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Hi all,

So I showed chapters 2 and 3 to the writers’ workshop. (Well, not three, some later chapter, but whatever.) Went over very well. People liked the family dynamic, the warmth, lots of things I hoped they would like.

In a very amusing couple minutes, some people thought some stuff that happened in a funeral scene was too over-the-top, like I was trying to be wacky and people wouldn’t act like that. Of course, the things they were talking about were things that literally happened at my grandfather’s funeral two summers ago. That’s not to say the critique wasn’t important. A reader’s got to buy into what’s happening, and they won’t have you there to explain that it really COULD happen like that. I just laughed a little bit.

I got a lot out of the workshop, but I can’t really be in it anymore, because my clinic sort of blew up this semester, and after all the New Bedford post-raid stuff, it turns out both of my asylum clients have their interviews in the next three or four weeks.

This semester has been terrible for writing pages. Just terrible. It didn’t work out like I thought at all, and things usually do. But what can you do? On the other hand, I got all the first-person insight into the asylum process that I hoped I would, and was a witness to the aftermath of an immigration tragedy here in the state. I’m still trying to figure out how I want to write about that, because there’s so much to tell. But I know I will be writing about it, and soon.

I won’t forget Mike and Mili and the Garzas. I’m not going to let their hundred-plus pages just linger around. I just now have people’s families and safety to worry about in an immediate way, and then? Finals. I hope they understand.

Chapter One

I became Mili’s voice for the first time in April, back when she was just another intake at the Refugee Center. It was my first week as legal clinic interpreter, a sticky week in Los Angeles, when the heat and the dirt sat thinly over the city and soaked into your head and made your clothes all feel too tight. The moment I met her wasn’t anything special. Earlier that day I’d done my first interpretation for a full political asylum interview with a client, and broken out in a sticky sweat in the men’s staff bathroom afterward. That was the real event of the day.

The new Chapter 1 got finished and sent out to a dozen law students tonight. Scary. But it did require me to do some good edits and write a new 2-3 pages. Will report back on Wed. with how they took it.


I’m still…somewhere.

I had the idea that Winter term would be less work than usual, instead of three times as much. Besides the trial advocacy workshop, I had journal work, an issue of the paper, and a looming moot court brief I haven’t written a word of. I haven’t written a word on the novel since my last post.

And I’m disappointed, but I still feel optimistic about the whole thing. I look forward to getting back to my family and story. I wish that were now, but I like what I’m doing, and I KNOW I’ll be writing again soon. I wish I had been a shining beacon of reliability, churning out 5 pages a week, but life happens, and I’m hardly defeated.

I’m in an immigration clinic this semester that will have me working on real asylum cases like Mili’s – I know a lot intellectually about asylum, and I’ve worked with asylees in intake and after they’ve already won, but never on the case itself. I have the feeling this is going to give me something amazing for Mili’s story. And maybe it’s good to soak in that information BEFORE I write 50 pages of factually incorrect stuff about her and have to go back and change it.

Hope I’ll have plenty of page counts to post here in the coming month.

Thanks folks.

Feeling better. I’m giving myself a break – hopefully I can write some this weekend, but you know, if I don’t write anything until after finals are over (12/18), the world will go on. And I’ll return to Mike and Mili and Becky and Esther and ‘Ama and ‘Apa and even Cousin Mando with a little bit of distance and a less busy mind. I’ve still written 120+ pages of something, and that’s something to feel good about.

The Cameroon Story

So I recently assigned an important supporting character, Emiliane (Mili), the nationality of Cameroonian. She needed to be applying for political asylum in the U.S. (not arriving as a refugee), and she needed to be French-speaking, Christian, and clearly non-Mexican looking. After looking at a chart of who applies most for asylum, I switched from my first idea of Congo to Cameroon. But I didn’t know anything about the politics of Cameroon. And I had to construct her story of persecution, as my main character meets her translating for her at the community organization representing her, and her asylum interview and hearing would figure in the story.

Two Fridays ago, I got a very last-minute opportunity to go to the Boston DOJ Immigration Court for a training on appearing before the court and a mock asylum hearing. The night before the training, the HLS contact emailed us the mock affidavit of the client, stating his entire story of persecution, and mock direct and cross-examination questions for him.

Are you ready? The pretend client was from Cameroon. Of all things. I was literally handed the life story, family and geographic details, and tale of political persecution of a person from this small and unknown country. City names, names of opposition groups. Hard to believe.
I couldn’t think anything but that, I better keep writing this book. Mili is very pleased that she’ll get a strong and accurate story.

Chapter Two

I killed my truck’s engine outside ‘Ama’s house at five-fifty a.m. It was the Monday of my second week of work, and it was way too early – at this hour you could only hear a couple cars swoop down Ocean Boulevard, and three or four seagulls winging toward the water line. But ‘Ama got up exactly at six, and so my sisters and I had to get in there before she opened her eyes. I hauled my guitar case out of the back and met Becky at the curb, blinking sleepily behind her glasses.

Sorry for the absence – the moot competition was all-consuming. The writers’ group really responded well to the first chapter, which was very gratifying. They specifically praised the voice and the main character for being real and interesting – a GIANT relief since I’ve been terrified trying to write a 1st person male narrator was an extremely bad idea, and I feel much better about plugging on with that kind of feedback from basically neutral folks. I LIKE Mike, and I like writing him.

I’m sending them the 2nd chapter this week. It was nice to dive in and patch it back together. Chapter 2 used to be Chapter 1, so it needed some continuity and exposition-trimming work. I only wish I were forced to turn stuff in every week, since it’s been so hard to keep writing this semester without it. Hopefully now that the competition is over I can use the free(er) evenings to that purpose.

Show and Tell

I’ve rejoined the writer’s group at HLS, and against my better judgment (or perhaps right along with it), I volunteered to be one of the people who shared writing the very first week. At the moment I did that, I thought to myself, “This will be easy. I’ll just send around chapter one of the novel and get feedback. I won’t even have to write anything new.”

I didn’t remember until later that day that Chapter One isn’t finished. The original first chapter I wrote got pushed back to a different point, and I started writing a new opening that was a little more immediate, and then forgot to finish. Chapter One is currently 9 pages of really good, but incomplete stuff.

So now I HAVE to make it work, at least well enough to share, in time to email it out Monday. On one hand, yikes, and on the other, I’m glad to have this kick in the pants. I’ve already made some good edits, and I’m pleased to be back in front of the words.


I’m still here!

I was without my computer for almost 6 weeks, and when I finally got it back, it was finals. Then Christmas. You know.

But the dream, if deferred, is not dead. After a month away, I pulled out the plot outline. And didn’t like everything I saw, and so revamped. Then I looked at most of the pages I had so far and re-ordered them. There’s still a good 100 useful pages in there.

But the most important news is that I wrote a new 3 or 4 pages today, for the first time since November, so that was very major. It’s going to be slow going, but I’m back in action.


I’m throwing a tantrum. I’m throwing a tantrum. It’s my first one! Yaaaaar! I haven’t written a page since my last post. That means I missed a week for the FIRST TIME and I may just miss this one too. Law school is making this hard. STILL NOT HAVING MY COMPUTER is making this impossible. Writing 5 pages at a time without the computer is like making patches for a quilt and hiding them in drawers all around the house and never looking at two at once. IT’S NOT WORKING. I “should” be writing a seminar paper (easy, just needs face time), outlining (medium and not very interesting), and a couple other minor things. I can’t get in the Garza headspace enough.

I read writer blogs and books and they reprimand you that a writer writes every day, or in little bits where possible, and it’s just NOT WORKING for me. Too much head-switching. I need blocks of time and I can’t have them. Then I feel guilty because a “real” writer would write 1/8 of a chapter on an envelope with a tube of lip gloss and I must not want it enough. Fuck. I do. I just need three hours and a comfy chair and NOT the sight of tense law students with casebooks, and that’s basically impossible right now. I want to check in to a B&B for three days. Maybe that’s what I’ll do during the break between winter term and spring. Right now, I’m just irritated.

I have a book in me. But I’m looking at it through a pencil hole in a piece of paper and so it looks small and stupid. I’m trying to make spaghetti for 20 with a machine that squeezes out one piece of angel hair at a time.

And I need to write it, more than ever. I got the monthly update on my L.A. family and they’re doing badly in the usual ways (health, money, criminal records). This book gets at some of that. It exorcises some stuff. And it’s a generation that doesn’t get much play in literature. And whatever, I just like it.

And I don’t hate law school. It’s finally getting relevant and interesting. There’s just TOO DAMN MUCH OF IT.

YAAAR. This vacation only made me see how much MORE vacation I need. Still, I’m going to write this damn book. Just see if I don’t. Just…not today.

Post a comment, any comment.

Chugging along

4-and-change more pages today. Figured it was OK since last week I went one over. Still without my computer, which really sucks. Can’t wait to actually line all these random pieces up and see if it makes some kind of story.

Next week my page counts go down – 4 and 3s all the way to New Year. Looking forward to it, a little, but all in all I’d rather be plugging away on the novel than law school exams.

But it turns out they don’t let you be a lawyer without passing some exams. So I’d better get to that.