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:

excited-baby

giphy

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.

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New Year Reflections

In five days, 2013 will be merely a memory. In six, 2014 will come gallivanting and we’ll start over. New year, new possibilities, new hopes.

When I was a kid, I spent New Year’s Eve at family parties, where we’d blast the salsas, vallenatos, cumbias, and merengues, and dance, eat, and have fun while we counted down the remaining hours and minutes of the year. Then, right before midnight, the tias and tios would pass around 12 grapes, the suitcases would be placed by the door, and we’d get our champagne–or apple juice for the kids–ready. At the stroke of midnight, the room would burst into a frenzy of hugs and kisses, spilled champagne and “Happy New Year!” Those who wanted to travel in the coming year would take to the streets and walk with the luggage in hand. Those who wanted luck every month of the new year gobbled down the grapes. And everywhere, the air was ripe with the energy of possibility.

Now, I don’t always go out on New Year’s. Some years, like last one, we travel. Others, we stay home, watching the shows in NYC and counting down with the world. But the end of el año viejo and the anticipation of the new one continues to bring about that eagerness of all that could be. And it’s a great moment for reflecting on what was, what is, and what is to come.

This last year was a mixed bag.

Health: there were many challenges, like a flare from hell that lasted for more than half the year and an allergic reaction to a new medicine. But there were also breakthroughs, like the relief that came after getting off said medication and the ensuing period of remission. There were still some hiccups, but overall, the worst (for now) is over.

Writing: I finished a second manuscript and started a third. The second is in the query and contest trenches. I learned more about my writing process, about where my strengths and weaknesses lie. I attended three conferences, finished a Certificate in Creative Writing. I made it through final rounds for Pitch Madness and Baker’s Dozen and even snagged some requests. And I’m finishing off 2013 by working with Dannie Morin, who is my PitchWars mentor. It’s an amazing opportunity. Overall, 2013 for my writing career was successful. I am in a better place than I was at this time last year, and that is success. Sure, there have been rejections and self-doubt and “what-the-hell-am-I-doing?” moments, but I’m coming out all the much stronger for them.

Work: I got to teach some fun classes this year. Hispanic American Literature. Creative Writing. Special topics composition courses, which included The Hunger Games and creative nonfiction. I had students wow me with their work. I’ve heard “You’ve made a reader out of me” and “Because of what we read in class, I knew the answer to a question on Jeopardy.” And I came across this comment, which made my heart swell: “She completely changed the way I read & write and really helped me find my voice in writing.” There were times in the beginning of the year where I struggled–mostly because of my health–but I pushed through. The rewards far outweighed the challenges.

Home: We’ve gotten older and wiser and our faith has grown. We saw our son finish Kindergarten and begin first grade. We rejoiced when he got Principal’s Honor Roll, even though he’d struggled at the start of the year. While we didn’t travel out-of-state this year, we did get to visit Orlando and Jensen Beach a few times. We relaxed and enjoyed our times together. Summer, especially, was nice as I didn’t teach this year and got to fully disconnect. More than anything, I’m in awe of how much my son has grown in one year. It’s insane and scary.

I’m looking forward to what 2014 might bring. I’m hoping for some good news in all fronts, of course, but also excited for what is promised. Friends are having babies, stories are being written, hubby and I are celebrating our ten-year anniversary (and hopefully taking a belated trip to Europe to celebrate!). I’m looking forward to being on break, to more writing conferences, and for the magic of storytelling to continue.

What are you most looking forward to in 2014?

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.

Friday Five

My writing Friday has returned, and to start it off, I thought I’d delve into a “Friday Five” kinda post.

1. My son graduated from preschool. And he’s now registered for KINDERGARTEN. Yes. I am warring with myself. On the one hand, I’m so excited for and proud of him. On the other, I want to throw myself down, pound my fists on the floor, and cry, “I don’t want him to grow up! I don’t wanna!!” But I won’t. Because I’m, you know, an adult. Now we have to work on getting his uniform, school supplies, AND we have to work on a summer reading project which is due by the third day of school. EEEK! Let the homework begin.

Of course, his being bigger now is causing me to seriously think about camp during the summer. At least for part of it. I have work to do–I’m still teaching, and I have to finish this draft…I’m THISCLOSE to finishing the first draft and I’m so ready to begin the serious revisions– and he’s got a ton of energy. I’ve been keeping him busy during the day with pockets of quiet time so I can get work done, but it’s been really hard getting that balance…it hasn’t been working too great.

2. The SCBWI Florida mid-year conference was AMAZING. Not only was it held in Disney’s Yacht Club (which was beautiful and a hop-and-a-skip away from Epcot!), but I also met so many fabulous people and the intensives and workshops were great.

I attended the Novel Intensives on Friday, with agent Josh Adams from Adams Literary, author Gaby Triana, and author Nancy Werlin. What I loved about this intensive, was that it focused on strategies that will help me now as I transition from first draft to serious revision. I have the skeleton down, but now comes the real work: reshaping, adding layers, removing fluff, and working on (fixing?) characters, pace, motives, tension, stakes, and language. I’m adding layers, people! Layers.

I recently tweeted this about revision: “What I love about revision is witnessing how each round molds the story, adding yet another layer that works toward making it whole.” I know my students come to revision with groans and excuses. They hate it (most of them, anyway). I think I used to as well. But there’s a moment of clarity that happens, when I watch what I’ve written be transformed into something so much more beautiful than when it started. A butterfly emerges from its cocoon. That’s what revision does to writing, and I’m loving witnessing this transformation. So yes, revision? Bring it on!

Gaby Triana and Nancy Werlin had great suggestions and exercises for working on plot and characters. I’ve already started implementing some of these, and they’re beyond useful. They also talked about time management, which, as you can see from my number 1 in this post, is tricky! Josh Adams gave us a wonderful view into the current YA market, which writers need to know! It’s daunting and harrowing thinking about the after. After the manuscript, now what? After I finish my story, how do I do this? After the story is finished… the query letter *shudder*–I think most newbies probably follow a similar thought pattern, and that’s why knowing the market is important! (I’m still working on my feelings toward the query letter…) It doesn’t mean going out and writing into a trend (no! Though if that’s the story you must tell, then tell it. Don’t force it into a trend); it means understanding the way it works. Writing is an art, but publication is a business; writers need to know this. All three also read great first lines from current and past books, and it reinforced the importance of a great first line/page.

Then came the first page critiques. These are done anonymously and are exactly what the name suggests: critiques by the panelists of the first page of your manuscript. I submitted mine and when they started picking them at random, holding my breath, vacillating between “please pick mine” and “no, don’t pick mine.” And then they picked mine. I swear I heard nothing by Nancy Werlin reading my first page, and it was scary and nerve-wracking and all I could do was wring my hands to keep them from shaking while I waited for her to finish and for the critiques to begin. But guess what, they loved it! I must’ve sat there with an idiot grin plastered on my cheeks from the feedback I received. It was such a confidence boost, such a shock of electric excitement. I think my favorite compliment was that it sounded “lyrical.” Granted, I know it’s only one page–one out of maybe two or three hundred– but it means that what I did with the first page, and probably chapter since those have been worked and reworked so many times I’ve lost count, works. And it means I can do it. So yeah, that was pretty cool.

On Saturday, I attended the YA track with Nancy Werlin and Noa Wheeler, editor at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan. It was also a great workshop, with the focus on characters. Again, we got great exercises that I’m keeping handy now as I start transitioning from first draft to revision. Then, Sat afternoon, I had my first chapter critiqued, only…it wasn’t my first chapter anymore (though it was one character’s first chapter). Still, it was good because I saw some major flaws with that character’s chapter/motivation, so I know it’s something I have to work on. Donna Gephart was sweet and insightful and gave me some really good notes.

It was a great experience, and I’m so happy I was able to go. Another pretty freaking awesome thing happened, but I don’t know if I can say much about it, so for now, I’m keeping quiet. Suffice it to know that I was excited and terrified all rolled up into one sticky ball, but that which doesn’t scare, isn’t worth pursuing! Regardless of how it turns out, the fact that it happened had me grinning, again, like an idiot for a long, long while.

3. I went on vacation after the conference, but it was the most stressful vacation ever! Why? Because I had to close out session 2 (finish grading and entering final grades) and I had to prepare session 3 (for which I had to finish converting the course to the new learning management system). I wouldn’t have chosen to go on vacation this week, but since the conference was in Orlando, this was the most obvious choice. Still, it was nice going to the parks (sometimes), and working by the pool (much better than working in my desk). I wasn’t feeling great thanks to a small flare-up and difficulty sleeping, but I trudged through and made it. I think another mini-vacation is in order. This time, to the beach. And this time, not during such a critical time in the semester!

Of course, vacation on the beach will probably look something like this:

4. I started a 4-week class in LitReactor with Mandy Hubbard, YA author and agent with D4EO Literary, on writing and selling the YA novel. This class was perfect for the month gap I had between my Novel III and Novel IV classes, and I’m so happy I signed up.  It’s been awesome, and the community of writers in there is unbelievable. Some amazing talent! And Mandy Hubbard is funny and insightful and helpful! We get our first three chapters and a query letter critiqued during the class by both classmates and Mandy, and I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback. This is what I love about classes in workshop settings, like the UCLA classes. They are invaluable for growing as a writer. Critique groups, too. The only way to get better (other than learning about craft and revision and working hard, of course) is to put your writing out there. It’s scary, but it is SO SO SO beneficial. It also teaches how to take criticism. I don’t get defensive like I did when I first started sharing my work. I take it in, let it simmer, and often find truth, which then makes my writing that much better. My first page/chapter wouldn’t be such if I hadn’t listened to suggestions of my classes. In fact, it was a classmate in my UCLA class who suggested starting with my male character! So yes, I’m excited about this class.

5. I’m also excited about starting Lynn Hightower’s Novel Writing IV class at UCLA’s Writers Extension. I received the email that I was accepted into this advanced course in early June, and I registered immediately after! I’m nervous, too, and a little terrified as it’s going to push me more, which is a GREAT thing (even if my first reaction is to bury my head in the figurative sand)! Like I’ve said in the above points, what pushes me in my writing makes me better. So I’ll gulp down my fear and my self-doubt and do it!

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”– Sylvia Plath

Happy Friday, everybody!

Peeking in…

I’ve been quite MIA here, I know. It’s been a whirlwind of a month, but a great one! From my son’s preschool graduation, to an amazing SCBWI conference, to staring an online YA Class with Mandy Hubbard, to getting accepted into Lynn Hightower’s Novel IV class at UCLA Extension, to a week in Orlando. Add to that summer classes ending and prepping for the new term that starts Mon (all during vacation), and you have a recipe for craziness. But I’ll come back soon, and I may just elaborate more on some of the above.

Oh! And I added my Twitter feed on here in case you want to follow me! I update that a little more lately. Something about bite-sized messages I can do from my phone makes it easier to update. 🙂

In the meantime, I’m sharing this pic from our trip. Hubby is getting into photography. He takes the camera everywhere and is always taking pictures of everything, especially nature and architecture (and he’s pretty good!). So for Father’s Day, I signed him up for a Nature Photography class. He was super excited! Anyway, on one of the afternoons after my conference, we took a walk. We were staying at Disney’s Yacht Club and the walk consisted of making the loop through the Boardwalk, where my son begged and begged for a disposable camera. He also loves taking pictures! We got him one and he spent the rest of the walk stopping with hubby to take pictures. In this one, two bunnies were in the grass and it was such a cute shot of them both, father and son, both with cameras in their hands.

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“Dual [writing] Citizenship” and other news

I’m in Chicago this week at the AWP 2012 Conference, and I have to say, I’m loving it (granted, it’s only my first day).

This is the first time I attend  such a conference (most of my conference experiences deal strictly with fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or children’s writing, in mostly workshop form. This, however, is a different experience. For starters, it’s no small event. There are over 10,000 (if I misremember the number, please excuse me) attendees, dozens of lectures/panels happening simultaneously across two hotels, and an impressive celebrity author lineup.

Additionally, though, this conference is great because it encompasses two of my loves: writing and teaching. The lectures/panels that are available broach a wide variety of subjects that pertain to writing and writing programs. The beauty of this combination is that, in one place, I can get tools or listen to conversations about the kids of writing that I do and the classes that I teach. It’s awesome.

The title of this post is in reference to one of the panels I attended today that was titled: “Dual Citizenship: Writing for Both Children and Adults.” It was fabulous and I think it really nailed a problem I’ve been encountering, a sort of snobbery if you will. We’ve been so conditioned to accept a reality of labels that we constantly feel the need to fit into one of those labels, as if writing could be contained in such a way. We don’t have to have just one writing identity (the poet, the fiction writer, the memoirist, the kid lit writer); it’s perfectly okay in embracing this multiple personality effect!

I know that when I get asked the pivotal question,”What do you write?” I stumble sometimes because, well, I like writing it all (though not necessarily all with the same strength)! I don’t want to be known just as a fiction writer or a memoirist or a YA or PB author. I want to write it all. I want to strive to be, like one of the panelists said, Julia Alvarez. Why settle for just one writing identity when you can have several (and be good at several)? It makes perfect sense. Still, whenever I do say I write more than one genre or for more than one age group, I tend to get an “Oh” with a glazed look, as if saying I just haven’t made up my mind what I want to write, that I have to find one niche and stay there.

Well, I refuse.

I enjoy writing. Period. So I will write whatever it is that turns me upside down, inside out. Whatever fills me with excitement. Whatever decides to be what I must write right now. Then, when I’m done with that, I’ll move onto the next project that again commands my attention. Because I think that’s what writers should do. Write what they just absolutely have to write and not what they think they should write. That, I think, should be one of the main writing commandments.

SCBWI Conference: Love

The thing I love about writing conferences is they provide opportunity–opportunity to improve skills, to network, to meet new people, and to showcase your writing. We’re a group of like-minded individuals, at different points in this writing and publishing game, coming together to talk about the craft and the business.  It’s wonderful! I usually leave these conferences inspired, ready to re-immerse myself into my project at hand.

This has been true in all the writing conferences I’ve attended, but it’s felt even stronger this time at the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) Miami 2012 Conference. Perhaps it’s because I have specific projects in mind, projects to which I’m totally and completely devoted and about which I’m totally and completely obsessed. Or maybe it’s because, like a fellow conference-goer said, anyone who’s writing for kids has to have a more nurturing composition. Or maybe it was because of the fabulous and inspiring line up of authors, editors, and agents. But it was fabulous. The intensive for Leveled/Early Readers, led by Bonnie Bader and Natalie Lescroart, was informative and it cemented my resolution in finishing/polishing my leveled reader MS. I also got some ideas for new stories, so I’m eagerly sketching outlines and notes. To all those who think writing early/leveled readers (especially the first level) is easy: it’s not!

I also loved Jill Corcoran. I came to her blog this past summer thanks to Catherine Ipcizade (who, I might add, is fabulous. She’s the reason why I’m now in children’s writing!) during a children’s writing workshop I took through UCLA Extension Writers’ Program (which, I might add, was also fabulous. Another post for another time.) Anyway, back to Jill Corcoran–her workshop was great and it reiterated concepts I’ve heard before while giving me new “food for thought.” It actually helped to take a look at my current beginning (for my YA project) and realize, I’m not beginning in the right place! I wasn’t brave enough to read aloud today (or rather, by the time I worked up the courage, it was too late), but hearing her lecture and comments was enlightening.

We also got inspirational talks from authors, agents and editors, and I made some new contacts and met some charming new people.

I plan on going to as many of these conferences as I can–it was that good.