writing. retreat!

the university of wyoming’s estella soto reports from the front lines.

i am engaged in a war with my words on the plains of colorado. where shortgrass is just what it sounds like. short. grass. and where there is no reason – earthly or otherwise – why i should not get a veritable buttload of writing done.

except, of course, that pesky interweb.

the things we googled: ash stymest (image search), vivien leigh (image search), black swan showtimes, JCREW, Southwest Airlines – Search Fares, awp conference registration, definition of tome – Free Online Dictionary, USC Trojans-UCLA Bruins game, coal creek uptown, CHER walkin in memphis, exes [who shall remain anonymous, unknown unknowable soldiers], myspace profile [deleted], facebook profile [wall posts/messages answered], cell phone bill [paid], netflix survey [answered in good faith],  bank accounts [not overdrawn].

the writing process: an essay in 8 photos

first, i printed everything i've written in the last 1.5 years - in various stages of completion/revision - and laid them out on my cot and looked at them. i felt things like excitement and fear.

then i went for a walk and admired the short. grass.

sometimes i think of my shadow as my better half.

as a matter of fact i did pack all of these items into a suitcase and wheel them up to the house. including (but not limited to): the norton anthology of latino literature, patti smith's autobiography, the wizard of oz & sleeping beauty & 8.5 (dvds), a lock-box full of index cards (where i store my heartbreaking work of unpublishable genius).

then i took a picture of the windmill outside.

then i read some queer critical theory essays and a henry james novel and took copious notes compiling evidence for my argument that henry james loves weiner.

then i took a picture of that windmill again. this time, at sunset.

just two writers on the plains trying to extract brilliant prose from our fingertips like...... i can think of a good simile i swear....... just give me a few more days in this little white room on the plains.

some of these things are not like the others

our last first//friday@secondstory until the spring semester, friday night’s event was pretty fucking rad.  perhaps it was the poetry of kate northrop, or the music of rob joyce, or all that talk about evil knievel and parasites courtesy of kelly herbinson.  or maybe it was the fresh, soft-wood aroma emanating from the flooring stacked in the corner of the bookstore (still under construction as it is converted to a coffeeshop). despite the fact that there were so many memorable moments, one thing we did not remember was the department camera — so we’ve pieced together a collage of friday’s event from camera phones and fbook for your viewing pleasure.

rob joyce drew a crowd of his own. unfortunately, not all of them had chairs.

the people: pensive or sleepy?

the mural: bear vs. wolf w/boner tail?

kate northrop performs for us a poem in two voices.

was she at the reading?

this is what it sounds like when doves cry.



a short short by guest blogger jennifer love hewitt:

“field dress”

I saw a deer carcass, cut up and hollowed out, in the back of a pickup truck parked on the street. If this had been our deer, dear. We would have cut it up together. We would have made that first incision, and slowly separated the body from itself. We would have opened up its breastplate and scooped its insides out. We would have severed its windpipe, removed its upper organs. Heart, liver, lungs; discarded in a line across the snow like a raw, red necklace. We would have crawled inside its carcass and spent the night in close quarters. Hidden in another creature’s skin. Lost inside the body of a different beast entirely. Because I want you. Because I want to reach across the space between us and pull you to me. I want to throw one leg over your lap and straddle you. I want to prop your chin up, press a kiss into your lips to part them. And in the little black hole that unlocks your insides, I want to set the tip of my breast. I want to feel myself taken up into your mouth. And I want you to let me stay there. To want me. As a body, mostly, pressed against your own. Ripped apart, held together in your hands. But, this was not our deer. And anyway, desire is an irrational thing.

jennifer love hewitt (born February 21, 1979) is an American actress, television director, voice actress, singer-songwriter, author, and film and television producer. Hewitt began her acting career as a child by appearing in television commercials and the Disney Channel series Kids Incorporated. She rose to fame in teenage popular culture in her roles in Party of Five, and I Know What You Did Last Summer.  She also starred on the hit CBS television program Ghost Whisperer as a young woman who can communicate with ghosts. She won a Saturn Award in 2007 and 2008 for Best Actress on Television.

conversations with friends elsewhere…

courtesy of gmail.

being marooned in Wyoming, at times, isn’t easy.  to-do lists that get longer before they get shorter.  bouts of self-doubt staring at a blank word document too early in the morning, either because you’ve stayed up late to get writing done or gotten up early to get writing done and somehow you happen to be awake at an hour associated with responsible adults, but instead of reading the newspaper over eggs and toast you are pulling out your eyelashes. then, there’s the weather. a friend in California, inquiring about my mental state, said to me in an email the other afternoon:

winter is about to start, and being in your house all by yourself will either a. inspire some amazing writing or b. end up in a Shining like situation where you are talking to a ghost bartender and driving axes through the walls.

California is another world, right now.  And I’m suddenly relating to The Shining in ways I’d never thought possible.  REDRUM.  REDRUUUUUM.   I tell the ghosts to quiet down and reach out to California over gchat.

me:  i have a reading tomorrow
and i have to make up a bio
for the dude to read when he introduces me.
but i used my stock bio at the last reading so i need something new.
this is what i have so far:

estella soto is a fiction writer from southern California. she lost her virginity at the age of 16 to a boy on the varsity football team. she writes about this experience in her novels, “the whole 69 yards,” “what we talk about when we talk about butt sex”, and “first down.”

anyway/ how are you?
Kevin: i am ok. really busy.
work + building the new cobrasnake website + novella + blog + lit mag + social things
me: it all sounds like good stuff
Kevin: yeah. hoping to have the novella done by the time i turn 26.
ive really taken a turn with the prose though
stylistically very much diff from how it was the last time we talked
really got into joan didion’s fiction.
(though i still h8 play it as it lays)
and i think i was really struggling with third person.
really recommend didion’s ‘a book of common prayer’.
anyway yeah. other than that, i declared myself asexual. no more sex for, kb.
people have expressed skepticism as to whether or not it’s the case of somebody who ‘wasn’t getting any to begin with’ subverting the ‘rhetoric’ to make things seem cooler.
i say, ‘splitting hairs’. etc.
also tao lin may be sleeping over tonight.
but maybe not
oh also emily is watching over kanye west and his crew
tomorrow and sunday
while they edit his new music video
also what are you working on right now?

Doing some work for the department, I was tasked with calling Colson Whitehead.  This was particularly challenging for me because he happens to be extremely attractive.  Or so I have inferred from his author photos followed by a thorough google image search.  I hate talking on the phone, and if I think the person on the other end of the line is in the least bit wonderful, I fall apart.  He’s also incredibly smart and talented.  But because I’m kind of shallow, I don’t know that those virtues intimidated me more than the google image search results.

me: colson whitehead didn’t respond to my email and i am supposed to call him
i don’t want to do this at all
Kevin: hahaha
im telling u @tweet him
me: then i’d look like a stalker!
“it could be fun to talk to Colson!” – program director
Kevin: lol
it could be fun
i mean he’s young and he seems clever.
hell prolly say ‘STELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLA!!!!!!!!’ when he hears ur name
me: i totally don’t want to call colson whitehead
ok dialing.
Kevin: sweeeet
gimme the play by play
itll be fun
me: i haven’t hit send yet
Kevin: ill tell u what to say
as i peruse his twitter feed
me: loooooool
i am gonna hit the little green phone button……….
he answered
we talked
Kevin: yeeeess
no way
me: he said he saw the email
he was teaching yesterday
Kevin: r u talking now
me: he is going to send the letter
no i can’t type and talk at the same time
i was paralyzed
Kevin: lol
me: i am as mad awk on the phone as you are
biiiiiiig awkward silences
followed by a rushed goodbye
and sigh of relief
Kevin: lol
i am so skillful at eating orangess
me: good. good for you.
Kevin: lol
damn stella’s scared to talk to colston whiteheady
u have a crush on him?
me: no no no. tell me more about eating oranges.
i do. after reading his twitter.
Kevin: via dreads
i eat oranges without spraying juice all over the place
im efficient and smooth
me: ❤
Kevin: and thas wassup
me: since you’re not getting any action are you taking pride in eating out fruit
Kevin: lol basically.
u can envision what he looks like

when you’re talking to him on the phone
me: hawt
Kevin: ‘hey, uh uh uh uh is your refrigerator uh uh uh running, mister whitehead?’
‘uh uh uh bc uh the letter the mail uh uh’
me: [pause]
Kevin: ‘twitter uh uh uh wyoming uh uh uh cowabunga uh GOODBYE!’
me: [pause]
cw: bye?
Kevin: damn
if not colson
then who do u have to call
‘uhhhh hi uhhhh thomas pynchon uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh’

At the end of two years I’ll have hundreds of pages.  Will it be enough, though, to stretch out end to end and walk a path all the way back home?  California, Max. California.

–Estella Soto

show & tell: book arts, spring 2010

last spring, a few of us mfa’ers enrolled in book arts, an art/english course team taught by Alyson Hagy and Mark Ritchie. let us say that we underestimated the amount of time and effort that goes into physically creating a book from raw materials, beyond the arduous task of merely generating content.  we laughed, we cried, we made books.  and it was a really great chance to view composition as something more dynamic than simply typing.  our creations:


much of kelly's work revolved around her love of insects & former life as a scientist "in the field."

a peek into the interior world of kelly herbinson.

stephanie dugger (evil, like the fruit of the devil) found creative ways to present her poetry.

estella soto spent hours in photoshop manipulating an old barney's catalog & flirting with the guy at kinko's to give her a discount on the price of printing 18 double-sided glossy color pages for her final project: replacing simon doonan's catalog narrative w/her own short story.

katie schmid proved herself to be more than just a poet: she can sketch with the best of them.

the faculty came out to the reception to show their support. andy fitch engaged in the art of reading.

creative rhetoric.



on top of old smokey

Taking a break from trying to learn the fine art of evisceration. Spent the last couple of days transcribing an interview with Mirah – part of a series of interviews I’m working on talking to songwriters about the process of lyric writing. Joy Williams is in town and suddenly I’m laughing more.

hiking scientists.

Kelly and I climbed to the top of Medicine Bow Peak the other day with Maya the Great. 12,000 feet of triumph, or some approximation. The actual autumn we’re having makes it feel less like we live on a satellite planet.Oh yeah, we see this fucking rad car.

hot wheels.

-Scott Pinkmountain


on the 10 freeway, due east

What would I do if I were an heiress?
I would mostly pretend to be poor. But in a more convincing manner than the trust fund babies with fully furnished ‘Artist Lofts.’ I would get a day job that bored me to tears. As a parking attendant. Or a hostess. Or a post office clerk. Just to see how the other half lives. Then I’d quit because I could. I would spend a day with the little Mexican lady who sells miniature guitars on the street corner to see who buys them, and how much profit she really pulls in at the end of a long day. I would pretend like money wasn’t really all that important and that I could live without it. I would sell my belongings at auction, and keep only what I truly needed. Then I’d take the cash and buy a cute outfit for a homeless person.  Or donate a toy to needy children.  Something really great, like an iPod or a handbag. I would come up with a different plan for every single day. I’d tell all my friends I’m going away to study in Paris, in Italy, in New York City.  Arrange lavish parties with banners that read: Bon Voyage. Buon Viaggio.  Godspeed to Brooklyn. I would try different bad habits on for size; develop an eating disorder, dabble in nose candy, get a taste for cocktails and struggling musicians, maybe even fake a suicide or two. I’d stage my own kidnapping, and run away to the desert. I’d walk barefoot in the sand until my feet started to bleed.  Then I’d look for a shoe store that accepted AmEx but never find one. Over time, I’d assimilate. I’d forget I was an heiress pretending to be poor, and really be poor. My parents’ credit cards would expire.  My forms of identification would become invalid. I would no longer have a forwarding address. I’d learn to fish and wander the desert searching out a body of water in which to toss my line. I’d drink water from the center of cactus fruits.  And air out my dirty laundry on the prickly spines. I’d dig little holes, and pee in them. I would keep on toward the horizon, chasing it, day in, day out.  Until my skin dried completely and turned to scales that I could shed onto the side of a rock somewhere and leave to blow away in nighttime winds.  The remaining particles of me would separate; some rising up in the air forever into oblivion and the vast outer reaches of the solar system.  Others, falling to the ground where they’d turn to dust and mix with silt and someday, if I was lucky, no longer exist.

–Estella Soto
A fiction writer born and raised in San Diego, California, Estella received her BA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern California in 2006, with a minor in Theatre Arts.  She is co-founder of the young writers’ collective My Sneaky Uncle, which has made appearances in The Huffington Post and Evil Monito Magazine. Estella is in her second year at the UW mfa.  She is devoid of humour and generally thoughtless.