Saturday, December 29, 2012

Handling Rejection Letters

We all get them at one time or other. My writer friends and I call them “good rejection letters” when they offer some type of feedback or have some kind of comments on them rather than just a form letter. One friend rolls her eyes and says, “Forgive them Father for they know not …” Beginning in 2013, most of us will start anew sending out those queries in the hopes of getting published. And it will happen. Do not give up hope. But there might be some rejections mixed in there somewhere. What to do?
According to Chuck Sambuchino’s article, “Ten Hidden Gifts of Rejection Letters,” posted on the Guide to Literary Agents Writer’s Digest blog, “Rejection letters strengthen you, build courage, determination and belief in your work.”  Huh? For real? 
Actually, his ten “hidden gifts” do make sense. He writes that “...the good ones (offering constructive criticism) help you develop as a writer.” 
Do not get discouraged. We’ve all been there. Read the article and see for yourself. Happy writing and success in 2013!!

“Rejections are business letters, not personal letters.” Jane Smiley

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Picture book article

Here’s an interesting article in the School Library Journal blog by Patti Lee Gauch, a former editorial director at Philomel Books about the “state of the picture book.” She mentions in one of her talks “how books that introduce chaos into a controlled environment and that are characterized by fun and playfulness tend to resonate with young readers.” Her comments on e-books: “acknowledging that electronic versions do have their place. Gauch, however, stressed that a physical book is in and of itself an art form …” 
I had the pleasure of attending one of Ms. Gauch’s talks when I journeyed to the Highlights Writers’ Workshop at Chautauque a while back. I got my binder out just now and looked over the notes that I took during Ms. Gauch’s talk. “Move out of your comfort zone,” she said. “A reader doesn’t want to travel where he’s been before. Make your book different. Write an unexpected story. You as a writer have the stage. What do you want your reader to see?”
Going back over my notes brought back so many fond memories of Chautauqua. I actually met and talked with Pam Muñoz Ryan of Esperanza Rising and Carolyn Coman of the Newbery Honor book, What Jamie Saw, plus a host of other famous writers. What a treat that was for me. 
So listen to Ms. Gauch’s advice. Write the story that only you can write. Happy writing and Happy Holidays!

Get your first draft done any way you can. Then the real work starts: revision." -- Harold Underdown

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Writer Goals for New Year

Well, my Cookie Exchange Party is over and 2012 is just about over too. Time to set new goals as a writer. I seem to have the same goals every year: write and read more, submit manuscripts to publishers, nurture myself as a writer, attend at least one writer’s conference or workshop, value my writer friends, attend critique sessions, 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.
Cookie Exchange Party
The above is what I wrote a couple of years ago, but it still applies every year. I went over my journal to see if I had really read as much as I had hoped to in 2012. I could have done better, but, oh, well. Some of the books I read were: Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking Glass, Wonder Struck, Dead End in Norvelt, The Silent Boy, Small Steps, Eggs, Tree by Leaf, The Hunger Games, The Story of Ferdinand, The White Elephant, Who Moved My Cheese?, Dear Mr. Henshaw, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Alchemy and Meggy Swann, Diary of Anne Frank, Wonder, Okay For Now, The Mighty Miss Malone, The Lions of Little Rock, Transfer (poetry), and Inside Out and Back Again (in verse).
I am presently in the middle of Summer of the Mariposas written by my friend, Guadalupe Garcia McCall and published by Lee & Low. 
To help you get started in 2013, visit  Rachelle Burke’s Resources for Children’s Writers’ blog. She writes that her resources will “help you improve your writing, network with other writers, get published, and sell your work.” 
Good news: the final art (illustrations) for my next picture book, Lupita’s First Dance, came via email a few days ago. The illustrator, Gabhor Utomo, did an excellent job. I can hardly wait to hold the new book in my hands.

Our prayers and thoughts to the people in Newtown, Connecticut.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

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 few 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.

Now I have to get ready for our annual Cookie Exchange Party, which I am hosting this year. Wishing you Happy Holidays with your families. Back to baking!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Queries and Cover Letters

You’ve written a story. Now it’s time to send it out. How do you query a publisher? What do you say in your letter? Should you send a query or a cover letter and what is the difference? In her article, “Rites of Submission: Cover Letters and Query Letters,” written by Jacqueline K. Ogburn on the Underdown blog, Ogburn lists samples of what to do and what NOT to do when writing queries and cover letters and common mistakes that some writers make.
Regarding cover letters, she writes: So what is a good cover letter? First it is a courtesy. As an editor, I did find submissions that lacked a cover letter a bit rude, like a phone caller who doesn't bother saying hello or identifying themselves before launching into the conversation.
On query letters, she writes: A good query letter is a different beast. Simplicity is still a prime virtue, but a query letter is a come-on; it should entice the editor to read more. It should give a taste of your book, a description of what it is, what is special about it, and it should be less than one page long.
So dust up your manuscript, polish it, and send it on its way. Query or cover letter? That’s up to you. Good luck!
San Antonio River Walk Christmas

You wouldn't expect to pick up a violin, never having played and appear the next day at Carnegie Hall as a soloist. Writing is not so different. It takes practice and learning. -- Jean Karl

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Best Children's Picture Books of 2012

Well, Thanksgiving is over. And speaking of Thanksgiving, here is a link to bookish balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. 
Now Christmas is almost here. Where did the year go? Did you accomplish everything you wanted to do this year as a writer? I didn’t. Time just slipped by too fast. Perhaps it’s not too soon to start setting those goals again for the coming year. Before 2012 is over, here’s the list of the Best Children’s Picture Books of 2012, listed in Publishers Weekly. Awesome. One of these days, your book and mine will be among those on the list. We can dream, can’t we? It’s not impossible. Never give up on your dream.
Santa Fe, NM
Here’s a link to something that’s pretty cool—a three-person rocking chair. What a great idea. Looks a little weird, but hey! It accomplishes the task.
“Books are a delightful society. If you go into a room filled with books, even without taking them down from their shelves, they seem to speak to you, to welcome you.” – William E. Gladstone

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Picture book illustrations

Illustrators and writers as well—you need to take a look at these, “20 stunning book illustrations,” on I’ve always said that a picture book is collaboration between a writer and an illustrator. A writer writes the story, but the illustrator brings it to life. I am in awe of the talent of these artists. I have been so lucky to have gotten such great illustrators for my four books. I’ve seen the sketches for my next two books coming out in the spring and am delighted with what I’ve seen so far. The visual images in a book draw in the young reader. And we have illustrators to thank for that. 
On a different note, I would like to wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving Day with your family and friends. 
“The greatest children’s books are about the journey to wisdom.” – Jane Yolen  

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Writer's retreat and poet laureate

A few days ago, I treated myself to a one-day writer’s retreat in Austin. Smack in the middle of Austin but still secluded is The Writing Barn, perfect for an event like this. The converted barn is large, has lots of character, and is surrounded by trees and cactus and rocks … well, you get the picture. It was rustic. The tree branches groaned as they banged against the barn’s tin roof.  Two deer came out of the woodsy area and meandered around for a while as we watched them from inside the screened-in porch.
It was nice to get away, meditate, be around other writers with the same passion as you, and then get inspired to write, write, write. Being in a setting like that brings out the creative juices. My writing flowed and I hardly lifted my pen as I wrote and wrote. No laptops, no IPads, simply notebooks and pens. It was really, really nice. When was the last time you treated yourself to such an outing? There are plenty of opportunities around the Texas area. Ask around and you’ll find them.
A few days later, I participated in a Picture Book panel at the Corpus Christi ESC Region 2 event on Tuesday, November 13. While there, I met up with Texas Poet Laureate Jan Seale. It was a thrill seeing her again. I first met her at a Laredo bookfest event a few months earlier where I bought her book, The Wonder Is.  
Author and Poet Laureate Jan Seale

"When you choose a creative life, you never grow old. It's forever young and forever growing." -- Salome Jens 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Picture book writing tips

Last summer when I attended the SCBWI-LA conference, one of the workshops I enrolled in was one on picture books headed by author Ann Whitford Paul. Some of her comments: picture books are action! On plot: each event is coming from the event before. The music of picture books: use words that SING! Read your book out loud. Pay attention to the sound of letters. Long vowels are more active and powerful than short ones. Number one rule: main character solves the problem. All this and a lot, lot more. Go to the author’s link above for more of her writing tips.

Mexican pottery at El Mercado
"Listen carefully to first criticisms made of your work. Note just what it is about your work that the critics don't like -- then cultivate it. That's the only part of your work that's individual and worth keeping." -- Jean Cocteau  

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Story Structure

If you’re a visual type of writer, you might find the following post by Ingrid Sundberg on her blog, Ingrid’s Notes, helpful. We’ve all read about story structure when developing our stories. Ingrid actually shows us the story structure in diagrams, pyramids, arcs, and branches. The breakdown of the story is visually pleasing and helpful to writers.
Pumpkin Patch
And here’s some encouraging news in an article, “Majority of Young Readers Still Use Libraries,posted on the Publishers Weekly blog. Part of the article reads: “Some 80% of Americans ages 16-29 have read a book in the past year, and 6 in 10 say they have used their local public library, but ..."
"When you choose a creative life, you never grow old. It's forever young and forever growing." -- Salome Jens

Friday, October 26, 2012

Texas Association for Bilingual Education

Yesterday I attended the 2012 Texas Association for Bilingual Education conference at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, San Antonio. It was a fun-filled day with teachers from all over Texas in attendance. I spoke to many of them and autographed some of my books. I browsed through the huge hall and was impressed with the many publishers and educators who are involved in bilingual education. It was a great event and I’m glad I attended.

La Villita

Later that afternoon, I walked across to La Villita, the historic arts village where you can shop at many art galleries, arts shops, gift stores, and restaurants. 
 If you’re interested in writing picture books, author Pat Mora has an article, “Twenty Tips for Writing Picture Books,” on the Lee & Low Publisher blog. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Mora at some writer events. She has written numerous award-winning books.
"The longer you put off getting serious about writing, the longer you put off success. Procrastination is a writer's biggest enemy." -- Barbara Seuling

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Writer and Illustrator Interviews

Here’s an interesting interview on the Paper Tigers blog about my fellow writer, Rene Colato Lainez. Originally from El Salvador, he now lives in California where he is an elementary school teacher. His books are bilingual as well.
For illustrators, here’s another interview on the same blog. This one is about illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi. She was at the SCBWI-LA conference this past August. Her picture book, I’m Bored, should be out by now.
Pumpkin Patch
 You need to hurry if you want to submit to the Children’s Writer YA Short Story Writing Contest. The deadline is October 31, 2012. Best of luck!
And if you really don’t know what to do with all those books that you love but still want to keep,  here’s a far-out way to do it. A headboard! Really. Take a peek.

"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 12, 2012

School Library Journal and Alicia's Fruity Drinks

Today I made a school visit where the librarian and her helpers made the healthy fruit drinks, aguas frescas, for the students to drink right after the reading of my bilingual picture book, Alicia’s Fruity Drinks/Las aguas frescas de Alicia. It was a delightful visit and, as usual, the students were enthusiastic and asked really good questions after the presentation. They were also happy to have refreshing aguas frescas like those mentioned in my book.
I am very proud that this same book was mentioned in an article, “Building Collections and Connections: A Taste of Latino Culture | Libro por libro,” in the School Library Journal. Written by Tim Wadham, the article reads: “… Rather than simply offering random reviews, the focus of this column will be building core collections and using those books to create connections with readers. With each column I’ll be introducing a topic(s) or theme(s) and I’ll include both new and backlist titles, and discuss how they can be effectively used in schools and public libraries. The books reviewed in this column are all recommended for school or public library collections that serve bilingual and Spanish-speaking readers. And they are not recommended simply because they are good books. These books also provide young Spanish-speaking readers with something more intangible, yet vitally important: a sense of their cultural heritage. In these books, they will see themselves, they will hear the music of the Spanish language, and they will explore the many varieties of the Latino cultural experience.”

Aguas Frescas
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said; people will forget what you do; but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Saturday, October 6, 2012

School visits and book sales

Once your book is published and out there in the universe, you might want to do school visits to connect the students with your books. I came across this article, “The Truth About School Visits: Book Sales,” written by Alexis O’Neill and printed with permission on the Lee & Low publisher blog. It covers not only school visits, but sales of your books at the schools. Sometimes schools allow this, sometimes not.
At my recent school visit two weeks ago, the librarian had printed out order forms for my books before my presentation date. Based on how many were ordered by the parents, she was able to order the books from my publisher with plenty of time before my visit. She placed the order form with the student’s name inside each book and after the presentation, I autographed each one while the students returned to class. Later that day, she distributed the signed books to the teachers of those students. I was impressed with this librarian’s efficiency and orderly way of getting my books into the student’s hands.
Below is a welcome sign made by the students during one of my school visits where I read, The Battle of the Snow Cones.
School visit sign
"The struggle to master a medium, whether it's words, notes, paint, or marble, is the heroic part of making art." -- Chris Van Allsburg

Monday, October 1, 2012

Great time for children's books

This is a great time for children’s books. According to an article in the Columbus Dispatch blog, “Market in children’s books thrives, with promise found in fall releases,” written by Susan Carpenter of the Los Angeles Times, there is still hope for these books. She mentions in her article that, “Naysayers forecasting ‘the end of books,’ however, haven’t explored the children’s section lately or considered the releases for the coming season — from picture books to teen titles. The autumn offerings, which span a variety of topics, suggest why children’s books have become the fastest-growing segment of the publishing industry.”
This, of course, is encouraging news for authors of children’s books. This is indeed inspiring news for all of us. In fact, Ms. Carpenter has another article on the Los Angeles Times blog that addresses the topic of adult books being republished in kid version ones. Interesting read.  

Also, read the latest book review of Alicia’s Fruity Drinks by MAMIVERSE (Universal Empowerment for Latina Moms and Families).
“Identifying research needs is a project-specific task. The best time to do this is during the outlining stage. As you add each scene, make note of any research required to complete that section.” – Writing Tip from Writer’s Digest Weekly Planner  

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Developing characters in your story

Do you have trouble understanding your character? I know. I know. As writers, we’re told to do a character sketch to learn our character’s physical characteristics, fears, flaws, desires, etc. But sometimes, we are still stuck.
Sarah Blake Johnson takes it a step further in her article, “The Prism of Roles: Another View of Character Identity and Narrative,” in the Hunger Mountain blog.
She mentions that “ … every role may carry different weight in the plot and in each scene as the character adjusts the role he plays according to his current status, situation, interaction, and desires. Just as we adjust the way we act according to the different situations we encounter, our characters step into and out of their roles.” 
She gives us an example: “A character’s attempt to change her role, and her resulting success or failure, is at the heart of many books. The tale of Cinderella, who switched from the role of a servant to that of a princess, is an example of this type of story.”
I found her article absolutely fascinating. You will too.
Sandia Mountains
"Touch magic--pass it on." -- Jane Yolen

Sunday, September 16, 2012

One or two spaces after a period?

I know this sounds mundane, but hey, ever wondered why we are now asked to space once after a period? When I was learning how to type a million years ago, the rule was to space twice after each period. When I worked for a local newspaper a while back, I was told that the reason was that it saved space in the final printed text.
Well, here is a brief article by Brian Klems, online editor blogger for Writer’s Digest . He explains why the big mystery about that extra space in his article, “How Many Spaces After a Period?
Well, now you know. It took me a while to get used to this. I wanted to hit that space bar twice every time I ended with a period. I still do sometimes, so every once in a while, I run the Find and Replace All feature on Word. That gets rid of those pesky spaces.
"I like the idea that magic can be hidden under the surface of everyday life." -- Trina Schart Hyman

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Literacy Program

Only two days left: Giveaway on Cynsations: Career Builder & Giveaway: Lupe Ruiz-Flores. Scroll down to the bottom where you can enter to win a “giveaway prize package” from me. That giveaway includes an autographed copy of my latest bilingual picture book, Alicia’s Fruity Drinks/Las aguas frescas de Alicia, plus other goodies. But hurry. U.S. only. Good luck!

Yesterday I did a reading of my latest bilingual picture book, Alicia’s Fruity Drinks/Las aguas frescas de Alicia, in support of H-E-B’s Read 3 Program: Open a Book and a Child’s Mind,  to promote literacy. The event was held at an H-E-B in Corpus Christi, Texas. After the reading, H-E-B gave away copies of my book to some lucky winners.
One of the highlights was that the staff at H-E-B prepared aguas frescas for the people who attended the reading. The fruity drinks were delicious. At my table are the healthy fruit drinks, aguas frescas of watermelon and pineapple. Yum. Yum.
Different flavors of aguas frescas
The Read 3 Program encourages families to read to young children and through in-store activities increases awareness of literacy and books through community outreach. If you would like to donate any new or gently-used books for this project, please take them to any H-E-B during September 12th -25th.

“Children are the hope of humanity. If they are going to change the world, they have to start off optimistically. I wouldn’t consider writing a depressing book for children.” – William Steig

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Cynsations: Career Builder and Giveaway

The Giveaway

I had the honor of being interviewed by award-winning author, Cynthia Leitich Smith, on her blog, Cynsations. Her blog is one of the best for writers everywhere. Check it out.
Read the entire interview,  Cynsations: Career Builder & Giveaway: Lupe Ruiz-Flores, and then scroll down to the bottom where you can enter to win a “giveaway prize package” from me. That giveaway includes an autographed copy of my latest bilingual picture book, Alicia’s Fruity Drinks/Las aguas frescas de Alicia, plus other goodies. But hurry. The deadline for entries is over in a few short days. U.S. only. Good luck!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

SCBWI Regional Writer's Conference - Sept. 15, 2012

If you’re serious about writing and want to get inspired, here’s your chance to learn more about the process. Whether you write fiction, nonfiction, middle grade, young adult, picture books, adult, historical fiction, etc., this writing conference is for you.
The San Antonio, Texas, chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators is hosting a one-day conference at the University of Incarnate Word on Saturday, September 15, 2012. Your tuition includes attending a keynote session, general sessions with agents and editors, intensive breakout sessions with published authors and illustrators, a buffet lunch, a silent auction, and a networking social.
 The topics/sessions conducted by published authors and illustrators, agents, and editors:

 The Importance of First Pages
 Character Development
 Finding Your Hook, and Reeling in an Editor or Agent
Cooking Up a Proposal
Mechanics of a Picture Book
Getting to Point B (Or How to Survive in Publishing by Learning from My Mistakes)
Illustration Basics
Plot Building

 If you’re in the San Antonio or outlying area, don’t miss this opportunity to learn and network with other authors and illustrators who are just as passionate about their work as you are. Come join us! Click here for a link to details and registration.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Writing Scenes

Do you have trouble writing scenes in your story? Writers are always told that scenes should propel the story forward. Just how does a writer know if that’s really happening? In an interview on the Institute of Children’s Literature (ICL) blog, author Chris Eboch goes into comprehensive detail on the topic of scenes.
In her interview, “Scenes and Chapters,” Eboch mentions that scenes are “…an important thing to keep in mind -- a summary of events is not a scene. Scenes are written out in detail, shown, not told, so we see, hear, and feel the action. They often have dialog, thoughts and feelings, and sensory description, as well as action.”
In her discussion with Jan Fields, web editor of the ICL web site, Eboch further elaborates on just how to write a scene, what to include, and how to end it. This is an excellent read that any writer will appreciate. See for yourself.

Grapes in California Vineyard

“Refrain from editorializing in descriptions of your work. An agent or editor shouldn’t have to be told your story is thrilling or heartbreaking; your description should show or reflect these qualities.” – Writing tip from Writer’s Digest Weekly Planner

Friday, August 24, 2012

Diversity in Children's Books

“Every librarian is looking for multicultural books all of the time,” Wisconsin librarian Dahl said. “By and large you see children choosing books that reflect themselves. We need more.”

 This quote was posted by Matthew DeFour on the Wisconsin State Journal blog. You might find DeFour’s article, “Books fail to accurately represent our increasingly diverse world,” about diversity in books or the lack thereof very interesting.  

While at the SCBWI-LA conference, I attended an outstanding writing session by Deborah Halverson, author of Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies. She’s also the founder of blog. She’s offering a free edit of a manuscript. Deadline for entering is August 28, 2012. So hurry!
"Professionalism is an attitude. For a writer, this means professional presentation of queries and manuscripts, a thorough study of the market, and the ability to deliver assigned work on time." -- Writer's Digest Weekly Planner

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Laredo Book Festival

Just returned from the Laredo Book Festival where several local and out-of-town authors celebrated “The Best of Texas and Beyond.” As authors, we did readings and served on different panels throughout the day.  
I served on an afternoon panel plus I did a morning reading of my latest book, Alicia’s Fruity Drinks. It was great meeting some of the local authors. I got to meet the 2012 Texas Poet Laureate, Jan Seale, and I eagerly bought one of her books of poetry, The Wonder Is, which she graciously autographed for me. She lives in the Rio Grande Valley.

The librarians at the Laredo Public Library where the event was held, did an outstanding job of coordinating a full day’s worth of book activities. The public was invited and it was a pleasure interacting with the locals, both grownups and children, on the subject of books.

I hadn’t been to Laredo, Texas, since I was a child. When I saw the St. Augustine Church in the small plaza across from the hotel, it brought back memories of when my abuela used to take me to Sunday Mass there whenever I visited. The church is as majestic as ever. It was a nostalgic trip for me as well as a writer’s event.

While in Laredo, I met a bear. Yep! I kid you not! Here’s the pic. Is the bear real or not? You be the judge!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

2012 SCBWI-LA Conference

Absolutely amazing is all I can say. I just returned from the SCBWI-LA conference (after taking a side trip to visit family for another week in California) and am now getting ready to digest and decipher my notes from the Los Angeles conference. I attended a workshop conducted by the famous author, Newbery Medalist, Linda Sue Park, of A Single Shard. She did not disappoint. The session was intense and covered so much that I found myself whipping out notes as fast as I could. Her class was a combination of writing exercises and lecture all intended to make our work-in-progress shine. She provided excellent writing tips on scenes, pacing, internal and external quests, layering, endings, and revisions, revisions, revisions.   

Author and Patricia MacLachlan
Author and Karen Cushman
Author and Linda Sue Park

 A great treat for me was the Autograph Party on Sunday night. Newbery Medalists, Linda Sue Park, Karen Cushman (The Midwife’s Apprentice, 1996), and Patricia MacLachlan (Sarah, Plain and Tall, 1986) signed copies of my books. Imagine that! It was thrilling!

Autograph Party
These are some of the pictures I took at the conference. Not only was the event productive, but I enjoyed the camaraderie of other writers and illustrators and the inspiring speeches by the wonderful keynote speakers. I highly recommend attending the annual conference if you can. Happy writing!

Conference Session

If a man is keeping an idea to himself, and that idea is taken by stealth or trickery-I say it is stealing. But once a man has revealed his idea to others, it is no longer his alone. It belongs to the world.”  -- Linda Sue Park from A Single Shard