We are fortunate at Writespace Houston to have had Angélique Jamail in our community for over five years! She’s both a stellar student and a master Creative Writing teacher. Her fiction and poetry have received praise from the literary world. Her work has been nominated for Best Small Fictions and has been a finalist for the New Letters Prize in Poetry. She writes poetry, memoir, and both realistic and speculative fiction. Her current novel-in-progress is a Steampunk-flavored ghost story. Visit her official website to learn more about her and to read her blog. Follow her on Twitter, IG, and Facebook.
Tell us about your writing. What are you currently working on?
I am a multi-genre hybrid author, which means that I write in a variety of genres, and I have been published in a variety of ways.
I always have multiple projects going on. At the moment, I’m in the middle of writing a novel which is a fantasy/Steampunk-flavored ghost story. In the past, I have written high and urban fantasy. I write poetry, memoir, and creative non-fiction — I slipstream all over the place! I also write a zine that is a variety show in a magazine.
My novel and my zine take up most of my writing time.
Where can we find your writing?
I have several fiction and poetry books out. You can find them wherever you can find books, but I hope especially you’ll support indie bookstores like Lit Book Bar, Blue Willow, and The Twig. You can find all my titles in those shops.
You have published over three books. How did it feel when your first one got published, and what would you do differently?
The books I have now on my website were not the first ones I published. I published a couple of poetry chapbooks many years ago. The first one came out in the late ‘90s.
The first time I was published I was ecstatic about it. I had just finished my degree at U of H, and it was something I wanted to share with the world. It was a chapbook, not a full-length collection, but still, I was very excited to have something I could hold in my hands and hand to people.
Coming from an environment where some people didn’t recognize the value of a creative writing degree and asked me what I was going to do with it when I had something to share with them, it was validating in a way that made them see that it was a real thing. This is a thing that can be done. This is a thing that I can do. As exciting as it was for me, it was transformative for the people around me and their perception of what I wanted to do with my life.
And what would I do differently? Every book is a different animal. Every book release is a somewhat different process. One thing that is not my superpower is marketing, but authors have to be adept at that now. No matter how you're published, you still have to be able to market it. Every time I have a book come out, I try to get better at that part of things.
How do you prioritize your writing?
That’s the magic question for writers who have other jobs. And I do; I teach. I try to build in time in the day when I can do writing as a practice. I wouldn’t say I am always entirely successful at it. Some writers believe that you have to write every single day, but that's not realistic for some people.
I have a demanding 70-hour-a-week job and teenagers at home, so writing every day is not necessarily a thing that fits into my lifestyle, but I do try to make it a regular practice. One thing that helps is doing writing sprints with other people, and we don't necessarily have to be physically in the same place. I find that those short sprint times help me focus as a writer. It also helps to know what I'm going to do going in. I try not to ever start with a blank page.
How would you describe your writing style?
I would say that it's literary-minded. Especially when I’m writing fiction, I focus as much as I can on character-driven stories, and I try to make the writing excellent at the cellular level.
I also try to write things that are unusual, which unfortunately sometimes makes them hard for the traditional publishing industry to categorize. Sometimes I like to work with familiar tropes and do them in different ways.
Every time I come to a project, I come at it with the voice I've cultivated over a really long time of writing, but each project is its own beast.
What life lesson have you learned from being a writer?
I’ve learned that it’s okay to live inside your imagination. Understand the separation between imagination and reality, but know that it's okay to hang out there.
I would also say that other things which are important for writers to understand about the writing life have good corollaries to other aspects of life. Persistence. A thick skin. And understanding how to deal with rejection — these are all things you need to be a successful writer, and those are all good qualities to have in your character too.
Tell us about your favorite Writespace workshop. Why was it your favorite?
Gosh, I don’t know if I can pick a favorite! Every workshop I've taught for Writespace has been so much fun, and in every workshop I have taken, I feel like I’ve learned something valuable.
I am not one of those authors who think I've reached a certain point in my career, so I don't need to take classes anymore. That's not a healthy attitude, so I continue to take workshops despite being a master teacher.
In general, I love workshops that are generative and allow you in the space of that time to write and generate new stuff. As a student, that's what I'm most looking for from a workshop. If it's a writing workshop, give me a prompt and a space and a framework, and let me work on my stuff, and let me start new stuff, and let me learn this thing.
If it's more of a technical or craft-based workshop, I'm always interested in learning new techniques for the writing process. For example, I've taken outlining workshops because I'm not naturally an outliner. I’m more of a discovery writer.
All the workshops have been good!
How did you join Writespace Houston?
It happened a number of years ago, a few years before the pandemic. I took a Sunday afternoon poetry workshop every weekend for a month. This was back in the old studio in 2017 or 2018. I found that workshop to be wonderful. And it was when I realized that Writespace was the place to go if you wanted to write science fiction or fantasy, which I do. They celebrate it.
The more I got involved in workshops, the more classes I took, and the more people I met, I realized it was a much better and awesome organization even than the very encouraging rumors had led me to believe.
How has the organization helped you with your writing?
I think deadlines keep us accountable. It’s very easy to let writing slide when it's not your primary full-time job, and I’ve found that participating in workshops keeps me on a schedule and gives me external deadlines. It keeps me accountable for producing work and has been useful for my process.
In every class I've taken, I've learned something valuable, and everything that I learn about writing only helps me as a writer. It's never time wasted. Everything goes into the soup and makes it better from within.
When did you first call yourself a writer?
In elementary school – I was really young. I knew writing stories was a pretty important part of my character by fourth grade. I don't think I ever thought of myself as not a writer after that point.
I loved trying to make art from a very young age. I was constantly trying to draw, and I still love painting; it's one of my hobbies. But fifth grade was the last time that I had regular art classes because it was something that my school had once a week. When we were signing up for electives for sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, we had to choose which elective we wanted to take. I put art as my first choice and creative writing as my second choice because it never occurred to me that I wouldn't write stories sitting in my bedroom with a journal. But I wanted the art instruction. Then my art teacher pulled me out of class one day to tell me I should take creative writing. I wasn't very good at drawing or painting! And so, from sixth grade on, that was my primary artistic focus.
I took creative writing every single day in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades; I was very fortunate. Then I had English teachers in high school who encouraged my creative writing. By the time I was 16, I had decided that was going to be my career path. And it’s what I went to U of H for. I just knew that's what I was going to do.
What is the most valuable advice you’ve been given about writing?
That no matter where you think you have failed, you can always just start over the next day.
And just building a writing practice, the habit of sitting down and writing, is really valuable. You can't necessarily control the output, but you can control the attempt. So just sit down and show up for the work, and the writing will flow. You just have to build that practice in.
What is the worst piece of advice you’ve been given about writing?
The worst piece of advice I've been given about writing is anything that somebody says as if it is authoritatively the gospel. One important thing to remember about all writing advice is that not all advice works for every writer. And anybody who’s going to make an edict about something, maybe, misses the point. And so I tend to take, as every writer should, all advice with a grain of salt, and say, Is this going to work for me? Is it real? Is it practical? Let's try it out.
What advice do you have for an aspiring writer?
Just show up and put words on the page. Find teachers you can work with and work with them, and find a critique group that you get along with. It may take several tries before you find the right critique group, but just keep trying. But you can't do anything until you put the words on the page. And try not to be too hard on yourself if you don't write every day.