September Writer’s Life: Hurricanes & a real vacation [#yearofwriting]

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What can I say about the month of September? To be honest, I don’t even know where to start. The truth about this month is that I almost didn’t work. First of all: I had a pre-planned vacation for a good chunk of the month.

My fiancé Adam and I had been planning our trip to Europe ever since I surprised him on his birthday with concert tickets to see one of his favorite artist who was going to be giving a once-in-a-lifetime concert in Tilburg, The Netherlands in September. We decided to visit Amsterdam for a week and pair that trip with two cities in Germany: Cologne and Frankfurt.

Other than that, however, Hurricane Irma struck our hometown in Southwest Florida and threatened not only our home but also our travel plans. Thankfully, our home was mainly unscathed and we made it to Europe as planned. The only problem came in that, because I was so busy and overwhelmed by hurricane prep, I had no time to do any kind of writing in the week and a half before our trip. And, of course, the two September days after we got back were primarily spent catching up on everything.

So what I am saying is this: Excuse me if this month seems less-than-ideal in terms of my #yearofwriting progress.

What was published: 

Basically, all of the pieces that were published under my name this month were all things that I wrote the month before. But that’s okay. When you’re faced with a hurricane and a two-week vacation, life happens. And it’s really important to let life happen, I think.

I did write one piece, the 12 Foods Every Cuban Grew Up Eating for HipLatina, in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month (which runs from September 15-October 15). Definitely proud of that one!

How much I wrote: 3,749 words

How much I made: $100

The one great thing that came out of writing this month is that, encouraged by my incredibly supportive partner and fiancé Adam, I made some real headway on my memoir, Moscow Chica. He basically forcefully encouraged me to spend Labor Day weekend on the project, which I did. Happy to report that my book proposal is close to being done. And I definitely could NOT have done it without his not-so-gentle nudging.

Pitches sent out in September: 0
Pitch rejections: 0
Pitch non-replies: 0
Pitch acceptances: 0
Pitch reply with question: 0

Follow-ups with previous pitches: 0
Pitch rejections: 0
Pitch non-replies: 0
Pitch acceptances: 0

Obviously, since I had NO time to write, I also had no time for pitches this month. Oh well. I think I can just shrug this one off and tackle some SERIOUS pitching in October, which will be my first full month of being back on the full-time writing horse. (Um, is that a weird thing to say?)

Quarter 3 totals: 

How much I wrote: 61,336 words
How much I made: $3716
Pitches sent out: 4
Pitch acceptances: 1

Here’s to the end of the year going MUCH better than Quarter 3!

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February 2017 Writer’s Life: What I wrote, how I pitched & money I made [#yearofwriting]

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Last month, I decided to write about what it is really like to be a freelance writer these days… As part of my commitment to the #yearofwriting, my January 2017 Writer’s Life post included all of the hard numbers (meaning how many words I actually wrote and how much money I actually made).

I also posted links to everything of mine that was published, and talked a little bit about how everything is going. This month, I have a confession to make: February did NOT go nearly as well as January.

You see, I started the new year by working with a fabulous writing coach, Mridu Khullar Relph (who runs The International Freelancer) and she helped me get my career to this next level: Pitching more, making more money and spending more time on my personal projects too. This month, however, I have been largely on my own.

So what happened? Well, as you will see… Less work! I am still trying to find the motivation I had when I was responsible to telling someone else just how much I got done very day, and it’s not easy. I learned a few extra things about myself this month than I had last month.

But anyway… Let’s get to it, shall we?

What was published: 

I still have a couple stories in the works from last month, but I will say that WITHOUT A DOUBT the proudest story I wrote and had published was Ravishly’s I Didn’t Need A Partner Or A ‘Perfect’ Body For Boudoir Photos — And Neither Do You. This is one that I have been thinking about ever since I took the photos almost a year ago, so I am beyond thrilled to finally have it all out there.

The other exciting thing I did this month was that I decided to start a Medium publication (aka blog) titled Moscow Chica – the same title as my memoir and newsletter. In fact, not only did I do an intro post on this site but I also wrote about how My “A Day Without Immigrants” Protest Is To Be Louder Than Ever.

But I know what you REALLY want to hear about are the solid numbers, right?

How much I wrote: 12,038 words

How much I made: $1125

In comparison, I wrote 4,437 less words in February than I did in January. And that honestly wasn’t because I didn’t have as many days… It was fully because I just wasn’t feeling as motivated and was letting my mood get in the way of my writing.

Money-wise, I also made $300 less. Well, $600 less because two pieces in January were on-spec (but ultimately not accepted). No surprise there! It’s almost simple, isn’t it? I pitched less, I wrote less, and I made less money.

Pitches sent out in February: 11
Pitch rejections: 1
Pitch non-replies: 8
Pitch acceptances: 1
Pitch reply with question: 1

Follow-ups with previous pitches: 7
Pitch rejections: 3
Pitch non-replies: 4
Pitch acceptances: 0

Look at that! I sent 27 pitches in January, spurned by my writing coach, and this month has been a LOT less… In fact, I sent almost none in the middle of the month. Most of the pitches sent were at the beginning of the month when I was still working with Mridu, and then a few at the end of the month when I realized I was far from what I did before.

My goal is to be sending a pitch every day during the work week (except for Fridays), so I should be sending about 16-20 pitches every week.

Despite my less-than-stellar February, I did learn something: I learned that motivation can get in the way when I’m not working with someone who is pushing me. But I also learned that I *can* do it on my own, and I can push myself. The pitches I sent at the end of the month were all fun and exciting, and I feel pumped for March to start.

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Introducing Moscow Chica – now a blog, book and newsletter [#yearofwriting]

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As you’ve probably noticed right above this sentence, there is something new in my life – and that is that my in-the-works memoir, Moscow Chica: How Growing Up Russian and Cuban Made Me an American, is now also being joined by a brand-new Medium blog (or publication, as they call it) and a newsletter… all basically in service of my writing about multiculturalism, Russia, Cuba, being American today, immigrant issues and rights, and more.

Here’s the thing I realized recently: Writing a memoir takes TIME. So very much time! One of the commitments I made to myself during this #yearofwriting is that I was going to be doing #52essays2017, all of which are in service of my memoir and writing about how my immigrant and multicultural upbringing has affected my American life.

And it’s really exciting to write about all of that but, to be honest, with everything going on in the world right now with President Cheeto (I’m sorry, I just can’t say his name) and the Muslim travel ban in the first few days of his being in office… and everything that has happened since with immigrant issues and rights (including the recent raids which our so-called leader is calling “a military operation”), I feel the need to do more.

And so I started the Medium publication, Moscow Chica: Half-Russian, Half-Cuban, All-American. In fact, my very first post was about the “A Day Without Immigrants” protest and how I personally am choosing to honor it (hint: it has to do with the new blog!).

What’s coming up on the Medium publication/blog will be primarily topics and issues surrounding immigrant rights today and multiculturalism in general. I will also be sharing things I have published in the past and some of my writing that is being published elsewhere (all related to immigration, being Russian/Cuban/American and growing up or being multicultural).

And, of course, I will be continuing the #52essays2017 challenge (which is, as you already know, about the memoir and my past) and how all of that relates to my upbringing as an immigrant in a multicultural household. These posts will also now live on Medium, since I want to talk about all of the things that relate to being “Half-Russian, Half-Cuban, All-American”.

Meanwhile, the newsletter is primarily a vehicle for me to be able to easily share updates with those that are interested in the things I am writing about. So if you’re curious about memoir writing as a topic, multiculturalism and/or immigration rights (or if you’re just a big fan of me, haha), then you should definitely subscribe.

At the end of the day, though, this isn’t just about me or my work (though I hope you like what I have to say) but about what’s going on in the U.S. today.

It’s no understatement to say that we’re in a bit of a dumpster fire at the moment. Just this week alone, things haven’t been good for immigrants (duh), Native peoples or trans kids. And that really hurts me deep down because I love America. Or at least I used to.

These days, to be honest, I struggle with my (former?) pride in the country my family decided to make our home and my disgust at what is happening today. But I firmly believe that it’s in the power of the people to create change. And as a writer and journalist, my power lies in my words.

As I look to create more dialogue surrounding multiculturalism and immigrant rights, I will also be seeking out and sharing the stories of others. After all, the only way to fully form a resistance is to use our voices (while we can) and continue to speak out against injustices.

At least, that’s my plan for the next four years… and 40 years, too.

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Essay 6: The Dream of a Convertible Car [#52essays2017]

This essay is part of the #52essays2017 series focusing on my memoir, Moscow Chica: How Growing Up in Cuba and Russia Made Me an American. For more, please follow this publication and subscribe to my newsletter.

When my family moved to America in 1994, everything seemed great. Until it wasn’t.

About a year after we came here, my parents separated and divorced. And although they were back together a year later, remarried and happier than ever, that year living in Miami without my dad was (mostly) scary.

But that year had its happier moments too, like how the best Christmas ever was surprisingly spent in a women’s shelter and the little apartment we lived in shortly after. That apartment brought me a lot of happy memories, including my memory of the first adult desire I truly had.

A red Firebird convertible.

That is the only thing that I remember about the billboard advertisement that I saw every day on my way home from school during this year. And it was thrilling.

The car depicted in the poster was beautiful and sexy and it signified a kind of freedom that I didn’t yet understand at the age of nine, but I knew that I wanted it.

The attractive couple sitting in the driver and passenger seats didn’t hurt either, and I longed for when I could have the kind of freedom and happiness that they had clearly tasted.

I honestly can’t remember anything else about that bus ride home, but I remember that billboard. I don’t know who I sat next to on the bus (I didn’t have friends at that school) or how long it took. I don’t even truly remember what time of the year it was or how I noticed this particular photo in the first place, but once I had… I couldn’t take my mind off of it.

The lifestyle promised in this one advertisement seemed like everything I wanted at the time, and everything I have wanted since. It signified success and the power to do anything you wanted to do. I dreamt of the day that I would have those things too.

For years afterward, I always held the wish that someday I would own a red Firebird convertible.

It was the first car that I ever wanted, and the only car that truly appealed to my kid and teenage self. It had to be that car, in red and as a convertible. Something about that entire image meant so much to me that it wasn’t until recently that I started to slowly decipher it all.

Even though I am no longer that scared little 9-year-old girl, new to America, still learning English, with a turbulent home life and no reassurance as to what this world may bring… I am still sometimes unsure of myself, unsure of the world, unsure of the path in front of me. Sometimes I long for the kind of knowledge that little Irina had, the knowledge that having a car like that would mean that I was something special.

It’s probably no surprise, then, that I have never been able to get the idea of that car out of my head. Although I’ve long since moved on from that specific make and model, the color red has always held a special place in my heart.

Red was my favorite color long before this poster, and it’s remained my favorite color for cars – and now for lipstick.

Convertibles have remained a mystery, something I secretly wanted, a symbol of fun and freedom. I was thrilled when my uncle got one a few years ago, and although I had settled on possibly never owning a car because of my love of living in cities with great public transportation, I knew that I would definitely want one if the chance ever presented itself.

Recently, as I readjusted my post-NYC life and settled back in Florida, I contemplated getting a car (and ultimately decided not to). But the thought kept popping up in my mind, and I knew that my new dream was a little red Mini Cooper.

The model may have changed, but the color stayed the same. It was a dream, though, and I never thought it would actually happen.

And then, to my surprise, an opportunity came up.

Adam and I had talked about our need for a second care eventually, and the idea of a convertible came up. I insisted that if we were to get a second car (that I would use), it should be a convertible.

“After all,” I reasoned, “since I work from home and will probably only use it a couple times during the week and on weekends, we may as well make it a fun car, right?” To me, a convertible was the ultimate fun car.

When the unexpected opportunity came up to get a Mini Cooper convertible, I practically jumped at the chance. In fact, getting that car was as much of a spontaneous decision as you could possibly make in the purchase of a vehicle. We heard about it in the morning, and by that same afternoon, it was all mine.

Now my little convertible baby sits in the driveway and gives me immense pleasure whenever I have the chance to take her out with the top down.

Granted she’s not the bright red color that I had always wanted – but that’s okay too. She’s a British racing green and I love that so very much. Maybe it’s not the color I envisioned, but it’s definitely the spirit.

That little girl that used to ride the bus every day to an uncertain future surely has something a little more certain now. If nothing else, my desire for that first red Firebird convertible has influenced the way I view success and some of the things I want in my life.

While my tastes in cars have grown (and maybe not by much), I still find myself surprised by how much that one billboard changed my life. When we’re young, we want things so far out of our reach that we don’t actually think we will ever get there. It’s nice to know that, now, I can actually attain some of those things.

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(Image via Chad Horwedel/flickr)

Essay 5: Dumbo, The Lion King &
Disney Movies [#52essays2017]

This essay is part of the #52essays2017 series focusing on my memoir, Moscow Chica: How Growing Up in Cuba and Russia Made Me an American. For more, please follow this publication and subscribe to my newsletter.

In our last year living in Moscow, my parents, baby brother, and I all lived together in a studio apartment.

I don’t remember much about that time – we weren’t there for very long – but I know that it was cozy and comfortable. The studio was huge, with a separate hallway and closet area, a big kitchen and all the love I needed as a seven year old.

And of course, our little studio had a separate living room area with its own little television set.

Until a few years ago, when the U.S.S.R. finally fell, I had no idea what a Disney movie was. But soon enough, there was a high shelf above that TV that housed a pretty robust collection of Russian-dubbed Disney VHS movies that my dad was always bringing home for us. To me, it felt like we had everything.

The Little Mermaid was by far my favorite, but my little brother favored Dumbo. I know that because I watched the movie alongside him every single day for months.

My abuela visited from Cuba at some point, and she happily watched Dumbo alongside us every day. Noly just couldn’t seem to get enough of the happy little elephant movie.

He was only two years old at the time, and I wonder how much of it he actually understood. Even I, five years older than him, didn’t understand much. I knew that the elephant was born with a strange condition (giant ears) and I knew that he suffered greatly when he was separated from his mother. But he got a happy ending after all.

And that’s what I depended on: Dumbo’s happy ending.

Ariel got a happy ending too, in fact. She longed so much to get out of the ocean, to live life the way she wanted to, and to simply be free. I longed for freedom, even if I didn’t know what that meant at the time.

Eventually, after my family moved to America, we started a brand-new Disney movie collection. All still on VHS, of course.

The new collection began with The Lion King. My family moved to the states the same year as that movie came out and, although I never saw it in theaters as many of my friends did, I did have it on video.

Once again, I watched the movie in awe.

The way that Simba sought a similar freedom as Ariel, away from his father and to be his own man (or lion, anyway). And after a long and arduous journey, just as Dumbo, he got his happy ending too.

The bright colors of the movie in my new language, which I was quickly picking up, thrilled me. And soon enough, our new American VHS collection was back to the robust nature as the one we originally had back in that little apartment in Moscow.

While VHS tapes are no longer a part of our lives, Disney has remained a part of mine. When I was young, they promised me a better world – and my parents delivered.

Now, whenever I admire the Disney collection I have build up for myself in DVDs, I remember that little girl who wanted freedom and a better life. I remember watching Dumbo over and over again until I thought my head would explore, and I appreciate it. I smile at the memories of discovering The Lion King, our first movie in English. And it gives me joy to see all of the ones I’ve fallen in love with since.

In the meantime, Disney will always have a special place in my heart for teaching me about life in many languages. And, of course, for giving me joy in darkness and hope where there wasn’t any to start with. Hopefully my kids, who will never know that tiny Moscow apartment shared by four people, will someday appreciate them as much as I did.

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(Image via Rhys A./flickr)

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