Sonora Jha Interviews Donna Miscolta

By Hedgebrook Guest

Categories: Alum Experiences, Garden & Grounds, Women's Voices,

We asked Summer Salon teachers Sonora Jha and Donna Miscolta to interview each other for the Hedgebrook Farmhouse Table Blog. Look for Donna’s interview with Sonora next week!

Sonora: You came to writing later in life, after an education and career in everything BUT writing. What part of this do you regret, if at all? And what part do you love?

Donna: Part of the reason why I came to writing late was I had long believed that it wasn’t possible for people like me to write books, and even if I had thought it possible, I didn’t believe that I myself was capable of such a thing. I regret that it took so long for me to believe. If I had come to writing earlier, it would’ve meant more years in which to learn to write and more years to produce work. My first book was published when I was 58. I turn 63 this year when my second book comes out. I’ve just finished a new novel manuscript and am two-thirds of the way through another one. My kids are grown and retirement from my day job is on the horizon. And though I feel some momentum in writing, I also feel the pressure of time. So, is there a part that I love about coming to writing later in life? I guess I just love that I came to it at all.

Sonora: Your book When the De La Cruz Family Danced was acclaimed by critics and readers and your forthcoming book Hola and Goodbye: Una Familia in Stories has already won a prestigious award. What’s the biggest lesson you would share with other writers from your experience in putting these books out in the world?

Donna: Perseverance. Both books were years in the making – both in terms of writing them and finding a publisher for them. When you think the book is done, ask yourself, Is it really? You have to answer not with what you hope or want to be true, but with what you feel in your gut is true. When it is truly done and you or your agent is trying to slip it inside the tiny gap the publishing gatekeepers might leave open, you need to persevere past all the rejections – especially the ones that say, “we love it, but….” You’ll second-guess those buts and wonder if “we don’t know how to market it” or “we don’t know where it fits on our list” really means “we don’t know who will read a book about a Filipino-American family.” But you believe the readers are out there and you believe that someone else believes that too and will put that book out in the world one day. And you keep sending it out and entering contests and querying until it lands in the hands of the right person.

Sonora: What is your fondest memory of the time you were a Writer in Residence at Hedgebrook?

Donna: I don’t know if there is one specific thing. It’s more of a collage of impressions – dancing in the cottage in shorts and t-shirt as a fire roars in the wood stove and a rain drums on the roof, getting lost on the bicycle and wanting dearly to find my way back to Hedgebrook in time for dinner, watching from the window seat in my cottage as an owl repeatedly swoops from its perch to my front porch, going to my writing desk each morning with a cup of tea in hand, frogs singing me to sleep at night.

But if I need to single out any one memory, it would be the first time I was led to my cottage. I arrived on a weekend so the chef took me up the path to Cedar. She herself was a writer and a former resident of that cottage. She opened the door, stepped inside, and beckoned me in. I entered and wept at the beauty that was to be mine.

Sonora: What is your wildest dream for the writer named Donna Miscolta?

Donna: I think my character Angie Rubio in the novel manuscript I just completed could easily have a life in another medium. I can picture her as a comic strip character drawn by Lynda Barry, or an animated character voiced by America Ferrara. Or maybe a sitcom character á la Ferrara’s Ugly Betty – a non-curvy version, but just as earnest and endearingly awkward. Or a feature-length film – Angie Rubio as the brown female version of the coming-of-age character in Boyhood. “What’s a brown girl doing as the protagonist in a movie?” people would ask, perplexed. Angie Rubio would ascend to household-name status, a cult figure. People locked in a dilemma would ask, “What would Angie Rubio do (WWARD)?” and then do the opposite. Angie would become an action figure, or at least a bobble-head doll.

Sonora: What’s inspiring you right now?

Donna: As I work on my new novel, I’m inspired by the themes that are emerging– sisterhood and self-love (the healthy, necessary kind, not the narcissistic kind). I’m frustrated by the lack of time to focus on the writing, but I do feel uplifted by books I’ve read lately that have inspired me in different ways and make me aspire to certain elements of craft these authors so beautifully display. Margaret Malone’s story collection People Like You is a deft mix of humor, melancholy, and yearning. Mia Alvar’s story collection In the Country hit me with its pinpoint accuracy in exposing the hidden motives of characters, catching them unaware of their own needs and wants. Paulette Boudreaux’s novel Mulberry is a riveting portrait of a young African-American girl in small-town Mississippi who must learn early the personal and social costs of racism. I’m currently reading Chantel Acevedo’s A Falling Star, which I picked up at the AWP book fair last year, but only just got around to it. The voice and characters, Cuban refugees that arrived as part of the Mariel boatlift, are immediately captivating. Ghosts, secrets, loneliness, and longing haunt this story, which is underlain with a bit of whimsy that only intensifies the dilemmas faced by the protagonists. Read these books. Be inspired by well-told stories.

Study with Sonora and Donna at our Summer Salon on June 18! Register now: http://www.hedgebrook.org/salons-blog

 

 About the Authors:

Sonora Jha

Sonora Jha is the author of the novel Foreign and a professor of journalism and media studies at Seattle University. Her Op-Eds have been published in The New York Times, Seattle Times, Seattle Weekly and The Globalist and her academic work has appeared in top tier national and international journals. Sonora was previously Metro Bureau Chief at The Times of India and a journalist in Singapore before moving to the U.S. to get a Ph.D. in political communication. She is an alumna and president of the board of Hedgebrook Writers’ Retreat and teaches a class in fiction at the Richard Hugo House. She has just finished her second book, a memoir.

 

 

 

 

Donna MiscoltaDonna Miscolta is the author of the novel When the de la Cruz Family Danced (Signal 8 Press, 2011). Her short story manuscript Hola and Goodbye was selected by Randall Kenan for the Doris Bakwin Award for Writing by a Woman and will be published by Carolina Wren Press in 2016. Her story “Ana’s Dance” won the 2013 Lascaux Prize for Short Fiction. Recent work has appeared in Crate, Hawaii Pacific Review, Waxwing, and Spartan. Excerpts from her unpublished novel The Education of Angie Rubio appear in The Adirondack Review and Bluestem. A two-time recipient of an Artist Trust Fellowship, she has also received awards from 4Culture, the Bread Loaf/Rona Jaffe Foundation, and the City of Seattle, as well as residencies from Anderson Center, Artsmith, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Hedgebrook, Ragdale, and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Find her at donnamiscolta.com


 

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