"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

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?

Monday, April 06, 2015

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!

Thursday, April 02, 2015

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!