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Life after graduation. The NOW.

I should be revising my MG. I should’ve gone for a run today. I should’ve maybe gotten up two hours before the kids to get a solid block of writing time done and start the day feeling like I’d slain a dragon.  What I should really do is silence the nagging voice in the back of my mind telling me what I should and shouldn’t do. I should really enjoy the NOW.

I started so many blog posts after my graduation, but maybe posting would have meant that my MFA journey was really done. Guess what? In these weeks after graduation, I’m still as connected to my wonderful VCFA community of friends as I was the day I was accepted into the program. I also now have all these newfound tools to go back to my projects and start new ones. Last Monday I went to Jeff Zentner‘s book signing of Goodbye Days with my dear friend V. She’s in her second semester at VCFA and on the ride we talked about her semester and how things are going on my end. The realization that what I learned these last two years is latently waiting for me to tap into this knew knowledge and set of skills hit me with a flash (I know it’s a cliche. It’s still true). I also have so many opportunities knocking on my door because of VCFA. My life is changed forever. For a deeper peek into my VCFA experience, read my interview on Latinx in KidLit if you haven’t already.

I’m excited about the NOW. I went out on submission with a surprise project just a few days ago, and I’m hopeful for this one. So, so hopeful. I have a new puppy, Nova, and she’s been a handful and a joy to train. I love puppyhood and it’s so short. My 14 year-old Maltese, Coco, isn’t doing well at all, and I’m trying to enjoy every moment with him because even if it’s not the last, yet, it’s precious and unique. Dandi, at 10-years-old is learing how to cuddle (she’s always been feisty and aloof).

Julian and D. at prom
Juli and Valen in Puerto Rico (take me back! Not in time. To the island!)

And don’t even get me started on the human children! They’re growing. They’re precious. I come across old pictures of them and my heart squeezes in pain because I miss them that little. I miss their tiny voices, and I wish that those years they were all babies at the same time hadn’t flown by, or that at least I could remember more. But when I’m not having a good day, Facebook will graciously send me one of those memories and make me smile. Or I’ll remember about Julian going to sleep with gum in his mouth the night before first grade school pictures, and then waking up with a glob of gum right on his bangs. I didn’t know peanut butter helped with taking off gum from hair (it totally does!), so I cut the hair, and he went to school pictures like that. Reminiscing of how carefree he was, he laughed until we cried, and then I sent him off to Sophomore prom with his perfect hair and brand new suit. I saw him drive away and I wished I could remember that moment forever. If not the details, then the feeling. Always the feeling.

And talking about feeling, A Psalm for Lost Girls, by my dear Katie Bayerl came out into the world yesterday. I had the pleasure of beta reading Katie’s manuscript, and yesterday when I got the final copy of the book in the mail I went to the Acknowledgements section because it’s always my favorite part of a book. And what a surprise to see that Katie had included my name. I was humbled and honored by the gesture. I met Katie on my very first day at VCFA; she was one of our graduate assistants, and we connected immediately. Her book is full of feelings, about lost sisters, mothers and daughters, faith lost and found. It’s gorgeous and if one day I can write something that will feel my readers with so many emotions as Katie’s filled me with her book, I’ll be satisfied. And now I go revise, not because I have to, or because I should, but because I want to, more than anything. I want these characters and their

Los Hermanos Macana

experiences to reach someone, even one reader.

My shrine because those roots of the faith go deep, so deep and the heart wants what it wants.

 

Don’t leave me summer. Please.

I’m still recovering after the World Cup final. What an amazing adventure Brazil was!

It gave us James Rodriguez and his dance moves.

And his goals:

Mascherano and his Braveheart like talk to Chiquito Romero
His hug with Messi when we qualified for the final
Messi’s happy tears 

And his tears of sadness even when he was chosen the best player of the world cup

David Luiz heartbreak 
And the tragedy of that terrible game against those who must not be named
Brazil was beautiful and all the emotions gave me plenty of food for many, many books. 
I went to SCBWI, I’m working for revisions that an agent requested (!!!), and I applied for the Vermont College Children’s Writing Program. My garden is exploding with plants if not vegetables. Summer is almost over but it’s been beautiful and I’ll never forget it. Like I’ll never forget this team:

Or the fact that my husband went to the World Cup with his friends and not me. Nope. Not forgetting any time soon 😉

Unraveled, A Tale of True Love book giveaway!!!!

Valentine’s Day is just one day away, and what better way to celebrate than with books?  Everything is better when you celebrate with books, especially if the book is beautiful, magical, timeless love story.
If you’re a guy, and you just groaned and reached to close this post, please, don’t. Even Star Wars is a love story, everything a consequence of Anakin’s love for Padme…

My favorite love stories are those that don’t only present me with two people in love, but also introduce me to a fascinating time period, a sweeping setting, rich mythology , and yes, a brave heroine and a chivalrous hero that together are much more than they ever were on their own.

One such book is Unraveled, A Tale of True Love, by my friend and critique partner Julie Daines. It was released just a few days ago. I love this book!!!!

The story is about Bronwen, who after an illness that took most of her family, is crippled. One night, she and her mother receive the visit of a mountain witch, who leaves Bronwen a pair of enchanted shoes. When Bronwen puts them on, she’s whole again. Thrilled with the possibility of living a normal life, and urged by her mother, Bronwen makes the trip to the King’s Court to present herself as it’s the custom with girls her age. There, Bronwen will find true friendship, the attention of the King’s son, who falls in love with her beauty, and also the attention of the Head of the King’s Guard, who knew her first, when she was just Bronwen. Most importantly, Bronwen will learn to love herself as she discovers that sometimes a pair of magic shoes can’t solve all of her problems.

Seriously, read this book. It’s thoroughly researched,  expertly crafted, and it will sweep you off your feet with its beauty. In celebration of love, I’ll be giving away a copy of Unraveled to one lucky person. All you need to do is leave a comment and tell me about your favorite love story, in a book, movie or song.

Spread the word for extra good karma!!! I’ll be announcing the winner on my post next week over at the Utah Children’s Writers blog. Good luck and Happy Valentine’s Day!!!

Back from the Summer and surprise! It’s still Summertime!

I just came back home from El Paso, and I’m so excited to still have one more month before the kids go back to school! No more going away every summer because of Jeff’s work! It’s been an adventure every year, visiting new places like the real Little House on the Prairie or exploring Washington DC or downtown El Paso. Both are scary and exciting places at the same time and for the same and different reasons, if it makes sense at all. But I’m glad to be home!

Although I kind miss the endless summers that didn’t have school/futbol/dance/piano/guitar looming at the end, I also love the routine school brings to our lives, and yes, the quiet and the time to read and write. I guess I’m into long sentences today, and that’s okay with me if it is with you. I’m blogging, mainly because I worried people would think I died or something. So Julie, here I am, although the plan was to blog every week. It didn’t go as planned, but here I am 🙂

I’ll upload some pictures later this week. I’m just getting used to being back home and knowing we’re not leaving any time soon.

How’s your summer been so far? I know Julie has had a ton of adventures and experiences. I want to see some pictures too. And Tiffany? She’s been to Europe! Her pictures are amazing! How about the rest of you?

Eternal student

A couple of weeks ago I attended the WIFYR writers’ conference. The best part of the conference was the morning workshop with Martine Leavitt, author of Keturah And Lord Death, Tom Finder, and Heck Superhero among other amazing books. I’m still trying to internalize the wealth of knowledge I received during the week, and I plan on posting the things that stood out the most to me. My other favorite thing about the conference is attending the panels where authors and agents talk not only about the industry, but also about the craft. Mary Kole, agent of the Andrea Brown agency, talking about online presence, said, “If you have a blog, update it often. If you don’t post for a year, people are going to wonder if you’re alive.
I laughed and nodded my head because I do just that: I go months before posting sometimes. My excuse is that if I blog, I take my time away from my writing. But if I don’t, I miss out on the interaction with my “online friends.”
I don’t promise to update every day, but I will do it more often than I have done before.
On the workshop, Martine recommended the Artist’s Way, a book many others have recommended before, so I ordered it and brought it to El Paso with me, along with a whole lot of books about writing. This morning, I woke up early and wrote my Three Morning Pages, an exercise Julia Cameron recommends for artists to unblock. I wrote three pages of rambling, and I don’t know if it was that, or the exercise shake I just took, but I’m full of energy and desire to write. And I haven’t felt this way for a long time.
What are you doing this summer? Attending conferences? Taking a break from creating? I’d love to know.

New Contest and my first page

Shelly Waters is holding an amazing contest. Again. This time we have to post the first page of our book for an opportunity to have ten pages critiqued by Judith Engracia of Liza Dawson and Associates!

I know I’ve had this page, chapter and book critiqued to death. But several extra eyes won’t hurt! Thanks for taking the time to read my entry. I’ll hop blogs to leave my critique too.

Title: SOUTHERN CROSS
Genre: YA Literary Fiction
Word Count: 87,000 words

Lies have short legs. I’ve known this ominous proverb since before I could speak.
    Who among my ancestors brought the saying across the Atlantic all the way to Argentina?
    My Russian great-grandmother embroidered it on a pillow after her first boyfriend broke her heart. My Palestinian grandfather whispered it to me every time my mom found his stash of wine bottles hidden in the unlikeliest places, like underneath my bed. My Andalusian grandmother repeated it like a mantra, lost in her old woman insanity, before her memories and regrets called her to the next life.
    Perhaps the saying doesn’t belong to any language, and sprouted from this land the early explorers thought encrusted with silver, and my immigrant family adopted the expression like its own.  
    In spite of seventeen years of practice, my lies’ legs haven’t grown stronger or faster. I know the consequences of lying to my father. A reflex slap that will leave my face burning for hours. A session of yelling and blaming his worries on a daughter who’s not as beautiful as her mother nor as smart as he is. A litany of all the reasons he gave my mom for not having any more children after Pablo—perfect, beautiful Pablo—was born.
     With all these thoughts clamoring in my head, I still went to the stadium to watch my brother play in the Scoundrels’ opening match of the season. My brother and that other boy whom the press calls the Titan because on the pitch, he’s more than a god. Diego Ferrari.

Perfection

I’m not perfect doing my Insanity workout. But I do it every day, and I enjoy it. I promise I do. And I do pretty well on my diet, except on Sundays or when my mom cooks and makes the most delicious food in the world.

Today I can’t blame my mom. It’s May 29th, and in Argentina (“and now here in Utah,” Chubbers said) we have the tradition of making gnocchi (potato dumplings) and putting a one dollar bill underneath each plate. Every January I resolve to follow this tradition, and each 29th goes by and I forget all about it. It’s May, but it’s still a month closer to 2011 than to 2012. I’m already doing better than ever.

As soon as my daughters saw me don my apron, they ran to put theirs on.
Making gnocchi is dirty business: floured counter tops el Cagri blew on every time he walked past, sticky hands, dogs underfoot hoping to catch a fallen ball of dough. But the girls’ faces as they were helping roll the balls and make the little shells was priceless. I don’t have a lot of memories of my grandmother Elena. She wasn’t the grandmotherly kind. But I remember going to her house on Sundays, and looking at her hands transform a glob of potato, eggs and flour into a delicacy. I never knew how she could knead so fast. I guess that after seven kids (six of whom were boys), she learned to work fast.

 I’m not sure my gnocchi turned out as Abuela Elena’s, but they were delicious. I see something of Abuela in Chubbers and Swan. Maybe Perfection skipped a generation.

And last but not least, I can’t talk of perfection and not mention Lio Messi’s goal yesterday against Manchester United for the Europe Champion League’s Final. He’s personified perfection, the god of futbol. Maybe in the future, someone will write a biography of the best futbol player that has ever existed–him–and I’ll be shocked to find out crazy things about him. Maybe not. For now, he’s perfect, the reason futbol even exists. Take a look at his work of art. It makes me cry.
 

The Flaws in my favorites

Last weekend I read a very popular YA Contemporary author for the first time. I write in the same genre, and I was curious to learn how her books became such favorites. So with pen in hand (I always take notes on my books; that’s why I like to buy my own), I dove into the story.

It took me a while to get into it. But before I realized what time it was, or what page number I was in and still no major Plot Turning Point, I was already in love with the characters, and I really wanted them to succeed and achieve their goals, AKA, each other.

And when I finished the book, the characters stayed with me, and I was mad at myself for finishing the book so fast. Now, I want to get this author’s other books, and see if they make a cameo appearance in another story (I read they do! And I’m so excited to see them again even if it’s not in their stories).

My favorite author is Carlos Ruiz Zafon. His book aren’t structurally perfect. There’s some telling, some repetition, but I love his characters; I think about them all the time.

In preparation for the WIFYR conference, I also read Keturah And Lord Death. Again. It’s the perfect book. I didn’t find a single thing that could even be questionable. I love the dialog, the characters, the subtle descriptions that make my mind take flights and fill in the blanks. The beautiful, lyrical language. I love Lord Death.

That’s why I love to read. To lose myself into someone else’s world for a few hours and when I’m finished, love or hate those characters that are now a part of me.

I’m working on my second draft of HEAR YE MORTALS, my Gothic YA with a boy main character, and I’m having a hard time with it. There’s so many rules to follow, my inner editor is so loud that my creative side of me has been a little  muffled lately. So this week, I plan on letting myself go, let these characters take life again, live outside of the charts and outlines. Maybe some day another person will love them (or hate them) as much as I love them. Because I love these people that speak in my mind, even the bad guy, because I know his motivations and where he comes from.

Do you love any stories even though you find flaws in them? Which ones?

LDStorymakers 2011 and my winner first chapter

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the LDStorymakers 2011 writers’ conference. If you attend one conference a year, this is the one you should choose. The tuition was very affordable, with options for people who could only attend one day or all three.

I have a wonderful critique group that I treasure. My partners are all incredibly talented, supportive, and knowledgeable. They’re usually the ones who read the earlier drafts of my books, and I trust them to offer helpful but kind criticism. Sometimes it’s also very helpful to have people whom you don’t know and don’t know you read your work too. During bootcamp and the Publication Primer classes, all my companions offered invaluable advice, and even if in a couple of instances I didn’t agree with something right away, as the days went by, I recalled their words and read their comments and realized that they might be right! Or I saw my chapter from another perspective. That, is gold for the writers’ mind.

Due to some scheduling conflicts, I wasn’t able to attend Larry Brooks’ class(yes, the guy who writes storyfix.com, the best writers’ reference blog out there, in my opinion), but he gave the keynote address. Larry is a pragmatic kind of guy but an advocate for being a prepared writer, or a writer with a plan, even if it’s only just in your mind. I loved that he said we all have the tools to succeed as writers, we just need to learn the craft.

I also had the chance to pitch agent Becca Stumpf, from the Prospect Agency. I wasn’t dying of anxiety because right before my pitch appointment, I attended a class by her, and she’s a lovely person. She was very enthusiastic about my project, and made the ten minutes pass by like a breeze.

On Saturday during lunch, the first chapter contest winners were announced. I really didn’t have a lot of hope. But I’m a Saggitarius, I can’t help being optimistic 🙂 so every time I thought about the announcement, I had butterflies in my stomach.

They started by announcing fifth place. There were so many entries for YA Fiction. My name wasn’t in fifth, fourth, third, and then for the second place, they announced A BLIND EYE, from none other than my dear friend Julie Daines! I was so happy I teared up. Last year she won first place. So when they announced her name, I told her, “You’re the queen of first chapters.”
And then, I saw my title on the screen, SOUTHERN CROSS, and my name right beneath it. They announced my chapter as the winner. Let me tell you, I totally knew what Harry Potter was feeling on the way to professor Dumbledore when his name came out of the Globet of Fire!

I don’t remember how I made it all the way to the podium. My friend Julie gave me a hug, and I cried a little. In fact, when I told my brother later on the phone, the first thing he asked was “Did you cry?”

The best part of all was coming home and finding this from my kids:

And later my friend Julie and her husband brought me more ballons:

And I promise I’ve been trying not to stare at this certificate all week (I don’t know how to turn the pic on this program!)

Most of all, I have hope again for this story. I only queried a few agents, but without any good response. This week, I re-wrote my query letter and I’m working on a few more revisions before I send SOUTHERN CROSS out into the world. If you’re interested in reading my first chapter, it’s posted on the LDStorymakers site for a month. Click here. Look for Youth Fiction (all other genres besides Fantasy) and you’ll see my name, Yamile Mendez. It’s still there, so I guess it’s true I won 🙂