|photo credit: Anjali Bhargava|
I met Jina at the Big Sur Writer's Workshop this past December. We ended up in the same middle-grade critique group with Jeff Stone as the moderator.
Our group was stacked with interesting and good writers, but Jina stood out as one of the best.
We dined together that night and got to know each other better. We found out we have a lot in common. We are multi-taskers. We thrive on deadlines. We like wine. We enjoy fashion. And we both write MG strong characters.
Jina is an accomplished poet. Now she is tackling the novel monster and believe me, she's winning.
Below are the questions I asked her:
1. What genre of poetry do you prefer to write?
I mainly write persona poems; poems in the voices of different people. My first poetry manuscript is a collection of persona poems in the voices of former Miss Universe titleholders. The poems can be considered political, social and personal, but they are not the stereotypical view or themes regarding the political, cultural or social. Some poems are humorous, others are serious in topic.
2. The middle grade novel you are working on, Campo Girl, won a grant from The Highlights Foundation. Please explain to newbie writers how to apply for such an award.
I do a lot of online searches for grants and fellowships for writers. In general, magazines like Poets and Writers, The Writer's Magazine, Writer's Digest, etc. have listings every month or other month with grants information.
With The Highlights Foundation, I found out about them while reading the back of an acknowledgement page of a middle-grade fiction author's book. The author stated taking a Highlights Foundation workshop, and then, I looked it up via the Internet, and called in for an application. They happened to have moneys to fund my workshop fee, which at that time was about $3,000 dollars. I felt really blessed for the opportunity to study with Jane Resh Thomas and Phyllis Root.
3. Describe Campo Girl in 5 words.
Teresa Reyes saves the world. (Or at least makes clumsy attempts with a side-kick little sister.)
4. What time do you get up and what do you eat for breakfast?
Depends on my day job schedule. Most days from Monday-Friday 5am in the morning. If I sleep in, I wake up at 7am. I eat oatmeal. Unless, I have a lot of time on my hands, I will treat myself to pancakes. ( This would only happen on a Saturday morning.)
5. Why kidlit?
I love reading kidlit, and writing it because it is a sweet age. The preteens and emerging readers are your best audience. The characters are colorful, and you can still hold a sense of innocence. Also, teaching this age group for nine years made me care much more about their lives.
6. What associations for writing do you belong? SCBWI? Others?
Yes, I belong to SCBWI. But I must admit, I think I am late in renewing my membership this year. My schedule has been so hectic. This interview serves as a healthy reminder to send in the renewal.
7. What have these groups/associations done to help you with your writing?
With SCWBI, I enjoy the newsletter because there is plenty of information and resources for writers. I try to connect with a writer's group in my area, but it is difficult if people live in different counties. Have not been too successful in finding a group in my area.8. You attended the Big Sur Writer's Workshop recently. What are you thoughts on that get away?
I think the Big Sur Workshop was a wonderful experience. I got to meet you, and other wonderful workshop mates. ;-) I think the support from the workshop leaders exceeded my expectations, and the literary agents were extremely helpful.
9. How many hours a day do you write?
I have a really bad habit of not writing everyday; I am actually trying to change this. My schedule goes in 'sperts'. In other words, I go and write for 2-weeks straight, or one month straight, if I am on deadlines.
Weekly, I try to do the writing at home over the weekend. Normally, Saturday is the day I dedicate to writing. Lately, the pattern is revision and lots of reading. I consider reading as part of my writing time, especially if I am doing research for a topic related to a manuscript.
10. What's the funniest thing that happened to you as a child?
There are so many funny incidents; mainly, concerning food. Like blowing my french fries out of my nose in the school cafeteria. Yes, it happened both in primary school, and as a freshman in college. I know clumsiness. It was ridiculously funny both times.
11. What one word best describes you?
Graceful. Well, at least this is what I am told.
12. Giving women a voice is very important to you, why?
I think giving women a voice is great, and luckily for us, we have never lost it. My perspective is very different than what many in the writing world would assume women writers are concerned with the same things, but there is such great a range today. It's important to showcase different perspectives and points of views.
13. What experience as a woman has made you stronger?
Particularly as a woman, I have not experienced anything such as death or birthing yet, but I believe that generational shifting has made me stronger. In other words, time makes you stronger with life experience ( loss of a job, change of career, relocation, death of a family member). And in this perspective, we are not that much different than men. Maybe our response to the experiences are different.
14. What authors would you recommend to my readers?
Cynthia Kadohata, I love all her middle grade and YA books. She really influenced my reason for writing Campo Girl. I also highly recommend Diana Lopez, Mitali Perkins, Jacqueline Woodson, and there are many others. I guess these authors would be in my genre-- multicultural/contemporary middle grade fiction. Since I am writing and revising a multicultural middle grade manuscript, I read a lot of books within this genre.
15. What are your hopes and dreams for your future in writing?
I hope to finish a few more revisions of the manuscript in the not-so-distant future, and begin the publishing process by attaining an agent.
16. You are completing your MFA. Will you be teaching?
I actually finished my MFA on January 8th, 2011. I currently teach at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, MA.
17. What classes do you recommend for a newbie writer?
I recommend any class that will enhance your knowledge and practice of your fiction craft.
18. Have you ever wanted to give up on this thing called writing? If so, what keeps you moving forward and going for your goals?
I have wanted to give up on writing, but I made a bet with myself to always finish what I have started. This is the hardest task--- to finish. And every time, I finish something--anything--- I remind myself that I have come a long way. It is easy to start a project, but harder to finish one.
19. Where do your ideas come from? Landscape? People? Food?
They come from landscape, my surroundings, TV, newspaper. People can interfere at times, but once in a while they serve a valuable purpose.
20. What is your next step in writing? Submitting to an agent? Sending out your ms to publishers?
The next logical step for me is sending the manuscript to an agent. If he/she does his/her job, they will send the ms to publishers and land or negotiate a contract.
21. How can my blog readers help you to become an even bigger success?
They can connect with me on Facebook, Linkedin, or follow me on Twitter, and I will keep them posted on any book release news.
Once the book goes out into the world, they can write their own reviews on their blog sites, or network sites. They can share the book on their news feeds. Nowadays, the best way to learn about a new book is through word of mouth, and via the Internet many people share book news to each other's friends.
22. Who is your biggest cheerleader?
My parents are my biggest cheerleaders, especially my mom who is my bestie. She reminds me everyday that I am getting closer to the finish line.