Friday, January 10, 2020

A Decade in the Life of a Chicana Author

Melinda Palacio

2010 Santa Barbara

2010: La Bloga Newbie
One of the best things about the past decade is finding my voice on La Bloga. La Bloga was the first online journal for Latino authors that I followed. This Chicana author was happy to have found a home here. It was a cold AWP conference for writers and writers programs in Denver where Manuel Ramos asked me to join. I remember being a little nervous about having something to say every Friday. The fact that I could write about anything or simply put up some photos made the decision easy. Why not? Eventually, Ramos came back to the fold and we share Fridays. This same year, Michael Sedano introduced the Festival de Flor y Canto de Atzlan reunion to USC, its archives span from 1973-2010.

2010 is also the year my first book was published. Folsom Lockdown, winner of the Kulupi Press Sense of Place award. The small chapbook represented a milestone. I visited my father in Folsom Prison the year before and over one weekend began writing the poems that would make up the chapbook. My father is now out of prison and we are less estranged than we were when I first went to visit him in 2009. The past decade has included more publications in journals and magazines and hundreds of rejections. If you want to be a writer, you need to celebrate the rejections and not let them create roadblocks to your goals.

I took a trip with my sister and friend to Panama, where I met some of my father's relatives. Since I didn't grow up with my father, Panama was a place I never thought I'd visit, a mythical place that belonged to the world of my father. I'm glad my sister (whom I also did not grow up with) encouraged me to go.

Later in 2011, my first full-length book was published. Thanks to my connection to La Bloga's Daniel Olivas, who published a short story of mine in 2008 in Latinos in Lotusland, Arizona State University published my novel, Ocotillo Dreams, also found a literary home at ASU's Bilingual Press. Although the novel about immigration in Arizona is fiction, it was certainly a dream come true to see my book in print by a University Press.

I was on a publishing roll the beginning of the decade. Tía Chucha Press published my first full-length poetry book. Earlier in 2007, when I was a PEN USA Emerging Voices fellow, I had the pleasure of getting to know Luis J. Rodriguez. I was more than thrilled when he accepted my manuscript for How Fire Is a Story, WaitingOcotillo Dreams was still in play as it won a PEN Oakland Josefine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature and the Mariposa Award for Best First Book at the International Latino Book Awards. I also had the pleasure of going to Cuba.

I was happy to mentor students at the University of Arkansas in Monticello through their online MFA Program. Working with students online certainly had its challenges. I much prefer a one-on-one interaction, but I'd like to do more. Students have a way of teaching their instructors and mentors new skills. In 2013, How Fire Is a Story, Waiting was a finalist for the Milt Kessler Poetry Award and the Paterson Poetry Prize.

The main thing I remember about 2014 is breaking my leg. If you ever get the urge to run down three flights of stairs carrying a heavy bag of books in each hand and wearing mule shoes with no straps, don't do it. The thought of the four months I spent in bed and that lighting pain moment of realizing my foot was facing the wrong direction sends shivers down my spine. Thank you Southern Orthopedic Specialists in New Orleans for putting me back together. I'm lucky I can walk, run, jump, and dance again. A positive attitude saved me from myself. It's easy to become depressed when your life is upended. I continued to read, write, and enter work for contests and publication. A poem that I wrote about my broken leg made it into the Coiled Serpents Anthology and I was a finalist in the Rita Dove Poetry Award and the Faulkner Wisdom Competition.

With my recovery complete, I was free to jump back into writing and speaking. What I remember most about that year is having a poem chosen by the Academy of American Poets, the Praying Tree. In 2014, I broke my leg and in 2015 the house broke and we had some flooding that led to a long remodel. Sometimes it's hard to shake off an unfortunate streak, but at least the proverbial silver lining came in form of fixing up the house to how I would design it. Thieves also broke into the house that year, but only stole Steve's jars of quarters and one strand of pearls.

One of the worst years was the year my grandmother died. I spent a month taking care of her before she decided that she had had enough of this earth. I remember very little else. I started and abandoned several projects. I didn't know it at the time, but eventually I would create something from the tragedy in the form of the poem, What the Birds Know, and a song, Bird Forgiveness for the project that would eventually become a book. Grief is never easy. When my mother died in 1994, I thought I wouldn't be long for this earth myself. Yet, I have survived my mother and grandmother, as most people do.

A year after my grandmother's death, Steve surprised me with a trip to Tahiti. Tahiti has always been at the top of my bucket list and I fell in love with the place and the people. The Spring trip brought so much joy and a welcome reunion with our car. A month before the trip, our Honda Green Element was stolen from the driveway. Steve and I gave up on ever getting the car back. While we were at LAX, about to take off for Tahiti, a call came in from a towing garage saying that they had found and towed the car. Lucky for us, we were able to retrieve it when we returned from our trip.

2018 was the year Steve and I celebrated ten years of marriage. I also became obsessed with playing guitar. In November, Steve bought me a Martin guitar for my birthday. Music also helps me roll with the punches and all those rejection slips. For every publication, fellowship and grant application, dozens of rejection notes follow, not to mention the ones that don't bother to let you know you didn't make the cut. Thanks to Andrea Watson at 3 Taos Press who published my poetry book Bird Forgiveness. This is the book that has its own theme song. I've since written a few more songs, but the Bird Forgiveness  theme song will forever have a special place as being my first song. Steve told me I should write songs because I'm a poet. I didn't believe I had the ability to write a song until the melody popped into my head. Another highlight was our trip to Ireland; there's so much more to say about all the places I was fortunate enough to visit this past decade, including the banana festival in Kentucky and Memphis on the way back.

The end of 2019 was last week. This is the year I think I've finally finished my next novel. Only an acceptance of publication will tell me that it is indeed finished. A wise person said that books are never finished only abandoned. Sometimes your editor takes the manuscript from your critical hands. I'm still looking for such an editor. I've written more poems, songs, and stories.

Meeting students who see themselves in my writing and who thank me for sharing my work is one of the most rewarding experiences. It fuels me during those dry spells of rejections. Recently, I've had the pleasure of also sharing my music along with my poetry and fiction. Here's to the next decade, and thanks to my online ukulele teacher for asking about my accomplishments in the last decade. Did I mention I started learning the ukulele online? I'm also taking singing lessons. There's so much more that happened this past decade, but my computer is running out of juice and I'm on the road, my eyes beg for sleep. Cheers and happy new year. Know your voice and vote count.

2019 Monterey 

1 comment:

Flavia Valla aka CA Towhee said...

So interesting to reflect on the years in this way...changes and events that come and go, new points of view and old ones that we're amazed we ever had. Amor a la vida seems to have been the theme of your 20-teens, Melinda!