Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New Year's Writer's Goals

Well, the year is just about over. Each year seems to go by faster than the last one. Time to set new goals as a writer. Looking over the soon-to-be-over-2010 list, I seem to have the same goals for the coming one: write and read more in different genres, polish unfinished manuscripts, submit them to publishers on a regular basis, journal, nurture myself as a writer, attend at least one writer’s conference or workshop, value my writer friends, keep the hope up, never give up. Of course, I don’t always get to do everything on the list, but I try.

 My shelves are full of writer’s books, which I really find helpful. One of my favorites, which I plan to read again is The Writer’s Book of Hope by Ralph Keyes. It’s uplifting and inspirational. I want to start the year off right by rereading this one.

Some sentences I highlighted: “Some aspiring writers give the impression that they’re looking for a ‘key,’ some wisdom known only to insiders on how to write and get published. There is none. The only key is persistence and knowing what you’re about.” Another one: “The struggle is part of the process.” And another: “Good writers think nothing of revising a manuscript dozens of times, if necessary.”

A writer friend emailed me that one of her New Year’s resolutions is to not get on the Internet or check emails until late in the afternoon. She’s reserving the morning for writing only. That is discipline. Carve out time for writing and stick to it. I read somewhere that if a writer writes one page per day, she/he will have written a novel by the end of the year. Some of us don’t have the time with our busy lives, but we can still devote at least 15-30 minutes a day to writing. A very good habit to form is to set up a schedule for the week and abide by it.

So for 2011, I shall be persistent in my writing and never give up hope. What are your goals?

Wishing you great writing days and a Happy New Year!

“I am still encouraged to go on. I wouldn’t know where else to go.” – E.B. White

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas stories

Like I do every year around this time, I like to read Christmas stories from two books that my writer friends (who contributed to stories in the books) gave me a couple of years ago. Some stories are nostalgic, some are humorous, others are a little sad but with hope at the end. Always with hope at the end. The stories are uplifting and inspirational. Every morning I read at least two stories from each book.

Maybe you have a story or two that you’ve been meaning to send to publishers who publish anthologies. That is a great way for a writer to break into the business and get a byline. Not only will readers enjoy reading your story, but you’ll have the satisfaction of seeing your name in print. Make it a goal next year to submit your manuscripts to magazines, book anthologies, newspaper articles, as well as to book publishers. I might just be reading your story next Christmas.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Writing Slow

Waiting for an appointment today, I continued reading the book, Chapter after Chapter, by Heather Sellers. The page I was on seemed to be just what I needed to read. You see, during a critique of my latest manuscript, some feedback was that the last few chapters seemed “rushed.” Hmm… After rereading, I had to agree. How did this happen? Well, according to Sellers’ fifth chapter, “Slow is Fearless,” she points out that sometimes when we’re anxious or nervous about deadlines, the amount of time it’s taking to write a book, or the fear that we have nothing to say, we tend to “speed up.” These are just a few of the reasons. She brings up several others.

But “… writing too fast, wanting too much too soon, is writing scared,” she writes. “Writing books is, and should be, really slow. The great books are still around – just like the great recipes, the great songs, the great trees – because they took a long time to develop.”

I think the word “develop” is the key here. It took me a long time to develop my skill in sewing. In the beginning, I ripped out seams, time and again, because I knew they were not right. But I stuck with it because I loved it. I took it slow, started to enjoy it, and finally became proficient in sewing. “Time-soaked writing is good writing,” Sellers writes. “Slow is good for the alchemy – the rise — of words and ideas and imagination and emotion.”

My cookies for Cookie Exchange Party
So I need to go back and take my time with those chapters that seemed “rushed.” Take a deep breath, take it slow, enjoy the process, and it will all come together.

Cookie Spread - Yum! Yum!

Wishing you a Joyous Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Writers' Retreat

I was reflecting on a trip I took several years ago to a writers’ retreat in Pennsylvania. It was around this time of year that I spent a week secluded in a cabin surrounded by hundreds of trees and a nearby creek. It was cold when I arrived and some snow was on the ground. There were about a dozen other cabins for the other writers attending. We met each morning in the “big” house down the pathway where we had scrumptious breakfasts and settled down in the cozy living room to start our day.

Cabins in the woods
There were eight of us plus three faculty and for the next six days, we immersed ourselves in writing, making new friends, reflecting, experiencing great conversation at dinner every night, and joining in critique sessions. We came from all over the country and wrote in different genres. The faculty members gave us excellent guidance in the writing process. It was a writer's dream. I kept a journal while there. Here is an excerpt from the first day.

My Cabin
It’s cold here but the sun is out and remnants of powdered snow still blanket the ground. Glad I brought my boots. My one-room cabin is nestled in a wooded area. The window in the cabin faces hundreds of huge trees. They stand firm and tall letting the sun filter through. A few orange leaves still cling stubbornly to some trees as if not wanting to yield to the coming winter cold. The small cabin creaks as the wind hits the walls. I like that the cabin has a tiny porch and a rocking chair where I can sit and take in the beautiful scenery. The radio is playing Christmas carols, but the reception is coming in with a lot of static. We’re out in the boonies; no cell phone service here. A few yards away are the other writers’ cabins. Can hardly wait for tomorrow to start the writers’ workshop.

My porch and rocking chair
After that week was over, I was more focused on where my story was going. I had a clearer map of the storyline. I listened and I learned. I had been experiencing doubts about my writing, but after that week, I felt validated. It was great being among experienced faculty and writers passionate about their work. If you ever get a chance to attend such a retreat, do so. We need to nurture ourselves as writers when we get the opportunity. For me, it was an inspirational experience I remember to this day.

"The most important thing you can bring with you to a writers' conference (workshop) is an open and alert mind, ready and willing to listen and learn. Take advantage of every opportunity the conference/workshop offers." --  Writer's Digest Weekly Planner

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Writer's Inspiration

In between wrapping Christmas presents and getting ready for the holidays, I’m trying to squeeze in some reading whenever I get a chance. The other day while at the dentist, I reread a few pages from the book, Chapter after Chapter, by Heather Sellers. I remember reading it a while back and really getting inspired to write. The second time around, I felt the same way. Not only does the author offer writing tips but she offers inspiration along the journey of writing a book.

In her introduction, she notes: “… Creating a book-length work is a whole thing unto itself, with quirks and lessons and challenges not found in any other endeavor. This book hopes to light the path, at least a little, so you can see what’s up ahead and prepare accordingly.”

Annual Christmas Cookie Exchange Party
Another form of inspiration for me are images and photos. I’ve gotten some ideas for stories from pictures and newspaper articles. In fact, my latest book, The Battle of the Snow Cones, was inspired by a photo in the local paper. If you’re always taking pictures like I am as you can see by my blog, here’s an interesting article, “Writers, Keep Your Camera Ready,” by Christine Collier, on how to make those photos work for you as a writer. Scan your local paper for ideas. I’ll bet there’s a ton of stories out there.

“A relaxed mind is an open mind, and an open mind is prepared to accept new and creative ideas. Remind yourself to enjoy the craft.” – Writer’s Digest Weekly Planner

Monday, November 29, 2010

Writer's Goals

Trying to get back into the routine of writing is pretty hard after the Thanksgiving holiday. With all the hustle and bustle of family and friends, it takes a while to get back to the PC and pick up where you left off on your manuscript. But that’s exactly what I’m doing. I don’t want to lose too much momentum here.

I’m also thinking ahead to 2011. What are my writing goals for next year? It’s not too early to start planning. The year is almost gone. Where did it go? Is time flying fast for you too? Have you met some of the goals you set at the beginning of the year? I know I haven’t. As the months go by, we tend to forget the enthusiasm we felt around the New Year – all kinds of expectations about where our writing will take us.

Have we pitched those stories we were going to pitch? Have we done our market research? Have we finished that story that needs to be finished? I’ve done a lot of things so far, but I still have a long way to go. Right now I’m trying to squeeze some reading in too. But I’m working on time management as well. Go back and revisit that list that you started at the beginning of the year. It feels good to check off a few off the list.

Santa Fe
 "The scariest moment is always just before you start." - Stephen King (On Writing)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Book Journey

Well, the book signing was a great success! I had so much fun seeing friends and family show up for this event. I did a short presentation of how a book is born, from idea to final publication. Had a brief question-and-answer session, then on to signing books. Lots of pictures taken. The community relations manager at Barnes & Noble was fantastic. Had everything arranged very nicely for the book signing and made me, the author, feel special. I really appreciate that.

Before the launching of a book, the author has to do some leg work to start promoting the book. Nowadays, most publishers have limited budgets and so they are glad when the author is out there presenting the book before the public. Way in advance, the author should be making plans for the promotion, i.e., having a list of invitees for the book signing, collaborating with the book stores on schedules, promoting on websites and blogs, book reviews, school visits, word of mouth, etc. A launching is very exciting because your book is finally finished but the journey is just beginning.

Many thanks for the support from family, friends, and fellow writers.

"The hand of the artist, a little stained with paint around fingernails, must be seen. The voice of the writer, passionate and idiosyncratic, must be heard. And whether it is through adventure or humor or pathos, the story and pictures must always touch the heart." -- Rosemary Wells

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Writing Spark

Do you ever lose the spark for writing? There are days and there are days for me. Sometimes I’m really enthused about whatever it is I’m writing about. Other days, it just isn’t happening. Nathan Bransford, has interesting comments on his blog forum about what happens when you lose that spark in writing and how some writers cope with it.

Which brings me to a couple of days ago when I was feeling guilty for not wanting to write but instead wanting to visit one of our local museums or missions. A waste of time away from writing, I thought. But then I read YA author Veronica Roth’s blog and changed my mind. As soon as I can, I am taking a special day off and will browse those historical places in town that I love. I believe it will make me a better writer.

Roth’s blog sort of connects with the same topic of losing that spark. That’s why I listed it here. She writes, “I am learning that you cannot write well if you are not engaged with the world. The writing mind is like an ice cream maker. It will always produce ice cream, but unless you intervene, that ice cream will always be vanilla. You have to acquire new ingredients if you want to make the ice cream taste like something else, or have an interesting texture.”

Have a great Thanksgiving!
"Nothing one ever experiences or feels is wasted." -- Lynne Reid Banks

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Opportunity for Writing

Remember that blog a few days ago when I mentioned being distracted from my writing by a squirrel on my neighbor's roof right outside my window? I had to laugh when I read the following article, “Squirrels in the Attic,” by Ruth Schiffman from the Institute of Children’s Literature online newsletter. In it, she mentions squirrels in her attic and how she turned this into an opportunity for writing. Read it and I'm sure you’ll think it’s funny too.

I kind of did the same thing one day when a woodpecker made holes in my neighbor's wooden chimney and then came over and pecked, pecked, pecked on the side of my house. It was irritating. This went on for days.The woodpecker (I named him Oscar) would visit early in the morning, waking me up with all the noise. I ended up writing a short children’s story about Oscar making him the main character. The reason I did that is because Oscar had an "attitude." One day I went outside and actually took his picture while he pecked on the wood. It didn't faze him. He looked at me and went back to his pecking. I filed the story in my “someday go back and revise” folder. Come to think of it, I might just take it out right now and have a look. Ms. Schiffman has motivated me to do just that. Yea!

River Walk
“I dive into a story the way I dive into the sea, prepared to splash about and make merry.” – E.B. White

Thursday, November 4, 2010


I was talking to a lady last week who told me she’s always wanted to write but is afraid of critiques. Why? I asked. “Because I can’t take it,” was her reply. “I can’t stand being told it’s not good or something.” Which brings me to an article I just read in the September 2010 issue of Writer’s Digest, “Develop a Thick Skin,” by Steve Almond and Sheila Bender. Part of the article reads, “You have to recognize criticism and rejection as a necessary step in the process . . . you have an obligation to recognize in these disappointments the seeds of your own improvement. Because if you can’t accept your failures at the keyboard … you simply won’t get any better.”

If the dynamics of a critique group are right, I think being in one is of immense value. I found a good blog, Right-Writing, that offers tips on how to find and join a critique group. Written by editor/writer, Terry Whalin, he offers advice on how to organize a critique meeting, how to critique one another’s work, whether fiction or nonfiction, and what are the advantages of joining such a group. I highly recommend being in a critique group. It will enhance your writing skills and make you lasting friendships.

"I always yield to the inevitability of events in my novels even when it causes me to shift course, toss away pages and notes and make sudden revisions." -- Robert Cormier

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Novel

A Novel

I found literary agent for Curtis Brown Nathan Bransford’s blog on “How to Write a Novel,” super helpful. If you’re planning to write a novel or if you are in the middle of one, this is a good link. He addresses Main Plot Arc and how to start and end it. He writes about the protagonist, about setting “… it’s more than just where your novel takes place …. ” and addresses Style and Voice, “ … your own personal style is nothing like anyone else’s …” He then closes with the Climax and, of course, Revision.

Another blog that I enjoyed was the Looking Glass Review. It’s loaded with information on book reviews, author profiles, numerous authors’ websites, award-winning books, and so on. Take a peek and you’ll agree.

Best of luck on that novel that you’re writing right now and the one you’re planning to start. The beautiful tiled mural below is in the Sunset Valley library where I did a school visit two weeks ago.

Mural - Sunset Valley Elementary

“Be bold! Be aware and appreciative of differences for it is said: ‘He who thinks all fruit ripens at the same time as the fig has never tasted grapes.’” – Mildred Pitts Walter

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Writing Day

I am sitting at my PC, writing and revising several chapters in the middle-grade historical fiction that I’ve been working on for a while. I get distracted now and then. For instance, through the window in my office, I just saw a squirrel scampering across my neighbor’s rooftop next door. Hope it doesn’t get into their attic. They had quite a problem a while back with squirrels who became squatters. No respect, I tell you. Then there was the woodpecker who poked holes in my other neighbor’s wooden chimney. And the raccoon who chewed up my chimney. I kid you not. Left a big hole. Don’t get me started…

Back to writing. I’m trying to allow my imagination to soar with my characters. Talk to me, I keep repeating. What would you do in this case? How would you react? A scene is like a mini-story, I remind myself. Beginning, middle, end. Those three words just triggered my memory. I have a book by that title.

I'm hoping my words will flow and I will have an “aha” moment. Sometimes it happens; sometimes not. Regardless, I will stay glued to my chair. Self-discipline. Perseverance. Writers learn that quickly. Inspiration doesn’t come just because you’re sitting in front of your PC. You have to work at it. And I am trying. Now if that squirrel would only go away … so easy to get distracted.

But just in case, I am going to refresh my memory a bit by referring to one of my books on writing, the one I mentioned above, Beginnings, Middles & Ends by Nancy Kress. I recommend this book highly. I’ve highlighted some excellent writing tips and will go over them to get unstuck and continue with my novel. Keeping a small library of these types of books comes in handy.

"The feeling for words, the driving need to tell a story, the love of characters who constantly inhabit your mind waiting to be born, these are the inherent things that make us writers." -- Eve Bunting

Friday, October 22, 2010

Unexpected surprise!

I was taking a picture of the Texas Capitol building while at the Texas Book Festival last Saturday when something caught my eye. It was right on the bench behind me. I went over and took a look. No one else was around. Where was its owner? Should I take it? What if someone saw me? Was this like candid camera or something? Maybe it was a joke. I started to walk away.

Texas Capitol Building
 But I couldn’t leave it there. What if it rained later and it got all wet? What if someone threw it away? I would never forgive myself. I turned right around. I sat next to it. Slowly and with a little hesitation, I reached over and touched it. Then I picked it up. I opened it! I laughed out loud and shook my head in amazement. A “traveling book.” At first, I had no idea what a traveling book was until I read what was written on the label inside the cover:

I’m a very special book. You see, I’m traveling around the world making new friends. I hope I’ve made another one in you. If so, please go to www.bookcrossing.com, where you can make a brief journey entry with my BCID number (below). You will see where I’ve been, and my old friends will be happy to know I’m safe here in your hands. Then help keep my dream alive – READ & RELEASE me!”

I’m convinced the “traveling book” found me. You see, being the book lover that I am, it knew it would be safe in my hands. The title of the book? Middlesex written by Jeffrey Eugenides. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the Ambassador Book Award. It has been featured in Oprah’s Book Club.

That was my unexpected surprise! How often do you find a book right out in the open? I am anxious to find out the journey of this book. According to the label, it was last picked up in Colorado. I will soon release it and send it on its way placing it somewhere where hopefully another book lover will find it as well. What a novel idea!

"To this day, I don't sit down and say, I'm writing a novel. That would terrify me! Novels are long and complicated and I don't know how anyone ever writes one! No, I sit down and say I'm writing a story, and today I'm going to write either two pages, or one scene, whichever comes first!" -- Linda Sue Park

Monday, October 18, 2010

A day at the Texas Book Festival

What a day! The weather was perfect as hundreds of people milled around buying books, listening to authors’ readings, getting their books autographed, and just enjoying a day of books, books, books. I’m referring to this past weekend and the Texas Book Festival. The beautiful grounds surrounding the Capitol Building in Austin had children running up and down some of the hilly mounds, slurping snow cones, and coming in for storytime from some of the children’s book authors, including myself.

How awesome that as I was reading my latest book, The Battle of the Snow Cones, there was a snow cone stand right next to the tent. So appropriate. So who did I sit next to this time at the booksigning tent? I was sandwiched in between three-time Caldecott winner writer/illustrator David Wiesner and children’s book author Monica Brown. Mr. Wiesner was just leaving as I got there and Ms. Brown had just arrived as I was leaving. So I didn’t really get to meet with them although I did introduce myself to Ms. Brown who was most gracious. See what I mean when you get to do the Texas Book Festival? You meet all sorts of famous people. I did catch Wiesner’s book reading. Fantastic, of course.

For book lovers everywhere, this was an afternoon made just for them.  


Snow Cone Stand

Texas Book Festival
 "Surprise is what keeps readers turning the pages and writers filling them up." -- James Howe

Friday, October 15, 2010

Texas Book Festival

I am excited and looking forward to participating at the Texas Book Festival in Austin this weekend. This will be my second time around. When my first book, Lupita’s Papalote, came out, I was invited to do a reading and signing. It was thrilling for me. After my reading, I was escorted to another tent for booksigning. Guess who I sat next to? None other than Louis Sachar of Holes, the book which won the 1999 Newbery Award and was later made into a movie. His line of admiring fans snaked around the block while mine was pitifully short. But I got beyond that and just enjoyed watching the hundreds of book lovers browsing and talking to famous writers. I too went around and bought books and got them autographed. I was in awe of the whole event. Going there for the second time is just as thrilling as the first. Hmm… I wonder who I’ll be sitting next to this time.

"If a writer isn't a reader, he's in the wrong profession." -- Marion Dane Bauer

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Social media

Nowadays almost everyone has a Website, a Blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc., account. According to what I heard at the SCBWI-LA conference last summer, editors, agents, and publishers google writers and illustrators to find out more about them. How savvy are you on this type of social media? I’m just starting to learn the ropes. For starters, start with a Website or a blog or both.

An interesting article, Got Fans?, by social media consultant and children's book writer, Jenn Bailey of the Institute of Children’s Literature, mentions that “with social media people like to connect, communicate, and belong … Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, are like a virtual front porch.” For an interesting read on this topic, click on her link above where she gives reasons for getting on the social media platform.

Aguas Frescas at El Mercado
"Take out another notebook, pick up another pen, and just write, just write, just write. In the middle of the world, make one positive step. In the centre of chaos, make one definitive act. Just write. Say yes, stay alive, be awake. Just write. Just write. Just write."-- Natalie Goldberg

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Book review

I got a really pleasant surprise today - a book review of my book, The Battle of the Snow Cones, by Latina Lista Book Reviews. This brings me to the topic of book reviews. I posted a blog on this subject a while back. Some of you probably already read it, but I am posting it again in case some of you have not. Book reviewing is another interesting, important part of the writing/publishing process.

When I worked as a staff writer for a local paper, I occasionally did book reviews. Although I think I did an honest evaluation of the books I read for review, I wish I had read this article in Book Reviews  back then. In reviewing a book, you’re being asked for your opinion and criticism. How do you do that? There’s critical thinking involved.

Book reviews: What is the premise of the book? Does the author deliver on that premise? What’s your analysis and take on the book? I’m not an expert on this subject, but I tried to be as thorough and honest as I could with the books I was given to review. I often thought about the authors of the books and how they reacted to the reviews.

“Try to present a balanced argument about the value of the book for its audience.” That is what the online article mentioned in Book Reviews states. If you’ve ever thought about doing book reviews, visit that site.

Pinatas on the roadside.
“A good picture book begins with delight, ends with wisdom, humor, warmth, or love, and means more than it says.” – Barbara Williams

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Keep Writing

A few blogs ago, I mentioned “rejections.” We all get them at one time or another and get over them eventually. But when we first see that rejection via email or snail mail, we wince, feel disappointed, rejected, hurt, and ready to give up. So when I read Ingrid’s Notes’ blog on Rejection Rocks, it made me feel a lot better knowing I am not alone. Famous writers have been rejected many times as well. I think you’ll enjoy reading about it in her blog, not being rejected, but persevering and forging ahead. 

One of those writers originally rejected many times (nine years of manuscript rejections) was Gail Carson Levine of Ella Enchanted (a 1998 Newbery Honor book) – her first, can you imagine? I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Levine at last summer’s SCBWI-LA conference. Not only was she an inspirational speaker, but she had her audience in stitches with her humorous anecdotes.

By the way, a non-fiction piece that I sent out to a magazine nine months ago was originally rejected. A few days ago, I received word that it has been accepted for publication. So there you go. Never give up! Keep writing!

"I don't necessarily start with the beginning of the book. I just start with the part of the story that's most vivid in my imagination and work forward and backward from there." – Beverly Cleary

Friday, September 24, 2010

Illustrators - Editor's Day

I mentioned Editor's Day in my previous blog. Writer/illustrator Carolyn Flores' blog elaborates a bit more on this event, especially from the illustrator's point of view. One of the highlights of that day was the portfolio display by many of our area illustrators. There is so much talent as evidenced by what we saw in those portfolios. 

Rio Grande Valley

I have been writing this morning and took a break to reread some of the passages in the book, Bird by Bird written by Anne Lamott. Some of the phrases, which I had highlighted: "... to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame.  - ... to pick up the one-inch picture frame and to figure out a one-inch piece of my story to tell, one small scene, one memory, one exchange."

Sometimes when I'm writing and I feel overwhelmed, I take Lamott's advice --  piece by piece, bird by bird.  

"It is not remembering the incidents that took place when you were young that enables you to write for young people; it is remembering the emotions that accompanied those incidents." -- Sue Alexander

Monday, September 20, 2010

Editor's Day

This past weekend we had our regional SCBWI Editor’s Day. Writers and illustrators from San Antonio, Austin, Houston, McAllen, and other surrounding cities attended. Sarah Shumway, senior editor from Harper Collins Children's Books and Julie Ham, editorial assistant from Charlesbridge, presented talks that kept us glued to our seats. They spoke to us about character and voice and provided information on their submission and acquisition process. They also critiqued manuscripts.

Our keynote speaker, award-winning poet and writer, Dr. Carmen Tafolla, inspired us to forge forward in our writing. She spoke about her own journey to becoming a writer and conducted a brief workshop that had everyone in the audience writing. Art Avila, of Raining Popcorn Media, and Illustrator Heather Powers conducted workshops for the illustrators. It was quite a weekend indeed.   
Julie Ham, Moderator Peggy Caravantes, and Sarah Shumway

Ruiz-Flores and Dr. Carmen Tafolla

San Antonio RiverWalk

At the end of the day, the editors were treated to a Mexican dinner on the San Antonio RiverWalk.

"What I do with my books is to create windows to my world that all may peer into. I share the images, the feelings and thoughts, and I hope, the delight." -- Walter Dean Myers 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Avoiding Pitfalls

We all value our time and want to be productive in our writing, right? But sometimes we get a little discouraged or sidetrackeded along the way or we lose sight of our goals. Very easy to do. Writer’s Digest blogger Sage Cohen writes about the “Top 10 Productivity Pitfalls for Writers to Avoid,” in a recent online article. One of the pitfalls he mentions is not having a “clear big-picture vision.” Another one is fear. Lack of short-term goals is also on the list. I think some of us have been been guilty of one of these at one time or another. But that doesn't last long. Then we get inspired to move on and we do. We learn to avoid those pitfalls and get back to what we love to do and that is to WRITE!. Do not give up! Keep on writing! 

"However readers make a book theirs, the end is that book and reader become one." -- Alberto Manguel from his book A History of Reading (1996)

Friday, September 10, 2010


If you’ve ever had problems with writing dialogue, here is a blog that might help you. Author and literary agent for Curtis Brown Agency, Nathan Bransford, blogs on this topic in his online article, “Seven Keys to Writing Good Dialogue.” “Good dialogue has a purpose and builds toward something,” he writes. Visit the link to learn more.

Sometime ago I had the pleasure of meeting author Pam Munoz Ryan at the Highlights Foundation writing workshop at Chautauqua. As a guest blogger on TeachingBooks.net, she talks about the writing process. Esperanza Rising and Becoming Naomi Leon are two of my favorite books written by Ms. Munoz Ryan. Her latest, The Dreamer, is also exceptional. Read about her insights on the writing process in the link above.
Ruiz-Flores and Pam Munoz Ryan
People often ask, ‘How do you start a book?’ Well, I’ve always started this way … Chapter 1.” – Paula Danziger

Monday, September 6, 2010

On Writing

If you like to write for children but are a little confused about the word count and all the genres out there, here is a good article defining what is what. Blogger Brian A. Klems of Writers’ Digest online magazine explains the different categories in his brief article, "Questions and Quandaries – Writing for Kids."
Santa Fe
Just finished reading two wonderful books. The first one, On Writing for Children & Other People by Julius Lester (1969 Newbery Honor for To Be a Slave) was both inspirational and shares the storytelling experience. The other one, What’s Your Story? by Marion Dane Bauer (1987 Newbery Honor for On My Honor) offers practical advice from the first step in starting a story to the final step of polishing. I met Ms. Bauer at the SCBWI-LA conference where she autographed my book. She offers more writing tips on her Website.

"To do without tales and stories and books is to lose humanity's past, is to have no star map for our future." -- Jane Yolen

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


I know the SCBWI-LA conference is already one month old, but I’m providing this link to their official blog. The comments and pictures give an insight of what went on during the conference. It’s worth taking a look at this. I also mentioned in a previous post about the Latina panel at the conference and the topic of multicultural books. Ingrid Law’s blog goes into much greater detail where she interviewed all three Latina authors, Jennifer Cervantes, Christina Diaz Gonzalez, and Guadalupe Garcia McCall. As I am in the middle of writing a multicultural middle-grade story, I find this most interesting. 
Cervantes, Ruiz-Flores, Gonzalez

I met with my critique group yesterday and today am busy revising the chapter I presented. I’m still amazed at how each one of us brings something totally different to the table and each provides good constructive feedback. I am blessed to be in such a great group of writer friends.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Getty Museum and Texas Book Festival

On tram to Getty Museum
While attending the SCBWI-LA conference at the start of this month, I took a side trip to the Getty Museum and I’m glad I did. Not only was the place awesome, but being surrounded by the art of world-famous painters was a thrill I will not soon forget. It was exciting to see Van Gogh’s “Irises” up close for one. Once we got on the grounds of the Getty, we took a tram up to the museum itself, which is on a hill overlooking Los Angeles. The view from up there was amazing. There was so much to see but not enough time. We spent several hours there but then had to head back to the hotel for the next day's conference. Going to the Getty was an inspiration in itself. If you ever get the chance to visit there, do it.

Getty Museum
Van Gogh's "Irises"
It’s always an honor for me when I’m invited to be part of the annual Texas Book Festival in Austin. This will be my second time there and I am so looking forward to it. Hundreds of books and hundreds of authors! What better way to spend a weekend. The event will be held on October 16-17.

"Why does anybody tell a story? It does indeed have something to do with faith, faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically." -- Madeleine L'Engle, Walking on Water

Monday, August 23, 2010

Battle of the Snow Cones

It’s here! Over the weekend, I got the first copy of my next bilingual picture story book, The Battle of the Snow Cones, illustrated by Alisha Gambino. We write the stories but it's the illustrators who bring them to life. Ms. Gambino did an awesome job with her vision of the book and the colors and textures she brought to each page. It is now "our book," a collaboration between writer and illustrator. Thanks, Alisha.
It’s always a thrill when you actually hold the hard copy in your hands. I know I’m going to have a great time doing school visits with this book because it’s a fun book, funny and whimsical. I had such fun writing this. As writers, we are told to think “outside the box.” Well, I really let my imagination go with this book.

‘Embrace your own eccentricity. Look for new ways to see.” These were some of the comments by some of the guest speakers at the SCBWI-LA conference. “Empower kids,” was another one. “Think of a book as a friend that kids will like to visit,” we were told. I hope my book is one that kids will visit again and again.

The topic of one of the workshops I attended was “The Ultimate Checklist for Submitting to Editors” conducted by Deborah Halverson, award-winning author and editor. I took so many notes on this one because she covered in great detail the ten steps or tests a novel must pass to prove it’s ready for submission. She will cover most of these in her upcoming book, Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies (yes, the yellow one). It’s due out in June 2011. I plan to get it. Although I cannot go into great detail, here are some of her suggestions in brief:

1. Use dynamic action words to reveal your character’s mood/personality.
2. Twist & drop test. Take your character from the final chapter of the book and drop him in the first scene of the book. He should behave differently (if he’s grown).
3. CIP test (catalogue, identification, publication). Test for one-line hook. Look at Library of Congress hooks in books.
4. Look for escalation/movement of the plot.
5. Dialogue test. Use highlighter. Plot flats that are in your dialogue.
6. Check the As’s. These are too passive. FIX: Make it more active.
7. Setting – sense of place. Use setting to act upon your character or have character act upon the setting. It reveals emotions.
8. The word “so” is too melodramatic. No real reason for it.
9. Show not tell. Scan for direct feelings.
10. Eagle eyes. Proofread. Print and read your manuscript like a book.

By the way, to read the book description of The Battle of the Snow Cones and to preorder, click on amazon. The book will be in bookstores by November.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Multicultural Middle Grade Books

One of the workshops I attended at the SCBWI-LA conference was hosted by three Latina writers, Jennifer Cervantes, Christina Diaz Gonzalez, and Guadalupe Garcia McCall. The topic was multiculturalism. According to this panel, multicultural is a buzz word now. Young Hispanics want to see their contemporary culture in books, the panel noted. The readership in this genre is growing in numbers. It was an excellent session with great information on writing for this genre. I bought and read Cervantes’ book, Tortilla Sun, and Gonzalez’ book, The Red Umbrella. Both were amazing reads, which I really enjoyed. McCall’s book, Under the Mesquite, comes out in the fall. All three are middle grade novels.

Gonzalez, McCall, Cervantes

Author Marion Dane Bauer, one of the keynote speakers, spoke about the struggles we have in life and how that can lead to a story. “In writing your story,” she said, “Discover your own personal truth.”

Bauer and Ruiz-Flores

Author and illustrator, Ashley Bryan, another keynote speaker, inspired us with his poetry. Some of his comments during his speech: “Open up the spirit of play. Find the spirit of play in voice. Try to bring the words alive. In reading your book, the reader should feel the storyteller.”

Ashley Bryan

Before returning home, I took a side trip to New Mexico. Now I'm in the middle of unpacking the heavy suitcase loaded with books I bought at the LA conference. Time to get back to my writing and trying to digest all that I learned at the conference. Happy writing!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pet Peeves and Other Comments

Back to the SCBWI-LA conference and some pet peeves and comments that editors on a panel spoke about.

Submissions and guidelines - Some writers do not follow follow publishers' guidelines.
Packages sent in by some writers are not professional (especially the synopsis).
Some writers do not do their market research and have no idea what is out there. Is what the writer sending in tie in with something else already out there? Is it unique? Tell how.
Some query letters that come in have no personality. Editors want to see who the author is on that page. Put some of yourself into the letter.
Slush pile - Nowadays, most editors only respond if interested.
The relationship between the editor and the author is a big part of the process.
Voice is what a lot of editors look for. A good hook and a great plot as well.
Before sending in submissions, research, research, research the market.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

More SCBWI-LA notes

"Be a storyteller. In print. In visuals. Write what thrills you. Use surprise in your writing in familiar surroundings. Write books that take us away from what we expect. Embrace your own eccentricity. Look for new ways to see. Empower kids."  These were all comments from some publishers who spoke about the writing process.

Some things we've heard many times before at these conferences but are worth repeating: Be authentic to your voice. Draw from your own experience. If writing a series, can your idea carry through several books? A friendship story never goes out of style. What do editors look for? Voice and plot were at the top of the list. A great hook. "One that I can wrap my hand around," one editor said. Likeable characters was also mentioned.

Need inspiration for your story? Look for inspiration in many different places like movies, art museums, TV, news articles, big anniversaries, i.e., Titanic, and radio programs like NPR. What are people talking about? These are just some of the comments/notes I picked up at the SCBWI-LA conference. Next time: pet peeves.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

SCBWI-LA Illustrator Comments

One of the attendees, Illustrator Carolyn Dee Flores, posted on the SCBWI blog about the conference.
Carolyn Dee Flores said...

"I heard it through the grapevine that Diane Muldrow’s 'Creating the Picture Book: Master Class' filled up within 15 minutes after registration opened and I know why. It was the best, most relevant workshop I have ever attended.

We learned:

- Write the whole picture book, and not just text to be handed over to the illustrator.
- Clarity of vision and meticulous attention to every aspect of the picture book art form is essential.
- NEVER hand in a manuscript unless it is completely professional.
- Map out your manuscript visually. Include details like correct placement of text for maximum impact and whether or not to have a spread or single page illustration. And this is EVEN IF YOU ARE THE WRITER.
- The picture book format is specific. Know it.

I feel very lucky to have been in this class. It was an experience I will never forget. Only complaint – not enough time. Maybe next time the workshop could be extended to an hour and a half a day. Thank you to Diane Muldrow, as well as to all of my talented classmates."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

SCBWI-LA Conference

I'm back!  Just returned from the SCBWI-LA conference and am amazed at how much I learn each time I attend. Over 1300 writers and illustrators attended the conference. The workshops were fantastic and the keynote speakers were so inspirational. I took so many notes and collected so many business cards that I'm having to take time to sort it all out. Once I do that, I will post some of the comments from the speakers, publishers, editors, and agents that I think are of interest to writers like us. Met some writers from as far away as the Netherlands, Australia, and Hong Kong. Renewed friendships with other writers I had met before but hadn't seen in a while.

The portfolios displayed by the illustrators in attendance were outstanding. So much talent gathered in one place.

Took a side trip to the Getty Museum while there. Awesome. Once I catch my breath, I will post some pictures as well. Happy writing.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


I like to watch Book-TV on C-SPAN 2 when they have segments on authors and their writing habits. I just finished watching author and historian, James McPherson, whose book, Battle Cry of Freedom, won him the Pulitzer Prize. He’s written tons of other books as well. He had some interesting things to say. First of all, I found it fascinating that he stills prefers to type his longer pieces on an Olympia electric typewriter. He likes the “rhythm of the typewriter,” he said. He talked about the beginning of a story, which of course we call the “hook.” He said it’s what “draws in the reader but is also the most difficult to write.” I hear you, Mr. McPherson.

He said he thinks about the opening quite a bit before he sits down to write and then spoke about the writing process. “The actual formulation of the sentence is something I do as I’m thinking about it. Sometimes I start a sentence not knowing how it’s going to end. But the actual process of putting down the first clause or first words of the sentence … something clicks in my head and I think this is the right way to do it.”

He went on to say that “writing begets more writing.” He mentioned that it’s “probably true of most writers that writing helps to clarify their thinking and that thinking then leads to clarification of the next sentence or paragraph they want to do.”

I’m not comparing myself to Mr. McPherson, but I find that to be true in my own writing. Today I spent a few hours on my work-in-progress piece. I found that in some instances putting down first words in a sentence where I had no idea where it would lead just naturally led to more writing. After a while, the writing seemed to flow. Once I revise, I’ll keep some sentences in and cut others out. But the important thing is that I was writing.

"The writer must write what he has to say, not speak it." -- Ernest Hemingway

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in your writing? Do you lack motivation? I am feeling that way today. It’s hot and humid outside. I just got home from running errands. I have a sort of deadline on one of my stories (for a workshop). But I sure don’t feel motivated. I keep staring at the last chapter I wrote and have no idea how to continue. Ever have one of those days?

So I tore myself away from my PC, which was very easy to do (heh-heh) and treated myself to a cold, refreshing agua fresca (fruit drink) of watermelon. Then I started reading a book I just bought about the story of Ralph Waldo Emerson. A writer friend of mine wrote it. She autographed it for me yesterday and I was anxious to start reading it. It is so well written and the photographs in it are outstanding. Reading got me motivated again. Yea! Getting immersed in that book worked like magic for me. What works for you? Here’s a link to a Writer’s Digest blog on “9 ways to get started and stay motivated.” That also helped me get “unstuck.” Good luck!

Took the above picture by the side of the road where a vendor was selling his pinatas.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Writing Contests

You might remember that at some time I mentioned that entering writing contests is what got me hooked and started in this career. There were many disappointments, of course, when I didn’t win or even place. But there were moments of joy when I did. I remember one specific episode when I entered a writing contest about patio decks. I loved my deck and spent many hours out there, especially at night gazing at the stars. I wrote about that. And lo and behold, I won. That was years ago, but I still remember the UPS truck driving up and the delivery guy unloading box after box of gallons of deck stains, paint, brushes, etc., for our deck. That was my prize – items for the deck! I was one happy camper. Other times, I won free subscriptions for magazines. Winning gave me the confidence to pursue what I loved. I still think it’s a great idea for those writers just starting to break in to enter writing contests. It gives you an opportunity to follow guidelines, word counts, and deadlines. Debut Children’s Authors Helped by Contest Wins written by Institute of Children’s Writers' author Laura Aldir-Hernandez covers what I’ve been writing about. Read it and start submitting.

Last week I attended and signed books at the Latino Family Expo being held at the convention center. The picture above is of Folkloric dancers performing in their colorful dresses.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

My Book

It’s an exciting time for me. Info on my latest bilingual picture story book, Battle of the Snow Cones, due out in November of this year, is already making the rounds online. To find out more about it, click on La Bloga blog where it was featured this week. It can be pre-ordered at Amazon.com as well. This has been a collaborative effort between the illustrator and the writer. It becomes "our" book because we both put so much into it. Talented Illustrator Alisha Gambino’s art in vivid, brilliant colors makes the book come alive. It’s a fun read, I think, and I hope readers of all ages will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. It’s always a thrill when you finally see your book in print whether it’s the first one or second or third. The excitement is always there.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Helpful Advice

I just had to print out blogger Kate Monahan’s Writer’s Digest online article on “10 Things My Creative Writing MFA Taught Me Not To Do.” I found them extremely helpful because I’ve come across some of these myself. For example, one of her “don’ts” is taking risks in writing. She writes: Don’t “Play it Safe. Never play it safe. Writing is about taking risks. About digging deep and uncovering the raw, sometimes painful pieces. When one takes risks in their writing, the words on the page are alive and full of truth.”

At a writing workshop I once attended, we were told to write “without fear.” It took me a while to figure that out. How many of us actually do that? Read the rest of her blog for the other “nine” don’ts. Helpful advice.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


In our critique group, we all agree that writing a synopsis is sometimes harder than writing the story itself. A writer is expected to write a one-page summary of the entire novel. How scary is that? We all struggle when it comes to that part of the writing process. But it’s very important to do it right. A publisher’s guidelines will sometimes ask for a synopsis and maybe a few chapters of your manuscript. The synopsis is the first thing they see. So you’d better make it interesting enough that they will continue to want to read the rest of your story. Here’s a link by blogger Marg Gilks that I found helpful on this topic.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


I have an old copy of Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. The other day I read a Writer’s Digest article, “What You Might Find in Your Old Notebooks," by blogger Kate Monahan, which mentioned free writing and referred to a quote in Goldberg’s book. I decided to revisit the book, especially the chapter Goldberg wrote on “Rereading and Rewriting.” She mentions putting your writing aside for a while and then coming back and rereading. I recently mentioned just that in a writing workshop I conducted for senior citizens. I commented how I’ve revisited an earlier piece several days or weeks later and discover that I have a different perspective. Most of the time, it’s a much better perspective. Goldberg writes in that chapter, “See revision as ‘envisioning again.’ If there are areas in your work where there is a blur or vagueness, you can simply see the picture and add the details that will bring your work closer to your mind’s picture.” It works for me. Happy writing.

Trust in what you love, continue to do it, and it will take you where you need to go.” -- Natalie Goldberg