July 31, 2012

LLF DAY 3: Revisions Are Like Porn

Deeper, Harder, Faster
Writing is like porn: go deeper, harder, faster

Though I haven't finished reviewing the written notes the LLF YA fellows made to their copies of my manuscript, the overriding suggestions during my critique were for me to go deeper, harder, and faster.
Deeper: My character, a migrant farmworker child, wins over the reader early in the story. However, he takes a quick, unexpected, and unexplained turn towards anger that makes him unlikable. Dig deeper to find the true emotion manifesting itself as anger. It's essential to keep the reader rooting for my character otherwise, he's a spoiled brat.
Harder: Going deeper means not only means tapping into the emotional life of the character but it also means raising the stakes. What complication would make it harder my my protagonist to reach his goal, his need? What could make the situation worse? What would happen if he fails to reach his goal?
Faster: Enough with the background at the beginning. Get to some action straight away and show us how the character responds. The reader wants to experience the action along with the character, not to be told about it afterwards through a flashback via the filter of the main character. Show the action but remember to connect the action with emotion.
The group offered insightful and constructive suggestions. I expected that because they're all so talented and accomplished. What I didn't expect was for them to validate my story. I mean, I know it's an important story to tell. Yet each person, at the start of their critique, said the story is valuable. They said it's significant. They said it's a story they want to hear. They want me to finish it. I mean, that just blew me away.

I thought maybe my writer's group would find it interesting and maybe some of the migrant youth I work with would take a look at it. Yet people with little or no connection to the Latino community -- especially the farmwoker community -- said they want to know more about these lives. It makes me ... I don't know ... happy is such a simple word ... but it makes me happy.

Thank you YA fellows for acknowledging farmworker youth.

July 30, 2012

LLF DAY 2: Retreat to Move Forward

The second day, which was the first full day of the retreat, began with my roommate, Jef, taking what I estimate to be a 90 second shower in the morning. Come on, Jef, that's not even enough time for me to snoop though your stuff.

We made our way to the cafeteria for eggs and soysage and good conversation with other Lambda Literary Foundation (LLF) fellows.

Once the morning sessions began, Alex Sanchez, our YA (Young Adult) mentor, guided us through some exercises designed to help focus our characters, plot, action, etc. I found these incredibly helpful and reassuring on some of the choices I've made. Then we started the week-long task of reviewing each other's manuscripts. We focused our attention on Annameekee Hesik's The You Know Who Girls: Sophomore Year.

I won't go into the specifics of the feedback participants receive. However, I will say that I took some of  the feedback and applied it to my own manuscript. So, thanks Annameekee for volunteering to go first and for letting me learn from your session.

My manuscript was supposed to be next but we ran out of time (yay!).

I took the afternoon break to clear my mind, reflect on the intense morning session, and think about where I wanted my story to go. I also have this thing about reading in public so I was trying not to freak out too much about having to read 2 pages of my manuscript to the class.

After dinner LLF presented a faculty reading. I took my flipcam to record it but at the last moment I decided to just experience it and not watch it through a tiny digital screen. I'm glad I put the camera away.

The faculty mentors read in reverse alphabetical order starting with our mentor Alex, then Cris Beam, Jewelle Gomez, and Dorothy Allison.

Thank goodness I had the presence of mind to recognize this opportunity to study their reading styles instead of just sitting there with my mouth open. LLF recorded the reading so I won't try to summarize them. When they're uploaded, I'll repost. Just be ready to be amazed.

After the reading came the opportunity for questions. Again, I can't relay all the important information these established and esteemed writers shared. Though, I was able to scrawl a few gems onto my pad.

Jewelle Gomez on mining personal experiences without letting it become traumatic:
Get to the place where the paper cuts you but you don't bleed to death.
on performance readings:
It's about the sound of the words as well as the meaning.
I don't have the exact quote from Dorothy Allison (I hope she forgives me for skewing/slaughtering her words) but she essentially suggested identifying those tragic family stories we've shaped to be funny in order to diminish the tragedy. Go ahead, brush away the humor. Rewrite those stories as the tragedies they are. Absorb them. Then, rewrite those stories again and layer some of the humor back into them.

She also mentioned the Chick-fil-A situation in the LGBT community noting that sometimes rage is the catalyst for writing. However, she was quick to add:
If I'm gonna write out of rage, it's gonna be layered and textured.
That wasn't just a reading -- it was a master class.

I returned to my room where Jef and I worked on homework. As we worked, sometimes talking, sometimes not, I knew I wasn't the same writer I was two days ago. I've changed.

When I worked in HIV education, we based our outreach on a behavioral theory model (I don't remember the name) but one of the stages proposes that when a subject is exposed to HIV prevention information, he or she absorbs the information and is presented with a choice. The subject can dismiss the information or move forward with it. Yet, whatever action the subject takes, the information can't be un-introduced. It's now part of the individual.

That's how I felt at the end of day 2.

My only choice is to move forward with the information the faculty mentors and LLF fellows have unreservedly shared. I mean, I came all this way at great expense. It would be illogical to dismiss their information.

My inner Vulcan agreed.

July 29, 2012

DAY 1: Lambda Literary Foundation Retreat

Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices

After a long day of travel, I arrived in LA for the LLF retreat. I spent the morning with my friend Pat, who I haven't seen in many years. I also met his partner, Tony. I was a bit nervous about meeting up with them because ... well, I don't know why. I just was. 

I feel like I wasn't as engaging as some of the friends they're used to because the truth is that Miguel is probably only good in small doses. Besides, I'd been up since 4:30 AM.

Pat gave me a ride to the American Jewish University where the LLF retreat is being held. 

Being a bit shy, I sort of absorbed the atmosphere and the electricity these queer writers emanated. And of course, when it was time for us to introduce ourselves, I cried. 

I gave my name and said where I'm from but when I got to the next part, that's when my emotions got ahead of my words. I think I said something like, "The reason I'm here is to tell the stories I would have liked to have read when I was young."

Now, that's not particularly emotional and I really didn't even mean to say it. But, you know, I wanted to be as honest as I could. And ... blah ... it all just came out and I cried. I'm going to blame that on sleep deprivation and the stress of not letting any of my dishes or plates touch the table during our group dinner (Kosher kitchen).

July 12, 2012

Venga Renga

This morning as I was getting ready for work, I decided to checked my Facebook page. I don't know why because I'm not the sort of person who has to constantly be checking Facebook or updating my status (well, not anymore).

I had a few of annoying notifications about someone wanting to add me to their calendar app or inviting me to an event that's not even in my part of the country. Then I read a message from someone saying my contribution was "outstanding" and "an important part of Kansas history."

I thought, "Oh crap, what did I do now?"

Then I remembered my contribution to the 2012 Kansas renga must have been posted. The renga "To The Stars Through Difficulty" comes from the state motto: Astra Per Aspera

This project continues celebrating last year's sesquicentennial by inviting 150 poets with Kansas connections share their voices. In a renga, each poem is a conversation with the previous poem.

So please read Dan Pohl's poem before you read mine. Make sure to follow up in a day or so to see how the next poet "converses" with my work.

Here's a few lines from my contribution:
Tender hearts tend the land that belonged to pioneering homesteaders.
Corporate farms hire migrant children who learn to master machetes
rather than their multiplication tables — or their destinies.
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, the renga's organizer, announced that Mammoth Publications will publish the renga this fall.