✨IT’S ALL HAPPENING✨ 😭🥳😃🥂 What a dream come true to work with the incredible team at Abrams and editor Maggie Lehrman on my forthcoming YA novel THE VANISHING STATION! A heartfelt thank you to all the amazing friends and family in my life helping me along this writer journey (and especially to Mike for always putting up with my rambling ideas). Cheers to fierce girls, everyday magic and fighting for the people you love 💕 I can’t wait for you to meet Ruby and my magical underworld in the trains beneath San Francisco. There’s no way I would have gotten this book deal without my incredible agent Kerry Sparks (and Rebecca Rodd) at LGR literary agency to gracefully navigate the business world and champion my books. And finally, a shout out to my MUG writing group for their ever-insightful critique notes on the first draft of this project, as well as the Tin House YA Workshop for pairing me with a fabulous group of talented writers and mentor Nova Ren Suma, who all helped me fine-tune my first chapters. Stay tuned for The Vanishing Station in 2023…
“Kumain ka na ba?” It’s the question my Filipina aunties used to ask any time we walked in their house. Have you eaten yet? The answer never really mattered, nor did the time of day: sit down, eat. Sticky sweet rice with purple ube yam. Caramel leche flan and buttery ensaymada rolls. Desserts from Goldilocks down the street in our San Francisco neighborhood. Now, that I live 6 hours away (instead of 6 blocks away), I often find myself craving the things I took for granted as a kid. Why can’t delicious food magically appear the second I step through the door? Why can’t we show our love for one another through simple acts of hospitality? During those strange disorienting months of covid, I missed the warmth and gratitude of gathering with friends, family, strangers over a meal.
Last December, my brother came to visit and we decided to crack open one of my cookbooks called Memories of Philippine Kitchensby chefs Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan (it’s amazing!). The book is filled with gorgeous photos, family stories, origins of native Filipino foods and the impact of foreign cultures, and of course, let’s not forget the recipes. Adobo. Pancit. Lumpia. Yum, yum, and yum. I’ve never been to the Philippines. My mom and her brothers and sisters moved to California in their twenties, and dove into becoming “American.” But, I’ve always felt like my grandma’s and aunties’ kitchens were spaces where I could connect with my mom’s roots—my roots.
So, with nowhere to be that drizzly December day, my brother and I cooked batches and batches of ensaymada rolls. Smooth buttery dough between our fingers, gently twisting into knots and sprinkling with cheese. Watching their slow rise into puffy perfection. So simple, but every bite says welcome home. Trust me, you need to try one!
Writers in the wild! After over a year cooped up during covid, my MUG writing group finally converged in Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierras for our own little writing retreat. Picture this: gorgeous lakes everywhere you turn, giant ponderosa pines outside our window, hunts for ice cream and icy cold rosé, and a trusty doggie (who put up with our Save the Cat chats). We even found Wild Willy’s natural hot springs, which thankfully was not as rowdy as it sounds (introverted writers, remember?). After Casey and Jenny flew back to Colorado, Taylor and I spent a couple extra days trying not to eat too much cinnamon ice cream (when really, there’s no such thing as too much) and hiking around Lake George, Twin Lakes, TJ Lake–while never once bumping into the 30 or so black bears who inhabit the Mammoth area.
You might ask, did you get any writing done on this writing retreat? Indeed! But after all our makeshift Zoom sessions this year, we all needed a gulp of fresh mountain air to refill our creative well. Casey and Jenny were drafting new manuscripts; Taylor and I were in revision mode; and even though Genevieve couldn’t make it in person, her Zoom presence sparked so many fun ideas. We dove into the craft books Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life by Natalie Goldberg and Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody. Wild Mind was perfect for free-flowing creativity and inspiration, while Save the Cat was all about plot and structure and all the things I struggle most with. Casey also gave us a wildly insightful plot analysis of Six of Crows for those trying to pull off a heist and multiple POVs. For me, it was the perfect mix!
Check out some trip photos below, and I hope it sparks ideas on ways to refill your creative well! It’s been a long draining year, and you deserve it. Where will your next writing adventure take you?
Friends, I have big ~*BOOK NEWS*~ My middle grade graphic novel about Filipino myths and monsters and messy friendships is coming to life! Lee and Low / Tu Books has offered to publish it and awarded me their amazing New Visions Honor. Thank you to everyone who’s been along for the ride on this bumpy writer journey. I couldn’t have done it without all your amazing support and critiques and late night ice cream runs. Thanks to my lumpia-loving Filipino side of the family for inspiring some of these stories too. I wanted to use ‘Ana Rodriguez Ellickson’ for my kid lit pen name, to honor how hard my mom worked to carve out a pretty darn good life here in Cali. Cheers to Lee & Low Books for giving me a chance to share stories with kids! Read the full announcement here: https://blog.leeandlow.com/2021/05/19/lee-low-books-announces-the-2021-new-visions-award-winner-and-honor/
Growing up in San Francisco’s Mission District, I’ve always had a deep love of public street art. Murals in particular. It takes a snapshot of a cultural moment, reimagines museum art in new ways, and can bring together a community. Everyone can enjoy it (or even debate it) whether or not you have the money to go to a museum.
You just have to keep your eyes open.
Since moving to Santa Barbara years ago, the one thing I’ve missed about living in the Bay Area is the richness of street art. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely don’t agree with graffiti tagging and defacing property (though I will admit to enjoying Banksy’s style of unexpected wit). On the whole, I believe that public murals should be the vision of a community (and not a lone tagger screaming for attention or turf).
But, what I realized this year is that I haven’t been keeping my eyes open in Santa Barbara. There is a richness of street art here under the glossy white walls and red tile roofs that have made Santa Barbara’s downtown a glimmering Spanish Riviera-style tourist oasis. Tucked in alleyways and side streets, and vibrantly on display in the Funk Zone neighborhood, there’s street art all around me. I just have to keep my eyes open.
I decided that I’d like to do a series of blog posts journaling the street art and murals in my own community. Today’s post features artist W. Dane’s reimagining of “Rosie the Riveter” in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone (near Helena Avenue). I won’t speak for the artist, since I don’t know his intention. I’ll only speak to how it inspired me. “Rosie the Riveter” is one of those WWII icons that has been reimagined in so many ways over the decades. This mural stitches together elements of the Black Lives Matter movement and feminist ideals. Black and white and everyone in between need to work side-by-side to keep our country strong and thriving. Let’s face it, hardworking women have always stood strong to keep their families and communities together. In these times of distrust and division, I feel it’s more important than ever for art to appeal to these values. Sometimes we just need that reminder reflected back at us through art–we can do it.
So, if you’re ever in the neighborhood, check it out! Stay tuned for more street art to come!
Fellow Mugster crit partner Taylor Ross wrote up a fabulous blog post over on our Mugsters Blog about our mini-writing retreat here in Santa Barbara. It was awesome to welcome crit partner Aleese Lin in person (!!) to talk speculative writing and sizzle up fresh tacos after our long haul of Zoom meetings throughout covid. The vaccine has been opening doors again… and boy are we ready! Grab a fresh squeezed mimosa and read on! Preview below. https://mugsters.wordpress.com/2021/04/26/spring-mini-writing-retreat-2021/
Oh COVID, you may have taken away my ability to travel over the past year, but you can’t take away my lush memories of sweet-sticky fruits and scooters whooshing through traffic and elephants waving from the edges of the jungle. The bustling marketplaces, the golden temples, the spicy pad thai—life bursting around the edges.
If it’s not obvious, I miss traveling.
This year has been filled with health scares and economic collapse, but one small consolation has been diving into my latest novel manuscript. It’s about a girl dreaming of adventure, but she’s trapped trying to save her family from ruin. There’s a burst of train portal magic, a mysterious underground crime web, and far too much Filipino singing. Let’s just say it’s been the perfect escape from a tough year. In my novel, my character can’t rise above her circumstances unless she learns how to dream bigger. I firmly believe that’s the power in books—whether you want to call storytelling an escape or entertainment or deep philosophical musing. Books provide a moment to dream beyond your own life.
I’m beyond thrilled to share that I have been accepted into the 2021 Tin House YA Fiction Workshop! Five days of intensive writing workshops, lectures by incredible YA authors, agent meetings, happy hours, faculty readings, and connecting with fellow writers from around the world. This is exactly what I need. After a rollercoaster covid year, I can’t wait for a chance to focus on my creative life. No more doom-scrolling; no more letting my work life spill into my personal life just because my office is now my dining room table. No more wasted mornings when I could have been writing in the dark hours of dawn. It’s not that I haven’t been writing fiction–I’m chiseling through revisions of my latest novel, hooray!–it’s that I’ve not had enough dedicated time to focus on improving my craft and forging new connections. Author Nova Ren Suma will be leading my workshop sessions, and I couldn’t put down her novel A Room Away from the Wolves. Let me tell you, it gave me chills. It’s a modern gothic tale with runaway girls, messy mothers, and an enigmatic house that won’t let you go. Its lyrical writing is haunting. I’m eager to learn from Nova about writing powerful tension, subtext and mystery in my own novel.
The workshop’s wonderfully diverse faculty also include YA authors: Jennifer De Leon, Mason Deaver, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Yamile Saied Méndez, Mark Oshiro, Ben Philippe, and Ashley Woodfolk. Agent extraordinaires will include: Linda Camacho (Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency), DongWon Song (Howard Morhaim Literary Agency), and Saba Sulaiman (Talcott Notch Literary). I know, dream team, here I come.
Also, a big thanks to India Downes-Le Guin (Assistant Workshop Director) for keeping us all so organized in preparation for the work ahead.
The only thing I’m not super excited about: karaoke. I know, I know, I’m half-Filipino, so karaoke should be my jam, right? How many Christmases have I hung out with my aunties and cousins singing “Dancing Queen,” Mariah Carey tunes, and even my dad channeling his inner country boy with “Tequila Sunrise.” Unfortunately, I’m not a singer, and no one should be subjected to that kind of torture. Especially over Zoom. Still, I am looking forward to connection and laughter with fellow writers.
Recently, I was thinking about a insightful quote from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear:
“Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all. We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits. We are terrified, and we are brave. Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege. Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us. Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise—you can make anything. So please calm down now and get back to work, okay? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”
Stay home, write books! My writing group had grand plans for our retreat this year — cozy cabin in Colorado, writing & laughing & cooking for days, SNOWSHOEING! (I live in beachside California, so you have no idea what snowshoeing means to me). But, with the coronavirus pandemic, we had to scrap plans and get creative. In April, we jumped online and hosted mini-workshops for each other: the craft of writing emotions, world-building, drawings maps, delving into our blindspots in race and culture, plot bunnies. Sure, I would have much rather been cozy and writing in a cabin with my critique partners, but I’m ever grateful to have these hilarious and talented ladies in my writing group.
See, I’m trying to be positive.
But, to be honest, it wasn’t quite the same. Every year, I carefully budget and plan and scrounge vacation days to go to at least one writing retreat. Somewhere I can focus on my art, focus on learning craft, and find my “tribe” — which apparently are a bunch of weirdos who dream up imaginary stories and hammer them out on paper. It’s a break from my non-writing-related career and family obligations; it’s a time to dive into writing with reckless abandon and all the seriousness of a birder. It isn’t sitting in front of a laptop screen having yet another Zoom meeting after a long day of Zoom meetings. The MUG Zoom retreat was a makeshift answer in uncertain times.
Don’t get me wrong; I am grateful to be healthy, safe and employed. Truly, this isn’t a complaint. It’s gratitude. Gratitude for the simple in-person connection that we’ve taken for granted in our ever-increasingly digital world. Gratitude for our resilience during these pandemic times when we’re constantly plugged-in and overwhelmed and worried about the future. Gratitude for friends who make me laugh and inspire me to keep writing. Gratitude that one day we’ll meet again, in-person. Oh, watch out, all the stories we’ll tell.