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.
“The secret to writing is just to write. Write every day. Never stop writing. Write on every surface you see; write on people on the street. When the cops come to arrest you, write on the cops. Write on the police car. Write on the judge. I’m in jail forever now, and the prison cell walls are completely covered with my writing, and I keep writing on the writing I wrote. That’s my method.”
— Neil Gaiman
Another one of my photo stories written for the Office of Letters and Light and reblogged here to highlight the amazing young authors of the San Francisco Bay Area:
Eight daring YWP Wrimos picked up the microphone and shared their novels during the “Thank Goodness It’s Over” NaNoWriMo reading on February 10, 2013 at the Booksmith in San Francisco. The pictures below capture the faces of the bright young authors supported by NaNoWriMo, the Young Writers Program, and you. One day, maybe you’ll find their photos on the back jacket of their published novels. Until then, keep on writing, Junior Wrimos!
Here’s a shout out to our all-stars featured below:
North Oakland Community Charter School, Oakland, CA
Luca Campbell, Francesca Miller-Heller, Justice Petersen, Julian Rosenthal
Creative Arts Charter School, Oakland, CA
Marlowe Heier, Ronin Lanning
Clifford Elementary School, Redwood City, CA
Millen Quinn Alley, Leigh Danielle Alley
Photos by Ian Stevenson Photography.
Young writers, have you read your novels aloud to friends and family? Tell us about it!
My article reblogged from the Office of Letters and Light site:
During the month of November, we’ve discovered new friends and neighbors at write-ins in local coffee shops and libraries. We’ve memorized every valley, dive bar, and street sign in our fictional worlds. We’ve even sketched a map of the Tupazel World from Bearded Troll Mountain to Red Dragon Lair. But, we may have forgotten that there are Wrimos writing all over the world.
In the region of “Elsewhere :: Middle East,” 934 Wrimos join together from the 24 countries in the Middle East. Today, I’d like to introduce you to Lone Bendixen Goulani, an academic writing teacher at the University of Kurdistan-Hewler in Erbil, Iraq, who teaches 125 students. Eight have signed up with NaNoWriMo to tell their untold stories.
If Erbil, Iraq was the setting of a novel, how would you describe the area?
Kurdistan is a beautiful mountainous area in the Middle East that covers regions both in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Armenia. Kurdistan is a safe haven in Iraq. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the region has developed a lot. Erbil is the capital in Kurdistan region in Iraq, and the majority of people in Erbil are Kurds, but our pluralistic society also contains Arabs, Assyrians, Jezidis, Turkomans etc. The history of the Kurds is very bloody and sad, but there are so many untold stories waiting to be told.
One of my students is using a lot of his mother’s stories in his novel. One of my characters has a father that was killed during Saddam Hussein’s ethnic cleansing of the Kurds. Another character is watching a DVD where Baathists are executing people in different ways because this is what my taxi driver was doing on November 4th, and I put it in my story. There are green parks and modern shopping malls, and the killings have stopped, but people still watch the killings. They still cry over their lost ones.
How did your students react to the idea of writing a novel in one month?
To be honest, most of them looked blankly at me when I announced the event in the classroom, and since they quite often whine about the amount of words they have to write for my assignments (max 800 words this semester), most of them think they would never have the time to write this much. A few asked for more information and got hooked. We are only 8 Wrimos in Erbil as far as I know, and 6 of us are from the University of Kurdistan, but it’s a start. Pictured at the top is Kameran, a UKH student and one of the new Erbil WriMos in front of our NaNoWriMo bulletin board.
Have there been any cultural barriers for fiction writing?
Not really, not so far at least, but I suppose I’m taking the risk of getting into trouble if they write and upload something which is considered inappropriate around here (which is just about everything if you include the stories after they have been retold a few times).
What is the reading culture like in Erbil?
Poetry is quite popular, but there is not really a reading culture. I hardly ever see anybody reading a novel for pleasure, and it’s difficult to find any kind of literature. I go to a book fair once a year, exchange books with my expat colleagues and buy books whenever I’m abroad.
Had anyone heard of NaNoWriMo in your area? How did you first hear about NaNoWriMo?
No, I had never heard about it until my American colleague told me about it a few months ago. She is taking a course in creative writing as part of her master’s program. She finished her first novel recently (she spent 60 days on it which is clearly cheating, but I’ve bullied her into writing a new one in November).
I’ve always written a lot, but never fiction, so I’m looking forward to taking writing less seriously and share a creative writing experience with my students, friends and colleagues.
How have you kept motivated throughout November?
I enjoyed bragging a lot about what I’m doing in November, so there wasn’t any turning back. How can I call myself a writing instructor if I haven’t written a novel in 30 days?
Also, there’s barely anything to do around here apart from breathing fresh mountain air, so writing a novel is really a perfect activity apart from the power short cuts (and my laptop battery is broken, so it is a serious matter really).
Lone, thanks for sharing your world with us. Wrimos, on this last day of November, let’s do a roll call! Where did you write from this month? How would you describe your home in one sentence?
Student Photo by Lone Bendixen Goulani
Check out my recent blog post at the OLL Blog by clicking this link: http://blog.lettersandlight.org/post/32460625515/dare-to-wear-pink
It’s an awesome pep talk for writers… and anyone who needs a few words of encouragement! It’s also re-posted below:
Did you know that Molly Ringwald, the iconic ’80s star of Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, and The Breakfast Club, is also a literary fiction writer?
Recently, I attended a reading of her new short story collection When It Happens to You. I’ll admit it—I mainly showed up because she was an icon of my teenage years. Because of her, I almost resorted to sewing my own prom dress. My mom had the good sense to convince me otherwise; I had neither a sewing machine nor fashion sense and the dress was starting to look like a belly dancer’s costume.
Flash forward to this year, when I found out that Molly Ringwald had recently published a collection of fiction stories, and my adolescent idol gained about another million degrees of coolness.
She read from “My Olivia,” her haunting story about a mother struggling with a transgender child. The audience was almost brought to tears by her words; not a screenwriter’s words, or a director’s words—her own words.
San Francisco Litquake’s Jane Ganahl grilled her with questions on topics ranging from her Brat Pack days to her book reviews to her gorgeous Greek husband sitting in the audience. But one answer really stuck with me:
“I’ve been writing for decades. It was singing, writing, and acting in that order, and once acting took over, I kept writing and never thought that it would be possible to ever be taken seriously as a fiction writer. That’s what kept me from [fiction writing & publishing] for so long. But in the end I feel like the writing speaks for itself.”
Molly Ringwald worries that people will not take her seriously as a writer.
It’s a worry that crosses my mind every time I tell someone that I am a fiction writer. I always expect the next question to be: well, what have you published? Or what kind of person spends their days transcribing the thoughts of imaginary people? Or did you know that a writing career doesn’t come with stock options?
I, uh, you know, it’s just…
Everyone faces the doubt of announcing themselves as “real” writers. Sometimes we hide our “writer” status for fear of ridicule or dismissal. Do you love to write? Yes. Do you put pen to paper in a magic string of ink straight from your heart? Yes. Then, stash the self-doubt, apply a little pink lipstick (this step is optional), and dazzle the world with your talent.
Whether your day job is as a doctor, actress, lawyer, or waitress, tell the world, “Yes, I am a fiction writer.” And then take that one step further, “Yes, I am writing a novel in one month. Seriously.”
Have you ever been afraid that the world might not take you seriously as a writer? Have you ever let it stop you from writing? I’d love to hear your stories!
Photo by Flickr user Chris Mc Robert
This was my first week working with the Office of Letters and Light (OLL), an awesome nonprofit that puts on National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It’s not like any office I’ve ever worked in. It must be all of those letters and light. The staff approaches every project with innovation, dedication, and most importantly humor. I feel completely at home. I’ve already had the pleasure of a wine and cheese happy hour, a gourmet cup of Blue Bottle Coffee, and numerous snack breaks at Sweet Adeline Bakeshop (I think they might be collaborating to plump up my life). But most important of all, I wrote my first blog post to broadcast to NaNoLand!
Check it out on this link! What a warm welcome into the NaNoWriMo community! There will be many more OLL blog posts to come as we near the 50K monster of November’s National Novel Writing Month challenge. My goal as a new intern is to provide battle gear and inspiration for this upcoming adventure. Stay tuned for more posts.
Here’s a little more about NaNoWriMo in their own words:
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenges you to write a 50,000-word novel, from scratch, in the month of November. It’s a global, uproariously fun endeavor, where participants exchange advice and writing tips on the NaNoWriMo website and in real life, with group write-ins held in coffeeshops, living rooms, and libraries all around the world. In 2011, more than 250,000 people took part in National Novel Writing Month.
The flash of paparazzi cameras blind my eyes. The crowd is in silence, the silence of parachute doors and church pews. As I walk toward the podium, the plush red carpet makes my heels wobble. The award, gold and glowing, the award is mine. It’s… it’s a Writer Unboxed t-shirt and mug!
Sorry, was I day-dreaming? Not completely….
Writer Unboxed recently announced the winners of the “7 Sizzling Sundays of Summer Flash Fiction Contest” and my story won 2nd place! Writer Unboxed spotlights a plethora of published authors, agents, and editors who share their wisdom on the craft and business of writing. It’s a website that has been listed in Writer’s Digest as one of the “101 Best Websites for Writers” for the past six years in a row. It does a fantastic job of “unboxing” the writer’s life.
The contest went a little something like this: Each week for a total of seven weeks, contestants had 48 hours to write a 250 word piece of flash fiction that was inspired by a particular drawing by Debbie Ohi. A combination of judges’ discretion and weekly votes distilled winners from hundreds of fantastic stories. A total of 21 finalists made it to the last round. Mine was one of them, along with two other members of my MUG Writer’s Group – Taylor Ross and Anthony Lanni. It was an amazing experience to share this contest with my Mugsters. Cheering each other on and sharing in the praise, we realized how much our writing has grown over the years since our first meeting years ago. It made us realize how strong our group has become to be able to encourage each other even in a competition. Truly, that’s the best prize for me.
Here’s the winning story below (as well as linked here):
A monster lives in my bedroom and his name is Gary. My parents don’t believe me. Tonight, if I sit in the hallway, cold and shivering, then maybe they will believe me. Maybe they will believe that Gary has two dog heads and a scaly tail. Maybe they’ll believe that Gary reads me fairy tales like Beauty & the Beast and Snow White. He even has a different voice for each of the dwarves.
But, my dad doesn’t usually come upstairs until long after midnight. Sometimes he tumbles against the walls like a lumbering giant, and Gary perks his head up, ready to leap at the monster in the hall. My mother, she doesn’t ever leave her bedroom except to eat bowls of cold chicken soup. Every night, she slips two red pills into her mouth and disappears into silence. I bet she never dreams of fairy godmothers or flying on the back of a winged beast.
The hallway feels like an icy tunnel. Goosebumps rise on my arms and my eyes droop from the darkness. I just want my parents to believe that a monster lives in my room.
“Come back to bed,” Gary says, waving me over with his soft white paw.
I follow him back to my bedroom where he can protect me from empty hallways.