Sunday, December 27, 2009

New Year's Goals

Well, the year is just about over. Time to set new goals as a writer. I seem to have the same goals every year: write and read more, submit to publishers, nurture myself as a writer, attend at least one writer’s conference or workshop, value my writer friends, keep the hope up. Of course, I don’t always get all of these done. Each year seems to go by faster than the last one. My shelves are full of writer’s books, which I really find helpful when developing characters, scenes, plots, etc. 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.

Which brings me to some good news to share. An essay I submitted to my local paper was published today. Here is the link if you wish to read it. Hope you enjoy it. It's about the lost art of penmanship. Wishing you a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

“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, December 16, 2009

Picture books

If you’re just starting to write picture books and would welcome some great tips, I found an excellent link where you can find information on such topics as: “picture book format, types of picture books, think before you write, gobs of information on writing/editing process, and an impressive list of resources.” The link belongs to Rick Walton, children’s author with many, many books under his belt. Go to his website and see for yourself.

I spent the day researching publishing houses and viewing some writers’ links. So much out there. Very helpful stuff for writers and illustrators once you start your search.

I have to admit when I first started writing, I had no idea what I was doing. I knew nothing about the publishing side of the business or submissions or queries, etc. Back then, I saw a tiny ad in the newspaper about a one-day writer’s seminar at a local university. I went and my whole world opened up after that. You have to start somewhere.

"A child's history, like magic, never quite goes away. It is there, only hidden, like the laughter of unseen children in a garden. It is all the sweeter for never being seen, only heard about." -- Lawrence Yep

Monday, December 14, 2009

Well, the Christmas Cookie Exchange party was a huge success. It’s wonderful to see old and young get together in the spirit of Christmas and family. Christmas music played in the background while we chatted, ate, visited with one another, brought up memories that made us all laugh and sometimes cry, and then exchanged our cookies. We all have our “special” cookies that we bake this time of year. We share them with others once we get home. I plan to take some to my critique group sessions this week. Here’s a picture of the pretty packages containing some of the cookies.

I’ve been reading the January 2010 issue of Writer’s Digest and came across some interesting quotes from famous writers under the “Secrets of Bestselling Authors” section in the magazine. Under “Rituals and Methods,” are the following: “I try to write a certain amount each day, five days a week. A rule sometimes broken is better than no rule.”Herman Wouk. “Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.”Larry L. King “Transitions are critically important. I want the reader to turn the page without thinking she’s turning the page. It must flow seamlessly.”Janet Evanovich. “ … You have to have the three D’s: drive, discipline and desire.”Nora Roberts. And so on and so on. Excellent advice for all writers as we approach the new year.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Well, what a disappointment. It did not snow after all. It just got mighty cold! Back in 2007, we didn't have snow, but we did have ICE!  Back to poetry. I thought this bit of advice from published poet and poetry editor Shaindel Beers is helpful. 

"As a poetry editor, what do you feel is the biggest mistake a poet can make when submitting poems?
Beers' answer: There are actually two I can think of off-hand. The first is having any typos or errors in the manuscript. You want to look like you've prepared this for publication, not that you're just rushing off the first draft to the post in the hopes that it will get published. The second is having no earthly idea what the journal publishes. At least read a few works from one issue (if not a complete issue) before submitting. Have a realistic idea if your work is a good fit or not."

(Excerpt from online poetry niche page of Writer's Digest - Market Watch article)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Los Bloguitos

We wait with great anticipation down here in Southwest Texas for SNOW tomorrow. At least that's what the weatherman tells us. Expect snow. It’s not too often that we get the white flurries way down south so we tend to get a little excited when we do. But we’ll see if it really happens.

Have been reading and writing poetry lately. Sometimes the muse just sneaks up and the creative juices flow. It is exciting when it happens. So I write quickly lest I forget what comes to mind in bits and pieces and then takes form. Doesn’t happen that often so I take full advantage when it does.

A while back, I was interviewed by an author/poet, Leticia Teresa Pontoni, of Argentina. If you care to check it out, the interview is on Los Bloguitos blog – in Spanish. Not to worry, though. You can click on the Translate button in the Google toolbar on top and the Spanish is translated into English.

"Touch magic -- pass it on." --Jane Yolen

Monday, November 30, 2009


It’s beginning to feel like winter here in Southwest Texas. The cold weather and drizzling rain outside makes it all the more cozy inside the house. As I sipped my morning coffee, I read some of the stories in the book, Christmas Through a Child’s Eyes. It is a collection of stories contributed by writers throughout the nation. Two of my writer friends' stories are in the book, which makes it all the more special.

I remember one Christmas when we were stationed in Okinawa and wondered if we’d have a Christmas tree that year. You see, the ship that was bringing in trees from the states for the military stationed there was delayed for some reason. It was almost Christmas and no sign of Christmas trees. Then only a few days before the big day, much to our delight, the ship came in. Being on an island where the weather was anything but cold, having a real Christmas tree in the house was like having a bit of home away from home.

“Surprise is what keeps readers turning the pages and writers filling them up.” – James Howe

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


A bit of good news. One of my poems is being published in the local paper next month. A few years back, I stumbled onto a poetry class at a Barnes & Noble by mistake. Once I realized it was poetry and not a writing class, I tried to inconspicuously leave the session. The instructor looked up and asked, "Why are you leaving?" I replied, "I'm not a poet. I made a mistake." To which he answered, "Why don't you stay for the rest of the period and see if you like it? If not, you don't have to return." I stayed. I came back for the next several weeks. Loved it. To date, I've had poetry published in anthologies. You just never know ...

The link here is for writing contests, which includes poetry as well.

Happy Thanksgiving!

"Nothing one ever experiences or feels is wasted." -- Lynne Reid Banks

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Book Festival for Children

Last weekend I had the pleasure of doing a reading/presentation at the Georgetown Hill Country Book Festival for Children & Youth. I saw author friends I hadn’t seen in a while and met new ones. The town of Georgetown is charming and the people from there are so hospitable. The public library where the event was held was bustling with activity that day. Numerous authors and illustrators were present for the event. There was face painting, crafts, music and even a clown who entertained the children with his amazing tricks – twisting balloons into all sorts of animals. Yes, I ran into a clown AGAIN! What is it with my running into clowns all the time? The kids really enjoyed his performance. Take a look at the octopus on my table. Neat, huh? This highly successful event was a great way to promote literacy!

Writing Tip: Use quotation marks for spoken dialogue. For a character's thoughts, some writers use quotation marks, some use italics, and some merely set them off with a comma and capitalized letter. -- Writer's Digest Weekly Planner

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Book titles

How important is a book title? Should it reflect what your story is about? How do you come up with a title that will grab a reader? Remember a title is the first clue to your story or book. In the online Writer’s Digest (Nov. 2009 issue), Jacob M. Appel’s article offers seven tips on just how to come up with a book title. Here is the link to coming up with a good title.

Never try to chase trends. Write what you love, and write the best book you can, and worry about publication later.” – Writing tip from Writer’s Digest Weekly Planner

Thursday, November 12, 2009


A local magazine, natural awakenings, has an interesting article on how journaling and health might go hand in hand. In their November 2009 issue, in the wisewords section, an article titled “Journal Writing Improves Well Being,” by Leia Francisco, a certified journal facilitator, offers insight into why journaling might just help improve your health. In her words,

“If you think journal writing only records daily activities, think again. Journal writing improves the immune system when a writer explores negative or traumatic events. Journal writing casts a personal story on blogs or in best-selling books. Journal writing transforms entire communities by sharing stories and common concerns.”

Another excerpt from her article: “As a journal facilitator, I guide journal writing in intentional ways and have witnessed extraordinary results for journalers of every background. Journaling is affordable, always accessible, and, like a good friend, always non-judging. Its benefits include decreasing stress, resolving issues, healing relationships, gaining insight, discovering patterns, and tapping to the power of the unconscious mind.”

She goes on to say that: “Journaling is enhanced when you reread your entries and make notations or circle key phrases. Pay attention to these signals of your inner world to help you make changes.”

She concludes with “… explore journaling as a tool for increasing health and well being. It is a tool for all reasons and all seasons.”

Happy journaling!

“If a writer isn’t a reader, he’s in the wrong profession.” – Marion Dane Bauer

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Just finished reading an interesting article “Read Like a Writer,” in a November 2009 issue of The Writer’s Digest Guide to Creativity magazine. In it, the author, Linda Busby Parker, mentions that “a true writer is always aware and perceptive when reading. Observant writing,” she notes, “shouldn’t be overlooked. Sometimes writers feel guilty when reading instead of writing, but both are integral parts of a successful scribe’s daily life.”

Then in a sidebar, she condenses five points, "Finer Points,” which lists what a writer should look for when reading. “(1) Observe scenes. A scene is one episode in the story line. A scene can be dialogue between characters or an event that happens in one particular location. (2) Study dialogue. How does the dialogue reveal the characters’ individual personalities and move the plot forward? (3) Locate passages that establish the setting. What techniques does the author use to place the reader in a particular locale? (4) Note the conflict. How has the author made the character’s life complex? How does the writer sustain and complicate the conflict throughout the novel? (5) Chart the novel’s resolution. When does the author begin to resolve the conflicts? How does the writer make resolutions natural and satisfying to the reader?”

I did not list all the comments of the five points, but the entire article is well worth reading. Have a productive reading and writing day.

A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” – E.B. White

Friday, October 30, 2009

Feed your creative self

Like the quote at the bottom says, “…feed your creative self.” That’s exactly what I did the other day, taking advantage of the beautiful, sunny day that was just right for a “field trip.” I went down to pay a visit to my own city’s museum. I needed to do more research for one of the stories I’m working on. Took my camera and my notebook. I wandered through the museum taking pictures of exhibits I thought would come in handy for my work. I got permission, of course. It turned out to be more than I expected. The exhibits were extraordinary.

I ran into a clown, yes, a clown before I even got to my destination. I couldn’t resist taking her picture. Then a squirrel came up to within inches of where I stood next to a fence. Completely ignored me as it munched on some nuts. Even allowed me to take its picture. I thought that was pretty cool.

Another treat was the lush beauty of the grounds outside the museum. That was an inspiration in itself. The historical buildings and the stories behind them could also spark anyone’s imagination. Sometimes we writers need to take some time off to enjoy the beauty that is all around us. I’m sure there are landmarks in your town that are worth looking into, the people behind the scenes, the history, the “surprises” that are out there.

With my notebook full of notes and my camera loaded with pictures, I returned home, relaxed, full of ideas and ready to get back to writing. I recommend that you take a day off sometime – enjoy! Look around your own town. You just might discover treasures you didn’t know existed. And that can get any story started.

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

Friday, October 23, 2009

Yesterday was my regular day to meet with my critique group. Instead of presenting the middle-grade novel I usually bring, I brought a picture book manuscript. This story had been stuck way back in my files for a long time. Sometimes I like to go back and try to resurrect some of my earlier pieces. This was a very rough draft – really rough. It was more of just jotting down a sort of theme for a story when the idea sparked ages ago.

Once the critique was over, I discovered that this little story does indeed have potential. The advice I got from my writer friends was excellent. Made me see this story in a new light. I shall devote some time to making it better. Once I’m convinced it’s the best that it can be, I’ll submit it. Then I’ll return to my middle-grade novel. Sometimes it’s nice to take a break between the different types of stories you’re working on. Gives you new perspective.

We all bring something different to the table. One writer is doing historical fiction. The other one mainstream while still another is working on a chapter book. Makes for a very interesting critique and fascinating conversation. Can you tell I love color by the pictures I take?

“How can you sit down to write until you have stood up to live?” – Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, October 18, 2009

If you haven’t joined a writing organization, you should do so now. You will really benefit when you join and get involved. A few days ago, we had one of our regular chapter SCBWI meetings. The topic was “School Visits.” One of our own local authors was the speaker. She had an excellent presentation that included not only our membership but some librarians and teachers from the area as well. There was feedback from both sides, the educators and the authors. We learned a lot from one another, i.e., what teachers expect from author visits and what authors offer during the presentations. An event such as this presented a wonderful opportunity for authors to meet and interact with educators and vice versa.

Some other topics at our chapter meetings have been on social media such as Twitter, Facebook, websites, blogs, etc. Critique groups have also sprouted from these gatherings. The support you get as a writer from groups such as these is invaluable. Join now.

I found an excellent blog on writing tools such as emotions, settings, etc., called “The Bookshelf Muse.” Check it out. Happy writing!

“People often ask, ‘How do you start a book?’ Well, I’ve always started this way … Chapter 1.” – Paula Danziger

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Florence, Italy

Here's another excerpt from the journal I kept while traveling in Italy a while back. Enjoy.

March 14 – Florence, Italy. The architecture of the buildings here is unbelievable. The streets are narrow – so narrow in some places that upon our arrival in Florence, the chartered bus could not maneuver its way through the street leading to our hotel. We all got off the bus several blocks away and pulled our luggage through the streets of Florence to our hotel. It was hilarious. A group of thirty-three people lugging their suitcases on the cobbled streets of Florence. We were quite a sight!

The hotel was a four-star one and elegant. We had a three-course dinner in the dining room where silver and china sparkled on the white-clothed tables. Of course, there was wine. Dessert was scrumptious. Some awesome pastry with strawberries and cream. My room had a balcony, although it was just for show. All night long until the wee hours of the morning, the streets below were filled with people talking and laughing as they walked by.

After breakfast the next day, we walked several blocks to a magnificent cathedral (one of many) where we celebrated Mass. It was raining and we tried to avoid puddles of water on the worn cobbled streets. We must have looked like little ducks waddling in line to some destination. Parts of the church are under renovation so we made our way through some scaffolding on the outside and inside. Some fading frescoes are still on the walls of the church. The pews and kneelers, of course, are not padded. 

Later that afternoon, we visited a monastery with hundreds of other tourists. It was cold, windy and rainy. I am glad I brought that woolen black shawl that makes me look like an old lady but shields me from the cold. Lucky for me that I brought my umbrella as well. Chinese girls (vendors) were all over the streets of Florence. They were selling silk scarves, some made in Rome, I guess because the word “Roma” was etched across the scarves. I wondered where these mostly young Chinese girls with the porcelain complexions lived in Florence. They looped the scarves over their arms, covering them with clear plastic to protect them from the rain. Dressed in loose silk pants and colorful quilted jackets, they looked like dolls. Mostly girls, but I did see some young Chinese men hawking umbrellas.

After dinner, we walked through St. Mark’s Square. It looked eerie at night, the giant statues of David, Hercules, Neptune and others looming over us as we walked by. Earlier that day, we had lunch in one of the cafeterias lining the square. We pay for everything in Euros.

Until next time, have a great writing day!

"Art is really the language of feeling." -- Steven Kellogg

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Libraries are cool!

Just got back from a one-hour writing workshop at my local library. The topic was writing stories about your family history. The instructor had us bring old, cherished photos of family members or events. First, we made a brief list (one-sentence to describe) of family stories handed down through the years. Then another list about stories handed down about us. Third list was about things we’ve kept throughout the years that have special meaning. We were allowed about three minutes for each list. I was amazed at how quickly those lists materialized.

Next, we took one of the pictures we had brought, studied it briefly, then wrote what we thought was the story behind the picture. After that, we wrote briefly about what we thought “was not” in the picture. You’ll find out this can be quite intriguing. The creative juices flowed with this exercise. Another exercise was holding an object of significant meaning to the person doing the writing and writing about it. You’d be surprised how quickly memories come alive and how soon ideas and emotions flow into your being.

Workshops such as these are fun, rewarding, and best of all – FREE. Look around for what your local libraries have to offer. Thank goodness for libraries!

You might also want to check out this blog KENS-5 South SA that features my books. Have a fun productive writing day! I encourage you to comment and sign up as a follower to my blog.

The greatest children’s books are about the journey to wisdom.” – Jane Yolen

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

Friday, August 28, 2009

During my morning walk this morning, I saw two young boys on their way to school. Both had backpacks and were walking briskly and talking and laughing at the same time. Suddenly one of them, the one with the skateboard in his hand, took off, rolling down the sidewalk on his skateboard, hollering in delight, his hair blowing in the wind. He waved to his friend as he continued down the sidewalk, free as the wind, letting go and absolutely enjoying it. That brought to mind something I heard at the SCBWI-LA conference three weeks ago.

Let go of the outcome,” is what famous author Karen Cushman (1996 Newbery medal winner, The Midwife’s Apprentice) said. “Cherish the process. First show up. Showing up means turning on your computer and typing up page one. Write. Keep showing up. Writers write. That’s what we do. Submit to agents, editors, contests. Give power to yourself.”

She told us to “pay attention.” By this she meant looking around, paying attention to sights, smells, experiences and reactions, and also being curious about other people’s books, attending conferences, joining writer’s groups.

Connect with emotions,” she said. “Communicate this to your readers. Know your characters well. It is on this emotional level that we connect to our readers. Cherish the process rather than the product.” Then she told us, “Let go of the outcome. We cannot make an editor take our book. Publication is just one of the reasons we write. We write books that bring hope and wisdom and comfort. Follow your dreams. Trust yourself. What matters is you and your words. Empower your thoughts. Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right words in the right order, you can nudge the world.”

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

This has nothing to do with writing, but it made my day. I saved $20.15 on my grocery bill today. I used coupons! I’ve used them for years, but lately I pay a bit more attention to ads in the newspaper and magazines, and I clip, clip, clip. I can use the money saved to buy a book or two at Halfprice Book Store. Or maybe three writer’s magazines at Barnes & Noble. What a treat!

Not too long ago, I was interviewed online and one of the questions asked was, “When do you do your best writing?” I find I am more creative in the morning, but then sometimes it can be very late at night when I get a spark of ideas and can really be productive. After reading a lot of articles about setting up rigid schedules, I wondered if I should stick to mornings only or focus on late nights. But reading an article by Jennifer Willis in the September 2009 issue of The Writer magazine, gave me permission to schedule what best works for me. It’s titled, “Are you a lark, or are you an owl?” She quotes Quinn McDonald, a certified creativity coach, as saying that “larks are morning writers, while owls are more productive at night.” Regardless, I like that Ms. Willis concludes with McDonald’s advice that “creativity cannot be forced, but it can be fostered by honoring your own rhythm.” So there. What about you? What works best for you?

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

Saturday, August 22, 2009

More on the SCBWI-LA conference: A panel of authors and illustrators talked about what creates an extraordinary picture book. Here are some of their comments.

An extraordinary book is one of the very best of its kind. It achieves its goal with distinction and originality. It is a book that will last for a long time. When the book speaks to the reader, there is something in those books that makes them last. It has to have heart. Your emotion has to be in it. It has to have a strong appeal in one way or another to both children and adults. It will make readers want to read it over and over again. An extraordinary picture book has to have a very personal feel to it. A little bit of humor and love. Editors and agents put in a lot of work into a book. The artist/illustrator adds so much to the story. They enhance the story. Once a book is finished, an author should say to his/her illustrator, “Thank you for making OUR book so beautiful.”

Additional comments/advice regarding queries (from a workshop session):

Submit. Do not be afraid. Who are you writing for? Do the query in the VOICE of the story. Pitch the book in voice. Don’t start with questions, i.e., what if? Let your writing speak for itself. SASE. Follow guidelines. Mention that you are currently working on another novel so they’ll know you are writing. You describe a character by describing who loves them and who they love. A query letter is a pitch, not a synopsis. The editor/agent is more interested in voice than plot in query letter.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

More on the August 2009 SCBWI-LA conference: 2001 Newbery Gold Medal winner Richard Peck ( A Year Down Yonder ) was a keynote speaker who inspired us all. Following are some of his comments.

Every page, every day, we must ask: when will this story start? Who is going to tell our story? Not us. We are adults. We create characters who will speak for us. Why are we writing this story? What is the moral of the story? A story is always about a sudden new alertness that has to be acted upon. We have to know exactly how our character changes. Where are our characters standing/setting? A setting is always somewhere we have never been but want our readers to go. Every piece of the setting has to be there for a reason. Every detail must be working. It has to matter. Happy writing makes for satisfactory reading. The whole book has to be the rest of your book. The first page is the last page in disguise. We have to be photographically clear, i.e., period rooms in other eras. Scent works too.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A bit of fun news from my SCBWI-LA trip. As I waited in the LAX airport to return home from the conference, I spotted someone who looked exactly like the actress, Sharon Stone. I was positive it was Ms. Stone. Tall, blond, beautiful, she was the exact replica of the actress. Imagine my surprise when she boarded the same flight and then sat one seat away from me. But then I discovered she was not Sharon Stone as she talked to the passenger in the middle seat. Turns out she’s from New Mexico. Stunning lady. I did meet Henry Winkler, though, as he signed books at the conference. The picture above is the view of the hotel swimming pool from my balcony.

Another surprise happened while I waited for the shuttle from the hotel to the airport. Who gets in on the same shuttle? None other than famous author, Karen Cushman. I love her books. We greeted each other cordially and I told her how much I had enjoyed her speech. Then the shuttle driver checked over his list and turns out we’re on the wrong one. We had to get out, luggage and all, and wait for the next one. Exasperating.

Another interesting thing that happened while at the conference is that a film crew started filming a TV show next to the hotel swimming pool. I didn’t see anyone famous that I recognized, but it was neat just being in the middle of all the excitement.

For more on the SCBWI-LA conference, take a look at the Publishers Weekly article.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Just returned from the annual Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators conference in Los Angeles. This is my second time attending. It was even better than the last time. I am still on a high from great speeches and super writing workshops. I’m ready to dive into writing and revising the drafts I’ve been working on. I am so enthused I can hardly wait to unpack and start going over all the notes I took while there. The author I'm pictured with here is Ann Whitford Paul whose book, Writing Picture Books, I reviewed a few weeks ago. It was great meeting her at the conference.

Energy and excitement permeated the conference the entire time I was there. We heard inspiring speeches from such great writers as Sherman Alexie, Richard Peck, Ellen Hopkins, Betty Birney, and illustrators like David Wiesner, Kadir Nelson and Dan Yacccarino. The editors and agents who were in attendance were so accessible and supportive. The illustrator’s social where over a hundred portfolios were displayed was outstanding. I made new friends and reunited with former ones. One of my writer friends, Pam, who originally lived in Alaska was there. It was great seeing her after ten years.

Once I unravel my many notes and download all my pictures, I will start posting interesting writer’s tidbits that I picked up while there. There is so much, it will take several postings. Plus I need to read some of the books I bought and and had autographed. Don’t take my word for it. Attend one of these conferences and you will see for yourself how inspiring it can be. There’s nothing greater than being amongst other writers and illustrators who share the same passion about children’s writing as you. Go to the
SCBWI blog to find out more.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Have you ever wondered how the acquisition of a book actually works? Whenever I do a book signing or school visit, the audience is amazed that it sometimes takes from two years to four or five years before a book is published. It all depends on whether we’re talking about a picture book, which requires a lot of art work, or a chapter book or novel, which usually don’t require illustrations. It all starts with your manuscript and whether an editor is interested enough to make an offer. Has he or she fallen in love with your story and believes in it enough to make it into a book? This gets the ball rolling. The acquisition process has started. There’s nothing more thrilling for a writer than getting that first offer.

If you’re interested in how it all works from beginning to end, visit children’s book editor, Harold Underdown’s blog. You’ll find his article, “
The Acquistion Process,” full of interesting details. You will also find a lot of other tidbits for writers on his blog.

Wishing you a productive writing day.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

I spoke earlier about attending writer’s conferences. I believe they are an excellent way to meet editors, agents, other writers, and just plain network. Whether you’re attending a weekend conference or one that spans several days, be prepared. Make it count. You’re spending your money and your time so make attending one of these conferences worthwhile. Some tips on basic do’s and don’ts when attending such events can be found at the Fiction Writer’s Website. Research the one you plan to attend and enjoy yourself. You will reap great benefits and make lifelong friends as well.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

One of the reasons I enjoy watching TV shows like Project Runway and The Fashion Show is that I too used to design my own clothes. I learned pattern drafting from a Japanese tailor when I lived in Okinawa years ago. Another reason is that the critique sessions by top designers remind me a lot about the writing process. The aspiring designers selected on the show create their own designs according to the criteria they are provided. They compete with one another and after every runway show, a designer is eliminated. By show’s end, there is only one designer left. The process of creating something out of a piece of material (much like a writer creating something on a blank canvas) is intriguing.

What I find most interesting are the critiques offered by top designers in the field. Their comments include all the elements that apply to the writing process. Phrases and words such as vision, point of view, passion, emotion, editing, movement, communication, and thinking outside the box. One top designer voiced the following to one of the competitors. “You’ve written lots of wonderful chapters, but my concern is that at the end of the story, you have lost the storyline.” Wow. It’s all about creativity, passion, and commitment. Like I said, much like the writing process.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

I am reading a book about the art and craft of storytelling. I am halfway through it and already I am getting my money’s worth. Besides the regular advice about structure, etc., this book mentions “throughline.” As in what is the primary throughline of the story. It uses the analogy of the children’s book, The Little Engine That Could. As we read the story, the little engine has a goal. We’re right there as the little engine faces obstacles on the way. There are shifts along the way, but the little engine never loses focus of its goal. That is how we need to write our stories, always focusing on the goal, the end result. According to the author of this book, there will be detours along the way, “where the threadline threads intersect. Once you’ve fixed your focus on the throughlines, you can use them to power the plot throughout your story.” Who is the author and the book? The book is titled, The Art and Craft of Storytelling: A Comprehensive Guide to Classic Writing Techniques, by Nancy Lamb. Excellent book.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The other night I attended a writer friend’s book signing. Her book got a great review in our local paper. We are in the same writer’s club. That is what is so special about belonging to such a group. Months before a book comes out, the other writers in the club already know about it and are anticipating its publishing date and arrival at bookstores. We show up in force at a member’s booksigning.

While she was reading excerpts from her book, an idea sparked in my mind. I quickly wrote it down in a small journal I always carry. Later, I typed up what I had written and, hopefully, it will be the beginning of a story. You never know when the muse is going to strike. Sometimes when you least expect it, you get inspired. Be ready. Don’t disregard it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

An image of a Spanish mission in Texas seen through a rock window.

A while back, I bought a book titled, For Writers Only (Ballentine Books). The author is Sophy Burham. I found it extremely interesting and enjoyable because it contained thoughts and experiences of famous writers about the writing process. This book does not offer writing tips. What it does offer are emotions that many writers experience while in the writing process. From nerves about getting started to finding joy in the art of writing. There are chapters on how these writers discipline themselves to write, how they know when to let go of the story, how they make time for their personal lives, the aloneness of writing, writer's block, rewriting, rejection and getting published. Also included is a chapter on how some writers dealt with depression, alcohol, jealousy, etc., and still produced great writing.

Most of us are not famous writers, but I think we can relate to many of the emotions these very famous writers experienced. Have a pleasant writing day. Be good to yourself.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Reader's journal

A Texas rooster at my friend's house.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine gifted me with a reader's journal. I love it because for each book you read, it's got a place for the title, author, publisher, genre, date read, and comments. I am amazed at how many books I've read already. Had I not been keeping record, I would have thought I never read that much.

What's also interesting is going back and reading the remarks/comments I made about each book I read at that time. Comments like words flowed beautifully, dialogue believable or witty, great metaphors, descriptive details, setting very visual, character well developed, story has spirit, and so on. Then I also have other comments like this book was boring, couldn't get through the first chapter, too much narrative, not enough dialogue, too many names to remember, and so on. You get the picture.

My point here is that by reading like a writer, you get a feel for other writers' style of writing. You don't want to copy their style, of course, but you do want to see what works and what doesn't for you. The more you write, the more you're developing your own unique style. And that's what it's all about.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


It was my pleasure to be interviewed recently by Mayra Calvani, multi-genre author, blogger, and book reviewer for National Latino Books Examiner for To view the entire interview, click on Interview.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Book reviews

An interesting scene by a highway in Texas.

I just finished writing a book review for a book whose theme is writing picture books. It was fun reading and analyzing the book from a writer's point of view. It took a little out of my regular writing time, but I consider this part of the writing process as well. I found an excellent article on doing book reviews at the following Web site:

Several days ago, I was browsing through the net and found a book review on one of my own books, The Woodcutter's Gift. The review includes several other bilingual picture books.

Have a great writing day!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Pisa Tower, Journaling

Have you ever seen the leaning tower of Pisa in person? I had the privilege of going on a pilgrimage to Italy a few years back. One of the cities I visited was Pisa. I journaled the whole time I was there. Here is an excerpt from that day. I recommend journaling whenever you travel or even on a daily basis. Not only might you use some of your comments in a story someday, but you've also captured the essence of the moment. I am on the right at the bottom of the picture. My friend is standing beside me.

March 13: We arrived in Pisa. As soon as I saw the leaning tower of Pisa, I was amazed at how much smaller it really was. It wasn’t as tall as I imagined. But, boy, was it leaning. Then our priest pointed out the domed baptistry next to it. Awesome.

Lunch was at a local restaurant. I had some kind of soup that was rather bland and without color but I was hungry so I ate it. The owner was loud and impatient. If you ordered water, they brought you bottled water and charged you for it. They didn’t put water on the table. After lunch, I bought some postcards at a small stand outside. My friend and I strolled along the sort of flea market on the road opposite the tower. So many vendors. So many tourists.

After lunch, we had Mass in the basilica next to the Pisa tower. We went in through a side door to avoid the crowd. We sang before Mass and our voices resonated in the openness of the basilica. Basilicas in Italy have several altars for different Masses at different times. The ceiling of the church was so high and it was cold inside. I kept glancing at the old-fashioned confessionals on the side of the pews. They were ornately carved of rich, dark wood. The wooden pews were hard as were the benches. My knees hurt whenever we knelt.

I felt overwhelmed by the splendor of the renaissance art on the ceiling and the statues on the walls. The communion railing was made out of white marble. We took communion but didn’t kneel at the railing like in the old days. We lined up instead. It felt almost like a mausoleum; it was so big. We walked around in hushed tones. Then we walked back to the bus and started our journey to Florence praying a rosary on the way enjoying the pleasant weather and the green rolling hills of the Italian countryside.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I just returned from my local branch library. How I love libraries. Takes me back to my childhood when we couldn't afford to buy books so I spent as much time as I could at the school library. Today there is so much more that libraries offer. The technology is just amazing. For instance, I find it absolutely marvelous that I can sit at my desk in my own home and search for a book at my library online. I reserve it and then pick it up the next day. How cool is that?

I am in the middle of doing some research for a middle-grade story. I found exactly what I was looking for at the library. During these economic times, the libraries are overflowing with people reading, checking out books, doing research, or sitting in front of PC screens. It's a bustling place but quiet and reserved as well. If you haven't taken advantage of your library lately, please do. It's a whole new world out there.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Historic buildings

Old buildings intrigue me. I don't know why. I can almost feel the history behind an old building whenever I see one. I always end up taking a picture. I got out of my car and took this picture along the way down to the Rio Grande Valley. I wondered who had lived in this house at one time. What memories are still there? What kind of people lived there? Who built it? A writer is always curious about such things. I think we see things in a different way than others do. I know I do. What someone else might see as a discarded, ugly building, I see as a home that once housed real people of a different era but with the same dreams and aspirations that still live in us today. Look around you. You might discover such a place and write a story about it.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


I just received some black and white sketches for my latest bilingual picture book due out in 2010. It is very exciting to see the progress of a book from manuscript to sketches to final art form. Because of the illustrations, some books take as long as two, three, or even four years before they are published and in bookstores. As I mention to the children during school visits, a writer has to have a lot of patience. While waiting for the book to come out in final form, a writer is always writing something new. Children are usually amazed when I tell them how long the process takes.

I invite you to take a look at Jon Bard's free video on Jacketflap's Web site. Jon is the managing editor of The Children's Book Insider - The Newsletter for Children's Writers. You can view the video on "Do you have what it takes to make it as a children's writer?" at It offers great guidance for writers. I invite any comments you might have.

Sunday, May 31, 2009


Do you ever get frustrated waiting for replies from publishers on the manuscripts you've submitted? The question is whether to submit your manuscript exclusively to one publisher or submit simultaneous submissions. And how long should one wait before querying on the submission? There have been times when I've gotten a reply (rejection) a year after the original simultaneous submission.

Not sure which way to go? There is an excellent article on the following Website: arguing the pros and cons from the writer's and the editor's viewpoints. Be sure to read the article and then decide which route you want to take. Best of luck with your submissions.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Writer's conferences

Many writer's conferences are being offered right now. I've been to a couple in the past few years and am debating whether to attend another one. I always come back inspired and ready to work. As most writers know, writing is a pretty lonely profession at times. Getting out and meeting with one's peers who share the same passion for writing and books can be good for the soul.

Besides meeting super interesting people at these conferences, you also come back with tons of reading material, workshop experience under your belt, and new ideas that you're ready to work on as soon as you get home. Not to mention the fabulous speakers at these conferences who provide words of wisdom and encouragement to writers.

I guess I already talked myself into going again, huh? Better start checking out those conference dates now.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ideas, hometown

A horse-drawn carriage in my hometown.

I once met an author who said she was having trouble coming up with ideas for stories. "Nothing interesting ever happens in my town," she said. So she read about other exotic places that she thought were a lot more exciting than her "boring" town. Then one day it dawned on her that there were stories all around her. Stories right in her own back yard. Many times we fail to see what's out there because we're so familiar with our surroundings. Take a look around your own city or town. I'll bet there's interesting characters and historical spots that make for a great setting. You don't have to go far to find a good story. Sometimes it's right there in your own back yard.

Friday, May 15, 2009

School visit, Author Day

Just returned from doing a school visit. After doing several sessions, it was a bit tiring, but exhilarating. After the presentation, there is a segment on the writing process followed by a question-and-answer session. The students really enjoy this as they get to ask the author anything and everything. They get so enthused that we usually run out of time before all the questions are asked.

Since today was Author Day at the school I visited, the students had a parade in the morning. They dressed up as favorite book characters. Even the teachers and the school staff joined in the fun, dressing up as well. It always feels good being part of a school event. That's part of the fun of being an author.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Signs of spring. Picture taken in Santa Fe.

I once asked an editor at a writer's conference what is it that excited him about a manuscript. His reply, "Voice." Voice is hard to define. Some say it is style; others say it isn't. Some say it is tone; some say not. To me, voice is unique to a writer. There is an excellent article on that you might find helpful. There's also an article on (Verla Kay's April 26 blog) on writing tips for picture books, which includes some comments on voice. Both are super interesting.