On Writing

Published on February 28th, 2014 | by Aya de Leon


How Being A Mom Helped AYA DE LEON Thrive At Writers Conferences

A couple weekends ago, I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference for the first time.  I presented on panels, read my work and pitched my novel to agents.  It was the best Valentine’s Day gift ever. I’m reflecting on all the reasons why, as a parent, this is such a rare and precious occasion, but also how being a parent has helped me thrive at writers conferences.

Becoming a mom is a little like moving from a big city to a small suburb.  Your old life is still there, going along without you.  You can read about it on the internet, but you can’t actually inhabit it anymore.  As a writer, you can still manage to write.  You scribble notes on a napkin, you get that uber productive 45 minutes on the computer while the baby is asleep (I used to write with my daughter on my chest in a sea of dirty dishes).  But the thing most parents can’t manage during their children’s early years is that writer’s nightlife.  The readings, the panel discussions, the critique groups, and the conferences.  Writer conferences are magical, because they bring hundreds of people into one spot for a weekend or more to focus on writing.  Editors, publishers, agents, publicists, writers, teachers, fans, and others come together to create a magical world where all everybody cares about is books.

When you become a parent, conferences become scarce either because you don’t have the time (i. e. childcare) or you don’t have the money.  I used to attend writers conferences all the time, but in the four years since my daughter was born, I’ve managed to attend three locally and one out of town.  And I could only afford it because, as a faculty member at UC Berkeley, I was able to get funds to go to three of the four.

I paid for the first one out of pocket.  In 2010, when I still thought I was writing a thriller, I went to Bouchercon, which happened to be in San Francisco that year–local for me.  I patched together a zany childcare schedule which had my baby daughter on site with me, breastfeeding at times. I was determined to inhabit my old writers life.

It was hard to focus, impossible to sink fully into the experience, and a logistical nightmare.  But I found it incredibly rewarding.  This was, in part, because two things had changed for the better.  First of all, I was grateful for every bit of information and each conversation with another adult writer.  This was predictable, but the second change was totally unexpected: as a mom, I was more outgoing and optimistic about making connections.  This was directly related to having a baby.  For nearly a year, I had walked around the world with a little adorable person on my chest.  Everywhere I went, people lit up, walked toward me with a huge smile on their face, stopped to talk to me, paid me compliments about my child’s cuteness.  Let’s be clear—they weren’t actually complimenting me or happy about me.  Even all the positive attention I had received during the nine months of my pregnancy was never about me; I was merely the vessel or the pedestal conveying the object of their interest.  But having all that delighted energy coming in my direction had accustomed me to talking to strangers, and expecting a positive response.  At Bouchercon, I was more gregarious and bold about interacting with people than ever before.  At the end, I asked two women I’d never met before to form a writers group with me because we seemed to have a good connection.  It worked out well, and we’re still meeting.

My daughter is four now.  People still have sweet things to say about her, but I don’t have the same vantage point on all the eyes lighting up because she’s not living on my chest these days.  Still, I appreciate the lessons I learned that first year of motherhood.  I was thrilled to take an optimistic perspective and an expectation of making good connections into the  SF Writers Conference that weekend.

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About the Author

Aya de León teaches creative writing in the African American Studies Department at UC Berkeley. Kensington Books publishes her award-winning feminist heist series, which includes SIDE CHICK NATION, the first novel published about Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. In May 2020, Aya published her first children’s chapter book, EQUALITY GIRLS AND THE PURPLE REFLECTO-RAY, about an Afro-Latina girl who uses her superpowers to confront the president’s sexism. In December 2020 Kensington published her first standalone novel, A SPY IN THE STRUGGLE, about FBI infiltration of an African American organization fighting for climate justice and Black lives. Her work has also appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Ebony, Guernica, Writers Digest, Bitch Magazine, Mutha Magazine, VICE, The Root, Ploughshares, and on Def Poetry. In 2020, Candlewick will publish her first YA novel, a Black/Latina spy girl book called UNDERCOVER LATINA. She is an alumna of Cave Canem and VONA. Visit her online at ayadeleon.com, on Twitter at @ayadeleon, Facebook or Instagram at @ayadeleonwrites, where she writes about race, class, gender, sexuality, culture and climate.

One Response to How Being A Mom Helped AYA DE LEON Thrive At Writers Conferences

  1. Thanks so much for this post! When my daughter was a baby, I also found myself engaging more with strangers, and also with regulars in my life. Oddly, being pregnant and having a baby completely changed my relationship with men in their 50s and 60s. We had more lively and involved conversations, and I got to see their faces soften when they shared their memories of their (now grown) kids. You’ve inspired me to take some time to write about this – thanks.

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