Category: writing

A Dream Come True

On Wednesday, my super agent Linda sent me a quick text:

Your book will be announced sometime Thursday.

Needless to say, I couldn’t sleep all night. Every time I thought about the announcement going live, I got butterflies in my stomach. And then Thursday arrived, and my book wasn’t in the morning Publisher Marketplace new deals email. Soon, I got distracted with two sick children. One who’s been struggling with strep throat for three weeks, and another one whose tummy hurt. Before I knew it, the other kids were home from school, and we had tickets for A Christmas Carol, which we couldn’t miss. I loaded the car with the kids and two friends, and we headed to the theater just when the sun was setting and traffic was thickening into the rage inducing slime of rush hour at The Point of the Mountain. Just as I was merging into the freeway, I got an email notification from my editor, Clarissa Wong. She said the announcement was live. Soon after, Linda emailed me, and then texted me. I exclaimed, “”My book is announced!” and the whole car cheered, and Julian said, “Focus on driving, Mama.” Which of course I didn’t need to be reminded of. Still, I felt like the sun was bursting out of my heart and spilling out of my eyes and every pore in my body.

So far, the best part of a book deal has been sharing the news with my beloved family and friends. The flood of love and excitement has kept me on a high all these days later. During the play’s intermission, I checked on my notifications that were climbing by the second, and a voicemail from my dear agent. Linda had more amazing news that hopefully I’ll get to share six months from now :P. I’m overcome by emotion at all my blessings. In this industry, good news arrive in an avalanche, and then there is silence or rejection for weeks and months at a time. I’m relishing in the good news avalanche right now. I’m holding on to all the light to last me through the dark winter months ahead.

I’m thrilled that I’m working with Clarissa Wong from HarperCollins, and that Jaime Kim is illustrating my book. A few days before the announcement, Clarissa sent me two preliminary sketches of a spread, and when I saw the beauty of Jaime Kim’s interpretation of my story, I broke into tears of gratitude.

This book is the most unexpected surprise. As I said in my graduate reading at VCFA, I wrote it in between packets, and no advisor ever saw it, but I wanted to share it on my last day at beloved school because this poem wouldn’t ever have happened if not for the advise and guidance I found there. I’d written an earlier version of this poem a couple of years ago, but during the political struggle of 2015-2016, I re-wrote it as a love letter to my children. I hope that when they read the final product they’re proud of it.

This deal wouldn’t have happened if Martine Leavitt, Uma Krishnaswami, and Cynthia Leitich-Smith hadn’t urged me after my reading to send it to Linda. It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t actually send it to my dear agent, although I didn’t have any hopes that it would sell. It’s not quirky or commercial enough, I told myself. By then, I’d been out on submission with two other manuscripts that didn’t sell, and in the dead of winter post-graduation, I wasn’t feeling too hopeful about my writing career. I’m grateful I took the plunge because this book resonated with a lot of people. A couple of weeks later we had multiple offers for this manuscript, shattering all my expectations.

Although summer 2019 seems like a long time away, in publishing, two years is an amazingly short time for a picture book to be released. I can’t wait to share this story with my readers and friends and family who’ve been so supportive and have believed in me even when I didn’t believe anymore.

I’ve been holding on to these pictures from when I signed all the way back in August. Note my diamond pen (that Areli gave me after I helped her with Alpine Days), and my bracelet, She Believed She Could So She Did.

After so many years, my dream is coming true.

 

 

How Writing Is Like Riding A Bike–Kinda

Today I rode my brand new bike to Baby Hulk’s preschool. Since I started school I haven’t been exercising much. Every once in a while I’d pop an exercise video, like Insanity or P90X or run/walk to the school. But the videos became boring. Baby Hulk insisted on getting out of the stroller to pick every. Single. Dandelion along the way. A 20 minute walk became a two hour event, especially because the most awesome park in our town is right on the way home from from the preschool. When the weather turned nice, I wanted to ride my bike. Put Hulk in one of those cute baby seats I’d seen in Argentina growing up, or more recently, in Amsterdam, where everyone rides their bike. But the seat I got didn’t fit my bike, so I convinced Jeff that if he got me an awesome bucket bike, or Madsen bike, I’d ride it every day (it was his fault for telling me to follow them on Instagram).

He’s like, “Thank you, angels!!! We made it alive!”

He did get it for me as an early mother’s day, and I was thrilled, because–hello!–isn’t it gorgeous? On my trial ride I did okay. When my Princess Peach wanted to hop on (there is room for 4! people), I just couldn’t take the curve, and fell. From then on, we all decided I’d only take Baby Hulk until I became more comfortable with the bike. After much hesitation, Baby Hulk agreed to get back on the bike (Do Not Fall, MOM!), and today is Friday, so here are some of my thoughts as I climbed the hillS up to my house.

  1. The hardest thing is to start. I know I’ll have to face The Climb at the end, and I dread it so very much.
  2. BUT: Riding a bike is one of my favorite things ever. When I first jump on it and we ride down the hill? WEEEEEEEEeeeeeee! What a thrill! It feels so wonderful! The wind on my face. My legs hardly pumping because we’re going downhill. Before I know it, we’re there at the preschool, and we have to wait a few minutes before going in because we’re so early.
  3. An easy downhill hill gives you a push for when you have to start climbing. Sometimes I have wonderful writing days, and I take advantage of them and write all the words because I know I’ll reach a point where I’ll need the extra cushioning of being ahead in the game. 
  4. Even when it’s hard, do not stop! You’ll fall. It’s okay to go slowly. But don’t stop! Unless you get off the bike first. Sometimes it’s not the best idea to first draft, write two critical essays, and write a brand new especial free lance project. Sometimes I have to get off the bike of one of my many mom-roles or I’ll fall and hurt myself badly. I have fallen, hard, and I don’t recommend it.
  5. Learn how to fall to minimize damage. Sometimes a project is non-viable. Put it away. Return to it later or use it as a learning experience. There are no wasted workouts!
  6. Wear a helmet. In writing, more than a helmet you need an armor, especially to protect your heart. I’ve let myself be excessively aware of my shortcomings as a writer and given more importance to other people’s critiques than I should have. It’s okay to take criticism. It’s vital! Just don’t let it hit you so hard that you can’t write any more.
  7. Look around you and enjoy the scenery. Writing is how I analyze life, how I cope with things, how I think. But life is beautiful and without life, there wouldn’t be anything worth writing about.
  8. Change gears accordingly. It can’t be NaNo speed every month of the year. Sometimes I write tons of short stories and poems, other times I write a whole novel in 12 days. Sometimes I don’t write at all.
  9. You never forget how to ride a bike. But once you get on a bike after a long time, you might be a little rusty. Be gentle with yourself! Whenever I’ve taken a break from writing, it takes me a while to get back on a rhythm (I don’t take writing breaks often though. Sometimes it’s just a day or two, but I don’t even stop writing for long periods of time or I’d go even crazier).
  10. Don’t pay attention to the cars–or oh my gosh!–the bikes that will pass you as if you’re just walking. Don’t try to beat anyone else but the rider you were yesterday or the year before.
Riding a bike is different for everyone. My ballerina daughter took off on her bike after her dad removed the training wheels like she’d been riding a two-wheeler forever. She has perfect balance and a core that makes me so, so jealous and proud at the same time! I, on the other hand, never had training wheels. I fell so many times when I was learning that I still have scars on my knees. Granted, I learned how to ride on a bike way to big for me, and I didn’t have my own until my husband gave me one for Christmas a few years ago. Sometimes if you don’t use the right tools or have a good teacher, learning can be painful. But guess what? I still learned how, and I totally love it. And that feeling when you want to quit, but then you look up and see your house Right. There. And your two little dogs bark in encouragement, and you park the bike, and in wobbly knees you walk in the house to finally start writing? That’s the best feeling ever.  

He Lives and Here We Go Again

Last time I updated the blog, I went ahead and purchased the domain with my name. Blogger makes the transition super easy and painless, so now I (and this blog) can be found by going to www.yamilesmendez.com. Pretty sweet, huh? I had a wonderful weekend with my family. Although the brunt of the cooking and the Easter preparations fall on me, my writing was relegated to the bottom of my priorities, but I still got some done. If anything, I’ve been journaling/brainstorming/free-writing every day, which keeps the writing muscles warm, both in my typing fingers and my mind. Every time I hit a creativity block, it’s because I have simply not shown up at the page.

I want to link up to some wonderful websites that have helped me tremendously lately. This wonderful blog by Emma Darwin, This Itch of Writing, has the most life-changing advice I’ve ever read on point of view and psychic distance. I learn of it from my wonderful advisor, Mary Quattlebaum whose help is making me a better writer than I ever thought possible. I also started subscribing to The Skimm, a daily newsletter that gives me the latest news before I start my day. It’s April, and that means 30 Days, 30 Stories is in full swing. At least, it should be. In the past a different author published a short children’s story, poem, etc, on the blog. This year, there aren’t enough tributes, er, volunteers, so the blog has been sadly quit the whole weekend. If you want to participate, please contact Bruce and he’ll assign you a day or work things out with you. You don’t need to be a writer, or a children’s writer to share. It’s fun, stress free, and a great way to connect with other people. This is one of my favorite events of the year.

Last of all, I’m energized about Easter Sunday. I miss Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas in glorious, beautiful summer. But Easter in the North, with Spring’s promise of re-birth and second chances and life, can’t be beat. I know that Jesus lives, and I love him, and I’m grateful for another week, another Monday to fight for my goals. And if you need an excuse to smile this Monday morning, here’s a little gift. Go ahead and be different!

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!
 

It’s not a Hogwart’s letter or an invitation to Camp Half Blood, but it’s the best next thing

It’s September, and yesterday the Hogwarts Express left Platform 9 3/4 without me. Again. Although this summer has been pretty eventful (Coco attacked by a pitbull, Princess Peach spraining her foot, and Swan having an emergency appendectomy on Sunday night), I still haven’t received my invitation to attend Camp Half Blood. I swear I’m Poseidon’s offspring, and enough people can attest that I can be a major witch somedays 😉

Who cares that I’m too old for either Hogwarts or Camp-Half Blood? I’m still eleven in my heart. But last Saturday, I received the best next thing besides an invitation to either school or camp. I got my letter of admission from The Vermont College, specifically for the Master In Fine Arts Programs In Writing for Children and Young Adults.

I hugged that giant envelope against my chest, and ran to my family who was playing soccer outside. I wish I could encapsulate the feeling of the late afternoon sun shining on me, Jeff and the kids, as we all celebrated this victory. The next day, when I was sitting in the surgery waiting room at Primary Children’s Hospital, waiting to hear news on my daughter, I drew on this feeling. There was no need to encapsulate it after all. It’s in my memory forever. I’m sure the future will bring days in which I’ll wonder why I ever thought going back to school with five little kids and a husband with a very demanding job was a good idea, but for now, I’m ecstatic with my letter and the promise of adventure in the words “Congratulations! You have been accepted.”  Vermont College of Fine Arts, here I come!

My #PitchWars Mentee Bio

I debated whether or not to write this. I don’t want to jinx myself writing a bio and ruining my chances of being chosen by one of the mentors. But then, the other option was obsessing over my twitter feed. So I deleted my twitter app from my phone and decided to jump in. Why not? The main thing I want from PitchWars is the opportunity to work with a mentor.

Instead of having a GIF party, I decided to paste a personal essay I wrote to apply for the MFA program I’ve been dreaming of attending for years and years. I wrote a first draft of it during an exercise in Cynthia Leitich Smith’s workshop during WIFYR, and I learned so much about me from that exercise that I decided to expand on it in my application.

So here it goes:

Rosario and the Parana River
I was born in Rosario, Argentina in the late seventies, at the cusp of the military dictatorship. In spite of censorship and persecution, my country has always been the breeding ground of thinkers and writers such as Borges, Cortázar, Quiroga, and Mármol. They used words not only to express themselves, but to also give voice to the voiceless and call the world’s attention to the reality of the southernmost country in the world. 

The first time words made sense to me, it was like I was seeing for the first time. I was five years old, in a crowded, middle-of-the-winter smelly bus, clutching my grandfather’s hand, when I read the bright words on a billboard. After that flash of understanding, words overwhelmed me. I couldn’t not read. Not anymore. But I couldn’t yet write. 

A few days later, playing school with older neighbor girls, I felt a writer’s frustration for the first time. In her expert second-grader voice, my friend read from the primer Argentine children have learned from for the last fifty years. “Pelusa mete la pata,” she said and waited for me to write it down. I saw the sentence in my mind. Pelusa, the dog, making a mess, sticking her leg in a pot of paint and leaving tiny blue footprints all over the floor. I saw it, but I didn’t have the tools yet to put my thoughts down on paper. Unfortunately, writer’s frustration is a feeling that has haunted me all my life. 

For weeks I sat at the kitchen table copying down letters from the salt box or the Coca-Cola bottle. Once I had the tools, I set out to build my own stories. When I was grieving the death of my grandfather, I wrote of a princess whose grandpa died of cancer. That was the beginning of my vocation as a contemporary writer. Although I love fantasy and speculative fiction, real life has so many mysteries that I’ve been exploring them ever since. My love of reading and writing have always walked hand in hand. As my eagerness to create stories grew, so did my search for stories that fueled my imagination and gave meaning to my life. 

At home, my family owned one book, the Bible. I read the Old Testament stories so many times, I almost memorized them. The Old Testament has something for every reader: mystery, betrayal, love, faith, sibling rivalry, murder and intrigue. 

One summer, my mother bought a dictionary from a door-to-door salesman, and my eyes were opened to the world. I read the words, but more than anything, I poured over the appendices at the end. The list of countries and their capitals. The list of dead tongues. I made stories about those people whose languages don’t exist anymore. 
In the list of modern languages, I marked the ones I would one day learn. I marked English, and with the help of a Spanish/English dictionary I learned it. Years of pouring over the dictionary and deciphering the phonetic guide gave me the opportunity to read my favorite authors in their native language. It also left me with dreadful mispronunciations. To this day, I have to remind myself that tired is pronounced TIE-erd and not TIE-red. 

When the Bible and the dictionary weren’t enough to satisfy my thirst for story, I turned to a neighbor and friend who graciously lent me the books of her meager library. That’s how I learned the Grimm and Andersen fairy tales and discovered the words of Monteiro Lobato, the great Brazilian children’s writer. He wrote about Little Nose and her friends, who listened to her grandmother’s stories in the Yellow Benteveo Farm. From Monteiro Lobato’s books I learned everything from Greek mythology to geology. From European history to Archimedes and math. Last year, on her last trip to Argentina, my mother found those books and brought all twenty-three to me. My love for Brazil and its people, in spite of the eternal rivalry between our two countries, has a beginning in the Yellow Benteveo. 

When I write now, I think of the books that shaped my vision of the world. Because of stories, I learned I could accomplish anything. Maybe that’s why when at the age of nineteen I left my country to attend university in the United States, I wasn’t scared. I was thrilled at the opportunity I had to live such an adventure. In an extended family of over seventy people, I’m the only one who graduated from college–in a foreign language that I learned from a dictionary. 

Even though writing and reading have always been a part of my life, I’ve been writing seriously for over seven years. During this time, I have attended several writing conferences, such as LDStorymakers and Writing and Illustrating For Young Readers. At the latter, I’ve attended workshops taught by Martine Leavitt, Ann Dee Ellis, and Cynthia Leitich-Smith. I’ve also attended SCBWI LA. I’ve been a member of a writers group, The Sharks and Pebbles, for almost five years. 

I’ve always been self-driven when it comes to learning and education. Besides English, I also speak Portuguese and Italian. 

Easter Day Family Picture
have five children, and I’m a stay-at-home mother. If anything, my children have inspired me to write from their perspective: the child who grows up between cultures. Being from Argentina, I come from several backgrounds. Even though my family tree has roots in Palestine, Spain, Yugoslavia, and the Pampas, I’ve always considered myself one hundred percent Argentine. I see a different experience in my children’s lives. Identity and what it means to belong to a culture or cultures are topics that resonate with me and inspire me to tell my stories. I write thinking of the little girl who seldom saw herself in the pictures of a book, but whose words are worth reading and writing about. 


I yearn for a mentor to guide me in my journey. In time, I feel I can also become a mentor for others–writers whose voices have been quieted, but who don’t want to remain silent anymore.

I didn’t add in my application that I’m obsessed with fútbol, but that’s such an important part of me I can’t leave it out. I love it. I’ve never played it, but one day, I’ll sign up for the women’s futsal league. I will.
All my boyfriends 🙂

Mentors, pick me! Pick me!


The New Wildthing in My Life

Many of you know that I was expecting a baby this summer, and even though I had planned on keeping the blog current to link to all kinds of awesome articles and sources for new moms, I let my blog go. Again. I had several reasons though. One of them is that I discovered that it’s a completely different experience being pregnant for the first time, or while parenting toddlers, to being pregnant when all four of my kids had busier schedules than I ever did. I was exhausted. All the time! I hardly had time to write, but I made myself work on three different projects until the very end of the pregnancy. I read ferociously. I immersed myself in words to distract my mind from the atrocious itching I always get as a result of suffering from Intrahepatic Cholastasis of Pregnancy, also known as ICP or OC. I had it with all my kids, but when before symptoms didn’t start until the third trimester, this time, they showed at 11 weeks.

If the itching weren’t bad enough, the exhaustion and weakness (also a result of ICP) exacerbated the fear of losing this kid. You see, the main risk of ICP is a high incidence of stillbirth during the three last weeks of pregnancy. Needless to say, I was pretty much maniacal at the end.

My due date was yesterday, July 22nd, but my baby was born three weeks early. His birth was nothing like that of the other kids. I went from two idyllic homebirths to the NICU.

He spent a whole week in the NICU. A week that really made me understand the meaning of time stopping when things are bad. That week seemed like a lifetime. Looking back on it, I don’t even know how I made it through it all, other than the fact that I felt myself and my fears and worries lifted by angels, heavenly and those here on Earth. 

I understood the real meaning of envy. Hot, acidic, pervading envy when another baby went home and mine didn’t. I never knew that feeling existed. I hated it.

But I also felt gratitude and joy like never before. Freedom. Going back home with my baby felt like I had been set free.

I’m writing again. Yesterday I read a chapter I wrote weeks ago, and guess what? It wasn’t horrible. In fact, I liked it so much, this morning I woke up looking forward to updating the blog. And writing. And new stories. I think I’m back to almost normal. Almost.

Morning Pages and Conferences

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’m doing the 12 week Artist’s Way program. One of the first exercises Julia Cameron prescribes is the writing of three pages every morning, before doing anything else. This is supposed to be the place and space to spit out all the self-doubt and fears, so that by the time a writer or artist of any kind is ready to settle to work, the fears and doubts have already been said and can’t block the artist’s progress anymore.

I don’t know if I’m doing them right or not, but to me, they have become a sort of journal. More personal than a journal in fact, because in my official journal, I keep in mind someone (my family) might read it in the future. With the morning pages, I ramble and babble without direction. Once in a while though, I’ll put in writing something that has been in my mind for a while, sometimes even without being conscious of it. These sparks of self-discovery are fueling my story. I read somewhere that if you do something for at least 21 days, it becomes a habit. I’ve been doing the morning pages for longer than that–I’m in week 7–and I really hope they’re here to stay. Even if they’re only good enough to take all my whining and complaining.

On other news, WriteOnCon, the amazing free writing conference organized by the amazing Elana Johnson and company is taking place right now. Click here for a recap of today. There’s plenty of food for thought. Oy! If you’re a writer, don’t forget to enter the contests and numerous critiques in the forums. Who knows who may find you there?