Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Back at work!

So, today was my first day back at work for the fall 2016 semester.

It was a little bittersweet. Ok, more bitter than sweet. It's going to take a bit of an adjustment to get back into the swing of things, apparently. Even though it was just for a meeting/professional development, the day felt crazy long for my body. Ugh. Maybe it's because last night I ran six miles. Maybe it's because I'm not used to getting out of bed before 10am. Maybe it's because today I had to sit for about five hours, which I'm not used to, which means my back gets achy. Anyway, whatever. I'm wiped out.

This isn't exactly an ideal start to the semester, but hopefully by the time my actual classes begin on Monday, I'll be used to it again. I figure now's as good as a time as any to set up some goals for the semester.

1. Perhaps most importantly, I want to keep up my routine of writing. I want to be able to produce something every week, to make measurable progress. I think just some general poem generation would be good at this point. I'm not entirely certain what my next "project" is going to be, and I don't want to put pressure on myself to figure that out yet, but at the same time, I do want to keep writing and working, figuring that out. It might mean making further progress on my Valley Cultura poems with Corinne. It might mean working on my "Body" poems. Maybe it means something else entirely. The important thing is to keep writing. I hope to sort through the mess I create over the Christmas holiday.

2. Successfully teach this semester. This goes without saying, but I want to be a good teacher for my students. I'm teaching creative writing, poetry appreciation, and composition, so it will be a challenge to juggle these "preps," though I am confident that I can do it. I'm going to plan a big reading at the end of the semester for my students, too, to present their works in the community. It's a big project, but it's so worth while.

3. Successfully present at two conferences. I'm already set to present at the Langdon Review Weekend in September and the Texas Association of Creative Writing Teachers in October, so I'm pretty well set up for this semester.

4. Submit poems to journals. I'd like to send off at least one submission a week. I wish I had more time to dedicate to this because I have a book coming out, but meh.

5. Work on career advancement

6. Train for a marathon! Yep. That's happening. In December :)

I'm turning thirty this semester. So there's that too!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Summertime Reflection

Ah, yes, it's about that time of the year...

My work email is bustling once again, the school buses wind through my cul-du-sac every morning and afternoon, and I'm digging out my syllabi with a mixture of elation and dread. Yesterday, while revamping my Rhetoric and Composition syllabus, I had some sort of a mini-panic attack as I pieced together my semester. Yikes.

Before moving onto the next phase, it's important for me to reflect on the season that's passing. As a writing teacher, I'm always stressing the importance of self-reflection. So, it's time for me to practice what I preach, although, really, this blog is like one big enormous public self-reflection on my writing self. 

This summer began a bit rocky, but in the end, I think it's been my best, most productive, most fulfilling (creatively... and let's face it, otherwise too) yet. I eased into a routine of daily writing. I learned that inspiration is a habit, a muscle. I wrote like a madwoman, spending hours everyday in my place of bliss (and sometimes frustration). I worked through the tangly poems, a tangly manuscript, a tangly mind. I've created a manuscript I'm proud of, and I can't wait for the world to see it next year. 

I also went out of my comfort zone as an artist, presenting my work at new venues, met new people/communities of writers, and tried my hand at ekphrasis. 

I put my work and my self out there, to various degrees of success, but I harbor no regrets. My skin is  (mostly) calloused with rejection, but my heart never tires of the elation of acceptance. 

I'm dipping my toes into the role of a literary critic, branching out and challenging myself to write an article. 

I'm still the same gal who went into this summer with wide eyes, though I think I'm a little more confident, sure of myself, and excited for the future. Back in May, I set the following goals:

1. Don't die. I have successfully survived. Thrived. My heath is good. I feel stronger than ever. 
2. Finish poetry manuscript -- either split it up or make it work. Either way, send to Publisher by end of August! Done. Done. Done. 3. Write two book reviews Written. Submitted. Accepted for publication. Moving on.4. Submit to residencies I submitted to one? It's not plural but it's a damn good one.5. Submit poetry packets out at least once per week -- so, let's say a goal of 15 by the end of summer. I did two yesterday, so I'm off to a good start! Yawn. Blew this one out of the water by more than doubling it. 6. Do at least one public reading a month. I've got May and July squared away, so figure something out for June and August In May, I read at my old high school as a keynote speaker. In June, I went to an open mic at The Prelude. In July, I read at Malvern Books in Austin. In August I'll be reading at the Sekula Library here in Edinburg. 7. Successfully teach summer course while keeping my writing schedule going This went surprisingly smoothly.8. Practice Spanish ::crickets chirping:: ok, this is something I slacked at. I didn't even open my Duolingo app once. Let's add this to the fall goals. 9. Exercise five times per week, keep it a priority Yes. I have transitioned in to full-blown marathon training. I'm in week 4, running 4 times a week and cross training once a week. 10. Enjoy and savor the extra rime. Bake cakes. Play video games. Snuggle the cats. Take a long, frivolous roadtrip with B. Enjoy and life life to the fullest everyday. I have baked my heart out. I've almost finished playing Final Fantasy 5 (note to self, beat final boss before the summer officially finishes). I currently have a kitty on my lap. I took two frivolous roadtrips. I have enjoyed my summer and savored the long, beautiful days as fully as I knew how. 

Life is pretty freakin' glorious. May it continue to be as I move into the next season, the fall semester. B says he has a good feeling about it. I'm staring at my calendar feeling a little nervous. But with his support, I know I can tackle just about anything. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Collaborations and Ekphrasis

This summer has been amazingly fruitful. Amazingly.

I'm not really sure how or why, but I've just been on a roll lately in terms of inspiration and a simple will to write. It's been insane. Seriously. I feel like I have a little idea generator going on inside me and I can't shut it off. Not that I'd want to, of course. It's so easy to chalk it all up to magic, some external muse that keeps me going and going, but I think it's a little more complex than that.

First of all, of course, I had a clear(ish) direction of my manuscript in the beginning of these summer months and a real desire to wrap it up. That motivation carried me through all of May, June and the second half of July. When I finally handed it off and declared it done, though, I wasn't really left with that "now what?" feeling.

I think the reason is quite serendipitous, actually. As I was finishing up my summer class, I received a curious email from an artist who was working on her catalog for an exhibit. I knew/know next to nothing about art, but she was wondering if I'd be interested in writing an introductory essay for her book. This was totally out of my comfort zone as a writer, but I'm not one to shut doors, so I agreed to meet her.

It was late July. I agreed to meet Corinne at a Starbucks to see what she had in mind. She'd brought her art and the gallery manager, Aleida, with her. I was impressed with the energy and spirit of both women, and felt an instant connection. Corinne showed me a few of her pieces and talked about her inspirations for them, mainly, the unique cultural landscapes of this regions, depicting them in order to construct and represent her own blended identity. Neato, I thought.

As I was looking at the pieces, I felt this kindred connection. I thought about my own cultural identity, its complex nuances, my own feeling of otherness while amongst other "whites," a strange feeling of both rootedness here in place and a disconnection. An existential crisis of sorts. Who the heck am I, and why am I here?

Those questions, of course, are the root of poetry.

"Your work, it really inspires me," I told her, "I want to write about it." ... but the only way I know how to put the ineffable into words is through, well, poetry.

Surprisingly, Corinne's eye lit up. "Really? You'd like to write about my work???"

And I did, I genuinely did, and well, do!

So for the past month or so, I've been steeped in Corinne's images, drafting up poems that echo Valley Cultura, the culture I've grown up in and assimilated into. It's been really inspiring. Some days, it's a challenge to get into another artist's mindscape, and others, I feel right at home. Corinne's also been sending me theoretical texts to get me up to snuff on the bones of her work. It just reminds me a lot of Anzaldua's Borderlands: La Frontera, how being "half" or "mixed" in terms of culture tends to be seen by our society as a negative thing, but instead, using this "dissonance" to create "melody" or reframing it as such. Boom.

We don't have anything formal yet, but right now I've got a nice fat handful of poems inspired by her work. I hope to write more, too, as she continues creating, perhaps even inspired by a few of my already-written poems. I hope this project continues to evolve, perhaps even into a book of ekphrasis and illustration.

It's a new source of inspiration, and I'm relishing in it. The lesson I'm learning from all of this is to keep an open mind to different ideas and approaches, to not limit yourself as an artist, and that synergy is a real thing we can work to create. It's not magic. It's going outside your comfort zone. It's conversations. It's work.

Check out Corinne's Valley Cultura collection here. She'll also be showing her artwork next month in Harlingen, and I hope to attend!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Summertime Submission Tally

Well, one of my goals this summer was to send out more submissions. I wanted to submit to at least 20 venues. Let's see how I did. Here are the venues I submitted to from May 1st through today!

1. Cimarron Review (Rejected)
2. Codex (pending)
3. Switchgrass Review (Accepted!)
4. FRiGG (Rejected)
5. Hermeneutric (Rejected)
6. Southwestern Review (pending)
7. Rattle (pending)
8. Summerset (Pending)
9. Blue Earth Review (pending)
10. Bat City (rejected)
11. Panoply (rejected)
12. Lunch Ticket (pending)
13. Collagist (Pending)
14. Autumn Sky (rejected)
15. Adriot (rejected)
16. TAB (pending)
17. Waccamaw (pending)
18. Alyss (Accepted!)
19. Poetry South (pending)
20. New Yorker (dreaming)
21. Poetry (dreaming)
22. Concho River Review (Accepted)
23. Rust Moth (rejected)
24. Indianola (Accepted!)
25. Barcopa (Rejected)
26. The Journal (rejected)
27. Redactions (pending)
28. Swamp Ape (pending)
29. Account (pending)
30. Qu (pending)
31. Southern Poetry Review (pending)
32. Thrush (reject)
33. Mezzo Cammin (accept!)
34. Black Warrior Review (pending)

Not bad! I'm kinda sorta proud of myself!

Acceptances: 5
Rejections: 11
Pending: 18

As you can see, I've got a lot of balls still up in the air, which should give me enough suspense to carry me through the next few months, until Christmas rolls around and I'll throw a bunch more poems out to the universe once again.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Edward's Book Release Party

Photo by Christopher Rocha

What a blast of an evening!

Last Wednesday, August 3rd, I had the pleasure of throwing my good friend, Edward Vidaurre, a book release party. We'd been planning this sucker for a little over a month now, and it was so wonderful to see it all come to fruition. Numerous special guests took the stage, including PW Covington, Brian Allen Carr, Odilia Galvan Rodriguez, Julieta Corpus, Cesar De Leon and Daniel Garcia Ordaz. We had about fifty or so people in attendance.

Edward, of course, gave an amazing reading as per always.

We also had a wonderful musical guest, Mr. Jose Sanchez, perform for us. 

I was the M.C! Or the G.C -- I hate the word "mistress" of ceremonies, so I'm changing it to Goddess of ceremonies.

Anyway, I don't think there was a better way to spend a summer evening than on the patio, drinking good beer, in the best company imaginable. Was it a lot of work? You betcha it was. Will I do it again? Of course. My next event is already in the works! Likely until late November/early December I'll be throwing a big ol' celebration for the semester's close and ushering the students who survived my creative writing course into the literary community.

Community. How amazingly blessed am I to have such writer friends? 

Monday, August 1, 2016

FORTHCOMING: The Lost Chronicles of Slue Foot Sue

So it's official(ish!) 

My next manuscript, The Lost Chronicles of Slue Foot Sue, has been accepted for publication by Lamar University Literary Press and is slated for release in early 2017. 

Commence the happy dancing!

I'm incredibly proud of of this manuscript. Truly. 

The book revisions tales from Texas folklore from a contemporary feminist perspective and provides some much needed context to the women of legend in the state. I know I've been yapping on and on about the book over here on the blog as it's gone from little idea to full fledged manuscript and all spaces in between, but it really has been an incredible, educational, and downright enjoyable journey for me. I'm confident in this book, and I'm excited to see what the world thinks of it.

I last left off at the point of restructuring the order of my poems, which I spent a couple of days doing. The result was a four chapter piece, each chapter concentrating on a separate legend. The new structure, I think, is easier to follow. Instead of readers having to navigate these numerous different threads, we follow one to completion then begin another. Narrative. It's all about the narrative, creating that narrative of women. 

A few weeks ago, I was finally happy with how it looked and felt. I sent it off to Publisher and held my breath, momentarily doubting myself my writing. What if I just got lucky with Goddess? What if Publisher thinks this manuscript is too feminist? What if he hates it, and by proxy, me? I'm learning that as a writer, this voice, this fear, never really goes away.

But of course, those fears were unfounded. Actually, within TWO FREAKIN' HOURS, Publisher writes back saying that he loves it, he wants it, and that he doesn't often get poems as good as these. Yes. He said that. I read the email five times, then showed it to B and asked him, "does it really say what I think it says?" 

We celebrated with a few beers that night. I was (and still am) on cloud 9. 

Now comes the arduous task of waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Good thing I have plenty of projects to occupy my time, like planning my friend's book release party, a collaborative writing project with a local artist (more deets later!), and of course, getting ready for the upcoming semester (I was assigned a last minute creative writing class! Whoopie!). 

Anyway, it's been a lovely summer so far. I still have a few weeks left of it, so let's see what I can make of it! 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Gemini Ink, Malvern Books, and Other Adventures

Let me just begin this post by saying how incredibly blessed I am to 1. have such amazing writer friends and 2. have the ability to travel and see said friends. How fortunate am I to have found a home here in the Texas literary community? Very.

The past week was a testament to that. I've been on the road reading, learning, and exploring, and it's been so refreshing. Let me give you a quick rundown of my literary excursion with some pictures.

Last Thursday, Bruno and I left our humble little abode for the wide and open road. I had a few things on my "to do" list, and some spare time for, well, let's call it inspired travel. We spent Thursday on the road, heading up to San Antonio from Edinburg. On Friday morning, I was scheduled to speak on a panel at the Gemini Ink writer's conference, so I was a little nervous.

Friday morning comes around and I arrive at the Tropicana Hotel on the San Antonio Riverwalk. The first thing on my agenda is to get settled in and check out the keynote address, given by the publisher of Trinity Press. His talk opens up the conference on an exciting note, framing the recent changes in the publishing industry as not apocalyptic as many might call them, but instead as groundbreaking and exciting. Being an eternal optimist, I'm intrigued.

I was fortunate enough to speak on a panel about Suffering and Sentimentality from an editor's perspective with Robin Carstensen and Odilia Galvan Rodriguez. The panel ended up being a conversation, which I love, love, love. I added that I think a lot of editors/publishers tend to see sentimentality as a negative thing rather than a positive, but also, perhaps it's a way of excluding voices that don't fit the "norm" -- the voices of women, minorities, LGBT individuals, and differently abled peoples. We heard a lot of different ideas and thoughts, and the ending sentiment (hah) was really inspiring -- as writers, we should be open to exploring that line between passion and sentimentality. Carol Coffee Reposa, who was in the audience, approached me afterwards and noted that all the "Great" poems flirt with that line -- come right up close to it. So maybe that's the key to writing great rather than good work -- to risk sentimentality?

Anyway, I ended up learning a lot from our conversations.

Afterwards, I attended a panel on book marketing, which, as a writer, isn't something I think about all that often. I know I should, but it's tough, you know? Bryce Milligan of Wings Press added that, for poets, the most important way to market your work is through giving readings and hand selling, which I'm much more apt at (I think...).

Anywho, after the panel I needed some space to empty my brain, so I called up B and we headed over to the riverwalk for some lunch. We went to one of our favorite places, The Guenther House, and spent a bit of time exploring the old flour mill. Good times. That's me, pictured at the left, on the balcony of said restaurant. I really love their ambiance! It was a perfect place for a little peaceful lunch.

I had another panel scheduled for later that afternoon, so I head back to the conference at around 3. I attend another panel on writing trauma with Wendy Barker (wow!), but ended up ducking out early to prep for my own discussion.

Our afternoon panel was on the process of how to develop and put together a poetry manuscript. Since this is something I've recently struggled with, I felt particularly apt to talk about my own process. It was really enlightening, too, to learn about the processes of my fellow panelists, Carol Coffee Reposa, Edward Vidaurre, and Celina Villagarcia. My main advice was that every book has to have some sort of an argument, a central message to it. And I talked about how I had to narrow that down for my forthcoming book, The Lost Chronicles of Slue Foot Sue. There we are, pictured below. Don't we look smart? That's because we are.

That evening, although there was an amazing reading planned, I decided I needed to skip it and take it easy. B and I went out for some sushi at this really neat place and I had, err, maybe a little more sake than I'm used to. It was delightful :)

The next morning I was scheduled to attend a workshop with Tim Seibles. How fortunate am I??? I learned so much from the workshop. Even though a lot of it was advice I had already heard, it was really great to hear about the process of another writer. The workshop focused on incorporating specific details into your poetry. I ended up leaving with TWO poem drafts and a super useful process for revision. I really liked how "real" Tim was about how difficult and time consuming the craft of poetry can be, but also he was just so inspiring and encouraging. There were poets of all levels in the workshop -- from Bryce Milligan and Liliana Valenzuela to brand new baby poet undergrads, but I feel it was relevant to all. I also just read today that Seibles was named the Virginia Poet Laureate, and to be honest, I'm not surprised. I feel incredibly blessed to have spent the morning learning from him. There's a picture from the workshop. I'm on the left, soaking up Tim's amazingness.

Afterwards, I had a book signing at the conference author's table where I had the chance to chat with some young college students about the writer's career, meet San Antonio writers and even a few publishers and editors. I also sold a few books! There I am, left, hanging out with two buddies, ire'ne lara silva and of course, Edward Vidaurre. Didn't I tell ya I had cool friends?

I would have loved to have stayed longer, but I was on a bit of a time constraint. Later that evening, I had a reading and book signing in Austin, so after a quick and delicious lunch at The Cove, B and I headed up there. We checked into our hotel before making our way to the bookstore. I'd visited the bookstore last spring when I was in town for the Texas Institute of Letters meeting, so I was already at least a little familiar.

Don't we look happy? I was more nervous than anything else in that picture since it was just before we were about to get started. The reading was a book launch for my friend Nathan Brown's new collection of poetry, My Salvaged Heart (Mezcalita Press, 2016).  He was kind enough to invite me to join him and share a few poems in celebration. Allyson Whipple also shared a few poems, too, from her chapbooks. It was a nice, intimate event. Attendance was a little, let's say light, though, but it might have been due to the fact that the US Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, was reading but two blocks down the street. Competition much? Oh well. I had a nice time regardless and met a few wonderful Austin poetry fans. You can view my reading here:

After that, B and I were both pretty exhausted, so we headed back to the hotel for some much deserved rest. The next morning, we went to a few places in Austin, including the Texas State Cemetery and a cat cafe (we're odd tourists, ok?), before deciding to get the hell out of dodge and head for our favorite place, New Orleans. For the next two days, we existed in a bliss of beignets, live music, and good Louisiana beer. My favorite places on this visit were a trip through the Ursuline convent, which had some surprisingly interesting takes on women's history, and a tour of Frances Keyes' home. And of course the FOOD, which kinda sorta still has my stomach in a tizzy.

Today I'm recovering, trying to come down from the marvelous cloud that comes with travel, writing, and community. Hopefully I'll be able to settle back into my routine before the semester and reality hits again in a few weeks. I have so much to look forward to in the fall, but right now, I'm still relishing summer.