my so-called writer’s life

July 4th, 2014

mom_me_will_eight_bday

When friend and fellow blogger, The Coconut Girl, asked if I wanted to write a post about writing, as part of a blog-hop, I said sure. I try to say yes to most writing (and reading) opportunities these days. I said yes, last month, to reading at the open mic portion of a writer’s event I attended off the coast of Seattle. The annual affair, VORTEXT, is organized by Hedgebrook–a non profit committed to nurturing women writers.

Voice trembling, I read my little essay in front of 42+ women—smart, talented, dedicated individuals who were writers like me. I read in for the authors too who’d inspired us in workshops and with their audacious keynotes: Ruth Oseki, Karen Joy Fowler, Jane Hamilton, Crime, Gail Tsukiyama, Carole Desanti, Elizabeth Goerge, not to mention the incredible Dorothy Allison.

I was lucky enough there (as I have been closer to home) to share with and learn from gritty, hilarious, persistent, humble, and achingly smart writers and authors.

In that same spirit of sharing, I’ll say here that writing for has its share of striving. I struggle to become more spare and more abundant all at once on the page. I draft, revise, workshop; I try and fail and try again. As I get older, my external expectations for myself as a writer grow too, luring an amazing agent who believes in my work (check) and finding a home for my most recent novel. Sometimes the prize of ‘being published’ swings there in front of me, like a fat orange carrot. But then I have to ask myself that, even as I continue strive for that particular goal, what matters most?

For me, the thing about being a writer
is the silent, uncelebrated part of getting to know my own mind
through the process of committing words and ideas to paper, or screen.
Then sharing my own imperfect self with you.

Here are some (more) brief musings on my so-called writerly life:

What am I writing or working on?
I am, in a way, *still* finishing the novel I began when I was 16 years old, then ostentatiously titled, ‘Fall of a Western Teenager.’ Now my pale, rail thin male protagonist has evolved into Aisha, a seventeen year old photographer girl of color who falls hard and unexpectedly for another girl.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Shutter Girl is Young Adult, but in a quirky, earnest,coming-of-age way, with a lot of attention to language and realism that isn’t always characteristic of the high concept YA of the moment. (Though there are many notable exceptions, novels like Eleanor and Park, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Where Things Come back, and anything by John Green, just to name a few).

Why do I write what I do?
I end up writing about the kind of people I notice everyday—the quiet, weird, awkward, brash, heartsick lot. The misunderstood. The unredeemed. I see some schmuck at the bus station, and I imagine his whole morning hanging on his haggard expression. Writing is a way to make everybody and every moment matter.

How does my writing process work?
Often painfully, brimming with self doubt, always with wrist-guards, and sprinkled with occasional burst of glee!!!


Please do gallop back and check out The Coconut Girl—mother, writer, wry and thoughtful person— who invited me to take part in this linked-up line of questioning.

And do hop forward the Denise Stewart’s beautiful blog DeeDee’s Living Will. Among other things, Denise wrote and preformed an autobiographical one-woman-play, ‘Dirty Barbie’, that was so funny, so profound, I’m still laughing and crying just to think of it.

Thanks all for reading! The picture is my mother and I, thanks to Papa Johnson. And do feel free to comment or write about *your* creative life.

writer’s eye

March 30th, 2012

The docent asked, ‘What was the artist trying to show in this painting?’ ‘It looks like an X-ray,’ someone ventured, ‘inside and out.’ ‘Yes,’ the docent said, ‘The Aboriginal artist who painted this kangeroo probably had dissected a real kangeroo at some point in his life.’

I got the idea for my super short story, ‘Dissected’ from an this exchange, as part of a visit to UVA art museum. We were hunkered in front of Johnny Liwangu’s Wind Story, which in the style of dots and dashes, showed a Kangaroo. ‘Dissected’ placed second in the adult category of the museum’s annual Writer’s Eye contest, which combines two things I love: art and writing. My story begins:

Nina hasn’t been the same since she saw the scan: the core of her own body,translucent as a ghost, milky shapes floating in it. The oncologist smelled slightly of tobacco.

‘Here is your liver, your stomach,’ he said. ‘Your lungs, of course. Your heart.’

Nina thought she looked so mysterious on film; she wondered how this man could so readily name her parts.

The doctor leaned toward the image, tapped a bright hazy spot the size of a walnut. ‘And here it is. Here. It might be nothing or…’ His voice trailed off. ‘The biopsy today should tell us.’

The screening room was too cold and the nurse’s shoes squeaked. ‘Keep your phone nearby, honey,’ she said after Nina was dressed…

Read the rest of the story, here.


Charlottesville has a great Aboriginal art treasure thanks to the Kluge Museum. Check it out here.

virgins

January 6th, 2011

‘Virgins’ got my attention and kept it, this opening story of a debut collection by author Danielle Evans titled, ‘Before You Suffocate Your own Fool Self.’ Evans starts with two brown girls, almost pretty, nearly middle class. Like each and every one of us, these girls want basic but precious things—safety, respect, love— and their small quest into the city shows what costs a girl might pay.

On my nightstand also—The short novels of John Steinbeck, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and A Reliable Wife.


What are you reading these long winter nights?

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normal people don’t live like this

October 29th, 2010

I made it out to see author Dylan Landis, and was taken by her care and persistence. Landis read at WriterHouse from her debut collection, ‘Normal People Don’t Live Like This’, a set of interlocking stories of the timeless predicament of adolescence—that started point for personhood. Landis held open her own copy, showing pages marked with penciled edits. This made us, the audience, smile because she was still reworking her acclaimed stories, trying to get the words to fall just right in her ears.

Landis took questions about her unlikely route to publishing. Pursuing fiction relatively late in life, her voice on the page found her an agent and interest from reputable publishers, but ultimately no sale for her first novel. In the mean time, she started to write and submit short stories. These stories—born of many months of pecking—found homes in magazines and online, and eventually became the collection.

The funny part is, Landis’ newly compiled collection of already published (and beloved) stories still couldn’t find a home in main-street publishing houses. And not because the stories weren’t good. (From my reading, they are, at their worst—evocative, at their best— jewel-like). Eventually Landis made a concerted effort to zag, researching independent publishers and landing her stories in print at Persea . Not for money or fame. But for the simple pleasure of having the words printed and sharing them with us.


Learn more about Landis or visit amazing artist Russell Richards and his magical mermaid.

Photos by Papa Johnson

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coconut, part 3

August 30th, 2010

—You two could be just like sister, Papa said to me later that evening. I could see how much he approved of Satya, with her too long hair, and the clothes my mom might wear. She really is a beautiful young lady, he said. Then he hugged me, tightly, but it felt like he was hugging that other girl.

 

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coconut, part 2

August 27th, 2010

Does anyone ever feel like they really fit in? Maybe so, for a moment or two, but as for me, I mostly feel just a bit out of place. This is the second installment of ‘Coconut’, a story about wanting to belong, but cherishing those shirt-tail parts of one’s self that come untucked at the most inopportune moments, exposing our true hearts.

We were halfway through our unit on Asia and Mrs. Gracie wrote ‘India’ on the board in her newly shaky script. So I sunk in my seat, waiting for what always happens to happen. Whenever they bring up India in school, everybody looks over at me. Me in my t-shirts and jeans from Regency Mall, right where their clothes come from. Me who like plain cheese pizza and hanging out with my friends. They stare as if waiting for the Real-Indian-Me to burst through like a song and dance in a Bollywood movie. As if I will start bobbing my head like Abu on The Simpsons or chanting with my eyes rolled way back. Even though I have lived here since I was a baby; I’ve known most of these kids since grade school, for Christ’s sake.

 

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coconut, part 1

August 11th, 2010

The first installment of ‘Coconut’, one of my favorite stories from ‘The One You Remember.’ This short was a finalist for the Jane’s Story Annual award in 2/2009. It begins:

I was a nice girl before Principal Jackson ushered Satya into our English class. ‘Her family just moved her from India,’ he told our teacher, loud enough for us to hear. When he said ‘India’ he brought his hands together and squeezed and predictably, half the class looked over at me.

 

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the episode, final

July 23rd, 2010

Here is the final installment of Jarrod, his mother, and their days of judgment.

Jarrod’s mother is holding up the backpack between them, like a trophy. Her cheeks sag even as she smiles at him. Her shirt is stretched open in front between the buttons, the fabric pulling. Her skin looked boiled and pink like canned meat.

-I was straightening up, she says, And look here what I found by the door…

 

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the episode, part 1

July 14th, 2010

I have a secret love for TV judge shows: Judge Judy, The Judy, The People’s Court. I know its wrong: all those people airing their dirty laundry for a few dollars and my entertainment, but I can’t help myself. And those judges with their TV smiles, highlighting the chaos then making order from it, like a perfect short story. Here is my story, The Episode, which starts with 13 year old, defendant Jarrod.

Jarrod knows that his mother is big, but on the episode she is chunky, hefty, obese. The camera adds pounds to her massive breasts and bulging stomach. In pans to better show her thighs: pink rolls of flesh of flesh beneath a frayed jean mini-skirt.

 

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some other girl, final

July 7th, 2010

She showed me the bruises on Monday in the locker room. They were mostly on the soft part of her upper arms, dark shadows shaped like giant thumbs. I tried to look away, back at her face, but the thin skin around her hairline had broken out in tiny red bumps. her gym clothes were rumpled and dirty. She pressed deeply into her bruises with pale fingers.

 

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