Author Pep Talks

Motivation & Inspiration

2020 has been absolutely apocalyptic, making writing and being creative even harder. But I’ve written through tragedy before. I wrote my first novel as a teenager in my father’s hospice room.

Back then, writing was the thread between me & this immense pain and grief and what was on the other side–my future, my dreams. I wrote my way to them, one word at a time.

That doesn’t mean writing on deadline or drafting new projects this year was a breeze. But I found myself using many of the survival tactics & coping mechanisms I’ve become all too familiar with over the years & was grateful that I’d cultivated those skills before the pandemic hit, my mother-in-law lost her battle to cancer, and my grandfather was re-diagnosed.

This podcast is for any writer who’s struggled this year, who’s been scared. The writers I’m interviewing know hardship. But most importantly, they know how to write through it.

Through biweekly interviews, exclusive pep talks from their hearts to yours, they’ll be telling us how they do it. And by finding inspiration in their stories and taking their advice, it’s my hope that we can learn how to write through this hellscape too.

Check out the introduction here.

Like and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts or check out the homepage on Anchor.

There’s also an Author Pep Talks website! Check it out to find more information about the authors, as well as links to any resources mentioned in the episode.

And there’s even a form for you to submit your own pep talk. So if you’re an author who has experience maintaining a creative practice through difficult times, please fill it out so I can get in touch for an interview. Some of the topics we’ve covered so far include chronic pain and other health issues, anxiety, depression, difficult family dynamics, and multi-generational trauma.

These conversations have been so nourishing for me personally & I really hope that they feed your creative spirit the same way. I care so deeply for all of my fellow authors and I have desperately wanted to hug each and every one of you during this devastating season of pain and loss. So consider this that hug.

I love you. I made this for you. And I hope that knowing you’re not alone in this–in the grief and the doubt and the fear–makes your writing journey just a little bit easier.

Here are those links again

Podcast: https://bit.ly/38yruWS 

Website: https://www.authorpeptalkspod.com/ 

Twitter: https://bit.ly/2LYFKQY Instagram: https://bit.ly/34Kow0f

A Non-writing Work Day

Marketing & Promotion, Writing Process

I have been a full-time author for seven months. In that time I’ve turned in a draft of the second book on my contract, finished and sold two picture book manuscripts, and revised and sold a middle grade novel. But for the past seven weeks while waiting on my edit letter for my second YA novel, I’ve been taking a step back from writing and exploring other creative outlets.

When I was teaching, writing was my escape. Now that writing is my full-time job, I needed another. So I recently started a podcast called Author Pep Talks, which is a podcast on writing through grief, trauma, and heartache, in which I interview authors who have personal experience balancing writing with difficult experiences and who offer advice on how to maintain a creative practice even when it feels like everything else in the world is falling apart.

The introduction aired on Christmas day and the first episode went live just yesterday! So please check it out and if you enjoy the first episode, remember to like and subscribe!

I’ve also been working on launching a podcast for an organization I’m a part of called Las Musas. The teaser went live on December 28th and the first episode airs on Monday, January 4th. There are a few ongoing series all about debut year and then an “Ask a Musa” series where we’ll be answering listener questions. I hope you’ll give it a listen and follow us wherever you enjoy your podcasts.

Right now, these two endeavors have absolutely no ties to my income and I love it. It’s so nice to be working on these passion projects that allow me to be creative in a whole new way. I’ve learned to edit audio files, have become so much more comfortable listening to my own voice on a recording, and I’ve met so many awesome people who I wouldn’t have otherwise reached out to.

I’m also three months out from debut so I’m taking care of lots of admin-related tasks, such as sending out ARCs, creating graphics for social media, and planning virtual events for April. So I thought I’d give those who are curious a snapshot of what a “non-writing work day” looks like for me as of late.

7:00 AM
The puppy is awake! Take her out to potty and then hold her teething ring while she gnaws on it. Try to share her doing something cute on my Insta stories like wriggling under the bed or sucking on her hedgehog but it’s tough because she’s camera shy.

8:00 AM
Gambit’s awake and everyone’s hungry. I feed the dogs, take my vitamins, and eat a breakfast bar. There wasn’t any rain last night so we play in the backyard, which as per usual, is me and Gambit playing fetch while Storm has the zoomies.

9:00 AM
Storm’s getting sleepy. I turn off all the lights and pretend to nap until Storm dozes off. Really I’m checking email on my phone.

9:15 AM
I put Storm back in her crate for a nap and finally grab my laptop. I answer emails, create my checklist for the day, and then begin working my way through it.

Today, my checklist looked like this:
1. Read edit letter & jot down notes.
2. Read editors in-line comments & jot down notes
3. Finish blog post on reflections over 7-week break
4. Write new blog post on identity & POV characters
5. Write *this blog post* about my schedule on a non-writing work day
6. Edit episode three of the Author Pep Talks podcast
7. Record the intro/outro for episode 3
8. Record pep talks #2 & #3
9. Send emails to creative writing teachers to schedule virtual school visits
10. Write 4 librarian postcards for a total of 9/50
11. Look for tea blends to send my grandfather
12. Create the social graphics for Author Pep Talks launch day

9:30 AM
I read my editor’s edit letter and am relieved that no issues were pointed out that I wasn’t already expecting. I jot some notes in my phone of possible solutions to some character development issues. Then I open the manuscript and read her in-line comments, savoring the really nice ones.

10:00 AM
I hop on WordPress and finish writing the blog post I started the night before. I tend to be struck by inspiration for blog posts all at once so I’ll be prepping and scheduling multiple posts today.

After I finish the blog post reflecting on the seven weeks I just spent taking a break from writing, I switch to writing a blog post about identity and POV characters. I use notes from a presentation I gave recently as a basis for the post and detail how I try to make ethical choices as a storyteller by “staying in my lane” in terms of writing rep for pov characters. After I schedule the post, I move on to this one and outline what a non-writing workday looks like for me until I’m interrupted by the dogs again.

12:00 PM
Gambit wakes up the puppy but it’s okay because it’s lunch time and I need a break. We go outside and Storm finds a piece of trash and I chase her around the backyard for twenty minutes until she gets tired and collapses in the grass. I play fetch with Gambit until he’s tired and then they both lay in the sun while I make my lunch.

12:30 PM
I’m one of those people who eats the same thing for lunch every single day. Mind you, I will go through phases in which I switch it up but I can go months eating the same meal and still enjoy it. For the past few weeks I’ve been eating a giant Honey crisp apple with almond butter, cheese, and salted pretzels.

1:00 PM
I play with the dogs some more–tug-of-war with a ratty rope we should have thrown away a long time ago but haven’t because for some reason they love it–and then I hold Storm’s teething hedgehog until she finally starts to get sleepy again.

1:50 PM
I feed Storm a little early since she’s starting to get sleepy. Gambit doesn’t get lunch so he pouts on the couch.

2:00 PM
Storm goes down for a nap and I set up my mic in my office to record some things for my Author Pep Talks podcast, which includes an intro and outro for the third interview and two short episodes where I give a pep talk to writers.

3:00 PM
Storm wakes up an hour early from her nap! I play with the dogs AGAIN but they’re being lazy so I try to work on filling out some postcards for librarians at the kitchen table while they lounge in the sun. This doesn’t work and when Storm starts digging holes I bring them inside.

4:00 PM
Storm’s sleepy but she won’t let me put her in her crate for a nap so I put on the Ariana Grande concert on Netflix for the dogs while I add some more timestamps to this blog post. Storm is fascinated and doesn’t take her eyes off the screen.

4:30 PM
The intro for the Author Pep Talks podcast goes up in a few days (I’m actually writing this on Thursday, December 24th) so I open Canva to make some promotional graphics. I also type up some copy to post with my Twitter and Instagram announcements.

5:00 PM
The Las Musas podcast launches next week so I go ahead and type up some copy for those promotional posts. Storm finally dozes off.

5:20 PM
I check Twitter to pull book news for the Las Musas newsletter, which I’m taking over in 2021.

5:30 PM
Storm wakes up again and I know I won’t be able to check anything else off my to-do list for the day so those leftover tasks will carry over for tomorrow.

In total, I got about four and a half hours of work done, which compared to my pre-puppy schedule isn’t a lot. But I’m so glad that I no longer have to squeeze in these tasks in between teaching, which means that those 5-7 days a week of working 4-ish hours really adds up quickly.

I’m also trying to see the positive in being forced to take breaks. Tending to the dogs helps ground me in the present and I love getting those much-needed doses of vitamin C while we play in the backyard together. Also, I’ve come to realize that play is so important. It’s joyous and liberating and just overall great for the soul.

Identity & Point of View Characters

Writing Process

There’s a lot of discussion going on about who should be allowed to write what and each time it’s usually brought on by a deal announcement detailing a white author writing from the point of view of a BIPOC character. We keep telling white authors to stop doing this…but they insist.

And while there are many nuances to this discussion and I understand how it can seem a bit complex and overwhelming, I thought I’d share my own process for determining how I create characters, which identities I allow myself to explore, and how I try to make ethical decisions while writing.

You may disagree with some of the boundaries I set but hopefully reading about my process will encourage you to ask yourself more questions before choosing to write an identity outside of your own.

For those of us writing for a particular identity or marginalized community, the goal is not just to tell stories that honor our own experiences, but also to tell stories that honor the experiences of others within our community.

We want kids to feel seen when they read our books. We want them to feel proud and important. And the last thing we want to do is cause a young person harm because our book unintentionally included bad or stereotypical representation of a particular group or community.

But what I’m really asking y’all to consider in the early idea development stage of your work is whether or not the lens through which you’re telling the story, or the story itself, is truly ethical.

We have a lot of power as storytellers to shape the way people think about or perceive others. We also have a lot of power to shape how people perceive themselves. So if we’re going to tell a story that includes members of a marginalized community, we need to recognize if we’re empowering that community through our telling of their story or if we’re exploiting them. And if the story falls more on the side of exploitation then we’re probably not the right person to be telling that story.

So how do you know if a story is within your realm of understanding or expertise? In other words, how far outside of yourself should you be allowed to stretch?

This is a tricky question and one that will likely yield a different answer for everyone. But when I’m conceptualizing a story, I try to stay within this center area where my lived experience overlaps in some way with the character’s lived experience.

This doesn’t mean that we always have the same exact experiences. But it means that my experiences are in close proximity to what I’m writing about.

For example, I’m Latina, and more specifically I identify as Chicana, which means that I can trace my ancestral roots back to Mexico, but my family has been living in the United States for four generations.

One of the protagonists in my debut novel shares this identity. She is also Chicana and her parents were born in the United States.

However, the other protagonist, is Mexican and living undocumented in the U.S. So for his character, I had to stretch. There are areas where our identities overlap but there are also aspects of his experience that I haven’t personally lived, which meant that I had to draw from somewhere else.

I was an ESL teacher for five years and most of my students were from Central and South America. And over the course of those five years, I developed relationships with those students, as well as their families. I also had the privilege of reading their writing, which offered an incredibly intimate look at what it was like for them and their families living in the U.S, as well as their journeys to getting here.

Because I spent such a significant amount of time with people from that community, because I care about them deeply, and because I also have present-day family members, as well as great-grandparents who immigrated to the U.S., I had an entry point into exploring Xander’s point of view in my work.

So this is my starting point and really the first question I ask myself: Do I have an organic and accessible entry point into this character’s POV?

Here are some other questions you might consider:

  1. Are you a member of this community?
  2. Do you interact with this community regularly?
  3. What’s personally at stake for you if this community is harmed?
  4. How do you support this community financially?
  5. Have you given more to this community than you have taken?
  6. Why are you better suited to tell this story than someone who actually belongs to this community?
  7. By telling this story are you amplifying marginalized voices or cancelling them out?
  8. Why are you choosing to tell this story instead of financially supporting the work of marginalized writers already telling these kinds of stories?
  9. What do you stand to lose if you choose not to tell this story?
  10. What does this marginalized community stand to gain from being allowed to tell their own stories?

For me, I think one of the most important questions on this list is: What’s personally at stake for you if this community is harmed?

In other words, if someone were to attack this community, would you also be in danger?

For me, this question in relation to my debut novel made me think about the shooting that took place in El Paso in 2019. The shooter wasn’t stopping people and asking for their papers before he opened fire. He was targeting a group based on their appearance and perceived cultural background.

So for me, there is something at stake if there is negative representation of Mexicans, Chicanes, or immigrants from Central and South America, because even though we are not a monolith, people outside of our community still see us as one.

But if you ask yourself that same question–what’s at stake for you if this community is harmed–and the answer is nothing…then I would recommend that you reconsider writing a Point of View character from that community.

Characters from diverse backgrounds outside of your own identity can certainly have a place in your story, and in fact, they should. But if you don’t have the tools or the driving stakes to do justice to that point of view, don’t make that character your protagonist and instead let someone belonging to that community tell that story instead.

With all of these things in mind, I choose not to stray from Chicane, Mexican, or anglo mixed-race Mexican Americans when crafting the identities for my characters. This means that I don’t write protagonists who are Afro-Latinx, Asian-Latinx, Indigenous, or any Latinx identity outside of Mexican or Chicane. I don’t write protagonists who are Venezuelan or Honduran or Cuban, etc. because I would rather buy books with protagonists from those backgrounds by authors who share those identities.

I do want to mention that I also try to set clear boundaries when it comes to intersectional identities. Most of my books explore themes of identity and mental health because these have been center to most of the transformational moments in my own life, as well as in the lives of my extended family members. Our mental health issues are genetic and my struggles with identity stem from a long history of keeping secrets. So these are the topics and characteristics I tend to stick to.

But mining your family or your family’s past for entry points into certain identities and lived experiences does not always yield ethical or realistic results. Be mindful of how far research alone can take you even if that research is coming first-hand from a family member you know and love. For example, my grandfather is very dark-skinned due to his indigenous ancestry. Although, I’ve witnessed colorism in my family, I don’t have the knowledge or the tools to be able to accurately portray the way he has physically experienced the world. Nor could I slip into the point of view of an indigenous person, even one living outside of tribal culture.

That’s the other thing–white people have a tendency to latch onto any old family story that even insinuates they have indigenous ancestry. But whether you have the DNA results to prove it or not, this does not give you license to write from an indigenous point of view.

When it comes to my own indigenous ancestry, I’m allowed to interact with it in the following ways: mourn the genocide of my ancestors, mourn its erasure from my identity, support and advocate for living indigenous peoples in any way I possibly can.

That’s it.

No appropriating. No performing. No writing from an indigenous POV.

So as you can see, I’ve not only had to examine all of the ways my identities intersect, all of my lived experiences, and all of my potential entry points into other points of view, but I’ve also had to reconcile those things with my beliefs and values in regards to ethical storytelling.

What’s most important to me is celebrating my own cultural legacy without appropriating someone else’s. And when you’re clear about those values, it’s really not that hard to do. If you don’t want to cause marginalized readers harm, then avoid doing things that cause them harm. Like writing from a POV that they have begged you countless times not to touch.

If you’re white, the history of the world has already been written from your point of view and living in your world is painful. So please, when it comes to books, let us have our own.

Absence makes the heart grow

Mental Health, Writing Process

I haven’t written anything in seven weeks.

Those first couple of days were panic-inducing, the week that followed terrifying. Then the terror eased to discomfort and then the discomfort finally gave way to something I haven’t felt in my creative life in so long…peace.

I was resting.

I was letting myself rest.

Something that has felt utterly impossible since becoming an adult. I am a master over-functioner, incredible at multitasking, and lost without my hustle. If I’m not doing, I’m spinning, my mind filling in the idle quiet with nightmare after nightmare until every cell in my body is convinced they’re real.

But here I am, seven weeks since closing scrivener, and I’m not spinning.

I’m not worrying or exhausted or wrecked with guilt.

I’m ready.

I’m excited.

I’m actually looking forward to receiving my edit letter for book two and I can’t wait to dive back into this story. I can’t remember the last time I longed for writing. I don’t think I’ve ever spent enough time away from it to warrant missing it.

But I do. And I’ve come to realize that that longing, that excitement about getting back to work, is a crucial piece of my creative process that has been missing. For years, I’ve been running on empty, sustained by fear and the pressure to produce. But not only is that unsustainable, it’s unkind.

And I deserve kindness.

In my work, in my art, and in my relationships (especially my relationship with myself) I deserve to experience joy. Because it’s as much fuel for creativity as the fear and anxiety and all of the other things that typically propel me forward. Except joy burns so much brighter.

Joy illuminates all the beauty we miss when we’re stuck in a cycle of worry and doubt.

So not only has this time away helped me find the joy in writing again, it’s also expanded my view of my own creative process. It’s taught me that creating and toiling aren’t one and the same and that struggle is not the only sign of progress.

I can make things without breaking some part of me to do it.

I can make things without breaking.

Rest

Mental Health, Writing Process

Usually when people talk about the importance of rest, I’m like…who?

I listen when people tell me it’s important. I try to convince myself of it too. But every weekend and every evening I have the same tug-of-war with myself over whether I’m actually willing to put it into practice.

I blame this on a few things. First, my father was self-employed and worked constantly. Second, my grandfather worked on a farm until his late 70s. Third, there is nothing my Mexican-America family shit-talks about more than people who are “lazy.” Fourth, being a teacher taught me to abuse myself in so many ways, including overworking. Fifth, being hyper productive is a symptom of my anxiety.

Overworking has been the norm in my life but it’s also a characteristic that has been passed down through generations. Other Latinx people, other BIPOC, and other descendants of immigrants may recognize this need to over perform and how it often stems from viewing the U.S. as a meritocracy even though it isn’t one. There’s this false belief among BIPOC, as well as white supremacists, that only BIPOC with certain characteristics have value.

We’ve seen this bullshit opinion in the national discourse as recent as this week.

And it’s this notion that reinforces the fact that BIPOC must be perfect in order to be accepted. We have to be the first one in the office and the last one to leave. We have to be the model employee who never asks for a raise and never complains about what we’re getting paid. We have to do the work no one else wants to do. We have to be polite and full of gratitude.

We have to adopt western affinities for capitalism even though it’s killing us. We have to work ourselves to the bone in the hopes that our children may be able to move up a single rung on the ladder of success. We must rid ourselves of our own definition of success and adopt someone else’s. Then we must strive for it until the day we die.

When my father died, what impacted me the most was all of things he never got to do. He never got to retire. He never got to rest.

It haunts me.

But there’s another apparition; other ghosts that send a chill down my spine. My ancestors–every person who has come before me and worked and worked and worked so that I could be higher up on the ladder. How can I tell them that the ladder isn’t real? That I’m getting off. That I don’t want to play this game anymore.

I want to step off the ladder.

I want to smash it to pieces and set it on fire so no other family can hang their hopes on it. So no other person can cling to it with white knuckles. So no other person can feel like a failure.

A failure.

I feel the words against my ear. Another ghost. Warning me not to step off the ladder. Pleading with me to climb higher. To carry the people I love on my back.

But I want to rest, I think. I just want to rest.

Rest, they say. Who is that?