January 9, 2019

In 2019: “Fail again. Fail better.”

“Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett wrote that. Seth Godin’s advice about failure has also been given to me. Here, for example.

So here I am, talking about failure.

I was told about Seth Godin when I was looking for a publisher for To Love as Aswangwhich is my fourth book, which in manuscript form, received the most publisher rejections I’ve ever received. Two of my current publishers passed on it. When BOA Editions passed on it, I wasn’t exactly surprised, but I was disappointed; I tried to rationalize that they were ultimately not a “good fit” for me. When City Lights passed on it, I was crushed. City Lights was my dream publisher.

I had to figure out how to pick myself up. I had to stoically respond to these editors who have proven how much they respected and supported my work; I thanked them for reading and considering the work as seriously as they did. I reassured them — and really, I was reassuring myself here — that was not the last book I would ever write. Yes, both of them responded; they were interested and looked forward to reading my future work. There were so many silver linings here.

And if that don’t light a fire under your ass, I don’t know what would.

When PAWA publication made itself available to me, I reexamined very seriously this prestige game in which I’d found myself participating. Why was I playing this game. This was a very important opportunity to reevaluate my value systems. What was it I wanted in the publishing industry. What was I trying to prove, and to/for whom. Ultimately, it came down to: who am I writing for, and how do I best reach them.

But before ever getting to this point, I was living with a fear, really more like dread, that no one would ever publish me again. Because my work wasn’t “good enough.” Because my work wasn’t the “right” kind of work. Because my work would never be the “right” kind of work.

And even today, when any reader’s “negative” response comes back to me, that fear of not being “good enough” comes creeping back. It takes everything in me, and the trusted fellow writers around me to nudge me and say, ahem, look where you are; look at what you’ve earned and accomplished. That’s not nothing. In other words, I have to remember, and to be reminded, I am not a fucking hack, with only one sad gimmick I ride til I die. I have to remind myself, and to be reminded, hey, you know, I can write.

Then I think, why do I do this to myself. When does this ever stop. Does it.

And I remember now how Edwin Lozada opened up the possibility of PAWA with me. He said, hey, when you’re tired of all of that, consider PAWA. I confided with a small number of the people I trust most in this industry, and they all agreed this was the way to go — long game; failing better; and best, an opportunity to put PAWA on others’ radars, a win-win.

This is not to say publishing with PAWA is failure. This is not to say To Love as Aswang is a failure. This is a book that’s reached a “non-literary” young Pinxy readership. Not just locally, but in so many non-literary virtual spaces; how many young Pinxys, many of whom are aspiring writers, have told me this work has inspired, invigorated, empowered them. How many young Pinxys have said, wow, I have never seen us in a book, and wow, I did not know we were allowed to do it this way.

And finally, let it not go unsaid that PAWA is an org whose mission and values I believe in and share.

So why am I writing about this now. I just want to put it out there — The struggle is real; the fear, the dread of not being good enough, of being unpublishable, is real. And I had to find it in myself to keep writing, to remember why I chose to become a writer in the first place. And having had the opportunity to soul search like this, I found myself on a tear, cranked out two books since To Love as Aswang — Invocation to Daughters, and Letters to a Young Brown Girl, both of which I found myself emboldened to write specifically for these young “non-literary” Pinyxs, and put prestige in its proper place, over there somewhere. Both manuscripts found great publishers. Invocation finalisted for the California Book Award. All of this is a kind of vindication. And it’s also a reminder that I am in this thing for the long term. I remember talking to Nate Mackey after a reading he did at UC Berkeley some years ago; he told me he’d keep writing til he was unable to write anymore. I remember Eduardo Galeano wrote til he died. And now that I’ve been invited to participate in Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s 100th birthday celebration, I am about this long life as an author, and being a realist, I know it can’t and won’t be perfect. So I just have to have a place in my life to put failure, so that it never stops me from writing the next book.

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