Twelve Highly Subjective Tips about Applying for Writing Residencies & Grants

Originally posted on Naomi J. Williams:

filling out form

Follow directions!

Over the last four years, I’ve had the privilege of serving as a first-round reader of applications for a couple of organizations that award writing residencies or grants. I’m always amazed by the quality of the applications I read and overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of strong applications.

Sometimes I’m so bowled over by an application that later, if I learn the applicant was awarded the coveted residency or grant, I feel almost as excited as I would were I getting the prize.

Sadly, of course, the process of reading and evaluating applications means saying “no” far more often than “yes”. A few years ago I started jotting down notes about things I kept seeing that edged applications into the “no” pile. Some of these are dumb mistakes that most of you reading will already know better than to make. But others might be less obvious, and I…

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ramadan return

My new website is currently having server issues which has prevented me from logging in and I’m not patient enough to wait until the problem is solved to be able to write again, so I’m back from Ramadan to share my thoughts on this blog!

[day 2]

if all i get from this month is hunger and thirst

then it will be a waste

and yet

i fear that the absence of food and drink

will drive me away from any other effort

pull me down as i climb the hierarchy of needs

to achieve a greater me

self actualization, where art thou

but a hazy mirage behind my daydream of succulent water droplets

and the sounds of hunger pangs

i haven’t been myself all year

so who knows what shadow of a soul i will be in this month

upset sleep cycles, remembrance of God and our transitory state of being

if all i get from this month is hunger and thirst

then it will be a waste

i pray i don’t wince at the true nature of my face 

How Muslims flipped Hollywood’s script

Originally posted on CNN Belief Blog:

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor

Los Angeles (CNN) – For years, Ahmed Ahmed’s acting resume read like a rap sheet.

His first film role was Terrorist No. 4 in “Executive Decision.”

His first sitcom part: Hakeem, a terrorist, on “Roseanne.”

“I realized there was a big market out there for playing bad Arabs,” the actor said with a sarcastic laugh.

Born in Egypt and raised in Riverside, California, Ahmed — a friendly, round-faced guy — carries no trace of an accent and doesn’t look particularly sinister.

But he said he was rarely considered for parts playing doctors, lawyers … or anything, really, but menacing Muslims during the early days of his career.

Meanwhile, a pilgrimage to Mecca, the spiritual home of Islam, pricked his conscience. He felt responsible, in some small way, for the violent images of Islam broadcast across American screens.

“I realized I was becoming…

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My New Site

Hello dear readers,

I’ve decided to become a whole person now and drop the two blogs.  I’m excited to announce I have a new website: nesimaaberra.com.

You’ll find all the great content from this blog as well as my other diverse interests together all in one place.

I won’t be updating this blog anymore so make sure to head there instead!

Thanks!

Is My Character “Black Enough”? Advice on Writing Cross-Culturally

Nesima Aberra:

Great post on writing diverse characters without resorting to stereotypes. Research, ask, and listen. Remember, no matter where people are from, they are human first. Focus on that, not your own agenda and prejudices, and you will be an authentic storyteller.

Originally posted on the open book:

Stacy Whitman photo Stacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. This blog post was originally posted at her blog, Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire

I recently got this question from a writer, who agreed that answering it on the blog would be useful:

My hero is a fifteen-year-old African American boy [in a science fiction story]. A few of my alpha readers (not all) have said that he doesn’t sound “black enough.” I purposely made him an Air Force brat who has lived in several different countries to avoid having to use cliche hood-terminology. I want him to be universal.

Do you have thoughts on this either way?

Is there a possibility that my potential readers could really be offended that a) I am “a white girl writing a book…

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#tbt Author Interview: Randa Abdel-fattah

For #tbt, most people share old pictures, but since this is a writing blog, I’m going to share an old interview I did with a fantastic Sydney-based author, Randa Abdel-fattah. She was a litigation lawyer and is now a Ph.D candidate, exploring everyday multiculturalism and racism in Australia. I don’t know if I ever shared this interview on the blog so I dug it out of my archives. Check it out!

Randa Abdelfattah

1. How would you characterize your journey as a writer since your first published book, “Does My Head Look Big in This?”

I’ve been writing ‘fast and furious’, so to speak. I’ve always got a novel in the works and been fortunate enough to write widely and for a range of audiences. Each novel has presented me with different challenges- whether that’s plot development, writing a male protagonist, setting a story in a country I’m not physically in at the time of writing or seeing the world through the eyes of a Grade Five student.

2. Your latest books have been targeted towards a little bit younger crowd. What made you decide to do that?

I’ve always wanted to write from the perspective of a younger character and for a younger audience. I can’t offer you a reasoned and thoughtful analysis of why this is the case. It’s just been an instinctual, ‘gut-feeling’ kind of impulse that drew me to write for a younger audience. I know that my very vivid and fond memories of primary school have probably been a factor in drawing me closer to that age.

3. What is the literary community like in Australia and how do you see yourself in it?

The writers’ world I float through is mainly young adult and children’s writers and they truly are a wonderful, friendly, warm, open and brilliant group of people. I love attending writers’ festivals and being amongst such an amazing circle of writers who all invariably share a passion for getting children excited about books and reading.

4. Do you feel like your identity as a Muslim and Egyptian-Palestinian still dominates people’s impression of you and your work?

When I first started writing my background certainly had a major influence in people’s impression and interest in my work. But as my work has grown to involve all sorts of ‘issues’, stories and characters, I think I am being increasingly accepted as a writer in my own right, not as a ‘Muslim’ writer or niche writer. As long as people don’t box or label me, I’m happy to talk about writing, about my identity, about politics, about human rights! I make no apology for the fact that these are all things I am deeply interested in.

5. Are you satisfied with the narratives that are being disseminated about Muslims globally?

No. We are in the midst of an ongoing and systematic campaign of Islam and Muslims being demonized, otherised and stigmatized- represented through the prism of negative imagery and stereotyping. Rather than elaborate, I would like to share with you a poem I wrote last month. I wrote it during my lunch break at work, at a time I and other Australian Muslims were dealing with a barrage of media interviews regarding the ‘burqa’- which inevitably turns into a wider conversation about Muslims in the west, identity politics, ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Poem- I am Not Negotable

It was published on different sites but this is one of them:

http://muslimvillage.com/2011/07/12/i-am-not-negotiable/

6. How involved are you still with interfaith dialogue, Palestinian human rights or media engagement on Muslims and Islam?

I no longer engage in interfaith work simply because I’m so time poor. But I’m still deeply committed to Palestinian human rights campaigning (especially the boycott, divestments and sanctions – BDS- movement) and media engagement. I give a lot of talks and media interviews pertaining to Palestine, Muslims, Islam and identity politics. I also use my opinion writing for newspapers and journals to address such issues.

7. How are you balancing your job as a lawyer and writer, as your career in writing is rising?

There’s only one word to answer that question: caffeine.

The difficulty is not so much balancing law and writing. It’s adding my two young children to the juggling act. They’re the biggest balls to juggle (but also the best). Ultimately, I am passionate about what I do and blessed to have the choice and opportunity to purse my passions. So while it’s challenging and exhausting and the balls sometimes seem about to spill out of my hands, it’s still worth it! And, really, no matter how difficult it can get, the whole ‘time-management/brain fried due to work/life/childcare balance’ thing is so in the ‘first-world problem basket’. When it gets tough, I remind myself of how blessed I am and get some good old-fashioned perspective (and caffeine).

9. What kind of feedback have you gotten from youth or readers in general about the various books you’ve written?

It’s been overwhelmingly positive and humbling to read emails and letters from readers here and around the world who tell me I’ve changed their lives or perspectives.

10. Have you toured outside Australia for your books? If so, what has that been like?

I’ve been to the UK (twice), the USA, Palestine, Sweden (twice), Brunei, Malaysia, Qatar and Egypt. It’s been awful…just kidding! Every trip has been transformative, fun-filled and stimulating. More please!

11. What is your favorite speaking engagement you participated in this year?

Oohh, this is a tough one! I’m going to be cheeky, ignore the parameters of your questions and name my top three!

  1. A one-week writer in residence in Palestine in April where I ran writing workshops focused on writing for children and young adults in Ramallah, Jerusalem, and by video link to Gaza.
  2. Speaking in Brunei in March to an audience of ambassadors and dignitaries from around the world at an event organized by the Australian High Commission on the 100th anniversary of international women’s day. I offered my perspective on human rights, women and Islam from my perspective as an Australian Muslim lawyer.
  3. The Melbourne Writer’s Festival last month where I ran writing workshops and presented an author talk at the Immigration Museum’s identity exhibition.

12. How can aspiring young writers who want to write about Muslim characters avoid being categorized narrowly in “multicultural fiction” or simply “Muslim fiction” and be accepted in the mainstream book community as you have?

I suppose a lot depends on the tone and approach of writing about Muslim characters. A book that is preachy and clearly aimed at selling a message will always have a narrow audience (and probably won’t do very well anyway). The point is that books that contain Muslim characters need to have mainstream appeal because the writer is writing with a non-religious/non-ethnic, ‘neutral’ audience in mind. If, as a writer, you don’t see your character is a deviation from the norm but in fact part of the mainstream then I believe that kind of confidence and attitude is infectious and will impact on your reader too. For example, I wrote a book for younger readers called Buzz Off. It’s about a boy who discovers he can hear flies talk- a useful skill in Australia’s summer heat when flies threaten to ruin a good picnic or game of football in the park! The entire book is about this boy’s ability to hear flies talk and discover the secret to getting rid of them. That this boy happens to be Muslim is never stated in the text. It is implied through one simple image of his mother wearing hijab. I wrote a story that involved a character who happened to be Muslim in a story that had nothing to do with this character’s faith or identity. So young writers need to find creative and subtle ways to challenge our definitions of mainstream fiction so that a book containing a Muslim character doesn’t necessarily have to be an ‘issues-based’ story.

13. Is there any kind of writing you would like to branch off into, like poetry, screenwriting, short story…?

I’ve tried my hand at screenwriting (just experimenting on my own) and found it required a different skill set and approach to writing than fiction. It’s something I might be interested in developing in the future. I’ve also just finished my first adult novel (No Sex in the City- a cheeky spin on the traditional chick lit genre). But my main passion is writing young adult and junior fiction.

14. Have any of your books been optioned for movie adaptations before and would you be interested in that avenue?

Two books- “Does My Head Look Big In This?” And “Where The Streets Had A Name” have been optioned for TV series. OF COURSE I’D BE INTERESTED IN THAT AVENUE. Any writer who tells you otherwise is lying. Seeing one’s book on the screen? Could it get any better?!

Be sure to follow Randa on Twitter: @RandaAFattah 

Writing a Sitcom Spec Script

I LOVE SITCOMS.

When I’m tired of the adrenaline rush and emotional roller coaster of shows like Scandal and Revenge, I take comfort in the brilliant and zany humor of shows like Modern Family, Community and The Mindy Project. My dream is to be on SNL and debut my collection of ridiculous characters and three (more like two and a half) polished celebrity impressions. Today, I read every word of this piece analyzing how meta of a sitcom 30 Rock is, just to let you know how much of a nerd I am.

This week, I came across this really cool opportunity to write a spec script (a sample script of a currently running TV show) for either a half-hour comedy or hour-long drama and submit it to a screenwriting workshop held by the  Muslim Public Affairs Council and Disney/ABC Television Group. The one-day workshop is specifically looking for American Muslims interested in writing for TV series!

Guess what? I AM AN AMERICAN MUSLIM INTERESTED IN WRITING FOR TV SERIES!

I have been keeping story ideas to pitch for TV shows and animated films for years! THIS COULD BE MY BIG BREAK, PEOPLE!

There are however a few issues, such as:

1) I have never written a spec script before

2) The deadline is this Wednesday, March 12.

I have been mostly focusing on studying for my GRE exam, which I will take tomorrow afternoon. This exam of course takes precedence, however in my mind, it is less exciting than writing a spec script for a screenwriting workshop.

I’ve come up with a few ideas for a sitcom script but I really won’t be able to start until after my exam so like Saturday night or Sunday. I was worried about the show I want to write my spec for, because based on my cursory research, it’s best to write a spec for a show that isn’t isn’t too popular so that it’s over done and also not in danger of being canceled. Basically all of my favorite shows ever have always been in danger of being canceled, BUT I came across news today that this show has been renewed for a third season, huzzah! I’m in the clear!

So I have absolutely no idea if I’ll be able to get something done by Wednesday at midnight but I’m still going to try! Who knows, hopefully the other scripts are mediocre so mine will rise to the top of their inbox.

If you’re interested in participating in the workshop, here are the details:

Applicants are asked to submit a half-hour comedy or a one-hour drama spec script of a broadcast or cable network TV series that is currently airing on TV.

Submissions are due Wednesday, March 12, at midnight to deana@mpac.org.

Among the criteria for spec scripts are:

  • Accuracy in character voice
  • Story structure
  • Effectiveness in capturing the series’ tone
  • Innovation

No previous professional writing experience is necessary. Participants will be selected based on the strongest spec script writing samples. Finalists may be asked to provide additional writing samples. Space is limited. No materials will be returned after the judging process. The date for the workshop will be determined when participants are selected

I’m using Scrivener to format the script so that should hopefully help cut down unnecessary time as well.

If anyone has any advice on writing specs or writing for sitcoms, I’ll take it all!

FADE OUT

missing

homesickness is not just for a familiar place

but for a familiar part of myself

wanderlust is not just for an undiscovered place

but for an undiscovered part of myself

wherever i go, there i am,

missing

-I wrote this poem maybe an hour ago after an exhausting day/week. It’s funny how my brain and my heart are cycling through so many different emotions that it’s hard to keep track of and I can barely answer the question: “How are you?” Struggling to balance emotions, I believe, is a sign that a person is keeping too much inside and not putting enough on paper. I haven’t been writing regularly because I’m studying for the GRE. The test is next weekend and I’m so happy to get it over with. It’s put my life on hold and my novels at a standstill. Of course when ideas and characters’ voices pop into my head, I immediately write/type something down or save a voice note on my phone. I’m always afraid of missing the important things in life. I suppose I will always have that fear, no matter how much older I get. 

My New Gig: Book Blogger

I don’t think I ever mentioned I am a book blogger now?

Well I am a book blogger for Layali webzine, this neat online magazine geared towards young American Muslim women!

This is a great outlet for me to write again and also get experience reviewing books instead of mumbling incoherent thoughts to people when I recommend or dissuade them from a particular book. There really is an art of writing a great book review, like you can’t be so subjective but you also have to add your opinion and analysis, not give away spoilers and major plot points, tease out captivating and thought-provoking quotes AND sound interesting.

So far I have reviewed two books, but only one has been posted so far: Alif the Unseen.

I’m a pretty slow reader though with work and everything else going on, so I intend to have a review every month but it might be every other month.

The next books I’ll be reviewing in the upcoming months are:

I’m trying to not specifically review only books that involve Muslim characters or Islam since obviously those aren’t the only books I or American Muslim women read, but one of my goals is to showcase good literature that successfully integrates those subjects and add my critical perspective to the dialogue. I also hope to inspire American Muslim women to not only read more, but read diverse types of books. Then we can all be nerds together!

If you’ve got any great books you’ve read or think I should review, let me know so I’ll add it to my list! Being a book blogger is the best excuse to spend all your time and money on books hehe.