conferences & retreats

AWP 2016

AWP is an annual conference for writers, teachers, students, editors, and publishers. I went to my very first one while in my grad program.

It was a learning experience, to say the least. It was an onslaught of information and positive vibes. It was so inspiring, humbling, and cool to see people from all walks of life actually doin’ the damn thing and writing and publishing.

The panels I attended all advised pretty much said the same thing: write, write, write, read promiscuously, and send your stuff out. Rejections are a part of life. These journals and agents and publishers have limited time, space and money. So whatever you want to publish, make it count.

That’s the worst feeling, though: being rejected. I wish I had a thicker skin in my younger days. I most likely would’ve published earlier and more often, if I hadn’t let the fear rule me. But I didn’t have any mentors. No one I knew growing up was ideal for that, meaning I didn’t know anyone who was in the industry.

They were supportive but not the way I needed. Now I have mentors, and I have resources. I plan to exploit them, completely. I also feel more comfortable with my voice that I’m ready to share it with the sick, sad world.

On Friday, I attended the following panels:

  1. Hybrids, Bastards, and Half-Breeds: On Writing Hybrid Forms
  2. Are We There Yet? Revising Towards a Finished Draft
  3. Angry Asians: A Hyphen Magazine Reading Dismantling the Model Minority Myth
  4. Women Writing Fiction in a Post Feminist Era

My senses were on complete overload this first day. Overloaded but energized. The whole conference and the decision on panel attendance is almost an echo chamber, isn’t it, reflecting back to you what you already should know. If not, maybe it opened some eyes, but not mine. I felt more resolute that this writing thang is what I’m meant to do.

On Saturday, these are the panels I chose:

  1. The Poetic Past: Crafting Poems Through Historical Material
  2. Everyone’s a Critic: The Need & Opportunities for Professional Book Reviewing
  3. In the Realms of the Real and the Unreal
  4. Women Publishing Women: The (Under)representation of Women in Print and in Publishing
  5. Slouching Tiger, Unsung Dragon: The Next Chapter of Asian American Writing

I missed some of the Poetic Past panel but I think it was fascinating, what I heard. I hope there’s a historical figure out there whose story I can tell through poetry. I think book reviewing might be a nice side gig, at least based on the panelists’ own career paths. They were all writers to some degree with reviewing on the side. The Women Publishing Women panel got a bit heated during the Q&A section because a lot of the older women in the audience felt slighted that some of the panelists were skewing towards the younger crowd.

Overall, the Asian American panels didn’t bring me clarity. That’s not their fault. But it was nice to know that the struggles I face as a writer of Filipino descent were all the same as the other panelists. I’m aggravated that we don’t have a voice in mainstream literature. It infuriates me.

I guess my struggle is that I don’t want to be known as only an Asian-American writer. My siblings and I didn’t have the typical immigrant experience either. My dad was born an American citizen because a) the Philippines was still under the protectorate of the United States when he was born, b) he further gained it through my half-Filipina/quarter French/quarter German grandmother, even though he was born and raised in the Philippines.

I decided recently that hyphenating my identity because of that didn’t ring true for me. I’m Filipino adjacent. My dad served in the US Navy, so we’re as American as apple pie, as I like to say. We don’t speak the language (thanks Kuya!). I make a mean sinigang though. My pork adobo is pretty awesome too. So I don’t want to be pigeonholed. I don’t write to be seen as an Asian writer. My stuff is cinematic absurdism. It’s off-kilter, multiversal, on par with the Twilight Zone.

But I know my Asian-ness is what people see when they see my slanted eyes and unevenly tanned skin, or when they read my Portuguese surname. I feel conflicted like maybe I should write to give voice that part of me because it is me. I don’t want to deny myself. I want to be like Dionysus and enjoy the bacchanalia of my identity by gorging on the good, the bad and the ugly.

Being of Asian descent in America is an uphill battle. I don’t know if I have the answers but the more voices that are in the conversation, the more the dialogue will educate the masses. We shouldn’t have to hide in our bubbles anymore. It’s time for us to headline the show.

All in all, a great first experience that I haven’t forgotten. Truthfully, attending the conference was only possible because I received a student discount AND I road tripped there. If AWP was a bit more affordable, I would’ve gone again. But I have not.

I think it’s presumptuous to assume that working writers can go to these things without a little monetary assistance. We’re all poor! The entrance fees to conferences and even writing contests feel like gatekeeping and a flagship conference like AWP should reflect that.


Cinematic Absurdism: My Preferred Literary Genre

As you know – and even if you don’t – movies have had a heavy influence on my writing career thus far. One genre that I have picked liberally from is film noir, mostly Sunset Boulevard which heavily influences one of the stories in my short fiction thesis. I called it When You Were Young. I would love to get it published someday so that I could eventually share it with you.

But seeing The Maltese Falcon – the apex of the genre, so much so that no one has dared remake it since – was like being born again. I’d love to delve deeper into adding its spirit to my work. If that sounds weird, I don’t even care. There are some movies that simply touch you so deeply as a creative person and a human being, it’s like, “why did I wait so long to consume you?”

One genre that I’d love to steal from (because that’s all art is, stealing from everyone before you) is German Expressionism. Metropolis is arguably the first science fiction picture ever made. Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is another brilliant film from that genre. Ideas, ideas.

I’m not afraid to say that movies have had a bigger impact on me than books. Books absolutely opened the door and reassured me that I can tell a great story. Movies encouraged me to tell a great story in a small amount of space which is how I approach short fiction. There’s something magical about shaping a story to be as cinematic as possible.

To me, these formats are all telling stories. And I’m in the business of telling damn good stories.

Creating a story is much easier than trying to get a film made. You can write it, revise it, and throw it out into the world without involving this, that and the other person. Maybe you’re submitting to a contest, maybe you’re posting it on your blog.

But when you’re trying to get a film off the ground, you can’t seem to get your schedules on track and now you’re three months behind in pre-production. What an emotional wasteland it is, trying to make a movie.

Not so with writing. You are in complete control of the story without having people be dependent on you – or you on them – to get your story into someone’s eyeballs. If it does well or if it fails, it’s all on you as the author. Say you take three months to even get words on the page. There is someone at fault, and you can’t blame an outside voice. It’s you. It’s a very independent way of looking at the creative process overall.

Well, that’s the sidewalk theory behind the genre I represent if people ask me what my genre is: cinematic absurdism. I coined the term to explain the stuff that I write because no one has ever named it before.

The grandfather of cinematic absurdism is Ray Bradbury. There was a quote of his that I didn’t save but it was something along the lines of “you could film my stories right off the page. Every line break was a camera movement.” I’ll update this post once I find the quote. Feel free to comment on this post it if you find it yourself!

Back in my graduate writing program, I didn’t realize it but I leaned heavily on dialogue to creatively move my stories forward. My characters didn’t tell you in their head that they were doing something; they actually said it out loud. No narrator told you they were doing this or that action. You followed along through the words they spoke. The conversations that they had, the clues that the story was going a certain way was told all through dialogue.

Truthfully, when I first started in my program, I was unrefined in terms of my craft. I knew I wanted to write; I knew that I could. But I didn’t have a voice, a way to tell my stories in my own way. I was intimidated by most of my fellow students because I could tell right away that they already found their voice. They didn’t spend their first semester floundering, trying to wade through the water.

But the night that I was told in a workshop that my work depended on dialogue, something in me blossomed. And it was the seedlings for cinematic absurdism.

Like Bradbury, I’m a firm believer that you could take any of the work I’ve produced thus far, storyboard it tonight, and film it tomorrow. My dream is to get my stories published and the film rights sold so that I can see them on TV or in a theater or streaming on Netflix someday. Someday!

The overall nature of the stories is that they could only take place onscreen, yet they exist for you at this moment to consume them through a piece of fiction. More feedback that I’ve gotten is that they feel real but there’s something unnerving about them that forces you to question yourself at the end by saying, that’s so absurd, that would never happen in real life.

That’s the beauty of cinematic absurdism.

It doesn’t follow the strict definitions of either of its host words. It’s not inherently cinematic because it exists on the page. Cinema implies that you’re supposed to be watching it on a screen, not reading it.

Wikipedia says that absurdist fiction:

focuses on the experiences of characters in situations where they cannot find any inherent purpose in life, most often represented by ultimately meaningless actions and events that call into question the certainty of existential concepts such as truth or value.

Absurdist fiction

In general, I would say that none of my work hews strictly to that. There is an exploration of the human condition through unreal situations, but there is always a purpose for these events that we find our characters in. We dip into their lives at a certain point and we hit the ground running straight into the wall at one hundred miles per hour.

There is always an ending. Maybe not happy, maybe not rock solid. But there’s an ending.

Someday, I hope to be known as the Mother of Cinematic Absurdism. So, today, I claim that title as my own.

Someday, I hope to share this style with other authors who may feel their work would fall under the auspices of this genre, to give them a home for their own creativity.