Twelve Highly Subjective Tips about Applying for Writing Residencies & Grants


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

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:

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!


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

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.

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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Our Young-Adult Dystopia

I just finished reading an essay in the New York Times magazine calling out modern young adult dystopian novels for being money-seeking, weak pieces of literature that do not stack up to the great stories of the ages, mostly because the writers are mostly young in age. A decent amount of the essay focused on the Divergent series by Veronica Roth, which was written when she was 21.

Now I haven’t read a lot of dystopian literature but I do enjoy the genre and have found some great ones like The Giver, Fahrenheit 451 and The Hunger Games. I also did read Divergent, the first book of the series, and I have to say I was pretty disappointed as well. I had read The Hunger Games previously so I’m sure that was on my mind, but still, there is so much room for original creative stories in the dystopian genre, that it was very weird how similar the books were. On top of that, I found The Hunger Games had a much more appealing protagonist and a much more convincing world.

I was curious about Divergent’s futuristic Chicago with its different communities based on different characteristics, but the book left too many unanswered questions for me and forced me to suspend my belief more than necessary to get to the end. I had no desire to continue the rest of the series even though I was told to give it a shot. Apparently Roth got a lot of criticism over how she ended the series **INCOMING SPOILER ALERT**

by killing off her main character, but actually I like authors who have the guts to do that because you really feel like as the reader that nothing is safe, everything is unexpected, and the story is not about a perfect little world. I respect her for having the courage to do that but I still wasn’t satisfied by her writing.

I think it’s fair to say that the Divergent books shouldn’t be as popular as they are, but I don’t think it’s fair to argue it’s because the author is young and therefore was marketed simply for popularity. The essay states,

Children’s literature toys with our chronological expectations because the best of it has always been written, actually, by the comparatively elderly. Lewis himself was 51 when the “Narnia” books came out; Lois Lowry was 56 when “The Giver” was published; Madeleine L’Engle wrote “A Wrinkle in Time” in her 40s, and L. Frank Baum his “Oz” books in the same decade of his life.

Most of my favorite books are written by older authors, but I think it’s problematic to suggest that younger authors are incapable of writing quality children’s or YA stories. I definitely think experience makes you a better writer. I’m a testament to that. My earlier pieces and what I thought was good writing were honestly crap. I’ve learned a lot by reading, writing and just living more, making my characters and ideas more realistic and complex. It’s also nice to know that not getting published by 20 does not mean I have lost all hope of amounting to anything.

But honestly there are plenty of older novelists publishing crappy derivatives of The Hunger Games, Divergent, and all the paranormal fantasy sci-fi epic stories filling bookshelves because they (and their editors) think they have something special. Wisdom comes with age, but talent doesn’t come to everyone. It’s all trial and error and a bit of luck to publish the next piece of literature to resonate with the masses. Calling out young readers or writers for being stupid is just wrong and rather pretentious.

I am glad no one squashed my desire to write as a child because now as a 20-something, it happens to me all the time from the outside and from myself. I started this blog as a project in one of my college classes because I was passionate about supporting young writers like myself and find resources and opportunities that catered to our needs to get published and improve our craft. It’s going to be a long time until any of my books get published but that’s okay. I’m enjoying the ride until then and soaking up all the great stories already out there by veteran writers who were once in my place. I guess one day I’ll have to change the name of this blog to Old and Writerly, heh.

Help Ms. M’s Class Grow Two Years in Reading!


My good friend and old roommate is currently a 9th grade English teacher and needs your support to give her students access to engaging books  that will develop their reading skills.

One key ingredient in helping students become stronger readers is having novel studies in the classroom. My students will use these copies of “Like Water for Chocolate” to gain exposure to the fantastical and inviting world of magical realism and to understand the power of figurative language in literary context. This novel set will engage my classroom by allowing students to explore complex and relatable characters, and to read the work of a Mexican author whose culture and heritage is vastly under-represented in my school’s current book collection and novel sets.

Please donate whatever you can to her DonorsChoose project and make a difference in empowering young readers. Many of her students come from high-poverty areas and have not had the luxury of having a wide variety of books to read at school or home.

There are 26 days left to give. Spread the word!!


Final NaNo week

I haven’t been updating my progress on this blog during NaNoWriMo as I thought I would, but I guess that’s a good thing since I should be expending all my writing energy on the novel. I started off really well during the month in terms of word count and daily activity, but eventually the more I learned about what my story was about and needed to be, the less applicable my outline became. I deleted my outline because all the ideas I had didn’t work anymore since I had changed my story.

I also realized that the pacing of my novel is extremely off and suddenly I have new characters to add into the picture which takes more work to figure out. I wanted my protagonist to spend a week and a half in her home town and then the majority of the novel, on her month trip in San Francisco. Unfortunately, since I was still figuring out how and why she goes to San Francisco, most of my novel is spent in her hometown and I’m just now getting to her arrival in San Francisco.

Here’s a snapshot of what my novel stats look like right now.

Screenshot 2013-11-24 12.13.23


The graph is really helpful as a visual but also depressing when I see how far behind I am lol. But honestly, I’m really proud of the fact that it’s been three years since I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo and I’ve written more than I ever have before. Yes, a lot of the story is crap and scenes will be deleted, dialogue condensed, description expanded, but I have the skeleton of a novel, folks! It has a chance to live after this!

I can always come back to this novel now and enjoy the personal connection I have to it as my time here in San Francisco. Especially since I’ll be here for an entire year, I will take the time and experiences I have to continue adding to the story. My protagonist and I are going to figure it out together 🙂


Painted Hands With Jennifer Zobair

Love, InshAllah

Loveinshallah asked Jennifer Zobair, author of Painted Hands, to share insights on her novel, the writing process, and the dynamics of Muslim fiction in contemporary society. Click here to listen to audio of the author reading a passage from the book.

How would you describe Painted Hands to a reader in fifty words or less?

Painted Hands is about successful Muslim women in Boston. Zainab is a sharp-tongued campaign strategist with a penchant for generating controversy. Amra is an ambitious attorney. They face difficult choices when relationships with complicated men—including a right-wing radio host—shatter their friendship and the political climate threatens their careers.

What made you decide to write the novel? Can you describe your writing process?

I wanted to write a novel about the kinds of Muslim women I don’t see often enough in fiction—strong, educated, independent women who, should they need “saving,” are perfectly capable of saving themselves…

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