February Third Thursday Wrap-Up: “The Creative Spark: Where Writers Find Inspiration”

by Stephanie N. Rodriguez

Last Thursday was the first official in-person event for the Writers’ League of Texas at BookPeople since 2020. We had an amazing turnout for “The Creative Spark: Where Writers Find Inspiration” with acclaimed local authors Gabino Iglesias, Elizabeth McCracken, and ire’ne lara silva. As with many events past, all available seats were filled. A collective murmuring filled the second floor as smiling attendees mingled and embraced old friends and acquaintances once again. The energy was exciting and welcoming, and after three long years we picked up right where we left off.

The panel was moderated by WLT Program Director Sam Babiak who kicked off the conversation with the question, “What keeps you writing?”

ire’ne lara silva: “We’re all going to die, so write what’s important to you now.”

Elizabeth McCracken: “The pleasure of writing itself.”

Gabino Iglesias: “The love of storytelling.” As a young writer, Gabino soon realized, “this is a magical power.”

SB: What inspired your books?

Each author discussed how writing can be a therapeutic way to explore and confront loss and grief. In Elizabeth’s latest novel, The Hero of This Book, the narrator takes a trip to London after her mother’s death. “A family is the first novel you know.” She explains how the novel is a lightly fictionalized memoir about her relationship with her own mother after her mother’s death. “Writing is a way to keep them close.” 

ire’ne’s poetry collection, CUICACALLI/House of Song, also stemmed from loss and grief. While expressing her grief in the form of a poem, she was able to create more pieces around it. “Once you write the core poem, you can write the collection.” CUICACALLI confronts and celebrates the past. “I stood where my ancestors stood.” We share our histories through songs, stories, and legends. “Mythology isn’t done with us.” 

After the pandemic hit, many people lost their jobs. Gabino was one of them. The stress and frustration that came with sudden instability and lack of medical insurance inspired Gabino’s novel, The Devil Takes You Home. “I couldn’t afford therapy, so I wrote.”

Place often inspires and influences our work. The Devil Takes You Home, takes place in Texas and across the border and back. Gabino used his novel as a way to “hold a type of mirror to society…it is both a critique and a love letter to Texas.”

Place and song both influence ire’ne’s poetry collection, CUICACALLI. In Aztec/Nahuatl culture, a Cuicacalli, or House of Song, was a place where children trained to become warriors. This association between song and strength inspired her collection that explores “song as memory, song as home, song as medicine, song as ceremony, song as strength. We all have our fight songs.”

SB: How do we keep the fire going? 

It’s easy and tempting to go full potato mode once we settle in for the night. We often complain that there aren’t enough hours left in the day for us to sit down and write, we’re too tired, or when we finally manage to carve out that time, we tear ourselves apart over what was written and place it under a microscope to criticize. ire’ne suggests that we shouldn’t focus on the negative, but instead celebrate the precious time we spent writing. “Concentrate on what you love.” Whether it’s thirty minutes or two hours, celebrate those “two beautiful hours of life” you had doing what you love. “Take those little moments to sharpen your work.” 

Likewise, Gabino encourages us to “Take every moment you can steal from death.” Write for the love of storytelling itself. Sometimes writing can feel like “a war of attrition,” but it’s worth it even if you only get “seven good lines a day.” 

Life always gets in the way and as Elizabeth suggests, “you can and should adapt your writing” around it. “I harness the power of my own self-loathing and remind myself that the work will get done.”

SB: What do you turn to for inspiration?

ils: “Take care of yourself. Use the language of giving and generosity with yourself. Go live! Don’t let it be painful.”

EM: “Set the back of your mind to dreaming. When one method isn’t working, try another one.”

GI: “Thinking. Taking long walks. Listening to music. Spite. Then take it out on the page, one word after the other.”

Book recommendations: 

The Secret Miracle: The Novelist’s Handbook by Daniel Alarcon

Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life by Bonnie Friedman

One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers by Gail Sher

Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery by Jeanette Winterson

You can find our panelists’ books for sale at BookPeople here.

Please join us for next month’s Third Thursday program March 16th on Zoom for a special “WLT On the Craft of Writing: Short Fiction” a conversation with Chaitali Sen & Kirk Wilson. RSVP here.

S. N. Rodriguez is a writer and photographer in Austin, Texas. She is a Writers’ League of Texas 2021 Fellow and currently serves on the WLT Board of Directors. Her work has appeared in The Journal of Latina Critical Feminism, Blue Mesa Review, River Teeth, Castle of Horror Anthologies Volume 6: Femme Fatales & Volume 9: Young Adult, and elsewhere.

About our panelists:

Gabino Iglesias is a writer, editor, journalist, and book reviewer. He is the author of The Devil Takes You Home, Coyote Songs, Zero Saints, and Gutmouth. He is the book reviews editor at PANK Magazine, the TV/film editor at Entropy Magazine, and a columnist for LitReactor and CLASH Media. His nonfiction has appeared in places like The New York Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, the LA Times, El Nuevo Día, and other venues. The stuff that’s made up has been published in places like Red Fez, Flash Fiction Offensive, Drunk Monkeys, Bizarro Central, Paragraph Line, Divergent Magazine, Cease, Cows, and many horror, crime, surrealist, and bizarro anthologies. His reviews are published in places like NPR, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Criminal Element, The Rumpus, Heavy Feather Review, Atticus Review, Entropy, HorrorTalk, Necessary Fiction, Crimespree, and other print and online venues. He teaches at SNHU’s MFA program.

Elizabeth McCracken is the author of eight books: Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry, The Giant’s House, Niagara Falls All Over Again, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, Thunderstruck & Other Stories, Bowlaway, The Souvenir Museum, and The Hero of This Book. She’s received grants and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Liguria Study Center, the American Academy in Berlin, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Thunderstruck & Other Stories won the 2015 Story Prize. Her work has been published in The Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize, The O. Henry Prize, The New York Times Magazine, and many other places.

ire’ne lara silva is the author of three poetry collections, furia, Blood Sugar Canto, and CUICACALLI/House of Song, an e-chapbook, Enduring Azucares, as well as a short story collection, flesh to bone, which won the Premio Aztlán. She and poet Dan Vera are also the co-editors of Imaniman: Poets Writing in the Anzaldúan Borderlands, a collection of poetry and essays. ire’ne is the recipient of a 2017 NALAC Fund for the Arts Grant, the final recipient of the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Award, and was the Fiction Finalist for AROHO’s 2013 Gift of Freedom Award. ire’ne is currently working on her first novel, Naci, and a second collection of short stories titled, the light of your body.

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