Yesterday I attended the first day of the writing workshop I signed up to, under the tutelage of literary icon Jessica Zafra. Weeks before yesterday, we have submitted the outline of our writing projects to her, including a timetable that would serve as our guide in completing our first draft at the end of the 9-week workshop. Most of us were tensed and excited at the first day. I remember kind of meeting Jessica many years ago and I found her scary. But now, not so much. I’m like my co-fellow, who confided that she was more starstruck than scared.
The idea for my writing project has been rolling around inside my head since I came back from Cambodia. I wanted to write a memoir based on the blog that I kept while I was in Cambodia but I was worried about naming the people I encountered in my life there. A friend who used to live in Cambodia too wrote and self-published a memoir about his journey to coming to terms with his homosexuality and he faced a similar quandary. “Fictionalizing” my memoir was a viable option. Many authors do this, including my favorite, Edmund White.
But I needed a “push” to look at 4+ years worth of blog posts and come up with a coherent “story” of my life in Cambodia. I needed focus–not just on doing the task itself, but on which aspect of my life there should be included or excised from this book. For inspiration I recalled Christopher Isherwood’s “Berlin Stories”, which was a novel that consisted of inter-connected short stories and novellas. I decided that this book will comprise connected short stories and novellas with an un-named narrator.
For my friends and non-friends in Cambodia, prepare to end up in my book as cleverly disguised characters or composites. You’ve been informed/ warned/ advised.
Some of the questions we were told to ask ourselves before the workshop were, “Why does this book have to be written?” and “Why do I have to write it?” For me the answer is simple: I am doing this for my own mental well-being. Call it therapy. Call it catharsis. Cambodia has been very kind to me. The 6+ years I spent there profoundly affected me as a person. The experience was exhilarating, crazy, scary, and ultimately life-changing.
It’s a story that deserves to be told.
Even if, I’m not too confident about my abilities as a fiction writer. I guess I’m still reeling from a number of rejections that my stories have faced. A magazine and two anthologies, to be exact. I have a manuscript that I asked a respected author to look into and the latest feedback I got from her (months ago) was that my stories (she has read 3 out of 10) read like memoirs. I mean, not bad for my book project, but not good for the rest of my works.
My poems seem to be doing better. They recently got accepted in two literary anthologies–one already published last December and another coming by March or April of this year. Should I stick to poetry then? I still have a number of tales that needed to be told, so no. Not yet.
But not all is lost in my fiction. I recently got word that my story for children called “Reyna Elena” is one of the honorable mention winners in this year’s PBBY-Salanga Prize. I am very pleased with this, even if I didn’t get the grand prize (though that would’ve been awesome too). This was my second time to join, and my first entry was a finalist (some say runner-up) in the 2003 contest. So as far as batting averages go, I’m really doing quite well. And after 10 years, my first story is on the verge of being published, if only I can finish revising it according to the advice of the editor. My children’s fiction dream is to come up with 10 books that have gay people as major characters.
Two down, eight to go.
Posted on January 12, 2014, in events, journal and tagged 2014, children's fiction, Christopher Isherwood, Edmund White, fiction, Jessica Zafra, PBBY-Salanga Prize, poetry, writing, writing workshop. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.