Archive for March, 2008

Just finished my first scholarship application to support my MFA. It’s a remarkable scholarship supporting many more folks than you’d usually see in a final scholarship pool. The awards range from $50-$300, which seems small in comparison to the $15k I’ll likely spend the first semester, but it’s a start. 



I pulled together a poem and a short story. The poem was one I’d written last year but I didn’t think would find a home on its own, while the short story is a rewrite of a chapter from an unfinished novel. It was good to work on material for submission again, having a definite goal in mind, selecting the pieces, shaping them into things I thought would match their aesthetic. I hit that place, though, where it all looks close to being finished, but not really /feeling/ finished. It seemed easier to walk away, but I know I need to get into that practice of shaping and submitting material so it seems as natural as breathing. 


I’m learning to be comfortable with risk. I’m reading “Take the Risk: Learning to Identify, Choose, and Live with Acceptable Risk” by Ben Carson and its helping me know that there are different kinds of risk and that avoiding risk doesn’t guarantee safety. Carson speaks of how in the US we’ve created a culture afraid of risks and therefore are unaccustomed to evaluating risks with a measure of wisdom. Avoidance seems ‘safer’ than failure. 


I have certainly felt that way since deciding to pursue my MFA. I have struggled against self-doubt and the uncertainties of my friends and family who see my decision as somehow jeopardizing the ‘normal’ kids-husband-mortgage-type life I have now. 


Oddly, a recent foray into a communal narrative space gave me insights I had never really understood before yesterday. The scene follows below – my character is M who is speaking to two others, C and Z.


“It is what calls to your being. Had I waited until I was in in my twenties, I may not have decided the Ch– for myself. But that is how the L– decided my life to be,” C explains. “There becomes a time that we wish to be more than who we are. To realize that we *can* be.”


M takes up the washing sand and hesitates before pouring a handful on the dishes. “Ah… erm…” she stammers. “Ah caint say dat a un’erstands wot ye means, m’Lady. Ah’m a cook from H– who goes out on wanderin’ feet. Me as part of de Ch–…” She blinks unbelieving and sets to washing the dishes.


Z shakes her head. “I don’t think that’s what she means. More like… forgetting that you’re M, the cook of H– with the itchy feet, setting your sights on being M, Killer Swordsmistress of the R–, and becoming that.” She grins. “Although, I’m not sure you want to be M, Killer Swordsmistress of the R–.”


C chuckles and peels off a bit of the tart. “A bit of somewhere in the middle. To forget that you are a cook, a swordsmen or guard and be M, and all that that entails. It could be a great many things.”


M blats a loud guffaw at Z’s comment. “Me a swordmistress?” she giggles. “Ah don’ thin’ so! L– save me from dat.” She chuckles a few moments more and shakes her head as she sets the clean dishes aside to rinse. She looks to C and sighs. “Ah thin’ Ah knowd wot yer sayin’,” she replies. “Meanin’ M is all dose thin’s Ah say – cookin’ and wand’rin’ – but mebbe also more?” She nods again. “Wif de right folk t’help, mebbe dat be true fer me.”


Z grins. “Aye, but what I’m saying is you /could/ be. Is the L– itself going to come and strike you down for setting your aims high? Will you fall into S– if you slip a couple of times on the way up? Chances are, probably not, and the risk is probably worth the taking–if you know who it is you want to be.”


I know I want to be a successful writer – paid, published, and prolific – and I know that studying with the folks at VC will help me reach that goal by challenging me to expand my writing and take more risks. I’ll be searching out whatever financial and emotional support I can find out there, today being a good start.


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My original thought was to apply to low-residency MFA programs that had strong non-fiction faculty. I started with the local ones near Seattle, WA, then asked the advice of colleagues and friends at Western. I narrowed the field to three, one of which was Vermont College.  


I admit that Children’s Writing wasn’t on my radar right away, but when I was looking into VC, I discovered that they had a dual MFA program option that would enable me to work on my memoir project(s) and look into children’s writing again. When I was in Hawaii in ’97-’98, I was involved with SCBWI a bit – went to their conference and won second prize in their writing contest. I have a couple of picture book manuscripts that I’m going to be circulating as soon as I get a bit more research done on agents and publishers, and put together a decent query letter for each. I’d like to write YA historic novels, along the lines of Christopher Paul Curtis or even Sherman Alexie (although I haven’t read The Absolute True Diary of a Part Time Indian yet to know for sure.)


There’s a lot of Filipino American history not written about yet and with my focus on family relationships and empowerment/identity, I think there will be plenty of material to work with. I had the option to either start on the nonfiction track or the children’s and I opted for children’s as much because the opportunity was there to work on my current manuscripts as it was that I have found myself at various local SCBWI events. It seems obvious now that I am more drawn to children’s now than I realized, but it has taken me a bit to actually /realize/ it. It’s very gratifying, then that the opportunity was there for me to take.


I am a bit afraid of getting ‘locked in’ to a genre, but given my track record of publication in everything from trade magazines to poetry, plus a passion for performance storytelling, I doubt I will ‘settle’ for anything else but a multigenre career ultimately. In the meantime, the MFA affords me the time (carved out of an already full life) and the mentorship I think I need to really move my writing to the next levels.

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First Steps

On a shimmering Sunday afternoon, I stood overlooking the Palouse, a coin in my hand. Anything could happen – a wish, a hope, a denial, a failure. Didn’t matter, though, and I placed that coin on the curve of my thumb, flipped it in the air and let it drop to the picnic table beside me.

It took over a decade to drop, arching as it did high into blue skies that turned grey and thunderous, tumbling over land that shifted from deep rich Idaho soil, to red tinted pineapple fields to North Washington beaches.  Glinting in the slanted sunlight of last Fall, it finally struck a picnic table miles from the first, spinning on an edge, flashing light, dark, light, until finally, face-up and still, it lay against the blue painted slats of the table as if it had always been there.  

The Journey is set. This Summer I enter the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Sometime between now and then, more writing will be made, more books read, more research performed.Here I’ll record the journey, first as memory, then as reality as quickly as I can make it. Ah… /write/ it down.   

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