My first short story is published!

Pardon my absence last Tuesday—it was my 33rd birthday, so I had to let myself breathe, treat myself to a tipsy lunch, and wander around a suburban mall. I couldn’t have asked for a better kick-off to my Jesus Year.

But this week was made even better by the publishing of my first short story, “I Help You,” in Cosmonauts Avenue!

Well, technically, it’s my second. I guess my real first was when I was a senior in college, published in the spring 2007 issue of Georgetown’s on-again-off-again literary journal, The Anthem. It was called “Shine,” and it was weird and trying to be subversive because I was in college and that’s what you do when you write in college. (I still have the hard copy floating somewhere among my boxes of mementos.)

The one thing my current first story has in common with my original first story is the theme of trying to escape one’s past. In “Shine,” the character fell victim to a generational curse without noticing, it seemed; the protagonist in “I Help You” is significantly more aware of what’s at stake. Cici in “I Help You” is older than the main character of “Shine,” whose name I can’t remember, but I believe Cici’s awareness has more to do with my maturing as a writer. I’m more aware of what a character needs to know about herself, and also what readers expect to know about her that she doesn’t know. I’m also more mature as a person and know what it is like to create one’s own expectations of oneself rather than doing what you’re told.

Even though imposter syndrome tells me that “I Help You” is silly because it’s about a girl chasing after a boy, I’m infinitely proud of this story. In a workshop, someone said it was “well-plotted,” which I think this person meant as sort of an insult, as if to say the story isn’t “literary” enough. The perception is that, in “literary” stories, nothing actually happens; characters just “be.” But when do people ever not actually do anything? I mean, sure, on vacation, sitting on the beach or by the pool, do people just languish in their thoughts. But literally every other day in every other life circumstance, people do. They move, they act, they show how they love, hate, think, believe. Also, the definition of literary fiction is that which is driven by the character, not the plot. Cici and her desire to live a different life drive this story, therefore, it is literary, my friend.

I am so stinking happy about this story, I just don’t know what to do with myself. I pray that it is the first of many, many more. At least enough to fill a collection about Black women thriving in white spaces. Fingers crossed tight.

In case you missed the link above, you can read “I Help You” in Cosmonauts Avenue here: https://cosmonautsavenue.com/vonetta-young-fiction/.

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Me and the Gentleman’s Game

Confession: I love golf.

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Me, about to hit my best drive ever, and on a beautiful hole, to boot.

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Me and my spouse at the Quicken Loans National last year. That’s Ricky Fowler in orange behind us.

I took up the sport when I started business school, complying with the “white guys make deals on the golf course” trope, but also because it seemed like a really complex sport, physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging.

I started watching men’s golf on TV really consistently when I was working at my old job in NYC. Every Sunday afternoon, anxiety would paralyze me to the point where all I could do was sleep. So I turned on golf to keep me company (my spouse was usually working). Since it was relatively quiet, I found it relaxing and it helped soothe me a little bit.

Watching the sport every weekend became a habit, one I’ve kept up since then because golf is, by far, the most fascinating sport on the planet. Let me explain:

Golf is widely known as the “gentleman’s sport.” It’s a game of politeness, rules, order, and snazzy dressing. When you play on a course, there’s a dress code and clear way of comporting yourself—most places require a collared shirt (at least for men) and for you to play in a certain amount of time, to be respectful of those behind you. [Further example, if you’re going slowly on a hole and a group comes up behind you, it’s custom to allow them to go ahead of you, to “play through.”]

Of course, golf is also known as the whitest sport imaginable. I can’t think of another activity that encapsulates every race and class problem in the world than this very sport. Golf clubs are insanely expensive, even the cheap ones. On top of that, it costs at minimum $25 per person just to play the game on a terrible course, and greens fees on nice courses can be well over $100. (And that’s on a public course, not a private club, where greens fees are even higher, but seem lower because of the thousands of dollars one is paying for club membership. But anyway…) On top of that, courses are usually in places not all that accessible by public transportation, making playing an even more expensive venture for those who live in the city.

The combination of these two things—its gentlemanly veneer and its unabashed white privilege—is what fascinate me about golf. They allow for instant conflict and tension!

The male players have historically touted themselves as family men who live squeaky-clean, boring lives (a la Phil Mickelson), but that’s literally never been true. Phil, allegedly, had a gambling problem for years.

Tiger Woods blew through as the Black guy who would be the best ever to play the sport. I loved that he was knocking down barriers and didn’t even care to knock them down because he just wanted to win. He was a clean, nerdy, athletic Carlton Banks, and when I was in middle school, he gave me hope that my male counterpart existed, that there were more clean, nerdy, athletic Carlton Bankses out there and that I would find one and that he would love me. When Tiger became the poster child for the “good on the outside, icky on the inside” thing that every white male golfer had always been, it was extra hurtful to me. I didn’t care that he wasn’t who he’d made himself out to be to the world; it felt that he’d lied to me personally and tried to shatter my dream of love.

Everything about the sport of golf ultimately sets itself up for failure—the gentleman’s game that supports racism, sexism, and classism, none of which are at all honorable, as the definition of “gentleman” denotes.

For example, while my spouse and I were playing on a course in the Dominican Republic while we were on vacation a few years ago, I hit my best drive ever, WATCH:

I saw where my Callaway Solaire ball landed, a little to the right, but on the fairway. An older white couple came up behind us, and we let them play through, first the woman (who hit a sweet-ass drive) and then her husband. Her husband hit his ball off to the right, into the palm trees. He went in that direction to hit his second stroke, but then he stopped—he stopped at my ball. He hit my ball. HE HIT MY BEST DRIVE EVER BALL because he was an entitled old white man who figured he could never hit a ball off to the right, into the palm trees. I was livid. But all I could do was drop my ball around the same area and move on.

Clearly, the sport mimics a lot of the themes of real life.

To me, golf is a literary writer’s gold mine for narrative tension and character dynamism. I’m working on two short stories involving it in some way. For my Black women protagonists, this world should be inaccessible to them and to me, and that’s why it’s so intriguing. Stay tuned to find out how they turn out!

And congrats to Tiger on PGA win #80. Only needs 3 more to officially be the greatest golfer of all time. Let’s see about that…

Do you remember the 20th night of September?

I caught myself feeling down a lot the past week. I’ve been tired and a little teary and just plain glum. I couldn’t quite put my finger on the cause. I thought maybe a bunch of things were finally settling into my bones:

  • It’s “unofficially” autumn (though not for real until Saturday), so summer and all of my travelling and writing and meeting new people adventures are over. I still can’t believe everything I did this summer! I told myself I won’t do three (one, two, three) workshops again because it actually was too much. Throwing in a trip abroad that wasn’t to a beach compounded the exhaustion. But I had an amazing time doing it all, so no regrets!
  • It’s time to get back to work on my memoir manuscript. Given the feedback I got at Bread Loaf and from a couple of other readers, this round of edits will be pretty extensive. I’ll be making significant structural changes, especially to the beginning, which I’m still not happy with. I start to feel good about my book at Chapter 7, which is entirely too late to start to feel good about something.
  • I’m still submitting a short story around that I wrote last summer and have workshopped a couple of times. I got some positive feedback from a journal (a goal publication!), but I need more clarity on how to make it better. Otherwise, I’m still going at another short story that’s been pretty difficult. (I swear, I saw the protagonist on my plane to Ft. Lauderdale—yes, my fictional protagonist, in real life, on my plane. It was fine until she spoke to me. She asked if I had any lotion. It was weird giving my protagonist my little pink bottle of Vaseline hand lotion. Then she would smell like me, too. It was all very odd, and I still wouldn’t be sure I wasn’t hallucinating if my spouse hadn’t seen her, too [she was dreadfully pretty, so I had to make sure he didn’t look too hard].) Both are causing me their own versions of angst and making me a little tired.
  • I’ve got new material to get on the page. Inspired by Bread Loaf, I’ve got two essays and a short story that I spent some of past week drafting. The essays were short and easy to get out; the story, like the two above, is causing me some trouble. I think it’s because, though it’s a fictional story, it is based on real life, and that’s always weird, lying about things that actually happened in some way or another.

Ultimately, I reminded myself that this time of year is always weird. Even without consciously thinking about it, my body knows that it is the three-year anniversary of my father’s death. The weather in DC hasn’t been helping, staying nice and gloomy in the remnants of Florence. I still don’t miss my father, per se—not in the way people who had great relationships with their fathers do—but I think, every year, my subconscious acknowledges the implications of his physical absence from this planet: I’ll never get the acceptance or the love that I wanted and needed from him. I’ll be feeling great and then, suddenly, boom, this sadness comes out of nowhere, and I’m always confused as to why, until I think about it.

One day, I hope September returns to being just the introductory month to my birthday at the beginning of October. Three years later, it’s still “that weird time of year when my brain remembers that my father died.”

The Storms of Life

There’s a lot I could talk about that occurred in the past week, namely the misogyny (and probably racism) the whole world saw at the women’s U.S. Open final. But what really intrigued me this weekend was weather.

My spouse and I went to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for a mini-vacation, landing Thursday night and leaving Sunday evening. We knew there was some weather brewing in the Atlantic, but figured we’d go anyway. We had almost every meal outside, mostly because the AC was blasting everywhere we went, but the temperature outside was actually pretty pleasant, even with the threat of weather.

On Thursday night, while we ate dinner, I noticed that some cumulonimbus clouds several miles out to sea (I suppose I should explain that I was a really huge weather nerd in middle school, thanks to a great science teacher and an acute fear of storms. I figured if I learned more about them, I wouldn’t be so afraid of them. I was right.). Knowing that storms generally west to east on land and east to west over water, I started to get nervous. The clouds grew bigger and bigger, puffier and puffier, until lightning glowed throughout, illuminating them in the dark sky.

“Maybe we should go inside,” I told Rustin.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” he said in a very Rustin-like manner. Nothing ruffles his feathers ever, whereas my feathers are in a constant state of flux.

But, of course, he was right. The storm never moved. The lightning never touched the water or the ground, but stayed suspended in the clouds, which eventually dissipated.

It’s really the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. But once I realized that the storm wasn’t coming near me, it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

During a flight once, my plane flew around a thunderstorm. There was no turbulence, no hint that something was awry in the atmosphere; we just floated alongside these massive clouds that kept lighting up. And it gorgeous.

I couldn’t help think, somewhat cheesily, that this must mean something, and it does. I’ve never been in a beautiful storm while I was in it. During storms as a kid, I was frightened to death of thunder and lightning, and no one and no thing could soothe me. During storms as an adult—not actual weather—I feel much the same way. It seems that no one can say anything that actually encourages me; the only thing that will make me feel better is for the storm to end, though something always comes up again.

These resplendent clouds were a reminder to me that I go through storms (like years-long career uncertainty and trauma) that will ultimately make things beautiful. Maybe my mess looks like a masterpiece to someone else, and vice versa, I don’t know. I just have to remember that there is beauty before, during, and after, even when I don’t see it.

Bread Loaf Aftermath: The Hard Landing

It was a bit harder adjusting to regular life after Bread Loaf than I was expecting.

First, God, there are always sirens—ALWAYS SIRENS—going on CONSTANTLY in DC (see, just heard some in the distance as I typed that). Getting used to the noise took…some getting used to. Which is all the more ironic when I consider that we moved back to DC from NYC partly for the relative quiet in our nation’s capital.

Second, I find that writing conferences in which I focus on nonfiction dredge up some sort of emotions, likely because I shared intimate details of my life in whatever I wrote. Bread Loaf was no different in that regard; I shared the chapter of my memoir in which I slow time down and show what it was like seeing my father for the last time before he died. I wrote that chapter on the plane, the day after I saw him, so I’ve always found that piece both in-the-moment, but also emotionally distant. One of the participants noticed that, in it, I said I would have liked to spend some time alone with my father. “What would you have said if you could have gotten that time alone?” She asked. I hadn’t actually thought about that. Thinking about it in that moment, sitting on the porch of my instructor’s house, tears started to prickle my eyes, but I demanded that I not cry while sitting there. I just wrote the question down and thought about it later: I would have asked, “Who am I?” Which sounds selfish until you realize I’m actually saying, “Who are you? What does it mean to be a Young? Who are we?” I would have asked for some light to be shed on that part of my identity that I’ll likely never know, especially since I found out some time after he died that we’re not really Youngs.

Third, when I said in my previous post that I felt a sense of belonging, that emotion—the elation of feeling understood without having to explain oneself—didn’t really sink into my bones until last week. Therefore, last week, I cried a lot. A lot. I’m not a crier by any stretch of the imagination, but I cried so much. And at the dumbest things! I watched the delightful Netflix movie, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” an adorable Gen Z rom-com, and bawled my face off afterwards. I realized that my subconscious was looking for any excuse to express how much it missed being in an environment in which everything made sense.

On the brightside, the National Book Festival was this weekend, so I was able to surround myself with book people. Even better, Tayari Jones signed my books! And I even got in a little Bread Loaf reunion–Francisco Cantu was a speaker at the book festival!

The National Book Festival crowd; in line to buy books.

Tayari Jones signing my books and me looking at her a way I never even look at my spouse.

BREAD LOAF REUNION! Paco and me

Paco speaking during the immigration talk at the National Book Festival

I told my therapist that I was trying to think of ways to hold onto that feeling of belonging, but I immediately felt it fall away when I got home (hence all the tears). I can’t live at Bread Loaf, so I have to think of something, not just a group of people to be around (I’m in great writers groups as it is), but a vocation that makes me feel some level of fulfilled, a job in which I fit. But over two years after I quit my job, I still wonder if there is such a thing.

Bread Loaf: The Time of My Life

When I woke up this morning to the sound of sirens outside my window here in DC, I asked myself, “How is there always a fire going on in this town????”

Violent sound is the exact opposite wake-up experience I had for ten days at Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in Ripton, VT. Sitting on top of a mountain (though, compared to Squaw Valley, it was really just a gentle molehill), Bread Loaf is isolated and extraordinarily quiet. Sure, there’s bugs and birds, but otherwise, there was barely any sound at all. And it was blissful.

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Even when it’s cloudy, it’s *gorgeous*

I won’t do a day-by-day blow-by-blow, but I will say that most days were generally structured as workshop or free time in the morning, then craft classes and readings in the afternoon/evenings. My workshop was *awesome*, a group of women (and Francisco Cantu!) who gave me such useful feedback on a chapter of my memoir, feedback that actually applies to the rest of the book, so they really changed my life, or at least my book. Emily Raboteau was my workshop leader and I couldn’t have asked for someone more insightful and thoughtful.

I enjoyed all of the craft classes I went to, but the one I found most immediately relevant was Kirstin Valdez Quade’s “The Evasive Protagonist,” in which she explained how you know when your characters are avoiding painful situations or conversations. Turns out, I was my own evasive protagonist in an excerpt I chose to read to everyone, and was able to solve that lickety split.

And yes, I did my first public reading! Sure, I read at VQR, Yale, and Squaw Valley, but this was post-primetime (the 9:30pm reading), during the Dark Tower Reading Series, the one for people of color. I read a bit from my memoir about being extremely embarrassed when I went to see She’s All That with my mom, and the audience loved it! It was incredibly nerve-wracking reading in front of like, 200 people, but there was a spotlight on me, so I couldn’t really see anyone, so that made it better.

My reading was definitely a highlight, but there were also two dances in which we all drank just a hair too much and acted a fool on the dancefloor, but that’s always my favorite part of these things, and I wish every conference had that element.

Another highlight was the reading in the laundry room, which was *phenomenal.* Once it’s dark in those parts, there’s not a lot of light around, but there’s a vending machine in the laundry room and that provided the perfect amount of glow. Just made the whole thing feel way more like camp than it already did.

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My roommate, Jenna Scatena, reading by vending machine light during the laundry room reading

And I also went to a bonfire in the woods, which is the second most scared I’ve ever been in my life (the first being when my friends and I were followed by those racists in Barcelona that one time). I said I wasn’t going to go because—honestly, white people pick the scariest things and call them a good time—it was dark and creepy, but I found three other Black women who wanted to go, so we walked together. I figured we couldn’t all be murdered at the same time, and I was the one holding the flashlight (the one in my phone), so I’d be less likely to get killed. So we went. And we had a great time! But I had to have another drink to calm my nerves.

In short, I had the time of my life. Bread Loaf was what I’d hoped high school and college would be like, only during both of those times in real life, I was a fish out of water, struggling to be accepted and to get my work done sufficiently. Bread Loaf was the first time in years, maybe even forever, that I felt that I could truly be myself, my intelligent but goofy self, around perfect strangers.

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Me and my roommate post walk to the creek

“They don’t know me so I figured I’d just be me,” I told Rustin. “Not like they’d know the difference.”

I wish I’d followed that advice ages ago. At Bread Loaf, it freed me up to laugh so hard with my roommate at 2am, to dance with the Black girls in a runway show formation to Beyoncé, and to fall the flip out after a beautiful man touched my shoulder (and, yes, I confessed to my spouse about that).

This experience was so validating, too. My workshop mates were experienced enough to not tear my work to shreds, but to really make it shine. And I read from the same podium as Emily Raboteau, A. Van Jordan, Renee Simms, Nicole Sealey, and some other amazingly talented people. I could have fainted just thinking about the fact that someone believed that I deserved to share their space; the odder thing was, I started to believe it, too.

For the first time in a long time, I felt sufficient. I was sufficiently intelligent, sufficiently silly, sufficiently beautiful, sufficiently an artist, sufficiently aged. I didn’t feel the need to apologize for having an MBA or for not having a day job due to trauma. I didn’t feel weird for being married. I was enough.

I have to find a way to hold onto that feeling because it was just what I’ve needed.

An Ode to the Frustrations of Writing: a freeform prose poem

I have been working on a piece for a year and a half.

It is a flash nonfiction piece, only about 400 words.

It’s all dialogue, an experiment I decided to do

Because people tell me I’m good at dialogue.

So I thought, What the hey, I’ll do this short piece!

A year and a half later, I’m almost certain this

Experiment has failed.

 

Last year, I started writing an essay about

A guy who panhandled in the subway in NYC.

I finally finished a draft after a whole

9 months.

9 months

It took me to write 1,500 words about

This guy and how he made me never want to give him any money

Because he wasn’t actually poor.

Or maybe he was.

Who am I to judge?

(That’s the theme of the essay, if you were wondering.)

 

So, I’ve submitted the second essay to three outlets,

Christian ones, because I decided to take that bent.

All three said it will take between 4 weeks and

Eternity

To find out if they like my idea.

 

And I’m still working on that short piece

The 400 word one I’ve been toiling at for

A year and a half

The experiment that has obviously failed.

But I can’t put it aside

Can’t throw it away.

That year and a half is sunk cost

But I refuse to let it be refuse.

I will submit it again

And again

And again

And again

And again

Until it gets published.

 

That’s the writer’s way.

Anna

If you’re in the literary community even tangentially, you’ve probably heard about all the drama with Anna March. Here’s my story:

Anna frequently advertised her services—manuscript consultations, book midwifery, etc.—on a couple of Facebook group for women writers I’m in. She posted in the one for memoirists, as well as the DC women writers’ pages. She posted at least once a month, but probably more. Because of that, I figured everyone in DC had worked with Anna at some point. Writers responded to her posts positively, in the vain of, “Anna was great to work with!” “She was really helpful!” “You’ll love working with Anna!” So, when Anna posted to the group in mid-May saying she had a last-minute cancellation for a manuscript consultation slot in late June, with a corresponding discount ($375 instead of $750), I decided to give her a try with my memoir, which I’d like to be done with and ready to send to agents by the end of the year.

I emailed her to see if the slot was still available, and she said yes. She said she wanted the payment up front. I didn’t see it as anything odd—freelancers have really hard jobs in getting people to pay them on time after they’ve completed the work; I’ve experienced this more than once, so I understood. I paid her. I asked her when she’d like me to send her my manuscript, and she said, Let’s reconnect in June.

On June 15, I emailed her again to see when she’d like to get started. I got a bounceback saying that she was on vacation and spending time with family for her 50th birthday, and would be back online around June 20. By then, I’d gone on vacation abroad, so I figured I’d catch up with her when I got back.

On July 2, I sent another email saying the same thing and got another bounceback, this time saying she was sick, but she was planning to start working again on July 3.

Not wanting to send an email on a holiday, I waited until July 5 to follow up. She didn’t respond.

On July 17, I sent yet another follow up email, asking if she was still available and if she wasn’t, if she could give me a refund. She didn’t respond.

On Monday, July 23, I went on the FB groups and asked if anyone had heard from her or if they had another way of getting in touch with her. Someone suggested calling her, so I tried that. Meanwhile, responses to my post started pouring in: women saying that she’d scammed them out of thousands because she didn’t do the work, women saying she’d been really hard to get in touch with but wound up doing a great job for them, women who’d never had any trouble with her and for whom she’d done a wonderful job.

Which one was I going to be?

When she didn’t respond to my call, I assumed I was in the first bucket. I filed a claim with PayPal requesting a refund.

On Thursday, July 26, the Los Angeles Times ran a massive story titled, “Who is Anna March?” The story graphics allowed the title to change to, “Who is Nancy Lott?” “Who is Nancy Kruse?” “Who is Delaney Anderson?”

It turned out that “Anna” had a number of aliases. Under another name as a “fundraising consultant,” she’d scammed multiple public radio stations out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then she started preying on writers. She started a magazine and failed to pay the columnists. She started a foundation and failed to pay out the award money. She started writing retreats, some of which she cancelled and didn’t give refunds. She started the freelancing business I signed up for and kept her performance hit or miss.

On the FB group, what seemed like hundreds of women then shared their stories of how she scammed them. I felt terrible for them, especially those who lost way more than the $375 I lost. But I was infuriated because NO ONE HAD SAID ANYTHING NEGATIVE ABOUT HER. No one had warned us against her. Our FB group is a fairly tight community; many of us know each other in real life, too. I could not figure out why no one had said anything, even the smallest response to one of her ads, “You know, Anna didn’t do great for me, so definitely ask for references.”

I’m not blaming the people in the group for me falling for Anna’s scam. But I am calling for people to be more transparent—when you see something, say something, as they say in the Metro.

After all that, I called American Express and explained to them to the best of my ability everything that went on. They opened an investigation and credited me my money back, so that’s a positive.

I also reached out on another FB group to ask for recommendations for another manuscript consultant, and a couple of people from the writing community offered to read my work pro bono. I could not be more grateful.

This community means a lot to me as an emerging writer. I run to them for advice about submitting to literary journals, pitching to magazines, and writing a book proposal. I couldn’t help but feel they failed me in some way by not warning me about Anna, though. But you know, people aren’t perfect. Communities are made up of individual people and each one can let you down somehow. I’ve learned from this to do a lot of research—to trust, but also to do research. I pray it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

Happy 2-year Resigniversary to me!

Sunday, July 15, 2018 marked my two-year quittiversary, or two years since I left my job in NYC. Last year, on July 15, I was leaving the VQR Writers’ Conference, feeling more assured of my writing and the amount of progress I’d made in my mental and emotional recovery. This year, on July 15, I was cheering for France to win the Men’s World Cup Final at an Irish pub the middle of a ski resort in California on the last day of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. I started to reflect on the year at the pub, but then got distracted by the win. (Allez le diaspora!)

This year went by much more quickly than the previous. I wonder how much of that is due to my lack of focusing on one specific project this year. By July 2017, I’d finished the first draft of my memoir and had sat in a pool of my own wretched memories for a full year. I took several weeks off to clean my apartment, then we moved into our condo, which I spent a while unpacking and getting settled.

By the fall, I was focusing on revising my memoir and publishing essays, mostly about my terrible work experience. I also interviewed for a job that wound up not working out for me. And then an agent reached out to me; I rammed out another revision of my memoir, sent it to readers, then managed to pull that together over the course of a few months. All the while, I was writing fiction again, getting my feet wet in the genre that made me fall in love with writing from the start.

I’ll admit—I don’t feel as confident as I did a year ago. Despite getting accepted to some really prestigious writing workshops and getting positive feedback on my writing (even getting my first fiction acceptance!), this year, I feel lost. I know where I want to go, or at least I think I do. I toss around in my head options about how I can work full-time and make time for writing, or how I can make money writing. But I haven’t been definitive about any of these things.

This time last year, I was more comfortable with saying, “I want to work full-time, but if I continue writing full-time, that’s okay, too.” I can’t say that anymore, but I don’t have anything to replace it with. And that bothers the rubbish out of me. My therapist recommended that I take some time to think about this—which I interpreted as “use a spreadsheet and a whiteboard to come to some sort of conclusion”—but I haven’t had the mental stamina to do it since Squaw Valley wiped me the eff out and I spent the past week sleeping.

So, I wanted this two-year resignerversary post to be a bit more triumphant, but I thought I should be honest with myself and you. I have no idea with the eff I’m doing. I’m praying for direction, but haven’t gotten it yet. This morning, my devotional included the second half of Romans 8, which I call the “Biblical Pep Rally Chapter.” After reading it, I felt a lot better, assured that God’s got something good for me coming soon. I don’t know what it is, and I don’t know what my part is in getting there. So I’ll keep listening, waiting for the answer.

Community of Writers at Squaw Valley Recap

I’m a day late, but hopefully not a dollar short! I got back from the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley on Monday night and spent Tuesday trying to get my life/body together because jetlag is a son of a gun.

The Community of Writers at Squaw Valley is a summer writing workshop located relatively close to Lake Tahoe, on the California side of Nevada, and it is breathtakingly beautiful. To get there, you have to fly into Reno, then drive an hour west. Getting from DC to Reno is a little complicated, so I had to get there the night before; I stayed at the Atlantis Resort Casino and it was *amazing*! Think about everything that made Atlantic City great in the 80s, and it is all housed in this casino in Reno. It’s rated #1 casino, buffet, hotel, and spa in Reno (on TripAdvisor, at least), and it lived up my expectations of chintz.

Anyway, we hit the ground running as soon as we got to Olympic Valley (which is the name of the town; Squaw Valley is the name of the ski resort, and is not to be confused with the Squaw Valley on the other side of California, which is, like, 8,000 degrees hotter).

We started the workshops on Monday morning at 8:30, and had them every day, through Saturday—6 days of workshopping! I saw that I was scheduled to go on Saturday, and was immediately petrified. I was hoping that by the last day, everyone would still be engaged and give me feedback and not just want to go home. Well, it went amazingly well! Someone even called my work “deft,” which I’d Tweeted about wanting someone to call my work! 😀 (At Yale and Squaw Valley, I workshopped chapters of my novel-in-progress, of which I have only two chapters, so it all worked out. I even feel more encouraged to actually finish it!) Dana Johnson led my workshop, and I could not have been more thrilled to get her feedback, which was both positive and helpful.

In the afternoons, there were a series of craft talks that covered a range of topics. My favorites were on writing emotion (the difference between genuine emotion and sentimentality) and point-of-view (how the details of a scene change based on who is telling the story).

There were also great panels in which we got to hear from the renowned faculty. My favorite was “Writing What You (Don’t) Know: The Boundaries of Empathy.” It was essentially about, how do you—or should you—write from the perspective of someone whose life you have never and will never experience? For example, can a man effectively write from the perspective of a man? And more stickily, can a white person effectively write from the perspective of a person of color? The latter question tends to get people a little more riled up, as it should. But ultimately, I agreed with Dana and Oscar Villalon—I can’t tell someone that they can’t write something, especially if it’s fiction, but they should do it well, and treat the characters with the amount of empathy they’d treat any other person: focus on that person’s humanity, which is what we all have in common, and don’t make them caricatures or use them as a doll on which you can enact examples of things.

The faculty readings left me breathless so many times. I mean, all I could say when they finished reading was, “Wow.” I can’t even say which ones were my favorites because everyone was so good. The faculty included lots of people with whom I wasn’t familiar—Tom Barbash, Elizabeth Tallent, Leslie Daniels, Julia Flynn Siler, Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, Elizabeth Rosner, Sands Hall, Charmaine Craig, Michelle Latiolais, Kirstin Valdez Quade, Edan Lepucki, Edie Meidav, Peter Orner (and I am forgetting some), as well as some names I’ve read or heard a lot about, like Amy Tan, Dana Johnson, and Gabriel Tallent.

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Dana Johnson reading from a new story published in ZZYZVA.

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Margaret Wilkerson Sexton reading from her novel, A New Kind of Freedom.

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Tom Barbash reading from his new novel, The Dakota Winters.

I made so many new friends in my workshop and the other workshops. I liked that we all had dinner together just about every night; it really got me to socialize with those who weren’t in my workshop. The World Cup going on definitely helped this, too—quite a few of us went to the pub together to watch matches, including the final at 8am on Sunday. These are the folks I’m going to put in my acknowledgements when I actually do finish that novel-in-progress, so I’m so honored to have met them and look forward to keep in touch with them all.

They definitely take seriously the word “community” in the Community of Writers. It did feel a little hippie-dippy at times (but I think that’s because the family that founded it are artists/free spirits, which I loved), but it felt authentic. I genuinely feel a part of this community, where my writing was embraced and where I met so many amazing folks.

Not everything about the experience was perfect. Having a new workshop leader every day was kind of disorienting, and there were aspects of the week that felt disorganized, like not getting the pieces to be workshopped in advance (which meant staying up late or waking up early to read them, which made me feel like I couldn’t give my best feedback). But, overall, I had a wonderful time, and I would definitely go back again.