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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 🙂

Because I loved Richard Bach’s books when I was little.

I remember one day, bored at my aunt’s house. My two older cousins were probably out with girlfriends, and the little ones were taking naps. A small, wobbly bookshelf full of books called me into the semi-darkness of the living room–a welcome invitation in a hot summer day.

And there, wedged between two fat books I can’t remember was Richard’s Bach Messiah’s Handbook: Reminders for the Advanced Soul. I think I was in fifth grade, because my next memory is of reading passages of it to my desk partner, a girl named Florencia who smiled like an angel. I read her passages of the book, so excited to share the gems that made my heart burn with the discovery of so many wonderful possibilities. That we can do whatever we set our minds to, that we have no idea of our potential, that I could materialize anything I wanted into my life.

Over the years, I’ve met a lot of people who read Richard’s books. Some of them are still great friends of mine. One of the things he mentioned in one of his books–because after Messiah, I devoured them all–was the concept of parallel universes, of what you could tell your younger self if you could.

Last night, for the first time in a long time, I thought of this concept.

During family dinner the kids were asking me about all the pets I had in my life. I don’t know why, but I told them about Pamela, a tiny dachshund that my father gave me when I was seven. She was a pest. I see it now that I’m a mother. But back then, I couldn’t understand why my mom, tired of cleaning after the dog, gave her away.

When I finished telling the story, I realized my Chubbers was gone. I found her crying in her room. When she saw me, she ran to me and hugged me so, so tight. “I’m so sorry about your dog, mami,” she said between hiccups.

Maybe in a parallel universe, a seven year-old Yamile is crying her heart out over her little dog. I hope she can feel the chubby arms around her neck, and the wet kiss on the cheek trying to console her.

Twitter pitch contest–Updated

Taffy, my fellow Shark and Pebbles member, entered the Show Me the Voice contest and won an agent critique of her manuscript. Since the fates are favoring one of my crit partners, I thought, “Maybe the luck will follow me next time!”
When I saw the amazing contest Shelly Waters is holding in celebration of reaching 100 followers on her blog and 500 on twitter, I decided to enter too. The grand prize is a full manuscript request by no other than Suzie Townsend of Fine Print Literary Management.

Shelley will also select winners for a query critique, which would also be an awesome prize!

The task seems very simple. It consists of writing a twitter pitch of your book. That’s a 140 character pitch.
Here’s mine for HEAR YE MORTALS, my Young Adult contemporary:

Sebastian, an illegal American in Argentina, finds a way back to the USA that has no room for his cousin, gypsy troupe or senile grandma.

That’s 137 characters. Including the period. What do you guys think?

Thank you all for your input! My brain is almost fried, but I came up with a hopefully better entry:

Seba finds way back to his old life in USA. If only his young cousin and senile Nona had visas and Death hadn’t chosen him as next sacrifice.

Thanks for all your help!

Sharing the Love

Last week I joined a few other bloggers in participating of a virtual Secret Valentine blogfest. I loved the concept, and when I found out whose Secret Valentine I am, I was even more excited: Kristin Miller, one of the brilliant minds behind the idea.

I don’t know Kristin in person, but just reading her blogs (yes, she has multiple blogs) gave me a hint of who she is, and made me wish I knew how to design a beautiful blog–or hire someone to do it for me–, and write such insightful/useful blog posts.

Without being a stalker, I found a lot of interesting things about her just from her blog:

  • She’s such a romantic. I mean, her favorite fictional couple are Anne (yes, from the Green Gables) and Gilbert.
  • She has excellent taste: among her favorite movies are The Borne Trilogy and she likes the Fiennes brothers.
  • She loves to travel. Such a free spirit.
  • She’s brave. She travels by herself, and likes meeting new people in her travels. I wish more like that. I have a hard time on Sundays if my friends are not at Church.
  • She’s crafty. Not only does she post wonderful ideas for crafts, like a wintery rose wreath or a pendant with charms made out of book pages, but she also links to the tutorial. She’s generous and thoughtful too.
  • She writes wonderful book reviews. Even though her comments of  YUMMY: THE LAST DAYS OF A SOUTHSIDE SHORTY by G. Neri, ill by Randy DuBurke are brief, they sparked my interest in it right away. It’s already on my TBR ever-growing mountain (pile doesn’t really fit anymore).
  • Her favorite drink is water, and she loves yoga pants. 
  • She’s hard working: not only is she a YA and MG author, but she’s also an agent with the D4EO agency. She’s also part of the the wonderful YA Highway bloggers.

I hope you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day, Kristin. I’m very glad of this opportunity to get to know you a little through this fun event.

And Happy Valentine’s day to all of you, whether you are single or in a couple. Love is everywhere!

Wiggly Tooth

My baby boy is almost six years old. He wakes up with a smile to go to kindergarten, early in the morning, with the older kids. He loves break-dancing class. He comes home from school and turns on his iPod so loud I can hear it all the way from the kitchen, while I smile as I imagine him twist and bend with the music, releasing the energy he had to contain in the classroom.

When he thinks I don’t see him, he babbles in Arabic to his toys or daydreams on his swing–he could be in a Caribbean beach and not in his room. El Cangri ALWAYS has something nice to say about everybody. He would tell me how pretty I look first thing in the morning, and I know his words come from the heart. No other than a child would say that to me 🙂

I’ve wondered if being positive increases his self-confidence or if his self-confidence helps him be positive. I wish I were more like him in that respect, see the bright side of things.

In his cave-man talk he said last night, “One of my teeth will come out soon.” And his eyes sparkled with pride and maybe a tinge of fear.

He’s my third child. I should be used to this kind of event. Still, emotion surprised me as I verified that yes, he has a loose tooth. So many months waiting for tiny teeth to finally cut through and end the agony of teething–my boys had always the hardest time while teething–and then one day, without notice, they become wiggly and fall off.

My Cangri is growing. So fast I don’t even want to blink in case I miss all the wonder that he is. But every night, at about two, muffled footsteps by my bedroom door, take my attention from even the most fascinating book or dream. He snuggles close to me and says, “I love you, mama.”

He’s still my baby. My precious third child, so glad to grow up.

Five libraries from the garbage

I can’t let Halloween go. That’s the only excuse I have for not updating my blog since the beginning of October. I promise I’ve been blogging in my mind everyday, but as the great Neil Gaiman would say, “it doesn’t count.”
Before I blog about the most amazing Christmas of my life, or my new nanowrimo experience, my trip to Argentina, the most beautiful bookstore in the world, or a million other things, I want to share the story of Jose Alberto Gutierrez, a humble garbage truck driver from Bogota, Colombia.
His life changed when he opened a box, and saw Anna Karenina was in it, along with several other books. He took the box home, and his mission of rescuing books from the garbage started.
Since that day in the year 2000, he’s rescued more than 12,000 books and he has opened five libraries in humble neighborhoods. The first one started from his home, in his wife’s sewing shop. One of the libraries is operated by a 12 year old who volunteered.
The libraries also function as community cultural centers, with reading groups, theater, puppet shows, etc.
This man, who didn’t have the opportunity of a formal education, became a promoter of literacy. The libraries don’t receive any kind of government subsidies or help. They’re there because of Jose Gutierrez’s desire to share the books that for other people were garbage, and because of that desire to learn and curiosity that defines as humans.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Last week we decorated our house for Halloween. I was about to blog about how much I love this time of the year, how I enjoy the scary books (I’m reading Dracula, again) and the anticipation of Halloween. All of the thoughts I wanted to blog about have been brushed away by the event, the miracle, taking place right now. “Saving the 33,” reads the Univision headline. 33 lives, stories, families. So many hopes and plans and dreams that are suddenly possible again, thanks to technology and the efforts of so many people working together to save 33 men.
I remember the first time I saw a picture with a few words that changed the fates of so many.
“We are well in the refuge. All 33 of us.”
If a person wanted to make up a more complex story, it wouldn’t have surpassed real life. My friends’ facebooks statuses say it all:
“Never so many have been following the fate of just a few.”
“Watching miracles on my TV…”
“Fuerza mineros!”

I’m waiting for the rescue of the fourth man, Carlos Mamani’s family is a little huddle waiting for their father and husband. What are they feeling? What are they thinking? The whole world is behind them.

My lovies

As a child I fantasized about eating all the cake batter I wanted, drinking all the Coke I wanted, owning as many books as I could afford, among other things.

Is there anything that when you were a child you wanted so much you couldn’t wait to be a grown-up to get it?
I do eat the cake batter, even if it has raw eggs–especially if it does. Even though I remember how delicious a Coke in a glass bottle is, I can’t drink it, for the life of me! Too sweet! Too bubbly! But I could, if I wanted to. If I make myself drink a Coke, I can do it.
I have a compulsive book-buying disorder. Ask Jeff about it. I relish the sight of books, the smell of them, the feeling of pages on my fingers. Even the cheap mass market kind of pages. I love them all. (Today Smith’s was having a buy 2 get one free sale, FYI.)
But the one thing I wanted as a child was a pair of Reebok high top sneakers. And I got them today! Skinny jeans are in, so this must mean all things ninety are in too. Right?

Aren’t they lovely? My poor husband is horrified, but they’re the most wonderful pair of shoes I’ve ever owned.

My new hobbie

In the book I wrote last year, futbol is a central theme (pun not intended). Not only the sport, but how it affects society (especially in Rosario, Argentina) and the people. Why people like it, why people follow a team even in the worst circumstances (like Central being relegated the the B Nacional). I could write thousands of words about Central and futbol in general. In fact, most of the words I had to cut out where futbol-related because they didn’t advance the plot.
The story I’m working on also takes place in Argentina, but it has nothing to do with futbol. I do mention the character is a Central fan and the love interest likes the other team (I won’t even name it here), Romeo and Juliet style. But the main conflict is about a Flamenco guitar player and his group who are offered a spot at a prestigious competition. My problem is, I don’t know anything about Flamenco. I’ve always liked it, but never took a class. Until now. About a month ago, I found a class taught by the very talented Solange Gomes, from Tablado Flamenco Company.
I must be the stiffest-legged student she’s ever had. But I want to learn. Yesterday, I could do the Sevillana, with arms! Because following the steps (wearing 3 inches-heels) is one thing, and doing the arm movements is quite another.
But I’m having so much fun, and I’m learning.
Here’s a clip from one of my favorite movies, Carmen, by Carlos Saura.
Antonio Gades can convey so much feeling and passion with his dancing, I tear up. Of course, you must think I cry over anything, but I only cry when the emotion is so big I can’t describe it with words.

I hope you all have a great weekend. I plan on sleeping in until 9 and practicing my tango steps.