Recap: My time as a fellow at the 55th UP National Writers Workshop
Surprise! This was one of those things I ended up doing. An opportunity to join the UP National Writers Workshop as a fellow came up, and I took it. The application required a work in progress, and I had two at the time of the deadline. One was an experimental not-dystopia, the other a contemporary romance that was going to be part of my Chic Manila series. My husband M wanted me to submit The Future Chosen, but I decided to apply “as myself.” The workshop has a reputation for being somewhat…harsh (“Whatever they tell you there, don’t cry!” was the advice of more than one person to me) but that didn’t scare me off. You probably know by now how much of a fan I am of experimenting on myself, for the sake of learning something new.
So I sent in an excerpt from Iris After the Incident, the contemporary romance I was writing at the time. This is the book description:
Which moment has defined your life so far?
Whether she likes it or not, Iris’s life has been divided into two: Before the Incident, and After the Incident. Something very private was made very public, and since then life has been about recovering from being shamed, discovering her true friends, and struggling to find a new normal.
Two years into this new life and she finally connects with a guy again. He lives in the apartment down the hall, he’s hot, and he doesn’t look at her that way. He doesn’t know what happened. But he also won’t give her his name, not right away—which has to mean he’s got something to hide too.
Iris wants to start over. Should she do that with the only person who will understand, or is this the same idiotic decision that got her in trouble in the first place?
While the book is as light and snarky as my other books, “The Incident” is a shadow that hovers over it. It’s a bit dark, in that way. Maybe exactly the thing I could send over to be workshopped? In any case, I was accepted. Yikes!
For the first time, the workshop was held in UPLB (it had been in Baguio before this year). We spent most of the workshop week at the BP International Hotel inside UPLB. My Instagram feed documented all of the meals, and I did that instead of commenting on the workshop itself because…I was nervous. I usually know my way around my little corner of publishing, but this was a new world, and I felt humbled and unsure. I decided early on that I was going there to learn, and to hear things meant for me, even if they probably weren’t what I usually heard, or wanted to hear.
That’s why there were more food shots than literature commentary.
What didn’t get included in the captions for the food pics: The many, many, many conversations I had with workshop fellows and panelists about romance, and Wattpad, and indie publishing, romance marketing, every little experiment I’ve tried that was fun so I kept doing it. I know I’m not the only chick lit/romance author to have gone through UPNWW, but it seems like I might have been one of the first to have a romance genre text workshopped. I did feel like I was representing the genre and this kind of writing, and that was both fun and a little daunting.
But primarily, fun. I need to emphasize that. I didn’t cry! Haha. I like talking about the prickly and sensitive themes and tropes. I enjoy talking about the genre and how to find readers and making attractive people read excerpts. It’s daunting only when I think of this being someone’s entry point into this thing I care about so much and I don’t want to screw up. I want to say the right things. I want to make sure I don’t misrepresent the community of authors and readers who love these books so much.
My session was during the second half of the workshop, later that week, and it was moderated by novelist Charlson Ong. Along with my application we all had to submit an essay answering the question of why we write what we write, and here’s what I sent them. And here’s a summary of the session from the UPNWW blog. I got asked some tough, but expected questions. I enjoyed answering every single one — not just the ones during the session, but every time someone asked me something. It felt good to have answers, or at least suggestions that come from experience. I had thoughts to share about engaging readers, and how certain works and authors could go a little further than maybe they originally intended. We who write “commercial” romance in English face the challenge of finding readers as well, but what we’ve done can work for others. In general I believe that good work will find an audience. Some may need more help than others, but there are many ways to help. I hope I was able to convey that if not in my own session then in the other conversations.
If as a romance author you feel that this was something that wasn’t open to you, I can tell you that it is. If you have any other questions about the experience, I can tell you more. All in all, a great experience. This was a fun group. I got to see great places, eat a lot of food, meet accomplished people. There was a performance night and I channeled Rachel Coates when I read some pages from one of my books — and got complimented for it. (“Thanks! I did a ‘Rachel.'”)