Nicole Idar was born and raised in Malaysia. Her fiction has appeared in the New Ohio Review, Rattapallax, and World Literature Today, and her first published essay, "Refrain From Being a Totally 100% Bookworm," received a Bethesda Magazine award in 2012.
She is a recipient of a 2014-2015 DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities Artist Fellowship and teaches writing at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Read her winning essay in the 2014 edition of the Noyo River Review. One of her short stories was a finalist this year for the Bellingham Review's Tobias Wolff Fiction Prize.
Writers never know where their writing will take them. When Nicole Idar signed up for MCWC in 2014, she entered the conference’s writing contest. Her essay, “I Can’t Stop Correcting my Politically Incorrect Mom” won first place in the non-fiction category and was selected for publication in the Noyo River Review. It turned out she was unable to attend the conference, but as you’ll discover in this interview with Susan Bono, editor of the Noyo River Review, her decision to participate in the contest was a wise one.
What got you to register for the 2014 Mendocino Coast Writers Conference?
I read A Working Theory of Love and saw that Scott Hutchins was teaching a novel workshop at MCWC, and I thought, “Oh, I’ve got to apply!”
How did you view the writing contest? What did you expect from participating?
I felt encouraged to enter the writing contest because of all the friendly reminders I received after I registered. I saw that the contest is a valued part of the conference—there’s a reading for winners, and it just sounded like a great opportunity. Plus, I read a previous issue of the Noyo River Review, where the winning entries are published, and I loved it; the writing is amazing, and so is the artwork. The journal is so beautifully edited and put together; I could see how much care went into it. I just thought I’d give it a go and enter the contest; I don’t think I was expecting anything, really, though I did hope!
It turns out your essay, “I Can’t Stop Correcting my Politically Incorrect Mom,” won first place in the non-fiction category. How did that feel?
Honestly, I was shocked and thrilled at the same time. The essay is about my mom’s political incorrectness, but it’s also about my own “PC fails,” so to speak. When I was writing the essay and remembering the dumb things I said and did in college, even though it was a long, long time ago, I still cringed inwardly. Was I really that person? I think entering the contest helped me overcome some of that shame, because I knew that my essay would be read by others, and if I won, it would actually be published. Reading what judge Charlotte Gullick had to say about my essay—about “the importance of humanity and compassion in all things”—meant so much precisely because those feelings of shame and embarrassment are still with me. I guess that’s one of the reasons I love to write and read, because I’m drawn to the “humanity and compassion in all things.”
You experienced some unexpected challenges that made it impossible for you to attend the conference. That must have been disappointing. What advice would you give other writers for dealing with disappointments?
Ah, when it comes to disappointments, I have PLENTY of experience! When I started out submitting my work, for example, I used to color-code different categories. My plan was, rejections would be red, acceptances green, but then it got to the point where I’d open up my spreadsheet and there’d be a sea of red, so yeah, that idea didn’t last. I made up a mantra: “Don’t Quit. Resubmit.” That’s how I deal with disappointments, though I can’t say rejections sting any less!
The Noyo River Review staff works closely its writers to prepare selected work for publication. Was this your first time being edited?
I loved working with you, Susan! I felt like I was in a very safe pair of hands. I liked that you asked me lots of questions, and encouraged me to flesh out parts of the essay that were oblique, or needed more explanation, more background.
I’m so glad you had a positive experience! Being edited requires lots of courage and an open mind. Any advice for others enduring the editing process?
I enjoy the editing process. Writing is solitary, and when I’m being edited, I like the feeling that I’m collaborating with someone, so I guess my advice is to see it as a chance to collaborate.
Tell our readers what you discovered about Noyo River Review and Poets & Writers.
Poets & Writers has a database of “approved” literary journals, and I found that the Noyo River Review had been overlooked, so I sent them an email asking if they might consider including the NRR. After verifying various criteria, P&W included the NRR in their list. Thank you, NRR, for publishing a terrific journal that is now P&W recognized!
Are there more conferences and contests in your future? Any suggestions for making the most of them?
I try to go to conferences where a writer whose work I love is teaching. And where the community is known to be warm and inclusive. For both those reasons, I applied to the MCWC, and I’m so glad I did!
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