Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The Craft of being a Wordsmith by Juliana Aragon Fatula

Red Canyon Falling on Churches Poetry Award, High Plains Book Festival, Billings, MT 2016
1995ish, Denver, Colorado Su Teatro headshot for DOD tour with Latin Locomotions.
 If I knew then, what I know now...

March 4, 2020

These are some of my favorite quotes on writing by Ernest Hemmingway:

"When people talk listen completely. Don't be thinking what you're going to say. Most people never listen. Nor do they observe. You should be able to go into a room and when you come out know everything that you saw there and not only that. If that room gave you any feeling you should know exactly what it was that gave you that feeling. Try that for practice. When you're in town stand outside the theatre and see how the people differ in the way they get out of taxis and motor cars. There are a thousand ways to practice. And always think of other people."
"I haven't seen Gertrude Stein since last fall. Her Making of Americans is one of the very greatest books I've ever read."

"Am very ashamed not to have written. Was over-run by journalists, photographers and plain and fancy crazies. Was in the middle of writing a book and it is a little like being interrupted in fornication."

"You see I'm trying in all my stories to get the feeling of the actual life across--not to just depict life--or criticize it--but to actually make it alive. So that when you have read something by me you actually experience the thing. You can't do this without putting in the bad and the ugly as well as what is beautiful. Because if it is all beautiful you can't believe in it. Things aren't that way. It is only by showing both sides--3 dimensions and if possible 4 that you can write the way I want to."

"I believe that basically you write for two people; yourself to try to make it absolutely perfect; or if not that then wonderful. Then you write for who you love whether she can read or write or not and whether she is alive or dead."

"Then there is the other secret There isn't any symbolysm. (mis-spelled). The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The shark are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know."

Dear Reader,

This post will be about the craft of writing a novel. I’ve been writing poetry for decades but I’m working on my first novel, a romance mystery about two private investigator sisters named L.A. and Eva Mondragon.

I enjoy reading mysteries but to tell you the truth, I never imagined I’d write one, yet here I am 54979 words and 202 pages into my first novel, The Colorado Sisters.  My characters are Chicanas from Colorado and have a unique perspective on life in the Chicano community. I have spent years crafting this first novel and reading about the craft of writing by master writers. I’ve read a variety of authors from this genre and especially enjoy writers of color who write mysteries.

I’ve learned valuable skills from other writers by reading their novels, but books on writing give precise tools needed for the specific genre. My favorite is Stephen King on Writing because he’s one of my favorite authors but also because he is an excellent teacher with an incredible sense of humor.

I value the expertise in Linda Rodriguez’ book, Plotting the Character Driven Novel. I go to her book often for the gems that make her books so interesting. Her book helped me more than any other because it is a short handbook that you can carry with you everywhere and whip it out and study when you have a spare minute to read. Her list of books by writers on writing is the list I used to research and study. 

I highly recommend both of these books for the novice writer who wants to learn from the master writers. Both Stephen King and Linda Rodriguez list several other books about writing and I have listed those here for you. I’ve read all of them and I’ve singled out my favorites.: Carolyn See, Making a Literary Life, Dorothea Brande, Becoming a Writer, Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones, Annie Dillard, The Writing Life.

I majored in English and minored in creative writing. I studied with professors from Colorado State University of Pueblo and became part of the writers crowd on campus. I added dates to my calendar to attend coffee houses, bars, and bookstores for literary events. I attended readings by guest writers and workshopped with several of these and joined a circle of writers that have mentored me along my journey. I learned from each of them and networked with them on social media and by email.

I became a published poet because my independent study professor asked me to write and submit my manuscript to a publisher. He suggested a small press in Denver, Ghost Road Press and encouraged me to send them my work. If not for that push, I might not have ever been published. I had no confidence in getting a contract, but to my surprise the publishers wanted my poems.

I graduated in 2008 and by 2009 I had my first book of poetry, Crazy Chicana in Catholic City. With this bit of confidence, I began working on my second book of poetry. This next book was published because one of the editors from Ghost Road Press moved to another press, Conundrum Press. She asked me to join her and a few other writers and move to the new press. I met the new publisher, Caleb Seeling, for dinner, and he asked if I had any more poetry and I told him, “I happen to have a manuscript with me.” I whipped it out of my bag and handed it to him. He published my second book, Red Canyon Falling on Churches, as well.

The confidence of being published gave me the nerve to write my second book of poetry, Red Canyon Falling on Churches and being published by a second press, Conundrum Press, gave me the guts to hand him my second manuscript. I had never been given a rejection, but I have since received several. It’s part of the process. Not every press will want to publish your writing but if you don’t submit, you will never know.

My chapbook, The Road I Ride Bleeds, was published by a writer that I workshopped with after being published. It was a short-lived experiment of the Sexy Bitches, Women Who Write Whatever the Fuck They Want, Writers Workshop. Out of that collaboration one of the writers asked me to submit my poems to her Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press in Pueblo, CO.  And my first chapbook of poems was printed. It’s beautiful in its simplicity. The artwork and cover are one of my favorites. I owe these writers, editors, publishers, professors, a debt of gratitude. That is why I help new writers get started. I know it takes a village.

I asked master writers I networked with in college lots of questions. I interviewed them for my blog and became acquainted with their story.  I attended writing workshops to learn more about the craft of writing.

I met Sandra Cisneros, author of House on Mango Street, at a fund raiser at Rawlings Library in Pueblo. I handed her a copy of my book, Crazy Chicana in Catholic City, the first edition. She asked me to sign it. I did. The next day at her reading at the Rawlings Library in Pueblo, Colorado she saw me in the front row and asked me about my book. She told the audience she had read it that night at the motel and she was going to buy copies for her friends for gifts. She asked if I had any books with me. I told her I had a box of books in my car in the parking lot. My dear friend and librarian, Leslie Fitzgerald, at the Pueblo School of Arts and Sciences ran downstairs and hauled the books up for me to sell next to Sandra Cisneros at her book signing. Sandra changed my life that day as my professors, fellow students, and the community watched in awe as she praised my little book of poems. The Pueblo Chieftain ran an article on the event and mentioned my name and book.

Afterward, she asked me to apply to her writing workshop, Macondo. She told me to keep trying if I didn’t get accepted the first year because they only selected a few writers each year. I was accepted on my second application and became a Macondista along with hundreds of master writers in the U.S.

I remember the book blurb Sandra generously gave me and told me to use on my book. “Your writing makes me want to write poetry.” When my first book was republished as a second edition, I added her blurb to the cover. She gifted me a valuable review of my book in just a few words and her name.

I attended the Associations of Writers and Publishers, AWP, in Denver, Colorado and met several writers. Mi comadre, Linda Rodriguez, took me under her wing and I’ve never forgotten her generosity and encouragement. We only met once but have kept in touch and now I’m part of her group of mystery writers, the Stiletto Gang. She introduced me to a great community of women mystery writers, and they keep me informed about writing competitions and workshops.

I’ve been blessed with opportunities to meet and work with master writers in several genres but the writer who influence me the most is the Chicana Icon and activist, Denise Chavez. She critiqued my first draft and made me take a good look at my style. She offered me invaluable advice and helped me smooth the rough edges. But most importantly she taught me how to critique other aspiring writers, with honesty, and no non-sense feedback. There is no better way to learn how to write, than to ask a master writer to read your novel and give you feedback. They know their craft and you can learn from them if you listen to their advice.

This is how I became a writer. I read books by authors I loved and by authors suggested to me by other writers. I read books on writing by master writers. I attended writing workshops with master writers, but also with student writers, and local authors. I took seriously the craft of writing and gave myself self-imposed deadlines to finish projects. I revised, edited, and asked other writers to critique my work and I learned every time I rewrote my work.

One piece of advice from Sandra Cisneros, don’t write a good book, write a great one. I hear that quote in my head and ask myself, is this book great, or just good? And then I set out to make it great.

I remember Denise Chavez telling me in a writing workshop, that’s bullshit, now tell the real story. And I rewrite the story and tell the truth.

Stephen King has great advice on writing. I studied his book, wrote in the margins, highlighted, tabbed pages, and reread his book three times. I did the same with Linda Rodriquez’ book on writing. I keep them nearby so I can go to them whenever I need a refresher course.

In conclusion, I’ll add that one of my favorite writers, Ernest Hemmingway, has a great book on writing filled with quotes from letters he wrote to other writers. Stephen King gave the same advice as Hemmingway, say it with as few words as possible. I try.

The last thing I will tell you is this, I teach writing workshops and I workshop with other writers because that is part of the philosophy of the Macondo Foundation, to help other writers who are marginalized. I read their unpublished poems and manuscripts and offer suggestions and give feedback because I support and encourage other writers who are struggling as I did in the beginning. This is the way I keep my skills honed, by helping others, and in turn, I learn from each writer I help.

The opportunities to participate in Book Festivals, Writing Workshops, and Book Signing Events with other writers has to be the best part of being a writer. For me, the socializing with people who understand what being a writer takes, dedication, isolation, passion, goal-oriented, competitive, energetic, and thick-skinned.

I've only won a couple of writing awards but having people give you money, an award, and applause while praising your work has to be the second best part of the job. But being invited to speak, or teach, or workshop with students and fans makes me feel complete and satisfied to have chosen the life of being a writer and giving to the community of writers. But to be honest, as a performance artist, I live for the stage and the mic and the audience laughter and tears. Reading a poem or telling a story to a live audience is medicine to my soul.

Think about the ideas I've presented and write me a comment if you have questions or feedback. I delight in chatting with my readers. It helps me to grow as a blogger to hear your questions. Thank you for taking time to read my post and let's all just give peace a chance. One World. One Love.


  1. Good luck with your first novel!

  2. Good luck with your new book --- with the craft and wisdom you mention, I know it will be succinct/lyrical/and great!

    1. Thank you, Debra. It means so much to me to be a part of the Stiletto Gang. My writing has improved simply by having deadlines and blogging once or twice a month.

  3. Thank you for posting all the books on writing. I know reading them while writing my book River of Love really helped me. I enjoyed this blog because I learned some new info about you. I'm very excited about the Colorado Sisters looking forward to the book and reading it over and over.