My debut is on Goodreads and available for pre-order!

Last week was a whirlwind week–of the very best kind! Not only did the announcement for my second children’s book go live, but I discovered that my ownvoices debut Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela!–illustrated by Addie Rivera Sonda and published by Albert Whitman & Company this October 1, 2020–was officially on Goodreads!

It’s also available for preorder at Amazon | B&N | Books & Books | IndieBound!!

To say I’m thrilled is an understatement!!

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It’s been surreal watching this story take flight, from conception to sketches. And I can’t WAIT to share it with all of you!!


La Mano Peluda–The Furry Hand

I have fond memories of spending the summers in Colombia when I was a kid. I didn’t get to go every summer, but when I did, I spent just as much time in the city visiting family as I did going to the fincas, or farms. I was lucky that some of my aunts and uncles had them on both Mom and Dad’s side. Some had names I remember to this day, like Villapaz, or Villa of Peace, in Caldas, where I have the image of my Tia Ruth sitting on a stone wall, churning butter. Others were so remote that in order to reach them, we had to travel over a tiny, flimsy wooden bridge–the kind made out of logs tied together, so that crossing over it was a bumpy, jumpy affair. Somehow, my Tio German would get his jeep over it, though people would have to help navigate. And still others were in higher, colder grounds, where every morning a curtain of fog blanketed the finca and surrounding land like the mosquito nets surrounding the beds. Most of the farmhouses contained staples of country living: hammocks, open kitchens and courtyards, parrots, roosters, and beautifully crafted wooden beams and burnt brick tile roofs.

They, along with flowery balconies, are epitomized in the many Colombian crafts sold there and abroad.

Those were times of adventures, of setting out and exploring mountainsides, creeks, and forests. They were also times ripe for ghost tales and mysterious legends, especially the kind to scare children into behaving!

One I remember often is the story of la mano peluda, or the furry hand. I don’t remember much of the actual story behind it. What comes to mind is anecdotal. My cousins and I were in a large room with several beds. Dusk had settled and outside, the noises of the country were settling. Inside this over-packed bedroom with cold cement floors and bare walls, however, was full of the sound of children not wanting to go to sleep. With the lights off, we took to telling stories, with local cousins leading while those of us from abroad listened. That’s when someone–who exactly I can’t remember–started tip toeing, grabbing our ankles in the dark saying, “La mano peluda got you!” You can imagine the screams that elicited.


I always remember that night, just like I do waking up in the morning and stepping out into the wet morning, watching the fog lift back painfully slow until the mountainous surroundings were reveals, and just like I remember the scent of dew and grass and the slow chirping of birds as they awaken. To this day, any time I get up early and step into my backyard, I get sent back to that moment in a Colombian finca.

What I never bothered to find out until recently, however, was the story behind la mano peluda. In, I found this, though it most likely refers to the legends across Latin America, not just Colombia:

La Mano Peluda

Imagine lying in bed and feeling a big furry paw grabbing at your feet. La Mano Peluda (or “The Hairy Hand”) is said to belong to a man who was killed during the inquisition, and chopped up and buried in an old Indian cemetery. His hand is said to have come back to life to seek revenge on his enemies while they’re asleep. Our advice: Wear socks at night!

Read more:

Then I stumbled on a Facebook page for Mitos y Leyendas de Colombia (Myths and Legends of Colombia) and it said this:

Mito o leyenda de la mano peluda

Se dice que un hombre fue injustamente culpado de robo, por lo que su castigo fue cortarle la mano. El hombre con su mano mutilada juro tomar venganza de todos los que injustamente lo señalaron.

Al tiempo del hombre morir, todos estos hombres que los acusaron tiempo atrás, fueron asesinados por una mano peluda, según un testigo que lo vio todo.

That loosely translates to: “They say that a man was unjustly accused of robbery. For his crime, his hand was cut off. The man swore to avenge himself of all those who accused him. When he died, all those who wrongly accused him were murdered by a furry hand, according to witnesses.” Kinda gruesome, if you ask me! It’s also said that parents will tell their children this to make sure they behave. Go figure.

And then there’s this, which I found in a forum:

La Mano Peluda

Localizada en México y Colombia. Común en los subterráneos de las casas. Es una mano grande y velluda de uñas grandes que se asoma por las ventanas o los huecos de los muros. Sirve para infundir temor a los niños traviesos, malcriados y callejeros. En México se cree que llega por las noches y te toca mientras duermes.

“Located in Mexico and Colombia. Common in basements of houses. It’s a large, hairy hand with large nails that peeks through windows or holes in walls. It’s used to strike fear in mischievous, bratty, and wandering children. In Mexico, it’s believed that it comes at night and touches you while you sleep.”

Just one of those things that goes bump in the night. 😉

Blog, Writing

Friday Five

My writing Friday has returned, and to start it off, I thought I’d delve into a “Friday Five” kinda post.

1. My son graduated from preschool. And he’s now registered for KINDERGARTEN. Yes. I am warring with myself. On the one hand, I’m so excited for and proud of him. On the other, I want to throw myself down, pound my fists on the floor, and cry, “I don’t want him to grow up! I don’t wanna!!” But I won’t. Because I’m, you know, an adult. Now we have to work on getting his uniform, school supplies, AND we have to work on a summer reading project which is due by the third day of school. EEEK! Let the homework begin.

Of course, his being bigger now is causing me to seriously think about camp during the summer. At least for part of it. I have work to do–I’m still teaching, and I have to finish this draft…I’m THISCLOSE to finishing the first draft and I’m so ready to begin the serious revisions– and he’s got a ton of energy. I’ve been keeping him busy during the day with pockets of quiet time so I can get work done, but it’s been really hard getting that balance…it hasn’t been working too great.

2. The SCBWI Florida mid-year conference was AMAZING. Not only was it held in Disney’s Yacht Club (which was beautiful and a hop-and-a-skip away from Epcot!), but I also met so many fabulous people and the intensives and workshops were great.

I attended the Novel Intensives on Friday, with agent Josh Adams from Adams Literary, author Gaby Triana, and author Nancy Werlin. What I loved about this intensive, was that it focused on strategies that will help me now as I transition from first draft to serious revision. I have the skeleton down, but now comes the real work: reshaping, adding layers, removing fluff, and working on (fixing?) characters, pace, motives, tension, stakes, and language. I’m adding layers, people! Layers.

I recently tweeted this about revision: “What I love about revision is witnessing how each round molds the story, adding yet another layer that works toward making it whole.” I know my students come to revision with groans and excuses. They hate it (most of them, anyway). I think I used to as well. But there’s a moment of clarity that happens, when I watch what I’ve written be transformed into something so much more beautiful than when it started. A butterfly emerges from its cocoon. That’s what revision does to writing, and I’m loving witnessing this transformation. So yes, revision? Bring it on!

Gaby Triana and Nancy Werlin had great suggestions and exercises for working on plot and characters. I’ve already started implementing some of these, and they’re beyond useful. They also talked about time management, which, as you can see from my number 1 in this post, is tricky! Josh Adams gave us a wonderful view into the current YA market, which writers need to know! It’s daunting and harrowing thinking about the after. After the manuscript, now what? After I finish my story, how do I do this? After the story is finished… the query letter *shudder*–I think most newbies probably follow a similar thought pattern, and that’s why knowing the market is important! (I’m still working on my feelings toward the query letter…) It doesn’t mean going out and writing into a trend (no! Though if that’s the story you must tell, then tell it. Don’t force it into a trend); it means understanding the way it works. Writing is an art, but publication is a business; writers need to know this. All three also read great first lines from current and past books, and it reinforced the importance of a great first line/page.

Then came the first page critiques. These are done anonymously and are exactly what the name suggests: critiques by the panelists of the first page of your manuscript. I submitted mine and when they started picking them at random, holding my breath, vacillating between “please pick mine” and “no, don’t pick mine.” And then they picked mine. I swear I heard nothing by Nancy Werlin reading my first page, and it was scary and nerve-wracking and all I could do was wring my hands to keep them from shaking while I waited for her to finish and for the critiques to begin. But guess what, they loved it! I must’ve sat there with an idiot grin plastered on my cheeks from the feedback I received. It was such a confidence boost, such a shock of electric excitement. I think my favorite compliment was that it sounded “lyrical.” Granted, I know it’s only one page–one out of maybe two or three hundred– but it means that what I did with the first page, and probably chapter since those have been worked and reworked so many times I’ve lost count, works. And it means I can do it. So yeah, that was pretty cool.

On Saturday, I attended the YA track with Nancy Werlin and Noa Wheeler, editor at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan. It was also a great workshop, with the focus on characters. Again, we got great exercises that I’m keeping handy now as I start transitioning from first draft to revision. Then, Sat afternoon, I had my first chapter critiqued, only…it wasn’t my first chapter anymore (though it was one character’s first chapter). Still, it was good because I saw some major flaws with that character’s chapter/motivation, so I know it’s something I have to work on. Donna Gephart was sweet and insightful and gave me some really good notes.

It was a great experience, and I’m so happy I was able to go. Another pretty freaking awesome thing happened, but I don’t know if I can say much about it, so for now, I’m keeping quiet. Suffice it to know that I was excited and terrified all rolled up into one sticky ball, but that which doesn’t scare, isn’t worth pursuing! Regardless of how it turns out, the fact that it happened had me grinning, again, like an idiot for a long, long while.

3. I went on vacation after the conference, but it was the most stressful vacation ever! Why? Because I had to close out session 2 (finish grading and entering final grades) and I had to prepare session 3 (for which I had to finish converting the course to the new learning management system). I wouldn’t have chosen to go on vacation this week, but since the conference was in Orlando, this was the most obvious choice. Still, it was nice going to the parks (sometimes), and working by the pool (much better than working in my desk). I wasn’t feeling great thanks to a small flare-up and difficulty sleeping, but I trudged through and made it. I think another mini-vacation is in order. This time, to the beach. And this time, not during such a critical time in the semester!

Of course, vacation on the beach will probably look something like this:

4. I started a 4-week class in LitReactor with Mandy Hubbard, YA author and agent with D4EO Literary, on writing and selling the YA novel. This class was perfect for the month gap I had between my Novel III and Novel IV classes, and I’m so happy I signed up.  It’s been awesome, and the community of writers in there is unbelievable. Some amazing talent! And Mandy Hubbard is funny and insightful and helpful! We get our first three chapters and a query letter critiqued during the class by both classmates and Mandy, and I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback. This is what I love about classes in workshop settings, like the UCLA classes. They are invaluable for growing as a writer. Critique groups, too. The only way to get better (other than learning about craft and revision and working hard, of course) is to put your writing out there. It’s scary, but it is SO SO SO beneficial. It also teaches how to take criticism. I don’t get defensive like I did when I first started sharing my work. I take it in, let it simmer, and often find truth, which then makes my writing that much better. My first page/chapter wouldn’t be such if I hadn’t listened to suggestions of my classes. In fact, it was a classmate in my UCLA class who suggested starting with my male character! So yes, I’m excited about this class.

5. I’m also excited about starting Lynn Hightower’s Novel Writing IV class at UCLA’s Writers Extension. I received the email that I was accepted into this advanced course in early June, and I registered immediately after! I’m nervous, too, and a little terrified as it’s going to push me more, which is a GREAT thing (even if my first reaction is to bury my head in the figurative sand)! Like I’ve said in the above points, what pushes me in my writing makes me better. So I’ll gulp down my fear and my self-doubt and do it!

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”– Sylvia Plath

Happy Friday, everybody!

Blog, Photography, Ramblings

Peeking in…

I’ve been quite MIA here, I know. It’s been a whirlwind of a month, but a great one! From my son’s preschool graduation, to an amazing SCBWI conference, to staring an online YA Class with Mandy Hubbard, to getting accepted into Lynn Hightower’s Novel IV class at UCLA Extension, to a week in Orlando. Add to that summer classes ending and prepping for the new term that starts Mon (all during vacation), and you have a recipe for craziness. But I’ll come back soon, and I may just elaborate more on some of the above.

Oh! And I added my Twitter feed on here in case you want to follow me! I update that a little more lately. Something about bite-sized messages I can do from my phone makes it easier to update. 🙂

In the meantime, I’m sharing this pic from our trip. Hubby is getting into photography. He takes the camera everywhere and is always taking pictures of everything, especially nature and architecture (and he’s pretty good!). So for Father’s Day, I signed him up for a Nature Photography class. He was super excited! Anyway, on one of the afternoons after my conference, we took a walk. We were staying at Disney’s Yacht Club and the walk consisted of making the loop through the Boardwalk, where my son begged and begged for a disposable camera. He also loves taking pictures! We got him one and he spent the rest of the walk stopping with hubby to take pictures. In this one, two bunnies were in the grass and it was such a cute shot of them both, father and son, both with cameras in their hands.


Blog, Travel

For the love of flying

Today I got to live flying in an airplane through the eyes of my son, and it made me happy. There’s something wondrous about embarking on something new with a child who is old enough to understand what is going on around him but who isn’t old enough to understand what, if any, dangers lurk in that adventure. At four (and going-on-fourteen…), his biggest fears are the dark, monsters, shadows, and the mystery eyeball (still trying to figure that one out)—he knows nothing about plane crashes, so there’s no reason for the fear to take hold of him.

I’m thankful for that because it lets him truly enjoy this miracle of flying.

I love flying, from the speeding up in the runway to the lifting, when I feel the changes in pressure as I marvel at the city below me growing smaller and smaller until the clouds envelop me and I feel close to the edges of the earth. I also love the landing, when the world below grows larger until we jerk forward as the tires touch the pavement.

Do I get nervous? Of course. My godparents passed away in an airplane crash in January of 1990. I was ten. And since then, I remember hearing of plane crashes and seeing the movie based on Eastern’s crash in the Everglades. I know that it can happen, so of course I get nervous. But I also know car crashes happen and that we are less likely to experience a plane accident than we are a car one.

One of the things I refuse to do, though, is let fear reign me.  I’ve been on the verge of it, for other reasons, and I hate feeling like that.  I’m immobilized, with the weight of impending doom suffocating me until I make the superhuman effort to wrestle that beast out and think of other things, happy things.

And I pray. Whatever resistance I may have with religion, I am still spiritual and I have a strong faith in God and to Him I pray.

Throughout this ride today, on our way to the airport (“Are we there yet?”), as we checked-in our luggage (“Where are they taking our stuff?”) and passed through the security (“Cool!”), boarded the plane, and took off (“That.Was.Awesome!”), I explained what was happening. His excitement was contagious. I hope that excitement never fades and he still finds this adventure as “amazing” and “awesome” as he did today.


Blog, Ramblings

Valentine’s Day – an Afterthought

I had mighty and noble intentions to blog on Valentine’s Day. Not only because it’s a, well, hallmark holiday or because it seemed fitting, but because it was the fourth anniversary of my dad’s death. The day started and picked up speed, and before I knew it, it was bed time, I was exhausted, and I was void of words. So I didn’t blog.

But today is a new day and one that is not laden with to-do’s (or rather, one in which I can briefly ignore the growing to-do list).

If I’m honest with myself, I just wasn’t feeling Vday this year. I can’t remember if I felt this way last year (or the year before, or the year before that…), but with me being amidst a flare, and with the pain and exhaustion that comes with it, I just wasn’t feeling well enough to care this year. Then there was the fact that Vday fell on a Tuesday (a teaching day), we had an appointment to file our taxes after work, and I was remembering the aftermath of my dad’s death four years go. That doesn’t exactly spell out romance.

Still, my son was excited and he kept counting down until Vday. The night before, my husband helped him fill out Vday Transformer cards and pack small, pink, white and silver wrapped chocolate nuggets for his classmates. For us, he wrote his name and learned how to draw hearts–something he was extremely proud of!–and kept giggling as we had him write and draw on the other’s card. It made me smile. We had also bought him a small token, a “Green Power” (translated: Green Lantern) blanket. And even though the cards and chocolates didn’t quite work out (another post for another day, I guess), he still had a sweet day.

Today, when my husband picked up our son (L) from school, the kids were resting on the carpet. L was lying next to one of the little girls he likes (they’re all 4/5). According to the teacher, L was caressing her face and they were saying to each other: “From my heart to yours.” It’s one of those moments (for all moms, I think) that is both endearing and frightening as I get a flash to his future, teenage self when he falls in love for the first time (and, conversely, when he gets his heart broken for the first time). The sweetness of that gesture, though, full of innocence, had his teacher and us saying, “Awwwww.” It reminded me of how sweet and caring and loving my son is, traits that I absolutely love. He’s full of hugs and I-love-you’s and sweet kisses–and I hope he never changes.

Blog, Ramblings


Today during dinner, my husband, son, and I sat, eating an array of leftovers that consisted of rice, spaghetti, carrots, pan-fried tilapia, eggs, teriyaki chicken, and salad. We sat, said our prayers, and began chatting about our day. Mid-way through the meal, the conversation went something like this:

“I don’t like salad,” my son says.

“That’s okay,” I reply.  “I like it. Do you know what I like about it?”

My son shakes his head.

“The colors.” And he proceeds to name the colors in my salad with me.

Daddy chimes in and says, “Carrots are good for you, baby. They give you super vision, like Superman.”

“I don’t want to be Superman,” my son says.

“Then how about Spiderman? Spiderman eats salad to make him strong.”

My son shakes his head. “I don’t want to be Spiderman.”

“Then, who do you want to be?” I ask.

“No one,” he replies. “I just want to be me.”

My husband and I were caught off guard by the innocent, yet profound statement uttered by my almost-four-year-old.

We spend our lives looking up to and wanting to be others. We look up to role models, and work our behinds off so we can achieve the sliver of fame or recognition or status that we want, because we want to be like someone else. We want money because we want to be like those who are well off. We want those shoes because they’re the latest fashion and all the “cool people” have those shoes – and we want to be one of those “cool people.” We want that car because it says something about a status that we may or may not have. (And by the way, the “we” refers to us as humans, the general population, you, me, the guy in the corner, the girl at the mall. It means everyone.)

Sometimes, we believe we’re happy with who we are and, at times, we are. We like ourselves. But there are other times, and more than once, like during a mid-life crisis, when we just want to be someone else or we want what someone else has. We let ourselves be influenced by this and it clouds our judgement, our actions, our behaviors.

Lukas is on to something. “I just want to be me.” With imperfections and character flaws. I hope I can remember this next time I want to change something about me so I can be like someone else.

Blog, Ramblings

Chocolate Dreams

My son’s sleeping has finally become regular over the last few months. This semester was certainly much better than last, with only two weeks of multiple wakings due to a cold, croup, and ear infection. By 8 PM he’s in bed, and because he’s pretty much given up on napping during the day, he only mumbles, sings, chats for a few seconds before his eyes shut, his breathing slows, and soft snores escape his lips. In the morning, he’s up anywhere between 4-6 am, at which time he drowsily pit-pats his way into our room, climbs in bed with us and, if it’s our weekend (meaning neither of us have to go to work), he’ll keep sleeping until 7-8 am.

This morning was no exception.

His routine before settling himself back to sleep is as follows: Once in bed, he rolls from me to my husband. At each of us, he leans over, smacks a wet kiss on our cheek, and says, “Mommy [or daddy], I love you.” We say I love you back, he smiles, sighs, and turns over. Sometimes he’ll do that a few times before he goes back to what children dream of.

Occasionally, he’ll talk in his sleep. We know he is prone to sleep disturbances, as he’s had night terrors pretty badly, but on the smaller, less intrusive scale is the sleep talking.

This morning, after he’d fallen back asleep in our bed, he sighed, smiled, and whispered, “Mmmm, chocolate.”

Oh how sweet his chocolate dreams must be!