Claps and Cheers: When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Appears

by Jesse Bliss

Mentorship is an integral part of developing as an artist. We can be mentored officially, through mentorship programs or by merely engaging and asking a respected professional for guidance. And there are unofficial mentors who come into our lives when we most need the encouragement of someone who’s embarked on a journey we’ve just begun. They are powerful presences who impact the course of our lives and we cherish them for as long as we can.

Writer, educator, and mentor Jesse Bliss recently lost her mentor Linda Lowry. This Claps and Cheers is Bliss’s homage to her late mentor. – Ramona Pilar, Ed.

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Actor and Mentor Linda Lowry

It was a typically windy, cold to-the-bone yet electric San Francisco night. I was a 20 year-old walking up Market Street around the corner from the Tenderloin District where I lived next door to a Thai restaurant. Next to that was a known location for sex solicitation. I often cruised toward the train gripping the handle of a knife. The danger in that hood was not gangs, but unpredictable drug-induced violence. I had just left Sacramento and all that was trying to keep me from my dreams, and had shown up in the Golden Gate city with nothing more than a bag and a friend, ready to discover my soul as a professional artist.

I stopped dead in my tracks and locked eyes with a fierce and glamorous middle-aged blond woman standing outside The Phoenix Theatre. I asked her what the space was.“Come inside, it’s cold out here,” she replied with twinkling eyes, giving the invitation that opened the gates of time without end.

She told me about the theater and I explained to her how theatre had saved me throughout my tumultuous childhood, that it gave me a space to be, breathe, and interpret the world. I knew it was my destiny and life’s work. Furthermore, I had been out of Sacramento only 3 weeks and narrowly escaped the one person that loved me the most, yet engaged in a lifestyle that continuously promised danger.

Ms. Lowry invited me to her twice-weekly acting class. She was a protégé of Bobby Lewis, one of the founding fathers of the Original Actor’s Studio. In that lineage of teachings, one’s students are taken as seriously as the work itself and a legion of amazingly talented actors flocked to learn from Linda.

Within in no time, she passed me Viola’s monologue from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. I told her that I didn’t understand it, nor did I, in turn, like Shakespeare. She demanded I take the paper home and memorize the words. In my old-school, crowded, Tenderloin studio apartment I blazed a joint, laid my eyes and heart on words that opened a gateway to a world I’d never again want to leave.

For the next 20 years Linda guided and loved me as a mother, friend, and artistic mentor. She believed in me wholeheartedly, saw things I didn’t know were there and held space for the power she knew was in me when I felt defeated. Her support allowed me to release trauma, negative voices, and fear of pursuing my dreams. Through the work seeds of bright, fragrant flowers were planted in its place along with a deep knowing that all was possible.

Linda passed only recently and my heart is shattered. It is awe-inspiring she believed in a kid on a street corner and invested her strength, knowledge and energy which, in turn, to no exaggeration, saved my life. Having never known a love like that, I soared even through every challenge life kicked down. Her love and teachings were and are emblazoned in my bones through eternity.


Linda Lowry and Jesse Bliss


Public Notebook to Book: An Interview with Wendy C. Ortiz

Saturday December 3, 2016 Wendy C. Ortiz will lead the 3rd installment in the WWS Fall Workshop Series: Public Notebook to Book. Ortiz is the author of two memoirs, Excavation (Future Tense Books, 2014) and Hollywood Notebook (Writ Large Press, 2015) and has her third book, Bruja, being release October 31, 2016 from Civil Coping Mechanisms.

Ortiz has used journals and public notebooks throughout her career. In fact, “Hollywood Notebook, a prose poem-ish memoir, and Bruja, a dreamoir, both began as public notebooks and eventually found their way to becoming print books,” and in her workshop, Ortiz will share strategies for keeping a notebook and how to shape it into a piece of writing intended for an audience.

But first, Ortiz, who has been a contest judge for Blue Mesa Review, and a reader for Hedgebrook and Poets & Writers California Writers Exchange, among others, shares her thoughts on confidence, submission, and community.

Women Who Submit: How have Notebooks been in important to your work?

Wendy C. Ortiz: I’ve been carrying notebooks all my life and still do, whether it’s a physical notebook meant for a specific subject or my phone’s Notes app. Notebooks and journals have always been a necessary part of my work.

WWS: When did you choose to take your writing seriously, and what or who helped you in that pursuit?

WCO: I’ve always chosen to take my writing seriously, since the first story I wrote in elementary school, to the zines I made as a teenager, to the journalism I wrote in my early twenties and everything since. A number of people have helped me in that pursuit–most of them teachers. I think of Eloise Klein Healy, David Ulin, and most recently, Jill Soloway. Eloise and David have been mentors to me in the last 15 years. Jill has most recently been a cheerleader of my work and has challenged me to expand what and how I write.

WWS: What new projects are you working on?

WCO: At the moment I’m trying to teach myself how to write short screenplays. My latest manuscript is poetry, and I’ve been sending it out to various contests recently, in itself a project.

WWS: Do you ever have an issue with confidence in your writing? What strategies do you have for conquering your inner nay-sayer?

WCO: Confidence is shifty but I have a baseline of it. I think I’ve always had to have a baseline of confidence to continue to write after so many years, no matter what the outcome. I like to have conversations with my inner critic(s). And sometimes I have a couple of specific lines I use to tell them when to shut up. And they do.

WWS: What led you to join Women Who Submit, and how has it helped your writing or writing career?

WCO: I’ve been watching the remarkable formation of WWS online for a while, since I’m acquainted with some of its founders and members. When I finally had some time and space I made a conscious effort to join and hosted a meeting at my house to make sure I went. There’s a specific energy this kind of get-together creates. In my everyday life I try to make writing dates with at least one other writer, because I’ve found this makes me accountable to working on something. The WWS space, then, made me feel accountable, like I had to really focus my time and energy, and contribute to and use the collective energy of the room where everyone’s working. This, for me, is becoming something of a necessity to getting work done.

WWS: What is your number one piece of advice for people submitting their work for publication or other opportunities?

WCO: Read all the directions several times through. Do whatever you need to do: print out, highlight, ask someone else to read the directions and then double-check that you both understand the same information (here I’m thinking opportunities, because those tend to have more granular guidelines than publications). Pay attention to the deadline. Make sure you account for time zone differences. For real.

WWS: Do you have any exciting writing news to share with our community? Anything we can cheer?

WCO: I’m excited to have some nonfiction in the most recent issue of The Lifted Brow, an Australian print literary journal–the piece will be excerpted online soon. I recently completed a collaboration with artist Michael Chylinski that will appear at 7×

Soon I hope to share a project I was a part of in which I wrote creative text for drawings that will appear in an architectural publication–a challenging and new kind of writing for me. And my third book, Bruja, a dreamoir, comes out on Halloween and we’re planning a dreamy book launch at Skylight Books for November 6th.

unnamed-2Wendy C. Ortiz is the author of Excavation: A Memoir (Future Tense Books, 2014), Hollywood Notebook (Writ Large Press, 2015), and the dreamoir Bruja (CCM, 2016). Her work has been profiled or featured in the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Rumpus, and the National Book Critics Circle Small Press Spotlight blog. Wendy lives in Los Angeles.


On Movement and Writing: An Interview with Jay O’Shea

Saturday, November 5th  Jay O’Shea, a martial artist and Dance Studies professor at UCLA, will be leading the second workshop in the WWS Fall Workshop Series: On Movement and Writing with Jay O’Shea. She recently offered a Ted Talk on the benefits of physical play and games with a focus on process versus winning, and of course fun.

With a unique point of view, O’Shea’s workshop is sure to shift participants’ stories and characters from the mind to their hands and feet. As O’Shea describes, “In this workshop, we treat movement as central, seeing it as a place where character, narrative arcs, and imagery can emerge in a different, sometimes more vivid, way than they do through dialogue and description.”

O’Shea writes fiction, non-fiction, and academic pieces, and below she shares with our WWS community some strategies for revision, submission, and rejection.

WOMEN WHO SUBMIT: How has movement been in important to your work?

JAY O’SHEA: Like most writers, I’ve always been a scribbler, and I couldn’t say when I started writing. I’ve also always had a physical practice: dance, yoga, rock climbing, martial arts. I spent much of my young adult life trying to figure out whether I most wanted to write or to dance. I found a way to join my passions, becoming a dance scholar and writing about dance in its historical, cultural, and political contexts. Only after finishing my PhD did I realize that I was different from other academics in that writing was not only a means to an end but a craft that I cared deeply about in itself.

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Author Jim Bishop once wrote, “autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.” In September, the writers of Women Who Submit had lots of gold in their pockets.

From “When Depression Steals Your Voice,” by Alana Saltz in The Mighty:

I don’t know what to do now that depression has stolen my voice. I poise myself over a blank page, clench a pen and notebook in my hands, and nothing comes out. My brain is full of white noise that drowns out anything I might say. It’s like a switch has been flipped. Where there used to be words, there is emptiness.

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Behind the Editor’s Desk: Erin Elizabeth Smith

For the past sixteen years, Sundress Publications has been publishing chapbooks and full-length collections (including WWS co-founder Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo’s forthcoming debut collection Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge), as well as hosting online journals and the Best of the Net Anthology. Managing Editor Erin Elizabeth Smith answered a few WWS questions about being an editor, and what makes Sundress unique.

How did you get started with Sundress?

I founded Sundress in 2000 to serve as an umbrella site for a number of online journals, including Stirring, Samsara, and several others. We still maintain this sisterhood of lit journals by hosting or promoting journals including Stirring (under new management) Rogue Agent, Pretty Owl Poetry, Wicked Alice, and cahoodaloodaling. In 2006, we began the Best of the Net anthology in order to promote the work publishing in online venues.

We began publishing chapbooks in 2003, but after our first three, we realized that we weren’t ready to give the time and finances needed to properly publish and promote books. It wasn’t until 2011 that we really decided to jump into print publishing. We started slowly, understanding that it was going to be a learning process and also understanding that we needed to build our reputation as a consistent and engaged publisher. We now publish seven print books a year along with our e-chapbook series. We also have three imprints, our journals, the Best of the Net, the Gone Dark Archives, and much more! Continue reading


Highlight on WWS-Las Vegas: An Interview with Chapter Lead, Jocelyn Paige Kelly

Women Who Submit: How would you describe your city and your local literary community?

Jocelyn Paige Kelly: Vegas is becoming a vibrant literary community. We have very supportive local bookstores that showcase local authors: The Writer’s Block and Books or Books.

There are also lots of opportunities for poets. We have three paying markets for poets: Desert Companion, Downtown Zen magazine, and Helen: A Literary Magazine. There are numerous open mics, a local slam team (Battle Born, named after the state motto), and readings that go on throughout each month. A few local groups have also started to sponsor awards and contest for local poets as well. We also have our first Clark County Poet Laureate Bruce Isaacson who does a lot to support the local poetry scene.

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Lunas on the Road

by  Karineh Mahdessian and Sophia Rivera
(intro by Ramona Pilar)

Las Lunas Locas is a Los Angeles-based poetry collective who aims to empower women through their different identities and cultures. They have a writing circle that has been meeting on Mondays for the past few years to “create a safe space for a community of self-identifying womyn to write, right and rite.” They also host/present/produce and organize a plethora of events and writing workshops in Los Angeles.

This is an amazing group of literary artisans who are inspiring in their level of energy commitment to community, and dedication to forging their own path (literally as you’ll see below) whether or not the mainstream takes notice.

Earlier this year, a group of about 30 of the Lunas embarked on a four city reading tour that began on a whim. Initially an invitation for poets to read at a bookstore San Francisco ballooned into “a wonderful, serendipitous event that grew to be too big to be contained,” according to Karineh Mahdessian, one of the co-facilitators of the Monday meetups  and Lunas organizational juggernaut who helped to make the reading tour materialize. I followed their journey via social media and was blown away all that they were able to accomplish with the power of The Ask and a strong community.

In the tradition of a road journal, Karineh writes about that journey and what it took to take a group of about 30 women to Northern California for a reading tour.


Las Lunas Locas, a womyn’s writing group from Los Angeles, formed into existence in July of 2014 and has met every Monday night at Here and Now in El Sereno. For the past two years, we have participated in various community poetry readings.

In November of 2015, five of the Lunas had the opportunity to read with the Poet Laureates of Los Angeles and San Francisco at Avenue 50 Studios in Highland Park. Continue reading