Pitch Wars 2016 Mentor Bio & Wishlist

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THIS IS NOT A DRILL, PEOPLE! It’s Pitch Wars time again and I am so freaking excited to be mentoring MG this year!

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If you’ve stumbled on this post by accident, you might be asking yourself: What’s Pitch Wars? It’s only the best contest ever, held by Brenda Drake, where selected mentees work with mentors to polish their manuscripts extra shiny for an agent round. You can read more about what Pitch Wars is here, the details here, and the schedule here.

The best part isn’t getting to have your work in front of agents, though. The best part, in my humble opinion, is the amazing community of writers and writer friends that comes with this contest. Because not everyone will get in—that’s just part of how a contest works—but everyone can take part in the building of friendships, improvement of craft, and connection with like-minded peeps that comes with all the contest hoopla.

About Me:

Letter I *have been on both the mentee and mentor sides of the Pitch Wars. In 2013, Dannie Morin chose me as one of her alternates, and in 2015, I served as a co-mentor with her. Both times, I’ve met so many wonderful, hard-working writers. Some of us have gone on to become beta readers and even CPs! In fact, Dannie and my co-mentees and I still keep in touch and read each others’ work.

*Image is part of the Pitch Wars Scavenger Hunt.

Some quick facts about me:

  • I’m Colombian-American. While I was born in the States, I spent many summers between Bogotá, Medellín, Manizales, and Cali (a city in Colombia, not California). I still have family there and visit whenever I have a chance. The Andes mountains will always feel like home for me.
  • I’m completely bilingual in Spanish/English. In fact, Spanish was my first language. There’s a funny story about me, kinder, and getting lost. In addition to Spanish, I know a sprinkling of French from two years I took in high school.
  • I’ve been an English professor for over ten years. I teach composition, creative writing (poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction), and U.S. Hispanic/Latino Literature. I started teaching when I was 24… and many of my students were my age. I might’ve had a laugh or two pretending I was a student at the start of a semester.
  • I’m also a full-time wife and mom. My son is almost nine-going-on-fifteen and swears he knows more than I do. It’s a good thing he’s cute.
  • In 2011, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and low-level lupus (also sometimes called undifferentiated connective tissue disorder or pre-lupus).
  • I’m addicted to coffee, though I have to drink decaf past noon or I won’t sleep! Sit me in a café, give me a latte, and I’m a happy camper. But I don’t like coffee desserts (e.g. ice cream, tiramisu, etc.). Go figure.
  • I love musicals. Sometimes, I wish life were a musical and I could burst out into song and dance at key moments.
  • My great-uncle, Bernardo Arias Trujillo, was a Colombian novelist and poet. I like to say writing is in my blood. So is music. On my father’s side, I have several aunts, uncles, and cousins who’ve played professionally and who even founded a school of music for kids in Manizales—La Rafael Pombo.
  • Right now, I’m on submission with a MG portal fantasy that features Colombian folklore and the Colombia of the early 90’s. Colombia tends to seep into much of what I write.
  • I’m a poet and fiction writer. I write for kids of all ages—PB, MG, and YA—and I’m agented by the lovely Deborah Warren of East West Literary.

If you want to know more about me, click on About above.

So…why pick me? Because I’m awesome. Duh.

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Okay, no—for real.

I have over twelve years’ experience in reading critically and editing other people’s work. I grade over 400 assignments (essays, poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction) per semester. In addition to the grading–in which I look at, comment on, and correct everything from grammar to content–I critique and beta read for several published and pre-published writer friends.

Here’s what you can expect from me: I’m going to be honest. I’m going to fangirl over the stuff I love, but I’m also going to let you know when something’s not working. I’ll also help you brainstorm, if you need me to. Most of our communication will be via email or chat (Twitter, Google, or Skype).

My preference is to work with MS Word Track Changes, where I’ll provide tons of in-text comments. Some of these will be questions I have. Some will be comments/observations. Some will simply be snorts of laughter or me yelling at the characters. I can get intense when reading. You will always have feedback on big picture items (plot, characters, setting, world building, etc.) and small picture bits (grammar, syntax, punctuation, tense and POV shifts, etc.) In addition to the in-text comments, I’ll be providing a detailed edit letter addressing main concerns. My goal is to get you one extensive, comprehensive critique and a second, quicker read before the agent round. It all depends on how fast you revise within our two-month time period.

There will be many moments like this:

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And many others like this:

Rapunzel Writing

I’m looking for a mentee who’s not afraid to get dirty in revisions, who’s a good listener, who’s not afraid to ask questions, and who will work hard. I shouldn’t be the first person who’s looked at this manuscript (in addition to you–the writer–and close family) and this shouldn’t be a first draft, but I don’t expect it to be perfect either (otherwise, you wouldn’t be entering Pitch Wars!) Together we will work to make your story be the best it can be and get it ready for agents.

My Wishlist:

As a reminder, I’m mentoring MG this year. Here’s what’s right for me:

  1. Fantasy: Fantasy is probably my favorite genre. Give me a unique setting and story, a grand adventure, fabulous world building, and characters I can fall in love with, and I’m sold! Even better is if it’s something that hasn’t been done before or in a setting that’s new. Some of my favorite MG fantasies are SE Grove’s The Glass Sentence, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
  2. Adventure: I’m also a sucker for fast-paced adventure and nail-biting suspense. Two MG adventures I love in this genre are Christina Diaz Gonzalez’s Moving Target and the Scholastic 39 Clues.
  3. Magical Realism: Magical realism is one of those genres that people often mistaken for fantasy, but the two are not the same (though both fall under the speculative fiction umbrella). Magical realism is deeply rooted in the ordinary with only a hint of extraordinary. Here’s a great post by fellow Pitch Wars mentor Joy McCullough-Carranza on the difference between magical realism and fantasy. MG examples of magical realism are Because of Winn Dixie, When the Butterflies Came, and The Secret Garden. 
  4. Diversity and #ownvoices: I’d love to see stories with nuanced, underrepresented characters. I’m open to all, but there’s a special place in my heart for characters who have a chronic illness and non-Western cultures that haven’t been done much or at all, like Wonder and The Red Pencil.
  5. Historical or near historical: In this genre, I’m particularly attracted to stories from underrepresented cultures and/or that feature adventure. I’m also interested in historical fantasy.  The Red Umbrella, Inside Out & Back Again, Just a Drop of Water, and Echo are some good examples.

What’s not for me right now:

  • Contemporary (unless they fall into #’s 2 or 4 the above). It’s not what I read most so I don’t think I’d be the best mentor for you in this category.
  • Mysteries, thrillers, satire, gothic, sci-fi, horror (I seriously can’t watch scary movies. I will never sleep! I scare/startle easily)
  • Stories that don’t offer some kind of hope at the end. I’m okay with a not-so-happy ending as long as there’s a glimmer of hope.
  • I have a bit of a squeamish stomach, so on-the-page rape or murder or gruesome scenes will not be for me.

Some other things to consider if you want to pitch to me:

  • I love stories with a nuanced, strong sense of place. These don’t have to be fantastical worlds, either—place is important in both contemporary and fantasy.
  • I tend to be drawn to lyrical language (it’s the poet in me), but I also love humor and sarcasm. Ultimately, though, it’s about the characters and their journeys and how connected I feel to them.
  • Having tons of grammar errors in the opening pages or query is a turn-off. I don’t expect perfection at all (heck, I’ve made typos before!) but if the opening pages—which are often the most looked at in the revision process—are riddled with errors, it makes me worry the rest of the manuscript will be in worse shape.
  • Before I select a mentee, I will ask for more pages and a synopsis. Yes, yes. I know. Synopsis are icky. But they’re valuable. So if you haven’t already worked on one, get to it! If you don’t know how, check out this how-to.
  • As much as I would really, really love to give feedback to everyone who pitches to me, I don’t want to promise something I can’t deliver. I will try my hardest to offer at least some nugget of feedback or advice, but the truth is that Pitch Wars falls right when the semester starts, so my focus will be on giving my mentee and my students my undivided attention.

If you’d like a sense of what I like to read, you can find me on Goodreads. It doesn’t list everything I’ve read and I don’t always do a good job at updating it, but I think it can give you an idea of my reading tastes.

If you have any questions or if you’re not sure if your project fits my wish list above, feel free to ask! You can @ me on Twitter.

Happy pitching!

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Book Review: JUST A DROP OF WATER

I only recently got the change to read JUST A DROP OF WATER by Kerry O’Malley Cerra and let me tell you–I’d been missing out!

Here’s the blurb:

JustADropOfWaterEver since he was little, Jake Green has longed to be a soldier and a hero like his grandpa, who died serving his country. Right now, though, he just wants to outsmart–and outrun–the rival cross country team, the Palmetto Bugs. But then the tragedy of September 11 happens. It’s quickly discovered that one of the hijackers lived nearby, making Jake’s Florida town an FBI hot spot. Two days later, the tragedy becomes even more personal when Jake’s best friend, Sam Madina, is pummeled for being an Arab Muslim by their bully classmate, Bobby.

According to Jake’s personal code of conduct, anyone who beats up your best friend is due for a butt kicking, and so Jake goes after Bobby. But soon after, Sam’s father is detained by the FBI and Jake’s mom doubts the innocence of Sam’s family, forcing Jake to choose between his best friend and his parents. When Jake finds out that Sam’s been keeping secrets, too, he doesn’t know who his allies are anymore. But the final blow comes when his grandpa’s real past is revealed to Jake. Suddenly, everything he ever knew to be true feels like one big lie. In the end, he must decide: either walk away from Sam and the revenge that Bobby has planned, or become the hero he’s always aspired to be.

A gripping and intensely touching debut middle grade novel by Kerry O’Malley Cerra, Just a Drop of Water brings the events of September 11, which shook the world, into the lens of a young boy who is desperately trying to understand the ramifications of this life-altering event. 

This novel is a Florida Book Award winner, winner of the Crystal Kite Award, and named to VOYAs Top Shelf Fiction for Middle Readers’ 2014 list.

I read JUST A DROP OF WATER in one day because I could not put it down. The chapter headings count down to that fateful September 11, 2001, which really increases the tension. It’s a day I remember vividly, and it’s tackled in just the right way for the target audience who did not live through it. There were so many poignant lines in it. One of my favorites is this: “Anger can lead us to a place of hatred and intolerance. And if we get to that point, then everything that really matters is already lost.” Anger–and what to do with that anger–is a constant theme in this novel, and it’s handled beautifully without being preachy. This is one of those stories I will read again and again.

JUST A DROP OF WATER is powerful and timely and it should be on all middle school lists. Jake and Sam are two best friends whose lives and friendship are turned upside down as a direct result of the horrific events of 9/11. It’s the story about friendship, doing what’s right, and not giving in to anger and fear. The storyline is gripping, the characters heartfelt and flawed, the voice on point, and the writing beautiful.

At our latest SCBWI Florida conference this past January, Kerry accepted the Crystal Kite Award with a touching and moving speech–there was not a dry eye in the house! It’s a testament to the heart that she brings to everything she does, including her novels.

Book Review: GILDED

GildedOne of the best things about summer vacation is that I get to read to my heart’s content. Stay up late? No problem. I can sleep in or nap the next day. All semester long, I accumulated this fabulous TBR pile that, because of work and revisions, I couldn’t get to, but oh how I wanted to.

I broke my reading fast with GILDED by Christina Farley. I met Christina at the 2013 SCBWI Florida Mid-Year Workshops. Actually, it was during the Elixir Mixer, where my friend Larissa introduced us. We got to talking about multicultural books and myths and the richness of other cultures when she told me about her debut novel, GILDED, a YA contemporary fantasy which features Korean mythology. She gave me her card, and I immediately started following her on Twitter. When her book released on March 1, I cursed I couldn’t read it immediately. When I finally did in early May, though, I was not disappointed!

Here’s the blurb:

Sixteen-year-old JaeHwa Lee is a Korean-American girl with a black belt, a deadly proclivity with steel-tipped arrows, and a chip on her shoulder the size of Korea itself. When her widowed dad uproots her to Seoul from her home in L.A., Jae thinks her biggest challenges will be fitting into a new school and dealing with her dismissive Korean grandfather. Then she discovers that a Koreandemi-god,Haemosu, has been stealing the soul of the oldest daughter of each generation in her family for centuries. And she’s next. But that’s not Jae’s only problem.There’s also Marc. Irresistible and charming, Marc threatens to break the barriers around Jae’s heart. As the two grow closer, Jae must decide if she can trust him. But Marc has a secret of his own—one that could help Jae overturn the curse on her family for good. It turns out that Jae’s been wrong about a lot of things: her grandfather is her greatest ally, even the tough girl can fall in love, and Korea might just be the home she’s always been looking for.
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What I liked best of this novel is how Christina seamlessly weaves South Korean mythology with a fast-paced plot filled with tons of action. I couldn’t stop turning the pages and read the book in practically one sitting. We get some wonderful city views of South Korea and feel the energy of the setting. Just as impressive is the world of the demi-gods. As far as characters, Jae Hwa Lee is a strong, likable protagonist who finds herself face-to-face with the things legends are made of–and she kicks demi-god booty in the process.I can’t wait for SILVERN, the sequel to GILDED, which will pick up where GILDED left off in a brand new adventure. It’s set to release September 23, 2014!

Breaking My Hiatus

I’m baaaaaack.

The semester is over. Revisions are done. And I’m officially on summer vacation.

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It might take me a little bit to unwind because, let’s face it. There’s so much truth to this picture:

Owl Teachers

The end of the semester came with its usual flare-up–though it was a bit harsher than the last one–so I’ve been focusing on healing, resting, and getting better. It was bitter, coming on the heels of a great month and a half (Jan-Feb) where I thought for sure I was in remission. I suppose it’s always harder that way, isn’t it? When you’ve had a taste of “normal” only to then be whacked by the pain and exhaustion. But onward. The rest is helping and I’m feeling better, limping less, sleeping more. And writing more, which absolutely, positively helps me improve. Thank God for this blessing!

I’m looking forward to being back, to resuming my Motivational Monday series and bringing in some new projects here on the blog.

Happy writing, everyone!

 

2014 SCBWI Florida Conference

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love writing conferences. I’ve been attending them for about five years and SCBWI ones for the last three, when I decided to focus on writing for kids. Writing conferences offer a unique opportunity that’s equal parts inspiration, craft, and networking. And there’s something special about those that specialize in kid-lit. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s a collective embracing of everyone who’s new, an inclusion into this fabulous clique. Kid-lit writers are some of warmest, nicest people I’ve ever met.

(NOTE: I’ve met wonderful writers in all the conferences I’ve attended. And I know some pretty amazing writers who don’t write for kids, writers who’ve been instrumental in guiding my writing career. It’s just that when strictly speaking about conferences, I seem to find more camaraderie at SCBWI conferences. Maybe it’s because I’m more “seasoned” now and more comfortable in my own writing skin. Maybe it’s because I know more people. There are many variables, of course.)

This past January 17-19, I went to the 2014 SCBWI Florida Conference in Miami. Third year in a row. Fifth SCBWI Florida conference. And it didn’t disappoint. In fact, if you read my I Have An Agent post, it rocked! But that’s not why I loved it (well, okay, it was part of it, but the truth is, I’ve loved every single SCBWI FL conference I’ve been to, even those where my work didn’t elicit such positive feedback–and yes, I’ve had many of those moments.) I loved this conference because of the people I met and because the workshops offered some great talks on craft and the business.

I attended the Friday Novel Intensive with agent Jen Rofe of Andrea Brown Literary, editor Stacy Abrams of Entangled Publishing, and author Chris Crutcher. It was intense (pun intended), and the topics ranged from the market, to germinating ideas, to execution and beginnings. Then the trio tackled first page critiques, and for the first time since I’ve been attending, everyone who submitted an anonymous first page received feedback. Mine offered an “aha!” lightbulb moment, which I executed right away–and it was that missing link I couldn’t figure out. During the course of the day, we learned that right now, editors are looking for:

  • Commercial and fun picture books
  • Character-based chapter books
  • Fun middle grade, especially for boys
  • Well-written, high concept YA
  • NO paranormal or dystopian
  • Nonfiction, especially narrative nonfiction (autobiographies/biographies)

There were some awesome gems during this intensive, too.

  • “Write that thing that scares you.”–Jen Rofe
  • “When you’re sitting down, writing your story, tell it in the most raw, intimate way you can tell it.”–Chris Crutcher
  • “Now is an awesome time to be a writer because there are so many ways to market.”–Stacy Abrams

I didn’t get to attend the Picture Book Intensive, but all the talk I heard said the same: Deborah Warren, Laura Whitaker, Andrea Pinkney, and Toni Buzzeo were fantabulous. If I could’ve cloned myself, I would’ve!

Friday evening was kicked off with the first-book’s panel, which is always wonderful. And this year it was even better because my writing friend Vivi Barnes was up there with her debut novel, OLIVIA TWISTED. So it was great to know one of the cool kids on the panel! All four of the authors were fabulous: Nancy Cavanaugh, Steven dos Santos, Cristin Bishara, and Vivi. Check out their books!

Then, attendees gathered at Books & Books for snacks, mingling, and a mystery panel of experts: a group of kids ranging from 6 to 16 who answered questions from the moderator, Gaby Triana, about all things books. This panel elicited many awww’s, and it was wonderful to see how eloquent the experts were at verbalizing what they read, their preferences, and what they wished there was more of out there in the book world.

Saturday was full of inspiration. We had fabulous speakers: Chris Crutcher, Augusta Scattergood and Andrea Pinkney, Sarah Pennypacker,Peter Brown, and Lois Duncan. We cried. We laughed. Our heart strings were tugged and twisted. And like with Friday’s intensive, there were beautiful, inspiring gems:

  • “Go find those fundamental things (like grief) that are so human, they’re universal. We have to be willing to go there, be embarrassed, tell it all.”–Chris Crutcher
  • “Grief– you do it ’till you’re done.”–Chris Crutcher
  • “When you’re telling a story, just sit down and tell the hell out of it.”– Chris Crutcher
  • “There are readers you will never meet but whose lives you will impact. That is what matters.”–Andrea Pinkney
  • “A book connects the reader to the rest of his tribe through time and space.”–Sara Pennypacker
  • “Everyone needs their stories reflected back at them. Not just those in extraordinary circumstances.”–Sara Pennypacker
  • “Stories allow for empathy.”–Sara Pennypacker
  • “Never give up. Learn from your mistakes and keep going…Never burn your bridges…Don’t be afraid to take chances.”–Lois Duncan
  • “Every life is a story.”–Lois Duncan
  • “The only thing stronger than law enforcement is the power of the pen.”–Lois Duncan
  • “Don’t let yourself be crushed with rejections of a book today. If you really think it’s a good book, keep it.”–Lois Duncan

The agent panel featured agent extraordinaires Deborah Warren, Jen Rofe, and Ammi-Joan Paquette, while the editor panel included stellar editors Stacy Abrams, Kat Brzozowski, Laura Whitaker, Andrea Pinkney, and Aubrey Poole. Both panels were enlightening and so fun to listen to. It’s always eye-opening to hear what agents and editors are looking for in manuscripts, what entices them to keep reading. What did I learn? The time for problem novels is over. Instead, agents and editors are looking for work that contain “issues” without being about the issues,  for diverse characters whose stories aren’t (only) about being diverse. Paranormal and dystopian are out… for now. The market and editors’ lists are completely full for now. Tuck those PNR and dystopian manuscripts for a later time. Agents and editors also looking for writers to have an online presence, but as Ammi-Joan Paquette pointed out, “an awkward [online] presence is probably worse than no presence” at all. And it certainly shouldn’t come at the expense of your writing! Others wish list items mentioned: country song in a book, boy books, dirty dancing YA, book about singing, multicultural books, picture books, exotic/overseas settings, books about food/eating/bakeries, experimentation in format, LGBTQ, diversity, piercings/tattoos.

Saturday night ended with a Steampunk smash. The Clockwork Ball was a huge success and showed just how well South Floridians like to party. The costume contest was fabulous, the food was good, and the company was even better–which means there were many sleepy, groggy conference-goers the next morning!

Sunday’s workshops were varied and timely. They included topics from voice in YA, to picture books, to romance, character development, and nonfiction–and everything in between. I wanted to split myself up so I could attend them all! I sat in Kat Brzozowski’s workshop on voice in YA and Laura Whitaker’s editor/writer relationships, and both were enlightening. Kat brought in some very cool acting exercises to illustrate how important it is to know our characters’ voices, and she had us dissecting published pages to do the same. Laura’s talk on what editors want in their writers, along with the current state of publishing, was enlightening and hilarious.

We said our final good-byes after the workshops. It was bittersweet. This was perhaps one of the best–if not the best–writing conferences I’ve attended. I’m looking forward to see what our Mid-Year Workshops (June 6-7 in Orlando) will bring. SCBWI Florida Regional Advisors Linda Rodriguez-Bernfeld and Gaby Triana, along with the rest of the SCBWI Florida crew put together some pretty awesome conferences! And check out this lovely slide show, put together by our Assistant Regional Advisor Curtis Sponsler.

Happy writing, everyone!

I HAVE AN AGENT!!!!!

This is an all-caps and exclamation marks kind of post because HOLY WOW–I HAVE AN AGENT!!!!! And she’s none other than the FABULOUS, AMAZING Deborah Warren of East West Literary!!!!!

In case the all-caps and extra exclamation marks aren’t an indication of how excited I am, here are some examples to drive that sentiment home:

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Tangled excited

So how did happen? Sit back. Grab some popcorn (or raisinets or circus peanuts). Pull up your feet and relax.

Once upon a time, I wrote a novel. And I revised it. And I took it to conferences, workshopped it in UCLA classes, brought it to my critique group, shared it with beta readers and critique partners. I did everything I was supposed to, and even though in my gut I knew something was missing and that the market was not right for it, I decided to query it. I did my research, thought I knew what I was doing (HINT: I didn’t. Not really, but I did learn), and workshopped that query to death.

Around query #18, I stopped sending more out because my gut was telling me something wasn’t working and I needed to figure it out. But more than that, there was this fabulous shiny new idea that was more enticing, more personal. And it might even be “the one.” I took everything I learned writing my first ms and poured my energies into this project. I plotted some, I researched lots, and I pantsied some, and before I knew it, I had a first draft. Then I revised and brought it to my critique group, online critique partners, and beta readers.

When I thought it was ready, I started the querying process. I researched agents based on their wish lists, their current books, interviews and, if applicable, Twitter presence. I wanted someone who would love my work but also someone I connected with. Some of the agents on my list weren’t open to submissions, and I heed and hawed and waited because I was pretty certain at least one of them would be at our regional SCBWI Conference in January. I only sent out a handful of queries, mostly because I was swamped at work–and I was okay with it. I entered and was chosen in Pitch Madness (another post coming soon about the benefits of online pitch contests!). I got some full and partial requests. I received rejections.

I wasn’t in a rush like I was with my first ms. Part of it was, again, because I was swamped at work. In October, I got a shiny new idea and decided to try my luck at NaNo. I plotted extensively this time and when Nov 1 rolled around, I started writing. Then I entered and was selected for Baker’s Dozen. I got half-way through ms #3 (through a series of personal set-backs), when PitchWars was announced and I decided–why not? This was going to be my last contest entry. I entered and was ecstatic when I was selected by the awesome Dannie Morin to be an alternate on her team. (And in her blog post, she wrote she couldn’t put my first three chapters down and omg was that so freaking awesome to hear!)

Then I received confirmation that one of the top agents on my list who was closed to queries was, in fact, going to be at our regional SCBWI Florida conference. I was thrilled! Some pretty awesome agents also had my full, so when I got into PitchWars, I decided not to send any more queries out. Dannie sliced and diced my ms and I spent the next five weeks adding and strengthening and polishing my ms until it blinded me. My wonderful teammates became fabulous critique partners as we worked hard to make our stories shine.

Then came the conference. And it was amazing. (I need to write another post about it!) There was such a magical energy in the air. The faculty was excited and energetic. When the agent’s panel was up, and I heard Deborah speak about what she was looking for, I knew she’d be perfect. So did Gaby Triana, one of my critique partners and Deborah’s client. Gaby encouraged me to query Deborah. I did Sunday, after the conference ended, and within a few hours, I had a request to see the full.

I was floored!

Wed afternoon–the day PitchWars entries went live–I was starting class when my phone rang. I’d forgotten to silence it. As I hastily shut it off, I registered it was a California number. And I froze, doing a mental check-off of who I knew in CA. Deborah was in CA. So were some of my online critique partners, but they didn’t have my phone number. As I was in the middle of class and had to focus on teaching, I forced myself to not think until the end, even though all I wanted was to run into my office and check my voicemail. When class was over, I checked my email and almost face-planted when I saw I had an email from Deborah. She loved my work and wanted to talk! SHE LOVED MY WORK!!!! I might’ve stomped. And squeed. And possibly scared a few random people in the halls. Seriously. This was me:

Happy Shocked

But I was at work and had to run out of the office, and calling from the car seemed like a bad idea all around. I listened to her voicemail a few times while I waited to get home. I spoke with Dannie, who gave me a pep talk. I spoke with Gaby. As soon as I walked through the door, I put on TV for my son and called.

And got voicemail.

After a series of phone tags, we finally connected Thursday afternoon. When we hung up, I was over-the-moon and through-the-clouds excited. She was so sweet and so excited about my work and had a clear vision for my career!!! I took the next few days to process all the information and contact the agents who had my full and partials. My entry from PitchWars was pulled when I received Deborah’s message. And on Monday, 1/27, I officially accepted her offer.

I’ve been walking on cotton-candy clouds ever since.

Eradicating Self-Doubt

One of my favorite quotes about writing is this:

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” –Sylvia Plath

It’s the reminder that, above all, I can never let self-doubt win. Because let’s be honest: everyone doubts themselves. Even if on the exterior they ooze confidence, I guarantee that in the darkest corners of their being, they sometimes, at some point, feel it creeping in. It’s inevitable. I’ve stopped asking, “Is this normal?” and started thinking, “Beat it, punk. I don’t have time for you.”

It’s easy to let the crippling fear of self doubt paralyze you. That bugger is a thorn who craves breaking you. But I think when we realize that this isn’t something unique to us, that even the most fabulous, amazing storytellers among us have felt it and probably still feel it at times, then we can square our shoulders and push self-doubt out. Slam the door shut in its face. Recognize the bait it uses, the repeated pattern of assault and re-entry so we can squash it before it takes hold.

Because if you let it take hold, you will quit. And if you quit, you’ll never reach your dreams. This is something I can’t–and won’t–afford. I know in the deepest part of me, the part that self-doubt tries to overshadow, that I can do this. That I will do this. It’s just a matter of time. In that time, I’ll keep learning, improving because that’s what we have to do. We can’t stay static. (Heck, this is a human reality, not just a writer one. We never stop learning and we never should. Otherwise, what good are we to society? To the world? To ourselves?)

I know I’m not alone. I’ve read blog posts of New York Times best-sellers who tackle this issue. The fear that seeps in with a blank page, with a new series, with revisions. Can I do this? What if I have no more words in me? What if…? And time and time again, the answer is yes, I can do this. Yes, I have more words. Yes….

So self-doubt, hear me: Get the eff out. You’re not welcome in this creative space.

Plotting my way to NaNoWriMo

I’m breaking my hiatus. The last few weeks, I’ve been slowly swinging upward. Slowly, I’ve been finding that the pain is a little less severe, the exhaustion a little less debilitating, my energy a little more pronounced, and my breathing a little more at ease. I’m having way more “good” days than “bad” ones and can keep up with the pace of life. I’m cautiously optimistic that it’ll last. After going off the evil med, I didn’t start a new one and I’m holding out hope that maybe I don’t have to. That maybe I can control it with what I’m already on. And maybe–just maybe–I can stop those at some point.

But that’s not what this post is about. Nope. It’s all about NaNoWriMo!

I debated about participating in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year. After I finished THROUGH THE WALLED CITY, I’ve been in this lull. Sure, I’m querying, but creatively, I was in an abyss. Where to now? TTWC was done. The PB I was working on sent to a contest. And with the semester in full swing and being inundated with papers to grade, I didn’t know if I had the energy to purse another long project. Not only that, but I had (ahem, have) a list of awesome shiny new ideas but no clue which to pursue next. They were a black hole of ideas. A friend encouraged me to work on something short and fun, and I considered short stories. Then I thought to work on another picture book manuscript. I started it. Then I had an idea for a children’s poem, which I completed and which sucked words back into me. I worked and reworked it and submitted it to a magazine.

I was back to square one with the writing. What next? And NaNo around the corner made me take another long look at those shiny new ideas. I turned them over in my mind on my commute to and from work (I have a loong commute). I poked and prodded them while prepping for class or while my students wrote. And soon, the project took form in such a way, that I wanted to smack my forehead with a resounding DUH. It’s another YA magical realism (or maybe light fantasy?) but it’s different than what I’ve written in the past.

So I have my NaNoWriMo project. I wanted to prepare, but I was running out of time. And I had papers to grade (they’re truly never ending). This weekend, however, I finally had downtime and I started plotting. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m more of a pantser when I begin writing. About half-way, I’ll start plotting. I want to do things differently this time because I’m determined to “win” NaNo. I want to reach 50K by the end of November. Plotting will help me reach that goal.

Monday I put the final plotting touches and I’m excited to start. I’ve been drafting some character sketches, getting acquainted with my main character and her mom. But more than that, I’m excited and a tad bit nervous. Because this will probably be one of the more personal projects I’ve tackled.

In the coming days, I’m going to update my NaNo profile and this blog to include the blurb and tentative title for this project.

And I’m ready to “win.”

 

SCBWI Florida Conferences

I recently got back from the SCBWI Florida Mid-Year Workshops, and let me tell you, if you live in Florida and you write for kids, you’ve got to go to one of these. They’re pretty awesome.

SCBWI Florida puts together some fantabulous conferences and workshops. In January, the Annual Conference is in Miami. The theme for the next one, Jan 2014? Steampunk. How awesome is that? In June, we have the Mid-Year Workshops in Orlando. Disney. Fellow writers and editors talking and learning about writing for kids on Disney grounds? Disney. This year the workshops were held at the Disney Swan & Dolphin, a hop and a skip away from Epcot. Did I mention Disney? Seriously, can it really get any better than that?

I think I’d say I’m a veteran conference-goer. Before I started seriously writing for kids, I attended others (AWP, FIU, Sanibel Island Writer’s, and others). I’m very blessed that my employer encourages professional development, and since I teach English and writing, it’s a win-win. Every conference has been great. I’ve learned, soaked in ideas to use in my own teaching, grown in my craft and networked. And this is my plug for conferences: if you can afford them, they’re amazing opportunities to know people, to talk about books with others who get it, and to learn craft and to learn about the business side. Because in this business, we can’t fall stale. We have to keep growing regardless of whether we’re published or pre-published. 😉

Since joining SCBWI in October 2011, though, I’ve attended each of our regional conferences and workshops. Which makes this past conference my fourth. And what a difference it makes! I remember my first conference. I was shy. Nervous. Anxious. I knew no one, but I dove in and learned something new in one of the intensives: leveled readers. Then I was inspired by the workshops and the speakers and the first books panels. I saw Jessica Martinez speak and play her violin and I remember thinking: I want to be there one day (sans the violin because, well, I have no idea how to play). I did meet a couple people, and reconnected with a former colleague.

I went to the second conference a little more confident. My WIP at the time was about half-way done, and I was excited about this YA project and about the workshops. I attended a novel intensive with the fabulous lit agent Josh Adams from Adams Literary and authors Gaby Triana and Nancy Werlin, and when my first page was read during first page critiques, I nearly died when all three praised it. I hyperventilated, I’m sure, but Josh’s reaction especially gave me the confidence to keep going. I left that conference renewed and energized and ready to finish my book. It was because of this conference that I met Gaby and found my critique group, something I’m beyond thankful every single day. This conference will forever remain in my memory.

Third conference was equally awesome. My previously WIP was now completed and I had started another WIP. Not only did I get to hang out with my awesome critique group (Gaby, Danielle Joseph, and Christina Diaz Gonzalez, but I got to mingle with agents and editors and this time, I didn’t freeze up. I met the awesome Aimee Friedman, editor at Scholastic and author; Mandy Hubbard, literary agent at D4EO, author, and my former Lit Reactor instructor (love when internet world meets real world!); Michael Stearns, lit agent from Upstart Crow Literary, who critiqued my WIP. I was beyond inspired by Bruce Coville, Ellen Hopkins and Toni Buzzeo, who autographed a book for my son. Add to that the Barnyard Bookstomp dinner dance as well as agents, editors and first book panels, and it was fabulous.

This last one was also great. This time, I graduated to volunteer, and it was a wonderful experience–so much so that I hope to be more involved in future conferences! I attended the novel intensive with Brian Farrey-Latz, editor at Flux, and authors Alex Flinn, and Jordan Sonnenblick. There were lots of great exercises that pushed us beyond comfort levels, and that was awesome! Then on Saturday the Sci-Fi/Fantasy workshop with lit agent Joe Monti and author Matthew Kirby. I met new writers, and reconnected with those I’d met before. The Elixir Mixer and Silent Auction was perfect for networking and just hanging out with like-minded people. The only downside is that my fibro decided to flare-up a bit by the second day, but I got through it! I had some great critiques, too, and I loved Brian’s enthusiasm for my WIP. 🙂

I hope you see a pattern here. I’ve only listed a few of the faculty and speakers. In fact, the lineups are always great, from picture books to illustrators to middle grade and YA. SCBWI FL conferences = amazing. There’ll be a new addition on Sat, July 13: Picture Book Bootcamp at West Osceola Branch Library. For more info, go here. I have no doubt it’ll be just as informative and inspirational as the regional conference and mid-year workshop.

I’m now counting down to the Jan one because I can’t wait to meet up with old writing friends and meet new ones, and I can’t wait to see what Linda, Gaby, and the rest of the SCBWI Florida team has in store. Oh, and I totally can’t wait for the steampunk dinner dance. I’m already working on getting the perfect costume for hubby and me. Of course, I’m hoping by then, I’ll have an agent, but even if I don’t, I know I won’t be disappointed.