Category Archives: Writing

Writing Process Blog Tour

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Margaret LaFleur and Vanessa Martir tagged me to be a part of the Writing Process Tour.

I’m supposed to answer four questions about my writing process and then nominate other authors to tag and post to their blogs.

Happy to participate, especially since I’ve not blogged in awhile, and need to pop my head back in here.

So…

1) What are you working on?
My novel. (I’m always working on my novel). And because it’s Summer, the time of year when I always run into writer’s block, I’m giving myself permission to work on short stories. And essays. The essays are the beginning of a memoir, which I have begun writing.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I hope it differs in many ways–with regard to structure, idea, diction, etc. But mostly, I hope I tell stories that haven’t yet been told before.

3) Why do you write what you do?
I didn’t grow up with anyone writing what I needed.

4) How does your writing process work?
With stories and essays–I come up with an idea or image that gives me some passion. Immediately thereafter, I think about how I will structure my essay or story. Once I’ve got the structure down, I am able to complete a draft. Subsequent revisions include investigating craft–like language and also theme and making sure there are several layers to the piece.

With the novel–it’s just write, write, write. And rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. I have thrown away two times as many words as I’ve decided to keep.

I nominate all of you to do this!

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Windows

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On Windows in my life…

1.
My childhood bedroom window used to have no sheers, just a patterned blue cotton fabric that my parents urged me to close in the nighttime. The walls of my bedroom were blue. A few years later, my parents asked what color curtains I wanted. Because I liked yellow, I asked for yellow curtains.

Did I mentioned I had light blue walls?

Blue + yellow = green. For ten years, I swam in swamp green. A decision made when I was eight years old colored my teenage years.

With the yellow curtains came sheers. My dad still told me to shut my curtains in the nighttime. My silhouette could be seen he said. I never wanted to shut them. I didn’t want my room to be green. And if I could not see out, who could see me inside?

2.
“In California, people really don’t like curtains,” said our interior decorator. She was excited to have clients who wanted curtains. My husband and I, both born outside of the state, wanted curtains with swags and jabots, borne of fabric so thick that light would not be able to penetrate. I wanted to shut the light out, and he wanted a luxe treatment. With every flourish and fabric we chose, her face beamed.

When she gave us her proposed drawings, we were filled with glee.

The lace curtains from Sears, circa 1950 from previous homeowners, came down. The upholstery-thick fabric went up in our south-facing bedroom.

I slept until noon for the first time in years.

3.
“Or you could just not care and not get shades,” said the shade vendor, who was fidgeting with my sink faucet, which had nothing to do with windows, so why was he touching it? “Sometimes, these young girls, they just hang out in their windows, like they want you to look at them.”

Ew.

“The people across the Bowery from you–they had to get curtains once this building went up.”

I wanted to usher him out the door. He’d already given me a price on the sunshades that bore the inclination to do so, and now I could smell the sweat on him in the new apartment festooned with half emptied UHaul boxes, a handle of a saucepan sticking out of one, and sheets pouring out of another.

I had been waking up at the break of dawn since we moved in.

“Get eyeshades said my friend,” and so I began to sleep beyond dawn, and until the sunlight moved across the room until I could feel the heat on my body.

At night, the tenants in the building across the street stare. I got binoculars. And stare back.

I put up California king flat sheets.

4.
It’s been 2 months since we moved in, since we got the exorbitant quote for shades. The sun comes up earlier now, and I awake briefly to fumble for my eyeshades. After several eyeshades, I have come across a pair that I like.

The binoculars are put away. I saw a naked woman in the hotel down the street, applying lotion for what seemed like an eternity. I told myself to not apply lotion in front of my open windows in the nighttime.

5.
I’m back in Berkeley now. In NYC, we ended up getting cheap curtains from Bed Bath & Beyond–blackout shades and cloth curtains. Totally utiltarian and functional. I slept. I am back in the house with the French upholstery fabric curtains. I am back walled off from the world.

And yet I cannot sleep in. Because I’ve a toddler who screams awake each morning.

I love her, but I cannot sleep.

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Major Shout-out to our AWP Panel in The Atlantic

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Last year, I wrote a panel proposal on writing outside of your race in fiction for the AWP Conference 2014. Writing characters of another race is a topic with which I have long been entrenched–since the days of being in an MFA program, and I was psyched when it was accepted. This an important topic that begs discussion, and is yet rarely discussed in open space. And I was thrilled to have an opportunity to discuss something so sensitive at AWP with some respected writing friends and mentors.

At AWP a couple months ago in Seattle, we (Randa Jarrar, Patricia Engel, Mat Johnson, Susan Ito, and I) had an amazing audience turnout for our panel entitled “How Far Imagination: Writing Characters Outside Your Own Race in Fiction”–people spilled out into the hallway in attendance, and sat on the floor all the way up to our feet. At 10:30am in the morning on the first day of the conference, no less.

Needless to say, I was pleased with the reception. We had a very intense and enriching panel discussion, and then we segued into a Q&A that was largely audience-driven. I’m not sure in hindsight, as moderator, that I made the right call in calling first on a man who interrupted the panel mid-discussion.

“I have a question!” a man called out in the middle of our discussion.

I told him to hold off until our Q&A session. And so when our Q&A began, I felt obliged to call on him, first. Because I’m polite. And I’m a fairly competent moderator and I figured I could handle most conflict. Even though he is the kind of person who will interrupt a panel in mid-discussion because He Has A Really Important Question. I kind of regret calling on him first. But it at least opened the gates wide open on what is sensitive terrain.

And we made some lively and important points on the panel, much thanks to our brilliant panelists.

There are a couple reviews of our panel up on the web. There’s a brief one here. And if you want to read about our panel in detail (albeited biased detail), The Atlantic did a write up of AWP and gave a major shout out to our panel. I’m very delighted at the amount of real estate allotted to us, even if it did make panelist Randa Jarrar sound shrill and reactive, and the dude-with-a-question into a well-intentioned victim. But then again, I think you could write an entire article about the complexities of our panel topic and how they play out in the writing world.

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Excerpt/transcript of our panel after the jump…

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View from the Slushpile

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I’m the Fiction Editor at Kartika Review, and I take great pride in sifting through KR’s slushpile (I personally read the whole slushpile) and connecting with the work of other writers. In fact, great friendships have come out of the slushpile; I keep in touch with them to this day, and hang out with them at AWP and online on twitter.

But the slushpile is not without its gripes. And I decided to tweet about some of the things I experience each time. I tweeted in real time, and I hope the advice is well received. My friend Elizabeth Stark aggregated them on a blog post at Book Writing World a few days ago.

Here is part of the list…

1) Reading thru @KartikaReview slush pile. Do NOT start ur story with 3 pages of ITALICS. No. Just, no. nonononononooo.

2) Reading thru @KartikaReview slush pile. Do NOT start ur Asian-themed story w mentions of rice paddies/kohl/silk/lotuses/etc. NO. nonononono.

3) Reading thru @KartikaReview slush pile. If ur NOT Asian, I do NOT want 2 hear abt ur travels thru Asia fucking prostitutes & smoking opium. (Don’t wanna hear if you ARE Asian, either–but so far, it’s not a trend for writers of Asian descent to write the above, thus the specificity).

I am considering tweeting about manuscript protocol, too…

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Terrifying Things

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I started a post last year called “Terrifying Things.” I decided to finish it this morning, because my baby decided to sleep in and because I was up early (my toddler has kicked my butt into submission).

It was an exercise in unearthing my subconscious and kickstarting new writing, because when I write, I face what terrifies me.

Writing is the space in which I explore the dark and dusty corners and undersides that I bypass in my non-writing life. It is when I pause to investigate and feel and ask the difficult questions and really stop and let the sensations of living pass over me. Writing is when I examine my fears, pick them up, and explore the shape and texture and alchemy of my terror. Writing is when I feel most brave. Writing is from where my bravery stems. Writing is how I take care of myself. Writing is what saves my life. Writing is how I am okay, no matter what.

These days, I have to pause to process great upheaval and transition. These days, I have to write.

I am writing my terror, which inspires me. Terror is the terroir of my stories. When I unlock my fears, I also unlock all love and courage.

So what are the terrifying things?

  • My first night in the dorms, someone offered me a joint for the first time. I had never before been offered drugs, let alone a drink. I stammered out, “I have to get back to my room,” and then proceeded to cry. It was a stark indicator that I was in a new place where I had to set my own rules.
  • Being raped.
  • My first HIV test. I made everyone take an HIV test. Those things are made to freak people out. I could have been a virgin and still had doubts.
  • My first kiss. Anyone’s first kiss really, no? The unknown, the exhilaration. In my case, my first kiss was not a sweet moment. A brute pushed me on my bed and then pushed himself on me.
  • Being bullied.
  • Watching my friend Tammy give herself an insulin shot through her dirty denim jeans in the back of the bus on the way to school.
  • The first day of junior high.
  • Having an eating disorder and being in a pink and white striped bathing suit. While being critiqued by middle aged Korean moms and dads at a church party.
  • When our pastor came to live with us, and threw my tadpoles down the garbage disposal.
  • When the neighbor’s cat ate my pet hamsters. I know this because the neighbor showed me the carcasses and bones in the cat’s food dish. I went hysterical. I was seven.
  • I kept a small spider in a jar, one I fed flies (I was a weird child and am a weirder adult, sue me). My grandmother found a cooler insect, she thought–a praying mantis. She put the praying mantis in the jar with my spider. She showed me the praying mantis–all I saw was a little puddle of goo in the hands of the mantis.
  • Wishing I were Wonder Woman, but having to wear Wonder Woman’s costume.

The last item on my list was “being alone.” But I needn’t have feared being alone. I was already alone. I was surviving. And learning new lessons. I faced so many of my greatest life fears last year–the most terrifying things of all, the ones I could not and would not list because I feared they would come true.

And yet they came true, anyway.

It was awful but also incredibly rewarding.

Facing fears, I’ve learned, is the way to safety.

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MINT

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My essay entitled “MINT” is up at The Rumpus. This essay was hard-earned, one I started writing a couple years ago. I got stuck in the middle and set it aside, but in the darkest month of my adult life (November 2013, to be exact), I figured out its ending and I sat down and finished writing it in one afternoon.

This is an essay that took everything out of me to write, and I am proud to have written it, and prouder still that I’m able to share it with my readers

There is also a recording of my reading the essay on the site. Some trivia: there is the sound of dog lapping water at the very end–that sound got caught on the recording, and I decided not to re-record. That’s Ziggy the Wiener Dog, about two weeks before he died.

And the above picture is the actual black and white dog in the actual mint patch referenced in MINT.

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Where I Will Be at AWP 2014

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I’ll be wandering the Bookfair and hanging out in the Sheraton and at the Hotel Bar (will we writers drink it dry again?)…but I’ll definitely be at the following:

February 28, 2014 // Seattle
Coast to Coast @ Ghost / AWP offsite reading
504 E Denny Way
Seattle, WA
6:00pm-8:00pm

February 27, 2014 // Seattle
How Far, Imagination: Writing Characters of Another Race in Fiction
AWP 2014 Conference
Room 3A, Washington State Convention Center, Level 2
Seattle, WA
10:30am-12:00pm

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