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/
Hey, hey! Ready for adventure? Good news, a nonfiction short story and photos I’d submitted for Recreation.gov’s Outdoor Adventure Writing Contest was selected as a Top Ten Finalist (February 2021). If you love meteors and hiking to starry mountaintops, read the full story here (plus, catch a snippet of it below from our trip to Sequoia National Park): https://www.recreation.gov/shareyourstory/story/starry-night-above-the-sequoias/ae6a3d80-2b20-405b-9155-1a9072f8ecd3
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.
So, for right now, let’s dream.
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.
*Screenshot photos are from the Tin House YA Workshop page
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.”
I’m saying, yes.
What about you?
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.
I’m going mad.
New job, new apartment, new manuscript. I’ve hardly had a minute to catch up and reflect. Over the years, my blog has been my mini-museum of life-changing writing retreats and milestones. I finally have enough of a breather to reflect on an incredible writing retreat I attended in March 2018. Holy cow, has it really been three months?
At the Madcap Writing Cross-Culturally Retreat in Nashville, Tennessee, I had the unbelievable opportunity to delve deep into writing with authors Laurie Halse Anderson, Marie Lu, Dhonielle Clayton, Zoraida Córdova, Tessa Gratton, S. Jae-Jones, Sarah Nicole Lemon, and Natalie C. Parker. Stop. Go back, read that lineup again. I couldn’t ask for a more talented, fierce, and diverse set of YA authors to learn from. And the fact was, they were all very open about how they’re still learning how to write respectfully and authentically across cultures. It made for the kind of retreat that broke down walls and opened up windows into new perspectives.
Not only were the faculty stellar, but the cohort of writers came from all over the US from all different backgrounds. It was inspiring to see such a range of perspectives in the mini-mansion tucked away in the Tennessee woods. And we slept in bunk beds. And I ate more grilled cheese than I have in way too long. I don’t want to make this sound like a fairy tale (okay, it was seriously a fairy tale); however, at the same time, we all dug deep into our own uncomfortable truths surrounding race, privilege, sexism, respect, and authenticity. These are generally topics people try to avoid around the dinner table. It was heartening to come together to talk about these issues in our own writing (and in the overall publishing industry) without heated arguments or defensiveness. It was an open conversation. And I learn so so much. I’m still in processing-mode, so I know there will be follow-up posts. But for now:
#madcaprt #yalit #amwriting
Over the past few months, I’ve been drafting a new YA novel titled “Wildfire Girls” about–you guessed it–WILDFIRES and a gang of powerless/powerful girls that start them. And so, when the Santa Barbara mountains burst into apocalyptic flames again this summer, I felt my inspiration following suit. I’ve been furiously drafting, and now I’m closing in on the last few chapters.
My writing has always been grounded in place. My last two manuscripts were set in San Francisco–no big surprise, since the kid version of myself meandered the Mission long before the hipsters grew out their man buns. I love novels that are filled with sharp sensory details, and I find that my strongest writing is so much about place and the crazy cast of characters that find themselves there.
I’m sorry to see acres of dry drought land burning in the Whittier Fire, and firefighters risking their lives to protect our precarious city by the sea. I’m sorry to find the ash of oak trees on the hood of my car, and the evacuation notices that ring out on the radio. BUT, the best I can do is write and keep writing and let the inspiration of this place carry my story forward.
Stay tuned for more posts on my inspiration for WILDFIRE GIRLS…
Twice a year, my writing group (aka the Mugsters) throws our own writing retreat. This year, we chose Seattle because Mike started his MFA program in Washington, and most of my writing group lives in Southern California where we’ve forgotten the feel of rain clouds, and we’re all a little leery about that mysterious liquid falling from the sky.
The four of us rented a quirky house on Airbnb in the Columbia City neighborhood of Seattle. We chugged Tin Umbrella coffee (aptly titled “Chase Your Dreams” blend), we meandered through a bookstore/brewery/restaurant called Third Place Books (brilliant idea!), we met up with other writing friends in Seattle, and we were ambushed by Tilly cat, the apparent feline homeowner of our little house. We maybe wrote a little. The thing is, our “writing retreat” has always been a way for us to connect beyond our manuscripts and our blinking computer screens. We come together to laugh and commiserate and inspire and fling ideas around like the lucky little tribe we’ve become.
We’re still puzzled by the mysterious liquid falling from the sky, but unfortunately it did not follow us home.