GTA Mentoring Program: The Art of Persistence

I’m so grateful that I was chosen for this mentorship program and paired with Carrianne Leung. Having the support of a talented and wise writer in the solitary process of completing a collection is an amazing development, which I believe will guide my collection to a deeper, braver place and push me further than I can go alone.

I started this collection of linked stories during the years that I working abroad as a journalist. I’d begun to see connections between the comforts of life in Canada and problems in Papua New Guinea, Bangladesh, Nepal, El Salvador — wherever I was. I turned to fiction for the freedom it gave me to explore these links and soon I was applying for an MFA. At Rutgers-Newark, friends and teachers guided my incipient stories into more personal reflections on race, war, sex, and art. Recently, I’ve been working on a frame story to turn the collection into a novel, but I’ve discovered that the frame has taken on a life of its own. So now I’m working on two books — a collection and a novel.

The first short story I ever wrote came to me fully-formed, as though it had been waiting to be birthed. That’s never happened again. Usually a situation or scene will come upon me. I respond by taking notes and building a world. Then I plod my way through a first draft, a foggy and frustrating process. The ideas on the screen never quite match their potential in my mind. But somewhere between the second and sixth draft, alchemy usually sparks and the story starts to reveal itself. 

If it wasn’t so presumptuous I’d ask Alice Munro to come out of retirement (and maybe pick up some Spanish) so that she could turn her philosopher’s gaze in my direction and pluck insights about the human condition from my life, insights that I clearly am missing because I am not Alice Munro.  

In my perfect world, everyone who wanted to write could. They’d be free to spend their days penning stories for eager audiences in a green, flowered world without war and waste.

A decade from now I will have completed this story collection and first novel. As well, a trilogy for middle-grade readers that I shelved a little while back will be in the hungry hands of Latina girls who aren’t yet seeing themselves enough in literature. I imagine I’ll have faced an absurd number of rejections along the way, but as a necessary consequence I will by then have also learned the art of persistence.