English teacher Jason Hinojosa will moderate a panel on Jan. 15 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Matthews Library. The panel, “Writers’ Night: The Art of Fiction,” will focus on the writing processes and careers of fiction writers Miguel Bota, author of “Muerte en Mitra” and “Susúrramelo Tú”; Joseph Cassara, author of “The House of Impossible Beauties”; and Monica West, author of “Revival Season.”
Q: Why do you want to host this event?
A: There’s three reasons. One is to support these authors that are on the panel. Supporting authors is a general goal that I have. I think authors have a responsibility to help each other out. Goal two is a little broader. It’s to build the writing community in Sacramento. There’s a (writing) community in this town, but I think there’s more that can be there specifically (with) Country Day as a hub for writing. And then there’s the goal to publicize the summer writing program that will be hosted at Country Day called the Sacramento Writers Workshop.
Q: What age is the Sacramento Writers Workshop geared toward?
A: The summer program is for post-high school and older. There’s no top age. I’d say maybe an ambitious senior in high school (could participate, but it’s really for) college and beyond.
Q: How did you choose the panelists?
A: Two of them (Cassara and West) are actually former classmates of mine from the University of Iowa. They’re Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduates. And one (Bota) is a Country Day parent.
Part of what I wanted to do with these writers was to create a diverse panel. Monica West is a friend of mine. She lives in Oakland. She’s African American, (and her) book, “Revival Season,” focused on the black church in the south. Joseph Cassara is Latino. The book (of his) I read called “The House of Impossible Beauties” is about the drag scene in New York in the ‘80s. Miguel Bota is from Spain, so he brings an international element.
I wanted to have different voices but also the different stages (of the writing and publication process). Monica West’s book has not been published yet. It’s slated for publication in spring 2021. Joe Cassara’s book is now available in paperback, which is sort of like phase two. And Miguel Bota is further along in his career. He’s an assistant professor at Sacramento State and, I would say, more of a veteran writer.
Q: What are you looking forward to hearing from the speakers?
A: I divided (the panel) into two broad categories: craft and career. I want to know what their writing process is like on a nuts and bolts sort of level, and that’s (what) I think (will be) most interesting to young writers.
Then the career side. What are some of the challenges? What is some of the support they receive? Or some of the setbacks (and) how they overcome those setbacks. Big picture. Then there are a few questions that I want to ask about some controversial topics in writing to address things people disagree on.
Q: Why did you focus on fiction for this panel?
A: It can help to have a focus for a panel. If you talk about something like writing in general, then you’ve got journalism to poetry to nonfiction. And that would be interesting, but I think it might blur out a little bit in terms of what’s being said and what’s meaningful.
Fiction is my background. I know more fiction writers than I know, say, journalists or poets. So I thought I could pull this panel together better with fiction as a focus, and I think I could moderate it better (because) I know more about fiction and I know more about what questions to ask.
Q: When did you start planning the event?
A: In July.
Q: What process did you go through to set up this event?
A: I’m still in the process. It is pretty involved. I had to ask (head of school Lee) Thompsen and (Emily) Allshouse (director of marketing and communications) about how this would work and if we could do it. Once I got the green light from Country Day, I had to (reach out to) several different panelists. That was the preliminary phase, and the next phase was researching the questions I want to ask (and) researching how to moderate a panel effectively.
Marketing has been part of getting the word out, and Allshouse has done a fantastic job spreading the word. And now it’s in the setup phase: making sure the microphones work, making sure we have wine and cheese for the audience and making sure the furniture is arranged.
Q: What do you hope people will take away from this event?
A: Inspiration. Writing, in my experience, is an ebb and flow. You have moments where you’ve got a lot of momentum (and) enthusiasm and other moments where it’s hard to get to the laptop. For those who are flowing, I would say (this panel aims to give) inspiration to keep flowing. And for those who are ebbing, this is a conversation that will hopefully generate some ideas, enthusiasm and excitement about putting stories down on paper.
—By Ethan Monasa