8.20.2014

Crossposts: SleepyHeadCENTRAL.com || Your one-stop sleep health information clearinghouse

http://sleepyheadcentral.blogspot.com/2014_08_01_archive.html
Here's a link to the latest posts at my new sleep health website. 

If you or a loved one you know has concerns or problems with sleep, please stop by and see how SleepyHeadCENTRAL can help!

This is why you should open your mail from publishers right away...

I got the letter from Weber: The Contemporary West two weeks ago. It has sat on my desk all this time, while I launched a new website, did the major busywork that sending a kid off to freshman year at college halfway across the country entails, prepared my home for the send-off party while also pre-writing nearly 20 blog entries to auto-post at the new website over the next 3 weeks while I am out of town in New York, then in Portland.

When I get paper mail from publications, I automatically think it is a request to subscribe. Now, please note, I didn't toss the letter. It has been in the inbox all this time because I will always consider requests to subscribe. It just wasn't at the top of my priorities these last couple of weeks.

Here's a hint if this is your practice as well... if the letter is hand-addressed to you, and not stamped for presort? OPEN IT.

I got an email from the ever-patient Kristin at Weber yesterday asking me if I had received a letter from them recently. The email subject was "Weber Award."

Of course, I was at work at the sleep lab when I read this email, which means it was close to midnight last night and I could not hope to be home from work until at least 730 today.

When I finally got home at 7am (lucky me, I was out early, with only one patient who was easy to check out this morning... not all of them are!), I tore into the envelope and discovered I had won a literary prize.

"The Dr. O. Marvin Lewis Award of $500 is presented annually in the fall edition of Weber to the author of a work of essay/personal narrative selected as the 'best' published in Weber during the previous year."

Perhaps as thrilling for me to discover was the fact that the prize namesake is a retired medical practitioner who is also a literary writer and arts advocate. A man after my own, newly updated career heart! Even if my essay is not medical in nature, my life today most certainly is, and so I leave you with the thought that the universe speaks to us in myriad lovely ways, if only we should listen (and open our mail promptly!).

Check out my essay here. And thank you, Weber, for validating this choice of mine: to leave behind the charmed literary bubble for a life in the working world while continuing my path as a writer. This will fuel my efforts for a long, long time!

8.18.2014

What I've been working on...

Yes, I've been absent (mostly) from this blog, but it's because I'm doing this instead...


All design and content by yours truly. Please stop by and consider following me on this new journey!

8.13.2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour Stop for August 13: WELCOME TO MY WRITING LIFE!


Lucky me, my lovely writer pal Donna Miscolta invited me to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour this summer! 
Donna is the author of the novel When the de la Cruz Family Danced. Her fiction has appeared in literary journals, and her story collection Natalie Wood’s Fake Puerto Rican Accent was selected by Peter Ho Davies as a finalist for the 2010 Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction. She has received over a dozen grants and fellowships and has been awarded artist residencies at Anderson Center for the Interdisciplinary Arts, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Hedgebrook, and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. See her website and blog at www.donnamiscolta.com.

Better yet... 
Read Donna's post from last week.
So you might be asking yourself... 
What is a blog tour?
It's a kind of rolling "tag your it" approach to blogging which links like-minded people by interest. In this case, it's all about writers. I participated in a magical realist blog tour (also known as a blog hop) last week as well. Creative "makers," of jewelry, home arts, gardening, and media reviewers, foodies and the like all participate in blog tours or blog hops pretty regularly as a social media tactic but also to just celebrate what they do as broadly as they can. Blog tours are a chief way that authors can generate buzz for their new books. Luckily for me, this blog tour doesn't require that you have your own book to hawk. 
The main point of a blog tour for readers is to connect with these writers and their special interests. If you're not a writer, but a reader, you will likely enjoy many of these blog posts because there is a popular fascination about the writing life not only among writers but also among readers. That's what makes this particular blog tour really appealing... it helps unite both sides of the literary contract--the writer with the reader.
Here are my answers below. Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoy yourself! Please read the work of my tagged writer pals listed below as well. You can't go wrong, as I only associate with the most interesting people in the world. ;)

WRITING PROCESS BLOG TOUR Q&Afeaturing TAMARA KAYE SELLMAN


________________

"My six-word memoir:

'Tell me I can't... I will.'"

--Tamara Kaye Sellman

________________


1) What are you working on?
TKS: Always, there are irons in the fire.
I'm managing two websites right now related to my profession in sleep health technology and education, so there's a lot of content writing and blogging going on there all the time. I'm also the secretary of the Washington State Sleep Society, so I am generating a lot of promotional content for their upcoming conference. 
In the arena of long fiction, not a lot has happened in a few years. I think about my books all the time--I have written six novels, but they remain in various drafts. One is a YA novel, one is my most current project (first in a paranormal series, so I have the additional task of laying down foundation for the next books as well as revisions to tackle on this first book), and the four others are stand-alone novels. Going back to school and launching a career change that began in 2012 has meant putting these books on hold, but I still love what I've started and hope to get back to them when life settles.
Short fiction: Hmmmm. I just wrote a few flashies at Centrum and need to spit polish them. Probably can't get to that until the fall. But I sure have a blast when I work in this form. I must say, I think, besides blogging, it's my favorite form.

I have, however, finished and submitted a personal essay to an anthology requesting work on a specific theme, and I feel pretty good about that piece. That one came to me at Centrum as well. I want to do more work in personal essays and the segmented essay form, which my friend and instructor Sayantani Dasgupta turned me on to at that conference. 
Ideas to tackle in the category of food writing constantly emerge for me. I am taking notes and imagining projects for now.
Poetry is NOT on the table right now. I find it is the easiest form to write but it ends up eating up the tiny amount of writing time I have and my heart, frankly, is in prose. 
In my personal life, there's a lot of transition and family milestones happening these days. One daughter was graduated from high school last June and is heading to NY state for college in 10 days. The other is 16 and ambitious, so she'll be keeping me on my toes these next two years (and I do so with pleasure!). I am Sandwich Generation, so that means I am tending (as much as I am able) to the healthcare and logistical needs of both my parents and my mother in law. None of this ever occurs at a time or place of convenience in my life. In addition, my own healthcare issues (I have a chronic, incurable health condition) comprise a daily draw on my time and energy and my needs here often override all the best laid plans of my writing life.
2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
TKS: I love experimentation: with form, idea, language. I am perhaps more open to work that breaks rules, pushes boundaries, and plays with structure. I have little tolerance for popular fiction so I'm sure my writing reflects that as well. 
I have been told my writing is multilayered and insightful. I find literary magical realism, surrealism or fabulism sneaking into stories when I'm not looking. They are surprise demons of delight. I will never deny them their presence. 
I think my background in journalism informs my creative writing as well. Sometimes truth truly is stranger than fiction! Seriously, though, I think it is important as a writer and as a craftsperson to refine one's skills in all genres. That doesn't mean you will be great at everything you write (I can write a teleplay but it's not going to ever be picked up, for instance), it just means you are willing to stretch your skills as a writer. I don't think a writer can truly be called a writer unless they try on all the different ways they can write. That, in and of itself, can take a lifetime. 
Also, there's something about going back to the working world (specifically, allied healthcare and health education) that's been very refreshing for me and I can see it in my own work now. I'm now employed in a position not deeply entrenched in the literary (where I spent 15 years prior). I find I am far more interested in writing work that is emotionally and politically and personally relevant to "nonwriter" readers. Does that make sense? I want to write for the Everyperson; I want to write stories that move them to act or think in a brand-new way. They are usually a different crowd from my literary friends (although occasionally I run into people who belong to both parts of that Venn diagram).
I have since lost interest in so-called "literary" writing which seems to exist in a vacuum, which doesn't seem to touch ordinary people. I want more than for my own friends and family to read what I write and strive to, instead, reach readers halfway across the state--heck, halfway around the world!--with artful, universal stories that give people landmarks of meaning. 
I also write because I am compelled to and not because of any commercial desire to "succeed" as a published writer. This means I grant myself permission to write whatever I like, along with the responsibility toward achieving both the level of craft and quality control that this direction requires. Writing what you want is harder because it has to be stellar if it's going to break with expectation and still be published, produced or otherwise shared. 

I don't easily or willingly slide into common genres when it comes to my creative writing, but that's just fine with me. I still manage to publish most things I put out there in the wilderness. Of course, this means my work will be different from many others because it's not so easily defined by a category or a market.
3) Why do you write what you do?
TKS: My six-word memoir: "Tell me I can't... I will."
I write to tell the truth. I write to share the stories of those without voices. I write what I write because I am a feminist. I write because I can't help it. I write to push back. I write to expose. I write because the world pisses me off. I write because the world forgets how beautiful it is. I write because story--whether I'm writing it or encountering it from someone else--matters to my soul's survival.
It's who I am, it's what I do. I started writing complete sentences at age 4 and decided at that very early age that I would be a writer my entire life. I'm 50 next year. The mission continues.
4) How does your writing process work?
TKS: It depends where I am in my own lifespan. When my children were young, I wrote when they slept. Then I wrote when they were at camp, then at school. Now they are older, but I am working outside the home, so now I write whenever life allows me some moments. 

I don't believe in the bullshit "you can't call yourself a writer if you don't write everyday" tenet. I am constantly filling my well. I read voraciously across genres and media. I am constantly taking notes and capturing ideas in an old school notebook-and-pen system that allows me to go back and revisit ideas when time presents itself. I have stopped enduring the guilt of giving up writing time for time with my family and friends or time spent caring for myself. The rule of writing everyday must have been established by some overstuffed, ascotted white male writer with a pipe in his mouth, sitting in a leather-and-mahogany-trimmed studio overlooking the tops of houses in some fancy city where someone else is paying for everything. I have a family to raise and bills to pay and chronic health problems that demand the kind of flexibility that one cannot have by being a "full-time professional writer." 

Maybe someday I will have loads and loads of time to kill and will be able to sit and write for hours on end, everyday, but for now, that option is ridiculous to even consider. In the meantime, I am still writing when I can, publishing most of everything I've ever written, and best of all, living the writing life on my own terms, drawn from a creative well freshly filled daily by life experience. 

-----

Here are the three writers I have tagged for next week.
 Please visit their blogs and read how they get 'er done. We all can learn from each other as writers. If you're not a writer, you will still delight in reading how writers' minds work... I know I never tire of hearing the process stories of my writing companions!
MEGAN LEE BEALS is an old sea witch who writes fairy tales and horror stories and has little clue of how to differentiate between them.  Her latest work can be found in The Future Embodied anthology, and look for her new fable which explains how all the pearls in the sea came to be swallowed by oysters in Luna Station Quarterly in September. http://beehills.me

TRISH BITTMAN is a writer, blogger, Social Media Guru as well as a wife and mom to three girls. She's a lover of martinis, dessert and 4-letter words and moved to Bainbridge Island after discovering it on the Internet. It turned out to be all she hoped for and more. http://www.3kidsandabreakdown.com/
NATASHA KOCHICHERIL MONI, a first-generation American of Dutch and East Indian origin, is a writer and a naturopathic medical student. Born in the North and raised in the South, she finds home in the Pacific Northwest. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Web and Best of the Net, has been awarded a Puffin Foundation grant, and has been acknowledged as finalist/semi-finalist in Crab Orchard Review, Black Lawrence Press, Dana Awards, and the Kundiman Vincent Chin Memorial Prize 
competitions. Her first full-length book, The Cardiologist's Daughter, will be released from Two Sylvias Press in Fall 2014. http://www.natashamoni.com/blog

8.08.2014

Ode to Magical Realism: What Drum Corps International, Scheherazade and the dirt in my flowerbeds have in common

Santa Clara Vanguard performing their DCI 2014 show: "Scheherazade."

I just spent the last six hours in a nearby movie theater with some 50 other people watching the preliminaries of the Drum Corps International annual competition. I have a sixteen-year-old daughter in the color guard of a local corps; some of her friends joined me to watch this event live-streamed from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis (home of the Colts) three hours ahead of us.

...What does this have to do with magical realism? Just stick with me for a minute.

My daughter has been gone for nearly eight weeks on tour across the nation, performing at stadiums six out of seven days a week and spending much of the rest of that time either on the field practicing or sleeping on the bus. It is the opportunity of a lifetime, and I am a feminist at heart and believe our girls need to jump on these opportunities every chance they can get in their young lives. Still, the only time I have been able to see her this summer was when she performed live July 5. Her corps had brought their show to our neck of the woods, the Seattle Summer Music Games. I couldn't wait to get there, mostly just planning to hug her and see her beautiful smile and take a lot of pictures.

There were seven corps performing at that July 5 competition--from California, Colorado, Oregon, Texas and Washington. This is generally how it works: each corps travels from city to city, performing their shows, racking up points, getting feedback from adjudicators both on the field and in the stands, then revising their movements until, ultimately, they all meet like they did today, in Indianapolis, to sound off against one another in a battle of bands like none you have ever seen.

In short, it's a spectacle in every positive nuance of that word. Or maybe I should say it's a marvel.

The music, if you are there live to hear it, rattles your eardrums with its powerful "wall of sound" resonance. The dancing and the formations bring the storytelling to life through dramatic ensemble efforts as well as delicate solos defined by stunning, ever-changing shapes. The costumes--and costume changes you literally don't see happening--lend magical elements of character to the spectacle, and the props they bring to the field set the scenes and the landscapes to what ultimately becomes one big gorgeous act of storytelling.

On that July night, there were stories celebrating gypsies and changing seasons, honoring Poe's raven in the poem, "Nevermore'... even a story which captured the beauty of life when something magical happens in "that one second." Stories of spectacle, of marvel, of wonder, of fabulism, embodied by groups of 150 people under the age of 21 in consummate orchestration, as potent and fragile and complicated as the shared mechanisms of the living human organism.

This is the miracle of what we saw live that night and what we watched today at the theater: the machinery of souls united by a singular choreography, telling the stories of the human condition, even at its most mundane level. The elevation of the mundane to art. Falling leaves are a miracle, after all; pure moments of love, the repetitive power of a single mantra from an old poem... these are spectacles, these are moments where fable intersects with the ordinary, these are the things that return wonder to a world stripped of its imagination by technology, bureaucracy and social disconnection.

***

If this is not enough magical realism for you, continue reading.

I founded and published Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism for ten years (1998-2008) because I had developed an abiding love for the magical story, the fable or parable that tells of the wonders that life can bring us. These moments of awe and possibility can be found everywhere you look; I think all the time about the simple beauty of the flowers in my yard from a distance, how beneath it all, there are worms and dirt and fungus and dead rot and all things unlovely to keep other things alive.

I love these kinds of contradictions; I love that without these contrasts, awe could never occur. In order to have awe, you have to have a biding respect for the union of the probable with the improbable; you have to make your peace with the inexplicable. There can only be light in the world if there is also darkness. These are some of the reasons I became a publisher, editor and, finally, curator of literary magical realism.

One of the things we did regularly was publish theme issues. We managed to put together one on Caribbean magical realism, one of Spirituality and magical realism, one that covered the Iberian peninsula. We never made it to a theme edition focused on tales from the Middle East, though it had been in the plans, were we to continue growing the anthology. Instead, a decade in, my staff and I agreed to move on to other projects, as we felt we had, more or less, achieved what we set out to do.

I found myself missing the purposeful insertion of magical realism in my life, however. I made up for it by reading books of magical realism to my girls while they were still young enough for bedtime stories. Both girls "got" Paolo Coelho's fabulist parable in The Alchemist and both appreciated the magical realist titles they would ultimately read in high school, and at a level that still makes me proud. The last book I read to my youngest daughter (it took me all summer, just four years ago) was Watership Down. She is now a relentless reader of Murakami and helped me celebrate Gabo's passing last spring by bringing yellow roses to her literature class. Both of my girls see the underlying purpose of magical realism: to tell stories in order to save lives, to truth-tell against the ever-present censor, to empower whole communities to act together against oppression by weaving beauty and magic into the ordinary aspects of their lives.

No wonder our family's favorite movie is Big Fish... another book I'm overdue to read.

***

Since we are talking about magical realist literature...

One of the other corps that performed July 5 was the Santa Clara Vanguard, one of the finest to compete for DCI over the last several decades. They tend to place in the top 10 worldwide. I was absolutely bowled over by their show. It was themed "Scheherazade" and, true to form, the music, costumes, movements and props all depicted the challenges of the famous young princess from the 1001 Nights as she cleverly "sweet talked" her way out of a troublesome new marriage through her rich and endless unfolding of fantastic tales. 

Earlier this year I realized that I still had not completely read through or was completely familiar with all the collected tales of the Arabian Nights. We all know about Aladdin, but what of the many other wonderful tales that came out of the Golden Age of Islam? Watching the Vanguard unfold their program, I was delighted and suddenly homesick for that place in both my intellect and my heart where the influence of literary magical realism is permanently wedged.

It has been six years since Margin was retired (though the entire site is archived), and I have since gone through many shelves and donated many magical realist novels and story collections. But I still have that copy of Richard Burton's The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights, because I still can't wait to jump into that princess's clever mind and see how she spins fictions to save her life.

Tonight, I watched the Vanguard show again for the second time, and it was just as marvelous as the first time I'd seen it. Between the visuals and the music and the power of the performances, I was transported to a place I still want to see for myself, a place I have glimpsed only sideways through The Alchemist and the classic tale of Aladdin and his magic lamp (perhaps oversimplified in my own mind thanks to Disney).

Besides, I am a mother of daughters. The cleverness of Scheherazade "telling tales" appeals to the feminist in me, the one who knows that wiles are a best practice in self defense. It inspires my belief that there are truths we must tell, even if only slant, in order to maintain our autonomy. As women. As people. As human beings.

One of my daughter's friends, one of the two drum majors for their high school marching band (and both are girls!) was also there tonight and, occasionally, I saw her lift her hands from her lap and practice the moves of a conductor. She likely didn't even know she was doing it. She was leading. I love seeing this in teenaged girls, this "accidental leadership" which can't be kept at bay. There is hope for the human race while we continue to raise strong, thoughtful children who appreciate art and beauty while desiring leadership.

We struck up a conversation at the intermission about the number of expensive props that some of the corps were using in their shows, and she said to me, "I think you can be simple and still do the same thing." To which I replied: "Yes, because ultimately, these shows aren't about props, they're about stories. All art, ultimately, is about story." And she nodded, clearly understanding this simple, and yet complicated, observation.

She makes me miss my own creative, idea-hungry daughter, the one on the road, the one lifting the silken flag with well-toned arms that should belong to a Grecian statue, the one sneaking Murakami stories late at night on the bus by teeny tiny booklight, the one whose upraised chin and cheeks on the movie screen today were as softly golden as Rumpelstiltskin's thread.

Magical realism is everywhere, people. You only need to open your eyes to find awe, wonder, beauty, marvel and magic in the world.

The part of me that decided to create an anthology devoted to magical realism over 15 years ago, to be a teacher/curator/editor, to explore a literary category with a broad mind and multiple lenses... it was gentle nudged awake tonight as I watched the final scene in the Vanguard show, in which the princess, elevated above the field and surrounded by her feather-wafting harem, lifted the golden lamp in her hands, victorious.