiction

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.

Happy Reading,

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5 lessons I learned while submitting to literary journals

Dear Reader,

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.

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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.

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.

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!

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How Mercury Retrograde can help your writing

Dear Reader,

A week ago, my beloved MacBook died. DIED!

I was about to start that day’s Rockstar Writers session when the screen died. Everything else was working but the screen said no more. After my hysterics, my  second thought was to look at the calendar. Mercury Retrograde was the next week. Then everything made sense. It was time to hunker down.

What is Mercury Retrograde? 

It’s the period where the planet Mercury slows down its orbit so much that it looks like it’s moving backwards, there for it is in retrograde motion.

It happens a couple of times a year and it lasts about 3 weeks.

What does that mean?

Mercury rules communication, clear thinking, travel, and mechanical tool related to those things like automobiles and computers. The past also comes back to haunt you in several ways. Maybe someone you haven’t hear from appears about of the blue. Maybe you think about situations and things that you had forgotten about from your past.

That also means that you’re going to have several conversations over and over again. There will be misunderstandings  and things. And, yes, your computer may join mine in that microchip in the sky.

Also, this isn’t a time to sign contracts or make life-altering decisions. Just FYI.

How does that apply to your writing?

The great thing about Mercury Retrograde is that it is really about pausing and taking a deep look at things. It’s about reassessing, revising, reviewing, relaxing. It’s about getting some things done.

Which is probably why communication and travel are so wonky at the moment. Seriously, Mercury Retrograde is bad for communications but FANTASTIC for writing. While I don’t recommend starting something new, I do recommend to take this time to look at some things associated with your writing.

Reassess and Review

Don’t start your new project until after Sept. 22.  A new book or project is technically a new contract, which is a no-no during this time. However, this means that that story you started but couldn’t finish is up for grabs. That means that that book you’re still working on (cough Jennie Manning cough) is still good to tinker with.

The difference? You have to reaccess and review. That means slow down and have a deep think about your work and the direction it’s going. Some good questions to ask would be:

  • Is this the direction I want my work to go in?
  • Is this the direction I want to go in as a writer/artist?
  • Does this fill me and make me happy?
  • What do I need to do to streamline my process (if at all)?
  • Do I understand my process?
  • Does this work make sense right now? How does it need for it to grow to its full potential?

This is a great time to take something you started but then put away and to play with it. Who knows what will come from it now!

Revision

As I’ve told my students before, revision means to re-envision the writing. Revision is the act of molding your work over and over until it is where you want it.

Retrograde is a perfect time to get that done since you have to slow down and think. Go crazy in this aspect of things. Rework and re-envision your work.

Also needing some revision is your creative space. This is a perfect time to clear and streamline the space where you create. That could be your desk, your bookshelf (creation also happens during reading), or your cell phone/tablet apps. Indeed, anything that you use to create.  Since you’re being more intentional with your work during this period, then you should start with a clear slate.

Relax

This one is will be hard because it’s the beginning of the submission season. And if you’re anything like me, you’re wanting to go hard right now on the submissions. It’s the perfect time to attack submit!

But haven’t you been busy writing? Isn’t it time to take a break anyway?

I know the compulsion now is to submit, submit, submit. I, personally, am going to limit my submission these three weeks and focus more on the revision part of my writing. I only have one day scheduled for submissions during this month.

Here’s my logic for this: the deadlines will always be there, especially after Retrograde. For those I feel compelled to submit to, I’ll do during the submission blitz. After the 22nd, I’ll pick it back up.

Meanwhile, I’m gonna chill because Retrograde.

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I can’t say much about my departed MacBook Pro (sigh) but the work continues and so does the writing. Until Retrograde finishes, I’m taking it easy and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to finish the second draft of Jennie Manning.

Happy writing!

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Where to find places to publish your writing

Dear Reader,

I can’t believe I haven’t written this post before now.

I was with writer friends recently when we talked about where to submit our work for publication. For some writers, especially for new writers, this is a confusing thing. It used to be that you look at the Writer’s Market and submit a SASE with a pitch and then cross your fingers. Or go to a bookstore, check out the lit journals and send things along.

Things have changed so drastically now. It has been such a drastic change that it’s sometimes difficult to figure out which rules are still in place. Now a lot of the heavy lifting  happens online. Lots of lit mags are online only, while there are those that still publish psychical copies. Then there is social media, where some networking with writers and editors could help get your publishing credit.

Here are some places to start looking.

Author’s Publish Magazine

It’s not really a magazine, it’s a great list-serv. Sent to your mailbox at least once a week, the organizers send a list of not only lit magazines but book publishers looking for work. They also have interviews with new magazines coming into the market and articles about useful stuff like the top 5 publishers for new writers. In addition, they offer free e-books about different aspects of the writing life.  

The cost for all this awesomeness? Free. Super free. Great resource.

Submittable

This is the apex of  submission life since almost every lit mag uses this service to organize work that comes in. Because of that, the Submittable blog usually has a LONG list of publications whose deadlines are coming due. 

Here’s the thing, you’ve got to have things ready to rock and roll because you only get a couple of days to submit. Sometimes, a couple of hours. It depends on when they post in relation to the deadline.

Facebook groups

There’s a couple of Call for Submissions groups and pages. I’ve linked to one of the open pages above. Some of them are closed but if you ask to be included they usually respond pretty quickly.

What’s so great about these groups is that editors for literary journals are usually part of the group so if you have a question, they can answer you rather quickly. It’s also one of the first places where these journals will post their calls for submissions.

There are tons of these groups on Facebook including those for poets, genre writers, and fiction/flash fiction writers. Non-fiction is a bit more difficult but can be found on Facebook.

Poets and Writers

This is the go-to site everyone goes to. Why? Because there’s not only a literary journal database but a small press database and a writing contest database. There’s also some writing articles about writing and interviews with writers. Great resource. Also free.

Doutrope

This one will cost you some money. Not a lot of money, though. The submissions list is extensive and goes across genres and disciplines — poetry, fiction, non-fiction. They work to constantly update their site.

The subscription also comes with a submissions tracker, a calendar of upcoming themes, and interviews with editors. Good stuff here.

Sofrito for your Soul

My friend George’s website nearly 20 years strong, celebrates the voz of the nation by creating space for Latinx writers. Here’s snippet from their Write for Us page.

Sofrito For Your Soul invites you to become part of our cultural revolution once again. As we begin to rebuild some of the archives that have blessed these pages over the last 15 years…we once again open the doors to hear your voz!

Sofrito For Your Soul is a reality because of people like you who contribute and help us grow. We are looking for articles, columns, short stories, music, written and spoken word poetry, video as well as all kinds of artwork to document the evolution of our culture in the United States.

 

There are a lot of places looking for your work. Although that may not make it any easier to get work accepted to places but it does open a whole new world of possibilities.

 

Happy hunting,

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