In this illuminating episode, host Ashley Cisneros Mejia chats with Amaris Castillo — an award-winning journalist whose roots trace back to winning a storytelling contest in elementary school and whose prowess led her to be hired as an NPR Public Editor in Research at the famed journalism school The Poynter Institute. As we explore Amaris' journey, join us for an intimate look into the interplay among journalism, fiction writing, and motherhood.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
About Amaris Castillo
Amaris Castillo is an award-winning journalist, writer, and the creator of Bodega Stories, a series featuring real stories from the corner store. Her writing has appeared in La Galería Magazine, Aster(ix) Journal, Spanglish Voces, PALABRITAS, Dominican Moms Be Like… (part of the Dominican Writers Association’s #DWACuenticos chapbook series), and most recently @Quislaona: A Dominican Fantasy Anthology. She has new work forthcoming in Sana, Sana: Latinx Pain and Radical Visions for Healing and Justice, out in July from Common Notions Press. Her short story, “El Don,” was a prize finalist for the 2022 Elizabeth Nunez Caribbean-American Writers’ Prize by the Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival. She lives in the Tampa Bay area with her family and dog, Brooklyn.
Connect with Amaris on Instagram and Twitter.
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All right.Ashley Mejia:
Welcome everyone to another episode of the Talk Freelance To Me Podcast. I'm your host, Ashley Cisneros Mejia and today I have the grand pleasure to introduce to you one of my longest journalism friends and honestly biggest sources of inspiration, the wonderfully talented Ameris Castillo. Welcome!Amaris Castillo:
Thank you so much, Ashley, for having me. I'm so excited to be speaking with you. We go way back. We do. So when you sent me that email, I was like, of course, why not. My only regret is that it took a while to schedule this call. So thank you for understanding.Ashley Mejia:
Absolutely. I mean, you are doing so much you have so many amazing projects. And I can't wait for the audience to really learn about some of those things. Your your story is so cool. I think all the moms, the mom writers will really enjoy learning about, you know, how you do motherhood and writing and creating, which is such deep work where you really do need time to think and to create, and that can be hard with little kids under five. So thank you for carving out some time for us today. Because I know this conversation is going to be so valuable to everyone in our community.Amaris Castillo:
Thank you and you're also an inspiration to me and we'll we'll go into that. SoAshley Mejia:
I love that thank you so much freelance fam. Amaris has done so much in journalism and all different types of journalism, also in you know, the literature world in the fiction world. And she can share a little bit about what that you know how to write in those different ways. I want to read to you a little bit from her bio, she's done a lot. I'm going to have the full bio on the show notes, so make sure to check this out. But here's a little bit about Ameris Ameris Castillo is an award winning journalist, writer and the creator of Bodegas stories, a series featuring real stories from the corner store. Born in Brooklyn, New York to Dominican parents. She credits the many tales she heard growing up to her love of storytelling. Omarosa has reported for the New York Times the sun and Lowell, Massachusetts, the Bradenton Herald, Ramirez, Sc, la Latina magazine, parents, Latino magazine, and so many more. She's received fellowships from the International Center for journalists, the International Women's Media Foundation, the Society for features journalism, and the journalism and women symposium. In 2018. America was named New England journalism's newsroom rising star by the New England Society of news editors. And when she is a reporting for the media on her job, Ameris is piecing together fiction stories. Her writing has appeared and La Galleria magazine, the Asterix journal, Spanglish voices biolab, Rita's Dominican mother's be like, which is part of the Dominican Writers Association, and so many more. Her short story el don was a Prize finalist for the 2022 Elizabeth Nunes, Caribbean American writers prize by the Brooklyn Caribbean literary festival. And she had a short story, the moon in the sun, which was long listed for the same prize in 2021. America's does this and so much more. And she's also a proud wife and mom, girl, you have done a longAmaris Castillo:
day, miserable long bio.Ashley Mejia:
No, no, don't be sorry, Joe. Like in freelance fam. That was just a little bit. There's a lot, there's a lot that she's done. Definitely go to the website. And check out her full bio, because I know you're going to be inspired. And it might give you ideas on how you can where you can take your career next. So Marcy, you've done a lot from working on your current job as the NPR public editor and research writing assistant at the Poynter Institute. Okay, talk about an icon institution. You've done newspaper writing, you've done magazine work, you've done fellowships. So what made you become a journalist in the first place?Amaris Castillo:
Yes. Wow. I love that question. First of all, I want to first say that like it wasn't difficult for me, really, I think I knew back in high school, like I always loved telling stories. And I loved reading as a kid, I devoured books as a kid. But I made that connection to journalism in high school, when I was a part of the student newspaper shout out to clear light Clearwater high school. I loved that part of my high school experience, because I was I was actually named editor in chief of the student newspaper, but I was not good at it. I'm very, you know, sort of non confrontational and I was still so young and still learning so much. So I had two of my friends, um, they were named like the assistant editors. So while they would be the ones, you know, telling our staff, hey, you know, your deadlines coming up or as a story, I would spend a lot of my lunch hour like my lunch breaks in the newspaper office, which was basically the back in this little tiny office behind my English teachers room. Shout out to Mrs. Mary. She was a huge inspiration to me. I loved, you know, just working on the newspaper, just like the excitement of what are we going to cover? And the seeing your name and print that never gets old? Right, that feeling, right. And so I loved it so much that I, you know, I had friends, yes. But there was just something about being in that office, tinkering away at the newspaper, and then handing it off, and then having it printed, you know, in these batches, and then we would like distribute them throughout the school. This was the mid 2000s. So this was before social media. And then my English teacher, Mrs. Murray, and she was our student advisor as well, our paper and newspaper advisor. She had told me about this high school journalism program at this organization called the Poynter Institute, in St. Petersburg, so this nearby city, and she encouraged me to apply and I did, I got in. And that's when my love for journalism grew even more because I was in this program with other students my age from other schools in Pinellas County and nearby Hillsborough County. And we were learning from real journalists, Tampa Bay Times journalist, I think this was so long ago that this was when it was called the St. Petersburg Times. We'll have to check the timeline. But I was just I couldn't get enough just learning from them trying to soak it all in their lessons. And then so when it was time for me to apply to college, there was no other career. In my mind. It was, I want to be a journalist. I want to tell stories. I didn't yet make the connection till actually a few years ago, hey, I can also write fiction or I can try why not try writing fiction. It's storytelling. It's just a different kind of storytelling. That didn't come till much later. journalism was my love, and I just ran with it. majored in Journalism at USF University of South Florida in Tampa, then I couldn't find a job. After I graduated, I couldn't find a job. I freelanced. Also, I know we're talking about freelance through this episode. But I want to give you a special thank you and shout out because I think you're the person who gave me my first freelance gigs. And yeah, so there was really never a question. But can I just share a quick story? This is kind of tan would love that. Yes. So recently, I was looking through this old photo album from my childhood. And I stumbled across this black and white photo, it was kind of like a xerox copy of a photo. So I could barely make myself out there. But I was I was at my old elementary school in Brooklyn, with a few other kids. And it was something like there was a right someone had written storytelling contest. And I was like, Ma, what's this? I asked my mom, she was like, Oh, you were in a storytelling contest. You were one of the winners. Oh, my God. Yeah, it was amazing. I was in first grade. I have no recollection of this. I don't remember this at all. I mean, it was so long ago, you'd think I'd remember that was six. I mean, I imagined I was six around at the time. So that was just such a huge moment for me, where I was just sitting there like staring at this old photo, I was just stunned. Because that sort of solidified to me that this is like my life's work. Like I have been a storyteller. Since childhood. Being in this contest, winning I don't know how I placed but I was clearly there. Like, I was standing with a few other students. And there was one of an administrator behind us. We had some sort of award and I was just like, wow, so yeah, I needed to tell you that just to share that little story because that kind of speaks to how my career has happened.Ashley Mejia:
I love that that from childhood telling stories is what you've done organically, authentically for fun for joy. That's beautiful. Thank you. Wow, talk about a full circle moment and even just thinking about what you just said about that your high school that program that they had it pointer and another full circle moment, because now you do work at pointer and for freelance man. For those of you who maybe haven't heard of pointer, you need to look it up because it's a huge deal. This is a highly respected nonprofit journalism school and research organization and it's all about truth fact checking freedom of expression. Russian and democracy it's well well respected and has done so much important work in the realm of journalism, and I think it's plays is even more essential, considering just what we've seen in the last couple years. And like the discourse in our country about facts about what are facts, what's truth, what is the media's role? So I've seen that, like, I see a couple like full circle kind of themes in your life. And that's so cool. Can you tell us about what you do for Poynter now?Amaris Castillo:
Yes. So I was hired in 2020. We all remember that year right. I saw this posting for research writing assistant for the NPR public editor, who is Kelly McBride. She's the senior vice president of pointer, currently, or she's been at points for a long time. Amazing, amazing woman, media ethicist, Boss Mom. So I applied, I was so excited when I got the position. And my main main job is to I work with Kelly and another coworker, to kind of look over with so we have a special inbox right? And we receive comments and criticisms and questions from NPR audience. So every week, we take some of those comments. We do our own research, we investigate, we reach out, we interview and reach out to NPR journalists to sort of get to we're sort of like a bridge between the audience and NPR. A lot of what we do is explain this is how the NPR journalists sort of thought through this story idea. Sometimes, you know, it's like, yeah, they got this wrong. And this is what happened, and how they got it wrong. We publish our findings in a weekly newsletter, and it comes out every Thursday. Our newsletters are archived on npr.org. So if you're interested in reading more of our work, you could just Google NPR, public editor, we have a newsletter. So like I mentioned, we have a newsletter. If you don't subscribe, you can definitely add your email, subscribe, and we'll send you our newsletter, you know, straight to your inbox on Thursdays, we do have a summer schedule. So that changes the frequency of our newsletters changes during the summer. But I also have another role at the point to institute and that's contributor to poynter.org. So I love writing about culture and identity. And I love interviewing journalists. So sometimes I do I conduct Q and A's. So for example, I've interviewed like a taco editor. And after the, you know, the Uvalde shooting, I interviewed an editor at one of the Texas newspapers, just about how local authorities were blocking just the press from speaking with families of the victims. So yes, for pointer, I am a contributor and I pitch ideas to my editor. And sometimes I'm assigned a story. So it's been great because like, though I miss, so I'm a former newspaper reporter and I do miss that sometimes just being out, getting to go out and to the community and talk to you know, everyday people and feeling like your stories make, like a real difference. But I've noticed that working out pointer, I mean, a lot of people follow what we're doing and what we're reporting on. And so it's a different kind of impact that I'm able to contribute to with my stories. But it's been great so far. I love it. I love my job, especially just for the period, the chapter in my life right now, with two young boys. And my bosses just wonderful. She's so understanding. You know, sometimes daycare will be like, one of my boys has a fever. They're like, come get your kid. And they you know, they're like, as soon as that fever hits, they're like, come pick up your kid, you gotAshley Mejia:
45 minutes. Yeah, and I haveAmaris Castillo:
to stop everything. And you know, so it's just wonderful. I'm always like, please, whatever you do, I think just management and bosses. They just, it makes such a difference in like, you know how your experience with work. So I'm just grateful. I'm grateful, just for this moment right now talking to you about my job. So thank you for asking me.Ashley Mejia:
Thank you. Thank you. Your story is so incredible. And so you've had the storied career and in journalism and what we think of journalism, like newspapers and reporting. Now you're at Poynter. And then you also have your own things your own short stories, Bodega stories, which was super cool. You're also doing like mentorships as well. Can you tell us more about these cool projects you're working on now? And how you've switched gears from news to fiction to in doing even both news in the morning and during the day and then flip thing that to fiction at night.Amaris Castillo:
Yes. Thank you so much. So let's see it is a challenge because I don't have an MFA. I feel like I'm kind of late in the game to be writing fiction. Like, I'm like, What am I doing? But I love reading fiction. And there are so many writers, authors that I admire, you know, Julio Alvarez, I can name a few. Angie Cruz Elizabeth Acevedo, Jasmine Ward, just so many and yeah, actually a lot. Some of them are moms. And so like if they can do it, you know, why? Why can't I try, you know, to fulfill this dream of becoming a published author someday. So right now I actually a few weeks ago, I finished a manuscript that I had been working on since last year. It's a middle grade book about a young Dominican American Girl in Brooklyn. And just like her summer shenanigans, and while I was drafting it a lot, it felt so therapeutic because I was channeling like my inner preteen remembering what that time was like for me when I wanted to do certain things, and I wasn't allowed to and why not questioning everything and your parents. And so I am undergoing a mentorship program right now through Latin X and publishing. They're a great organization that help emerging writers like me, they pair us with mentors, established authors. My mentor, my current mentor is Sharmila Syed Mendez, she's an amazing author of children's books, why a adults, I mean, she's so prolific, and so generous and kind, she actually gave me homework recently. I'm meeting with her at the end of this month. And I just hope to make her proud, we're going to be revising, she read my entire manuscript already marked it up with a bunch of questions, things to think about. And I trust her judgment and just appreciate her generosity and helping me get it to the next level. So the next phase is going to be revising the manuscript until I feel that it's ready. I've been querying agents. So I'm, I want to be published traditionally. So last year, I started querying literary agents trying to find representation. So that's in the works, I don't know how much I can say about that. But I can say that I have been in touch with agents who want to see the just the full manuscript, so I'm hoping to follow up on that. And I really, really would love to, you know, sign with someone who's willing to represent me, not just for this manuscripts, but just for the long haul, because I really want to continue telling stories, you know, just for like the the next generation, but we'll see, it's been a learning curve, for sure. I'm reading craft books, I'm listening to author interviews, there's so much that you can learn. If you have that hunger and motivation and drive. There's so many free resources online, and just listening to an author nerded out with an interviewer. You can learn so much from that. And I actually love interviewing authors. Another thing I do that has helped me and this, it's germane to this question is, I also review books for the Dominican Writers Association, and I get to interview authors for that. And it's been amazing because you read a book, and then you're so curious, and you have so many questions, and you're like, Oh, the only person that you can really ask is the person who wrote the author, right? It's like, Who else am I going to talk about this with unless you have a friend who read the exact same book, and it's like, me and my friends are all on different wavelengths when it's like, I'll read a book, but they haven't gotten to it yet. Or they've read a book and I haven't gotten to yet. So it's like, I get the opportunity to interview authors about like, the decisions they've made. Why tell me about this character? Who is who inspired this. So I love that and I am, my dream is to one day, have a book that I've written, that others will read, and that we can continue that conversation because what I'm writing, a lot of it comes from my own life experiences and questions that I have in interrogations that I have about my own culture, about, you know, like, Why do Dominicans do things this way? And it's been great. It's been great. I don't know how else to describe with Bodega stories. It's on a hiatus right now, because I've just been so focused right now on my, my middle grade book journey. But once that is complete, I'm hoping to continue with my project. I have thought of maybe one day turning that into a book or expanding that into some sort of nonfiction project will let you know how that goes. That's something that I've definitely been thinking about as well.Ashley Mejia:
I love all of this. This is so exciting. It's so exciting to see you train translate, you know, this love of writing in a new way to telling the stories and using your own lived experience and sharing that because, you know, that's part of the human experience, we all kind of experienced this world, from our own lenses in our own all of our culture and our family history and where we exist in time and space and geography. And I think there's so much you can learn and sharing that story. It's only something that you can do, no one else is going to be able to share that experience the way that you can, because it's yours. So but super cool. I'm so excited to read it when it's published. And I know it will be published. And I know there will be a series and I know, I know, I'm confident that this is just we're getting a little preview. So I feel so honored to be part of that. That's awesome.Amaris Castillo:
Thank you so much. And I hope we can talk like later on just about balancing that though, with motherhood, because it, it's like, I still feel like I'm on on clouds, you know, a cloud talking about reaching this point where it's completed, and I'm revising, and it's been so much fun. But to get there, it was a battle.Ashley Mejia:
So let's talk about it. Let's talk about it. What were some of the practical because I think no one talks about that, right? Like I've heard of conversations about, you know, doing pitch slams, and going to Writer's Digest conferences and meeting with agents and queries and things like that. But what does it take? In practicality? Like, how did you carve out you've got two precious little boys. And you're creating, you're not doing data entry where you can have people screaming, and you know, it's more, you're not really using that part of your brain? How did you do it?Amaris Castillo:
Yeah, I mean, it's just a fight. It's an constant fight for pockets of time, half hour, five minutes, I'm here, you know, writing a scene on because I wrote my manuscript on Google Docs. So sometimes, if my kids were distracted, you know, we're in the playroom, and they're each doing their own thing. I would open the Google doc on my phone, and I just be typing continuing to work at chipping away at a scene. There were times where, you know, my husband's a huge sports fan. And I am a sports widow. Okay. Let me tell you, I like sports. I love the excitement of hockey. Yeah. And I understand that sport, I think the most. But most of the sports, it's like, I don't really understand all the rules, or all that's happening, I kind of look to Him to be like, Oh, is this good? Is this bad? So I'm a certified sports widow. And there was a thing, I love that this man to sports and there's a time where there's like two sports around the same time, and there's like a game every day. So there were times also when he would have a game or a game after a game, whatever, you know, he's like, glued to the TV. And it's like he's partially checked out. And so it's like, okay, well, you're doing your thing. So I'm gonna go upstairs to my home office and get my book. Because that's one of his passions. And one of my passions is this very solitary thing of writing and thinking and like, what is my character up to now? How is she feeling? Well describe, you know, the body language and like the setting and what's her building like and her waistline, this and that her mom and dad and what a foot are they eating? How does it smell like that? I love and I will do that. Oh, another thing. Okay. Let's talk about how when you're a mom, it is 24/7. Okay. And I know that you were going to ask me about motherhood and writing just and we'll also go into that, but just real quick. Another thing is I had to, for your listeners, let's call them and I'm putting up the quotation marks with my fingers. Writing residencies. Okay. My first writing residency was it happens because I got COVID. Okay, I got COVID. And I tested positive on a Friday evening, just as we were about to ramp up the bedtime routine. No, no, my husband looked at me and we looked at those two positive lines baby. He was like, your need to go upstairs now and quarantine. And I went to my home office, I closed the door and I was like, What do I do with myself now? But that whole weekend, he would leave me pizza and meals outside my door. mugs of hot coffee, you know, my cafe with my milk and my cream the way I like it. Right? And I was left alone. And only then could I I was like, You know what? Let's turn this into a positive. And I was working on my book. I finished reading a book that I had been struggling to finish for a month because of kids because of these blessing children. That's what I call them to not call them something else. My blessing. I'm with you are my full time job. I'm like I finished the book. I feel just reading the book, I wrote a review of the book, and I chipped away at my manuscripts and it was almost like I, internally and I know, obviously, I know COVID We're still in pandemic times, right. And millions have died from COVID pandemic. And I understand that. However, there was a tiny part of me that was like, Oh, my God, this is a break. This is a break. Actually, Wanda Sykes, one of my favorite comedians. She spoke, I think, to an NPR journalist recently and talking about how when she got COVID, it was like, This feels like me time.Ashley Mejia:
No one's bothering me.Amaris Castillo:
And she was like, wait a minute, how do I get some of that long?Ashley Mejia:
Right. I need an extended recovery time, please. Yeah.Amaris Castillo:
So I mean, it's like I never like internally asked for long COVID however, that weekend, it was only a few days where I was testing positives. That was the second I tested negative forget about it was back to reality. That was my I call them my bootleg writing residents. My blog writing residency, because I physically couldn't be like, my kids couldn't be near me. I did not have to wipe any snotty noses, not affecting snacks, break up any fights. He'll come for none of that I was focused on my creativity and my craft, and it was like, wow. And then the second time was, my husband had sense that I really needed a break. So winter, we have a winter break in December. It's like two weeks where we're just like, essentially, like shut down in a way, right? So my husband was like, why don't you go somewhere to write and preferably somewhere far. Which I was fine with, Oh, my goodness. I ended up going to New York. Back to my old neighborhood in Brooklyn, Crown Heights, Brooklyn, shout out to Crown Heights. It was the same street where I grew up to my awareness old apartment where I lived during my master's program at Columbia. And I stayed there, my deal still living there. I stayed there, just for a few days, just for just a few days, but I was able to write a lot. I did research at the Dominican Studies Institute in the CUNY system uptown, I met with old friends, I met the founder of the Dominican Writers Association, who I write for, I mean, it was just such a productive few days. And I was literally the only there from like, the 19th to the 23rd of December, wow, I packed it in and I even some family, wow, impressed. I was like, because I didn't have I wasn't working at this. And those days, I was being a mom, because I was still checking in on my kids. But like the physical, the physical, you know, you being there, the presence, all the other work, and it's labor to be a mom, it is labor. It's, it's a blessing. But it is physical work. It is physical work, you know what I mean? And so I was like detached from that. And so I was able to do so much more. And I'm hoping that I'll be able to somehow find another writing residency. There are organizations out there that support you, you know, there's application process and all that. But they'll you know, that you can go for a week or two weeks or even a few days. And they have special fellowships for parent writers. I actually applied to one recently, and I didn't get it. However, I was offered a writer in residence that never expires. So if I want to go, I can go and at a discounted rate and stay there and they prepare meals for you and all that. And you're like in a cabin.Ashley Mejia:
Oh, my God, this is what I need.Amaris Castillo:
Go for it if you can. I know you're a mom, too. So it's hard. Oh, myAshley Mejia:
goodness, you shared so many insights and gems and just truths in sharing that experience. Because, first of all, if we think about what the expectations and I don't know, if it's society's expectations, I don't know if it's internalized expectations that we have or that we think others expect from us because of our cultures that it takes a global pandemic a killer virus to have enough merit to allow us a break. That's the only one to sitting in. Yeah, like thinking about what that means. I mean, first of all, you took or I guess second already said first of all, but you took lemons and you made that lemonade girl. You make pictures and pictures of lemonade from that experience. But yeah, like it takes a global it takes you getting this virus like what I love that your husband was so supportive of letting you create your own after the bootleg when creating an emeritus Brooklyn residency for yourself, but it's a lot. It is a lot. It's a lot.Amaris Castillo:
And I want to say something real quick actually to add to that because I know that you were going to ask me about this but I had written an essay for Astrix journal about this very thing, my personal battle to find time to write as a mom and to chase this dream and to also be a present mom and a good mom, because, you know, it's like mothers are such big, prominent figures in our lives if you grow up with a mom or maternal figure, and I know not everyone has that in their life. But I remember that when I got back from New York, my eldest son, he was, I want to say, three at the time, almost four, he turns four. And in January, he was like, Mommy, I missed you. I missed you, mommy. And he ran to me, he was just like, clinging to me, hugging me, he wouldn't let me go. I went over to like, I was cradling him, you know, hugging him just holding him and we went to the couch. And he was like, just stuck to me like chocolate like blue. And I remember he wouldn't start he said it so many times how much he missed me. And I was only gone for a few days. And while none those few days, I was so just happy. And just doing my own thing. And channeling my pre Child Life and just being productive and chasing my dreams and being that go getter that I know that I still am, is. But let me tell you during that time, my absence was felt. And it was literally carving a space in my son's world where he was like, Where's my mom? Where's my mom. And so when I got came back, he was so happy. I've never seen him that happy. And then later, I was talking to my therapist, and I was like, you know, I started crying because I was like, it was a complicated reality that I was met with, you know, like, I was remembering how I felt in New York, just like free just running through the streets free. No obligations. No, you know what I mean? Yes. But then it's like, oh, every second, when, after he comes home from school, he's like, Where's my mom? Like, what, you know, I miss my mom. And so that was hard, because it's like, I could not have done that gone on my trip without leaving them. So where does that leave me and other mother writers who are just, they're trying to pursue their dreams, and they kind of, it's like, you got to figure out a way to fold your kids into your dreams. It's very hard, because just think about all the time, all the time that you dedicate to your children, that you can't possibly be creative in those times, or very productive, right? Because you know, you like, you can only monitor, I multitask. I multitask. But I can't really write, I can't really work on my fiction, while also caring for my kids. It's like, I gotta really concentrate for that and think about my characters, these fictional characters, and I can't do that, while I'm figuring out what I'm gonna do for dinner.Ashley Mejia:
100%. And you think about the nature, especially a fiction writing, I imagine, I mean, writing in general, I feel, you know, it's a cerebral, it's a brain power, right, that you're doing to make sense of things, and then how to present it in the most in a specific way for a specific objective. And it's all internal, especially fiction, you know, news writing is external. So you're looking at the facts, and you're fact checking, and you're formatting it and your inverted pyramid and making sure your objective and you told both sides and the reporting is thorough, but fiction, to me sounds completely internal. It's you literally going into this whole internal space to create that this whole internal world, like you were talking about the neighborhood, how it looked, the sounds, the sense, everything sensory that you were experiencing in this world that you're experiencing, you're creating, and then you're also translating that and you're communicating that new world that you've created, in words for your audience, so that they can experience that too. So that's literally you have to be in your own head for that to work. You can't unsee I think that's the struggle. I think it's a struggle for all moms who are doing some kind of work, but I think especially for creative work or writers, and maybe that's where the frustration comes from, because it's literally it's like realms it's like a meta verse or something. It's like you want to go in there, but you're they're pulling you. They're pulling your arm and it's like, I peed my pants. I want apple slices. I want cheese. It's Oh, brother hit me. You know, it's like, yeah, I don't think I anticipated. Everybody always said motherhood would be hard. And so I expected it to be hard, but I don't think I understood the mental labor. It's all labor all of his liberal aureus, right? But the mental piece that you need to be present and you can't multitask while you're creating you can multitask. Watching a zoom call maybe or I don't know, like I said data entry earlier. But yeah, I think that frustration is real. Like I feel bad that The whole thing I think, I don't know if you take these essays and you I don't know if it's a book, I don't know, but I've never heard anybody talk about that. Except you. Yeah, no,Amaris Castillo:
thank you for that. It's hard on what you were saying about world building. It's interesting because I realized, so I have two kids, right? And when you mentioned the world building, yes, you're world building when you're writing fiction and doing creative work. But if you think about it, you're also world building for your kids. Yes, that's true. We're literally building their world and their environment, what they're exposed to what they do. We have our eldest and swim class right now. And it's like, that is a thing he expects now every Saturday is swim. And then also, just like, they have a playroom. They're fortunate enough to have a playroom. And it's I mean, it's completely exploded with toys, right? The workbooks and books, but it's like, this is their world and you as their parent, you are building their world as well. And it's just like, I'm tired.Ashley Mejia:
It's a lot. It's a lot. Can we clone ourselves? Is there AI for that? And there's AI for all this other stuff? Maybe? I don't know. It's that Gerberg somebody needs to Elon Musk, somebody needs to help us out.Amaris Castillo:
for Mother's Day. Recently, I told my husband, you know, what I would really love for fun these days to be left alone, frill.Ashley Mejia:
I want to be left alone from everybody who made me a mom, husband, babies, y'all, you know, love ya. But yeah, I get it.Amaris Castillo:
I'm trying to remember, I think I got to go for it to Starbucks for a little bit, which was nice. But I also there's a deep guilt to that, you know, I feel responsible, and I am responsible for them. I'm such a big part of their lives that even going to Starbucks for two hours. I feel strange. And I find myself and I'm working on this with my therapist, but I find myself texting my husband like, Oh, I'll leave in 15 minutes or no are the kids it's like, Why do I have to do that? He's the father. He has it taken care of. But I mean, there's just so much that's written about mothers and just like all the, you know what you said? Labor, physical, mental, emotional, really, really mental. I think mental is perhaps the biggest one you kind of you're just like, always on, and even when they're asleep. You're like doing stuff for them. Right. You know, just like getting the house ready. Picking up the playroom. There was a photo that I had posted a few months ago on my Facebook of my kids is playroom in complete disarray. I had given up on it, I had given up on it. I was like, I'm done. I'm like, This is the photo of a mom who has given up and I have so many people's other moms are like, No, you're doing amazing don't wear me their kids and this and that. And it's like, but I get anxiety looking at it in disarray. So then it's like, there goes the physical again, you got to clean this up. But right now it's in disarray. I'm gonna text you a picture of the the plate. So the options are, cleaned the play room a little bit, or have them have another day of it looking like that. Have another day of them looking like that. That's gonna be fine.Ashley Mejia:
I think it is. And I have a friend who has three kids, she has kids too. And she, their kids are older. And so I kept telling her how I kept like focusing on putting all the Hot Wheels cars in one bin, and the Paw Patrol ones and another. And she's like, Why? Why do you like, what is what did Einstein say? But the definition of insanity? She's like, why are you spending so much energy, she's like, that's how you want it, you know that they're gonna dump all this out. She's just get one basket and make them put all the stuff. And so they're gonna be Barbie shoes, Hot Wheels, Paw Patrol, Blippi. All of it could be together. She's like, you're the only one who's focused on putting them in those bins at work. They don't care. And I was like, You're right. Why? Why am I wasting it? So a lot? It's a lot. Yeah,Amaris Castillo:
actually, I did that recently, too. I totally can relate. I was putting all the dinosaurs together.Ashley Mejia:
I love it. I think there's something there. There's something there. Because I've heard expressions about that. And I think the nature of creative writing and writing and motherhood. And like I said, You're the only one that I've seen tackle that. And I felt so seen about so much like, yes, like someone gets it. So I don't have any answers. But I think we need to talk about that more. We need to have more support and more community about that. Because a lot of women, a lot of mothers who do have to be writers, I think will resonate a lot with your essays about that topic.Amaris Castillo:
Thank you. Thank you so much. You know, I writing it. I didn't realize because I'm new to the world of literary journals. Just how long the process is from pitching the idea to them approving it to that you're working on it. That was I mean, it was multiple revisions, to get it to be finally published. And it's a two parter. So One is the personal essay where I really dive deep into my struggle to find time to write, while mothering, you know, navigating both juggling both. And then there's a second part where a separate piece where I interviewed authors who are mothers and ask them, how were you able to do this? Like, how are you managing both and, you know, one of the biggest takeaways I got from that is, there's never an optimal time to write, like, you just have to find the pockets of time. Because you're not going to be handed a three week writing residency every day. Yes, you gotta make it work. And then also, you know, just like setting small goals, maybe this week, you know, you'll strive to write 1000 words, and then next week, or 1000 words, and I mean, in a year, you can have a full manuscript, if you just so I struggled with that. Also, the concept of writing a whole novel, it was so daunting to me, I'm actually still sorting through my feelings of just trying to tackle that adult fiction novel that I've been dreaming of. It's just, I'm working on it. But it can be so daunting, especially for journalists like me, because I'm so used to, you know, the instant gratification, you write an article, and it's online, you write little edits online, Baba, bam, boom, novel. It's like, oh, you're in this for a long time. Because writing it, you're drafting it, you're, you're dwelling on your characters, you're thinking about them, even in the shower, on the way to work, and listening to all these author conversations, reading craft books, I mean, every person's journey is different. Mine is coming from a place where I'm trained as a journalist, I'm educated as a journalist. Journalism is what I know. Now, I'm trying to enter this world that is still sometimes opaque to me. As far as like storytelling and plot points and character arcs. There's this whole whole vocabulary that I'm still grappling with, and, you know, learning more about and understanding. And, you know, I'm willing to put in the work, I'm doing the work. It's just that that work takes time. And time is bleeding. Time is precious time is priceless. So I'm trying to be very intentional this year, about how I spend my time, where I as I know, I'm active on Instagram, I admit, I'm active on Instagram, however, I'm trying to be better. I'm trying to be better right now of like, hey, why don't I put my phone down in my free time, the little free time I have. Remember, I'm a mom, you understand how I put my phone down and read this damn craft book. So I can understand a third rail of novel writing. And, like, I'm learning now about how plot is the external events that happen in the book. But it's not the story, the story is how those events impact your character. And that's the story that readers are most drawn to is they want to see that internal struggle of the character, the character, you know, when the novel starts, the character comes in with a misbelief or what really wanting something and then all these things happen, right? That kind of throw roadblocks to, you know, in front of the character, and the way the character is impacted and that struggle, and then how different the character is at the end or the change that struggle is what readers I can't get enough of. So it's a lot of brain science. I'm learning I'm reading right now at this was at my mentor suggestion, I'm reading Ooh, story, genius, by Lisa Kron. So I'm almost halfway done with the book. That's part of my homework that I have right now from my Latinx and publishing writers mentorship program, but it's just, I'm learning so much. And I'm just grateful. Because I want to know, and I want to understand, and I want to learn, because I really would love to, you know, as I mentioned being author someday, and it's just a huge learning curve for journalists like myself. But again, I do have that core of being a storyteller. I love stories. I love listening to stories, reading stories, I can listen to the elders in my family talk all day, when I was when I was a little girl. I loved spending time with my cousins. But one of my favorite things to do at family gatherings on at holiday parties, was to go to the kitchen and just listen and be nosy. So my mom and my Diaz were saying because they'll be like, Oh, maybe my mom. And my gosh, just I mean, they were my first storytellers, like my family, my parents, they would tell stories in such a, like a nonlinear way. So I think that the seed was planted then and my childhood was oh wow, you could tell such a great Story and like the people in my family could tell my family, my relatives could tell. Really wonderful, juicy, scandalous, all stories. I just want to continue that tradition and just like see what I can come up with, you know from my generation, but we'll see I will keep you updated on that. I love it. IAshley Mejia:
love it. You think about it. Yeah, that is those are our first stories is not even so much the childhood, the storybooks, the picture books that we maybe read as kids, but yeah, like our family, our parents, you know, I think of my dad, I think I'm my grandpa, like my dad, he's very animated. If it's a good story, he's standing up, he has to stand up and tell like he's on the couch, he has to stand up. He's like doing the voices. He's like different voices for different characters. There's pauses, you know, there sounds, these make it sound. He's mimicking things. He's the facial expressions, the gestures, I mean, it's a whole experience. So I think that that is I've never thought about that in that way. And that's so cool. And I'm sure that influences your storytelling. When you're telling me this, this wire book that you're gonna have coming out soon, the shenanigans like, I'm excited to hear.Amaris Castillo:
And I want to say also, like, I noticed that with Dominicans, too, like, they'll take up the whole room telling stories, they'll pace around with the hand and back and forth, back and forth. Next, we have a video from my honeymoon. We went to Dr. For my honeymoon, but my husband and I, and we did a tour to the capital, Santo Domingo, and we did a stop at a cigar shop. And there, my husband was chopping it up with the owner or guide, and the owner of the cigar shop, he's telling a story. And he says, just so masterful about the pausing and then stepping back in the stepping isn't that and then it was like, there was the punch line. That was at the end, everybody's laughing. And I was like, I love this. And that's actually, since I know earlier, we were talking about writing residencies. I would love to do a writing residency in the Dominican Republic at some point myself in the capital somewhere, but you know, I need Wi Fi still, I could be in the Wi Fi. Because you know, I needAshley Mejia:
really Google Docs with this at the same time.Amaris Castillo:
I'm like, I need a Google Doc, you know, to just immerse you know, in the country and the culture with the people like, I don't know, there's just something about that I would love to. And actually, the manuscript that I've been working on, my character goes to Dr. At some point in the story, she goes over there. And so I've had to rely on my memory. Also, like looking up YouTube videos that the emoticon shows and what kind of trees and it's like, all this sensory stuff. I'm relying on all the summer trips I would take to dry because my parents, that's the only place they were vacation, right? As Dr. They didn't know any. It's like no other country exists. I've even now they're nearing retirement age. I'm like, my BA, why don't you go somewhere else in Latin America somewhere else. That's not Dr. And they're just not having that. So I'm like, Okay, and so then it's kind of like, oh, I find myself doing the same thing. Like I have this yearning to go back. But I'm hoping we're planning a family trip at some point, hopefully this year. But I would really love to do a residency, even if it's at my abuelas house, she lives in a bar, hear a loud, loud bar here. But I'm like, hey, I can get some writing done. Like in the early morning. We'll see. I loveAshley Mejia:
it. I can't wait to I think that that isn't a wonderful idea. And I think that you definitely have the community, like if you wanted to host it, if you wanted to get a fellow writers like, I could totally see that happening. And I think that would be really cool to see what comes out of it.Amaris Castillo:
Thank you so much.Ashley Mejia:
That's so cool. So you have I know, you know, a lot of people in this community, they freelance, some of them do it after work, some of them do it, you know, full time. There's some people that want to actually like, leave their job and pursue freelance full time. And I know you're writing right now a lot of fiction products, so it's not projects. So it's not, you know, freelance writing, per se, but you still have to balance a lot. We've talked a lot about motherhood, can you tell us how you balance in terms of work like your full time nine to five and then flipping that gear and being able to write about these independent projects and work on them at night? How do you balance those two things?Amaris Castillo:
Yeah, it's hard. I find myself sometimes using my lunch hour for freelance. So recently, I interviewed an author for an A new outlet. I'm trying to expand like my freelance work and like books coverage, like I've become a lot more interested in and covering books, interviewing authors. So recently, I use my lunch break, when I was at points where I was at, so I do a hybrid sketch. tool for my job. So I work from home Mondays and Fridays and three days, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I drive to the printer and I work from the office there with my boss. So I use my lunch break. It was like a small window. But I was like this is when I'm going to interview the author. I did the interview, ate my food, back to work. And then that was it. It was like, Oh, it was such a huge weight off me. I got the interview done. And so now it's kind of like when's my next pocket of time? It's like, it's a day to day thing every day. I have to like, assess, do I have time today are and then I'm a stringer. I'm a freelance singer for the New York Times. So sometimes they'll call me and they'll say, you know, we're looking for help with this XYZ story. You know, do you have the availability or can you help? There have been times where I've said, you know, I've had to say, like, increasingly No, only because of my, the demands of my full time job, the demands of motherhood, whereas before I started at Poynter, when I was a stay at home mom, I was a stay at home mom for 10 months, it was the hardest job I've ever had. Because the pandemic began. Also, I was a few months at home with my son. This one, I only had one, and it still felt like a million, right? I had one and then the pandemic began, and my mom, I remember her calling me she has a bodega. She owns a bodega with my dad, she told me, Don't you dare bring the baby to the bodega, because everybody has COVID around the streets, around these parts, whatever. Like, so I got to take care of my kid all day. So like, funny. I mean, it was like I joked about it, but it was like there was some heavy truth in that, like a seriousness where I was like, I felt so overwhelmed. Because I was by myself with him all day, I had to entertain him. And it's like, how do you entertain a toddler whose energies on 1000? You know, but I remember when the New York Times would call me, I would drop everything, including him, I would drop them off at the bodega pandemic, I would jump up, I'd be like, my OB, when I well, I got you. I go do this New York Times gig real quick. Yes. It was a New York Times for me it was I have read The New York Times for so long. I respect their work. I love their work. So when I when I had the opportunity to string for them, I was like, I'm gonna go for it. And it was great. But it's gotten a lot more difficult for me to freelance. So most of what I do now is books coverage freelance I, I write, as I mentioned before, for the Dominican Writers Association, I interview authors for them, and I also sometimes review books. And so that's a freelance gig. I also have all my freelance assignments approved by my boss, but she's super supportive. I think as long as it doesn't directly relate to what I do for pointer and your public editor's office, then it's fine. And books coverage falls under that, and a lot of what the New York Times does, as well, because, for example, I helped them with the Superbowl coverage, their sports team. I was there that day, you know, oh, this was when Superbowl was in Tampa. And, you know, playing so I was outside the stadium that day, and I was pregnant too. And I was just my phone died. It was like a crazy time. And I was like out there. And there were a bunch of health care workers who got tickets to the Super Bowl. And right across the sidewalk right outside the line. The special line that that was for health care workers were people who were picketing. And then they weren't picketing. They were. Yeah, they were like, protesting. They were like anti vaxxers. And I was interviewing them. It was for the sports blog. It was a live blog. And I remember I was just trying to interview whoever I could. And I ended up interviewing the Sisters of an assistant coach for the chiefs. And then I got the interview done, but then my phone died. And I was like desperate looking around. I found a really nice Tampa Police officer who saw that I had a little belly and then my phone died and he let me charge my phone and his car. He just sat there and waited for my phone to charge knowing damn well that the editor at the New York Times was waiting, waiting to get my contributions like through email. So I was freaking out and I just have so many freelance stories like that. Another time. This happened. The amazing Dominican American author, Julio Alvarez, quiet admirer, and I've interviewed her a few times. Years ago when I was a newspaper at the Bradenton Herald. I was scheduled to interview her okay. And I was a night cops reporter at the time and I was going to interview her on my lunch break the lunch break you know what ended up happening? I got sent to cover a fire so I got sent to cover this fire that destroyed this or semi destroyed this family's house. I run, the fire had already gone out, but I'm interviewing the family and then I am realizing, oh my goodness, I have my scheduled call soon. Well, I ran to my car where I had parked, it was in this little mobile home park, I ran and I was only like a minute late. And she called me kind of was like, What happened to the interview, and I was like, holy over, it's, like, one of my idols as far as nurture. I fell in love with her book in the time of the butterflies about lesson plans. And I was just like, Oh, my God, I can never be late again to an interview with Julio. So that's one thing about the freelance life is that if you're juggling other things, like an actual full time job, things are not gonna go as smoothly as you expect, especially if you're a journalist, because my job I covered breaking news, so it was very unpredictable. I could be so organized and schedule, and things will go awry, like that day, and I apologized profusely, I explained to her that I was also a reporter, and that I was covering a fire and she was very understanding, and sweet. And then I did the interview, and everything was fine. And then that was for the now defunct Viva la.com. And that happens a lot. Also, there are a lot of Latin X and Latina outlets, or just for the Latino audience that have shut down. I remember I freelance before for flammer. They went on Ebola they went to fund I was, I guess you could call it a perma Lancer for Latina magazine back in my days after grad school in New York. I remember that time. I don't know if you wanted to talk about like, like the lessons learned during that time with loveAshley Mejia:
that yes, I know, I've taken a lot of your time, maybe we can. I know the audience is going to really love the lessons learned because you have a lot of freelance experiences.Amaris Castillo:
So yes, let me say that I think the biggest lesson I learned as a freelancer and this was in my early days where I was, so I was in my early to mid 20s, super just hungry trying to make I was trying to get a full time job. During my time in New York. After I graduated from my master's program, I really was looking for a full time job ended up doing freelance and it worked out great, because I didn't have a mortgage I didn't have at the time, I also didn't really understand or know how to diversify my income. So I didn't have a lot a lot of income. But I had enough to where I was happy. And I was doing well. But the biggest lesson I would say is do not overextend yourself, like you do need to set boundaries. As a freelancer, don't let people walk all over you. Because I remember when I was freelancing, this was during my time for Latina magazine. I remember, like on, I helped with social media. So I wrote articles. And I also helped with social media. And there were times where I found myself on Fridays, where I was expected to schedule social media posts for Facebook, for through the weekend. I remember I would stay way past five, and my hours were till five. And there was a time where I reached the point where I was like, I'm not going to do this, like I'm going to work until my contract says, you know, until that time, and that's my cutoff time. And I kind of had to learn to advocate for myself. But that's like, generally, something that I learned is that if you're going to go into a freelance contract situation position, just be smart, be clear about what's expected of you. It's hard because you know, you're just trying to make it right. You're just trying to buy it. But that was definitely a hard lesson because I was young. And I was burning through my Friday evenings, while doing social media posts when I should have been off. And so I think also having a good, you know, supervisor or manager to kind of see what's happening and to say, Oh, wait, yeah, you can go home now. Right. So that was a hard lesson that I had to learn because I was young, I was young, and you'll learn with every experience, you know,Ashley Mejia:
so much, oh my goodness. Ameris you've given us so much inspiration in this episode, and just ideas for how writers can take that love of writing that and I know people are gonna resonate, because I hear that all the time from other writers like I've been, I've always loved to write I've loved to write since I was a child I've loved to read. So I know they're gonna love that. I know. They're gonna love all the practical, you know, tips that you gave and just examples of how you've taken writing and you've used it in literature and these book reviews and news and even like, social media, you know, you've done a lot so thank you so much for sharing space with us. Where can people find You online I know people are gonna definitely want to like, connect with you and also follow you so they can learn about your new book because I know that's gonna happen for you,Amaris Castillo:
hopefully Thank you. So I'm on Instagram at a Maris writer. So a m a r i s, w r i t er and I'm also on Twitter at a Maris because deejo but I want to say Ashley, I said I was going to mention this earlier. But thank you, thank you so much, because you gave me the confidence way early on. Remember when you gave me like you really gave me my first like freelance opportunities for Florida trends Next, when I didn't know what I was doing, but I was you saw Hungry Girl? Absolutely. You gave me assignments. And I was just I still have some of those clips where I have straight out the magazine where my name and print. So thank you, thank you so much for just believing in me back then believing in me now you are an inspiration, like I look to you. And I'm just like, you're still out here doing it. And you have you are a mom, you are a mom of more kids than what I have. And I'm just like, how are you functioning right now but you are thriving. So I just want to thank you so much for just inviting me to speak with you this this really made my my week and it's just started. Oh, I appreciateAshley Mejia:
that so much freelance fam. I'm definitely gonna have the links to emeritus social media handles, and her work. So definitely check out the website for more. Thank you so much. Thank you. Bye. And with that, we've come to the end of another episode. Please make sure you hit subscribe if you haven't already done so. And give me a five star review on Apple. This will help out a lot and getting the word out about this brand new podcast. I invite you to check out the show notes and also grab my free niches get riches, freelance writing worksheet to brainstorm the best niches for your writing business. If you're not a writer, you can still use it to get business ideas. And until next time, this is actually a talk freelance to me. Don't forget, we all get this one precious life. Don't constrain yourself to a box that you were never meant to fit in. It is your right to profit from your own creative gifts. This podcast was created by Ashley Cisneros. mahiya our music was composed by Donna Raphael of world instrumentals talk freelance to me is a product of Phoenix creative studio