Big announcement tomorrow!

Dear Reader,

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

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

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

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

More details tomorrow. Like noon-ish.

Until then!

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


Stop apologizing: What independence really means

Dear Reader,

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.

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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.

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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,

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The Writing Life: Halfway mark of the year

Dear Reader,

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.

 

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The crew of the 20th anniversary of Nuestra Palabra

 

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.

May

 

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Before the revision of “The Defect” my sci-fi piece for Kimbilio

 

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.

June

 

Me teaching
I’m teaching! Here at the summer Creative Writing Camp.

 

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.

Write on,

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The Writing Life: February and March progress

 

Dear Reader,

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

Oh, all those papers.

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

Wait, it’s April. Yikes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing On,

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6 opportunities for writers of color this month

Dear Reader,

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

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

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

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

World Wide Network of Artist Residences

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

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

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

VONA/Voices

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

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

Kimbilio Fellowship

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Parks Foundation

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

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

Glendaliz’s List

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

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

Journals featuring writers of color

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

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

Write On,

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Valentines Day Treat: The Last Single Girl

Dear Reader,

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

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

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

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

Enjoy,

~Icess

Everything in its Place | Icess Fernandez Rojas

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

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

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

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

“There shouldn’t be,” replies.  

*

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

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Afro-Latinos, Black History Month and Twitter

Dear Reader,

I LOVE me some Black History Month!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing into my blackness: Reflection on Langston Hughes

Dear Reader,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dear Reader,

It’s February and 2016 is rocking and rolling. I’ve stopped writing 2015 on correspondence and have come to the realization, albeit slowly, that my 20-year high school reunion is coming up.  (Yikes!)

It’s also a time to reflect on what I’ve done in the past month toward my goals. Last month, I loosely outlined what I wanted to do this year with my writing and my writing life. There were a couple of areas I wanted to concentrate on – writing more short stories, submitting more to lit journals and opportunities, write more on the blog, working in non-fiction, get Jennie Manning back on track toward publication.

I’ve done lots of that and more. When I actually listed what I’ve accomplished, I was shocked. I honestly thought I was being lazy and didn’t feel like I did a lot of writing. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Most of the new writing happened on this site, however, there was lots of revising and revisioning things. More importantly, I was filling the well, reading and letting ideas percolate.

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Just picked this up on Friday. Can’t wait to get into it.

So here’s what I did in January.

  1. Accepted offer to a writer’s workshop (yay! More on that in May)
  2. Applied to a residency (wish me luck)
  3. Submitted two short stories for publication, 1 accepted, 1 rejected
  4. Submitted a workshop panel to an international conference
  5. Revised an old story to submit
  6. Wrote several blog posts (yup, that counts)
  7. Read 1 book (short story collection), 1 new short story
  8. Made BIG advances to a non-fiction essay (to be submitted next month)
  9. Reworked an early chapter of Jennie Manning

That’s insane considering that school started this month and I had to prepare syllabuses for five classes AND assign readings.

One thing that did help me was keeping a spreadsheet of deadlines and links to opportunities and journals accepting work.  Here’s a version that you can download.

On my spreadsheet there are columns for deadlines, the title of the opportunities, and the link to the websites where they were. There was also a column for notes to myself, which is where I wrote what each thing needed as far as cover letters or CVs.  All that stuff takes a while to put together. My favorite column on the spreadsheet is the name of the piece I’ll be submitting.

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So nice and quiet. Loving my own space, even if it’s only for a little while.

Another thing that was helpful to me was to have some writing time built into (some of) my days. I love the fact that one of my colleges gives lets me use a cubicle in between classes. It’s quiet and I can type away without being annoying.  The campus library is also awesome because, well, it’s a library.

Writing with friends Trevor and Jasminne was also so helpful. We meet up and for those hours, we are writing. We talk if we need an opinion on something but for the most part, we’re nose to the grindstone.  Awesome.

So good first month with lots of great stuff getting done. I’m excited for February. It’ll be interesting to see how much I can accomplish now that classes are in full swing and with the month’s deadlines looming. Wish me luck!

 

Focused,

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