NEW Publication – Hybrid piece: TONIC featured in DUENDE

Hi everyone, I am very pleased to announce that I have a new piece out today titled, “Tonic” and it is featured in the prose – hybrid section of DUENDE, the literary arts journal from the amazing team of the BFA in Writing program at Goddard College.

Tonic is a surrealism piece very close to my heart and I am just so honored and proud that the editorial team at Duende has chosen to feature it in their second issue. It’s an amazing feeling for me to see another one of my pieces in published format.

Tonic falls under the genre of hybrid because of the poetic language and the use of surrealism which gives this creation so many layers. Weaving fiction, memoir and poetry together and splicing the different elements is what in many ways makes this piece a tonic, to be consumed, devoured, ingested allowing it to bubble and brew within the canals of your stomach. A tonic to stimulate the senses, the mind, a tonic for the soul. Who doesn’t like a sip of a hybridized work of art. I hope you all enjoy it. Cheers!

Freshly Brewed

TONIC in DUENDE

Freshly brewed TONIC

Overhaul

Hi everyone,

I know, it’s been a while (about a year and a half – I think). So I figured it was time to pay attention to my blog and give it a facelift, let it catch up to where I am these days. I’ve done some reflective thinking and an overhaul of who I am and what this blog means to me was in order.

Here goes it:

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Since finishing school (December 2013) things have been going fairly well for me. First off, I finally I earned my B.A. in English Creative Writing. It was tough – 10 years TOUGH. But I did it and I am proud.

As school was nearing its end, I was planning my journey into furthering my education.  I originally was ready to jump right into an MA or MFA program and after being accepted into the CSUN Creative Writing MA program I was very excited. However, I ultimately decided not to make that jump just yet, and to take it slow and explore all other options. I was really enjoying not having to go to class, plus, the lack of money for tuition was a big influence on my decision.

However, no worries here because I am still a student, in truth forever a student. As a graduation gift, my boss who is also one of my many mentors gave me a semester’s worth of classes with the poet and teacher, Jack Grapes in his Method Writing class in Los Angeles. It has changed my writing – it has changed my life. It had been so long since I had last written for myself or for the sake of art or for the sake of writing. For a very long time now, I had been writing for a grade, writing to impress a professor, writing to impress my peers, writing to get into  a graduate program. This change really allowed me to relax and actually focus on what I want to write and to really invest myself into plans and project ideas that I’ve allowed to sit on the back burner for too long a time. I have now been in Jack’s class for more than a year and am learning so much and am feeling very good about it. He provides 4 semesters a year, each 6 weeks long. It is so different and just what I needed.

I of course will always value the education I received at CSUN in the traditional school setting and still use what I learned. It is after all what further ignited my passion for writing. However, it’s good to have a break from the academic side of writing so that I may focus on the creative side. Who knows if I will end up doing an MFA program in the future. I still very much want to and if I do, then great, bring it on! But as of right now, I am fine with where I am. I realized, that I don’t need that degree to be a writer – I already am one. Yes, the MFA could give me a leg up in the professional world with job hunting and such but for now I am happy just taking Jack Grapes’ Method Writing Approach. In the end, I shall see what the future holds in regards to school and my writing, after all she is a fickle mistress.

Another new development is that I have decided to change my name when it comes to being published. Dont get me wrong, I LOVE my name. I love my WHOLE name – I love the way it sounds and the way it looks when its all spelled out, each name with its double letters creating a snakelike force to be tangled with. I originally published under Alessandra Rebekkah Castellanos. But let’s be honest here – that’s a mouthful for people to say. I’m really just begging for people to butcher my name. Alessandra is hard enough for people, half the time they call me Alexandra or Alejandra and if we add Rebekkah and Castellanos to the mix, I’m afraid peoples mouths would spontaneously combust. I’ve had people suggest that I remove my middle name to make it easier  but I feel that it’s just as important, I don’t know, perhaps I’m vain when it comes to my name. In any case, I am fully aware that there are many people who can say my name just fine, but I feel like ultimately what I want is for people to focus on my writing, on what I have to say, on the art that I create.

Therefore I have abbreviated my first and middle names and will now (hopefully if I continue to get published in the future) be known as  A. R. Castellanos. I really think that this allows the reader to focus on the piece. I also feel it adds mystery and ambiguity to whether I am female or male, and it doesn’t allow the reader to make any snap judgments before reading the actual work, which often happens as the literary world is still at times one sided when it comes to gender. I’m not saying I’ve been a victim to this kind of treatment but I unfortunately do know those that have been, I just feel that this change was needed and it feels right. So in regards to my writing, A. R. Castellanos it is!

Here’s a look at a chapbook I created for Jack’s class with my newly minted professional writer name. I think it looks pretty cool.

Final project in Method Writing for the beginner level. Artwork: "Dark Connections" by Mando Castellanos (My Bro).
Final project in Method Writing for the beginner level. Artwork: “Dark Connections” by Mando Castellanos (my brother).

Lastly, and therefore in keeping up with these developments, I have tried to update this site. Aside from the theme (the look and experience of this blog which I feel is now giving off a nice clean writerly mood), I also changed the web address. So from now on, it is arcastellanos.wordpress.com instead of alessandrawrites.wordpress.com. I will still be keeping up with the theme of AlessandraWrites because I am still just me and I am still just writing. I’m not a huge success (although I would love to be someday) and I want to keep it relaxed, so although I strive to be a professional writer, I do also very much enjoy just keeping it simple. And ultimately, if anyone wants to look me up after reading my work they would be able to do so by searching under my published name. Who knows if anyone will bother, but nonetheless, the option is there. I hope that all makes sense. Remember, it’s still me writing.

Until next time,

– AlessandraWrites

P.S. I have a few publications coming out soon, so stay tuned.

My 1st Published Poem

Earlier this month I was overcome with joy when my first published poem was released. It’s taken me a while to announce it because well, I’m just terrible that way. You can find it in Chaparral, an online literary arts journal featuring poetry from Southern California or in the link below.

Quick note about the poem:

Over the 2013 spring semester at CSUN I took English 309 (verse writing). I was really nervous because I hadn’t written a poem in many many years. For a long time I had closed myself off from writing especially towards poetry and I was afraid I would be laughed at for deplorable poetry. In the end, I loved the class and was very comfortable and excited to write more. As the semester went on, I was assigned to read Museum of Accidents, a book of poetry by Rachel Zucker. I then had the task of writing a poem inspired by her writing style. My professor loved the poem so much so that she wanted to publish it in the online poetry journal, Chaparral that she runs. I of course had to wait to officially submit it to the journal after my semester was over otherwise there would be a conflict of interest. Therefore once the semester had concluded I submitted the poem and it was accepted. So ready or not, here is my first published poem…

My Poem to You as Love Letter # 2

- AlessandraWrites

On the Radio whoa oh oh…

Hi everyone!

I am delighted to announce that my first piece “Hello America…” published by Drunken Boat was read aloud on the radio!!!!! Can you see me smiling? :)

Life has a way of surprising you when you least expect it. Now, I’m not saying that my life is perfect by any means (trust me, it’s far from perfection) or that I am some kind of superstar writer (only in my wildest dreams & stories can I say that) – but I am saying that just when questioning my goals and my ability to be a writer started to be a daily issue for me, I was suddenly swept up in a whirlwind of excitement to keep on trying and to live the dream rather than just dreaming it when I received a message from beyond the clouds.

It all started when I happened to check my Facebook (a feat I rarely remember to do) as I was taking a break from mopping some hardwood floors at my mom’s job – she’s a housekeeper and when I have the free time away from work or school I help her. Either way, just as I was making my way to the living room from the dining room I took a break to laze away on someone else’s couch and check my Facebook updates on my phone ( I know, I know – what a model employee, haha!).

Now here is where the story starts to move from blah blah blah to Holy Smokes!!!!! One of the messages waiting for me was from my former Drunken Boat corresponding nonfiction editor, Erin Wilcox. Her message explained that she was going to be on a radio show promoting the journals partnership with the Librotraficante movement. Have you heard of the Librotraficante movement taking place in AZ and TX and spreading across the country? It’s outstanding and in short, it is a New Latino Renaissance in literature and art born from the negative attitudes towards ethnic studies and the banning of books in certain areas around the country. Here are some links to check out, get acquainted with the movement Librotraficante (PW) and Librotraficante.com.

Together Erin Wilcox and the Drunken Boat team are collaborating with Librotraficante to create a special issue of the journal to help support the movement. Erin wrote me to ask if I wouldn’t mind if she could read my story, “Hello America, Hasta Luego Guatemala! 1969!” on the radio to help indicate the kind of submissions DB would be looking for.  EEEK! That came out of left field. I of course said YES!!!! :)

Erin went on the “Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say” radio show on 90.1 FM KPFT to announce the submission dates and info on the issue as well as to speak to Tony Diaz (founder of “Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say” and leader of Librotraficante). They discussed the urgency behind the creation of the momentous portfolio and what the mission and significance behind the issue is . Erin felt that my piece speaks to what they’re looking for and she read it on the May 28th broadcast.  Originally I was asked to be on air to read it, however, work got in the way so Erin just read it for me. Unfortunately, she was only allotted time to read an excerpt of the story, but it was still really AWESOME!!!! It was a very surreal moment to be able to hear it when I later tuned into the podcast. My mom cried listening to it, and to be honest, my eyes were wet too. Erin was really great to have gotten in touch with me about it.

I am very proud and honored and hope that I can keep up this momentum to produce more work that feeds my soul and perhaps the souls of some readers too. It is ironically fitting that my work was chosen to help promote the issue and more importantly the Latino writers voice within our society when I have so often doubted myself and my own writing. Now, all there is to do, is to keep writing! :)

-AlessandraWrites

*** The original broadcast on the radio website has expired, therefore I am trying to see if I can upload the audio file directly onto here. Unfortunately, I am having difficulties with linking and/or adding the audio file to the site since its a podcast (i’m not too tech savy). When I’ve finally figured it out, I will be sure to add it in so that those that are interested can listen to it. 

The Panel Experience

Guest Author Follow-Up

Hello everyone!

Previously on AlessandraWrites (to be more accurate – more than a year ago, yikes!), I gushed about how I was invited to be a “guest-author” of sorts to an LAVC college classroom for an informal discussion along with a Q&A session about one of my short stories along with some of my peers from a previous class at LAVC.

Well, for those of you who know me, you can probably guess that I arrived late – I blame the parking. In the end however, I wasn’t the last one to arrive, ha! Either way, once I there I was introduced to the class along with a mention of my story “Lucero is Gone” – it was somewhat dreamlike when I saw some of the faces in the class light up and nod along to the mention of my piece.

As I took my seat I realized that I looked like most of the students in the class, still wet behind the ears in writing and felt supremely out of my league when compared to the rest of the panel. Although the other “guest-author’s” are my friends I found myself second-guessing the reasons why I was there. Nevertheless, as the discussion went on, I quickly recovered when I was asked about my story and what the driving force behind it that compelled me to write it was. Strangely enough I felt my eyes water a bit as I sought to find my voice to explain that most everything I write is very significant and singular to me because I write for family. My writings’ roots breach from deep within me, from a familial grasp, a sea of stories begging to be written whether they be tragic, happy or cosmic. On most days I write to live and others I live to write.

The experience became less heady as the Q&A relaxed with questions like how long had we been writing, what sorts of genres we write in and whether we had been published or not. The class was super attentive, respectful and very receptive as each one of the panel members took their moments to shine. The night ended with the opportunity for the students to speak to the panel members individually for a few moments before we made our way out of the classroom. I quickly noted that the students went straight to the “guest-authors” whose stories they had chosen to write their papers on. It dawned on me at that moment that perhaps no one had chosen mine and that perhaps it was a mistake to have come in the first place. And just as my baleful inner voice started to laugh, I took a step back as three students made their way to me. They had chosen my story to write their papers on and wanted to know more and to talk about what they loved most!!!!!!!!! A writer’s dream, to have a loving audience enthused and wanting more. This moment was unlike any other in my life. I know that I have much to grow as a writer and that I am no where near the likes of my idols such as Isabel Allende and Carlos Ruiz Zafón but it felt so good to receive such touching and heartfelt feedback and praise from strangers about my creation. One student told me that my story really touched him because of a similar situation in his family that he felt connected to my story. Wow! At this moment in my life, I can’t top that.

I’m just so grateful to have been apart of such a cool and rare opportunity that I am inspired to write more and to really dare myself to seek out new ways in telling my stories, to crush my fears and at times my menacing inner voice and to reach my goals, to one day be as talented as Allende and Zafón.

Happily, my night ended at Starbucks with some of the other panel members as we sipped on green tea lattes and caramel macchiato’s enjoying the evening breeze.  :)

-AlessandraWrites

“Guest Author”

I am NERVOUS! Why you ask? Today, I am thrilled to announce that I have been invited to be a “guest author” for an English Creative Writing class at the LAVC campus.

Okay, so your probably thinking how the hell did she get the title to be a guest author, she hasn’t even made a name for herself! Well, don’t worry I’m thinking the same thing too.

Let me give you the background story:

As mentioned in the previous entry “Finally Out Of Quicksand”, I had to attend LAVC in order to bring up my g.p.a. so that I could continue my education at CSUN once again. Well, DONE & DONE! :)

This last Fall semester 2011, I took a short story writing class at LAVC and loved it! I had one of the best professors ever ( Prof. M.) and I was able to really grow as a writer from the class and my peers. At the end of the semester I was invited by my peers to join a private writer’s workshop group taught/lead by our favorite Prof. M. Needless to say, I joined!

It’s almost like a secret society of writers (only thing is, it’s not a secret). We’re made up of five students and one professor. We meet once a month at the Robin Hood Bar/Restaurant on Burbank blvd. When we meet we either present new or “old” work and have the group discuss and critique our individual pieces and in turn we later decide if we want to use the suggestions or not – basic workshop.

The group had been going well. And just recently it got even better. Our professor felt that we had each improved very much and that we had each presented exemplary work that he asked each one of us if we wouldn’t mind if he used our work in one of the classes that he is teaching.

OMG! Use my work in a class?!?!?! He said that his students could benefit from what we had to offer and so that they could learn different styles of writing for crafting a short story.

I was blown away when he asked me. I of course said yes! And then as the shock dissipated I began to fret over the possibility that maybe he was going to use my story as a “How NOT to Write” type of lesson. I would be mortified had that been the case.

He later put my worries at ease and explained that he was going to have his student write a paper on my story along with the stories of my peers.

It’s definitely a strange notion to think that at this stage in my life my writing is being used as a teaching tool.

And to top it off, each one of us has been invited to the class tonight as “guest-authors” for an informal discussion and Q&A lead by my professor. So to say the least, I am super nervous. I worry that the class is going to slaughter me and my story and that I may never recover, ahhh!

One thing is for sure; this will be a good experience one that I can learn from. I don’t know the students in his class so there wont be any biases or any secret agendas hidden behind their notebooks. But still the artist in me is scared and anxious. I don’t know what to expect. Who knows, maybe the class will not have time to get to my story, ha!

Okay, I’ve got to jet to the class anyhow. So stay tuned for a follow-up post on how my first guest-author experience went. :)

-AlessandraWrites

Finally Out of Quicksand!

Hi everyone! I know it’s been a while since I’ve written. Been swamped with nothing and too much all at once. Today I write to you from the hipster/lazy boy setting of a Starbucks. Ha, a writer writing at a coffee shop, what a novel idea!! -Note undertones of sarcasm ooze from my fingertips and onto the keys ;)

Today I am writing about Me. Okay, when have I not written about Me? Today I write a little more seriously about Me; delving into the secrets behind my maybe missed disappearance from the lives of many and the plights that I have faced as well as my more recent successes.

Some of you may have noticed a lack of Ale in your lives, or maybe not, either way for quite some time I have been drowning in sorrow. And for those of you that have noticed a slight absence, let me be the first to say Sorry and I miss YOU!

I haven’t been living under a rock, but I have been lingering in the shadows. Why you ask? Embarrassment and Shame! Don’t worry, I haven’t killed anybody or said something mean about my friends that keeps me in hiding. It’s quite the opposite actually. Here it comes, and the awful truth – I-I-I-I (imagine me stuttering) have not graduated yet (I am still an undergrad in limbo).  Whew! Finally I got that off my chest!!!!

Okay. So maybe that wasn’t too bad of an admission. But believe me, it had been plaguing me for some time. And I am now just coming to terms with it. Let me give you the 411 on the subject.

At the end of Spring 2008 I was disqualified from school because I had fallen into a cave of depression. I lost my way and lost sight of my priorities. I ended up putting all I had into everything but my studies and before I knew it, I was occasionally thinking of “a way out” of my problems and life (definitely a low point) and then I flunked out of school.

Now, sometimes I look back and ask myself how did I get here? Well, here is a small snippet of the journey that is my life.

Finishing high school in 2003 (wow, so long ago) I left trying to stamp out my passion for writing and entered university (CSUN) embracing my new obsession, Philosophy. I took one class in high school and all of a sudden I was married to it. Well, that turned out to be just a fling. A fling that lasted longer than it should have and I regretted deeply because I began to earn mediocre grades and really just not giving school my all. Sitting in class one day, I was struck with an epiphany; that I needed to feel passionate about my major the way the dude next to me was about philosophy. I had no idea what he was talking about but the way he practically spit all over the class with his enthusiasm for his major, I knew that that was what I needed in order to be happy too.

So I set off on a crusade to find the right major. Along the way I fell into different classes that made me happy.

I briefly considered my childhood dream of being a pediatrician but then I remembered that I hated math and science and I fear when people vomit – and kids vomit all the time especially at the doctor’s office. So that was a NO.

Sociology made me think and I loved my interviewing the homeless project but when it came down to it, I knew I was never going to pass statistics nor was I even going to try. So, that too was a NO.

Next came Psychology which was fun in a class setting however when I tried making a difference early on via the CSUN helpline I ended up realizing that I was too vulnerable and fragile to help others (I would be the type to bring my work home with me – and I wouldn’t handle it well). So that was a bust.

Next came Political Science. I got an A in one Poli Sci class and all of a sudden I had declared it as my major. I was going to be a politician. HA!!! What a delusional girl I was. I later realized that I don’t really care about politics (its important but its not my cup of tea and it’s not on my radar).

Now realize that all the time that I was busy trying any and every class I was still taking English classes and loving them. Finally I realized what I should have known the whole time – I was meant to be a writer; my major needed to be English Creative Writing. However by the time this fact registered and I was ready to make a change it was too late and I was slapped in the face by reality – I was flunking out of school ;( I was in quicksand and had no way out. :(

So in order to get back into CSUN I needed to attend a community college (LAVC), get good grades and prove to CSUN that I could come back. Only problem was that I hadn’t taken the time to take care of me and the ever-present depression, so I as expected did just as bad at LAVC.

It occurred to me to finally get help and I made progress. Beautiful progress. I can officially and honestly say that I am no longer depressed and can actually see and taste the future and all that I will eventually accomplish.

However, before I knew it, spring 2011 was upon me and still I had not returned to CSUN to finish my degree. So this past fall 2011 semester I got my as* in gear and worked the hardest I have ever done and passed with 3 A’s and one C at LAVC.

With this I applied to CSUN once more and I have been accepted back!!!!! I start this summer (in a couple of weeks, yay!) I ended up doing so well at LAVC that I even made it onto the Deans Scholar List! Wow, who would have seen that coming!!! :)

In addition to this I even managed to get two short stories of mine published :) fueling the fire within me to finish my undergrad and then go fourth to earn my MFA in creative writing.

So why did I just share this with you all? I don’t really know – I just needed honesty and I wanted to boast about the fact that I am back!!! Now, I know that this wasn’t the ideal journey – most of my friends graduated years ago – but this was just the way it was supposed to be for me. I am a stronger woman because of it all and I have definitely learned from my mistakes. I now go back to CSUN smarter and with more “life experience” I don’t need to wipe the slate clean because all that’s happened has made me who I am today.

So look for me this summer and fall at the CSUN campus, I’ll be the one studying and enjoying life. Graduation is this much closer and I know I can get there. :)

-AlessandraWrites

My invitation back!