Archive for the ‘Asking and Receiving’ Category

Still busily reading for school this summer, but recently received some cool news.

Sheila Bender is one of those writers I’ve read off and on for years, mostly for her sound advice on the process of writing. I discovered A Year in the Life soon after the birth of my second child and it influenced the final edit of my MA thesis. Through her passion for poetry and essay, Sheila transmits a sense of capability and honor to the young writer – she believes that if a person wishes to write, then they have what it takes to not only begin but to succeed.

I was excited to read earlier this year about her essay contest and sent three pieces off in short measure. I was overjoyed to hear from her a few weeks later – Becoming a Woman of Color had won first prize!

“Becoming” is a piece that my close readers have enjoyed, but one that never seemed to quite fit the journals to which I submitted it. The form is a non-traditional essay written second person, and the piece was often criticized in workshop because of this. Male readers didn’t feel comfortable being asked to read from a woman’s point of view, folk-not-of-color didn’t want to inhabit the ambivalent space between privilege and prejudice. I tried changing it several times to make it more ‘accessible’ only to return to the voice of it’s original.

Sheila writes:

“Becoming a Woman of Color” by Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor offers a satisfying and moving read. A lyric essay in structure, it is built in sections that each begin with a command: Imagine, Remember, Picture. The symmetry between beginning and ending the essay with the word imagine and the repeated commands of remember and picture sandwiched between the opening and closing of the essay carry both writer and reader through a rewarding emotional journey.

I am /so/ grateful that she responded so positively to the piece and grateful that she chose it as the winning entry for her contest. She and her co-publisher Kurt VanderSluis have published Becoming a Woman of Color in her online journal http://writingitreal.com/.

As part of my prize, Sheila looked over one of the other two essays I submitted. She gave me a very frank assessment which showed I still have far to go with my work. There were technical difficulties to the piece but what was most helpful to me was that she contrasted that piece with “Becoming.” I learned that when I trust my voice, instead of trying to make a piece into what I think others will respond to, I do /much/ better. It’s something I’ve read time and again in books on writing and something I’ve heard time and again from veteran writers.

The difference with Sheila, though, is that she /showed/ me what that meant for my own writing and as any writer will tell you Show Don’t Tell is the first and last rule of good writing and good critique.


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Today, a small miracle.


VC sent me an email letting me know a few more details on the residency this summer, not the least of which was informing me that I had been given a scholarship!


I didn’t even apply for it – they just offered it. So wonderful! 


It’s a good start to what I hope is a trend as I continue to chase down funding sources. 


Reading the email, though, I started to feel a little overwhelmed by the details still to happen before the residency – books to read, manuscripts to write, forums to join. 


Even with lists, I’m afraid I’m going to forget something! But that’s just being overwhelmed today, I think. So I’m going to stick with the good scholarship vibes. 


Only communal narrative again today – I’m adjusting to a temporary change in family habits. It’s slowly coming together, but my kitchen is a mess. 


I need to bubble some story ideas for the workshop manuscript – I’m thinking at least one will be a retelling of Alitaptap, and I may try my hand at crafting Gift of Plums (a performance piece) into a short story. Later this month I’m attending a regional SCBWI conference and I may see what comes of that too. 


I love conferences – they generate so much energy for me. I may even get a chance to pitch one of my picture book manuscripts while I’m there. 


That’s the thing I’m trying to keep in mind – I know that MFA programs discourage having a set project going into the program, but I want to also be able to keep looking for ways to publish my work, keep going on the writing career while I’m learning how to be a better writer. I hope I can keep that momentum going even as I’m reading, critiquing, writing. 

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Writing begets writing. 

I’m going to have that printed and framed, I think.


So riding the crest of my work last night, I took three unpublished pieces from my files and sent them off to an essay contest. When I sat down to work, I thought I had a month to get the pieces ready, but a quick check of the submission guidelines revealed that the contest would end on the 30th of April… and the submissions are due tomorrow.


Again, it would have been easier to give up and look for another contest, but my ‘big project’ including shaping these three pieces into the best state I thought they could be. So, I took them out, dusted them a bit, and sent them off. Thankfully the contest had a terrific submission system that allowed me to pay the reading fee via PayPal.


I lurv the Intertubes. 


I also got an update on a reading I’m giving in early June. The program is shaping up nicely and I’m looking forward to meeting all the other writers. I also started looking into flights to Vermont. It looks doable, although I’ll be spending most of a day traveling. I can’t decide if traveling all night would be better. With a couple of stops near the beginning and end, it might be more difficult to travel on a red-eye. 


I also checked out the schedule from last summer’s residency and the schedule is /packed/. I doubt I’ll be doing much writing other than notetaking. It’ll be essentially a long conference, longer than I’ve ever attended. I guess I had visions of classes during the day, then time in the evenings to try out what was learned. **shrug** So, I’ll adjust and make it work for me. 


Tomorrow I’ll be looking for more places to apply for scholarships and grants. Hopefully I won’t run out of submission material!

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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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