Blank (Gallery) Space

Last week I had the great pleasure of being the writer-in-residence at Mathew Gallery in Chinatown, thanks to a sponsorship by the wonderful Montez Press. I had intended to spend my week of writing creating a new, probably lengthy, story, but that felt ambitious in my limited time frame that included planning and executing a launch party at the gallery for one of my authors.

While talking to the residency coordinator, she inquired whether I might want to create something more visual and inspired me to make my very first chapbook. The only visual writing I’ve ever created has been by taking forms or legal documents and rewriting them creatively. I had three already created, the legal contracts “THIRD-PARTY AGREEMENT” and “INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR AGREEMENT,” along with my “Church Exit Interview.” I ended up creating one brand new piece and spent three hours one evening printing, folding, and stapling pages that eventually became Sign Here. I’ve never been involved with the physical act of putting together a book. Touching my work and folding the pages helped me connect with the visceral experience of a book. The process reminded me that a book is not simply a set of ideas but a tangible object.

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While putting it together, I pretended that I was a riot grrrl making a zine. Great feeling.

The first night I sat alone in the quiet, white-walled gallery, I felt the emptiness of the room as heavily as the emptiness of my new blank document. There was something very strange about spending hours alone in the gallery with nothing but my work. I spend plenty of time each week alone in my apartment with nothing but my work, but being in a new setting with a deadline hanging over me to finish a new piece added an immediacy to my work that I really valued. I’m thankful I had this opportunity because it forced me out of my comfort zone, both the literal comfort zone of my apartment as well as my narrative/structural comfort zone of writing straightforward short stories.

I can’t wait until the next residency, whether it’s a gallery located on a busy city street or a retreat in a coastal town. It’s important as a writer to push and challenge yourself as much as possible, and sometimes that happens simply by placing yourself in a new environment.

My First Residency

I’m back with an exciting announcement: this summer I have my first writing residency! It’s a bit different from a traditional residency experience in that I won’t be escaping to a cabin in the woods, but I suspect my weeklong adventure in the city will be productive nonetheless. The exciting and relatively new publisher Montez Press has a partnership with Mathew Gallery in Manhattan and reached out to invite various publishers they admire to join them at the gallery to host events this summer. The Feminist Press will launch our latest translation by the French feminist icon Virginie Despentes, Bye Bye Blondie, at the gallery on July 21st.

Bye_Bye_Blondie_FRONT_COVERIn addition to hosting events throughout the summer, the gallery has kindly allowed writers to stay for residencies. I am one of the fortunate writers who will be living in the gallery for a week. I will be working on a short story during my stay, what I hope to be the last story in my short story collection manuscript Hooliganism. Each story in the collection focuses in some way on female sexuality. While holed up in the gallery, I plan to reread Bye Bye Blondie, which features a teen girl being institutionalized for acting in a manner the adults in her life find erratic, but which is typical rebellious teen behavior that probably wouldn’t have landed her in this situation if she were a boy.

I plan to use the space and my reading of Despentes to inform my short story. I’m hoping that a gallery space will prove to be fertile ground for creation and that the challenge of producing a new piece in a week will be inspiring rather than crippling. I feel up for the challenge, especially knowing that near the end of my week I’ll get to celebrate by hosting the Bye Bye Blondie launch party. I can spend a week in solitude knowing a reading and wine-fueled festivities await me at the finish line.

I’m also working on lining up events for my Siblings and Other Disappointments book tour, so stay tuned for exciting updates, including information about my appearances at the Litquake Literary Festival in San Francisco!

On Hiatus

But I’ll be back soon! I have been lagging in the blog updates department, mostly because I’m busy working on essays/marketing ideas for my October book launch, have been swamped at work, am editing my novel MS (and asking myself daily whether it’s time to scrap it), went through a breakup, and am generally finding myself without much bloggy stuff to write.

I’ll probably take most of the spring and summer off, but I plan to return with a shiny new website to make up for my absence. In the meantime, this is pretty cool.

Have a great summer. XOXO

California Waiting: An AWP 2016 Recap

I flew back from LA on Sunday and am more over less over my jet lag and more or less feeling like a human again. Whoa, convention life is crazy. This was my first time at The Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ annual conference. It differed from my experiences at Book Expo America and Brooklyn Book Festival in that it was less about business and book sales and more about writers hoping to connect with potential writing programs, journals, and publishers. Since I’m not an editor, my time spent at the Feminist Press table was a bit awkward–I had to turn away more than a few writers pitching me their manuscripts. We split a table with Chicago publisher Featherproof Books–if you’re not familiar with them, do yourself a favor and look them up. They are publishing some weird and wonderful books right now. They also happen to be the publishers of Jessica Hopper’s The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, which I’ve gushed about before.

FP Staff

My colleague Jisu and I wo-manned the FP’s table for the whole conference. Who knew sitting and talking about books could be so tiring?

The Feminist Press hosted two panels, one on memoir writing and the other on last year’s anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. I attended a few panels as well: one on publicity at small presses made me realize this conference is directed at people newer to the industry (sample nugget of wisdom at the panel: “be organized”); the other was on queer YA, which is right up my alley and featured the amazing Michelle Tea. One of the highlights of the conference was connecting in person with Michelle, whose book Black Wave comes out from The FP in September. She kindly stepped in at the last minute to take over moderating duties for both of our panels. She is a burst of positive energy, which is much needed when you spend three eight-hour days inside a convention center.

FP Authors

Feminist Press authors (from left to right) Michelle Tea, Ana Castillo, and Chef Rossi appeared on a panel about writing memoirs.

The offsite events were easily my favorite. I was lucky to hear Michelle read at VIDA’s reading and party, which featured the most diverse group of readers I’ve ever seen as well as a performance by the first LGBT mariachi band, Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles. So much fun! At Tin House/Literary Hub/Grove Atlantic’s post-AWP party on the roof deck of the Ace Hotel, I toasted to surviving the conference and had the great pleasure of connecting with some of my favorite people in the industry.

The highlight of the offsite events (and of my life) was the reading “Fierce Verse: Feminist as Fuck.” I went for the incredible line up of writers: Roxane Gay, Eileen Myles, and Lidia Yuknavitch, and my role model/idol Amy Poehler. I was very happy to discover a new voice whose work I’m now dying to read, author Randa Jarrar. It’s always a joy to find a new writer, especially one who can stand out in a crowd that includes so many literary/feminist/comedic dynamos. But, BUT the moment that made my heart burst open with joy was when Carrie Brownstein joined Amy Poehler on the stage as a surprise guest. I can’t even.

Carrie & Amy

Goddesses.

All in all, working at a conference was exhausting, but the connections I made, the chance to see friends and colleagues from the West Coast, and the moments that I didn’t expect (the aforementioned Carrie Brownstein performance, seeing Martin Starr aka Bill from Freaks and Geeks and all the other sitcoms I love outside the Ace Hotel) made it worth it. See you in DC next year, AWP.