My third book of fiction Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories comes out this fall from Jaded Ibis Press and the please-look-at-me part of being a writer has begun. It started with my publisher asking for blurbs on my behalf. It’s a big thing to ask, given that it’s a request for someone’s time. It’s also a request for that person’s name. Two gigantic asks, so I’m hugely grateful for the blurbs that have come in so far.

That first please-look-at-me step of asking for blurbs leads to others like this one: sharing the blurbs to start convincing you months before the book is available that you should put it on your own personal “most anticipated” list.

Ivelisse Rodriguez, the author of Love War Stories, a finalist for the 2019 Pen/Faulkner Award, encapsulated so well my intent for the book.

“We have all been Angie Rubio, voiceless, rejected, but always on the precipice of being more. Throughout this endearing collection, you will become more than a reader, you will become Angie’s champion until the world she inhabits catches up. Miscolta writes with heart for all the brown girls who feel invisible. These stories say with love and sincerity: I see you.”

On the topic of feeling invisible, please don’t let Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories be invisible. Let it be seen the way Angie Rubio becomes seen in the book. For instance, when she is told in the fourth grade that she’s in the dumb class and she stands up to create even a tiny moment of mayhem in rebellion. Or when her white nemesis, cast as Juliet in the school play, taunts Angie with “Don’t forget who the heroine of this play is,” and Angie replies: “She dies in the end.” Or any number of similar acts of defiance that may seem small but in fact are lifesavers. Be a champion for Angie!

Somiah Kamal is the author of two books of fiction, An Isolated Incident and Unmarriageable, both of which have garnered acclaim. Her first sentence is a precise list of the themes of Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories.

“Donna Miscolta has written a captivating short story collection on identity, alienation, belonging and the meaning of friendship and family. Miscolta carefully and delicately layers the moments and memories that go into making a life and a person. Angie Rubio will carve a space in your heart and, long after you’ve turned the last page, you’ll be rooting for her, for all the Angie Rubios out there.”

Who hasn’t felt alienated and friendless? And there it is again, a prediction that Angie will inspire your support, your cheers, your applause. Like when she carries the class play even though she doesn’t have an acting role. Or when she takes the microphone to give a rousing speech about sex. Root for Angie!

Kathleen Alcalá is the author of six, yes six, books, including Spirits of the Ordinary. Her work has garnered awards and high praise. She boils Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories down to its essence.

“Angie Rubio shows us how to survive as a smart girl-of-color in a world gone mad during the 1960s. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be glad the selfie had not yet been invented.”

Angie is all about survival in the face of microaggressions, lost opportunities, and closed doors. But do laugh with her. Cry with her. Experience with her the humiliation of being shut down in her attempt to share a civil rights story for Current Events. Share her relief at her surrender to the multiple Catholic school eyes upon her sins. And, yes, be glad that she was never able to record a selfie of the home permanent her aunt inflicted upon her unsuspecting head. Angie survives it all.

Yay for smart girls of color!

Yay for readers who support smart girls of color!

Look for Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories in fall 2020!

I have one firmly defined and achievable resolution, and I have one that is maybe not a resolution after all, but some vague hope. But I’m making a connection between that resolution and that hope, because I’m making a connection between that resolution and everything in my life.

My resolution: To be able to have conversations in Spanish with a decent level of fluency. I want to, as Nacho of NachoTime Spanish says, get out of Intermediate Spanish Purgatory. It’s where I’ve languished for years. But no more.

2020 is the year of thinking and speaking in Spanish for me. I’m practicing every day and trying to speak in Spanish as I go about my daily activities, which is why my resolution connects to everything else happening in my life this year. One of those things is the publication of my new book of fiction, my third. It’s called Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories, and I love it and I love Angie Rubio, and I’m hoping whoever reads it will love it and her too.

I’m a small press author with name recognition within a few-miles radius of Elliott Bay Book Company, the epicenter of literary Seattle, a bookstore that is bighearted in its support of local authors. Like any author, I await the arrival of my book in the world with both excitement and an unhealthy dose of anxiety and catastrophizing. Amid all the other books this year, the years before, and the years to come, will anyone find and read my book?

Lately I’ve been seeing the lists on social media. You know the ones? The most anticipated books of 2020 in all its permutations – YA, fiction, writers of color – and the various listers – BuzzFeed, Vogue, Goodreads, Bustle, The Millions, Ms.

How are such lists compiled? How does one’s book get listed?

My book doesn’t come out until fall. We’re still in the cover design and please-blurb-my-book stages. Have I missed the list boat? Has that publicity ship sailed?

My fretting about the lists was somewhat tempered when I came across this tweet on Twitter:

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Somers followed up with this tweet:

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Yes, obvious. But of course, if I were ever to be on a list, I would not complain.

As I said, here’s where the connection to my resolution to learn Spanish well enough to have conversations sin esfuerzo y con fluidez comes in. As I go about my day, everything I do or react to, I try to describe or respond to it in Spanish to train my brain to think in Spanish. For instance, regarding lists, I might say something like this (with a shout-out to Jenny, my Spanish teacher when I was in Quito, who drilled me on the subjective):

Pero, seguramente, si yo estuviera en una lista, no me podría quejar.

Which is to say, But surely if I were on a list, I wouldn’t complain.

The Spanish doesn’t just roll off my tongue, since my brain is still spending a little too much time hunting for the words. But with daily practice, I figure I can accustom both brain and tongue to deliver sentences with an acceptable level of fluency.

So, with the help of various YouTube Spanish teachers, I’m learning phrases and expressions that could be relevant to the highs and lows of having a book come out in the world.

2020-01-14-15.pngFrom Maria, la creadora colombiana of Why Not Spanish? comes this advice for Spanish-language learners, but which is good advice for cualquier cosa:

Lo peor que puedas hacer es comparate con otra persona. No tiene sentido.

The worst thing you can do is compare yourself with another person. It doesn’t make sense. (Highly sensible, no?)

2020-01-14-16-e1579113147528.pngFrom Barcelona, Nacho of NachoTime Spanish advises those of us learning Spanish to write sentences each day.

Escribir sirve para pensar mejor.

Writing helps you think better.
It’s a good reminder of why we write – for our own edification.

2020-01-14-17.pngAlso from Barcelona, Karo and Mauro of Español Automático include these among the actions of those who are successful in learning languages:

Haz tu trabajo.
Poner de tu parte.

Do your work.
Do your part.

Focus on the writing and do what you can to help your press promote your book.

2020-01-14-18.pngFrom mexicanos Beto and Hector on No Hay Tos, I borrow this expression to describe the fact that I have a book coming out from the lovely folks at Jaded Ibis Press:

¡Que chido!

How cool!

 

 

 

 

This past year I read good books and experienced good things. Here are a few of each of them matched up in a semi-random, teeny bit calculated way, introduced by a few lines from the featured book.

From “1989” in How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, a deeply perceptive and intelligent collection of essays by Alexander Chee:

35721123._SY475_Everyone is running now and everywhere batons rise. The screams lift out of the street, and in restaurants up and down the block doors are locked and the diners are informed.

In “1989,” Chee writes about the AIDS march in San Francisco and the response of the riot police to the disruption of traffic. It’s a short, powerful essay about his realization that the police were directing their brutality not just at the people who were protesting, but at what they were fighting for – all of this happening in the country he lived in.

I read this essay months before I went to Ecuador, landing during street protests in Quito where students, workers, and indigenous activists were tear-gassed by police and military units. This was not my country, but I sided with the people and their demands for social and economic justice.

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From The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, which won the 2018 National Nook Award for Fiction:

the_friend_newdogRather than write about what you know, you told us, write about what you see. Assume that you know very little and that you’ll never know much until you learn how to see. Keep a notebook to record things that you see, for example when you’re out in the street.

I read this beautiful book on our flight to Spain in May. A woman grieving the death of her lifelong best friend recalls the above advice from him. I’ve never been good about keeping a journal or recording thoughts and observations in a notebook. But during the three weeks we were in Spain, at the end of each day I logged our activities, typing them into my phone, including this incident in Segovia: We arrived at the tiny Casa-Museo Antonio Machado to find it closed during the siesta hours. On the step outside sat two middle-aged men, one of them reciting poetry in beautiful, lilting tones, and the other listening, nodding. I missed out on seeing the museum, but I was grateful to have witnessed that.

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From “As Luck Would Have It” in Staten Island Stories by Claire Jimenez, an engaging collection I reviewed for Seattle Review of Books:

9781421434162One day Chrissy had the bright idea to reach out to the ghosts. She thought that perhaps we could make peace with them if only we could all just sit down and talk.

I believe in ghosts and I fear seeing strange ones, that is, the ghosts of people I haven’t known. But I welcome the ghosts of beloveds. If not their ghosts, then their living, breathing doubles. One hot Sunday afternoon in February, while I was walking down a nearly empty street in Oaxaca, an elderly woman was walking toward me. There was something familiar about her dress, her shoes, her pace. I prepared to greet her as we neared each other. I can’t remember if I managed to extend a “buenos dias” to her. I don’t even remember if she looked my way or if she was focused on the gently upward slope of the sidewalk ahead of her. But as soon as she passed me, I stopped immediately and whirled around to watch her walk away, resisting the urge to rudely catch up to her for another look at her face, which eerily resembled my long-dead Mexican grandmother.

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From The Vexations by Caitlin Horrocks, a smart and enthralling fictional account of the life of composer Eric Satie:

42283234“You a writer?” a man asked, glancing at Philippe’s notebook. The man was wearing a jacket, not a smock, and his collar was gray and crooked. He made a strange tinkling sound as he leaned over the bar, as if he were strung with wind chimes. His nose was a nearly bloody-looking red, and his eyes were already glazed.

Still, Philippe thought this was possibly the best single thing anyone had said to him in his life. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I’m a writer. What are you?

“A drunk,” the barman said, refusing to serve the man the absinthe he’d requested.

This novel, rich in character and setting, includes among its themes art and genius versus art and talent and the ever-constant doubt that accompanies both. The passage above features Phillippe, who comes to Paris from Spain and encounters obstacles in trying to make his name as a poet. Imposter syndrome is real for writers. Even when we feel confident that the work we’ve finished is good and deserving of publication, once we send it out into the world seeking a publisher, we are beset with doubt that anyone will find it worthy. So, it was with gladness and relief that I learned in late May that Jaded Ibis Press will release my third book of fiction Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories in fall 2020.2019-11-26 (3)

 

From Hezada! I Miss You by Erin Pringle (forthcoming March 2020), a beautiful novel about the change, loss, nostalgia, and memory that accompanies a dying circus and the dying village it visits:

Pringle_Hezadel-FrontCover-D7The tumblers run up the street and jump high into the splits. When they land, they raise their arms to applause, then take off again, running, jumping, now twisting too many times to count before they land facing the other side of the street. More applause. They rise up on their toes, arch their backs, and reach as though to touch the sky, defiant at the rain.

Who doesn’t love performers? They are deserving of our applause. Especially improv actors. Last April the multi-faceted Jekeva Phillips invited me to participate in BIbliophilia. My part was easy: I read an excerpt from one of my Angie Rubio stories. Then, in one of the most creative acts I’d ever witnessed, a group of improv actors took over where I left off. After a brief huddle, the actors took the stage and continued my story in spontaneous and incredibly funny, smart, and seamless dialogue and action. Like an ice sculpture that melts or a sand painting that is erased, that performance was a one-time thing – unscripted, unrecorded, never to exist again. I suppose that’s the point of improv – its ephemeral nature, its beauty and power. But how I wish I could’ve wrapped that performance up and taken it home with me to watch again and again.

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From The Body Papers by Grace Talusan, an exquisitely crafted memoir about trauma, identity, and family:

40680094Inside a few cells in my brain, I believe there’s a part of me that still knows Tagalog. I feel pain when I attempt to speak it, as though there is something I want to say desperately that can be expressed only in my first language. But I can’t access words, or that part of me that named the world first in Tagalog. When I hear strangers speaking Filipino languages, I am as drawn to them as kin.

I have a similar response to Spanish, though I have never spoken it fluently. It’s a language that I heard throughout my childhood and one that I feel connected to despite my failure to exit from intermediate purgatory in my speaking level. At least my desire for connection through the English language is met through community with other writers through readings, conferences, and retreats. Among the opportunities I had this year was participating on panels at the Orcas Island Literary Festival and teaching at the Hedgebrook Summer Salon. Both times I had the pleasure of hanging out with writers I admire who are also exceptional human beings.

 

From The Importance of Being Wilde at Heart by R. Zamora Linmark (which I reviewed for Seattle Review of Books), a YA novel about first love, which centers the thoughts, desires, and concerns of gay, trans, and gender-fluid teens:

25488370._SY475_ (1)He closes his eyes. He lies there, very still, and with his shaven head, he looks like a newborn baby who wakes up to greet the world, then returns back to sleep.

These are the protagonist’s observations about the boy he falls in love with. Linmark’s reference to a newborn gives the moment innocence and intimacy because we understand the purity of that moment when a baby wakes up and the tenderness of falling back into slumber. I have a grandson now to remind me of the hope we feel when we behold this innocence. I saw him in the first hours after his birth, sleeping in all his newness. I saw him open his eyes to a world still small to him. Now every time he opens his eyes, his world increases and his awareness of himself in it increases. As he grows, he will always have the support of those who love him to be whoever he wants and needs to be in this world that is big and often beautiful, but not always welcoming.

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When you spend five weeks in a city not your own, sometimes its heartbeat can become yours.

I was a visitor and, in many instances, a tourist in Quito. Not to mention a habitual eavesdropper on a language in which I have yet to gain fluency. Every day I walked

among Ecuatorianos, straining to discern snippets of conversations around me, trying to accustom my ear to a language I’ve heard for much of my life, but which has eluded me like a linguistic sylph. Despite this deficiency and other markers of my foreignness, such as my cargo shorts, I felt at ease and as much at home as an outsider can feel.

I lived in the spare bedroom of the apartment of my daughter Ana and her partner Daniel. I was there to await the birth of their baby, my grandson Ilio. In their Spanish-speaking household, I was also a hoverer, an observer, an extranjera. And yet I felt at ease there, too, as if I belonged in a not-belonging kind of way.

I arrived in Quito in what turned out to be the final days of nationwide manifestaciones or demonstrations. Following Daniel’s lead, I banged the lid of a pot from the balcony of the apartment during the caserolazo to protest President Lenin Moreno’s 24-hour curfew. I watched as people left their homes to bang their pots and pans in the streets in defiance of that curfew.

The next night, I witnessed the jubilant celebrations when Moreno conceded to the righteous demands of the people. And the day after, I made my way through throngs of students armed with brooms to sweep up the debris from eleven days of protests as I headed to my first day of Spanish classes.

Spanish came into my U.S. family with my grandmother, who immigrated from Mexico in the years after the Mexican Revolution. Spanish ended in my family with my mother’s generation, which seemed to view it as expendable in their American lives. Spanish had been something I’d heard throughout my childhood but was given to understand that it was not for me to have. And even though I took Spanish classes in junior high and high school, it was with this psychological barrier that Spanish was not part of who I was, that the language wasn’t mine to learn, that it was beyond my reach.

But my two daughters with their agile brains, determination to succeed, and confidence in their abilities have both achieved fluency. They have lived and traveled in Spanish-

speaking countries, communicating deftly in an acquired tongue that is also their heritage. I want to be like them. More than ever, now that Daniel is in our family. And though Ilio will be bilingual, I want to speak to him in both his languages.

Since my recent retirement, I have this year spent two weeks in Mexico, three weeks in Spain, and five weeks in Ecuador, each time making incremental progress in understanding and speaking Spanish. They’re increments that may seem undetectable and maybe even negligible, but I know they exist. Of course, there were all those times when words traveled past me so fast, not a single one registered and I had to stammer apologies through my befuddlement.

The lovely thing about taking Spanish classes in a Spanish-speaking country is learning from a local eager to share her culture. Jenny, a lifelong Quiteña, whose rapid pace of speaking I could miraculously follow, suggested places for me to visit. I did go to the Mercado Santa Clara, but did not try the yahuar locro, which in Spanish is called sangre IMG_20191023_153442 (1)de borrego, which in English is sheep’s blood. I went to the Abya Yala museum, had a private tour in Spanish, and asked to watch the video on how chicha is made, which you can and should watch here to see how hard these women work. Totally worth the six minutes. With Daniel and Ana, I went to see the paintings of Oswaldo Guayasamín in La Capilla del Hombre and tour the house he lived in where we saw his portraits of Mercedes Sosa and other contemporaries. We watched a video of him painting the Spanish guitarist Paco de Lucia, which I recommend you watch, too. Again, totally worth the five and half minutes to watch this master at work.

Ilio arrived at the halfway point in my stay.

After the four days of manifestaciones and two weeks of Spanish classes and sightseeing, my routine shifted. As Ana and Daniel focused on new parenthood and adjusted to new sleep patterns, I embraced a new existence that interspersed errands and meal preparation with walks in the neighborhood and nearby parks (though I later set aside several days for excursions outside of Quito). By this time, the city had become familiar to me: the walk through Parque El Ejido, the grocery shopping I did at Tia’s and SuperMaxi, the little corner markets where I bought eggs and produce, the lavanderia, the almost daily thunderstorm, the best places to hail a taxi (almost anywhere, really). With each passing day, I felt more connected to the apartment, the neighborhood, the city. And each passing day brought me closer to the end of my stay. I could almost hear the soft little rip in my heart.

Whenever I rode in a taxi, the always polite and friendly driver, tipped off by my accent, would ask me where I was from and why I happened to be in Quito. So I told every one of them the story of how Ana had been living in Ecuador and met Daniel, a good and kind man with a brilliant smile, and now they had a baby named Ilio, and I showed them pictures as if this story crisscrossing the city in all these taxis would somehow keep some part of me in Quito.

It’s been a week and a half since my return. With each day that passes, that ache for Quito lessens. But it will never completely go away and I don’t want it to.

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When I was pregnant with my first daughter Natalie in 1986, the Chernobyl reactor exploded and the threat of a nuclear cloud passing over the Pacific Northwest and radiating the six-month old fetus inside me freaked me out. Later, when I was pregnant with Ana in 1989, tanks rolled over Tiananmen Square, scattering protestors, killing some, injuring many, and reminding me that being pregnant is an act of hope in a world that often does its best to squelch it.

Ana, almost thirty now, has been living in Ecuador for nearly two years. Within the past year, she made several trips by canoe into the jungle to conduct a study of two indigenous communities regarding their safety and health priorities. She made her last visit to the MVIMG_20191012_090905jungle in her fourth month of pregnancy and finished a report on her findings in her last trimester. Earlier this month, I flew to Quito to spend five weeks with her and her partner Daniel in order to be present for the birth of their son, due October 26.

The week before I was to leave for Quito, the city shut down. A national strike by transportation workers was called on Wednesday, October 3 in response to the austerity measures imposed by the government as a condition of an IMF loan. A gas subsidy that had been in effect for fifty years was revoked. Indigenous groups, students, and unions joined the transportation workers, barricading roads with rocks and burning tires.

Flights in and out of Quito were cancelled. I checked the news and saw videos of mounted police, tanks (some of which had driven down Ana’s street), and tear-gassed protesters. President Lenin Moreno declared a state of emergency on Thursday and said there was no possibility he would back away from the measures. It was also evident the protesters would not back away either.

I started to worry that my October 9 flight would be cancelled, but I made it into Quito late that night. Ana and Daniel met me at the airport, having hired a car in case taxis were not running. The streets were mostly empty and a little eerie. At one point, a military truck carrying soldiers turned in front of us.

For four days after my arrival in Quito, protests raged from afternoon well into the night. Ana and Daniel’s apartment is just blocks from one of the areas where protesters concentrated their actions – Parque El Arbolito where the Movimiento Indigena had taken refuge in the Casa de la Cultura.

Explosions and helicopters whirring overhead were the soundtrack to Ana’s pregnancy now. At times, tear gas permeated the neighborhood. Daniel, firm in his solidarity with the protesters, touched Ana’s belly with their son inside and declared him a rebelde.

When Moreno imposed a 24-hour curfew on Saturday, October 12, we worried about what would happen if Ana went into labor early, whether her midwife and doula would be able to make it to the apartment. Daniel’s Plan B was that he would run to the nearby park where many medical personnel were volunteering to help injured protesters and fetch a doctor there.

MVIMG_20191013_224213But late Sunday afternoon there was a lull in the protests and Moreno held talks with the indigenous leaders. Later that evening, there were again sounds of explosions, but this time they were fireworks. Soon church bells pealed. Daniel announced, “!El pueblo ganó!” Ana, relieved and exhausted, went to bed. Daniel layered on sweaters and went out, intending to spend the night rejoicing in the Casa de la Cultura. Minutes later, I also went out into the exhilarating night to join the steady stream of neighbors heading to the park to celebrate.

Here’s a good article that explains what the Ecuadorian people were fighting for.

It’s been a week and a half since the protests ended, and we await the baby. MVIMG_20191014_092845

We speculate on when he will come. Before or after the due date? If after, how long after? We wonder what he will look like, expecting him to be born with a full head of hair the way Ana was. We think he will be plump like both his parents were as babies.

Chances are he will be a thoughtful, artistic, compassionate, justice-advocating human being like his parents. He will be raised with a sense of social justice, a love for the natural world, an aversion to waste and consumerism. He will be Ecuadorian and American with Mexican, Filipino, and Scottish roots.

He will be what this world needs more of – a good and kind human being.

Jane Hodges picked me up at 1:30 last Thursday afternoon at my North Seattle apartment to drive me to Mineral, a small community in the foothills of Mount Rainier.

In its Wikipedia entry, Mineral’s amenities are listed as “a post office, two churches, one general store, one tavern, a log lodge (in the National Register of Historic Places), a resort Vacancywith fishing docks and boat/pontoon rentals and two bed and breakfast facilities.” (The log lodge, built in 1906, was the place where I would stay overnight.)

Not included in the Wikipedia entry is the uniquely homey and benignly haunted Mineral School Arts Residency, founded and directed by Seattle writer Jane Hodges. Last summer I was a resident at Mineral School, where I put the finishing touches on my Angie Rubio manuscript and in the ensuing months sent it out to a few places. In May, I accepted an offer of publication from Jaded Ibis Press, whose recent releases include Kingdom of Women by Rosalie Morales Kearns (interviewed here by Rigoberto Gonzalez) and As a River by Sion Dayson whose newly published novel has made it to several “best” and “pick” lists.

As we traveled from the traffic-laden cityscape to the two-lane rural roads, Jane and I talked books. Jane not only reads a lot, she has great recall of what she reads. Her brain is a library.

Sometime after 3:30, after making the turn off Route 7 at Elbe where a Trump 2020 sign Murraylooms big and scary, Jane dropped me off at Mineral Lake Lodge, where Carolyn, a former physician and now lodge proprietor, and Murray the cat greeted me. I was the only guest in the eight-room lodge and was given my choice of themed room. I nearly opted for the Moose Country Room on the top floor because it was the only room with a desk, but realized that if I chose the Birdhouse View Room on the second floor I would have easy access to the sunroom with its dramatic view of Mineral Lake. Teddy Roosevelt is purported to have slept in the sunroom.

After an hour or so in the sunroom alternating reading a book, gaping at the view, and conjuring the spirit of Roosevelt, I walked the narrow country road to Mineral School to join the current residents Samantha Lee, Elise Morris, Dayna Patterson, and Pamela K. Santos for a 6:00 dinner of salmon cakes, broccoli, and black bean salad prepared by chef Val. It was the week of the parent artist residency and I’d been invited to read and also talk a little about how I wrote during my active parenting years.

Birdhouse RoomAfter the 7:30 reading, plum cake dessert, and conversation, I went back to the lodge around 9. I sat in my Birdhouse View Room bed and did the NYT crossword online. Then in preparation for my trip to Ecuador in a few weeks I did some Español en Uso exercises before settling in with a book. It was lights out on the birdhouses sometime after 11.

The next morning, I walked to Mineral School to have breakfast with the residents, after which visual artist and photographer Elise took a few portrait photos of me as she had done with the residents. She explained how to turtle my neck to meet rather than shy away the camera. I also took a selfie with the exuberant Pamela Santos. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter and you might find it there.

Back at the lodge, I chatted briefly with lodge owner Carolyn and learned how a retired Carolynphysician and quilt maker ended up in Mineral as a bed and breakfast lodge owner. Then I had a couple of hours in the sunroom to write and be boggled anew by the view before my time in Mineral was up.

I packed up and walked back to Mineral School where Jane had a yummy sack lunch waiting for me. At noon, Rebecca Peterson, Mineral School working artist, drove me along the scenic backroads of Lewis County to Centralia where I caught the 1:30 Amtrak Cascades back to Seattle.

It was a perfect little overnight adventure that offered a little bit of many of the things I love – scenery- rich drives, walks, and train ride; meeting and hanging out with writers and artists; a stay in a historic lodge; and tasty, well-prepared food. Interspersed in all of it were the always essential moments of solitude to read or write. Thank you, Mineral School, for a lovely 24 hours.

Before I ever needed an author photo, I thought that if the day came that circumstances 1934922_270701555362_5134608_ndemanded one, I would use the drawing my daughter did of me when she was in third grade. The likeness was undeniable, the colors vivid, and the vibe cool. Those blue glasses were seriously daring, and not all reflective of my tendency toward the conventional. She made me look fun and fashionable. Using this drawing would eliminate the need to get in front of a camera and relive the nightmares of school picture days.

But for my first book, which came out in 2011, I figured the crayon drawing probably wasn’t going to suffice. On the recommendation of a friend, I hired Meryl Schenker. She’s nice and funny and knows her stuff. And she’s patient with people whose picture day memories produce self-conscious, counterfeit smiles.

11/20/2010-Donna Miscolta. Photo by Meryl Schenker, Seattle, Wash.I really liked the photo that resulted from that shoot in Meryl’s living room. I was younger then, my skin more taut, the gray in my hair barely noticeable. I still haven’t updated it on my Twitter profile, though that’s been due more to laziness than any attempt to deliberately mislead the world about what I look like now.

It was during this shoot, that I discovered my good side. Almost everything taken from my left side I liked or, at least, not hated. Everything taking from my right side I definitely hated. One of my sisters has the same good side. When taking family photos, we jockey for position.

When my second book was about to come out five years later in 2016, I needed an updated author photo, so I hired Meryl again. We did the shoot in her studio this time. Again, she was patient with my lack of imagination in front of a Author Donna Miscolta, Seattlecamera, coaxing me to move this way and that. I came away with several photos I liked, all of my good side but shot at different angles for at least the suggestion of variety. These, like my previous author photo, featured me in dark clothing against dark backgrounds, which was more happenstance than strategic. An unintentional outcome was the obscuring of the ever increasing graying of my hair.

Now I have another book coming in 2020. (Thank you, Jaded Ibis Press.) I contacted Meryl again. She suggested we do outdoor shots this time, and I proposed the rooftop of my apartment building, though I was concerned about getting squinty-eyed in the sunlight. I suppose I should’ve also given a thought to what to wear.

When Meryl came over, I still had on the dark pink tank top I’d worn to the gym that morning.

Meryl eyed me. “Is that what you’re going to wear for the photo?”

I assured her it was not. I showed her my minimalist closet and picked out a few possibilities.

Meryl said that since the last two author photos had been dark, she wanted to try something more colorful.

I wear mostly cool and neutral colors, I told her. “Except for this,” I said, pointing to the pink tank top I had on.

“It’s dirty,” Meryl said.

Right. I’d been wearing it for a few days. In my retirement, I see very little need to change my clothes during the week.

“You, know,” she said, “most people preparing for a photo shoot go clothes shopping.”

“Yeah. I hate shopping,” I said.

Then I remembered the blue sleeveless dress I had picked up at Target a few months ago. I was killing time, roaming the aisles, while my younger daughter, home for a month from her life in Ecuador, was shopping for supplies. I showed the dress to Meryl.

“The problem,” I said, “is that it’s blue and I have blue glasses now.” After decades of brown or black eyeglass frames, I had recently, in a mutiny against my characteristic restraint, opted for colorful look-at-me frames.

“Not a problem,” Meryl said.

Okay, I shrugged.

“Now, what do you want to convey in the photo? How do you want to be seen?”

“Um, friendly?”

“Okay.”

“And, um, smart?”

“Hmm. That’s a little harder.”

“Okay, just friendly then.”

I wondered if my asking to convey “smart” in the photo was akin to the composer Eric Satie noting that his compositions should be played “peacefully” or “grandiosely” or “learnedly” (nifty information from Caitlin Horrocks’s excellent debut novel The Vexations).

I still was not an ideal subject, ever self-conscious about how to stand or where to look or how much to smile. While the results showed plenty of forced smiles, there were enough unforced ones to choose from the array of my blue-themed photos.

I think I do look friendly. I might still be a little squinty-eyed, but I like the outdoor light on my now visibly graying hair. And my blue glasses are exactly like the ones my prescient, third-grade daughter drew on me all those years ago.

 

For years now, I’ve been going to the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference at Centrum. It’s a ferry ride and a scenic drive 60 miles from Seattle. Located on a peninsula on a larger peninsula, the surroundings are beautiful, the faculty stellar, and the participants fun to be around. Every year, I meet remarkable people. Though I’d met Bryan Fry, editor-in-chief of Blood Orange Review, a few years ago enroute to AWP, it was his first time at PTWC. On the first night of the conference, he introduced me to CMarie (Cindy) Fuhrman, co-editor with Dean Rader of the newly published anthology Native Voices: Indigenous American Poetry, Craft and Conversations. Good friends, Bryan and Cindy traveled together from Idaho to the conference. I had a chance to sit down with them to ask questions about their respective publications, which led to conversations about race, power, diversity, community, and, of course, art.

If you could use only one word or phrase to describe the reason for your publications’ existence, what would it be?

CMF: Unheard voices.
BF: I think that’s it. I mean, that’s what it is.

What prepared you to take on the task of your publications?

CMF: I felt called to do it because there was a gap. It had been 30 years since we’d had an41ZVnx3MMLL anthology of Native American poetry. And it had been never since Native people had been asked about craft. I think what prepared me is I’ve always thought in terms of bridges. The work I did at the University of Idaho for Native students was creating a bridge between education and Native communities. Stories create those bridges that takes us from one place to another. But what I saw, and I don’t know that it prepared me as much as inspired me to do the anthology, was that there was a hole that really needed to be filled at a time when voices that were getting so much of the spotlight were doing nothing to help people who have historically been ignored.

Also, as a student getting syllabi that had no Native people in them, how was I supposed to be a Native writer when I had only one or two people to look up to, and one had recently been accused of some really awful things against women. Others are fantastic, and I’m thinking of Louise Erdrich and M. Scott Momaday and James Welch. But there weren’t any new voices getting out there. There wasn’t any new material being seen. And there wasn’t anyone in my age group that I could look up to and say, I could be her or I could write like her or I could write to her, meaning we could be on the same level together.

I saw my Native students not having those new voices and materials, trying to find themselves within voices that weren’t theirs within a context they couldn’t relate to. For a long time, Native poets and writers have been treated in a mystical, spiritual way when they are just as much genius at craft as any other poet and writer crafting art. They need to be seen as artists first. They belong with any of the artists we’ve revered in this place now called the United States.

I think my whole life has prepared me for this kind of work. Bryan and I got to know each other because we’re both really into collaboration, creating relationships, and bringing things together, and that was part of the initial attraction in our friendship. One of the things he first said to me was “You’re a collaborator. I love that!”

BF: I’d also say about Cindy is her anthology, with its craft essays and what she’s trying to do, showed me something that I feel is really important for curators. As someone who has been called a curator, I think about that word and about curation practices in America, not just in literature and writing, but historically what we choose to memorialize. Anybody who’s in a position to be a curator has to understand that long history of exclusion and how it lends itself to systematic structures keeping people out. I immediately respected Cindy because her anthology and her own writing resists those structures. But also, she’s my sister. We went to the same program at the University of Idaho. We were taught by teachers who were taught by teachers who were taught by teachers in the Pacific Northwest, so we carry something with us that is a kind of DNA.

CMF: Literary DNA.

BF: As soon as we met, we were like…we knew each other. Yeah, we have the same DNA. To answer your question about what prepared me for this project, I think it was working with students. A lot of communities have taught me how to not fuck up. My students are the people who mean the most to me and I feel honored to be able to work with them. They come from all different backgrounds, and I have the privilege to walk in the Screenshot 2019-07-25 22.16.32classroom and have all of the authority, all the answers, and I really try to break that down as quickly as I can. They educate me. And as they’re educating me, I know that they don’t see themselves standing in front of the classroom. So, I searched for writing examples from non-white writers, but I wasn’t finding a lot beyond the heavy-hitters, and I wasn’t seeing a variety in subject matter. And I’m like, “I have a journal. How do I get this right?” Well, maybe if I do the same thing with writers that I do with students. I can go out, find writers, talk to them, and let them know what I’m trying to do on a personal level. And good writers know other good writers.

CMF: The beautiful thing is that he’s publishing these voices talking about not just what the general public hopes to hear them talk about, which holds us in a place that perpetuates a kind of stereotype, showing people as one way instead of two-sided. But what Blood Orange Review does is give permission to writers to write about all of their life, all of their personal experiences. It doesn’t pigeonhole them to one topic. When they can get hold of Blood Orange Review and see that there are writers writing about something that has nothing to do with race, they have that permission to just write their life, which might just be about finding a dog. So, I think it’s important what Bryan said about bringing those stories out too, and then we all see these people as well-rounded, whole individuals instead of one-sided.

BF: I understand that mine is a power position. I think one of the things I do is try to strip down as much of that power as I can and say, “We’re all trying to do cool shit. Let’s do it together,” without trying to minimize their experiences. There are so many questions about how to get published and how those decisions get made. And those doors are hard to knock down. There are writers that send stuff to us through certain organizations that I care deeply about, and if we don’t accept their work, I’ll write a personal note to give them feedback. Those are people that I become friends with for life. It’s about understanding how much is given to you in being allowed to select from these thousands of submissions. Deciding which ones you’re going to publish is a huge job. What about all the people that are getting rejected? I care about all those other people. Every time they win an award, I hype them up on Twitter or Facebook. And I’m a fan for life.

CMF: I love a story that Bryan related to me recently. He got a submission from a well-known Pacific Northwest writer and chose not to publish it so they could have space for someone who wasn’t as well known. And that was fantastic – to be able to say, we love your writing, but you’re doing great, and we want to give the space to someone who needs it. It could have brought a lot of attention to the journal to have that particular writer in it, but the journal chose instead to put someone in who is not well known, which is a beautiful gesture.

BF: We certainly like to publish bigger names, but in this case the work wasn’t in conversation with the other submissions we had accepted. You have to honor your submissions. If a larger name fits and magnifies the collective body of work, we’ll go with it. But in this particular case, we made a tough decision—the right decision—and gently passed on it.

CMF: Some people think that the mission of a journal of any kind is to become the most popular journal in the area and get the highest readership based on whatever names we can put in it that are going to draw the most attention. I don’t see Bryan, at the helm of Blood Orange Review, trying to do that. I think Bryan’s heart is also felt by the people that work with him. But sometimes that goes against what we think of as American. We should be like, gosh, if you have 12 to 14 writers that you can publish in an issue, and you get all 12 to 14 that are hard-hitting writers, then everybody’s going to want to buy that issue. But those people have already had their say.

What are some of the obstacles you see in getting not just a readership but a recognition of the significance of your publications?

CMF: People say that if it’s Native poetry and they’re not Native, why should they read it? They’re, like, “How will I ever relate to Native poetry? I’m not Native American.” A lot of the point of Native Voices, particularly in the craft essays, is to show how human we all are, that we’re sharing a human experience that is vastly different for some people, that the human experience itself is worthwhile to explore. I think that the biggest obstacle is showing people that poetry is poetry. Art is art. We can look at it on that level, instead of trying to just stick it in a genre and say, “Well, I’m not Native American, so why would I care?” I think the craft essays in the book are doing a lot to level the playing field. People can say, “Oh, it has craft. Well, I’m also a poet, so surely this will help me.”

BF: It’s hard to keep track of audiences. We know our followers on Facebook and Twitter, and, of course, we read hundreds of bios on Submittable. But we’re about community, and we want the communities and organizations we network with to trust our journal. One interesting thing about audience is we still get a lot of work from white writers that is not in any way engaging socially or politically. And that’s an interesting thing to me. They’re not reading our journal, or they don’t care about what it is we’re doing. The space we’re creating isn’t just for non-white people. There’s a voice for everybody there. And we try to create a community of editors who are helping us make those selections and decisions. I’m the editor-in-chief, but I have a whole family of people that help me take care of this baby.

How does spending time putting together such publications affect your own work? Both in terms of available time and the content and style of your work.

CMF: I was a full-time grad student while I did this anthology, and I worked full-time at the university. Reading through submissions and craft essays, doing the research, and writing the introductions to the poets and their work truly helped the work that I was doing for my own thesis. Having all those voices with me and learning what I did from the craft essays definitely showed up in the writing I was doing. I think it also deepened the sense of the importance of the kind of work that had to be done. And working with my students always informs my writing. It did make for some long nights. But maybe that time crunch in grad school is a good thing. You had only so much time and had to use it really wisely.

BF: I’m not just doing the work on the journal. I’m also doing things on campus and with students outside of English classes. But I separate those things from my writing because what I do as an editor feeds my soul. I like to write, but when I see someone else in the spotlight, that makes me happy inside. I always have a hard time putting enough time in my writing. 67429281_434636307386133_5062337433350176768_nI’ve been publishing on average one to two essays a year. My goal has never been to have a book. People have asked, “What about a chapbook of essays?” Right now, it’s not my thing. I found something that I love. But it does affect my writing. I have to create a separate space for that to happen and then protect it.

There’s been a lot of talk about curating practices and the problems with them. And I think it’s really important to plug into that, to educate yourself, and listen to what people are saying. There’re a lot of people that are calling out white editors, but I never feel like they’re attacking me personally. If you feel that way, you got to check yourself. Because that’s where the humility comes in. It’s great to raise other people up. And the love that you get back? All of a sudden that work is not work.

CMF: Yeah, I think it’s important to clarify that, and Bryan and I’ve had this conversation, so I’m not trying to speak for him. When we say white, that doesn’t mean necessarily a skin color. So much is a certain mindset. It’s just a way of thinking. We see so much of it right now in our current administration – not listening to these other voices. White is not necessarily a skin color so much as a way of thinking that is colonial, that is outdated, outmoded, and that has forever kept other voices from being heard. And there are non-white people that can be accused of this as well.

So, what’s a good word for that – rather than white and non-white?

CMF: Perhaps, the people that are stuck in their colonial myth, regardless of their skin color – this idea of colonization, of needing to have power and using that power only to perpetuate themselves, only to gain for themselves or for a small number of people – is what I think of when I think of white. And I don’t want to say the powerful and the non-powerful. That’s not it, either. Maybe we’re pointing at something that yet doesn’t have a word. And we’ll find that together.

It’s pretty complex, but I think that saying they’re white helps us understand that that’s been a problem. People who could pass as a white person have always gotten a certain amount of privilege over others, even if they’re in the same socio-economic class. So, it is tricky. And I certainly don’t want to leave out people who have been fantastic allies who don’t see themselves as part of that colonial power structure. But I think it’s just an easy way to talk about the two groups – the ones in power and the ones not having that same power, that same voice.

BF: Would you say that all of us writers here (at this conference) have privilege.?Maybe some of us within this group have privilege over others, but we were all able to get here somehow, right? So, we recognize that privilege actually can go beyond even skin color. Right?

CMF: But how we came by that privilege might be completely different. We see that even though we’ve been asked to come, which looks really good for a particular group (look, diversity!), we’re still feeling the lack of the same privileges as someone who’s done nothing different and is enjoying what we are not. It’s great to promote diversity, but it can’t be just like buying a lawn ornament. It has to go further, like inviting someone into your house.

BF: One of the problems, and I don’t know if it’s similar to what happens here, is that the university I work for does a really good job of getting people here from across the United States and beyond. We have Saudi students and students from China. We have Black students. We have DACA students. I think the university wants to promote diversity. But they never really thought about creating space for these students. They didn’t do that second part. So the students don’t feel valued. I wonder if something similar is happening here, where people are coming here, but maybe they don’t feel valued. I think that second part is something that people always have to do, because if you don’t, then you’re just using people.

What does coming to a place like this conference do for you as a writer, teacher, and human being?

CMF: I was invited here as a fellow before, which was fantastic. I’m very fortunate that Debra Gwartney and I have developed a relationship. She allowed me to come in her IMG_20190719_203710 croppedclassroom and assist her during the week. The stories that these women are trying to tell are so important. Being in that room has been very powerful. And anytime – and Brian and I have talked a little bit about this previously – that I can infiltrate a system, I open it up for others. This might sound awful, and please forgive me if it does, but if I can get a foot into Centrum, then maybe I can prop it open for other Native writers that would like to come here. If I can meet people like Debra, who might write a letter of recommendation for two or three Native writers at some conference, that’s fantastic. I feel like that does so much for me on so many levels as an educator and as a human being. Like Bryan says, it feeds my soul. For Native people, it’s reciprocation. I’ve been given this; I want to give it to somebody else. Or, if I’ve ever I’m lucky enough to be invited as a teacher, other Native students might see that and believe it’s possible for them, too.

I’m excited that George (the incoming program director) really wants to work with us to make sure we bring more diversity or equity to Centrum. Certainly, every time I’m given an inch, I take a mile. If I can get into places where we have not traditionally been, I’m going to find a way to bring other underrepresented people. And I’m huge on relationships, just like Bryan is. I love meeting new people here. I’ve met so many new and great friends. And Sam (Ligon) has been a big advocate for me and my work. And Kate (Lebo) made me a fantastic supper. In some ways, we’re also following our literary parents, Bob (Wrigley) and Kim (Barnes), who have been coming here, and my literary sister Sayantani Dasgupta, who was a little bit ahead of me (at UI).

BF: When I got a message asking if I wanted to be a resident at the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, followed by an invitation to have two of my students come on full scholarship, I knew what I would’ve said if I hadn’t had that second thing offered. That’s what really got me excited about being here – those two students. One of them, Jem, sent me a message that said, “I want whatever this is. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

And I am thinking about people we’ve published – Grace Prasad, who’s from Taiwan, and Khalypso, a transgender poet we published a couple of years ago, my good friend Desiree Cooper, and people I connected with through VONA – I’m thinking how do we get them here? So those are the things that I think about when I’m here – the community that’s being created and who’s being left out.

CMF: Right? And my god, it’s beautiful. It’s just lovely to be here among so many like-minded people. So that brings me joy in my heart that there are good people out there that are willing to listen. I’ve been to other conferences that are very ego driven. Here they do a good job, but I think that there can be more diversity.

You road-tripped together to this conference. What was that like?

BF: We love music. So, we started off immediately with music. Cindy is deeply romantic.67313671_480427012734089_5440844745003761664_n
And she does this thing where she closes her eyes, and I don’t know if she puts her hand up to her heart, but I see it in my memory. And she tells me the words that are about to come. She feels it deeply. I’m just dancing.

CMF: When there’s a really good song on, Bryan’s turning it up and he keeps talking over it, and he’s saying “Oh, listen, listen, listen.” He’s got a lot of energy, and I’m more laid back. And when I’m closing my eyes, I’m trying to sleep.

But it was fun. We’d been looking forward to this mostly as a chance to talk. It was a long drive, but it went by really fast. And we were able to get out some ideas for some collaborations we can do in the future.

What’s the next big thing for each of you?

CMF: I’ve been really depressed with the climate crisis that is happening. And I’m really interested in language – particularly sleeping languages of indigenous people that haven’t quite woken up or languages that are just waking up – and how important they are to the environment and how much Native people already are scientists and knew so much about the land. There are just not a lot of Native people writing about the environment, yet we know so much – how it’s affecting tribes who are getting displaced and becoming environmental refugees. So I contacted Jeffrey Levine, who’s the publisher at Tupelo, and Pam Uschuk and Bill Root at Cutthroat, A Journal of the Arts, and other people and said, “Listen, we need to bring together some writers who are writing about the environment like Robin Wall Kimmerer and Linda Hogan and others that I know must be out there.” They were all very interested, and immediately Pam said they would dedicate an issue of Cutthroat to this, which we will start working on that this autumn.

I’m also working on a publication on the theme seen/unseen about people who are in places that are public but are never seen. And I’m the Translations editor for Broadsided Press. I love what they’re doing with language, doing a translation issue every year. We’re going to use pieces this year from a Nigerian poet, a Chamorro poet, and an Alaska Native poet, all writing in their Native languages. It brings to light that English is not the only language for poetry. Working with Liz Bradfield and Alexandra Teague on this project has been amazing.

I’m finishing up my own manuscript of nonfiction essays and I’m still poetry editor for Transmotion. It’s a journal that traditionally has had reviews of Native literature. But those reviews weren’t always by other Native people. So, James Mackay and David Stirrup were kind enough to get in touch with me and ask if I would find Native writers to start talking about each other’s work. In the last issue, everybody was so thrilled to have some of their peers or colleagues review their book. Meg Noodin reviewed Linda Rodriguez’s book, and Linda’s, like, finally someone gets me. And academics can refer to these Native people talking about other Native people’s work. How cool.

Wow, that’s a lot of work you’re doing!

CMF: It’s all good stuff. It talks to each other. It’s a lot, but we’re here for such a short time.

BF: At Blood Orange Review, we’re working on the judging for our inaugural contest. The judges are Jericho Brown for poetry, Aisha Sabatini Sloan for nonfiction, and Aimee Phan for fiction. And we’re redesigning the website, which is always nerve-wracking. We get a prototype in a couple of weeks. We have a big-name poet in the spring who also does art for social change. We’re trying to work it out for her to come to campus to work with our students on an art-for-social-change contest right before a major MLK event. And we want to use swatches of the art for social change work that our undergraduates are creating, and pull that into the journal. We’re really excited about using student art next to writers’ work, finding more ways to have community and just playing with what an online journal can do, how it can have a conversation with people in different ways.

Willow CottageRecently, on the third anniversary of my mother’s death, I went to Hedgebrook to have some writing time as well as to teach at the Summer Salon, a day of small-group writing workshops given in the Hedgebrook cottages. Three years earlier, I had been scheduled to do the same, but the week before my departure for Hedgebrook, my sister messaged me and my siblings that our mother was dying. I flew to San Diego the next day and stayed for two weeks, the amount of time it took to see our mother through her last days and to bury her.

HB deskNow in the woods amid birdsong and five other cottages which housed writers I admire, I wondered what work I could accomplish during my stay, wondered if I would solve the problem of the novel I’m working on. I thought about my mother whose opinion of my writing I could never fully gauge, and I invited her to be with me there as I pondered and wrote, and daydreamed too much when the words did not come. I would ask her questions:

Me: What do you think of this sentence?
Her: Whatever you think is fine.
Me: Is this scene believable?
Her: I don’t really know about those things.
Me: Does this sound too much like a cliché?
Her (with a little laugh, but with a tone that said she meant it): Don’t ask me.

She never liked being asked for an opinion on such things. Fair enough. I would leave her alone.

That first night I turned the dimmer switch on the downstairs lights very low so there was just a glimmer of light inside the cottage when I turned out my bedside lamp in the sleeping loft. I don’t like being in complete darkness. Maybe it comes from a near lifetime of nearsightedness – the inability and insecurity of not seeing clearly and the fear of not seeing at all. Or maybe it’s because I’ve always been a little bit afraid of the dark. Maybe I’m afraid of ghosts. Or I only want to see them in a reassuring glimmer of light.door
I woke early after a fitful night. It was just after five and the light was filtering through the trees and into the uncurtained loft window. As I contemplated getting out of bed, the dimmed downstairs lights blinked off. As soon as I realized what had happened, they blinked back on again. “Mom?” I asked.

I’m on the cusp of believing in the supernatural and mystical, so I was willing to cross the threshold into the twilight zone and presume that the flickering light was a sign from my mother. On the other hand, I can easily be swayed by the workaday notion that a swell or drop of electrical current was the source of the flickering. To be sure, electricity is as explainable to me as the supernatural.

Aside from the question of my mother’s presence, the other mystery before me in my cottage was what to do with the novel I’m working on. I thought it was nearly done – just some easily addressed issues for the revision stage. Wishful thinking. I admit as I was writing, following a plotline that seemed to be pulling me in its, perhaps, wayward direction, I wondered if it was too contrived, too reliant on coincidence. Things could happen this way, I reasoned to myself. But my very wise writing group said no.

So then I thought maybe if I pushed it to the cusp of the surreal, then coincidence becomes believable. But then I would have to write in a new and super-unnatural way for me. I would have tyo become a different writer. Surely, there was another way.
I googled “coincidence in fiction” and found “How to Write Coincidence the Right Way” by Alice Mattison on LitHub. Mattison points out, “Coincidences happen in life; they are suspect only in art.”

So if I’m thinking about my mother in my Hedgebrook cottage because I arrive on the Submittableanniversary of her death, is it a coincidence that the lights blink at me? And is it further coincidence when a few hours later I receive an email from a literary journal accepting for publication an essay I’d written about my mother? But if I were to write about all these coincidences (artfully), does they become suspect? Would I be leaping tall buildings to unfounded conclusions, following an unearned plotline, substituting wishful thinking for cause-and-effect?

In Mattison’s article she gives two examples of coincidence in literature which work. One is a scene from E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End and the other is Flannery O’Connor’s story “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” In the first example, Mattison explains how Forster makes the coincidence unobtrusive by making it unimportant to the key character in the scene. In the O’Connor story, Mattison notes that the blatant coincidence doesn’t bother readers because the characters are unaware of it.

Both are hard to pull off, but, hey, worth a try. Wish me luck. Because luck may be what it’ll take to solve this problem of coincidence in my novel.

Speaking of luck, I had it in heaps, finding myself among the brilliance of the other Hedgebrook Summer Salon teachers. I got to spend time in the fun, funny, thoughtful, and reflective company of Rebecca Brown, Suzanne Kelman, Anastacia Renee, Jennie Shortridge, and Storme Webber. It was magic, which, like coincidence, also happens in life.

I didn’t do any writing on our recent three-week vacation in Spain. I’d brought some work with me – notes on the novel I’m trying to finish, and ideas for a final story to add to a collection I’d previously considered ready to submit. Never touched any of it.

Too busy sightseeing, eating (paella, bocadillos de jamón, tapas, etc.), drinking wine, practicing Spanish, and napping from all the exertion.

I did manage to type into my phone a daily recap of what we’d seen, done, and eaten before the days blurred into each other and our memories were just a mash-up of museums, cathedrals, castles, and tapas bars with no context or chronology.

Midway through the trip – after we’d spent several days each in the bustle and crowds of Madrid and Barcelona – we spent a night at the Hotel Villa Guadalupe in Málaga. It’s at the top of a narrow, winding street in the El Atabal neighborhood about six miles from the centro histórico. Our daughter Natalie once worked at the hotel restaurant for several months after her year of study in Granada in 2006 where, like some bruja or language savant, she became fluent in Spanish in a matter of months. The restaurant is a favorite with locals for birthday, communion, and baptism celebrations. It’s also popular with tourists, so Natalie’s bilingualism was essential, and the Brits often complimented her on how well she spoke English. It was Natalie who suggested we stay at the hotel for the view and the food, which proved to be breathtaking and spectacular, respectively.

Oh, and there’s a pool. I posted a photo on Facebook of me in it, captioned with a lament of having days earlier received a rejection for a writing residency I’d applied for several months ago. My life at that moment was pretty fabulous, so I could drown my sorrow over rejection right there under the bright blue Málaga skies in that brighter blue water rippled by the Mediterranean breeze. Comments on that post favored the pool over the lost residency, which invited the question: what if the pool and its hotel were a residency?

I started to imagine what it would be like to live and write there in that white-walled hotel at the top of the hill with the magnificent view of the city and sea below. That view. It could lull you with its beauty into a stupor. Hard to write when stupefied. So, maybe a writing residency at one of the other stays my husband diligently researched and booked for us would be more conducive.

In Madrid, our Airbnb apartment was in an 18th century building. The apartment was quite spacious and had an old world, worn elegance – heavy wooden dining table, cherubim hanging on the walls like escapees from a church or art museum, a balcony that looked out on an old, narrow, stone street.

The building was situated in writerly environs, not far from a street named for Cervantes, a plaque honoring philosopher Jose Ortega y Gassett, and the home of playwright/poet/novelist Lope de Vega. If I wrote in this 18th century building, would 18th century ghosts sit at the table with me? Maybe spirits of the Enlightenment. Or specters from the downfall of the Spanish Empire, precipitated by the War of Spanish Succession that resulted in Spain ceding Gibraltar to Britain.

Speaking of Gibraltar, we stayed overnight at The Rock Hotel in a room with a balcony that faced the harbour (spelled with a u because it’s a British harbor, though, of course, if the Spanish owned it, it would be puerto.) I could possibly see myself sitting at the desk in that room, the balcony doors open to the sounds of seagulls, ship and boat horns, the vroom of motor scooters, maybe a stray macaque wandering down from the rock. There would be the problem of the sun in my eyes for half the day. So a good pair of sunglasses would be a must.

In Barcelona, we were in a small, but cozy two-bedroom apartment in Poble Sec, one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. Our Airbnb host was a New Zealander. The people above us were Russian. The neighborhood was home to many Moroccans and other Africans. It was an interesting, vibrant place to be. The balcony offered a view of a mixed residential and business street. Across from us a community center was lively until 11 each night, except weekends when conversations lasted until 5 am. If I wrote here, maybe those voices would fill my writing the way they filled my sleep.

In Granada, we were in a fifth-floor apartment on one of the narrow, one-way streets that intersect Gran Via. From the dining room, living room, and main bedroom, we had a view of the Catedral de Granada and the Capilla where Fernando and Isabel are buried. The apartment was a short walk to the Albaicín, the old Arab quarter, and the path uphill to the Mirador de San Nicolas, where we went every day to take in the view of the Alhambra and listen to musicians play guitar, sing, and clap the rhythm. There was always a late afternoon and evening breeze. And even though we were surrounded by tourists taking selfies, there was still something magical about that particular spot. Later, we would sit at the dining room table, me facing the window where the cathedral would begin to glow in the evening sky and I would type on my little portable keyboard the events of the day. What would insinuate itself if I wrote there daily, facing that cathedral – me, a non-believer? Granada

By far, our favorite place to stay was the Airbnb apartment above the Plaza de las Flores in Málaga’s centro histórico. It was a spacious three-bedroom, with two of the bedrooms looking down on the plaza occupied by several small restaurants and a constant flow of people. Every evening, music – Flamenco guitar or classical piano – would drift up to our windows. At 11 pm, I would watch the workers put away tables and chairs and roll up the awnings. It was a noisy enterprise that went on past midnight. The restaurant lights would go out, but the deserted plaza stayed lit and bathed in yellow like a dreamscape. Malaga plaza

Malaga itself was a dream, easy to fall in love with – smaller city and smaller crowds than Madrid and Barcelona, a perfect climate, and the trademark Andalucía mix of Moorish, Jewish, and Christian history blended in its architecture. Plus, the jacarandas were in full flower while we were there, painting the city with swaths of indigo. The apartment, on the other hand, had a monochrome décor – white walls, gray bedspreads and drapes, black and white art on the walls. It was as if it was daring me to be imaginative and write my own best work. Yes, this is the place I could write. Malaga apt