Friday, April 29, 2011

Fess Up Friday: I'm 80% Done with My YA Book

I'm almost done with the draft for my young adult novel. I have about four and a half more chapters to go, and then I can officially say I have a completed manuscript, one that would still require A TON of revision nonetheless. I'm stoked that I got this far because I still remember the night I started my first chapter, knowing I had a really long road ahead of me. So I made up a writing mantra to get me through all those times when I was unmotivated: "Someone else will write your book if you don't. So get moving." The idea of an imaginary writer out there writing the same book as I am has kept me on my feet.

I'm the tortoise who's about to cross the first finish line. Almost there...

 image from Disney

Monday, April 25, 2011

PCCWW's Whole Novel Retreat

I'm posting for a friend about the Pacific Coast Children's Writers Workshop's upcoming Whole Novel Retreat on October 7-9 in Santa Cruz, CA.  Last summer, I attended a writing workshop with PCCWW and had the first chapter of my work-in-progress critiqued by an industry agent and editor. With the help of a writing coach, I also did some hands-on work on my story structure with consideration to different character archetypes. I met some great people, learned more about the craft, and walked away with a better idea of where my YA novel was headed. This year, the organizer is changing the structure of the workshop so that a selected group will be able to have their whole novel critiqued.

For more details about this children's writers retreat, visit the Pacific Coast Children's Writers Workshop's web site by clicking here.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Two Sentences Still Count as Writing

The other night, I stayed up into the wee AM hours of the night to work on my YA novel. The next day, my body paid for my wordplay bender with an on-and-off headache. A loved one suggested that I go to bed early and perhaps skip the writing for one night. I said I couldn't do that because my day wouldn't be complete until I'd written something. Anything.

"If I go to bed early without writing anything, I'd lie awake bemoaning all the clever conversations my characters are having that I can't write down," I said.

But in the evening, I was so very tired. So I jotted down two sentences, a stark contrast from the pages upon pages I'd written the night before. And I went to bed and was out like Rip Van Winkle.

Late-night writing binges are awesome. But I gotta remember to take care of myself too.

Friday, April 15, 2011


I just finished reading the juicy SWEET VALLEY CONFIDENTIAL: TEN YEARS LATER... by Francine Pascal (Adult/Young Adult-St. Martin's Press). Found in the grown-up section of the bookstore, this book is a where-are-they-now exposé on Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield of Sweet Valley. Before picking up the book, I'd already read the spoilers and reviews posted all over the Internet. Nostalgia prompted me to read the book on my own nonetheless.

Growing up, I didn't read all the Sweet Valley books and I never saw the TV show, but I read enough of Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High to remember that Elizabeth Wakefield was the good girl, her twin Jessica was the bad girl, Todd Wilkins was Elizabeth's boyfriend and puppy, and Bruce Patman was full of it. That was then- things are different ten years later.

Soon I'll be announcing a book giveaway contest for my copy of SWEET VALLEY CONFIDENTIAL: TEN YEARS LATER... So stay tuned!

For those of you who read SWEET VALLEY CONFIDENTIAL, feel free to comment on what you thought of the book.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary!

Today is Beverly Cleary's birthday and also National D.E.A.R. Day, or Drop Everything and Read Day. For more info on this day, click here.

I heart Beverly Cleary. RAMONA AND HER FATHER was the first chapter book I read when I was a kid Ramona Quimby was and still is one of my favorite heroines from kidlit. I always understood where Ramona was coming from- from her exacting revenge on her classmate Susan for copying her owl to her if-only daydream of being  a star in a TV commercial to her embarrassment from cracking a raw egg on her head in front of her classmates. 

One of my favorite Ramona moments is from BEEZUS AND RAMONA (I think).  Beezus freaks out 'cuz she thinks Ramona's gone missing and then she finds her in the basement where Ramona has been busy taking one bite of each apple from a crate of fruit. Totally something I would have done at that age.

If anyone has any favorite Ramona memories they'd like to share, feel free to leave a comment!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Don't Put Lipstick on a Pig

On Saturday, I attended SCBWI San Francisco/South's discussion panel on Multiculturalism. The presenters were award-winning kidlit author Rita Williams-Garcia (via Skype) and Abigail Samoun, a former editor at Tricycle Press who's now an agent with Red Fox Literary. Being that multiculturalism is woven into a few of my writing projects and book ideas, I soaked in what the industry profs had to say.

Rita gave some insights about developing a character who could be a "stereotype" into a more authentic character:
- Every character has a function. Find the truth of the character and what their journey is.
- Sometimes stereotypes exist because of some statistical truth. As writers we have to dig deeper and add more layers to such characters by sharing, for example, the character's soul and values.
- If there are things in our culture we have to address, we shouldn't put lipstick on a pig to cover it up.
-The writer has to be brave and come from a place of integrity when addressing such characters.

Abigail read aloud excerpts from YESTERDAY I HAD THE BLUES by Jeron Ashford Frame (Picture Book-Tricycle Press) as an example of what a solid multicultural story looks like, even if it was written by a "cultural outsider." Then she shared the characteristics of a good multicultural story:
-A consistent, authentic, and evocative voice
-Vivid metaphors
-Research and craft
-Empathetic imagination
-Intimate knowledge of character, their culture, the environment the character was raised in (Know a character right down to what breakfast cereal they eat!)

I enjoyed listening to Rita and Abigail talk. After their presentation, I stuck around and mingled with the other attendees. Glad I came.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Fess Up Friday: Instant vs. Delayed Gratification

I have a story in my head. I know how it begins, and how it ends. I know the central conflict in the belly of the story and I know the resolution, where it all comes out. But writing it all out, getting my protagonist from Point A to Point B is a different kinda tamale. I'm about two-thirds of the way in writing my YA novel, and while I should probably attack each new chapter with the same gusto Pac-Man has when he jumps the monsters after he has downed his immunity tablets, I sometimes look at the blank screen under the chapter heading with a sense of dread. That's where self-bargaining comes in. 

I strike a deal with myself: I give myself a prize if I can write say, 600 words in X amount of time. Twenty minutes later, after I've written one whole prepositional phrase, I talk myself into rewarding myself first.  Because I deserve the prize anyway. Because I work so hard. Because I change so many diapers. Because I  cook and clean for everyone. Because I even find time to work out. Because rewarding myself would give me the kick I need to fill up the page. So I claim my prize and I'm back at the laptop. Nothing.

Lesson learned: Instant gratification doesn't work for me.

Last week, I sat in front of the laptop for a couple of hours late into the night and churned out about 1,000 words. 

So Bob, what do I get?

The deep-from-the-gut announcer voice booms:

Put down that toothbrush and pack up your glasses case, Cynthia. Because you're about to  take a trip to yooooour........freezer and sink your choppers into a Häagen-Dazs Vanilla and Dark Chocolate Ice-Cream Bar...

...Aaaaand there's more. You will need to take the ice-cream bar with you when you head over toooooooooo......the TV where you can watch shows on your TiVo, such as:

Gossip Girl 
(Been waiting forever for the Dan and Blair kiss. TEAM DAIR, woot-woot!)

Family Guy
(Nothing like a good ol' Agatha Christie-style murder mystery to kick off this season)

aaaand..... 30 Rock 
(In this episode from a different season, Liz dreads going to her high school reunion to see the people she remembers picking on her. But at the party, everyone remembers Liz as the mean girl and bully. Which makes me think- how many of us recall a high school experience that's actually different than what it really was?)

All this is yours courtesy of delayed gratification. Continue writing like it's 1999 and come back for more prizes.

What a coincidence it is that the shows I like all feature a writer- Dan Humphrey, Brian Griffin, and Liz Lemon.

Writers, who are you like the most?
a. Delicate Dan
b. Brooding Brian
c. Lashing Liz
OR d. All of the above
For me, it's definitely ALL OF THE ABOVE.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Teaching with Children's Books: Poetry

April is National Poetry Month and what better way to bring poetry into the classroom than to read aloud some rhyming children's books. Here are a few picture books told in rhyme and/or verse I've read:  


THE MONSTER WHO ATE MY PEAS by Danny Schnitzlein, Illust. by Matt Faulkner (Picture Book-Peachtree) A boy gives up his favorite things to a monster in exchange for getting his peas eaten for him.

HOP! PLOP! by Corey Rosen Schwartz & Tali Klein , Illust. by  Oliver Dunrea (Picture Book-Walker & Company) Mouse and Elephant share some noisy adventures together on the playground. The book is stocked with examples of onomatopoeia (pronounced on-uh-mat-uh-PEE-uh), which refers to words that mimic the very sound they describe (e.g. plop, boom, whoosh).


FIREFIGHTERS IN THE DARK by Dashka Slater, Illust. by Nicoletta Ceccoli (Picture Book-Houghton Mifflin) A girl imagines all the surrealistic places a fire engine goes to when its siren goes off.

PIGGIES IN A POLKA by Kathi Appelt, Illust. by  LeUyen Pham (Picture Book-Harcourt) I was a guest at a piggie hootenanny, which is a rowdy and merry gathering among folk musicians and locals. 

I've also read couple of poetry collections intended for older readers I just wanted to share:

AN EYEBALL IN MY GARDEN AND OTHER SPINE-TINGLING POEMS edited by Jennifer Cole Judd and  Laura Wynkoop, Illust. by Johan Olander (Middle Grade-Marshall Cavendish) A group of writers contributed to this collection of poems where Dracula goes coffin shopping, the ghost of a goldfish haunts a toilet, a monster lurks in a wishing well, and a dead girl who was bullied comes back for her bully. (Keep this one around for Halloween.)

SHUT UP, YOU'RE FINE: POEMS FOR VERY, VERY BAD CHILDREN by Andrew Hudgins (Adult/Young Adult-The Overlook Press) I found this in the grown-up section and couldn't stop reading this award-winning poet's glimpses into the dark world of the young and troubled. With poems featuring verbally abusive parents, creepy grandmothers, masturbation, thoughts of violence, and animal cruelty, this collection of poems is NOT intended for children or the classroom. But I wanted to mention this book because I think some mature teens would get the subversive voice of the poems, told in the form of upbeat nursery rhymes.