Recipient of a Jerome Travel and Study Grant

Jerome_foundation newJody met me at the end of the driveway. In her hand she held a yellow envelope addressed to me.

Notifications on two prior occasions from the Jerome Foundation came by email: We’re sorry to inform you….

This was an envelope. A large envelope. I opened it slowly and carefully which isn’t my nature. Rejections don’t come in such packaging. This could only mean one thing.

As I pulled out the contents I realized that I’ve been a beneficiary of much goodness: wonderful teachers, mentors, my writing group, peers, friends, and family.

In November of 2012, participating in Mary Carroll Moore’s weekend workshop, “How to Plan, Write, and Develop a Book,” at the Loft Literary Center, I understood for the first time what my book was about: A Woman’s Search to Be Seen. Using her W-shaped Storyboard and Three-Act Structure, I left her workshop with an outline and edited structure for my near completed manuscript. That weekend, I revised several chapters and was able to reach a new depth in my writing.

More importantly, I was excited about my writing and my book, HOUSE OF FIRE. I had been working for ten years on finding the right structure to tell my story.

guatemala-map[1]After applying and receiving a Next Step Grant funded by the McKnight Foundation, I attended a one-week writing retreat with Mary Carroll Moore at the Madeline Island School of Arts, September 2013 and participated in two twelve-week online classes – “Your Book Starts Here: Part 3.

Since winning the Loft mentorship, I have been working closely with mentor, Mark Anthony Rolo.

Under his tutelage, I enhanced the structure of my book to weave in my present story with back story. For example, on our flight to adopt Antonio and Crystel the sun is setting when the plane descends into the airspace above Guatemala City. Three large volcanoes dominate the horizon and I ruminate how both me and the Guatemalans were literally running from fire in 1974 when I was 15-years old.

And now, receiving a Jerome Travel and Study Grant allows me to travel to Guatemala to research indigenous Mayans and Mayan heritage to inform my memoir. I’m truly blessed. This trip is critical to finishing my book.

The trip is detailed field research on the traditions and history of Antonio’s and Crystel’s homeland. Besides the powerful emotional content intended for the last chapters, my visit will also provide insights that will enrich the whole manuscript.

Pacaya Volcano

Pacaya Volcano

Following Antonio and Crystel visit with their birthmothers we will travel by van to Panajachel and board a lancha to take us to Santa Cruz la Laguna, a small pueblo located on the northern coast of Lake Atitlan in Solola, Guatemala.

Situated half a mile above the shore on the mountainside it is home to indigenous Mayans.

Accessible only by rocky footpaths and lanchas, Santa Cruz is a virtual island on the mountainside.

Because of its isolated nature and small size, Santa Cruz is a great home base for our stay. We will be employing indigenous Mayan guides to explore small, traditional Mayan villages around the lake. The guides will be much more than guides as Antonio and Crystel will daily be seeing their own rich café au lait skin.

Santa Cruz la Laguna

Santa Cruz la Laguna

During our travel I will create a record of the voices, landscapes, and villages of the indigenous Mayans. Following my return home I will be able to create prose that truly draws its inspiration from the specific natural setting.

I’m lucky and grateful to have won a Next Step, Loft Mentorship, and Jerome Travel and Study Grant. Receiving these grants will help me complete HOUSE OF FIRE.

Antonio and Crystel, of course, understood the nuances of winning the Jerome Travel and Study Grant but it was Jody and I who were doing the HAPPY THANKFUL DANCE in the driveway.

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The Loft Mentor Series: Navigating the River Together

Mark Anthony Rolo

Mark Anthony Rolo

I had competed to be a Loft Mentor Series participant for many years, but now that I had been selected as a 2013-2014 Mentor Series Winner, a ‘so what’ attitude misted over me. I hate to even admit it because it sounds as if I didn’t care that I’d won. I did care. That’s why I paddled like heck against the wind and upstream to reach my destination. Now, that I had won, I pulled my paddles into the canoe, and drifted into the eddy.

Winning hadn’t changed me. My circumstances hadn’t changed. And, I had no idea if I would change during the Mentor Series. Nothing was promised.

All I knew is that I didn’t have to paddle anymore. That was unbelievable to me.

A potluck would be my introduction into the Mentor Series. I didn’t know any of the winners personally and I knew only one of the mentors, Mary Rockcastle.

Mary greeted the others and me as if she were an ambassador to the program. She has a knack for making a person feel good. If her gig as Hamline’s MFA writing program director doesn’t work out, she could be an emissary. She’s comfortable discussing a wide range of topics from colonoscopies to colloquiums. How can you not feel at home? Whatever nervousness I had in joining this potluck dissipated quickly.

Mark Anthony Rolo, nonfiction mentor, and Vanessa Ramos, Loft program manager, were the last to arrive.

Vanessa’s smile and effervescent personality is visceral. I was drawn toward her.

Waiting for Mark was nerve wracking. He was the person I would be working with for a year. I had read his book, felt as if I knew his past, which wasn’t that different from mine. But what if I didn’t like him? Do you like every writer you meet?

Mark isn’t hard to miss. He looks like his book jacket cover. He’s big. And, his dog is big.

What is it that some people possess that as soon as they walk into a room you feel at ease? It is almost as if their energy is forging the way and their physical self comes after. Mark has that characteristic.

Right away, I could tell Mark was accessible.

Mark Anthony Rolo and Rock

Mark Anthony Rolo and Rock

He didn’t put on airs that he was different from anyone in the room, and he had done his homework. He knew what piece of writing belonged to each of us. I made a quick note to myself to get my paddles in the water because I was about to be left in the eddy while he and others traveled on. I hadn’t read anyone’s work.

All of a sudden, I knew what the Mentor Series was about. It was about learning, supporting, and paddling to the next marker. People who could help me get there surrounded me. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t going against the wind. I wasn’t going upstream. Instead, I was embraced by other canoeists and we could navigate the river together.