I yearn to return to New Mexico. My body is here in California but my eyes, and mind, are on the sandstone mountains of Abiqui, searching the expansive deep blue sky.
Five months ago I was privileged to join a group of 100 women writers, poets, artists for a week at Ghost Ranch in Abiqui, NM. We were there to participate in A Room of Her Own (AROHO) writer’s retreat.
A part of me stayed at Ghost Ranch, perhaps in a bluff, tucked into a crevice. The longing is so strong that I am returning in April, for the Gathering of Nations Pow-Wow in Albuquerque.
While at Ghost Ranch I met a warm, personable young woman, Karina Puente, an artist. As AROHO’s 2013 Artist-in-Residence, Karina facilitated daily watercolor classes. In the evening she set up her easel and drew writers’ portraits on a single piece of paper.
“My current muse is a brave woman, unafraid of challenge and patient with process. She is an ancestor…made of black charcoal and salt water.” Karina Puente
Her final piece, Women Who Sit, is a morphing wonder. She shares, “For the AROHO Writers Retreat Project, I drew 15 writers’ portraits on a single piece of paper and used stop-motion animation to document the drawing as it changed, resulting in only one woman’s face with many stories beneath it.”
We are like that aren’t we? One face with many stories beneath the surface.
On Karina’s website the writer says,
“When the world seems dismal, Karina can discover –through her paintings- hope, confidence, and imagination. Drawing becomes a meditation.”
I like that quote: hope through art, drawing becomes a meditation.
This is the video: Women Who Sit.
Now take some paper and pen/crayons/watercolors/pencils and go meditate.
Five days after returning from the AROHO writers retreat at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico I still have many memories swirling through my mind . One such memory is particularly embedded in my skin. I have 12 itchy scabs from 12 mosquito bites despite the mosquito repellant and itch cream.
On the second day of my arrival I began my small group, Writing on the Edge, taught by Jillian Lauren. She is the author of Some Girls: My Life in a Harem and Pretty Girls . Jillian proved to be an excellent guide and inspiration.
The blurb for her course caught my eye and interest:
Drugs, sex, violence…are you bored yet? Why is some of the juiciest material so hard to translate onto the page in a dynamic and engaging way?
I don’t know if Jillian chose the location for her class, but it was near the edge of a small mesa. I had to hike up a dusty switchback to get to class under 90 degree weather.
First day in group, the seven of us were asked if we knew yoga. All of them, sans moi, knew the poses. I lumbered onto the map, stretching and opening my ‘creativity’ as Jillian instructed. Plank, Downward Dog, and Pigeon stretched me beyond where I had gone before. I do have to say that the stretches, deep breaths and silence did make me feel better.
Conflict and tension is necessary in most stories, especially to keep the reader interested. But how do we do that? Jillian explained that the act itself may not be dramatic, but to
…look at the journey, the motivation, the fear of the character
The result of those thoughts is what has to be created and put down on paper. A way to do this is with a free write:
Warm Up: After you have stretched and opened up your creativity, pull out a pad of paper before your “real” writing begins. Think about what you’d like your next “edgy” scene to convey. You can use a timer to write for 10 minutes. Write without your pen lifting from the page, no cross outs, no self editing. You may find the words flowing right away on the page.
Jillian had us sit with our journals and gave us a writing prompt. We had to write for five minutes, again keeping the pen on the paper.
The prompt: How are you feeling right at this moment? Here is my response.
A very intelligent mosquito found its way to a patch of unsprayed flesh beneath my bra strap. He bit into my warm skin and drank like a thirsty elephant, leaving me with a swollen itchy blob of mounded skin. It is a testament to his prowess. Cortaid is too weak for the wound.
Scratching has released oozing fluid beneath the tender hill of skin. His creativity is to be applauded. He bit a spot that is difficult to reach. The itch will soon go away, leaving a brown scab on a red sensitive bump, a reminder of my time at the AROHO retreat.
Some memories are made from stuff like this, the sudden bite, the quick stab, the stealthy adventure in the dark. A surprise visit from someone or something you tried to avoid, someone you tried to keep safe from. The best laid plans sometimes need to be disrupted reminding us we can’t stay insulated from pain or danger.
Two days later we talked about our “shadow self. ” In Jungian psychology, the shadow or “shadow aspect” is a part of the unconscious mind consisting of repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts. This was the ‘edgy’ writing we came to learn.
We had a ten minute exercise to write to our shadow, then we burned the paper, mixed it with sand, straw, and water. Some of the shadows were lumpy blobs of clay, others smaller, holey, glittery, big and small. We released the dried clay into the Abiquiu Lake a couple of days later, bidding them goodbye.
The next day we were given another prompt. We could choose one of these: Fear means… Shame means…Risk means… I chose to write about shame.
Shame means inward responses to outward looks. Whispering or shouting responses that no one hears.
Shame turns inside, tight and tiny, steals whatever is near to cover up, look like something else. Only you see the shadows lurk, grow huge, come nearer.
Shame hunches shoulders, shuffles feet, has you fascinated with your hair or a piece of candy.
Shame has you move into corners, watch the world go by, carry a purse full of secrets, and lies. A wardrobe of masks and decorations.
Shame has you sweat inside when you see those particular set of eyes, a facial gesture, a mannerism.
Shame makes others use tools, hammers and chisels, to get to the real you. Tools very few people seem to carry or want to use.
Shame makes you fight, first with yourself, then with others.
If you’re lucky you fight the real reasons for that shame. You use the chisel to cut off the crap, move deeper, make something uniquely beautiful from a slab of stone. *
The yoga exercises, discussion on the “shadow self,” and prompts were valuable. You never know what you will find when you delve in deep. Thanks Jillian.
*The narratives are copyrighted and the property of Mona AlvaradoFrazier. Thank you for sharing and linking back.
My bags aren’t packed yet for my trip tomorrow to Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico, because one of the kids beat me to the washing machine this morning. I’m not stressing though because I am still drifting on a dream.
Last January I thought about my goals for the year. The intention word to myself was “Create.” To make the word more concrete, I found and filled out a printable called “Roadmap to My Dreams.” In the area “bravery is a matter of belief, and I believe I can…” I listed “…submit my writing for a fellowship, contest, anthology, or magazine.”
In a matter of days I came across the website for A Room Of Her Own (AROHO): A Foundation for Women Writers. One of my writing buddies, Florencia, attended in 2012 and talked about her life changing experiences. Applications for fellowships would close in three weeks. The chatter in my head kept me thinking about this challenge. There are thousands of writers who would love to attend a weeklong retreat filled with writers, poets, and published authors leading workshops. Should I or shouldn’t I submit for a fellowship.
I reminded myself of Sandra Cisneros’ “How To Be A Chingona in 10 Easy Steps.”
Step One: Live for your own approval. Center yourself. Be alone. Create your own space.
There was that word again: Create. That is just what I needed to recharge myself. I submitted my application with a 10 page writing sample and was accepted. Writing is usually lonely and acknowledgements don’t come as often as rejection letters, so honestly, this award surprised the s*it out of me.
As a double bonus, I will be at Ghost Ranch during the peak time for the Perseid meteor showers. This display is named after the constellation Perseus, the hero of ancient Greek myth born from a shower of celestial gold. For three or four nights the sky will be pelted with shooting stars and fireballs.
The big city dweller that I am, I’ve never seen more than one shooting star before. But I can imagine that the expansive New Mexican sky will be sprinkled with brilliant heavenly dust. I’ll thank the stars, the universe, and God for giving me this experience, this impetus to move forward and keep writing.
Five months ago I thought I was ready to jump in and send out query letters for a manuscript I thought I had completed. Doesn’t ten revisions and your critique groups nod of approval mean your MS is ready? NO. The MS was not ready, and neither was the query letter. If I had followed my “hindsight is 20/20” advice and utilized the five tools after writing “The End,” I would have saved myself months of time, the rejection letter depression, and needless work. But that’s all in the past and that experience is lessons learned for the future. In the last post I covered the first four suggestions to get your manuscript ready. (Disclaimer: these suggestions are based on my own experience). The fifth tool to implement in revising your manuscript is finding a professional editor for your work.
This can be like looking for that proverbial needle in a haystack. You can shift through 25 million Google results, that you’ll receive 44 seconds after pressing ‘enter,’ or you can use another plan of shifting through the abyss of results. Before you start your search, decide on what type of editing you want for your MS and your budget. Do you want a developmental editor to tell you where you have plot holes, where to revise, critique your characters, help your flow? Do you want pages of notes, chapter by chapter? Or do you want a line/copy editing, where the editor addresses grammar and style but not the structure of the book, the voice or tone.
Are you willing and able to spend $500, $1000, or $2,000+ for an editor. If you can’t afford this perhaps sending in 100 pages of your novel will suffice and the editor’s comments can lead you in the right direction. I decided on hiring a developmental editor. I wanted notes on plot structure, pacing, characters, and suggestions for revision. My budget was $1000. After you’ve answered the above questions, you can start your search for a professional editor. Here is where I looked:
Agents who blog– I follow Rachelle Gardners blog and found this list of freelance editors. Find which ones seem appropriate for the job.
Genre freelance editors– Editors specialize. Use your search engine to find a freelance editor in your genre, i.e Christian Historical Fiction freelance editor. Under that search ‘only’ 1 million results are returned (just go to the first five or 10 names and research).
Ask a writer-On Facebook I follow several writers whose books I really enjoy. I picked three of them, who write in similar genres, and asked them who their editor was or if they could suggest an editor.
I thought the last one, ‘ask a writer,’ was a long shot, but this is how I found my editor, an author of three novels (two award winning), an MFA college instructor in creative writing, and who knew, but she is a freelance editor also. On her author page she listed her services.
In less than a week the author/editor agreed, in writing, on what I wanted from the developmental edit, the price, and the turn around time. Half of the price was upfront and the other half on completion. After the edit I could also meet with her for an hour to discuss, in person or via phone, the edited MS. Luckily she was an hour away from my home town so I availed myself of this consultation.
Three weeks later I received three typed pages of comments on Character Development for each character, Plot/Structure, Conflict, Descriptions, Pacing, and Voice.
This was followed by 18 page by page, chapter by chapter notes. On 240 pages of MS there were notes in the margins, questions or highlights on some prose she thought was poignant or well stated. We met in person soon after, and she answered the questions I had.
Two months later I finished the revisions. I felt so good about the work I decided to apply for a writing fellowship for the writing retreat sponsored by A Room Of Her Own, AROHO.
Part of the application was to send in the first 10 pages of your manuscript. I did and was accepted. Here’s my mug and a rambling bio (rambling because I was still stupified) on the AROHO “Participating Writers” page. I’m in awe of the company in which I share the page.
With the AROHO acceptance I decided that it was time to revise my query letter again (eighth time), and I sent 10 queries out. Within three days I received a request for a full manuscript. Yup, I was jazzed and stupified now.
Alas, three weeks later I received the rejection letter from the agent. After reading the MS she decided she wasn’t the agent for the work. I felt like the girl who was asked out by her crush, the date made, no phone call, then the “it’s not you, it’s me,” line.
But no boo-hoo’s here. Back to butt in chair.
It’s time to gather up another 10-20 agent names and send out another batch of query letters.
If you have any suggestions to add to this list, please feel free to tell us about your recommendations.