Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Dillon Beach, California and my first experience conducting a Writing Workshop

by Juliana Aragón Fatula, author of Crazy Chicana in Catholic City, Red Canyon Falling On Churches, and The Road I Ride Bleeds. 
Dillon Beach is a hideaway that sits along the Pacific Ocean near San Francisco. It is one of my favorite places in the world. It was at Dillon Beach that I held my first writing workshop: Crazy Colorado Chicanas First Annual Writing Workshop. My sister, Aimée, listened to an interview by Sandra Cisneros on NPR and called me from her home in California very excited. She wasn’t making sense. She threw out words like writing on the beach, workshop, Sandra, me, her, the Pacific Highway, Airstream, seals, fishermen, Bodega Bay, and the River of Love.

She invited me to visit her in California for a couple of weeks. Relatives and fish stink after three days, but we were more than family, we were best friends for 45 years. She kept the notes from high school that I wrote to her and we had a grand time laughing about how silly we were in the 1970’s. Apparently, I was a writer even back then, I had no idea I would become a member of the Sandra Cisneros Macondo Writers Workshop or that Sandra would become my mentor and friend. I told my husband, “I’m going to a writing retreat in California and if you know what’s good for you – help me pack.” He was happy to send me away. Two weeks of eating out and watching sports and hunting shows on TV for him and a wife coming home rested, grateful, and happy.

I enjoyed my train ride across the west and wrote about what I viewed out the window. The Rocky Mountains past Denver, the Utah Canyons, the wild Mustangs, the rural train stops in small towns. I was able to visit with two of my best friends, Alice in Denver and Eva in Grand Junction. It was the beginning of a great adventure.  I had work shopped in San Antonio at Macondo but this time I was the instructor, not the student. I brought my manuscript rough draft, my laptop, and my enthusiasm.

We drove to Dillon Beach along the Pacific Coast highway. It was July and the eucalyptus trees gave off a magical scent. The sand between my toes, walking on the beach in sunrise and sunset hours, visiting small towns on the coast for shopping and dining out, sharing stories, listening to our favorite Neil Young songs, dancing in the moonlight. It was a transcendent awakening.
I worked on my manuscript, Gathering Momentum: A Spiritual Memoir. I read poetry and meditated. I walked alone on the beach and watched baby seals swimming out to sea.

At night, the solar panels would shut down the electricity and we switched to lanterns and candles. It was sublime. No slaving over a hot stove, we were blessed with her husband’s frozen homemade meals to heat and serve. Our time was spent enjoying the fresh sea air, and the sky full of birds. I learned how to coach someone writing their first novel, she learned how hard it is to write well. I shared Sandra’s writing wisdom: “If you’re going to write, don’t be good, be great.” We set our expectations high.

At the end of the two weeks I rode the train home to Colorado and relived the experience as I wrote in my journal. It was the happiest two weeks I’d had in a long time. To be with someone you love, with the freedom to write or read all day long uninterrupted, to walk the beach, collect sea stones and starfish, to read poetry and meditate, to be free to be a writer; it was the perfect atmosphere and we worked our asses off.  
Aimée finished her manuscript, River of Love and began submitting short stories on my recommendation. You’ll never get published if you don’t submit. She is my best friend, cousin, sister, comadre and has helped more than she knows. She gave me confidence when I had none. She encouraged me with her words and wisdom and gave me a room of my own in Dillon Beach and I will forever be grateful.  I now have the courage to teach others how to write and explore the publishing opportunities for Chicanas. Her admiration and pep talks push me to success. I no longer think of myself as just a poet. I am a writer. I am an artist. 

Juliana Aragón Fatula is a member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop, founded by Sandra Cisneros, which is a group of dedicated and compassionate writers who view their work and talents as part of a larger task of community-building and non-violent social change. Crazy Chicana in Catholic City  and  Red Canyon Falling on Churches, was published by Conundrum Press, Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press published her chapbook, The Road I Ride Bleeds. Her poetry has appeared in Open Windows III, El Tecolote and Pilgrimage; she is currently writing a mystery.


  1. Fascinating post--and what a wonderful experience.

  2. How nice! I would dearly love a two-week writing retreat. There's not much better I can think of than to spend my time doing what I love, which is writing and hanging out with other writers. What a great experience for you.

    I also love traveling by train. I've often thought of riding the train across country and doing nothing along the way but writing on my book, meeting people, and seeing the sights. Your piece has rekindled that idea.

    1. Kimberly, I'm glad it inspired you to ride the train and write. It felt natural, like I'd done it all my life. But I like pretending and I can pretend with the best of them.