Our Summer of Writing
Earlier this year I applied to be a mentor with a inQluded, an online literary journal that provided a space for QTIBIPoC youth (queer, trans & intersex Black, Indigenous & persons of color). These types of literary spaces rare. As a Latinx, lesbian, and an #ownvoices author, at times my literary community feels small. This was an amazing opportunity to connect with another writer of color and embark on a journey where we could discuss the unique perspectives that drive our writing. I’m grateful to those who have taken the time to help me. In the spirit of learning and paying it forward, it’s important to me to share what I know.
I embarked on a summer of writing with Samir Sirk Morató. Bird researcher. Lover of cryptids. Writer of intriguing subject matter, master of exposition, and an overall rad person.
Read our interview where we share what we learned from our three-month-long mentorship.
Celeste: What had you hoped to gain through this mentorship? Did that goal evolve through the course of the mentorship?
Samir: Initially, I hoped to gain a better grasp of theme and literary activism. Your [Celeste's] guidance helped me accomplish both of those things. Throughout the mentorship, I did feel my goals evolving: I started utilizing more online resources I previously hadn't committed to, I made a point to reevaluate my knowledge of literary activism, and I made it one of my goals to submit several works to magazines no matter what. More than anything, I wanted guidance and I wanted to feel seen. You provided that for me. I'll always be grateful for that.
Celeste: What was your favorite writing project that you worked on during the mentorship?
Samir: My favorite project was probably the interview-based short stories we both wrote halfway through the mentorship. I had never based a short story off an interview before, and it was a thought-provoking exercise that made me ponder both my interview questions and how to structure my story. I also loved getting to see what writings both of us produced at the end of it!
Celeste: During the mentorship what did you learn about your writing style and abilities?
Samir: I learned that my writing style works with both lush and sparse scene setting, plus that I could push my writing further. I was experimenting with style prior to the mentorship, but writing exercises and commentary made me more conscious of my weak points and strengths alike. This mentorship helped me build confidence in my voice and short form writing skills, which was something I greatly needed this tumultuous year.
Celeste: Midway through our mentorship, we learned about the abusive behavior by the founder of inQluded which resulted in the closing of the online journal. This was a profoundly unfortunate loss for the youth QTIBIPOC writing community who relied on the literary safe space. What are your thoughts and feelings on their closer? How has the loss of this resource impacted you?
Samir: The inQluded situation was incredibly disappointing. It felt like I had put my foot in my mouth. I wanted more experience with literary activism, and suddenly, the program that had connected me with my mentor was bleeding out resignation letters and abusive conduct reports left and right. Speaking out against their actions and continuing uncomfortable conversations was necessary. I'm saddened that what should have been a great resource was built off mistreating members of the community inQluded purported to serve, and I'll be far more guarded about trusting inclusive efforts after this. All of this is a reminder that someone sharing a community with you does not mean they intrinsically share goals and good will with you—and community support systems cannot succeed without accountability.
Celeste: Where can we find your work?
Samir: You can find my work on ColorBloq, The Hellebore, Prismatica, and Marías at Sampaguitas, to name a few places! I also have two short stories coming out this fall in the 2020 edition of The Sandy River Review and Prismatica’s October issue.
Samir: Was this your first mentorship in a mentor position? What goals did you envision for the mentorship before starting?
Celeste: This was the first time as a mentor in my capacity as a published author. I’ve been a mentor on other capacities, professional, academic, but never for writing. I had some ideas going into the mentorship. I wanted to share what I knew, however, I wanted this to be Samir’s mentorship. One of the first activities we did (after a couple of rounds of 20 questions) was building goals and setting expectations.
Samir: What was your favorite topic to select readings and/or webinars for?
Celeste: I loved researching literary symbolism. My favorite part of the exercise was our discussion on challenging symbols that perpetuate racism and developing our own symbols which resulted in some really rad flash fiction.
Samir: Did mentoring someone else reveal new facets or new understanding about your writing?
Celeste: My writing is rooted in long-form, full-length novels, 60,000 + words where you have the time and the words to tell the story. Through this mentorship, we wrote a few short stories and flash fiction—a totally different animal. I rely heavily on dialogue. I pride myself on my dialogue, however, I need to find a better balance between dialogue and exposition in my short form. I’m loving the challenge.
Samir: This year, you were invited to co-emcee the Golden Crown Literary Society's annual conference. After recent public scrutiny, GCLS addressed their lack of diversity and their halfhearted consideration of anti-racism, but you and your fellow co-emcee stepped down to protest this uncommitted approach. How did your experience with literary activism shape this process for you? How do you feel after this event?
Celeste: Publishing has a diversity problem. There are numerous examples of racism and discrimination represented at all levels and in countless ways. At the same time, there is a rise of books written by BIPOC authors and without the right support, we struggle to get in front of readers. Over the summer American Dirt was published. It came to light that the author got a seven-figure book deal for a book that misrepresented the Latinx culture. The controversy inspired the #DignidadLiteraria movement. BIPOC people are sick of it. We’re starting to hold organizations accountable and we’re having some success. What this means for me is that I’m done investing my time in organizations that don’t value diversity—or value me. I wasn’t going to sit back and pretend there wasn’t a problem at GCLS and so I backed out. I met with members of the board and told them how I felt. Time will tell if they heard me. I feel better having stood up for myself. I’m watching how other literary organizations are reacting amid racial uprising. I’m taking note and taking names.
Samir: What are some works you're excited to share?
Celeste: I’m excited about a new relationship with a new publisher, Interlude Press! After a long search, I found a new home. I’m honored to be aligned with a great group that values its writers and supports their work. Prize Money is a chance meeting rodeo romance full of rodeo queens, cowgirls, and wrangler butts. It's out this coming May.
Thanks for these great questions Samir! I enjoyed working with you, learning together, and look forward to staying in contact! Turning it over to you to say bye to our readers.
If I had to thank everyone who has ever helped me along my current writing journey—and describe how they helped me—I would end up with a bibliography. Writing itself is a solo activity, but being a writer is not. We all learn from the media, critique, advice, relationships, and communities around us. Without them, we would produce collections of soulless words or never write at all.
While inQluded no longer holds a space in our lives, I wholeheartedly support those in that community who spoke up for themselves and others and the still-amazing creators that were looking for a literary home. I also want to thank Celeste Castro for mentoring me. Celeste's writing know-how, snappy dialogue, knowledge of wine, and sense of justice all made this mentorship a blast.
In other spaces, in other places, I hope that #ownvoices authors continue coming together to forge connections. Community support and guidance is something that everyone deserves.
Samir Sirk Morató is a scientist and a writer. In the field, they focus on art-driven public outreach and conservation; in their art, they use fiction and essays to explore trauma and the fluid confusion of existence. When they are not on Twitter (@bolivibird) or on Instagram (@spicycloaca), they can be found birding and watching horror movies.
Celeste Castro, she/her, is an American Mexican from small-town, rural Idaho, where most of her stories take place. She grew up with learning disabilities, though she always kept a journal. In addition to fiction, she is a staff writer with Hispanecdotes, an online magazine for Latinx writers, where she publishes essays and poetry.