Writing Life Update: Summer 2018

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It’s really sunny and really dry here!

Hello from Squaw Valley, California! I’m incredibly honored to have been selected to attend a fiction workshop at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. I got here on Sunday, after spending the night at a casino resort in Reno (which was 80s Casino Chintz Fabulous, but I lost $20 between one hand of Blackjack and one slot machine, so am kinda salty), and am excited to keep the week moving! I’ll give you a full report about this week once it’s over, but I wanted to briefly update you on some developments in my writing life.

While I was on vacation in Belgium, I received two pieces of great news: first, a well-respected DC-area literary magazine editor is strongly considering one of my short stories for inclusion in an upcoming issue! We’ll see what the final result is, but I’m just honored to have been so thoughtfully considered.

Second, also while I was on vacation, my first piece of fiction was accepted to a literary magazine!!! I was inspired to write this story after watching an episode of House Hunters International in which a girl moves to Germany to live with her “boyfriend,” some kid she obviously didn’t know all that well. So I asked myself, in what ways is this going to go terribly wrong after this episode ends? And, what if she were Black? I can’t say it was as simple as, “Then a story popped out.” It took months to draft, revise, edit, have friends read, workshop in a class, and all. But now it’s going to be published toward the end of the year, and I am ecstatic!!!!

Another development is, I finally, officially made up my mind not to pursue an MFA (at least for now). I realized that all I want is instruction and community, which I’ve been so blessed to receive from great women writers in DC as well as from all of the amazing conferences I’ve been to. I’ve built a team that keeps me accountable and keeps honing my skills, which is really what I would have been interested in a degree program for. So, I shall keep trying to go to these great workshops and keep in touch with the awesome writers I meet there, so iron can continue to sharpen iron.

Otherwise, I’ve got Bread Loaf next month, about which I am thrilled. It’ll be my only nonfiction workshop this summer, and I need that—I haven’t neglected my memoir (I completed a draft of my proposal and all) and I’ve enjoyed the time away from telling so much truth, but I realize that nonfiction is the area in which I feel less confident in my writing. I’ve been writing fiction for 20 years and nonfiction for two. That explains, mostly, but additional instruction will help trim down the learning curve, hopefully.

I should get back to my workshops, but keep me in your thoughts/prayers! I’ve got a lot going on and I want to maintain good vibes during all of it. 🙂

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Recap: My trip to Belgium and France

My spouse’s friend was getting married in France on a Wednesday, so he wanted to have his bachelor party the weekend before with all the guys in Amsterdam. I love my spouse’s friends and think they’re great guys, but there was no way in hell I was going to go anywhere near Amsterdam during a bachelor party. So, I arranged to go to Brussels, Belgium.

I had all of one week between Yale Writers Workshop and my trip to Europe, which meant I didn’t really have time to research what all I wanted to do before I got there, so I kinda had to wing it. Which, if you know me well, you know is not my thing. But everything turned out great!

I arrived on a Thursday evening, and since the sun doesn’t really ever set in Europe in the summer (not until at least 11pm), I took a walk through Leopold Park, which right behind my hotel. It reminded me a little of parts of Central Park, especially with the tall apartment building peeking out behind some trees. Brussels is the capital of the European Union, so it didn’t surprise me that it was so stately and cosmopolitan while also being pretty tranquil.

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Leopold Park

The next day, I walked to the Grand Palais and hit up the Old Masters in the Royal Museums of Fine Art. Since I took an art history class my sophomore year of college, where I first learned about art, I’ve made it a goal to seek out the paintings, especially, of wherever I go. Belgium/Flanders happened to be the home of quite a few huge artists, such as Peter Paul Rubens, who—much to my surprise—even painted a Black man (which was not included in my art history slides, of course).

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“Four Studies of the Head of a Moor” by Peter Paul Rubens, in the Old Masters Museum

I wandered around to some of the touristy things, like the Mannequin Pis, but overall, I walked the city, just to get a feel for it. I window shopped along Rue Antoine Dansaert, where all the boutiques are, and managed to make it through most of Rue Neuve, where the big mall is. I have never seen a street so crowded by shoppers, even in Times Square.

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The Mannequin Pis — as touristy as Brussels gets!

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People spending mad € on Rue Neuve in Brussels.

On my last full day in Belgium, I took the train to Bruges, the most adorable, and maybe oldest, town I’ve ever seen. It’s a little medieval city founded by Vikings around the 9th century.

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A side street in Bruges.

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Entering the town center.

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The canal in Bruges

I met up with Rustin in France, and the day before the wedding, we drove out to Mont Saint Michel, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I was speechless when I saw it—a city carved out of a mountain in the middle of a bay. (It was low tide when we went so it was mostly wet sand around it; I thought it was global warming, so I was glad to learn that I was wrong.) We went to the top of the Abbey, maybe one of the highest heights I’ve ever been to. It’s just so, I don’t know, amazing (?) to think about monks creating this breathtaking piece of dirt and turning it into a fortress and house of worship (which was subsequently turned into a prison, then a historical site, but that’s neither here nor there).

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Us with Mont Saint Michel.

The wedding was one of the most fun I’ve been to, but we were definitely pleasantly exhausted by the end of the week. Some of the guys went on to other cities in Europe, but I didn’t see how; I just wanted to go home and go to bed.

I should note to clarify that, yes, I traveled to Belgium alone. I don’t tell my mom about it because it would give her a heart attack, but I love traveling alone. You don’t have to ask anyone else what they’d like for breakfast or lunch or dinner. You don’t have to come to a consensus about any museums you want to visit. You just decide what you want to do, then you go. I’m not saying I’ll only ever travel alone; I married my spouse partly because I enjoy his company, though traveling abroad is usually the only time we ever have disagreements (like, one of us wants to get directions while the other wants to just wing it down dark alleys while walking at a snail’s pace—guess which one I am. Not the one who wants to wing it.)

But traveling alone reminds me that I am capable of solving problems on my own. I am smart about it—I’m not going to be the one who goes trekking through the Himalayas or in a third world country by herself. But seeing new things on my own makes me feel bold, competent, and confident. It’s good for my soul. It gives me something to talk to my spouse about. I highly recommend it to everyone. Don’t be scared! You’re no safer at home than you are anywhere else, so might as well go see this beautiful world God’s created.

Yale Writers’ Workshop Recap

After two weeks away, I’m back in DC and back to blogging! I spent ~12 wonderful days in New Haven, CT at the Yale Writers’ Workshop, where I had an amazing time.

YWW splits its workshop into two sessions. For Session 1, my instructor was Lisa Page, a splendid English professor at George Washington University (yes, I went all the way to Connecticut to work with someone who works down the street from my house. Life just be’s that way sometimes). To be honest, I wasn’t super-familiar with Lisa’s work, but I just had a good feeling about her, that she would be a good teacher and a strong workshop facilitator. I was totally right on both fronts. I got great feedback on a short story I wrote for fiction class last year that I decided to dust off. I’ll start doing revisions on it soon, then it’ll be ready to submit.

Session 1 also included a panel with a few literary magazine editors. Reps from PANK, The Common, and Bodega told us about what they look for in submissions and if they pay or not (most journals don’t, unfortunately. I guess that’s the plight of the artist? Either way, explains why I’m looking for a job now.) We also got to do sort of a speed-dating session with them to ask them additional questions after the panel.

One topic I broached is that experimental (which is apparently a bad word these days) fiction seems to be all the rage—weird sh*t is the easiest to find in lit mags. Unfortunately for me, I write super normal sh*t—stuff about family and relationships and friendships, mostly all enacted by super-ordinary Black people. My work isn’t boring, it just isn’t weird, and I’m finding that it’s been difficult to place my work. One of the editors agreed with me—there’s so many markets for weird stuff that they wind up having to publish normal stuff, because there’s just not enough weird to go around. Which made me feel better, I guess. I’ll feel even better if they actually publish some of my work…

For Session 2, I had Julie Buntin as a workshop leader, and she was also amazing. I was surprised to learn that she’s younger than me, mostly because she is super-mature and wise beyond her years. Her novel, Marlena, was a total hit last year and won all kinds of awards. I read it before I went to CT, and I adored the writing, though the plot was kind of a downer.

Session 2’s workshops were more focused, on genre or something else; Julie’s class focused on the first 10 pages of a novel, so I workshopped, well, the first 10 pages of my novel. (Have I mentioned that I’m writing a novel? Maybe I have… I can’t remember. But, yeah, I’ve started a novel! It’s essentially about a family that reunites after a funeral, and it explores the discomfort that sits at the intersection of race and class. [Much of my fiction is about this of late.] While I was in CT, I got a Zipcar and went to Madison, where the fictionalized setting of the action takes place.)

It was incredibly helpful for me to think about being so intentional as a writer. Sure, in the first draft, you just get it all down on paper, but it’s the revision and shaping up that really matters. I knew that before YWW, but it hadn’t really solidified for me until then: workshopping the first 10 pages of a novel I haven’t finished writing (I just finished chapter 2) really made me wonder why I’m writing it and what I want to say, which is elementary but monumental for a writer to establish so early on.

I also got a big confidence booster—for Session 1, some of the other participants in my class hadn’t written fiction before, so I sort of automatically took the seat of expert, which felt great. I still learned a lot, but also felt better about what I already knew.

There were, of course, readings out the wazoo! Each faculty member, plus Porochista Khakpour (pictured above), who was going to be on staff, but was ill and starting her book tour, read and they were all incredible:

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My session 1 instructor Lisa Page reading from the anthology she edited, “We Wear the Mask.”

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My session 2 instructor Julie Buntin reading from her novel, Marlena.

There were a couple of blunders—a young white woman telling me my hometown, Camden, NJ, was terrifying; an older white man reading his first-person account of a slave woman being separated from her baby, with superfluous dialect, racial slurs, and all, then asking me the next day how I felt about it as “the only Black person in the room”; me telling Hallie Ephron that I loved her essay, then her saying she didn’t write essays, then me getting embarrassed, then me realizing a week later that she was the correct sister and I got embarrassed for no reason—but overall, I had a great time.

I don’t know if I’d go to YWW again since the demographic wasn’t all that diverse in terms of ethnicity or age (this conference inclined older and whiter), but I really enjoyed myself and was honored to have been selected to go.

A year ago today, I was at VONA, in the throes of a life-changing, soul-nourishing experience. I know I can’t expect all summer writing workshops to be like that, so I’m tempering my expectations. I’m just blessed that I’ve gotten to go to so many of these, to have gotten to know so many great people, and to have become a better writer, step by step, day by day.

Summer Writing Workshops: Sleepaway Camp for Adults

In all my years, I have never been to camp. I always wanted to go so badly, though! Who wouldn’t, after watching Salute Your Shorts or The Parent Trap (1998) or Bug Juice???

As an adult, I’ve chosen to make up for those camp-less years by going to summer writing workshops and residencies because they’re just like camp! Sorta… I mean, you wear t-shirts and shorts, and there’s usually some weird songs and dances, and you make lifelong friends doing the thing you all love to do—writing.

If there’s one thing I learned from all these camp shows, it’s that community (and true love) is found in these solitary places where you’re separated from your family and “real” friends. For me, the goals of summer writing workshops are (a) to become a better writer through the lectures and exercises given by great instructors and (b) meet writers with whom I can continue to exchange work. As I said in one of my applications, writing is a solitary activity that requires a village, both editors and readers. Summer workshops allow you to do all of those things while removing you from your comfort zone and letting you get a bit silly. (I missed the boat on the true love thing at camp, though, but I’m good to go in that area, anyhow.)

Last year, I went to VONA/Voices in Philadelphia and had an AMAZING time, and then I went to the VQR Writers Conference (picture of some of us above!) in Charlottesville and also had a life-changing experience. I chose those conferences for their prestige, but mostly for their locations—it’s pretty easy to get to Philly and Charlottesville from DC.

This year, I approached my conference applications a little differently. Essentially, I thought, I will go big or go home, even if it meant traveling pretty far.

Sooooo [DRUMROLL, PLEASE], this year, I’m pleased to announce that I will be going to three conferences: the Yale Writers’ Workshop, the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference!

I thought I had a good chance of getting into Yale, but Squaw Valley and Bread Loaf were total “let’s get the first rejection out of the way, just like Tin House.” (And yes, I was rejected from Tin House. But that’s okay!) If I had to rank summer writing workshops, I’d put Sewanee at the top, then Bread Loaf, then Tin House, then Squaw Valley—and I’m going to number 2 and 4! I was and am so honored that I was selected, I hardly know what to do with myself!

Yale starts next week, so I’m excited to head up to New Haven to work with Lisa Page and Julie Buntin on fiction and novel writing. I’ll also be focusing on fiction at Squaw Valley (hopefully with Dana Johnson), then switching up to nonfiction (hopefully with Emily Raboteau) for Bread Loaf.

I’m so thrilled to get this summer started! It will be a lot of travel and time spent away from my spouse, but camp is an investment in your social skills, leadership skills, and talents, so the world is better off for it. Can’t wait!

 

 

3 Days After My Wedding, or The Worst Day of My Life

In addition to my wedding anniversary, this time of year is special to me because, on this day six years ago, I lost someone incredibly special to me, my dear friend Jessica Caroe.

Jessica and I were BFFs in college, and spent the summer of 2005 living in group house together out in Maryland while we were interning in DC. She’d transferred to Georgetown from a small Southern school, and we met in Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship.

We realized we were kindred spirits for what’s probably a terrible reason—we were *those* Christian girls, the ones who could party hard on Saturday night, into the wee hours of Sunday morning, but still get up to be on time (or close to it) for church and not fall asleep during the sermon. Sure, we likely should have made some better choices, but I don’t regret a single thing we did because it taught me that self-righteousness—like that of some of our classmates who literally frowned upon people who went to parties, as if making someone feel bad about dancing and underaged drinking made Jesus smile—saves no one. It actually pushes people away from Christ. So, we were Christ Ambassadors (which is what Chi Alpha stood for) on the dancefloor of college parties throughout Georgetown. Amen!

I jest, but what I’m saying is, Jessica taught me about authenticity—what it meant to be unashamed and unafraid to be yourself, even when others are telling you that you should be something else, something they want you to be.

I always said with us being so much ourselves, it’d take strong men to handle us. God blessed us both with those strong men, Rustin for me and Robert for her.

At my wedding reception, where I’d made a joke about letting Robert come to the wedding as an investment in their future and Jessica called me her best friend, Robert pulled me aside and said that he was going to propose to her on Monday. I was thrilled! He showed me the ring on his phone, and I knew she would love it.

He did propose on Monday, and she said yes. They died the next day. I didn’t find out about it until Thursday, when I went on Facebook to see why on earth she hadn’t told me she was engaged; Robert didn’t strike me as the kind of guy who would chicken out.

To say I was devastated is the smallest use of that word, ever. To say I could hardly get out of bed for days also doesn’t quite capture how I felt. To say I didn’t genuinely smile for a year still doesn’t do it justice.

Jessica dying was literally the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, worse than being abandoned by my father even, because it is the only thing that has ever made me question the existence and goodness of God. Crying out to a deity you think has dropped a very important ball is extremely difficult. Of course, I still went to church, still prayed, still went through the motions, faking it until I made it. God had nothing to prove to me; it just took a while for my brain to catch up to the re-revelation of His character.

My first year of marriage turned out to be quite a doozy since I wasn’t all there mentally and emotionally. I had to go back for my second year of business school and remember why I was there. By the time I moved to New York a year later, I felt some better, well though to start writing down some of our memories. That’s what got me started writing nonfiction, actually.

Losing Jessica is still the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, but it’s turned out for good in a lot of different ways. It made me take my marriage much more seriously since “for worse” came only three days after we made our vows. It made me take on leadership roles in school and work because I knew it’s what she would have done. It made me write memoir, so I wouldn’t have written my story about my dad if she hadn’t passed and I hadn’t started writing our stories. I wouldn’t have left my job and started writing seriously while still wanting to make in-roads for minorities and women in finance. And that’s just me; it doesn’t include the scholarships that have been founded in her name, the tree that was planted on the grounds of Duke University (where she was going to business school) in her memorial, and other ways I don’t even know about.

I sometimes contemplate finishing writing our stories, but six years later, it’s still a bit too painful. (I say this as her friend, not even her family member, so I can’t imagine their pain.) I haven’t actually cried while writing this blogpost, but I’ve come soooo close, and I’ve kept a distance between my head and my fingers to keep from coming unglued in a public place. She meant that much, that even after all this, it’s still raw to go there.

I miss my friend more than anything, but I’m thinking of their families today. I pray for her family and Robert’s, that God will continue to show His goodness and grace to them, and that they not forget that He’s never forgotten them. As hard as it is to believe.

Why I Don’t Call Him My Husband

This time of year is special for me for a couple of reasons, one of them being the celebration of mothers (and calm down, I have birthed nothing but stories) and another being my wedding anniversary this Saturday! (And cheers to Meghan and Harry the same day!)

It’s been six strange and happy years I’ve spent with this dude named Rustin, who’ve probably read about many times on this blog. You’ve probably also noticed that I generally refer to him as my “spouse,” and rarely ever my “husband.” I’ve addressed him this way in just enough essays that just enough editors have corrected it, so I thought I would tell you why I call him my “spouse.”

Growing up, I knew lots of women who were single for longer than they wanted to be and were, therefore, overjoyed when they finally got married. These women called the men their “huuuuusbands.” They always, ALWAYS dragged out the “u.” It was as if the title “husband” somehow venerated both them and the men they’d chosen and they needed to stress its importance.

The problem was, they had always, ALWAYS chosen horrible men. The men almost always—and we’re talking a good 99.8%—turned out to be controlling, manipulative, unfaithful liars, or some combination of the such.

I felt bad for these women not just because their relationships went to piss, but because they’d set themselves up for failure. By calling them their “huuuuuusbands,” they’d heralded these men and their marriages as if they were the greatest things since sliced bread, as if they were impenetrable, as if their love could never fail.

But they weren’t and it did.

I wasn’t turned off of marriage because of these women (I was turned off of it because of the men, but that’s a separate blog post; actually, that’s the topic of my second memoir), I just learned that I wanted to do things differently.

I decided that I would look at and treat the man I married as the person he was—a completely fallible human who is completely capable of letting me down at some point. I would speak highly of him, but I would also mention his flaws. I would let people know that my marriage was realistic, not some blissful train ride through the Swiss Alps.

I would call him my “spouse.”

“Spouse” is legally correct (so is “husband,” I know, but stay with me) and sounds completely objective. It gives me and those listening to me the space to judge him for who he is, not who I want him to be. It helps me to not jinx things.

“Spouse” reminds me that he is a human—a good human, without a doubt—but a human. A human who has made me and my life better, but still a human. A human I look forward to spending the rest of my days with, this attractive human I enjoy looking at.

You could say I give myself this distance out of fear, and there may be some truth to that. But I know that he and I are happier when I have my feet on the ground, managing my emotions and expectations, even if I call him something that’s kinda weird.

So, happy anniversary to us this weekend! May many more years of weird be to come!

What do we do now?

By now, you’ve certainly heard about the sexual misconduct allegations against the author and VONA co-founder, Junot Diaz. I don’t think my opinion is important enough to put on blast, so I’m actually going to leave out how I feel about him and his work. But my thought after I first read the tweets was, “What do we do with this?”

I appreciate Zinzi Clemmons for coming forward with her story. I know it must have been one of the most difficult things in the world to do. It’s not often these days that women of color are believed when we report things like this, so I’m glad that we’ve evolved enough as a society to have immediately listened to what she had to say and to believe her.

But I think part of the reason why we believed her without question was that Junot is well known in the literary industry for being his own type of jerk. I didn’t have him as a workshop instructor at VONA, but I went to a session he led, and he was very straightforward, commanding of our attention, and carried a sense that he knew all. Sitting in that session, I told myself that if I applied to work with him at a future VONA, I’d have to stock up on thick skin and probably call my therapist for a session while I was at VONA instead of waiting til I got home the following week.

In short, his attitudes and behaviors were not a secret, they just hadn’t been brought to the attention of the American public.

Knowing all of this, I was stuck when I read Zinzi’s tweet. I couldn’t say, “OMG, no way, that’s such a shock!” because it wasn’t. I couldn’t say, “Well, everyone knows he’s a bit of dick, so you should have, too,” because that is both callous and complicitous. All I could say was, “Well, now what?”

Duende District, a pop-up bookshop here in DC, removed his books from the shelves. VONA replaced him as a leader for the workshop coming up next month. I agree that actions need to have been taken to punish him and to show that we are not condoning his wrongdoing. But what comes next?

Junot Diaz does not have Matt Lauer or Harvey Weinstein money—if those cats never worked again, they’d be perfectly fine. I’m pretty sure if Junot couldn’t find work, eventually, he’d end up on welfare and be at risk of homelessness. Perhaps that’s the best way to pay him back for all of his wrongs.

But is it, though?

If the point is to stop this behavior the world (or at least industry) over, I don’t think bringing individual misogynists to the end of themselves one by one is going to bring about the change we need. Do not get me wrong here—I am not saying that people shouldn’t speak up and that these dudes should not be punished, they *absolutely* should. But how do we take it a step further to actually uprooting the icky things under the ground that are causing the plant to grow instead of just snipping off the top of the weed when it gets too tall?

I hate that I’ve made you read this whole thing just for me to say: I have no idea.

Roxane Gay read my mind when she tweeted, “Now, I don’t know how fans of this work proceed from here. I do know we need to have a more vigorous conversation that simply saying, ‘Junot Diaz is cancelled,’ because that does not cancel misogyny or how the literary community protects powerful men at the expense of women. …It’s all a damn shame.”

And that’s why I decide to write this post, to second her call for more vigorous conversation and to start by saying, “I don’t know how to solve this problem,” which is, ironically, usually the first step to finding a solution.

The only thing I know to do is start with the youth, the kids, the babies. Help them to understand their value and the value of others, and when they act in a way that violates that value, correct the crap out of it, because, as we see, it grows and grows and chokes and chokes until the whole lawn is dead.

What Opera Does For My Soul

This weekend, my spouse and I had a real grown-up double date to see The Barber of Seville at the Kennedy Center. For me, opera has grown into a full-blown love from a small intrigue a long time ago.

I never listened to opera growing up, except for that one [amazing!] episode of Hey Arnold! and that part in Pretty Woman, both of which I still know by heart. Opera always seemed inaccessible, something spooty rich people to do to remind the rest of us that we will never be spooty or rich.

To be honest, that’s what started my fascination. You hear all the time about ballet dancers and actors who came from humble beginnings and made it to the top of their field; what was it about this type of performing arts that was so ritzy?

During my sophomore year of college, my friend at the school newspaper asked me to cover the Kennedy Center’s production of The Magic Fluteto review it for the entertainment section. He gave me tickets to the Saturday matinee show, and I was excited to finally get a chance to break into this secret club. I asked my roommate to go with me since I was apprehensive of going to my first opera alone; she was a bit hungover, but was a trooper and went with me anyway.

We both dressed up as we saw fitting for opera but on a Saturday afternoon. I wore a red cotton skirt and a white twin set (all from the Gap, where I’d worked previous summer and unloaded each and every one of my paychecks) with black sandals.

When we arrived at the Kennedy Center, I gave the usher my ticket, and she showed us to…the center box!!! Crazy!!! (Spoiler alert: Those were best seats I’ve ever had at the opera. Ruined on my first show.)

I looked down at the audience and noticed that it was full of children. I then read my program and realized that The Magic Flute, in particular, is very kid- and opera-newbie friendly. It was as if God was smiling on me, giving me a chance to experience this new thing like a child.

During the show, I was enthralled. I’ve always loved theater—drama, dancing, singing (I wanted to be an actress from 5th grade until 9th grade, when my mother finally convinced me that I’d wind up hooked on drugs, turning tricks for rock). Opera was all of the above, with a live orchestra playing along. There were captions above the curtain, so you could know what they were saying since the show is in German.

The music nearly lifted me out of my seat, it was so beautiful. I became immersed in this other world, and totally forgot that I was just down the street from my university. By the end of the show, I didn’t want to go back to school; I wanted to stay in that world for just a while longer.

When I graduated from college, I bought season tickets to the Washington National Opera, going into debt to capture that feeling. I couldn’t afford to go on vacation, so each performance was like a little getaway of its own, sweeping me away from thinking about my mundane jobs and lack of love life.

That’s why I love opera: it takes me away and makes me feel what I thought I couldn’t, or just hadn’t felt yet. I don’t know very much about it, so I can’t tell you which is “better” than another, or if the conductor did a good a good or bad job. I just know that it makes me feel joy.

I hope one day to introduce opera to people who think the way I used to about it, to help people to see that it’s not as pretentious as they think (it’s also not as expensive, if you get tickets at the right time). It’s almost like travelling—seeing the world as a way of worshiping the God who created it. Opera lets you do the exact same thing without having to leave your city, if you live where I do.

DC Author Fest recap

Sooo, I’d intended to blog last week, but errands very quickly got out of hand, and the rest of the week was insanely busy, too, as was the weekend. But such is life!

One of the things that kept me busy this weekend was DC Author Festival, which was this past Saturday at the Library of Congress.

One complaint I’ve heard from more than one DC writer is that our literary community isn’t super robust. On the one hand, that’s definitely true: I’d argue that there’s far fewer creative writers in DC than in New York or even more offbeat places, like Minneapolis. On the other hand, there’s definitely a critical mass of us—we’re just rarely in the same room.

DC Author Festival was a chance to rectify that. Sponsored by the DC Public Library, there were panel discussions that covered a good range of topics relevant to writers, and a keynote address that basically blew me away.

The first panel I went to was the Author to Publisher Relationship, which I found to be the most helpful of all of the ones I attended. There’s a gazillion resources for writers about what their relationship with their agent should look like, but there’s not as much emphasis on the relationship with the publisher. For example, I learned that publishers have waaaaay more say in your cover than I thought (which was kind of disconcerting, so I had to start praying about mine, right then and there. Not out loud, of course, though.). The publisher should also have a conversation with you about what marketing efforts they’re going to put into your book, but you should expect to do a lot of promotion yourself. Note that your book’s title can change, too—UGH!

The second I went to was a query letter workshop, led by genre fiction writer Alan Orloff. He was hilarious—“Think of querying like dating; you want the agent to think they’re special, that they’re the only one you’re seeing”—and gave great tips on how to make the letter pop. I was most interested to learn that the point of a query letter is not to get an agent, but to get an agent to request pages. Key difference!

There was a really innovative social media panel, as well. Mystery author Shawn Reilly Simmons took us through her social media profiles and gave some handy tips, but I thought Ingrid Anders’ presentation, which she did from her Twitter, was super cool. Though, it did confuse some of our elderly guests, who weren’t familiar with Twitter in the first place.

Finally, Tracy Chiles McGhee, a fellow Georgetown alum, took us through some strategies on how to build an author platform without stress. The best thing I took away was her definition of the platform: “Imagine you’re in a crowded outdoor café in Paris, and someone stands up to start speaking—whoever looks up from their meal is the platform.” Makes so much sense, and is so much less stressful to think about than trying to garner as many readers as possible.

The keynote was George Derek Musgrove, who talked about his book, Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital, and hit my heart discussing all the changes that have gone on in DC in the last several years. But, of course, there’s a long, long history of gentrification in our nation’s capital, and the book goes into great detail about it. It’s quite a tome, but I can’t wait to read it!

I detailed all of that to say that there’s some really amazing writers in the DC area, and they’re doing super cool things, and seem supportive of each other. I do wonder if we can have more of these opportunities for a bunch of us to be in the same room, encouraging each other to continue making great art. I hope so!

It’s just come pourin’ out of me

It seems that the key to killing writer’s block is to say that you have writer’s block.

When I wrote about the blockage I was experiencing back in January, I was in a really tough place. I’d sent my book out to a few readers and was waiting for their feedback, but was struggling to produce while I waited. Normally during periods of writer’s block, I read. Something about reading loosens up the mind a bit. It’s almost like physical therapy: it strengthens you without exhausting you, to heal whatever it is ailing you.

Then I started an online fiction writing class at the end of January, and it ended right before AWP at the beginning of March. Maybe it was reading my classmates’ work, or focusing more on making up stories rather than telling true ones, but I’ve been on a bit of a tear since I got back from AWP/vacation.

Since then, I’ve written four long-form essays (those that are at least 2,000 words; one topped out around 5,000), and revised two short stories, one of which I’ve started submitting to literary magazines. I’ve published two of the short pieces that I’d been toying around with forever, one on Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog and one on Blavity.

All that to say, March wound up being pretty darn productive, and April seems to be following suit, so yay! I’ve got to get all of this generating done before my brain decides to turn off the faucet.

I was accepted to the Yale Writers Workshop for this summer (yay!), and I will be doing fiction this year. I am incredibly excited about this for so many reasons, the primary being that I finally feel validated in fiction, the very thing I started writing all those years ago. It also means that I actually have to start writing the novel that’s been rattling around my brain for almost 4 years; I cheated by writing out the parts I knew best in a short story (what I’ve been submitting), but it’s time to write the first 10 pages of the book, which one of my Yale workshops will focus on.

All that being said, it has been a great month or so of plowing through new material. I wish I liked revising more, so I’d be more excited about all of the re-shaping I have to do, but I’m going to try not to think about that right now and just continue pouring out whatever comes in.