I’ll be back, I promise!

Dear blog readers,

First, I want to apologize for just leaving you hanging since my last post on June 9, over a month ago. The past month has been filled with many wonderful personal and professional things, all of which I will share in due time, but for the time being, they call my attention away from blogging.

With that said, I’ll be taking the rest of the month off, into early August. I’ll be back here, with bells on, on Tuesday, August 11, with all of the great news of what’s happened this summer.

Please stay safe. Wear a mask. Wash your hands.

I appreciate you so much!

Sincerely,
Vonetta

Writing Classes Remind Me I Have a Lot to Learn

Although my business is picking up and I’m getting the hang of being an entrepreneur, I am still a writer.

To remind myself of this, I recently signed up for not one, but two, writing classes.

I’m taking them through the Center for Fiction, the literary arts organization and bookstore that’s now located in Brooklyn, but used to be located in Manhattan, and is where I wrote most of the first draft of my memoir. So it feels good to be back in this place—virtually—that played such a vital part in my journey as a writer.

The first class is Beginnings & Endings with T Kira Madden, and the second is Dialogue with De’Shawn Charles Winslow. I’ve been obsessed with T Kira’s work since I read her essay, “The Feels of Love,” in Guernica several years ago; I am still blown away by the magnitude of heart and vulnerability and truth in that piece—it moves me every single time I read it. I met De’Shawn at Bread Loaf in 2018; he was so pleasant and his reading so funny, that I had to grab his book as soon as it came out. Actually, now that I think about it, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, T Kira’s memoir, and In West Mills, De’Shawn’s novel, came out within a couple of months of each other last year, from the same publisher, so it’s all so apt that I’m in their classes.

I’ve been working on a short story about a woman who experiences marginalization at a writer’s conference and seeks solace about it in a fellow minority participant (that’s a really high level look and doesn’t really capture the heart of the story, but if I told you that much, I’d spoil it for you, so I’d rather you read it to find out). Like many of my short stories, it is entirely too long, so I hope to learn more concrete strategies for compression and how to make the dialogue really dance.

It’s been a fun challenge writing while also building a financial services consulting business. It’s also my first time taking two classes at one time, something I wouldn’t have ventured to do because I would have found it too overwhelming. But thanks to all the multitasking I’ve learned to do in the pandemic, it only makes sense. I contend that if I do it all with joy—choosing to have joy as I do it—it will all turn out amazing.

My Friend’s Book Is Out, and I Helped!

I was going to write this post last week, but work got in the way, and it turned out all the better because look what I finally got in the mail yesterday!

I am so excited for my friend, Laura Zam, whose first book, The Pleasure Plan, came out a couple of weeks ago. It is the story of her healing from sexual trauma, not the mental and emotional part, where I think most memoirs about abuse tend to linger, but on the physical. What happens when your body doesn’t know that some things should feel good, and how do you get it to acknowledge the truth? Despite some of the weightiness of the topics it explores, Laura’s book is hilarious, and I think it’s a must-read for women and men alike, to know their bodies and to know the bodies of other human beings, as crass as that sounds.

I attended Laura’s virtual book launch at Politics & Prose online two Saturdays ago, and I’d been itching to actually have a copy of it in my hands. When I finally got it, selfishly, I went straight to the acknowledgments to see if I was mentioned, and I am – a first for me! But that’s not why this book is special to me. This is the first book whose gestation I’ve played a part in.

A year after I moved back to DC from NYC and was still trying to find my writing community here, Laura started a writing group that met at her home on Monday nights. For almost the entirety of 2018 and into 2019, a group of women from across the DC area gathered at Laura’s home and exchanged work, the caveat being that Laura got to go every week because we were meeting at her house. And in that time, I saw a book proposal come to life, a narrative arc be filled out, an agent be signed with, and a book deal be scored! (There was much champagne for the latter two events.)

Other commitments came up and I couldn’t go to the group as often last year and into this year, but I miss those ladies. They have me such great feedback on the work I produced during my most prolific year (2018), and were encouragement when my writing slowed down and other literary citizenship took over for me in 2019.

But I cannot tell you how happy I am to see The Pleasure Plan come to life. It really is like seeing your friend’s kid grow up before your very eyes.  I can’t wait until bookstores are open again to see it on a shelf, right in front, where it belongs.

 

The Writing-Work Balance

Last week was the first time in earnest that I’ve been a solopreneur and a writer, and I can say that it took some balancing.

I haven’t written new words in God only knows how long, definitely not during the COVID Age, as I’ve been really focused on my work. (I’m an investment readiness coach who works with start-ups and their investors to raise money to support their businesses.)

While a lot of horribleness has gone, and is going, on in the world, it’s also been an opportunity for people take a minute and think about what they want their lives and businesses to look like once all of this is over. I decided to do this myself and invested in a branding & strategy exercise a few weeks ago and, man, was it worth it. I feel infinitely more confident in the way I help my clients and in the way I talk about what I do.

In spirit of planning and strategizing, I realized that I wanted to reintegrate writing into my life since I’ve been ignoring it. I looked at my schedule and realized that Fridays are usually not terribly busy for me. I tend to get my day started later due to a standing personal appointment in the morning, but I also generally work later since I don’t typically have late-afternoon obligations or meetings like I do Monday through Thursday.

So, I declared Friday my writing day.

I’ve made it so that no one can schedule a meeting with me unless they do so directly with me, and I’ll almost always say “no,” because boundaries are a beautiful thing.

With these parameters in mind, last Friday, I finished revising a short story and put thought into a few essays I’ve been wanting to write. I didn’t actually draft anything, but thinking counts! I also tinkered around with my list of agents who I’m considering querying. I find a keep getting myself frustrated as I think about that process, so I’m glad to have given myself the space to think about these things so they don’t have to bleed into other areas of my life.

“Work-life balance” is a cliché my spouse and I have decided is no longer allowed to be uttered in our home, primarily because work is a part of life. So, I should back-track to say that I’m not seeking balance between business and writing; I’m seeking to be the truest, best version of myself all around.

Furious Gravity is here!

You didn’t miss a post from me last week; I was up to my eyeballs in paid work, which I’m blessed to have in these strange days. But the highlight of my week was the publication of the anthology, Furious Gravity!

Published on May 1, Furious Gravity is the ninth volume of the Grace & Gravity series, a set of books founded by Richard Peabody to amplify the voices of DC women writers. It’s now edited by Melissa Scholes Young, a writer and professor at American University. I could not have been more honored to have my short story, “Sand and Salt,” featured in it!

My first author interview was conducted by American MFA student Kira Bunkholt, who asked some really probing questions about why I write what I do. (Here’s what I learned from doing this interview. The first one always makes the next ones better!) This made me feel like a real writer before publication, but the book’s birthday was a whole bigger feeling.

To celebrate the publication, the contributors are doing readings on the Internet from throughout the DC area. Yesterday, I MC’d the reading sponsored by The Writer’s Center, in which nine contributors read from their stories. And it was absolutely breathtaking. Nonfiction and fiction alike moved me in ways I was not even expecting. And it was such a joy to moderate so much talent!

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Photo courtesy of Wendy Goodman

The next reading is “at” Politics & Prose via their online platform on May 10. (Register to get the link!) Contributors Mary Kay Zuravleff and Tara Campbell will be reading and answering questions. And then on May 14, I’ll read part of my story during Readings on the Pike! (See here for details and to get the link.) There will probably be another reading or two, too.

I hate that the contributors couldn’t all be together, but it has been utterly delightful to be apart of this whole process. I can’t describe how wonderful it is to hold this book in my hands and to run my palm across the words that I started writing in summer 2017. INDESCRIBABLE.

I love how life comes full circle, especially when you get to hold it in your hands.

My undying need for validation

Corona time won this time—I may or may not have forgotten that yesterday was Tuesday. But, anyway, here we are.

I didn’t blog last week because I didn’t have anything to say. No, really. Every time I sat down to think about what I wanted to explore about writing or about me writing, nothing came to mind. I’m quick to blame the times we’re in, but in all honesty, I haven’t been writing for a few weeks. Instead, I’ve been trying to make headway in my business. Running a financial services consulting business in what could become the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression is a funny thing. My goal in everything I do is to make myself a servant, and my servant-ness was needed in my business these past few weeks, reassuring people that, whatever happens, everything is going to be okay.

That said, last Wednesday, I made myself attach bum to chair to look through some revision suggestions on a short story. I’m a member of several DC women writers’ groups, and the one that gave me feedback on this story is a fiction group, full of gals who love making things up. They are a delightful bunch, warm and friendly and smart as hell.

The story I presented is my new favorite—every new short story I write is my new favorite, but that’s beside the point. I felt confident in it, but, of course, it needed to be seen through eyes that were not mine. As I listened, I felt the familiar drain of energy as they pointed out things that could be improved.

The mistake I always make with workshopping is seeking some type of external validation. Yes, I do get that to an extent, as workshopping usually starts with “what’s working” before we move onto “what could be improved.” But I find that I crave being told that my story is perfect as it is—and why would that ever be the case?

I’ve been writing full-time for almost four years (although, as stated above, it’s more of a part-time job now), and in that time as a student of writing, I have gotten much better. But I still get intimidated when I think of how far I have to go.

My stories have a measure of emotional depth, but they could do deeper. I could write characters that I haven’t taken from some aspect of my life, but the idea of that feels uncomfortable and foreign, like something I’d make a mess of because I was handling it for the first time. I could write plots that aren’t so cinematic, but frankly, I don’t think I would because I wouldn’t be as entertained.

What I’m saying is, I still have work to do in become a better writer. But I need *internal* validation. I need to know that where I am right now is where I’m supposed to be. That it’s okay to have a vision of where I’d like to go, but not to kick myself for not having arrived yet. To appreciate the work I’ve put in and to embrace it. To love my writing for where it is and not make it mature before it’s ready. Because no one wants to grow up too fast.

Lessons from My First Author Interview

I’m honored that my short story, “Sand and Salt,” will be included in the upcoming anthology, Furious Gravity, a collection of stories, essays, and poems by DC women writers, edited by writer Wendy Besel Hahn and American University professor Melissa Scholes-Young. It comes out on May 1. Preorder it here!

One of the cool things about being in this anthology is that it allowed for my first author interview! A student from American reached out to me to have a virtual sit-down about my story, and it turned out to be a great learning experience for me. Here’s a few takeaways:

  1. I have to stop thinking, “No one is going to read this.” I don’t tell myself that in a self-flagellating way, but in a way that gets me out of my head and lets me write. If I think about the fact that someone will read what I am writing, I would never write ever. But at some point, I have to turn from writer, the person who wrote the piece, to author, the person who published it, and to be able to speak intelligently in reflection about the work that I created. At the same time, humility is helpful; I’m still endlessly grateful for those who read my work.
  2. Before the interview, take a brief look at your story again. Of course, I know this story like the back of my hand. I spent 2.5 years writing it, including several back-and-forths of revisions with Wendy. But in the moment when someone was asking me questions about it, I kept thinking, “Wow, I wrote that?” Again, of course I had and I remembered it, but it would have emboldened me just a bit more.
  3. Have a list of themes from the story, top of mind. Again, I know the story because I wrote it, but for a moment, I’d kind of forgotten that this is not just a story about class, it’s also a story about race (because race is a construct built to enforce classism). When the student—who was super smart, btw—asked about how race plays out in the story, I had to think about it. Taking the time to think isn’t a bad thing, obviously, but next time, I’m better prepared to more deeply consider the themes before I talk about them.
  4. It’s always the right move to tell the truth. Confirmation of such! When the student asked where I got the title, “Sand and Salt,” from, I told her the truth: my subconscious was working in my favor that day. I hadn’t intended to use it as a title; it is a phrase I used in the story and I like the way it sounded, the way it brings to mind the beach, where the story takes place. I took more time to think about it in the course of revisions and realized that abrasiveness and, frankly, saltiness, were defining characteristics of my main character and her sister. So, I’d never set out for it to work so well, but, man, does it work. But to my point, I always hated when authors seemed to be making something up on the spot. I appreciate honesty, even if it’s admitting you don’t know something or if something just came about by happenstance.
  5. I am an artist. Although I’ve spent quite a lot of time and energy (and money, for that matter) on honing my craft, I didn’t truly feel like an artist until someone encountered my work, responded to it, then questioned me on it. For me, writing was a hobby for years, from age 12 to age 30, when it became my job. I still slip up and think of it as just something I do for fun, and it is, but it’s also not. It contributes to the zeitgeist, and that is AMAZING.

Preorder your copy of Furious Gravity here!

Good Writing News!

So, my brain had it set that today was Monday, not Tuesday, so I’m getting to post a bit late. I decided to take this week to do spring cleaning, so I’m off my routine, and keeping a routine has been the only way I’ve been able to decipher one day from another. But at least my house is clean.

Anyway, I bring good writing news!

First, my latest short story, As Far Away, was published in Gargoyle!

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The cover of Gargoyle 71. Isn’t it gorgeous?

This is story is the most autobiographical I’ve ever written and probably ever will write. I wanted to explore that “going off to college” feeling, the excitement that can trickle into a unique type of fear, one of distance from all you’ve ever known. The character is different from me in virtually every way, and her mother is very different from my mother, but I wanted to bounce their characters off a very real situation. This was fun to write, but a little bit taxing for that reason: it’s a challenge to make someone who’s based off of you and your family member be *just different enough*. I hope I did that in this story. I like this one (I like all my stories, I guess), and I hope it will be included in the collection I’m working on.

And second, I was named one of the new Fiction Editors at The Rumpus! I’ve been a slush reader for about a year, and I am chuffed to bits and so honored to have been promoted. I’ll be heading up a group of stellar readers and helping determine what we’ll published (I can feel the power!). I’m mostly excited to amplify the voices of women and POC writers, which The Rumpus is known for publishing. This story, The Christmas Party, was one of my favorite stories I encountered as a reader; I was gobsmacked (in a good way) by the prose and the cinematic nature of the story. I don’t expect everyone who submits to write a story like this, but I was so engrossed and it made quite a lasting impression.

At times, I feel odd thinking about good things happening while we’re in this weird period of time. But it’s the only way I can maintain my sanity. Before I go to bed each night, I write down five things that I am grateful for that day; they can be simple things like the rain cleaning the walkway or huge things like the fact that a loved one has lived to see another year. This has helped me shift my focus to the things that make me feel good. It’s helped me not drown in anxiety. In fact, I confess that there are some days in which I forget what is happening in the world because I’m so focused on the good things that are going on in my life. Because there are good things. And I am so grateful for them.

It’s never been a better time to be an introvert

Well, hello. It’s the first time I’ve blogged since we all entered this new world of social distancing, isolation, and quarantining. I would have blogged last week, but I felt weighed down. I haven’t been concerned about the virus itself (but I’ve been taking precautions, I promise!), but when the stock market tanked [the first time] a week and a half ago, I was so deflated, I could really only read fiction for a couple of days. I didn’t feel like thinking about my business since there was so much in the news saying that my clients could be most negatively impacted. But I did some Pilates and talked with my therapist and life coach to put things in perspective, and by mid-last week, I was feeling more like myself.

Now that I’ve been back at my desk (by which I mean my dining table), I’ve been insanely busy. I’ve chosen to proceed as if the future is bright. Choosing to give into possibility and not fear, I decided that I would help in my industry as much as possible, to be a light in the darkness. And now I have quite a few calls scheduled in which I will meet people, listen to them, and see how I can help, without selling them any of my services. If nothing else, they will get a listening ear, and I will feel useful.

I’ve also decided to volunteer for a bunch of things I otherwise would not. A workforce development organization I used to volunteer with before I moved back to DC is going to do a series of skills development webinars, and I said I could lead one. I would have to develop the content and learn how to give a presentation over Zoom. I’ve never done that before, but now seems as good a time as any to try new things.

It’s never been a better time to be an introvert, or a workaholic. I love seeing my friends and community, but not gonna lie, it’s been nice to get my work done without the pressure of thinking of all the places I’ll have to go later.

I’m making the most of this time. I hope you are, too.

My not-AWP Recap, or Life is Funny like that Sometimes

This post should be the one where I tell you about the great time I had at AWP. I’ve attended since my first one in DC in 2017 and was super excited to hop on a not-nonstop flight to San Antonio to see thousands of my friends and colleagues and maybe go to the Alamo while I was at it, like a good American.

This should be the post where I say which panels I attended and what I learned; which writers blew me away at their readings; the parties I managed to get myself invited to.

This should be the post where I say I slept for three days straight after it because it was all so damn exhausting, as AWP is every year.

But, nope, this post is about how stinking funny life can be, even in the not-so-funny of circumstances.

Last Monday, when AWP decided that the show would go on, I was still keen to go. Until I saw so many other people dropping out like flies. Some people I know and love were still going, but I wanted to be a part of the critical mass that comes into a city and completely dominates and overwhelms it with literary love. I figured it would be a nice intimate gathering, but wouldn’t be quite the same: if most people were panicking about the virus, then it wouldn’t be the joyful time it usually is. So, I bowed out, too.

While I was in the shower Monday night, after I’d cancelled my flights and hotel reservations for Wednesday through Sunday, I thought about how else I could use my time. I’m still a new entrepreneur; I could work, I thought.

And then I remembered that there was an investor training I’d had to reschedule because I wanted to attend AWP. This investor training was going to be in NYC the same weekend I was going to be in San Antonio, and wasn’t this fate, now that I wasn’t going to San Antonio?

I hurriedly emailed the woman in charge of the training and asked if they could squeeze me in. She said absolutely, only that they’d moved it to Seattle. …Which wasn’t what I’d planned. But they would cover my flight, so I said yes!

My spouse was out of town, working and hanging out with friends in NYC, including one friend who now lives in Seattle. “If Matt is in NYC, his wife and daughter are probably at home in Seattle,” I reasoned. I quickly texted Matt’s wife to see if they were home and if they’d mind hosting me as a guest on such short notice, and she said yes!

With all of my new plans wrapped up by Tuesday night, on Wednesday, I packed up and headed to the airport—to Seattle. I arrived late Wednesday night and went straight to bed, and slept like I hadn’t slept in days. When I woke up Thursday morning, I quickly read the Bible on my phone like I usually do, then I thought, “Where on earth is this training being held tomorrow?” I checked my email, then saw it: CANCELLED.

I lay in my friend’s guest room, in the basement of their cute Seattle house, and I laughed. And could not stop laughing.

I called my spouse and told him what happened and he laughed, too. I went upstairs and told my friend, and she laughed.

Long story short, I spent the day in Seattle, walking around my friend’s neighborhood to admire the view of the city, going to the bookstore and coffeeshops to do work, and just being on the other side of the country with cancelled plans.

The training organizer arranged me to go back to DC the following day, Friday, and I got home late Friday afternoon. So, I spent 48 hours in the other Washington, just to come home.

All of last week was a test, not of my patience, but of my mindset. I’ve chosen to have peace and joy despite my circumstances, and even I was impressed with my ability to do so during the craziest week. I choose to believe that the world is rigged in my favor, that all things work together for my good, even when they’re nuts.

I’m focusing on the facts that I got to see my friend and her daughter, to walk around Seattle a bit, and to get some free airline miles. Things always have a way of working out!