We had the good fortune of connecting with Jeehan Quijano and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jeehan, let’s start by talking about what inspires you?
Stories of redemption, survival, and resilience inspire me. Also, kindness. Once I was walking home and stopped by a fruit stand to buy fruits. I grabbed my wallet to pay and only then realized that I did not have any cash. I apologized to the fruit vendor, a lovely Hispanic lady, and she said that it was fine, that I didn’t have to pay. “Regalo,” she said. It means gift. And just like that, she gave me the fruits. And I was moved by her kindness. Things that move me inspire me. Writers are essentially storytellers. I want to write stories about us, about what’s beautiful and sad, about where we failed and succeeded, about what we want, what we are afraid of, stories that uplift us a little.
And then there are days when I am taking a walk and I see sunlight falling through the trees, or a wildflower growing out of a crack in a slab of concrete as if saying “Life finds a way!” — these moments of grace and miracle, though seemingly ordinary, are inspiring to me.
Please tell us more about your art. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Sometimes I don’t really know what I’m doing, to be honest. Or I don’t know if I am doing it correctly. I’m not quite sure where the story is going, or it seems that there’s something missing, and I can’t figure it out. And I find that it’s utter madness why I do this — writing not knowing the outcome or the whole story even, but believing that I will get there as long as I keep doing it. And that’s what I learned along the way, to keep at it, to show up and do the work and not be too self-critical about the quality of work that given day especially when it’s not coming together. Because there are days, glorious days, when it comes together bit by bit, when something is revealed and things start to make sense. I suddenly find myself in a world that I didn’t think I’d inhabit, and it is curious and interesting, and I just want to see what else happens there and where it’s going to take me. These are rare days for me but when they happen, they are quite magical. And it is this sort of enchantment that incites my devotion to the work, apart from some mysterious force that compels me to write and so I do it.
Self-discipline is the chief lesson I’ve learned. I would not have finished writing my novel if I succumbed to every excuse as to why I should spend my time doing something else. Or if I wrote only whenever I felt like doing it. A thick skin is also necessary to thrive because rejection is a huge part of it. But if you believe in your work, and you’ve put your heart into it, at some point someone will recognize its worth and value. Had I given up after one rejection (and I had many), then my novel would not have been published. And then there’s also negative feedback and unfavorable reviews. One tries not to take it to heart and focus instead on constructive criticism and to keep working at getting better at your craft. Or work on your next project.
I have a lot of self-doubt and insecurity especially due to not having an MFA in Creative Writing but that hasn’t stopped me at all. I think a passion for reading helped me a lot. I’m not saying that an MFA isn’t necessary or important — certainly it has its merits and advantages — but if that’s not the path you took, it doesn’t mean that you have no chance at all. As with any goal you want to achieve, put your heart into it, do the hard work, persevere, be open to learn from your mistakes, be brave, and you might just get rewarded.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I would take them to museums and art exhibits. LACMA, MOCA, The Getty, Natural History Museum, Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens. The Bergamot Arts Station in Santa Monica has a lot of galleries that regularly have exhibitions.
Some live music would be included. Walt Disney Concert Hall or the Hollywood Bowl. Also Harvelle’s Santa Monica. Maybe The Trip or Hotel Café for smaller venues. I have to take them to the beach, of course. And Griffith Park and the Observatory. The Last Bookstore if they’re into books. And cozy wine bars.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I am most grateful to my family, partner, and friends whose support and encouragement have been unconditional. I am fortunate that my core environment allows me to do what I love.
I also honor writers and poets whose works had been instrumental to me especially when I started writing. They might not have mentored me per se, but they had opened for me a fascinating world, and I keep going back to them for guidance and inspiration. And I give homage also to all the writers and artists who, despite all the odds and challenges, continue to create and make literature and the arts an integral part of our lives.