Category: VCFA

It’s that time in the program: Critical Thesis

The first year in my VCFA program has flown by, and now in third semester, I’m writing my Critical Thesis. I’m not a critical writing kind of person, but I’m passionate about the topic I’m writing about: The Impact of the First Menstrual Period in a Girl’s Life and Its Portrayal (or lack of) in Middle Grade Fiction. I designed a short, anonymous survey that will help me tremendously in writing my thesis. Please, it takes less that five minutes to fill out. If you choose to participate, please share it! I’m eager to do this important subject justice and I need all the help I can get. Also, if you’d like to share an experience that exceeds the scope of the survey, feel free to email me at yamile.s.mendez@gmail.com. I’m very interested in how different cultures celebrate menarche if they do it at all.

Thank you!

Yamile

Almost time for residency #3!

The View from my dorm last year

I’m always saying time flies by, that the years are so short, and how in the world have my children grown so much! My baby is three and a half for crying out loud! Well, I’ll say it again: time does fly. It’s almost time for my VCFA residency number three, which kicks off critical thesis semester, and I’m so grateful I took the plunge to send in my application and embark on his wonderful program!

As I’m procrastinating on gift wrapping for Three Kings, here’s my packing list of MUST-HAVES in a Vermont winter residency. Besides normal scarves, gloves, pens, notebooks, I’m adding stuff that makes the 10 days in the Vermont cold more bearable.

  • An electric blanket. Seriously. Last year the heater went out in our dorms, and the only way I survived was with the help of my blanket.
  • A bathrobe. We get towels in the dorms, but they’re small. If you don’t want to risk getting your clothes wet, bring a robe so you don’t freeze on the long walk from the shower to your room.
  • A hot water bottle. I’m a wimp. I know. I thought that after 19 dry Utah winters and 19 Argentine wet winters, I’d be used to the cold, but no. I hate it. 
  • A pair of comfy shoes so you don’t have to wear your boots everywhere.
  • Quarters for laundry. There are washers and dryers that are coin operated. I brought detergent last year, but no coins. I’ll be prepared this time.
  • A cup/bottle for hot chocolate/tea. In fact, instead of sipping water, I sipped unsweetened herbal teas to keep warm throughout the day. 
  • Flip flops for the showers. Dorm showers. Enough said.
  • Keurig cups for coffee drinkers, or the hot chocolate/tea kind. There are Keurigs all over campus. If you care about the environment though, regular tea bags will do 🙂
  • Hot pockets to put inside your gloves. (Do you see a theme? I’m only concerned with being warm)
  • Hair dryer. 
  • Lots of hand sanitizer/wipes. Let’s keep the germs at bay. Also, Emergen-C or Airborne tablets (or OnGuard oil).
I can’t think of anything else that I couldn’t leave without. If you have anything to add in the comments, I’ll thank you from the bottom of my heart! 

Wayfarer, there’s no road

During our VCFA residency in Bath Spa, my wonderful class received wonderful advise from David Almond (THE David Almond!) to read poems aloud, at least one every day. So my group created a Facebook where we post a poem a day.

Today was the first time I posted, and I chose Antonio Machado‘s Wayfarer, There’s No Path. It has always resonated with me, even when I first heard it at school when I was a little kid.

Caminante no hay camino, se hace camino al andar…

Enjoy!

Wayfarer, there is no path, by Antonio Machado
Wayfarer, the only way
Is your footprints and no other.
Wayfarer, there is no way.
Make your way by going farther.
By going farther, make your way
Till looking back at where you’ve wandered,
You look back on that path you may
Not set foot on from now onward.
Wayfarer, there is no way;
Only wake-trails on the waters.
……
Wanderer, your footsteps are
the road and nothing more;
wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.
Walking makes the road,
and turning to look behind
you see the path that you
will never tread again.
Wanderer, there is no road,
only foam trails on the sea.

WIFYR and in between packet lull (???)

Hi! I can’t believe I made it to the end of semester 1 in one piece.

 I crawled to the end of the school year. My poor children. On the very last day Joaquin said he had no clean uniform, so he was just going to wear street clothes because what is the worst that could happen? So he wore street clothes, and nothing happened, and then I spend the next four days doing laundry (the last time I did laundry, by the way, so I guess I’ll spend the next four days doing laundry again). But I finished and I’m so happy with my progress. Not only did I submit my packet, my end of semester materials, but also my short stories and poems that I wrote for Imagine Learning, and revisions for my agent. I’m still letting the revisions simmer before I turn them in to her to make sure they make sense and it’s not all just a figment of my imagination 🙂

This week I’m attending WIFYR (Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers) which is one of my two favorite writers’ conferences ever. It’s the first one I ever attended, seven years ago when I started getting serious about being a writer, when I had a couple of manuscripts and wanted to learn what to do to make them readable and publishable. Those two will never see the light of day, but how grateful I am that I wrote them. That conference I met Martine Leavitt for the first time and my life changed forever. Dandi Daley Mackall was the keynote speaker, and I remember her telling a story about a person who goes to Heaven in her dream and visits the Library. The walls of the enormous building covered with books, and yet, so many people wrote and wrote. An angel told her they wrote spiritually the books that were needed on Earth, and that they were just waiting for writers to sit down, get the inspiration sent from Heaven, and put into paper the books the world was waiting for so desperately. I’ve always loved that image of my stories just waiting for me to listen so they can be born.
Yesterday at WIFYR, Julie Berry (THE Julie Berry) spoke about the four pillars of her writing journey: commitment, believing, love, and listening.
Again.
Listening.
She said it’s the writers’ duty to sit down and listen, and put the gift of inspiration down on paper. Later ugly first drafts will get cleaned up and polished on revision, but if stop listening, noticing, and writing, there will be nothing to clean up, no creation.
 Yesterday Argentina played in Copa America against our rivals and brothers the Uruguay team. What a difficult game! So ugly and thick! So dense and violent. But there were the usual bursts of brilliance by my favorite guy, Leo Messi. We ended up winning, and later my husband posted this Messi quote on Facebook;

I don’t intend to be an overnight success, although this semester I had a wonderful shower of good news (writing on commission, the New Visions Honor, my brand new agent), surviving semester 1 at VCFA. It was just a coincidence that my plants all sprouted at the same time, after years of work and commitment, believing, loving, and listening. But I still have so much to grow as a writer. My plants still need watering and nurturing and work.

So my kids are still sleeping and I woke up earlier than I have in a long time to have some quiet  writing time, and I feel better than ever. Especially because there will be more amazing classes in the afternoon. If you’re attending WIFYR, come say hello! I love meeting new friends.

New Visions Award Finalist and the second half of the semester

At 2 in the morning I clicked send, and Packet 3 of 5 was out of my hands. Unbelievably, this was my easiest packet although I had only three weeks to work on it, instead of four. Maybe it was so because I’ve been reading ahead. I remember that when I first found out the packet requirements, I was most nervous about the reading. Ten to Fifteen books per packet! How was I ever going to read so much. But when I was halfway through packet 1, I realized I had passed the required amount of books, and I could add the extra ones to my next packet. The reading became problematic when I realized I’d rather read and mark up books all day long thank work on my writing. Now I’m forcing myself to read slower and with more attention. Right now I’m reading Sorrow’s Knot by Eric Bow, and I’m blown away by its beauty and richness!   

Packet 3 is sent, but I’m deep into drafting, getting ready for Packet 4. Even if my advisor assigns me something different from what I’m working on, I like to keep the momentum, my writing muscles warm and alert. So even though it’s snowing here for the fourth time this year, in my mind I’ll be in beautiful Puerto Rico as I device more trouble for my main character.
As the post title suggests, I am a finalist in Lee and Low’s New Visions Award with my middle grade ON THESE MAGIC SHORES. I loved working on that manuscript, and although all I can do now is wait for the announcement, my fingers are itching for a chance to go back to it and revise it. 
Here’s Lee and Low’s official announcement. I’m so honored to be among such a group of talented and hard working women! I can’t wait until each of these books is published! 
And last but not least in this update, I wanted to share that I have received my first check for freelance writing! It’s a modest amount, but it means the world to me. It means someone liked my three stories so much they were willing to pay for them, and guess what? They’re getting illustrated! I haven’t cashed it yet because I love looking at it and the encouragement letters I got from three dear friends. They remind me I can do this, I’m not alone, and all the work is worth it!
 

Advisors

Today Suma and I walked to town in -17 weather to eat some pizza. The food was worth the trek. We also found out who our advisors for this semester are. Best Chritmas Eve-like feeling ever. Here’s a picture of the teachers looking down as the students celebrated out assignments. I’m going to be working with Mary Quattlebaum and in beyond excited. 

Rolling up my sleeves

Today I met with my advisor, the amazing Mary Quattlebaum and we went over my study plan for the semester. It feels so surreal to be in the program! Today my workshop critiqued my piece, and I was so encouraged by the wonderful comments and advice. What a wonderful residency this has been so far. We’re half way through, and I feel like this is Hogwarts and that I’ve been given a wonderful gift just by being allowed to be here. 
Today my word is “inspired,” especially after listening to Katherine Paterson who received an honorary doctorate from VCFA. She’s exactly who I want to be when I grow up as a writer, not because I write the same stuff she writes, not even similar, but because she’s always approached writing for children with respect and devotion for children, our target audience. Today I’m INSPIRED!

Villains, the Himalayas and letting go

Today I had the privilege of attending a lecture about the writer’s journey by the amazing Uma Krishnaswami. I will keep her words in plain sight to remind myself that this writing business (not the industry but the craft of writing and telling stories) is a journey with many challenges and also rewards. 

We also has a costume party with a Villains theme. I didn’t bring a costume but I wore a mask I made a couple of nights ago during the 1st and 2nd semester gathering. 
Today I learned to let go of some things. My children miss me. They miss me more than I miss them to be honest. I’m having fun. I’m constantly busy. I’m meeting new friends. But they have a long weekend and they’re home wishing we were doing something fun. Luckily my sister-in-law took them all in for a sleep over. If I were closer to home, tonight I would have (reluctantly) packed my bags and gone back to them. But I can’t do that. So I’m working as hard as I can, taking advantage of as many lectures and classes as possible to make this time away from them worth it. If I take this time now, I’ll hopefully go home a better mother and wife. I know I’ll be a better writer. 
Group picture! We have three girls missing and the men from our group. 

A chilly -29 tonight in Vermont. 

Speed dating and the reckoning

Before I left for Vermont, baby Hulk was sick for weeks and weeks. Nothing serious (except a scary bout of bronchitis and two series of antibiotics for ear infections), but it was still wrecking and heartbreaking to see him struggle for so many days. I stayed healthy through it all, thankfully. Of course my time of reckoning came the day I was headed to my first residency. I used my essential oils and all the over-the-counter medicine I could think of to keep the beast at bay, but today laringitis caught up with me. Not being able to talk hasn’t stopped me from talking, which hasn’t been helping me recover as fast as I’ve wanted. So tonight, I opted to take a break and stay in my room to rest and give my body the chance to heal. I didn’t want to miss the faculty or class readings at night, but I don’t want to miss any lectures or workshops tomorrow or the day after either, so I chose to rest. It’s been good. Sometimes it’s good to disconnect from everyone and rest the body and mind.

Of course once my roommate came in for the night we stayed talking until super late, but that’s part of the experience, right?
The two lectures today by An Na and Martine Leavitt were amazing and energizing. I can’t wait to implement heir advise! 
Tonight I’m posting a picture of my lovely roommate (with her permission, of course). 
PS: I had just found out Messi didn’t win the Ballon D’or so I wasn’t the happiest duck in the pond. I’m a little better now. Did you now the last time Messi wasn’t a top three finalist he was still in his teens?