"What we do in this life, echoes in eternity."
Maximus, Gladiator
"Our creator would never have made such lovely days, and given us the deep hearts to enjoy them, above all thought, unless we were meant to be immortal."
Nathaniel Hawthorne

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

I have moved!

Friends, I have permanently moved my blog to my website: YamileSMendez.com. Go find me there! Besos!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How to write a Latinx character and other questions

Look at this graphic:

The first time I saw this illustration I cried. I mean, LOOK AT IT! One and a half books representing the Latinx characters in children's books? The equivalent of three pages representing the Native American people? Look at the similarly dreadful percentages of representation of our African American children, and our Asian and Pacific Islander kids?

This is what one of my favorite authors, Junot Díaz, said about the dangers of a person not seeing themselves reflected on the pages of a book:

“You guys know about vampires? … You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?" And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.”

Every kid deserves to see themselves as the heroes of their favorite fantasies, their thrillers, their fluffy funny books. In all the books. I guess we can all agree on that, right?

The children's book community has been aware of the tremendous need for more representation of "marginalized" communities in the books ALL of our kids read. These books representing our characters from "minority" groups aren't only mirrors. They're also windows through which all of our children can experience someone else's existence and experiences.

The creation and incredible influence of the WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS ORGANIZATION (for which I'm so grateful!) has brought the issue to every day conversation, and has kept the conversation going. Some writers, in their desire to increase representation want to tell stories of characters of a different background from their own. Which is okay. IF, and that's a huge if, if the representation is accurate and respectful, ie: not perpetuating harmful stereotypes.

And many writers get this, this huge responsibility. They have expressed tremendous concern over getting representation wrong, of offending readers, of harming their readers, of provoking public anger. Because ultimately, we write for children. I write for myself, but in the end, my mind is always on the young people my words will affect because words are powerful; they're life changing.

The fears many writers feel aren't unfounded. *I* am afraid of not representing my culture in an appropriate way. I've found things in my own writing that've left me reeling with shock. These problematic elements have leaked into my writing after years of seeing my culture diminished as a stereotype on most media I've consumed all my life. The harm of wrongful representation is immense.

 There have been several instances of readers, bloggers, and critics questioning the representation of characters and situations in children's books (A Fine Dessert, A Cake for George Washington, and When We Was Fierce are clear examples). These complains and concerns are valid. Seeing your cultural/ethnic group, your religions, your language butchered and misrepresented is a terrible thing. Many times as a reader, I put my feelings aside and gave the author a second, third, fourth chance. Not so much anymore. If a book is offensive, I won't recommend it. I won't support that author anymore.

A few months ago I started offering sensitivity reads to children's writers. My main intent was to be a consultant and a sort of guide to writers who write outside of their culture and comfort zone. But these are things to consider:

1- I'm not the voice for the whole Latinx community.
2- I'm not even the voice for the Argentine community in the US.

However, I know that having an extra set of eyes on a manuscript is vital for any writer wanting to be honest and respectful when crafting characters and situations that haven't been experienced first hand.

I've had some writers reach out with questions. I've loved helping them.  Here's a non-inclusive list of things to consider when writing a Latinx character:

  • Culture is more than race/skin color/language.
  • Culture can  be conveyed in several ways including but not limiting to food and language.
  • Members of a minority group sometimes act one way within their community and another in different situations, environments.
  • Skin color affects all aspects of a person's life. Sometimes privilege such as financial or class privilege will protect a person from some situations, but not from all. For example: I've been asked at restaurants to refill drinks, and I didn't look like a waitress at all, nor was I wearing anything similar to a server.
  • If you're dark skinned people will assume you're: poor, illegal, uneducated. Not all people, but these are all scenarios I or people close to me have experienced.
  • If you have an accent people will assume you don't understand them.
  • If you have an accent people will assume they will not understand you.
  • If you have an accent, people will think your English isn't proper, or that you can't write in English.
  • If you have an accent, people might be surprised you have a college education or, gasp!, higher form of education.
  • Religion is an important part of the Latinx community, not matter what denomination, if any, the person belongs to. Some beliefs like La Virgen de Guadalupe, and love (for the most part) for Pope Francis are widespread in our community
  • It's highly offensive to use our beliefs and deities as the basis of a whitewashed fantasy world. If you're writing about our aboriginal people's gods (Aztec, Mayan, etc), be aware these are living religions TODAY. No, using them is not the same as portraying Greek or Roman gods. 
  • Countries of Latin America and Spain have different accents, foods, customs, and idiosyncrasies. Regions within each country, communities within each region have different accents, foods, customs, and idiosyncrasies from each other.
  • A lot of Latinx people in our communities were born in the US. They're second, third, fourth generation Americans.
  • Not all Latinx people speak Spanish. 
  • People who immigrated to the States won't have an accent after a few years. Example: someone who immigrated as a child won't have a significant, recognizable accent as an adult.  
  • Puerto Ricans aren't immigrants when they move to the US. They're already US citizens. 
  • In spite of what the media shows, there are more types of Latinx characters than the gang member, the illegal immigrant, the narco, the bubbly, sexy Latina, etc. These exist too, but please, go beyond the stereotypes! 
  • Family is a huge influence in our lives, including grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, etc. I'd never heard the term "extended family" until I arrived in the States. Community is also vital for our people.
  • Educational achievement is a family affair. We've been taught that education can free us, and it's true. 
  • Our countries have a rich heritage of thinkers, Nobel Prize winners, scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, teachers, writers, musicians, and artists of every kind.
  • Many of us have lived real life dystopian societies (hello Dictadura era).
  • In many of our countries, women have been the president and head of the executive power.
  • Latinx people are a combination of all the ethnic groups on earth. We come in every shade and color, and even within families you can find a dark skinned person whose siblings are red-headed or blond with ultra white skin.
Again, this list isn't all inclusive. I just wanted to show all the aspects in which culture affects a person. The ways in which it will affect your character. The reader will notice if the only thing the writer did was slap a Spanish sounding name and dark skin on a character. I notice. Kids are smart. Kids know when they're reading truth and when they're reading a composite of wikipedia facts.

So my friends, write your stories with the characters that knock on the doors of your mind. But do it responsibly. Read the writers from the group you want to write about and you're not a part of. Like Jackie Woodson said in a lecture, come to their house and see things from their eyes. Respect your readers, and write the truth, even if it's uncomfortable. Even if it's a lot of hard work.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Ghost of a Memory

When I was in elementary school, we didn't read from novels, except for the time the teacher read us Dailan Kifki, by María Elena Walsh, but that wasn't until I was in sixth or seventh. (More on María Elena in another blog post. She deserves one to herself). The thing is, we had "reading primers." Our language "manual" had excerpts of books, little snippets to teach us whatever we
Dailan Kifki, the Elefant
needed to learn in grammar, or syntax, or sometimes even history. So in the 5th grade, my parents couldn't buy me the Language textbook, so they borrowed it from a neighbor. Hermione-style I read it back to back. There was a particular excerpt about a boy who waits for the train every afternoon, and then hurls rocks at the engine. One day the locomotive gets so fed up of being abused, that she throws back her whistle. The boy can't speak anymore. The piece ended with him realizing that he can't talk. His fear and desperation.

That's all there was.

I loved it so much that I cut the rectangle with the beginning of this story and kept it for years, like a puzzle piece I tried to match to other excerpts I found. I'm sure it got lost when my family moved from Argentina to Utah. I like to think of my journals and newspaper clippings, huddling together in a box, waiting for me somewhere (how sad!!!). Cutting this story got my parents and me in a lot of trouble because when the neighbors got their book back for their kid who was younger than me, of course they saw it was missing sections (although I don't remember cutting out anything else. I honestly thought no one would ever notice the one missing piece--which makes me think, why didn't I just rip the whole page? I don't know. I was ten. Ten!). The stealing of a section of a book got me in the bad side of the girls of my apartment building and led to years-long ostracism (more on that in another blog post).
Ladies and gentlemen, Laura Devetach! 

 At the time, I didn't care that the neighbor girl was mad at me for cutting up the book. I wanted to know the ending of the story so much it physically hurt. That's all I cared about.

You thought Rick Riordan's cliffhangers are cruel? You thought waiting three years for Harry Potter 5 was an eternity? How about waiting 28 years to know how a story ended? A story whose title and author you don't even know.

I knew the story took place in the Argentine sierras. I've never been there, but the way the author described the place was so vivid! I didn't even remember the words she used. I remember feeling. The feeling of summer bliss. The feeling of a kid getting into mischief when he thinks no one's watching. The feeling of something terrible that we have done and we can't take back. You know that feeling in the center of your chest when you've made a mistake and don't know how to take it back? That one. That's what I felt. I wanted to know what you feel like when you fix your mistakes too.

La Torre de Cubos
(The Block Tower)
Fast forward to me, writing my creative thesis for my MFA in writing. I wanted to write a short story to honor this short story from my childhood, but I wanted to credit the author. I searched online, and I found plenty stories about trains, but not the one I was looking for. Finally, I asked on Facebook, and I tagged three friends. One from elementary school, one from my church, and another one I met online because of a friend in common (her sister-in-law, my friend). Within minutes, my friend from elementary school replied: "Could it be La Torre de Cubos (The Block Tower), by Laura Devetach? The military junta banned her works for a long time because they were subversive."

I immediately looked up Laura Devetach, and friends, let me tell you:
First of all, yes! The story is Mauricio y su Silbido (Mauricio's Whistling). I savored the whole story. I read the whole little collection of short stories. I "understand" why the military banned her. Her work is for children, but like all the best children's literature, it isn't childish. Laura Devetach writes for children with such respect! She addresses social injustice, individual responsibility for one's actions (as in Mauricio's story), white privilege, gender equality, and a lot of other concepts I didn't learn about until I was an adult. Although she's been recognized around the world for her contribution to children's literature, as a child, I never even knew the name of this author from my same province, Santa Fe.

After the first burst of euphoria for having found what I'd been searching for years, a feeling of mourning and then anger filled me. I missed so much during my childhood! The books that showed characters like me, who spoke my language, literally, who drank máte with their families, the kids who were alone all day while their moms were at work were robbed from me!

I was born at the cusp of the military government, and by the time I started elementary school my country was under the governance of Ricardo Alfonsín, our democratically elected president. However, it took a long time for democracy to trickle down into education. I asked my friend, the genius one who knew exactly what story I was looking for, "Why do you think we never learned about Laura? Why didn't she ever come visit our school? Why?" Her reply was, "Maybe because our teachers were so scared by the dark years of the dictatorship that they didn't know we needed Laura's words, or that even they were allowed to teach us about her and our other bright writers" (like Alma Maritano, more on her in another post too).

Now that I know here name, Thank you, Laura Devetach! I pledge to honor the legacy of this and the other great writers whose work for children resonates for the rest of the readers' life. I pledge to write stories that will resonate with readers even when they don't remember my name anymore or the details of a story, but that leave them feeling and looking for more.

Oh how I wish her work were translated in English! Maybe... maybe there's a project for me there in the future.

Monday, May 23, 2016

When you just need some chocolate. Or a lot.

Last Thursday I received an email with a reply I wasn't expecting (a rejection on a project I was so hopeful for). My husband had been out of town for forever and the kids were at their worst. I still had to write 5 more pages for my MFA workshop submission and revise all 20 pages before sending them off. My Rosario Central team lost on the quarter finals of Copa Libertadores de America on the very last second. I was tasting the victory on the tip of my tongue! And then all I had was bitterness. I'd been without a phone since the week before (still no phone), and it was my parents' 39th wedding anniversary. It was stormy and dreary outside, and my dad called me because of course he can't call my mom. After his "Hola, hija," we both cried wordlessly and silently on either side of the phone, until one of us was more recovered and made a comment about the weather and plans for an asado on Sunday.

On Friday, however, I finished my workshop piece. Panda Bear and his best from preschool wanted a picnic before friend's trip, and we went to the park. Panda, friend, friend's mom and I had a wonderful time although the day was blustery and gray. I pretended the wind was lifting the burden off of my shoulders. My little stressors were nothing when seen one by one (except missing my mom. That's a huge cloud of grief I can't ever shake off), but all of them combined made my knees buckle. So after the picnic and because Panda Bear was sobbing about his friend's leaving for two weeks, I drove us to Kneaders for a treat. "I need the chocolatiest thing you have," I told the girl at the drive-through. She could only offer me the chocolate dome but a one serving chocolate dome wasn't what I had in mind.

So I asked my friend and my kids' babysitter C. to bring me the Costco chocolate cake on her way to our house for the usual Friday night craziness. The chocolate cake from Costco that I've usually referred to as the everlasting cake. It's rich and empalagosa and it never, ever ends.

"What's the occasion?" C. asked.

"Life," I said, "We're celebrating that we lived another week and that it was worth it."

I never reward myself with food. Lately my bribe and motivation to work and workout is an episode of Grand Hotel, but I needed chocolate. My mom said that after the birth of each of her children, she always craved chocolate. It might have been the severe anemia she had all her life. In any case, she never got the cake because she would've had to bake it and with a new baby, she never had the time. So in her honor, I got the cake, watched Lin-Manuel Miranda's wonderful  UPenn commencement speech that my lovely agent Linda sent me, and I watched it while I had some máte and ate my cake, just a piece, mind you, that thing must be worth at least 10,000 calories. The thing is I hardly ever celebrate because there's always something super important going on and the celebration can wait. So I ate my cake, celebrating that we made it to the end of the school year and soccer, my scholarship from SCBWI, the end of my 3rd semester and critical thesis, and life. I'm celebrating that I'm alive and that I still feel (I feel everything too much). Sometimes chocolate cake is the best remedy in the world. Here's the link to Lin-Manuel's speech, in case you need some encouragement too. And here's the transcript. I printed it out to read every morning:

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Another diversity post. Why do we need diversity in books?

Back in 2009 I wrote this blog post about a school visit I did during hispanic Heritage Month. This was seven years ago. SEVEN!!! I was a beginner writer and my kids were super young. I wrote during nap times and at night. I didn't really know what I wanted to write. My stories were all retellings of my favorite Celtic legends, mashing together Marion Simmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon with my favorite fairy tales. When I went to that dual immersion school and saw so many happy faces ready to see a Hispanic author, I realized I didn't know of any books that portrayed children who looked and sounded and lived like those little ones--like my own children. I have an agent now (hi, Linda!!!) and I'm doing my MFA at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, always with the intent of becoming a better writer. Hopefully I won't have to way seven more years to see a book of mine on a shelf.

But that school visit was a turning point in my life. Now, in the midst of the whole diversity revolution, everyone talks about the problem of the lack of representation in media, especially children's books. I'm a huge supporter of the We Need Diverse Books organization. They've been a great support to me too. Remember this?  
In an effort to do my part in this revolution for more diversity, I wrote a short essay giving my opinion of why we need diverse books. Why do YOU think we need diversity in books?

Why do we need diverse books?
By Yamile Saied Méndez
            “Literature is the expression of society”, said Charles Nodier, a French author and librarian who, according to Wikipedia, introduced young Romanticists to gothic literature and vampire tales. If books were photos in our social-medialized society, would they really show the nature of our world and society? Would everyone be able to see themselves on the pages of a book?
            One of the first things people do when they see a photo is look for themselves or people they might know. The same is true about books. When children read a book, they look for aspects of their lives and their situations. They read books with curiosity to learn about other people too.  
            The first book that I read by myself was Heidi, by Johanna Spyri. I lost my favorite grandfather at the age of five, and I saw my relationship with my Abuelo in that book. As a child, I didn’t have a pet goat, lived in the mountains, or ever slept in a bed of hay. Heck! I’d never seen snow in my life! I didn’t have anything else in common with the “girl from the Alps” but for the sorrow of missing a beloved grandfather. Reading about Heidi’s pain when she was separated from her grandfather helped me deal with my own grieving at having lost mine to death.
            The next books that marked me as a person were the works of Brazilian luminaire Monteiro Lobato. Through his stories about cousins Little Nose and Pedrinho, I learned to love the Brazilian people, their traditions, their history. In spite of the Argentine-Brazilian eternal rivalry in the soccer field, I saw my Brazilian neighbors through the window of books and learned to love them. Eventually, I earned a degree in Latin American studies, with an emphasis in Portuguese language and literature. All because of a series of stories about a grandmother and her grandchildren in a small Brazilian farm.
            In books, my greatest friends and companions throughout my life and especially my childhood were mirrors to myself and windows to the world.
            Books empower.
            They empowered me to pursue my dreams and fight for them. A child who doesn’t see herself in books is lacking the tools to face life, to make sense of the world around her, to know what she could be capable of. A child who doesn’t see a different reality from his lacks the tools to learn how to empathize with those living under different circumstances. He lacks the tools to make sense of aspects of the world he isn’t a part of.
            As a child, seeing aspect of myself in a book I was empowered. When I read about a character of my ethnic or cultural background, I got the message that my story mattered enough for someone to write about it. I learned I wasn’t alone in my sorrow. I learned that I mattered.

            My children are growing up between cultures. Like I did as a child, they yearn to be heard, seen, recognized, empowered by a book. Words give life and voice. And I want my children—and all children--to have a voice, to make sense of life, and to feel empowered. That’s why we need diverse books.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Half and half? What I am now

After years of hard work and sacrifice, on March 29th, 1997, I arrived in Salt Lake City all  by myself to attend Brigham Young University. I was nineteen, wide-eyed with hope and victory. I was nineteen, so young.

Today marks the nineteenth anniversary of this arrival, this new chapter in my life. I always thought that once I hit this mark, I could say that that I was half Argentine and half American. I spent the first half of my life in the same city, my beautiful Rosario. Half of my life in this country, most of it in Utah, but also in North Carolina and even Puerto Rico. But today I'm surprised to say I don't feel like half of anything. The parts that make me who I am aren't parts at all. They're wholes too. A soul can't be cut up into pieces (with the exception of Voldemort, and we all know how he ended up).

As a child, I always knew what I wanted: to go to college and be someone important. I loved stories and books. I wrote my first story when I was eight, a couple of years after my grandfather died. His death hit me so hard I still cry when I think of him. He always wanted to fly in an airplane, and he spoke of his Palestinian father like he had been a prince, exiled to Argentina because of war and poverty. I wrote my first story trying to deal with his departure.

I didn't consider myself a writer though.

I wanted to be an astronaut all the way into my late teen years. I've always loved science and the stars. I still do. How I miss my Southern Cross and the Tres Marias! To become an astronaut I knew I had to study in the US because NASA is here. My parents supported this dream, and I spent most of my youth teaching myself English and studying for the US college admission tests (SAT and TOEFL). I arrived carrying two small suitcases that contained all I could afford to bring. I had only two pairs of pants and a few shirts. Two dresses for church. A Rosario Central jersey. A hand knitted sweater that my mom made for me and that I still keep. Her hands made it and I can't part with it, even after all these years. A green woolen jacket that was just warm enough to keep me warm in the late Utah winter.

I didn't experience culture shock when I arrived, and I credit the army of friends that became my family and helped me ease into this culture. The US was all that I expected it to be. It was just like in the movies. The internet was just started to be a "thing" and home wasn't so far when I could look up my home in Yahoo. As time passed I would learn more about this beautiful place. Its wonderful opportunities that allowed a person like me to arrive with nothing more than a desire to progress and a tremendous will to learn and learn. I also found out about struggles that I hadn't expected, like how the color of my skin and my accent could be fascinating to some people, unacceptable to others. I learned about the physical pain of homesickness. No one had told me that this homesickness for Argentina, for Rosario, for my family would never completely go away, but that in fact would become stronger as I got older. Even when years later my whole family joined me in Utah or when I visited Argentina, I never stopped missing my life in my barrio. The experiences we have in our childhood and youths mark as forever. I haven't been a Catholic for years and years, but the songs from the mass, memories of my first Communion flash in my mind in April, when the world is blooming into Spring. Except that for me, April feels like early October. Although I've spent half of my life in the Northern Hemisphere, my body's internal clock is in sync with the South. In the Spring and Fall I never know what day it is if I don't look at a calendar. In December, I'm ready for a long, rejuvenating break. I love white Christmases, but I love even more the smell of Christmas Eve in the Summer, that combination of jasmine flowers and fireworks. The sounds of the crickets and frogs serenading all night, the distant ever-playing music somewhere in el barrio. I miss the daily bread and the smell of La Virginia's coffee perfuming Avenida Alberdi on my way to school. I miss my friends and laughing with them. I miss the river Paraná and Summer storms. Sometimes when I go back to Roasrio, I think I see my mom walking back from work, my sister talking with her friends in la plaza, or my brothers playing fútbol in the empty lot.

But when I go back I don't feel completely at home either. My mom isn't there anymore. There's a new apartment complex where the boys played fútbol. Even my bus line has changed. It's not the 108 anymore. After a few days in Rosario, I miss the organization of my Utah home, the cleanliness, and order. Sleeping without worrying about anyone entering my house in the middle of the night. Some things are the same. I still get nervous when I see a uniformed police officer. Some reactions are coded in our DNA, and I was born at the cusp of the dictatorship in the seventies.

My life is a life of dilemmas: My brother still lives in Rosario with his family, and when it's time to say goodbye, my heart stays with them. After a few days in Rosario, I'm always ready to come back to my house in Utah, and in my heart I love to hear the words "Welcome Home" from the immigration officer at the airport because this is my home now. But so is Rosario. So I'm not half and half of anything. I'm fully Argentine--I know in the American citizenship oath it says everyone renounces to their original country. But really. How could I renounce to who I am? And at the same time I love being an American citizen. But I'm still that girl from Rosario. I love my city even more after all these years, after so many thousands kilometers that I've traveled away from it. And although I haven't lived in Rosario for so long, I visit it every day, when I write my stories. I walk its streets, chant in the stadium, or sit in the balcony to watch the boys playing fútbol. I'm forever in between my home then and my home now, and I've made my peace with this, with my heart fully in two places.

Not the best picture, but it's the last picture we took before I left for the airport

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

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!


Tuesday, January 05, 2016

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! 

Monday, November 09, 2015

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...


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.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Walter Dean Meyers Grant from We Need Diverse Books

Today I was supposed to write 3,500 words. I'm at the end of a very emotional middle grade that has consumed my life for the past months. I'm so grateful to work with my wonderful VCFA mentor, whose encouragement and guidance has meant the world for me to keep going. Today, I only wrote 500 words, but I have a good reason. The scene I had planned on writing was very emotional (did I already say that?), and as I usually do when I have to dig deeply into my heart, I went online to procrastinate. Just then, I received an email from the We Need Diverse Books team, announcing that I had been selected as one of the five recipients of the inaugural Walter Dean Meyers Grant. I couldn't go back to the emotional scene after that :-)

This was my reaction:

Here's the official We Need Diverse Books announcement, and the Publishers' Weekly press release.

After the adrenaline, I'll go back to the keyboard and the word count, so this book can come alive!

Thank you to all my mentors, teachers, friends, and family because without their support, I would have never been able to keep going when the writing gets tough!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

I sent packet 2 and then went to Istanbul

Hello! I know this blog has sadly been quiet for months and months, but sometimes, if I blog, I don't get my daily words, and I've been working on a fantastic new manuscript with my advisor this semester. But guess what? I'm in Istanbul! And I can't flood my social media timelines with pictures and musings of the day, so I turned to the good old blog to record my thoughts.

I was hesitant to come to Istanbul because of the unrest in the neighboring countries. Istanbul hasn't been affected, but everyone I talked with about the situation said how deeply worried they are about the refugees. Things that have struck me the most about the Turkish people have been:

  • The respect for other cultures and religions. Religions co-exist in harmony and respect. How far is our country from this! We still have so much to learn!
    The Blue Mosque
    Inside the Blue Mosque. I look like a local :-)

    Posing with a soldier at the Palace

    Jeff at the market's entrance

  • People are so, so well educated. They're courteous and attentive. They're so smart! Like in pretty much all of Europe, they speak more than two, three, and even four languages. I made sure I know how to say at least "Thank you" in Turkish instead of expecting everyone to speak English. I'm in their country, for the love! But to my utter surprise and delight, a lot of people speak Spanish. 
  • The know how to cheer for their soccer team. We went to the Champions League opener game between Galatasaray and Atletico Madrid, and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. 
Cheering for each player
  • They're serving sizes are appropriate. The soda I got at the stadium equaled the child's size in the US. 
  • the respect for animals. There are cats roaming all over town, and they seem well taken care of and fed. Our tour guide told me today that the government controls the animal population, by placing micro-chip in their ears and making sure they're healthy. Yesterday, this beautiful mama cat sat by me in my first outing into Istanbul, by the Bosphorus. 

Mama Cat 
  • There are so many libraries and bookshops. I have zero knowledge of Turkish music, literature, or art. I'm determined to learn more. 

Today we had a private guide to the old city, and he took us to a carpet weaving store. Of course, immediately after we entered the store, we had about five people wanting to sell us a carpet. They're gorgeous, those carpets. But we hadn't planned on buying any, so we didn't. But the store people sure tried. The "boss" came and talked to us and was actually super nice. His name was Gengis and his ringtone was from "The Godfather." I loved it! You can't make stuff like this up. Real life is crazy, and beautiful, and weird!
I'm ready to explore more of this wonderful city. Now I'm going to snuggle with my kindle and The Historian, which I read a long time ago, but I'm in the mood for some vampire stories. See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

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.
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.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


I love them!
This weekend I'm heading off to my fifth Storymakers conference. I look forward to this conference every year because of the quality of the presentations and classes. Every year since my first one, I've pitched an agent, and this year I'm so happy I won't be pitching because I have an agent! I'm still so thrilled about signing with Linda and the Prospect Agency, that sometimes I look at my kids and exclaim, "I have an agent!!!"

Although I have an agent and my manuscript won the New Visions Honor, and I'm doing the MFA through the Vermont College of Fine Arts, I'm passionate about learning my craft and becoming better and better every day. This conference is chock full of wonderful classes for writers in every stage of the journey: newbie to experienced. I'm almost done packing for the conference. See my pretty business cards?

This year is extra especial for me because my son, my Gorgeous Boy, is coming along. I'm so looking forward to spending time with him and so many wonderful friends! Martine Leavitt is presenting a class and although I'll be in a workshop with her this summer, I can't waste this chance to learn from her!

If you'll be at Storymakers, say hi. I love meeting new friends, and although I'm an introvert, I love talking about books, soccer, and dance. I hope to see you there!

Friday, May 08, 2015

Mother's Day Week deluge of happy news

I'll be studying here this summer!
I've heard people say that overnight success takes years in the making. These past few weeks I had an a torrent of good news that left me reeling for breath. How I love that word, reeling! Since I started writing seriously, I had the goal of finding a literary agent that would love my work so much, they'd be passionate to share it with the world. I queried two books. The first one I queried a few years ago wasn't ready to go into the world. I had a great reception for the query and the first chapter (I even won the First Chapter Contest at Storymakers!), but ultimately, I didn't find representation. I kept writing, and learning, and attending conferences, and getting up at 4 in the morning to get some quiet writing time, and submitting, and critiquing, and receiving critiques, and  writing some more. Writing and reading every day, all the time. Last year I started querying THE REEL WISH, my Latina Irish dancer novel. I had a great request rate too. I had dozens of full manuscripts being considered by agents. A wonderful agent even called me and suggested that
I earn the silver medal for the Honor! Isn't it
a gorgeous design?
I revise and resubmit. I did. I wrote a different book: ON THESE MAGIC SHORES. I submitted that book to Lee and Low's New Vision Award. I started my MFA program at VCFA. I found out I was a finalist for the New Visions. I received two offers of representation in the same week! And then another one. I sent a crazy query to a new agent that felt like a perfect match. Twenty-four hours later she offered representation. I found out I won the New Vision Award Honor. I found out I was accepted to the summer residency in Bath Spa. I could finally announce that I'm now represented by Linda Camacho from the Prospect Agency!
Again, I'm reeling with happiness and gratitude! And then on Tuesday, Barcelona won 3-0 against Bayern Munich, and Messi did this!

Isn't it a work of art? And then I found some audio from Polanco, one of my favorite ESPN commentators. Even if you don't understand the language, the emotion with which he talks about this goal reflects how I feel about signing with an agent, winning the Honor, and making it into Bath Spa!

My dear friends, my cup runneth over. I'm so humbled by all the words of support during these years trying to achieve these goals! I expect many trials ahead. My road in this writing career is just starting! I'm so excited to keep working and writing books and sharing my stories with the world. I only have a tiny Mother's Day wish: to be able to call my mom and tell her my wonderful news. I can't do that anymore. I just hope that she's smiling in Heaven, celebrating these goals that are also hers. Happy Mother's Day to all the wonderful women who make this world a wonderful place and who made these dreams of mine come true!

Friday, May 01, 2015

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.  

Friday, April 24, 2015

World Book Day

Yesterday was World Book Day. Every day is now World Day This or That, but yesterday, when I saw the post of astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, I had to share my own tribute to my beloved books.

First of all, she's an astronaut, and although it's a cliche, I wanted to be an austronaut until I was about sixteen years old. Second, I love miniature books, and the fact that she chose to bring some along to the ultimate adventure just blew my mind. Third, her words; "They answer questions I  didn't yet have." So, so true!

So here's mine. Two videos of my sweet Teddy Bear, also previously known as Baby Hulk and Miracle Baby, reading Eric Carle's Brown Bear, Brown Bear and Panda Bear, Panda Bear. He's not a little baby anymore, but his status of fifth child has granted him eternal babyhood and favoriteness in our family.

Books saved my life. They make me happy. They make me dream. They make me think and feel. Why are books important to you? Which ones are your favorite?

I see an adorable gordito reading to me

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Neil Gaiman on Being a Writer and Fears

Last Saturday, instead of going to the Real Salt Lake game (we have season tickets!), I took my handsome son on a date. Not to a concert, but to see another kind of rockstar. My kind of rockstar: a writer, and none other than Neil Gaiman.

He did NOT want a selfie with me
The drive to Park City is gorgeous, and while my son napped, I listened to the audio book of Good Omens, which Neil Gaiman co-wrote with Terry Pratchett. In one section I was laughing so hard that my son woke up, so he listened to Keane and Coldplay instead. Sometimes when I haven't heard some songs for a while, and I go back to them, I remember how much I love them for the melody, but especially the lyrics. I feel the same way with favorite books. But anyway, the Park City High School  Eccless auditorium was packed. Everyone looked like we were about to see Santa Claus or another mythical creature. In a way, Neil Gaiman is that mythical creature that can create stories for both adults and children with the same magisterial skill. When he walked on-stage, he got a standing ovation. "Sit down," he said. "A standing ovation when I haven't even started is nice, but also very silly. Sit down." Chastised, but smiling like goons, the audience (including myself) sat down, ready to drink in his words. In a way, listening to him was a little like reading his books: like falling into a dream or trance, and once awake, you know you loved every second of it, but once you try to put the feeling into words, the magic is gone and you can just say, "it was wonderful!" You had to be there to understand the energy in the room. The interviewer (I forgot his name) was very skilled, directing the conversation but never taking charge.
Neil on stage

Neil said he never consciously wanted to be a writer. Instead, he had these very vivid daydreams of him going to an alternate world with a copy of The Hobbit, and then finding an adult to type the whole thing. Getting rid of the witness, and then sending the "manuscript" off to a publisher that would help him become the author of The Hobbit. Or, he wanted to kidnap all of his favorite authors through time and space and MAKE them collaborate on the ultimate novel and then publish it as his own. None of the plans actually involved him doing the work of writing the book though :-)

He said that his favorite birthday present was when he turned 9 and his parents gave him the reading shed he'd asked for. Talk about lucky! I've been dreaming about this modern-sheds so I can have my
I want a writer shed!!!! 
own little writing/reading/sleeping space! My husband is kind of worried I want to move out on my own (not forever! Just a few hours in the day and a few nights here and there!). I'll keep asking for it and see if it works like it did with Neil. Neil, we're on a first name basis, he and I :-)

Me, fangirling. Photo cred: my son
He finally said that once when he was in his twenties, he realized that he didn't want to reach the end of his life and realize that he could've been a writer, but that he hadn't given himself the chance. He decided to try, even if he failed. He didn't, at least from an outsider's point of view, but like every writer, he suffered his share of rejection. He just kept going. That was my favorite advice of the night. Keep going and pursue your dreams!

Neil has a new book out, Trigger Warning, a collection of short stories. I can't wait to dive into it, but I'm in the middle of Packet 4 preparation. I can't wait to get the critical essays done to get them off my mind!
My boys
I'm also reading Bone Gap, by Laura Ruby. My friend R. recommended it to me, and she read me a passage from it that kept me thinking and thinking about it. Well, I started it last night at 1030. You know how that ended. Needless to say, I'll need major divine intervention to get through today (carpool at 9 pm. Ouch!). At least Barça won yesterday against Paris St. Germain, and although my darling Leo Messi didn't score, we're through to the next round! That's it for today! I'm also working on two short stories. One for the Need Diverse Books short story contest in honor of Walter Dean Myers, and another for the Bath Short Story Award. They're both due April 27th. Are you entering?
THE PURSE!!! Isn't it gorgeous? 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Scenes and Early Readers

My kids' second Spring break is over and I'm in full production mode for Packet 4 and my free lance project in a non-fiction project. I've been toying with chapter books and early readers these past few days, and I've been trying to read as many chapter books as possible. I'm shocked (not really. Maybe a little) by the lack of diversity in early readers and chapter books. I only found KEENA FORD, by Melissa Thompson and RUBY AND THE BOOKER BOYS, by Derrick Barnes, and DYAMONDE DANIEL, by Nikki Grimes. I found SOFIA MARTINEZ, but I haven't received it yet, and I'm anxiously waiting to read it with my daughter who's in second grade and loves chapter books. More than ever, We Need Diverse Books in which every child may see herself.

I've also been studying on scene, and one of my VCFA friends recommended THE SCENE BOOK, by Sandra Scofield. It's a treasure trove of advice that's keeping me up at night thinking about my WIP. I've also been up reading Nation, by Terry Prachett and because of some wonderful news I can't wait to share with everyone.

Books. Wonderful books. I love to see them, talk about them, touch them, arrange them in shelves and find them under my kids' pillows every morning when I make their beds :-)

What books are you reading?