Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Nuestras Voces, Our Voices: Emerging Latina writers talk about their work - Melinda Palacio

Editor's note: this is the sixth in monthly series of guest blog posts in which emerging Latina writers talk about their work, their process and what inspires them.

Melinda Palacio is an award-winning poet and novelist. She lives in Santa Barbara and New Orleans. Her poetry chapbook, Folsom Lockdown, won Kulupi Press’ Sense of Place 2009 award. She is the author of the novel, Ocotillo Dreams (ASU Bilingual Press 2011), for which she received the Mariposa Award for Best First Book at the 2012 International Latino Book Awards and a 2012 PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature. Her short stories and poetry have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies. Her first full-length poetry collection, How Fire Is a Story, Waiting, (Tia Chucha Press 2012) was a finalist for the Binghamton University Milt Kessler Poetry Award and the Patterson Poetry Prize. Read more of Melinda's work at www.melindapalacio.com or every other Friday on La Bloga. http://labloga.blogspot.com/2013/05/readings-and-greetings-at-old-zoo-in.html

Think, Dream, Write

My inspiration and writing process continues to evolve. Sometimes the change is so drastic, I wonder if I have a personality disorder because I don't favor routines. Even my favorite foods and color vary.

When it comes to writing, whether it be fiction or poetry, what motivates me most is getting the story right. I don't need to be in the same room every day in order to write. Rituals are lost on me because I often take my laptop and work in a different area of my house. Speaking of houses, I live in two different cities, Santa Barbara and New Orleans. Therefore, I can't rely on setting or mood.

Much of my inspiration for storytelling involved looking at old family photo albums. My grandmother would point to pictures of relatives I had never met and would tell me who they were and what they were doing when the photograph was taken. The photographs gave me a strong visual sense. I didn't realize it until I heard California Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, describe looking through old photos with his mother as an early act of poem making. Poem making and myth making through stories of family photos are some of my earliest memories. With three or four phrases from my grandmother, I would craft a whole story in my head and dream up an entire narrative.

Before I sit down to write, I like to apply the Think Method, as seen in the 1962 film the Music Man in which a con artist teaches a small town's children how to strike up a band and make music by thinking, rather than practicing. I'll often spend hours and weeks thinking of new scene, chapter, or essay before I compose with pen and paper. At some point, I transfer my draft to the computer. Given that I'm dyslexic and cannot read my writing, I rely more on thinking and remembering my initial idea. Sometimes, the ideas come to me in dreams. I keep a notebook and pen by my bed because as much as I will myself to remember, I often forget the idea by the next day.

While I love variety and working in different genres, especially fiction and poetry, what I truly enjoy most is revision and the noise a crumpled paper makes when it lands in the recycling basket. This is more fun than a virtual manuscript and garbage can on the computer screen.

My motivation doesn't change. I still want to write the best poem that I can possibly write, the best book, or the best blog post. My secret is to read my work aloud. All the hiccups and extra words stand out better when I read something out loud. This is a step that's easy to skip when I am on deadline, but I'm much happier with the work when I slow down and take the time to read my draft out loud from a printed page.

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