Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Book Tour

Remember I told you I journal? Well, I went back to a few years ago and found this entry about a three-day "book tour" that I did. I was new at all this at the time, but found it to be a great rewarding experience. What you are reading is that week's entry verbatim. Don't laugh.

My First Three-Day Book Tour

Okay, so it wasn’t a nation-wide tour but it was nonetheless a three-day tour arranged by a big chain grocery store. Three cities in the same state. One book signing on a Thursday, one on Friday, and the last one on a Saturday.

At the first one, I was pleased to see that a nice table with a white tablecloth and a bookshelf full of my books had been set up by the time I got there. It was a good location too—right at the front entrance where grocery customers couldn’t miss me. They had to go by my table as they strolled into the store. Putting on my biggest smile, I greeted them with a friendly “Hello” as they came in pushing their grocery carts. Most smiled back. Some hurriedly escaped from my upcoming sales pitch. Children waved as their parents scooted them along probably hoping they wouldn’t linger at my table and they’d have to buy a book.

But then the real book lovers came by. Many of them teachers eager to buy my book for their classroom, paying out of their own pockets. Or parents who wanted to read the book to their children. Or grandparents who wanted the book autographed for a grandchild. Some just stopped to talk about other things besides the book. Like, "do you know where they're giving the flu shots?" One man asked, "where do I pay my electric bill?" I think he thought I was the information lady. Grocery lists in hand, others just went right by, ignoring me.

Second store: different city. Bad timing. Too early in the day. Most people were at work or at school. This time, however, the signing table looked more professional. Balloons, a big poster with a picture of my book and my photo on it, plus a nice display of my books. Even a bottle of water by my side. Again, great location by the entrance except right behind me was the bakery lady with the microphone who kept enticing the people to come buy the delicious pastries. Next to me was another vendor hawking a soup mixture giving out samples of the hot soup in little cups. Needless to say, I got a sample of the pastry and soup.

Third location: my own city. Good timing. Store bustling with customers. Very cold day. People hurrying on a Saturday to get their grocery shopping done early so they can have the rest of the day to do other things. Again, grandparents and young parents stop by. Buy books to be personally autographed. Employees from the store come by on their breaks. Admire the books. Talk to me—some about their own aspirations to be writers. The lady with the deli chicken samples comes over and we have a long conversation while she stands with her tray of tiny sandwiches and the customers pick them off the tray one by one and she hardly notices as we talk. Says to me, “I’ve been watching you from over there. You watch people closely because you’re a writer, right?” I nod yes.

Then lo and behold, some of my relatives stroll in with their baskets. They are just as surprised to see me as I am to see them. Of course, we gossip and talk for a while. They don’t buy books; they’ve already bought them at an earlier booksigning but it looks good to have a crowd around my table. Finally, my signing is over, I pack up and stroll over to the deli counter where I buy a sandwich. All the sampling of food has made me hungry. It’s different having a book signing in a grocery store. Different but wonderful.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hispanic Heritage Month

I had the pleasure of participating on an author panel of ten to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month at a local Barnes & Noble. It was a great venue and we had a big, enthusiastic crowd. Each author spoke for several minutes about the writing and publishing process and how they came to write their books, which is always interesting not just to the audience but to the rest of the authors too. The topics ranged from children’s books to literary fiction and poetry. It’s always fun to be part of such venues and support other published writers as well as aspiring writers. It’s encouraging to see the community turn out at such events. You meet old friends and make new ones. It’s a great way to network too.

And I don’t know what brought this to mind, but I just remembered a school visit in the Rio Grande Valley last year. I did my presentation in the cafeteria to dozens of children. Afterwards, when it was all over and the children returned to their classrooms, a group of cafeteria ladies in their white uniforms came up and asked if they could have their picture taken with me and would I autograph some books for them. I was so honored. I had no idea they had been listening to the presentation behind the scenes. It makes being a writer all worth it. I invite you to comment and follow me on this blog. Happy writing!

Dialogue is the oxygen of a story.” – Sid Fleischman

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

From the editors of the newsletter, Children’s Book Insider, comes an excellent online article titled, “How to write a children’s book based on your personal struggles.” According to the article, “ … writers can transform tough periods in their lives into books for children, hoping to help young readers through similar painful experiences.” The article offers great writing tips if you’re thinking of writing such a book. If interested, go to CBI.

Lately, I have been reading poetry and enjoying it immensely. In his book, Writing the Australian Crawl, William Stafford writes “ … a poem is anything said in such a way or put on the page in such a way as to invite from the hearer or reader a certain kind of attention.” So true.

Carve out a space in your day for quiet, uninterrupted thinking. Exercise and feed your creative self.” – Penny Raife Durant

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A continuation of SCBWI-LA conference tidbits on writing. Following are some of the comments from the different writers/editors and agents at the conference. Ingredients for a breakout novel:

Your work must be unique. Write what fills you with passion. Who’s your reader? Write with a fresh twist. Work out a one-paragraph pitch before you even start to write. Use strong, fresh ideas. Articulate it successfully. How would you sum it up? A couple of sentences is all it takes. If you cannot do this, your story doesn’t have enough focus. Think beyond your small place. Think big.

Larger than life characters. Vivid. True. Your writing leaps off the page. Know your characters so well they’ll reveal themselves in personality and voice. Show, not tell -- not what your character sees, but what he whispers. Description should be a revealer of character. That is its sole purpose, i.e., the way they push back their hair, the way they look at something. Character is revealed by conflict which moves us to the big moment of realization.

A high-stakes story. What does your character stand to win or lose? Tension build up. A good outline. Chapter outline structure to know where you’re going. Use to reach the climax to the ending. A good outline will keep you paced.  High stakes can come in any number of forms but they are vital.

Deeply felt theme – what’s the spiritual theme of your story? Truth about what it means to be human. Do not overwrite. Something integral to your center. What is the central theme of your story and how are you going to get it across, i.e., forgiveness of ourselves or maybe nothing we could have done. The best books teach us more about ourselves than about the tragedy.

A vivid setting – a sense of place in your story all become a character in itself. Story is created by the revelation of the internal and external, i.e., survival, hope, death, high stakes, character, setting).

Voice!!! You need to be a musician. Train your inner ear. Develop a musicality for language. Play the language. Language has a cadence you need to hear. Find your VOICE.

Great advice from the best. Have a productive writing day.

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

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Did I ever tell you that my picture book, Lupita’s Papalote (kite) came about because of a poem I had written a while back? A past memory of when my father and I flew our first kite together came to me one day. I started reminiscing about the emotion I felt at that time. As I’ve mentioned in some interviews, it wasn’t so much the thrill of making the kite out of comics because we couldn’t afford a store-bought one, but the experience was one of love. I remember being terrified of being swept up into the sky by the pulling force of the flying kite. I was only about six and skinny as a rail. My father must have sensed my anxiety. He placed his big hand on my shoulder. Never said a word. The fear seemed to have oozed out of me. I will never forget that feeling of being safe. The poem was mostly for me. Then one day I decided to expand it. What if I made a story out of it? What if the girl in the story actually did get swept up into the sky? What if … what if… You see, when your imagination soars, it can take you to new places. Who knew? That poem eventually became a story, then a book. Do you have a childhood experience you might want to write about? We all have a treasure of memories. Find yours.

"Search through your childhood memories and rediscover what it felt like to live in the world of a child; the joys, the fears, and the dreams." -- Audrey Wood

Monday, September 7, 2009

More SCBWI-LA tidbits: Some words of wisdom from author Ellen Hopkins who has written a host of books including Crank and Impulse.
“Get to the top of the mountain. Do not look for the easy way to the top. You don’t decide to be a writer. You are a writer. It takes talent plus perseverance plus luck. Expect to work hard. Enjoy the journey. Start with magazine articles, short reviews. Learn the rules before you break them. Editors don’t want to deal with amateurs. Each conference brings something new. Arm yourself with the latest tools, i.e., laptop, etc. Embrace new technologies, i.e., Kindle, etc. Writing is about communication because this business is communication. Capitalize on your own experience. Find the story you have to tell. Find your own path. Find your talent. Persevere. Create your own luck.”

Enjoy your Labor Day Weekend!

“My never — fail secret to getting your book published … Write it.” -- Stephanie Gordon Tessler

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Food for thought. Back to the SCBWI-LA conference notes. One of the top editors gave seven reasons why a manuscript is declined. (1) The manuscript has nice writing but there is no story. It is light on action and plot. Nothing happened to the characters. (2) The manuscript is too similar to other novels that are on the marketplace. You need to put your own spin on it. (3) Don’t know who the reader is for your book. No potential for national markets or libraries. Who is your target audience? (4) Writers who are difficult to work with. (5) Love the concept but cannot connect to the voice. Readers will not connect either. Too predictable. (6) Submitting before the project is ready. Sometimes writers are too eager and submit early. Remember, you only have one chance. (7) Story or project does not stand out.

Have a great writing day!

“A writer who isn’t ‘serious’ isn’t a writer at all.” --E.B. White