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!

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Forget hormones in poultry – what about teen lit?

While I was growing up, I always had a book in my hand. The love with books started when I was an infant, and I have my mom and dad to thank for that.

My mom would take me to weekly library trips, where we would sit for hours, sometimes perched in the geometrical cut-outs in the wall (I remember a triangle, a square, and a circle, each with a dark, royally colored carpet: red, purple, blue). The books I remember most from this era were The Adventures of Theo (or rather, Las Aventuras de Teo, since my mom read them to me in Spanish) – a different book for a different adventure for the main character, Theo.

During my childhood, my parents built my library, one book at a time (and mostly books in Spanish). I only remember a couple of the titles (like El Conde Lucanor, Corazon, Como Surgieron Los Seres y Las Cosas, Cuentos Picarescos Para Ninos de Latinoamerica, and El Principito), but I still have a few of them at home, now sitting in my son’s library, ready for when he’s old enough to read them. When I was a bit older, I remember reading many Alexander Dumas books, in particular The Three Musketeers and others in that series (or would those be sequels?). Adventures took me by the hand and let me enter other worlds, times. I was fascinated with the power of the written word to transport me from my mundane reality into another, more exciting one.

Now that I’m taking this Children’s Writing workshop, more titles of books I read as a child and young adult are coming back to me, books in popular series like Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley High, Babysitter’s Club, Nancy Drew, Choose Your Own Adventure. I remember going to the bookstore, anxious to see what new book I could read. I read Edgar Allan Poe tailored for children; I read all the books assigned in my English classes, even Shakespeare. I read the classics and popular fiction alike; I didn’t discriminate. A good book was one that could grab my attention and hold it until I turned the last page, coming back for air.

What I don’t remember are half-naked people or sexual contexts on the covers of books.

I took a stroll through my local Barnes & Noble, leafing through books by age group. I looked at covers, meandered through the aisles, enthralled by the scent of books and coffee. (Coincidentally and unrelated, while I think eReaders are cool, they don’t beat the act of picking up a real book, opening it up and inhaling that scent of paper and ink, feeling the pages between my fingers. Nothing beats that! But that’s a story for another time). Well, my spell started fading when I reached some of the middle-grade books, and it vanished completely when I reached the teen lit area. If there’s any proof that today’s youth is being immersed in the world of adults at a much younger age, it’s in the book covers!

Now I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (pun and cliché intended!) but really, what are we telling our youth? I don’t think I’m that far removed not to remember the curiosities and obsessions with love, sex (and rock and roll?), but it just seemed, I don’t know – a different world in the world of teen lit. As an adult, the only teen lit that I’ve read is the Harry Potter series and the Twilight series. And I have to say that Twilight, though sexualized more in the movies, really wasn’t as bad as what some of the other books seemed by their covers.

Maybe I’m just too old to understand now. And if that’s so, god help me when my son is a teenager!

Am I the only one who thinks this?

Growing Up

Lately, my three-year-old son has become obsessed with growing up. It’s not the simple obsession of “My birthday’s coming up” or “I’m getting older.” No, he wants to be a grown-up “like mommy and daddy.”I’m certainly not ready for that yet. I’m still mourning the infant and the baby as he’s now an active, rowdy, funny kid. There’s not much baby left in him yet.

Yet the delicate balance between dependence and independence is such a wondrous phenomena, especially in children. They year to do things themselves (we constantly hear in our home: “No, I do it myself!”) but at the same time, they don’t want mom or dad to be too far away (we still get tears and sobs, with little arms clung to my legs and his sad voice begging “Mommy, don’t go. I want to stay home with you.”) At each stage, my heart melts and breaks, becoming an indefinite form of mush. At night, when he sleeps, I can only pray, God, please keep him safe always.

Last night, we were reading I Love You Forever, a children’s book about a mother’s love as her child grows up, through each stage, until the mother herself is old, frail, sick, and the roles reverse. It’s a beautiful book (though some find it creepy as the mother creeps into her child’s home to hold him, rock him, and sing to him – I take it figuratively), though I can hardly ever finish the book without a lump tugging and threatening to bring on the waterworks. So I don’t read it to him too often. Last night, when we got to the part of the teenager now grown into a man and leaving home, we have the following conversation:

Him: Mommy, why is the boy leaving his house?
Me: Because he’s a grown-up now, and grown-ups don’t live with their mommies and daddies.
Him: Why?
Me: Because they have their own houses and families.
Him: (pause, then eyebrows bunch up, head tilts back) I don’t want to be a grown-up anymore.

We followed this conversation in the morning, on our way to school.

Him: Mommy, I want to be a grown-up.
Me: But then you won’t live with mommy and daddy anymore.
Him: But I want to live with you! (his eyes were starting to shine)
Me: Me, too, baby. I want you to live with us for a very long time. That’s why I’m not ready for you to be a grown-up yet.
Him: Okay.

I know he’ll be a grown-up soon enough. Before I know it (or like Kenny Chesney’s song says, as I blink), he’ll be that teenager going off to college, getting married, having kids. And I’m so not ready for that yet. I don’t know if I’ll ever be, but he’s already growing up way too fast and I’m afraid I’m blinking too much. He’s going to be four this summer; he’s starting Pre-K in Aug. Next year, he’ll be in Kindergarten. Yet, I feel as if I just brought him home from the hospital yesterday, cuddled him in my arms, nursed him, sat mesmerized by his gummy smile.

It’s bittersweet indeed.