Monthly Archives: June 2011

Z is for ZYZZYVA

Romance

I wrote a story. It was the first and only story I’d ever written at the time. My UC Extension teacher, in whose post-day-job, evening fiction workshop I tentatively engaged, urged me to send it out. Where? I’d asked. I didn’t know. A litmag. The only litmag I knew was ZYZZYVA*, a subscription gifted to me by an ex-boyfriend a guy I used to know.

(*At the time, ZYZZYVA was in all caps, italics. Now, the italics is no more).

Send it there! My teacher, now a good friend, urged me to send my story over.

And so I did. As an exercise. I expected a rejection. They say that writers get hundreds of rejections–I hadn’t sent any stories out, so the odds were not in my favor. And yet, I was naïve enough to dare to send my first story out to ZYZZYVA. Had I known then what I know now, I would have been too cowed to send my story to such a competitive litmag. (There may be a lesson in this somewhere).

Even so, I got a letter in the mail 4 days later. It was an acceptance. From Howard Junker.

I opened the envelope, one I hadn’t yet learned would bode well, by the heft of its contents–experienced writers know that acceptances (ironically) weigh more than rejections. I hadn’t known then that I would receive hundreds of rejections as a writer go forward. I unfolded and began to read and there I saw the words “like,” “accept,” “publication.” At that point, all I saw in the entirety of my world was that acceptance letter.

And that–that was the moment I knew that I could become a writer and begin to dream.

I was in the kitchen. I set down the letter, only half read. I called my husband. And screamed, “My story is going to be published!

That story was “Bile,” published in ZYZZYVA’s Fall 2003 issue.

***

Joining Heather’s Abecedary and Fog City Writer in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. Except I’m going to go in reverse, beginning with “Z.” It’s called Alphabet: A History.

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…and an amazing time was had: VONA 2011 + Pride

VONA 2011: advanced fiction alum workshop

This was the BEST.VONA.EVAR. (I think I say this every year).

But really: the fucking lightbulb went on over my head during my week at VONA. Junot took me by the shoulders and pointed me in a direction I hadn’t yet seen–and then he and my workshop peers took a metaphorical flashlight and turned it on. And there it was: a path. I now know the way to the end of my novel, through all the revisions ahead. And I’m going to do it, knowing that there are people who believe in me, and in this manuscript. Who “get it.”

I can’t even tell you the sense of relief and elation and gratitude I feel.

You see, my goal for this revision was to work on characterization. I knew the characters lacked 3D…but I learned what lacked was STORY. Their stories. Ding ding ding!

I’ve been writing this thing for nearly 7 years. Not a straight 7 years, as I took a 2 year break from the novel while I recovered from a freaky deaky left thalamic stroke that left me with no short term memory (something, I cruelly discovered, that is critical to writing narrative). But still: 7 years. And I can now see my destination.

It’s still a ways off in the distance–and there’s still a lot of work and revision ahead of me–but it’s just work. And more importantly, I am almost done (almost being at least 3 more revisions). Just being able to see the Emerald City on the horizon after all this time on the yellow brick road (or if you prefer another metaphor–the New World after sailing across the ocean)–feels like relief. And hope. And joy. I’ve got my second wind now. And with that second wind, I hope I breath more life and stories into my characters. And that my readers will feel that second wind!

Now I’m experiencing re-entry into my world. The last time I had such a hard time re-adjusting was after my three week residency at Hedgebrook. I was changed then, and I am changed now. But nothing else has changed. And no one seems to know I’ve changed. Things feel out of sync. I’m bewildered and bewildering.

And so I find myself taking a deep breath. I’m saving that breath for my novel. And in my real life, I am settling back into normal patterns, so that I can fit back into my real life.

Immediately upon my return to NYC this weekend, I went to Pride–in my 20+ years in the SF Bay Area, I’d never been to a Pride Parade, for no good reason other than not wanting to deal with traffic, which is like–a really bad reason. So like with yoga, it took NYC to get me to Pride. And what a Pride it was! The jubilance in the wake of the passage of NY’s Marriage Equality Law was amazing. I cried tears of joy, and my voice went hoarse along the parade route.

But I gotta admit–I think some of those tears of pride were for myself. I’m a self-critical writer, and I rarely feel proud of myself as a writer–but in that moment along the parade route, in the wake of immense writing encouragement and support at VONA, I felt rare pride in my writing. And it took Pride to swallow me up and allow me room for my private moment of pride.

"I'll see your Prop8...and raise you New York!"

I also went to the Alexander McQueen show at the Met yesterday afternoon (like I said, I’m not jumping straight back into my writing–I’ve gotta digest all the epiphanies from last week)–and that show is a masterpiece. All those beautiful, groundbreaking clothes–created from the dark places in McQueen’s heart. It was like a torch for me and my writing.

Afterword:
If you are a writer of color serious about your craft and seeking community and mentorship…get thee to VONA. Apply. It happens every summer in the SF Bay Area (this summer, VONA moved to the Berkeley campus). It’s been life changing for me, and game changing for my writing. If you have attended VONA in the past and/or want to support writers of color, consider making a donation to VONA.

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Quick blog post, June 15, 2011

Rapture Art

I am sitting down to write for the first time in weeks. Life has been hectic, albeit in celebration, these days. Lots of parties, outings, (non-writing) work, meetings, travel. I wonder at times if the world is cold-blooded; now that the temperatures have risen, the pace of activity has quickened.

And in the face of a frenetic social schedule and steamy summer, I find myself fantasizing about winter–a time of year when the ubiquitous jackhammers silence, the snow casts a monochromatic scheme over things, and getting dressed is mostly about getting that down parka over my jeans and tshirt. (Yes, I spend almost the entirety of winter in a tshirt and jeans under a parka). I love when nighttime outweighs daylight and a party is not outdoors but cast in lamplight and candles. You’d find me happy in wintertime Narnia.

Winter is the time of year when I get most of my writing done. I am not sure why this is, but after numerous writing seasons, this is confirmed as fact. Thankfully, I normally live in San Francisco, where summer is one long glorious winter.

But it’s summer in NYC, where it can get so sweltering that my legs become slick with sweat (sexy, I know). I’ve stocked up on summer dresses. I’ve cut my hair. I’m trying to figure out summer makeup. And I’m writing and seeing how it goes.

Because I haven’t blogged in awhile–thought I’d do a “quick blog post” as an update.

Read/Reading:

  • Nova Ren Suma’s debut YA novel, Imaginary Girls. Buy it.
  • Beginning to read manuscripts from VONA. Did I mention VONA before? I got a lot of rejections in the past few weeks (everytime I opened my mailbox, it seemed there was a lightweight envelope addressed in my own handwriting)…but I will be in Junot Díaz’s fiction workshop this summer. I haven’t had workshop with him since 2005, and I’m excited about working with Junot again.
  • Can you believe I’ve never read Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse? So I’m picking it up.

Wrote/Writing:

  • My novel. I am trying very hard to work on nothing else.
  • But I did write up my parents’ visit to NYC, and in particular, their jaunt to Queens, over at AAWW’s Open City blog.

Viewed:

  • A lightning storm from inside a jet. I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye, and I looked out the plane window. I’d missed whatever it was. Then another flash in my peripheral vision–was my retina detaching? I kept my eyes on the infinite black horizon–and there, there I saw it: an illumination of the clouds beneath. Lightning storm down below. It was like the animation of synapses firing inside a brain, the clouds brain matter and lightning, genius.
  • Too many couples breaking up on the streets of Manhattan to count.
  • An “I love my dildo!” sticker on a residential vehicle in San Francisco’s Mission.
  • Sailors falling-down-drunk during Fleet Week.
  • Bridesmaids. The female response to The Hangover–booyah!
  • Lots of nekkid people looking out their windows in the hotel across the street.

Memorable eats/Culinary outings:

  • Fine dining Israeli food at Zahav in Philly. Israeli food is much more than pita and hummus, people!
  • Too many great meals in Manhattan (some upscale, many more cheap eats)–I’ll have to do a different post on my favorite eats here.
  • Everytime I return to the Bay Area–the first thing I want when I get off the plane is a Gordo burrito. If I land too late to get a Gordo burrito, I just get it the next day. NYC has Dos Toros (a direct derivation of Gordo) and it is good–but isn’t the same.

Cooked:

  • Oh holy crap, I’m turning into a New Yorker; I don’t think I’ve cooked anything substantial in weeks, not even when I was in San Francisco.

Happenings:

  • I have an excerpt from my novel out in Men Undressed: Women Writers on the Male Sexual Experience. I’ve been trying to keep my lips sealed on this until closer to publication date (in October), but I can’t keep it closed anymore! The book is available for pre-order from Amazon–and yes, it features a sex scene from my novel.
  • My short story “Ume” will be out in Kweli Journal’s June issue. The piece holds a special place in my heart, because it was the first piece I began and finished after my stroke, from which I took about 2 years to recover. “Ume” was inspired by a friend who told me a story in hopes that it would awaken a part of my damaged brain, and the story brought me hope that I could write again.
  • Tamiko interviewed me about writing and MFAs as part of her “(private)” MFA series at kikugirl. I had fun reflecting on my MFA experience, and I hope some of it will resonate with you.
  • I have a stigmata on my left foot. When I slammed my foot by accident into a spike, I at first thought, “OW, what did I hit?” and then thought, “This is a very particular kind of bruise–this hurts more than a bruise.” I looked down. I saw the hole.in.my.foot. And then I started crying hysterically as I ran for a bandaid.

Never happened:

  • The Rapture

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