Student Testimonial

As a disabled person, it can be difficult to attend workshops in person, particularly as someone who is deaf. Inspiration2publication has given me the opportunity to continue learning and growing as a writer without any of these obstacles. I am incredibly grateful to be able to participate in workshops and courses of the highest quality from the comfort of home. Inspiration2publication isn’t just accessible to people who would not have normally have access either because of a disability or geography but it is also affordable. I have tried online courses from two other writing associations and a single Inspiration2publication has been more beneficial than all of them combined. They have pushed me as a writer and helped me produce more impactful work, as well as offered insight and motivation to get my work out there. I never submitted a piece before taking Inspiration2publication courses and since then I have submitted and been published several times. In a way, I have this program to thank for that.

– Michael Whelan (AULA Alum 2008)

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“Let Me See You Once More:” Finding, Restoring, and Amplifying Marginalized Voices that Build Community

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By Precious Rasheeda Muhammad

 

By the time Old Lizzy Gray’s enslaver Dr. E. J. Mims buried her in a granite sarcophagus on his South Carolina plantation in 1860, she had 127 years’ worth of stories built up in her. Stories from lives lived on two different continents. One as a free Muslim in Africa. One as an enslaved person with a syncretic religious existence in America. But almost everything we know about Old Lizzy Gray’s story today, including her last words, didn’t come directly from her. What we know came from the hand of her obituarist Dr. Mims, the last person who held her as property. His amplification of her story, in less than five paragraphs on the front page of the September 12, 1860, issue of the Edgefield Advertiser, is the only reason we know anything of her existence beyond her being just another name with a price next to it in estate records.

 I think often of Old Lizzy Gray.

I wonder what her original name was before being labeled with the surname of one of her earliest enslavers and a given name likely belonging to one of the women in his family.

I wonder how long she cried out for her four children whom she was ripped from in her homeland through the forced migration and forced dislocation trauma of the transatlantic slave trade.

I wonder where in Africa she came from and if it could have been Senegambia, given that a large portion of the Muslim-born captives arriving in America had come from there and had ended up in the Carolinas.

I wonder when she decided that she would begin to practice a mixture of Islam and Christianity—stating on many occasions “that Christ built the first Church in Mecca and his grave was da”—and if it started as a coping mechanism while she was imprisoned upon a British ship during the American Revolution, or after she had been sold on to her first, second, or third enslaver after that, no fixed address in sight, no real control over her own time and space.

I wonder who her American-born children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren were who took care of her in her final days and if, with all the new genealogical resources we have today, we can find their descendants.

And, I wonder why Dr. Mims, one of the most influential people in Edgefield County where they lived, the town of Johnston, which he founded, now built up over what was once much of his plantation, and probably up over Old Lizzy Gray too, wrote so passionately about the human he held as property, placing her obituary on the front page of the local paper and giving her a higher grade of burial than even those in his own family and, later, even himself.

In his own way, was Dr. Mims writing the community to effect change?

I know I am, in writing this, writing to effect change. And with hope of bringing the dignity and humanity back to a forgotten ancestor of the African diaspora who is only discussed in a negligible number of history books, and her name I’ve never heard rolling off the tongues of those in the greater community who could be inspired by her story of survival and resilience.

Old Lizzy Gray held on to faith and family to her last breath, calling out to her American-born daughter, “[L]et me see you once more,” and then, “Jesus has come!” The latter an utterance, no doubt, of deliverance from the enormity of her life struggles.

One cannot underestimate the value of finding, restoring, and amplifying marginalized voices that build community. That, in the case of Old Lizzy Gray, this service comes from an enslaver does not make it any less valuable.

There are many ways we experience community. For some, their first experience with community life begins in the home, amongst family. For others, it’s in their place of worship, or at school, in the barbershop, or the salon, in the neighborhood, or at places of work, and on and on.

Community connections can be local, national, or international. Community life is in every direction we turn. It is wherever we find humanity and engage with each other. And, in that every engagement, there are opportunities to write the community, and there are opportunities to effect change.

I invite you to take an online class with me on this very subject: Writing the Community: Write to Effect Change. With no grades to worry about, it is a relaxed and fun opportunity to be part of an intimate online writing environment, reading, reflecting, and writing about the community.

We will explore what it means to write the community as a means of effecting change. We will study successful authors’ stylistic approaches to writing for the community. We’ll examine how figures in our local communities have valuable stories that too often go untold, simply because they do not have national acclaim. And, we will learn creative approaches to documenting and sharing the stories of these people and how this is an effective means to “building community through history” across seemingly intractable divides.

Even with the tiniest nuggets of information, we will figure out a way to draw out the beauty of the story you want to amplify, just like how I just took a creative approach to building a whole narrative about Old Lizzy Gray around nuggets of findings in an 1860 obituary.

I welcome you to join me.

You’ll leave with nothing less than the reward of a new piece of writing that I am confident can start making an impact in your community right away.

Precious Rasheeda Muhammad received her MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California Riverside, Palm Desert in 2016. She received her Master of Theological Studies from Harvard University. She is an author, lecturer, and researcher on religion in America, among other topics, and is known by many as “The History Detective.” She lives in Virginia with her family but travels frequently for research projects and speaking engagements. Her motto: “building community through history.” Her favorite craft-related, self-motivational saying: “write mama write.”

Finding “Flow”

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by Jacquie Cope

I’ve longed to write fiction for as long as I can remember, probably since the moment I was able to read. Paradoxically, for most of my life, I never wrote a word. First, I was always too wrapped up in other pressing issues – education, work, kids—to get much, or actually anything, written. The other problem was that even when I made the time to write, the page or the screen always stayed blank. I held my pen in my hand or poised my fingers over the keyboard and stared into space, daydreaming, and waiting. The waiting was painful. What was I waiting for? I assumed that eventually I would hear a little voice, a phantom or an angel, coming to whisper a story in my ear or guide my hands into typing something brilliant on the screen. I waited for my muse. There were moments of desperation, when I ruthlessly forced myself to write literally anything, painful sentence by painful sentence. I believed that eventually the muse would reward me by showing up and taking over. When I reviewed those sad sentences, or on some lucky occasions a handful of pages, I found that most of what I wrote was a little embarrassing — just isolated images or scenarios about eccentric people, many of them with avoidant personality disorders, most of them having a distinct physical feature, like a thick scar along one side of the face or a handlebar moustache.  I figured that I would wait a little longer, maybe the muse would show up tomorrow, or next week, or definitely within the year.

Well, my muse never showed up, and the frustrating part was that whether I wrote or not, the inclination and the longing to write never went away. Over the years, after an undergraduate degree in the sciences, a medical degree, a house in the suburbs, two kids, a Maltipoo, and a hamster, my urge to write never dissipated. And still, no muse.

Eventually I entered an MFA program and made a larger commitment to the pursuit of writing. Over the course of earning the degree, I learned a tremendous amount – about craft, about character, point of view, and plot. About where to start a story and where to end it. I also learned—or maybe just finally accepted– that there was never going to be a muse. There would be technique, faith, and perseverance, but no matter how often I would sit at the computer, sweating it out, coming up with a protagonist, a setting, and even a verb tense– there was never going to be a guiding voice, an angel on my shoulder, a divine gift of just the right words packaged and placed in my sad, suffering brain. The task of writing began and ended with the hard work of writing one sentence followed by another. I’m pretty sure now that that’s how most (all?) writers write. And yet, is it possible that that’s how War and Peace or East of Eden got written?

There had to be some trick, a strategy or formula to accessing stories and getting them on the page.

One concept that provided insight was that of “flow,” a term coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. The state of “flow,” or what is also commonly referred to as “being in the zone,” is an intense concentration on an activity performed only for its own intrinsic reward. Immersion in the activity is so profound that the performer loses a sense of time, of biological need (like thirst or hunger), and, importantly, of the self-consciousness of the ego. “Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz,” Csíkszentmihályi says. He further describes this experience of disconnection of self from physical reality as a form of ecstasy.

Wow. So what did I have to do to get into flow?

Based on what he observed, Csíkszentmihályi’s developed a model, predicting that flow could be achieved when there was a fit between the challenge level of the task and the skill level of the individual. People can achieve this state of flow (perhaps to a milder degree) doing even mundane activities, such as driving, washing the dishes, or sewing. In these instances, the challenge is fairly low, and people who perform these tasks easily perceive a sense of mastery, focus on the moment, and feel personal control over the activity. On the other hand, a high challenge task (write a novel) attempted by someone with a low level of skill (never wrote anything) results in a state of anxiety. No wonder all of those hours sitting in front of a blank screen had left me so irritable! While my logical, left-brain had been training for the Ironman all of those years, my imaginative, right-brain was a total couch potato.

Fortunately, a number of well-known authors have provided guidance and recommendations for strengthening the skill of accessing the creative brain. I read a number of books by these authors (Anne Lamott, Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg among others) and found that most of their recommendations followed a similar theme: stop the inner critic from censoring your creativity. When you sit to write your first draft, write your first thought and don’t erase it. Editing and crafting aren’t meant to take place during the generative, creative stage of the writing process. If you find your avoidant protagonist sporting a handlebar moustache, leave it. You can always trim it later.

In a practicable way, most authors suggested practicing this skill through the use of journals (morning pages, timed exercises, dream journals). I tried all of these techniques, and the good news is that all of them were helpful! Each activity was an opportunity to practice, not only how to access the impulsive, imaginative part of my brain, but also how to quiet the critical, logical part of my brain that had kept me from writing anything in the preceding years. All of the activities also helped for another reason: each ultimately forced me to do the real work of writing. I didn’t need to face the task with the expectation of completing an entire short story or a novel or even a chapter. I just had to write something, anything. The more I “practiced” being creative, the easier the activities became. I just had to commit myself to doing them a lot.

Regardless of how much I exercised my creative brain, writing ultimately required taking the risk to write my first bad draft and look it square in the eye. Now when I sit at the laptop to write, it’s still a mixture of pain and relief to put down that first sentence, not knowing if a second is going to follow. Sometimes, now, I can fall into that zone. I lose track of time. I lose awareness of my own self-conscious self and start to see the characters, hear what they might say or see what they might see before my conscious brain looks around for it. And many times I don’t enter that blissful zone. Those days I realize that I’m going to have to dig deep and accept that writing is risk. I force a sentence on the page. And one more. Maybe another. And so it goes, sentence by sentence.

 Jacquie’s class, Creativity and Craft: Completing the Process from Journal to Short Story begins May 7. 

Jacquie Cope is a doctor from Los Angeles who recently took the plunge and dedicated herself to her writing. She holds degrees in medicine and public health, and more recently, an MFA from Antioch University. She lives and writes in Los Angeles.

Poem-a-Day as Practice

IMG_1646By Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo

I am not a morning pages poet, nor am I a write everyday poet. To write every day, or close to every day, is something I have to work at, and by work I mean, it takes trickery. It takes a challenge like Poem-A-Day that happens every April for National Poetry Month. If you’ve never heard of this event, it’s similar to National Novel Writing Month—commonly known as NaNoWriMo—in September but without the cute name. For the month of April, in celebration of NPM, poets around the country and even the world, challenge themselves to write one new poem a day for 30 days. To help, many websites and journals give daily writing prompts. Many are free and some take a subscription. But here’s the thing, you don’t have to wait for April to challenge yourself, and to be honest, I have never successfully accomplished writing 30 poems in 30 days in April, and to be even more honest, I’ve only tried once, maybe twice.

In fact, the only times I’ve successfully written everyday for an extended amount of time have been when I’ve gone away for a writing residency. It’s actually incredibly easy to write everyday when you have vacated your home for 25 days and have no responsibilities to speak of beyond keeping yourself and your space tidy and writing. Being a writer in residence means you have been put up for 2-4 weeks in a beautiful local with a comfy bed to sleep in and a quiet desk to write at both most likely with views of a forest, or prairie, or ocean-side bluff. Your meals are taken care. Your email has been set with an automated response: “I am currently away on a writing retreat until ____. I will be checking and replying to emails periodically. Your patience is appreciated.” Your bills were paid and squared away before you left. All your deadlines were met. Children are being cared for (I don’t have children). Pets are being fed. And someone is enjoying your car while you’re gone. When you are a writer in residence, there is nothing to do but take long walks, sit in the bath, pick flowers, read, eat, and oh, yes, write.

The very first writing residency I attended was at Ragdale Foundation in North Shore Chicago. For 25 days my only responsibility was writing a first draft of a novel. I had a warm, quaint cottage room over looking a red brick courtyard and nothing but time. I thought, Well, shit. I better write something. And write I did. A novel written in letters, I gave myself the assignment to write at least three new letters a day. (This was another trick I gave myself, since letters aren’t much longer than a poem.) As days increased so did my output, and by the final day I had a complete first draft. It was magical.

Since then, there have been times when I think, Well, I’ll just make my own residency at home, but it’s not so simple. Jobs, friends, family, laundry, dishes, bills, oil changes, and all the other everyday obligations get in the way of regular pages, so what do you do?

One friend suggested I try “The Grind,” a by invitation email group that asks members to write a new piece of work a day for one month. A form of accountability, the administrator places poets and writers into email groups of about 10 people. The only expectation is members send one new piece a day to the group. No one is expected to read. No one is expected to comment. All members are expected to do is write and send. I know a couple of poets who have had major success with The Grind, which if you participated for 3 months, has the potential to help you produce at least 90 new pieces. These pieces are mostly likely raw, scraps even, and some may only be one sentence, but still, it’s material to play with.

I hated The Grind. I have come to realize that I don’t like joining any group or organization that increases the amount of emails flooding my inbox. Remember that instant reply message set in my email? I live for setting that instant reply! But I did like the idea of being beholden to another person, so what I did was invite one friend to join me in a 20-day challenge. For 20 days, we were to write new pages and send our new work to the other person with the same stipulations, no one was expected to read or comment. And that worked for a while, until I realized that the other person was only a crutch. I could do a 20-day challenge on my own.

Whenever I feel a need to start producing more material, I open a new document, title it “20 Day Challenge” with the date and begin. I mark the top of each page with the day and the date before writing a new poem: Day 5 February 14, 2018. The challenge can start whenever you like and doesn’t have to coincide with any day or date, but at first, you may consider beginning on the first of the month, the first day of the season, or if you are into the phases of moon, with a new moon. The new moon is a good time to set intentions such as to write everyday, and if that’s of interest to you, the next new moon is March 17, 2018.

Tips for writing a poem-a-day:

  1. Try writing at the same time everyday. I write after lunch once I’ve had some experiences in my day to reflect on. As I mentioned before, I’m not a morning pages writer because I find it difficult to write before I have fed my mind inspiration, but midday seems to work.
  2. Don’t expect the poem to be in fact a poem. At this point you are creating raw material. Be ok with building a shapeless mound of clay. Later, you can go back and see if you can sculpt it into art, but for now, let it be whatever it is that comes out of you.
  3. Try sitting for ten minutes, and see what comes out. 10 minutes is all you need!
  4. If you miss a day, still write the day and date on a blank page, and maybe make a note about what you did that day. For example, just the other day I wrote: “Day 9: February 18, 2018. Went to Brunch for T’s birthday.” Sometimes I will go back and write something for that day, but most of the time I don’t.
  5. Don’t beat yourself up for missing a day or two. It’s your challenge, make of it what you will.
  6. Get a buddy if you need a buddy, but also know you can do it alone.
  7. Inspiration for writing a poem-a-day:
    1. take a walk and see where your mind wonders. When you get back, write down all your random thoughts.
    2. Take time to read a new poem, a new chapter in a novel, or even a page in novel and write a response to what you read. Try stealing a favorite line by making it the title of your poem and see what happens.
    3. Visit an art exhibit and write a response to a piece in the exhibit
    4. Ask a friend to send you a photo from their own library of photos and write a poem from the photo. (It’s helpful if you know your friend is a good photographer.)
    5. Journal out all your feelings and thoughts. Spill on to the page, and then take pieces from your journal for a collage poem.
    6. Notice what you notice. I heard this advice from movie director, Miguel Arteta when he did a talk for junior high kids at 826LA. He said to be a writer, you only have to notice what you notice. As you go through your day, pay attention to what catches your eye: the way your coworker left out the creamer, a character in your favorite TV show that seems to be unfairly treated, a funny misspelling on a street sign, the misplaced baby shoe sitting in the middle of the sidewalk. Whatever it is, write it at the top of your page, and see what comes.

After you’ve done a 20-day challenge, be sure to look back at what you’ve created. You will mostly likely be pleasantly surprised to find the beginnings of a poem or two.

Let Xochitl get you started in your practice with her class, Spanner, Slammer, Socket: Building a Poet’s Toolbox, or get a coaching package in poetry. which starts April 2nd, opening National Poetry Month

 

 

Passion in the Picture: Ekphrastic Poetry

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by Adrian Ernesto Cepeda

When I walked into Francesca Lia Block’s Antioch University seminar, The Importance of Social Media for the Contemporary Writer, I had no idea my life would be changed and inspired. Francesca highlighted the growing trend of the most successful writers linking to their fans, followers and other writers by using social media as a tool to express their creative message. I know if it wasn’t for Facebook, I wouldn’t have been introduced to the writers, poets and artists I now call my friends. Francesca reemphasized my belief that the point of a writer is to connect with an audience. She said it best, “Don’t just journal, you are here to write, get your voice out in the world.” Not only did she open my eyes specifically to the world wide web that was reverberating all around me, but she helped me focus and I realized how much the internet was the essential ingredient to all my creative writing endeavors.

Douglas Adams once said: “Everything you see or hear or experience in any way at all is specific to you. You create a universe by perceiving it, so everything in the universe you perceive is specific to you.” My whole life I’d been learning if you, as a writer, write down what you see, fear and love from your own universe, you will make the reader want to live inside your mind, your vision and your own creative voice. It was like a lightbulb exploded and I realized that if you’re a writer looking for ideas on what to write, go on Pinterest or Tumblr and write an ekphrastic poem, a poem reflecting what you see and feel from a photo or work of art. I discovered that my main source of inspiration was the internet footprint I was creating daily around me. We are unique and no one has the same online presence; harness that distinctive spark that inspiration is everywhere online for your creativity…that is your power as a writer.

The World Wide Web is much more than watching videos, spreading chatroom chisme, and surfing the internet. I follow the lead of poets like Nayyirah Waheed who’s Instagram and Tumblr posts shows how a poet can reflect an online presence creatively while inspiring their audiences. I have also discovered many poets like A. Van Jordan and Gary Jackson who have published collections about their pop culture passions. Jordan’s book The Cineaste merges his love of cinema with his gift of verse and Jackson’s Missing You Metropolis combines Gary’s affection for graphic novels and comic books with his talented poetic voice.

Poets like Francesca Lia Block, Nayyirah Waheed, A. Van Jordan and Gary Jackson have inspired me to connect with my love of vintage black and white photographs and classic film stills and create my own style of ekphrastic poetry. I wake up every morning and log into my Tumblr account and scroll through my dashboard and usually a photograph or film still will grab my creative intention and I stop, open up a word file and let the visual inspiration spark a new poem. Although I’ve written poems inspired by paintings, like one I’ve had published this year at Ekphrastic California inspired by The Blue Boy, (1770) by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) oil on canvas on display at The Huntington Gallery in San Marino, California and often write poems inspired by color photographs found on Facebook and Instagram, there is something about trying to write a poem from a black and white photograph. As a poet, it’s more of a challenge. There are no colors, so we as poets, need to dig deep inside while trying to connect with the photograph and conjure up an interpretation that satisfies the creative curiosity of the reader.

I’ve written and had poems published inspired by photographs of Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve and Jazz trumpeter Chet Baker. I have to admit, one of my favorites poems, “Take Me to the Aquarium and Make Out with Me in the Jellyfish Room” was inspired by Dmitrijs Belokons black and white photo of an elderly couple kissing at an aquarium was published in a collection called Getting Old. It was only the silhouette of this couple, as I poet, I had to fill in the lines and create a portrait, bringing their ageless passion to life on the page. Most of the times, poems like this “Take Me to the Aquarium” flow out from my fingers and magically becomes verse.

But it takes dedication to search, scrolling through my dashboard and being open to every picture that appears in my feed. I have a philosophy that I follow when I am online:

When inspiration calls, you must accept the charges.

When I’m Tumblr, it’s to work and I have to be ready to write when the right photograph speaks to me. There’s a connection that wants to be made and most times the images connect with something I need to explore on the page. Bringing color to these images with my poems, is never easy but I love challenging myself, trying to expand my writing voice reflecting verses from these vintage photographs.

Bringing these images into focus with my poetry is a passion I’ve discovered online and one I am excited to share with other poets. I know I’m not the only writer who goes online to seek inspiration for their writing voice. As a poet, I always heed the words of Poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera who said, “Do not wait for a poem; a poem is too fast for you. Do not wait for the poem, run with the poem and then write the poem. And of course immerse yourself in a sea of books and poems. You want to be in that parade, that’s what you have to do.”

My course Your Voice Inside the Picture: Ekphrastic Poetry is for writers are eager to explore the art of writing poetry by using Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr as your spark of visual inspiration. If you are visually inspired by photographs and artworks, then my class is for you. We will learn the craft of ekphrastic poetry, taking those images and reflecting our impressions on the page as poetry.

I wouldn’t be teaching Internet your Senses and Tumblr Towards Creativity without Francesca Lia Block’s inspiration. Thank You to Francesca for making me realize I needed to embrace technology, connect with my writing audience, harness my creative energies, and share my knowledge of using the internet to inspire poetry.

Adrian’s class Your Voice Inside the Picture: Ekphrastic Poetry begins Monday, September 10. Sign up here!

Adrian Ernesto Cepeda is the author of the forthcoming full-length poetry collection Flashbacks & Verses… Becoming Attractions from Unsolicited Press and the poetry chapbook So Many Flowers, So Little Time from Red Mare Press. His poetry has been featured in The Yellow Chair Review, Frontier Poetry, poeticdiversity, The Wild Word, The Fem, Rigorous, and Lunch Ticket’s Special Issue: Celebrating 20 Years of Antioch University Los Angeles MFA in Creative Writing.

To date, Adrian has over one hundred and twenty five poems published in over a hundred different publications.  One of his poems was named the winner of Subterranean Blue Poetry’s 2016 “The Children of Orpheus” Anthology Contest and two of his poems “Buzz Me” and “Estranged Fruit” were nominated for Best of the Net in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Adrian also had one of his poems “Longing for Our Airport Reconnections” featured in Shinpei Takeda’s Poems of Arrival for the Inscription Installation Exhibit at the New Americans Museum in San Diego, California.

Adrian is an LA Poet and graduate of MFA program at Antioch University in Los Angeles where he lives with his wife and their cat Woody Gold. You can connect with Adrian on his website: http://www.adrianernestocepeda.com/

 

How to Kick Miss Nibs to the Curb and Finally Own Your Sentences

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by Kate Maruyama

GRAMMAR! Grammarian. Correct grammar. Poor grammar. Good grammar. Eeek! For many these words are terrifying and I’ve got a pretty good idea why.

I’ve taught writing to all ages, from grade school to graduate school, undergraduate students or grownups who just want to write.

One constant I’ve encountered in all varieties of writers is a nasty residue I like to call the Ms. Nibs factor. It seems like all of my students, no matter their background, have been at one time or another in their life– most likely in their grammar school or in high school–smacked down for their writing in one way or another. English teachers in primary school tend to function on a rules and correction formula which is not the right formula for creative writing. And, unfortunately, as we’ve all had English teachers, no matter how good we get at creative writing, we carry that “I’m doing it wrong” Ms. Nibs hangover from our past. This sometimes rears its ugly head when we are sitting down to write. It prevents many students I know from writing at all.

We carry with us every criticism we’ve received on our writing and very often, every red mark we’ve seen on a paper. When we get notes from editors, it stings in the same way.

And somehow, when the word “grammar” comes up, it lands in the Miss Nibs category, and can lead to mini nervous breakdowns.

The truth is grammar is just the mechanics of how sentences are put together. It’s the terminology for each word you use and why you use it. And it’s essential for a writer’s toolbox.  The way to rid yourself of that baffled Miss Nibs feeling is to take hold of this toolbox and start wielding your verbs more mightily, owning your modifying clauses and discovering the music and the function of your sentences.

Once you have already written a draft (no one should get in the way of that creative process, especially not Miss Nibs,) it is time to go back into your prose and make sure each word is doing what it is meant to do and is chosen for maximum impact. Having a firm handle on how all these details work makes that final polish solid. Before you hand your work over to an editor, a beta reader, a potential agent, you have the tools to see that beyond creativity, story, and character, your writing is clear and powerful and has fully embraced the parameters of the language. And in doing this you have served your story well.

Kate Maruyama’s course, Grammar Redux: Comprehensive Tools for Writers begins on January 15th.

Kate Maruyama’s novel HARROWGATE was published by 47North. Her short work has appeared in Arcadia, Stoneboat, Whistling Shade and on Salon, Duende, The Rumpus among other journals as well as in two anthologies: Winter Horror Days and Phantasma: Stories. She teaches in the BA and MFA programs for Antioch University Los Angeles as well as for Writing Workshops Los Angeles and the inspiration2publication program. She writes, teaches, cooks and eats in Los Angeles where she lives with her family.

 

 

Mining Neighborhood Treasures for Writing

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Blog post Julie Graham

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

Here’s what I know about the little town I’ve lived in for the last 20 years, a small village by the Santa Monica Bay that basks in its relative isolation from the thrumming street life of Venice and Santa Monica. I know these factoids by osmosis, just from living here, talking with friends who have lived here all their life, reading the local paper, and walking the neighborhood:

  1. In the 1920’s an exclusive group of rich and powerful men built a ranch in a canyon below Sunset Boulevard and called it, and themselves, the Uplifters Club. The name was a play on words, since they supported the arts by promoting and uplifting artistic endeavors, but also because they drank heavily (uplifting drinks to their mouths) during the prohibition era in speakeasies hidden around the ranch.
  2. In a mansion overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Thelma Todd, a famous and beloved actress, was murdered in1935. The mystery of who killed her and why has never been solved.
  3. A meditation center and shrine surrounded by a lush garden sits on a spring-fed lake at the edge of town. On the edge of the lake sits a windmill which has been converted into a chapel.
  4. In the mountains above my town sit the ruins of what was to be Hitler’s North American compound, had Germany won. It’s now a hiking destination and a graffiti artist’s dreamscape.
  5. A new street mall designed by a local developer is set to open next year, with nods to historical buildings of yesteryear.
  6. A small Italian restaurant next to the local Starbucks has a Hookah club after hours, members only.
  7. A champion Muay Thai boxer teaches and trains in a local martial arts studio. He’s the only man in the world who has ever won World Boxing titles with only one arm. He goes by the nickname “The One Armed Bandit.”

What do these factoids about my town have in common? Any one of them could be become a travel essay.  The truth is, any fun fact — large or small — about your own hometown can make fascinating reading; the possibilities for travel writing are endless.

As a travel writer, this is how I look at any place I go, even if it’s just around the corner. What would I want people to know if I had to write about this place, or this person. What’s unique to the story? Recently, for instance, I wondered why there are different types of trees planted on each block in the neighborhood?  What’s the city planning history behind this section of my town? And why is my street the only one in the town with a Japanese name?

I’ve lived in many urban areas that have infinite places of interest to write about and I’ve lived small bedroom communities too. Although it seemed at the time that there was nothing exciting about those humble suburban towns, in hindsight through the lens of travel narrative, I can now think of a dozen ideas that would make great reading. There are stories everywhere we look — journeying miles across oceans to find them is not necessary.

Seeing your neighborhood, town or city through the eyes of a travel writer is an incredible way to connect to your town.  Writing it into a travel essay connects your hometown, and a bit of yourself, to the rest of the world.

Learn more about writing your own place in Julie’s class, Crafting Your Hood: Travel Writing from Your Own Backyard

Julie Graham has written award-winning articles on Halloween in Obidos, Portugal, theater costuming in Berkley, California and izakaya-hopping in Tokyo.  Her work has appeared in Pilot Getaways, including destination vacation pieces on Sundance, Utah and St. Helena, Carmel and San Diego, California. Although trained as a news journalist, her penchant is for literary travel essays and memoir.  She earned her degree in Communications and Journalism from Mills College and her Masters in Creative Writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles.  Julie has two teenaged kids and a dog named Jasper; all of them drive her crazy, but when she travels, she misses them fiercely.