Thursday, September 29, 2005

LIFE & WRITING & SUCH

IT’S AMAZING HOW the external demands and interruption of everyday life affect my writing life, especially when I’m motivated to write.

THESE DAYS MY
life is filled with applying for jobs on the net, filling out applications, e-mailing my resume and cover letter, receiving “rejection” e-mails/letters (from potential employers, not publishers), basically, sending out more than receiving. I’m constantly revising my resume to fit the job descriptions so that now I have at least five different versions, from an administrative one, to one concentrating on a career change to social services, to one specifically geared for Latino/African American organizations or so-called “underserved” populations. I receive daily job reminders from Careerbuilder.com & Idealist.org. But so far, I’ve only gotten one reply from a job at Careerbuilder & one from Idealist.

THE TWO PLACES who have called me for interviews were jobs for which I received a forwarded e-mail (Latinos United) & that I physically walked into and applied for (Casa Centrál). Which goes to show that the good old-fashioned job-hunting ways are still effective (word of mouth & walk-ins), maybe more effective. In fact, I have a second interview with the VP at Casa Centrál tomorrow, which I’m feeling optimistic about. Everyone’s telling me this job is mine, but they could be down to two candidates and need a tie-breaker.

I ALSO TOOK two civil service exams at the State of Illinois. The exam claims to test your interpersonal, critical-thinking, and reading comprehension skills, but I think it tests your frustration level. They ask you these obscure questions which could be stated so much simpler. I’m sure people who test well and others who are used to taking standardized tests don’t have a problem with these tests. But I call them rompe cabezas, which means “puzzle” in Spanish, but literally translated means “head-breaker.” I could not wait to finish the exam (both times) and just guessed on some of the questions (because you’re only given 90 minutes). The first test I took was for Employment Security Rep (working at the unemployment office) and I got a 44 out of 60, a “B” (the cut-off point is 52, which translates to an “A”). Candidates who score an “A” are considered first. When the lady handed me my grade and added, “You might want to come back & re-take the test in 30 days, I didn’t even acknowledge her. I was so upset. I wish I would come back & retake that frustrating test again.

THE SECOND EXAM I took was for Human Rights Investigator (dealing with discrimination complaints against employers). I thought I did even worse on his exam (41 out 60), but when I went up to the counter, the lady who had originally met with me for employment counseling last week, congratulated me on getting an “A.” I was like, “But I got a 41.” She said I got a 43, which was the cut-off point for this particular exam (it’s different with each exam). I told her I was shocked. Then she added, “well, you went to Northwestern.” And I’m thinking, why is that people think just because you graduated from Northwestern or Ivy League schools, you’re automatically smart?? I know plenty of people who have and aren’t. I don't consider myself smart at all, and especially not because I went to Northwestern. I'm more well-informed because I'm constantly reading, keeping up with current affairs, but I'm not naturally intelligent.

ANYWAY, APPARENTLY THERE are 7 open positions, which of course makes me wonder what happened to the previous employees. Did they get promoted, or is the job so monotonous they left as soon as they got the opportunity, OR did they get fired for low performance, or are these new positions? It seems like a job that is contingent on meeting deadlines (based on the questions) and you know how much of a procrastinator I am. I screwed up sometimes at NMH but I got away with it because my bosses were so cool, but this is the State (they don’t play). Nevertheless, I’m in the process of applying for the position. Maybe this is the job God wants me to have?

AND NOW, ABOUT “My Writing Life” . . .

I TOOK SOME time out of job-applying to apply for a writing grant. The Christopher Isherwood Foundation Award grants $3000 to writers who have published at least one book of fiction, either a novel or a collection of stories. The grants are intended to enable writers to set aside time for writing. What a wonderful concept! And I just happen to fall into the category. I heard about it from the blog of a fellow writer, Tayari Jones (author of The Untelling & Leaving Atlanta). She posts all these fellowships, grants and residencies/conferences for writers I don’t know if she does this because she is an alumnae of these awards or because she is just genuinely a nice person who believes in the camaraderie of writers; in either case, she is providing an invaluable service to other writers, new & established. In the competitive and envious world of writing, she should be commended for it.

IN ADDITION, I also applied for residency at a writers’ residency called Hedgebrook in Washington (state). It’s actually near Seattle on an island. Each writer gets her own cottage (did I mention, it's only for women?) with her own bathroom and kitchen including a wood-burning stove (oooh!) and desk (no phones, TV or Internet – what I could do in a place like this!). Residents spend most of their time in solitude (sigh) but have their dinners together (I can deal). There are 48 acres of woods, fields & ponds (maybe a babbling brook?). This part of the brochure cracked me up: "Hedgebrook is in a rural setting. There are dogs and cats . . . residents with allergies will need to bring their allergy medications." In other words, you have to adapt to our surroundings, not the other way around. (OK, I can hang.) There are also “non-threatening” wild animals (like “harmless” snakes, coyote, owls who have “no interest in human contact”’ (it's mutual) – as long as they don’t have raccoons and opossum (which look like overgrown rats); also mice, bats and carpenter ants have been known to “visit” cottages (OK, are they TRYING to scare me?)

EARLIER THIS YEAR, I was rejected by two other writers’ residencies. That of course, did not deter me from applying to these. Someone’s bound to recognize my talent and desire. Right? If given a choice, I would take the $3000 grant.

AS FAR AS Choose Me, people are still asking me “how’s the book doing?” And I wish I could give them a truthful answer. Of course, I answer “good” and “great”, but it’s not enough. I want numbers. So I’m contemplating writing my publisher for more inside info (print run, copies sold, etc). I have a feeling what “they’re” going to say: “no news is good news” or “we’ve accepted your second book, haven’t we?”

I FORGOT TO report on my last book event in Peoria. THAT was a trip. I didn’t get enough sleep the night before (as usual) so I was falling asleep on the road, actually closing my eyes(!). I drove 310 miles round-trip, three hours each way (probably more if you figure in the “getting lost” factor). The event was supposed to be at the Peoria Public Library – or so I thought. When I got there, the parking lot is empty save for two cars, and I didn’t see Cheri’s car so I’m thinking, she either got lost, or this thing got cancelled. Turns out the Read On Book Club is meeting at Pizzeria Uno’s at the Mark Twain Hotel – downtown. Thank God, their downtown isn’t as far away or as big as Chicago’s. I had actually gone there first when I got lost. Of course, I was frustrated, but I wasn’t upset. There were about seven people (five women, two men) and the moderator was upset that more people hadn’t shown up. I thought everyone had eaten but it turned out that they had just ordered appetizers. They asked questions, we laughed, and ate. It was over too quickly (sold three books). Then it was back to Chicago.

I HAVE AN radio interview (KISS 104.1 in Atlanta) next Tuesday. The last two radio interviews I had were a bust & they were never rescheduled. I thought my publicist was done scheduling events for me, but I guess not. Maybe this is the last month. Hopefully, I won’t be working by then since it’s scheduled at 9AM (c'mon, people!).

THE CHICAGO BOOK Festival runs through the month of October and features authors doing readings in public libraries, the Blackboard Book & Music Festival on the south side, and other locations. For some reason I couldn’t find anything on the net about it so I didn’t send it to my publicist. I am kind of upset I didn’t get scheduled for anything, but like I said maybe my 90 days of publicist support end with this month. I would’ve liked to be a part of it so I’m going to make sure I get into it next year since ITPIHOY will be released in October. I'm also upset because there weren't any Latino authors (I think, one) and half of October is Hispanic Heritage Month. You hear so much emphasis on how Latinos are becoming the number one "minority," how our buying power is so powerful, but where is our representation in the literary world? Huh?

AS FAR AS my next book is concerned, I got an early-morning call from my publisher the other morning (please, not before Noon!) asking whether I had sent a permission letter to HarperCollins about using the lines from Sylvia Plath’s poem (“Daddy”) which I want to quote in the epigraph. Of course, I had completely forgotten about it, but I’m working on it. I guess I can refer to it by its title, which the publisher claimed a year ago that they “loved” but then, marketing hasn’t done their “analysis” yet. If they decide to change it for whatever marketing reason, there’s no use in me getting permission rights to “Daddy” since the title comes from the poem – In the Picture I Have of You.

I MET WITH the branch manager of the Humboldt Park Library (the neighborhood where I grew up). Her husband is the branch manager at Bessie Coleman. We discussed a couple of dates to do a book event in November or December. We'll see how many of "my people" show up.

I’VE STARTED DOING research on the FALN (the Spanish acronym for the organization which wants independence for Puerto Rico from the U.S.) for my third book, a coming-of-age story about a girl whose father is a member of the FALN. I want this book to be “literary” as opposed to “commercial,” with the flowery language that separates the categories, the one ML said is representative of “Oh, look how pretty I can write.” I was reading Kuwana Hausley’s book (Angel of Harlem) at Border’s and though I was impressed by her use of language, there was a part of me that wanted the story to move faster. (I don’t know if I’ve gotten more impatient over the years or what.) I loved her first book (The Red Moon) so I started re-reading it. She’s actually coming to Chicago next month as part of the Chicago Book Festival so I’m going to see her.

THEN I STARTED working on my fourth book (working title: I See God in You) about a biracial woman who is content being alone, not looking/wishing/hoping for a man, but yet everyone is constantly trying to set her up, get her married, have children, “be happy.” She is a successful artist who feels inspired by God to paint and uses her art to spread the Word. I got part of the synopsis written and the first sentence in Chapter 1: “The first time Zoraya Cruz Lee saw God, she was nine. Her father had taken her to the Art Institute . . .”

SO, AS YOU can see, while life does try to interfere, where there is passion for the art, there is a way.

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