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8.10.2010

Notes from Los Angeles, Day 2

The first thing I want to say when I wake up is: "This bed is so comfy I could die!" For a writer's retreat, this is aliminal space where I can pretend I am living the life of a(n ideal) real life writer. I even get to eat a lot, that is, three square meals a day, instead of grabbing something here or there. It's a retreat in every sense of the word and I am enjoying every moment of it.

Today was the first day of classes. The fiction class starts at 9 and thanks to my jet lag, I was already up by seven-ish. The class today was the basics, a quick and dirty version of things we should know, perhaps already.

Nicola is everything I ever wanted in a teacher. She's English, for example, and even when she curses it sounds elegant. She tells us about recording herself reading her stories. Her agent tells her she sounds more literary when she reads them. We think it's in the accent.

She also gives you all the tools you need to write something. She even gives you an easy, no-fail formula to use while you write: Exactly the right words, in exactly the right places. If you do that right, you have a bestseller and a literary classic in your hand! But one word out of place, you have crap.

Also: rarely use present tense and first person. I gulped in my head when she said this and hid my face behind my notebook. I have three stories submitted to be workshopped and all of them are in first person, present tense (but it was in good reason). But I can only wait until Nicola tells me my work sucks and to rewrite them in past tense third person.

Also: kill my darlings.

Actually, the last one is a known rule in writing, and I had a lecture about it from Carla Trujilo, a queer chicana novelist whose session was helpful in terms of revision and editing, etc. She's worked with Sandra Cisneros for over six years, meaning she knows what she's talking about. For example: You need help. Also: You must be extraordinary, not just good. Also: Writing is subversive. Also: Drinking sometimes help...

Also: write from that pure place in your heart.

The last I think all of us are doing here. I was afraid I was going to meet pretenious writers here. People who go: I have a book out, and I know more than you--Ha! Ha! Ha! Yet these people are friendly and dedicated to their craft. They love literature, pure and simple. We talk about it on lunch and dinner breaks. One author says he gets about $2 for every book sold; another says she get royalties and about a $600 advance on her work--which is something but not everything. The people here are teachers/professors, bookstore workers, DJs, community activists--yet here we are for a week of writing. And we are writers--forget about living the writing life because if you're writing you already are living the writing life. You have the passion and that's about enough. It not the ideal life of, say, Stephen King, but it's some type of life and I wasn't even sure I was supposed to fit into some type of life anyway.

Tony asked me what do I see myself doing in life and I've been asked this plenty of times. In job interviews I say the script: "I see myself being here for the rest of my life, but only in a higher position," or sometimes "I see myself in your position *wait for dramatic pause* of course after you get a promotion..." But this retreat has given me the opportunity to say it all proudly and truthfully: I want to write for the rest of my life.

How am I gonna do this? We'll see. If all fails, I can be pretend I'm Jack Kerouac and travel the country...

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