I went back to California for graduate school, at the University of California at Berkeley. The atmosphere was more down to earth than Stanford. Berkeley is a real town with a stunning geography of lush but rugged vegetation covering the hills behind the town. Despite the fact that the huge English department there had complicated politics, I found a few professors whom I admired because they were both smart AND DOWN-TO-EARTH. FINALLY! Mentors I could work with.
However, when I was at the stage of starting my prospectus (a kind of short guidepost to the magnum opus, the dissertation), my father was diagnosed with cancer. He died shortly afterward, and before I could even begin to grieve fully, I broke up with my boyfriend of four years (whom I’d met at UC-Berkeley).
I somehow muddled through the prospectus, and ended up eventually on a fellowship for assistant professors at a college in New York City.
I was happy to go to New York. I was born in Brooklyn, after all; my beloved father had never quite shaken his Brooklyn accent, despite living in Puerto Rico for the latter part of his life. New York is in my blood.
Nonetheless, the thrill of living in New York at last was offset by my difficulties in the workplace. An administrator at my new college was weirdly similar to the man who had directed the Stanford writing program: razor mean to anybody who crossed his path when he was in a bad mood, which seemed like all the time, he tortured me in many ways, not least of which was in denying me promotion when I had more credentials than what was customary at the college. This stressful situation went on for years and I had to fight it in various administrative ways. As a result, I was frequently depressed during this time. Although, I was productive in publishing academic work, I felt too distracted to write much fiction. Writing a novel, which is what I was trying to do, requires immersion.
Two things helped set me back on track: I met my husband–to-be, Xavier, a lawyer, with great discipline when it came to getting things done, who basically taught me that if you put yourself on a schedule, and keep to it, you will finish your project.
The second thing that helped me get back to writing fiction was my interest in writing about what, in shorthand, I’ll call “magic.” It is, however, more complicated than that.
Lyn Di Iorio is the author of the novel Outside the Bones (2011), which won ForeWord Review’s 2011 Silver award in the category of literary fiction, was “Best Debut Novel on the 2011 Latinidad List,” and was a finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Prize, and other awards. She has also written scholarly books on Latino/a literature, and has published short stories and essays in other venues. She is Professor of English at the City College of New York and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where she teaches Caribbean and U.S. Latino/a literatures, magical realism, Gothic literature, creative writing, and other topics. Currently at work on a second novel called The Sound of Falling Darkness, she is number two on the 2012 Top Ten “New” Latino Authors to Watch (and Read) list compiled by LatinoStories.com.