MUG Writing Retreat: Mammoth Lakes

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!

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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?

Catch you next time, lovelies! 😘

Mini-MUG Retreat in Santa Barbara

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/

Starry Night Above the Sequoias

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

Writing Inspiration: My Travels in Thailand

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.

2021 Tin House YA Fiction Workshop

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?

Writing in the Time of COVID

MUG Zoom Writing Retreat 2020 Ellickson

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.

Downright sunny.

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

“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

Photo Story: The Young Writers Program, Authors-to-be, and You

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:

Photo Story: The Young Writers Program, Authors-to-be, and You

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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

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Photos by Ian Stevenson Photography.

Young writers, have you read your novels aloud to friends and family? Tell us about it!

— Andrea

Untold Stories from Elsewhere :: Middle East

My article reblogged from the Office of Letters and Light site:

Untold Stories from Elsewhere :: Middle East

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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.

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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?

— Andrea

Student Photo by Lone Bendixen Goulani

Landscape Photo by Flickr user Mustafa Khayat

The Office of Letters and Light Blog – Dare to Wear Pink

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?

Seriously.

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!

— Andrea

Photo by Flickr user Chris Mc Robert

via The Office of Letters and Light Blog – Dare to Wear Pink.