Latina writer of books for kids of all ages.

IMG_2273See this pretty little pot? It has been sitting in a dark corner of my yard and growing without any help from me whatsoever.

This past spring, when I was planting herbs and Impatiens, I had a few puny plants left in the flats. They looked wilted and leggy. They had no blooms. Worthless, I thought, but I hated wasting them. Javier had once carved out a nice Asian inspired nook in our yard, but grad school, mosquitoes, and the intricacies of Bonsai did him in at last. So, I grabbed one of his abandoned planters and stuck the coleus and Impatiens inside.  Turns out shade and a quiet spot were just what they needed.

It’s too hot to garden in the late summer, but it’s the perfect time to return to edits on my next YA novel. I’m at the stage where a full manuscript exists. Not the finished manuscript –just the starting one where Kate and I start digging deep. The job now is to flesh out what’s working and to axe without mercy what’s not.

It’s a funny thing how the mind works when it’s trying to tell the truth via fiction. It’s never simple to let characters reveal what’s really bothering them. What always amazes me is how small things, tiny seedlings bloom in a manuscript, sometimes without my notice or help. Obvious parts of a character that eluded me earlier suddenly come into focus. And old scenes that I deleted in earlier drafts find a new life and purpose in another section of the book. These are precious moments to me when I realize that a writer can have faith even in failed efforts. With time and a little space, the most unexpected things might bloom.

I’m off to the Amtrak station so I can get to DC. This means two hours of quiet and solitude to work on things! Who knows what will peek through the ground? Hope to see you at the Festival!

Cariños de,
Meg

 

Meg’s next appearances:  

National Book Festival, Washington DC, Saturday, August 30, 2014

Bookmarks Festival, Winston-Salem, NC, Sept 5 -6, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kwame Alexander’s latest middle grade novel, The Crossover, stole my heart this summer. It’s a novel-in-verse about two brothers – both basketball phenoms – and what threatens to pull them apart. At its heart, this powerful book is about family, young men, and the choices we make as we grow up – all all told in an irresistible, thumping  style. Kwame will be speaking at the James River Writers Conference,  which is one of my favorite conferences each year. Here Kwame joins me for a quick taste of what he’ll bring to conference-goers. We talk dialogue, why poetry makes sense for boys, and the one thing he’s learned about the writing life.

 

Photo by Joanna Crowell (2)1. The dialogue in He Said, She Said is absolutely amazing in evoking character. How do you go about crafting dialogue? What advice would you give writers about the line between authentic sound and going too far?

Yeah, I took some chances with the dialogue in HSSS. It took a minute to commit to the language and style of the characters, but once I did, it was ON! I work with young people, through my Book-in-a-Day program. So regularly, I am interacting with them over lunch, teaching poetry, making jokes, and eavesdropping on their conversations. I am very perceptive (and nosy), so I stole a lot of what I heard, felt, participated in. Also, I try to remember how my friends and I kicked it back in the day.

I think that when you’re writing for young people, the trick is to not TRY to write like young people, but rather, put yourself in the classroom, in the lunchroom, in that experience, and write like YOU. There’s a kid in you, just remember what made you smile, laugh, cry, ponder, wonder, wander. Be real and authentic to yourself, and the sound will come across authentic. Of course, you still gotta make it interesting, ‘cause nobody cares that you’re being authentic if you’re boring.

True story: While I was writing, I would go to urban dictionary to come up with cool, clever words to insert. When I’d go back and read it, it just sounded unreal, uncool, suspect. Eventually, I wrote what sounded good and right to me, and I went with that.

CrossoverCover2. The Crossover, your 17th book, is a novel in verse, with themes that would be strongly appealing to boys. Was writing in verse a risk in your opinion? What are the pluses of writing in verse for you? What are the challenges?

In fact, it wasn’t a risk at all. Far too often, as writers, as teachers, we fear poetry. It probably has a lot to do with the agony with which we were taught it growing up. In my opinion, it’s the easiest thing for young people, especially boys, to grasp: It’s short, it’s rhythmic, and there’s a lot of white space. The fact that it packs a lot of emotion and feeling is just the coolest byproduct. As it relates to The Crossover, I felt that poetry would mirror the energy, the movement, the pulse of a basketball game the best. Want to get reluctant engaged with reading and writing, read them Nikki Giovanni, teach them haiku, plan an open mic, let them be firsthand witnesses to the power of accessible, relatable poetry. Recently, a kid I met at a book event told me, “I opened up The Crossover, and was like, ughh, these are poems. But then, I started reading them, and I couldn’t put it down. It was like good poetry, and it told a story. The best thing ever.”

 

3. So often in middle grade and young adult fiction, we find parents who’ve dropped the ball (sorry for the pun). One of the things that struck me about The Crossover is that it celebrates family, including involved and loving parents. Can you tell us about that decision and why it made the most sense for you?

Hey, the first inclination was to somehow get the parents out of the story. That would have been easy, but I wanted to try something different. Once I started marinating on my childhood, my middle school years, I remembered the woes and wonders of my parentals. Of course, once I decided to keep them around, I couldn’t just have a loaded bullet in the chamber. I had to fire it. For me, the story exploded when I did this. I had so many new and exciting literary choices to make. And, that was a fun part of the writing process. I guess I tried my best to mirror the life of a middle school boy as best I could, and you can’t do that without an authentic familial environment. Oh, and also, it gave me a chance to sort of depict my family life, in particular the life of a humorous and handsome dad (smile).

4. The life lessons through basketball never feel heavy-handed. I wondered which of those lessons is the most meaningful to you?

I remember taking an advanced poetry class with Nikki Giovanni, and being told that my poetry was too didactic. That kind of stuck with me, and I’ve been very aware of those tendencies in my writing, because I am a big fan of offering meaning and messages in my writing. I mean the impetus for writing He Said She Said was really to share one BIG message (or maybe two), and it was quite challenging to make it a PART OF the story, but not THE STORY.

The beauty of poetry is that because of its conciseness, because of metaphor and simile, because of line breaks, because of rhythm and rhyme, you are generally more reflective and inspirational, and less didactic. I had so much fun writing the Basketball Rules, and my favorite is #3, the one about not allowing others expectations of you to limit your aspirations. I was taught this as a child, and I believe it now. Especially in my writing career. If I let the number of NOs, the plethora of “Your book is just not that good” emails, define me, I’d be in a not so pleasant place. I’m a Say Yes person, and that’s how I move through the world.

5. Finish this phrase for me. One thing that I’ve learned in my writing life is…

…there are going to be some NOs, perhaps many NOs (I got 29 for The Crossover alone) out there, and you’re going to be disappointed, but if you believe you’ve written a good book (and your spouse confirms this when she sees you pouting), then you’ve got to keep it moving. Know that it’s important to get all the NOs out of the way, so that the YES can get through. All it takes is one (and after 29 rejections and five years, mine came)!

Photo byJoanna Crowell7. What are you working on next?

Now I have to put my pen and paper where my mouth is. Over the next four years, I have eight books coming out. Whoa! Right now, I am working on a new novel-in-verse and a second YA novel. It’s a little overwhelming. So much so, that I called my mentor, and said, “Is there such a thing as overkill, or overexposure.” She replied, “Not for a writer, Kwame. Not for a writer.”

Oh, and recently, in the middle of all these projects, my friend Lois Bridges at Scholastic, asked me to contribute to her anthology on the Joys of Reading. My answer, of course, was YES!

 

ConferenceLogo2014smallerKwame Alexander will be appearing at the James River Writers Conference on Saturday, October 18, 2014. Catch his sessions on poetry and prose romance across the genres.

 

 

 

Children's book author by day. Dancing nun by night.

Children’s book author by day. Dancing nun by night. Who wouldn’t want to read a kid’s book by someone like this?

Why do I write for young people?  Well, sure, I love kids, but I also adore the people who write FOR them. I’m spending five glorious days at the Society for Children’s Writers and Illustrators right now.

If you write for young people, make yourself a promise. Put an SCBWI National Conference on your calendar for next summer.  Save up. The inspiration, good will, and straight out fun are worth the headache of travel and budget busting. You’ll  play, study, and (most important) find the friends and colleagues who will keep you dreaming and working when the creative times are lean.

I’m putting some pictures below, including some shots of the pool party in honor of Tomie DePaola’s 80th birthday.

 

A few hours of quiet time before the conference...

A few hours of quiet time before the conference…

What's not to love about eating poolside in LA?

What’s not to love about eating poolside in LA?

Only a small part of Candlewick's team. Megan McDonald (Judy Moody!) Mary Lee Donovan, and me

Only a small part of Candlewick’s team. Megan McDonald (Judy Moody!) Mary Lee Donovan, and me

Lamar Giles and Linda Sue Park getting ready to record our podcast about diversity. Debut authors and writing legends all in one place.

Lamar Giles and Linda Sue Park getting ready to record our podcast about diversity. Debut authors and writing legends all in one place.

photo

Sure high tech set up for recording…(Hi Theo!)

With Linda Sue Park, Sharon G. Flake, and Lamar Giles. Some wondering thinking about books, diversity, and how we can see more books about everybody

With Linda Sue Park, Sharon G. Flake, and Lamar Giles. Some wonderful thinking about books, diversity, and how we can see more books about everybody

One amazing woman. The incredible Sharon G. Flake. A must-have speaker.

One amazing woman. The incredible Sharon G. Flake. A must-have speaker.

What the ballroom looked like for the panel on diversity (via Lamar Giles)

What the ballroom looked like for the panel on diversity (via Lamar Giles)

Tons of people came to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks poolside chat!

Tons of people came to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks poolside chat!

Poolside WeNeedDiverseBooks chat

Poolside WeNeedDiverseBooks chat

with Michael and Antoinette Portis, Denise Doyen. (Not a Box? Once Upon a Twice?) Yep...them.

with Michael and Antoinette Portis, Denise Doyen. (Not a Box? Once Upon a Twice?) Yep…them. (via Denise Doyen)

How's this for a polite author? Kathy Ellen Davis left me a thank you note after my session.

How’s this for a polite author? Kathy Ellen Davis left me a thank you note after my session.

with the lovely Carrie Gordon Watson - who sold a novel that she had to wrestle to the ground. Bravo!  (via Carrie)

with the lovely Carrie Gordon Watson – who sold a novel that she had to wrestle to the ground. Bravo! (via Carrie)

The fabulous John Parra's art work graces an SCBWI bag, which I bought (of course).

The fabulous John Parra’s art work graces an SCBWI bag, which I bought (of course).

Rockin' the night away after a day of learning.

Rockin’ the night away after a day of learning.

Yes. Those would be the Pope, nuns, and gondoliers.

Yes. Those would be the Pope, nuns, and gondoliers.

Illustrators Eliza Wheeler, David Diaz and me

Illustrators Eliza Wheeler, David Diaz and me

 

Campus - Fountains - 0013I took a beautiful ride to Farmville, VA last week to be part of Longwood University’s Summer Literacy Institute. What can you say about a couple hundred teachers, librarians, and library science students gathering in the summer to study strategies for helping people fall in love with reading? These are educators with true passion for books and kids.

After the regional authors presented on Friday morning, we had a chance to workshop with the participants on a topic of our choice. (My session was on making zines with kids.)

A.B.Westrick admiring a poster about her debut novel, Brotherhood

A.B.Westrick admiring a poster about her debut novel, Brotherhood

An unexpected treat was seeing how the library science students researched our work and created posters.Poster for Meg Medina books

One of the posters for my work included links to two original trailers for my books. Here are the Vimeo links Melissa Hanes’ trailers for  Tia Isa Wants a Car and Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. Thank you, Melissa! It was fun to see your mini-movies!

All in all, it was a beautiful experience, so thank you Professors Wendy Snow, Francis Reeves, Audrey Church and friends.) Big shout out, too, for  L.M. Elliott, and Jason Wright, new author friends from Virginia.

Happy summer!

 

 

 

 

I’m passing this on because I love an underdog story – especially one that shows off Latino kids with super-sized brains and grit.

The documentary Underwater Dreams will be airing on MSNBC and Telemundo this Sunday, July 20, 2014 1 PM, EST.

Here’s the blurb:  “Underwater Dreams, written and directed by Mary Mazzio, and narrated by Michael Peña, is an epic story of how the sons of undocumented Mexican immigrants learned how to build an underwater robot from Home Depot parts. And defeat engineering powerhouse MIT in the process.” Get the rest of the scoop here: 

 

header_logoI might not have heard about this if I hadn’t joined REFORMA as a community supporter this year. It’s a librarian association dedicated to providing services for Latino families, but you can join as a supporter or a corporate sponsor. You can flat-out just donate, too.

Anyway, I’m so glad this crossed my screen. Thanks, Reformistas for being such a great clearinghouse of information!

 

Buttons of the winning titles. Thank you, Celia Perez!

Buttons of the winning titles. Thank you, Celia Perez!

I got home last week from the ALA conference, an experience that still makes me daydream, especially when I think of the energy and passion in the room at the Pura Belpré awards. You can find my speech and Yuyi Morales’s speech here, but the truth is that the text doesn’t replicate the emotion that was in the room. All of us receiving recognition were teary and humbled –and not just by the honor being extended to our books. A good part of our emotion stemmed from the unspoken presence of people who were not actually in the room with us.

This summer, our news outlets have exploded with accounts of the nearly 40,000 unaccompanied childrenwho have arrived on our border to find themselves not only exhausted, afraid and alone, but also the target of explosive rage. Whatever your view on immigration policy, I hope you can agree that what we’re seeing is a human tragedy on the backs of the weakest and smallest among us.

All of us writers on that stage work for young people because we respect them and treasure what should be a sacred time for all children. All of us on that stage have been touched by migration, either directly or indirectly, in our own families. All of us have been the recipients of our parents’ most ardent hopes for our futures, sometimes at the expense of their own. It is heartbreaking, then, for us to see children so completely lost and in need of help.

As Javier and I traveled back home, the TV monitors overhead in the airport  flashed with images of sign-wielding protestors and supporters, with images of children handing over their birth certificates or chugging water from empty milk jugs, with shots of them sleeping on the floors like inmates.

The difficult story of migration is the Latino story, and it is the human story since time began. It can’t be captured in two-minute news clips and it can’t be screamed and shouted down.

Here for you, then, in honor of these children, I offer a short summer reading list to add to your thinking on this issue. It’s by no means a complete bibliography of what’s out there, but it’s a start…

Picture book Rene Colato Lainez

Picture book
Rene Colato Lainez

Duncan Tonatuih Pura Belpré honor for writing and illustration, 2014

Duncan Tonatuih
Pura Belpré honor for writing and illustration, 2014

 

 

Adult fiction by Cristina Henríquez, one of my favorite reads this year

Adult fiction by Cristina Henríquez, one of my favorite reads this year

My 2012 release: A look at migration through  magical realism Finalist International Latino Book Awards, 2014

A look at migration through magical realism
Finalist International Latino Book Awards, 2014

two_red_diceKids don’t picture their librarians hanging out at a slot machine. But, I’m telling you, it could happen this week. That’s because ten thousand librarians will descend on Las Vegas for their annual meeting. I’m heading over to join the party at the Association for Library Services to Children where I’ll be among the authors receiving our medals.Yep, it’s time for the Pura Belpré ceremony among others.

Truthfully, I don’t know what to expect. But in between panic and packing, I’m giving lots of thought to this year’s theme: Transforming Our Libraries, Transforming Ourselves.

For the first time, my editor and marketing team at Candlewick, my agent, my husband, and the librarians who’ve championed my work will be in one place. These are the some of the people who took the gamble on me (sorry for that pun) and who have played the biggest role in my transformation.

One heart isn’t big enough to hold all the gratitude I have for what these people have helped make happen in my life. One speech isn’t nearly enough to thank them  – or to thank all the bloggers, teachers, conference planners, librarians, college professors, fellow authors, family, and readers at home who have also offered me their hand and encouragement along the way.

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 12.11.57 PMThank you seems so meager right now. Not even mil gracias would be enough. But that’s what I’m sending to you this week. A thousand thank you’s for letting me tell stories. May our paths continue to cross in the years ahead.

Meg

If you’re at the conference this week, please stop by and say hello. Here is my appearance and signing schedule at ALA. Meg’s signing schedule at ALA 2014

Stop by Candlewick’s booth #602 to catch your favorite authors!

 

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