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.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Manuscript Update

There's my manuscript. There she is in all her neat and pretty glory. Oh, oh, oh, she is a deceptive little turd. I made this image using word cloud, a neat little website that makes a design out of a word or pdf file. I decided, what the heck, I'll pop my manuscript in there, maybe it'll take my mind off the craziness it's become. And it spits out this pretty little neat thing that looks so simple.

Chaos. That's what she is. Chaos!

I spent today futzing with the book again, the order and the structure, and, well, I think I broke it.

And I'm having this crisis as I'm gathering my notes for a talk I'm giving in San Antonio on how to put together a manuscript. I'm going to walk into the conference room and be all like, hey everyone, I have no idea what I'm doing, but here's some advice


Actually, this is a perfect opportunity for me to reflect on the process of putting together a book. This latest collection has posed a few challenges for me, and I feel like it's close to being in good shape. It's original state was like a two-faced book with two separate themes -- personal poems about my recent illness(es), and then more of the whole revisionist mythmaking thing but with Texas legends.  I was going to slap the title of Slue Foot Sue on it and call it a day, hoping the reader would take that leap with me across the chasm that having two separate tones/voices/messages created. It was going to reflect the pastiche of identity, the chaos of being a woman, I told myself, trying to make it sound good.

But really, that was a bunch of bull. I was being lazy and didn't want to admit that all along, I'd been working on two separate books, and that in order to make it work, I was going to have to scrap half and write a shit load more.

I eventually came to my senses after chatting with my mentor, Jan. She pretty much told me as such and, though it took me awhile to accept the truth, I agreed and split the manuscript in two, telling myself the other half could wait until my next book.

And so I got to work on my Slue Foot Sue book, because it felt a little fatter and more developed. Yay. That's what I'd been doing this summer, adding to it. I ended up writing two whole new "Texas legend series" poems to accompany Sue in her book -- Lobo Girl, a feral child case, and Sirena, a Native American Legend of a mermaid in the Guadalupe River. Sue was going to be the anchor story, her poems sprinkled throughout the manuscript, the chapter titles adhering to major events in her narrative. Lobo Girl's was kinda sorta gonna follow suit. Sirena was a little different -- her poems were too connected and needed to be together, uninterrupted, so I placed them in a chapter, but they felt like they didn't quite fit there.

Now I had three controlling narratives, and the manuscript felt, well, a little confusing and out of control. Today, I sat down with B and we chatted about it over lunch. B is not a poet. Quite the opposite, in fact, he's a computer geek. But, I trust his judgement on things in general, and he's always up for some straight talk. I asked him, do you think I should have three chapters, one for each narrative, rather than sprinkling all the poems throughout the book?

That makes so much more sense, he told me.

I groaned. This was going to mean a major overhaul. Ok. Ok. Ok...

So today I tried doing that. Now I've got a Slue Foot Sue chapter that focuses on her narrative, yes, but also imperfect love poems, a Sirena chapter that interrogates the male gaze and the objectification of women, and a Lobo Girl chapter about wilderness and rebellion. And a fourth, tiny chapter about the moon. Because the moon is what all these women have in common, but of course.

So some poems no longer fit -- cut them out. I looked through my "other" manuscript and found a few of the ones I'd originally discarded now could go back in, so I did a little swapping there too.

This manuscript keeps evolving and changing and it's hard to keep up with what's going where and why :-/ Good thing I save versions of stuff.  This weekend, I'm going to follow that old advice, to print out all of my poems and arrange them on my office floor. Would you believe I'm actually excited about it? :)

It's almost there. It's almost there. It's almost there. I have a feeling this book is going to be really good, once I finally figure out the chaos. I don't think I've ever struggled so much with ordering a manuscript -- the other two were much easier, a straight up narrative sequence. This one resists that. Fortunately, the poems themselves have been fairly easy to write because I've just been feeling so inspired and energized. I keep having ideas and I can't shut the faucet off. Not that I'd want to, of course.

Anyway, long story short, I think I'm getting somewhere with this, and I know that in the end, this book will be much stronger through all the struggling it's put me through.