I can share my news!! My picture book Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! is being published by Albert Whitman in fall 2020, and I’m thrilled!! I feel so incredibly blessed for getting to do what I love, and I can’t wait to share Ava Gabriela with all of you!
THIS IS NOT A DRILL, PEOPLE! It’s Pitch Wars time again and I am so freaking excited to be mentoring MG this year!
If you’ve stumbled on this post by accident, you might be asking yourself: What’s Pitch Wars? It’s only the best contest ever, held by Brenda Drake, where selected mentees work with mentors to polish their manuscripts extra shiny for an agent round. You can read more about what Pitch Wars is here, the details here, and the schedule here.
The best part isn’t getting to have your work in front of agents, though. The best part, in my humble opinion, is the amazing community of writers and writer friends that comes with this contest. Because not everyone will get in—that’s just part of how a contest works—but everyone can take part in the building of friendships, improvement of craft, and connection with like-minded peeps that comes with all the contest hoopla.
*have been on both the mentee and mentor sides of the Pitch Wars. In 2013, Dannie Morin chose me as one of her alternates, and in 2015, I served as a co-mentor with her. Both times, I’ve met so many wonderful, hard-working writers. Some of us have gone on to become beta readers and even CPs! In fact, Dannie and my co-mentees and I still keep in touch and read each others’ work.
*Image is part of the Pitch Wars Scavenger Hunt.
Some quick facts about me:
- I’m Colombian-American. While I was born in the States, I spent many summers between Bogotá, Medellín, Manizales, and Cali (a city in Colombia, not California). I still have family there and visit whenever I have a chance. The Andes mountains will always feel like home for me.
- I’m completely bilingual in Spanish/English. In fact, Spanish was my first language. There’s a funny story about me, kinder, and getting lost. In addition to Spanish, I know a sprinkling of French from two years I took in high school.
- I’ve been an English professor for over ten years. I teach composition, creative writing (poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction), and U.S. Hispanic/Latino Literature. I started teaching when I was 24… and many of my students were my age. I might’ve had a laugh or two pretending I was a student at the start of a semester.
- I’m also a full-time wife and mom. My son is almost nine-going-on-fifteen and swears he knows more than I do. It’s a good thing he’s cute.
- In 2011, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and low-level lupus (also sometimes called undifferentiated connective tissue disorder or pre-lupus).
- I’m addicted to coffee, though I have to drink decaf past noon or I won’t sleep! Sit me in a café, give me a latte, and I’m a happy camper. But I don’t like coffee desserts (e.g. ice cream, tiramisu, etc.). Go figure.
- I love musicals. Sometimes, I wish life were a musical and I could burst out into song and dance at key moments.
- My great-uncle, Bernardo Arias Trujillo, was a Colombian novelist and poet. I like to say writing is in my blood. So is music. On my father’s side, I have several aunts, uncles, and cousins who’ve played professionally and who even founded a school of music for kids in Manizales—La Rafael Pombo.
- Right now, I’m on submission with a MG portal fantasy that features Colombian folklore and the Colombia of the early 90’s. Colombia tends to seep into much of what I write.
- I’m a poet and fiction writer. I write for kids of all ages—PB, MG, and YA—and I’m agented by the lovely Deborah Warren of East West Literary.
If you want to know more about me, click on About above.
So…why pick me? Because I’m awesome. Duh.
Okay, no—for real.
I have over twelve years’ experience in reading critically and editing other people’s work. I grade over 400 assignments (essays, poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction) per semester. In addition to the grading–in which I look at, comment on, and correct everything from grammar to content–I critique and beta read for several published and pre-published writer friends.
Here’s what you can expect from me: I’m going to be honest. I’m going to fangirl over the stuff I love, but I’m also going to let you know when something’s not working. I’ll also help you brainstorm, if you need me to. Most of our communication will be via email or chat (Twitter, Google, or Skype).
My preference is to work with MS Word Track Changes, where I’ll provide tons of in-text comments. Some of these will be questions I have. Some will be comments/observations. Some will simply be snorts of laughter or me yelling at the characters. I can get intense when reading. You will always have feedback on big picture items (plot, characters, setting, world building, etc.) and small picture bits (grammar, syntax, punctuation, tense and POV shifts, etc.) In addition to the in-text comments, I’ll be providing a detailed edit letter addressing main concerns. My goal is to get you one extensive, comprehensive critique and a second, quicker read before the agent round. It all depends on how fast you revise within our two-month time period.
There will be many moments like this:
And many others like this:
I’m looking for a mentee who’s not afraid to get dirty in revisions, who’s a good listener, who’s not afraid to ask questions, and who will work hard. I shouldn’t be the first person who’s looked at this manuscript (in addition to you–the writer–and close family) and this shouldn’t be a first draft, but I don’t expect it to be perfect either (otherwise, you wouldn’t be entering Pitch Wars!) Together we will work to make your story be the best it can be and get it ready for agents.
As a reminder, I’m mentoring MG this year. Here’s what’s right for me:
- Fantasy: Fantasy is probably my favorite genre. Give me a unique setting and story, a grand adventure, fabulous world building, and characters I can fall in love with, and I’m sold! Even better is if it’s something that hasn’t been done before or in a setting that’s new. Some of my favorite MG fantasies are SE Grove’s The Glass Sentence, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
- Adventure: I’m also a sucker for fast-paced adventure and nail-biting suspense. Two MG adventures I love in this genre are Christina Diaz Gonzalez’s Moving Target and the Scholastic 39 Clues.
- Magical Realism: Magical realism is one of those genres that people often mistaken for fantasy, but the two are not the same (though both fall under the speculative fiction umbrella). Magical realism is deeply rooted in the ordinary with only a hint of extraordinary. Here’s a great post by fellow Pitch Wars mentor Joy McCullough-Carranza on the difference between magical realism and fantasy. MG examples of magical realism are Because of Winn Dixie, When the Butterflies Came, and The Secret Garden.
- Diversity and #ownvoices: I’d love to see stories with nuanced, underrepresented characters. I’m open to all, but there’s a special place in my heart for characters who have a chronic illness and non-Western cultures that haven’t been done much or at all, like Wonder and The Red Pencil.
- Historical or near historical: In this genre, I’m particularly attracted to stories from underrepresented cultures and/or that feature adventure. I’m also interested in historical fantasy. The Red Umbrella, Inside Out & Back Again, Just a Drop of Water, and Echo are some good examples.
What’s not for me right now:
- Contemporary (unless they fall into #’s 2 or 4 the above). It’s not what I read most so I don’t think I’d be the best mentor for you in this category.
- Mysteries, thrillers, satire, gothic, sci-fi, horror (I seriously can’t watch scary movies. I will never sleep! I scare/startle easily)
- Stories that don’t offer some kind of hope at the end. I’m okay with a not-so-happy ending as long as there’s a glimmer of hope.
- I have a bit of a squeamish stomach, so on-the-page rape or murder or gruesome scenes will not be for me.
Some other things to consider if you want to pitch to me:
- I love stories with a nuanced, strong sense of place. These don’t have to be fantastical worlds, either—place is important in both contemporary and fantasy.
- I tend to be drawn to lyrical language (it’s the poet in me), but I also love humor and sarcasm. Ultimately, though, it’s about the characters and their journeys and how connected I feel to them.
- Having tons of grammar errors in the opening pages or query is a turn-off. I don’t expect perfection at all (heck, I’ve made typos before!) but if the opening pages—which are often the most looked at in the revision process—are riddled with errors, it makes me worry the rest of the manuscript will be in worse shape.
- Before I select a mentee, I will ask for more pages and a synopsis. Yes, yes. I know. Synopsis are icky. But they’re valuable. So if you haven’t already worked on one, get to it! If you don’t know how, check out this how-to.
- As much as I would really, really love to give feedback to everyone who pitches to me, I don’t want to promise something I can’t deliver. I will try my hardest to offer at least some nugget of feedback or advice, but the truth is that Pitch Wars falls right when the semester starts, so my focus will be on giving my mentee and my students my undivided attention.
If you’d like a sense of what I like to read, you can find me on Goodreads. It doesn’t list everything I’ve read and I don’t always do a good job at updating it, but I think it can give you an idea of my reading tastes.
If you have any questions or if you’re not sure if your project fits my wish list above, feel free to ask! You can @ me on Twitter.
There are times when the words flow forward, a strong unstoppable current that carries anything in its path. Then there are other times when the words come in a trickle, a slow moving stream, jammed with pebbles in some spots and boulders in others. And every once in a while, the flow becomes stagnant–whether because of life circumstances or because you’re simply drained from working too much.
This is such a natural part of the process! Frustrating, yes, but normal. Just recently, I had to stop working on my WIP for a while. The words were drying up, not because they weren’t there but because my body was going through a rough patch. Not only was I flaring with the lupus and fibro, but I’d developed tendonitis in my shoulder, severe spasms in my cervical area, and my wrists were swollen. Talk about getting creativity sucked out of you!
So how do you find motivation when the words just won’t come? When you’ve dried up from the inside?
You find inspiration somewhere else. All you need is a spark–a hearty, healthy spark–to trigger one creative endeavor. Imagine a dam of twigs. The spark loosens a small hole that lets some water in, a trickle. Then that trickle grows and widens so it’s a stream. The process continues, trickle, stream, until there’s so much pressure the dam breaks and a torrent of water pours over the wreckage, burying it.
Inspiration and motivation work this way. I’ve held hard and fast to this idea for a while now, and it helps every single time. Here are some things I’ll do to help myself heal and bring the power on.
- I read. Think of reading and a fountain filled with new words, phrases, and ideas. When you’re feeling depleted of words, reading will renew you. I love to imagine that as I read, the words from the book I’m reading seep into my pores, satiating me. And in doing so, satisfying a deep thirst. Not only do ideas beget ideas, but words beget words. It’s such a beautiful thing. Sometimes, I only have to read one book to feel replenished. Other times I have to read more. But every time, it works.
- I change activities. Instead of pushing myself even harder when I’m already on empty, I’ll do something else. Maybe I’ll take my son to the park and, if I’m feeling up to it physically, I’ll play with him with the soccer ball. If I’m not up to it, maybe I’ll take him out somewhere, or we’ll play a board game. Or we’ll read one of his books together. Or maybe I’ll go sight-seeing with my husband around town. Or maybe I’ll take a “mini-cation” and do something I want to do–by myself. Maybe I’ll see a movie I’ve been wanting to see. Maybe I’ll sit by the bay and listen to the water lapping against the seawall, or I’ll . Maybe I’ll go shopping! I do something to shift from my current state of mind and that can be enough to loosen the words out of me.
- I try another genre or category. One of the things I love about writing for different age categories or genres, is that when I’m feeling drained in one area, I can simply cross over to another and it’s fresh, new words. A new feel. A new idea or direction–and that’s enough to get me back on track.
- I try another creative activity. I love photography. I love to draw (though I’m not really good at it lol). I love crafts. When I’m feeling bogged down and uninspired, sometimes all I have to do is to get my brain on another creative endeavor and I feel refreshed. Other authors paint. Or write music. Or are graphic designers. Any creative exercise outside of writing can fuel your words!
- I find my way to nature. There’s something to be said about letting nature fill you with peace from the inside out and letting that peace dislodge the words from you.
So what do you do to get your words back?
One of the things I learned quickly after being diagnosed with lupus and fibromyalgia is that I had two choices: I could break down and give up or I could keep moving forward, however slow it had to go at times. Don’t get me wrong–there are times I felt (feel) broken, or frustrated, or angry, but I’m not giving up.
The same applies to writing. And, well, to all things life.
The only way we will reach our goals and dreams is by not giving up when life throws us challenges. No matter how large those challenges are, we can’t quit. We can slow down and take a breather, but:
And then there’s this thought:
Rejection and challenges sometimes knock the wind out of us. They leave us battered and wounded. And sometimes, the temptation to quit is very strong. Don’t let it win. “They” say the wall is there to see how much you want whatever is on the other side. If you quit, you’ll never know, you’ll never reach it.
Time improves our craft. It’s human nature to be impatient. My son, who is 8, often gets frustrated and gives up because something is too hard or is taking too long. I’m trying to teach him to keep at it until he gets it write, until he succeeds. For writing, time is our friend. I am a much better writer than I was one, five, ten years ago.
So keep on keeping on.
I’ve been so deep in the writing cave, that I’ve neglected my Motivational Monday series. I’ve finished the first draft now, and it’s sitting, gaining perspective. 🙂 I’ve switched to revising a picture book manuscript and preparing for my fall classes, which start in two weeks. There’s never a dull moment! On that note, hope these are inspiring!
I’m in the thick of rewriting my WIP and I’m happy to say it’s finally flowing, that I’m finally progressing. I’ve covered 27K in two weeks, and I’m hopeful that in another three, I’ll be done with the first draft. I finally worked through my desire to go back and re-read/edit every. freaking. scene. It was a struggle, but I pushed through it. What helped me? Remembering this:
It’s okay to make mistakes in the first draft. For me, it’s a journey of discovery, and in attempts to try to “get it right” right away, I was shutting down. I also realized that in order to be able to revise anything, I needed to write something first. And I had a plan, an outline. At first, I fretted that I didn’t have all the details worked out. That I only knew with certainty the major plot points, how it ends. I also had the first half more fleshed out, but that second half scared the bejeezers out of me. Because while I knew what was going to happen, I wasn’t sure how I was going to connect the dots. Then I remembered this:
And I took it by sections. As I connected the inciting incident to the first plot point, the events coming right after came into focus. As I connected the first plot point to the second, the details after that became clear. It’s been a dance. Write, flesh out outline more. Write, flesh out outline more. I’m happy with this progress, and I feel more confident with how the story is evolving. I have half the manuscript written, and though the other half is still blank:
You would think that with two other manuscripts under my belt, I would feel more confident and comfortable with this one. But truth be told, each one has brought with it a different process, and a different set of emotional expectations. I’ve done a lot of soul searching with this WIP. It’s too close to my own experiences with my autoimmune disorder, and because of that, it’s too painful at times. I find myself wanting to protect my MC–a lot, too much–and I’ve learned to identify this problem so I can fix it. Because it’s been hard to write, I know it’s important to write.
I’m hopeful and optimistic I will be writing THE END by August 1st. Then I look forward to revision, when I can take this clump of words and continue shaping it into the story I know it can be.
Happy writing, everyone!
I’m in the process of rewriting my WIP. And by rewriting, I mean starting back from the blank page when I was already half-way done because my story wasn’t working, even though I’d plotted it out. Even though I’d prepared. It just wasn’t working. If you’ve ever had to start over, I don’t have to tell you how frustrating that can be. All the work, gone. But it isn’t wasted because I learned along the way, and what I learned will hopefully make this new draft not suck so bad so I can move on with revisions. As I tackle this overhaul, I’m reminded of how difficult writing can be–and yet how absolutely amazing and rewarding it is if we simply follow through. So this is a reminder to all not to give up, regardless of where you are in the process. You’re just starting? Don’t give up. Querying? Don’t give up. On submissions? Don’t give up. Just keep writing, keep revising, and keep reaching for your dreams because they WILL happen if you’re willing to work for them.
But perhaps one of my favorite quotes that reminds me it’s all possible–
and it’s a quote I have on my business cards–is this one:
This week’s Motivational Monday revolves around plot. I’m in the midst of re-plotting and re-writing my WIP, so these are particularly useful for me right now. All come from my Pinterest board on writing. Enjoy!
If you like retellings, Vivi Barnes‘ OLIVIA TWISTED is for you! It’s Oliver Twist with computer hackers. With alternating points of view, and tackling themes of abandonment, abuse, and hope–and of love and loss–Vivi delivers a novel that is emotionally true.
He tilts my chin up so my eyes meet his, his thumb brushing lightly across my lips. I close my eyes. I know Z is trouble. I know that being with him is going to get me into trouble. I don’t care.
At least at this moment, I don’t care.
Tossed from foster home to foster home, Olivia’s seen a lot in her sixteen years. She’s hardened, sure, though mostly just wants to fly under the radar until graduation. But her natural ability with computers catches the eye of Z, a mysterious guy at her new school. Soon, Z has brought Liv into his team of hacker elite—break into a few bank accounts, and voila, he drives a motorcycle. Follow his lead, and Olivia might even be able to escape from her oppressive foster parents. As Olivia and Z grow closer, though, so does the watchful eye of Bill Sykes, Z’s boss. And he’s got bigger plans for Liv…
I can picture Liv’s face: wide-eyed, trusting. Her smooth lips that taste like strawberry Fanta.
It was just a kiss. That’s all. She’s just like any other girl.
Except that she’s not.
Thanks to Z, Olivia’s about to get twisted.
What I loved about OLIVIA TWISTED most were the characters. The novel is told in alternating POVs from Olivia and Z’s perspective. When done well, I really enjoy dual POVs because they add depth to a work. Vivi did it well! The chapters headings contain the characters’ names, so we know immediately whose POV we’re in, but honestly, I didn’t need them. Olivia and Z’s voices were distinct enough that I just knew. This is so hard to pull off (I know–I’ve tried! lol) and Vivi did a fabulous job with channeling both characters. I loved Olivia. She was strong and stubborn and a quick-thinker–and the computer hacking part was so cool! I admit I know zilch about it, but the way Vivi works it into the plot, through the characters, was seamless. Z was mysterious and though he had this bad-boy exterior, his complexity was awesome. Sam was so much fun, too! I loved her.
There was a twist, which I sort of saw coming, but I wasn’t 100% correct. The pacing was perfect–I read this in practically one sitting, and Vivi had the perfect combination of tension and romance and action that kept me entertained, emotionally engaged, and reading because I NEEDED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED. I was hooked.
Vivi Barnes is one cool kid. She’s hilarious and sweet and so much fun to be around–just ask anyone who knows her or who’s met her at an SCBWI Florida Conference. (Every year, I look forward to seeing what elaborate costume she comes up with for the next conference ball!) You can follow her on Twitter or check out her website for updates. Her new book, PAPER OR PLASTIC, comes out winter 2015 from Entangled Teen! I can’t wait to read it!
I may have been late to OLIVIA TWISTED (it debuted Nov 5, 2013 and I didn’t get to read it until May 2014), but I’m so happy I finally did!