Latina writer of books for kids of all ages.

Posts tagged ‘James River Writers Conference’

It’s All About Bookish Virginia This Month

I’m back home after a month of coast-to-coast book travel which ended this past weekend in the best way possible. I hung out with English teachers at the Arizona Teachers of English conference and then drove up I-17 for my first-ever trip to The Grand Canyon.

Now I get to do bookish things for a month right here in my home state of Virginia. (It’s not the wide open west, but it’s gorgeous here, especially in the fall.) Whether you’re a young reader or adult, a reader or a writer, there’s something for you.

September 27, 2017, 6 pm, Chop Suey Books, Carytown, Richmond, VA. Join me and members of our local ACLU as we talk about censorship during Banned Books Week. Are you remembering to celebrate it?  Now more than ever, we need to stand up for critical reading.

October 6, 2017, Visiting Riverside High School in Leesburg, VA, where Lauren McBride and her fellow librarians and teachers are doing an incredible job of preparing the Rams for my visit. Looking forward to talking all things Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and Burn Baby Burn.

October 7, 2017, The YAVA Book and Author Party. Richmond Public Library, 101 East Franklin,  offers you a chance to party for an afternoon with Virginia’s YA authors. Food, prizes, and a lot of silliness.

October 13 – 15, James River Writers Conference at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. Have you registered?  I’m doing a master class on writing characters on Friday (held at the Richmond Public Library) and would love to see you.  Then I’ll be part of panels and basically learning alongside everyone else at our annual literary hoe down. Not to be missed – especially if you can slip off to see the Richmond Folk Festival on Sunday, too!

October 19 -21, 2017 Virginia Children’s Book Festival. It’s a star-studded lineup (see for yourself) in one of the most scenic parts of our state. Held at Longwood University, the VA Children’s Book Fest is the perfect serene spot to meet some of our country’s top authors while you roam around Longwood’s beautiful campus. Check out their graphic below. Can you guess some of the writers who are coming?  

Teen Read Week & More in #RVA

TRW14_1000x200It’s a great week to love books in Richmond, Virginia – especially middle grade and YA fiction. That’s because it’s not only the Library of Virginia’s Literary Festival, but it’s also the American Library Association’s TeenRead Week. Wao! So much going on, so what can I say except, Tengo los patines puestos! (I’ve got my roller-skates on!) Here are a few highlights of where I’ll be during the week:

ByznKPqIcAMRPzSMeadowdale Library/Tomahawk Creek MS:  I’ll head down to Chesterfield County for a library book talk that is off-site on Wednesday, Oct 15, 7 PM.  We’ll talk The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind and Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. Here’s the info and where you register.  Especially nice to see a partnership between the school and public libraries in a community.

 

10460756_624828830946388_5252190620263280422_nTeen 14: Locals already know that the main branch of the Richmond Public Library on Franklin Street is always figuring out ways to make reading come alive, especially for kids. So, they’re going to play host once again for a teen author event. Join Virginia authors who have works for teens published in 2014. Teen '14 poster-FIt’s a ready-made night for librarians, teachers, and readers who want to meet and make friends with the truly kick-ass authors we have in the Commonwealth. PLUS, food, music, giveaways.  If last year’s event was any sign, it’s going to be a really fun night. Details on their Facebook page or click on the jpg poster here.

Hermitage High School Anti-bullying Book Event with Erin Jade Lange. You know her novel?  It’s called Butter, about a kid who decides to eat himself to death on Internet. Here’s the trailer. We’ve cooked up (ugh, the pun!) a good conversation about our books and bullying.  Note: it’s a closed event, but it will be available by podcast to other high schools.

 

ConferenceLogo2014smallerJames River Writers Conference:  My favorite conference each year because it brings us all together – writers across every genre and age group – talking, teaching, and learning about the writing life.  The Library of Virginia’s literary luncheon on Saturday features Barbara Kingsolver as the guest speaker. (She’s one of my daughter’s favorite authors, so Sandra gets to come along!) But really, the JRW Conference will, as usual, feature an impressive A-list of award-winners and bestselling stars. Check out the full list and register.

RVAWriters-300x83I’m also giving a standing ovation to JRW for a adding a new way to share the fun of book geekdom with the community.  RVA Hearts Writers will put their conference authors all over the city to offer free workshops and panels on everything from diversity in kid lit, to the Muppets, historical fiction, and the ins and outs of self-publishing.  Check out all you can learn.  The fact is that artists of all types have always made communities more interesting and vibrant. Nice to see the literary arts so well-repp’d in that effort.

Happy reading!

Cariños de,

Meg

Five Questions for Kwame Alexander

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.

 

 

 

Virginia Book Lovers: This is the week for you!

This is the week to be proud to be a Virginian, especially if you’re a book geek like me. The Literary Festival of Virginia is back. It has been  gaining national attention over the years, thanks to the impressive list of  bookish events you can find in this state.

IMG_1546One event that I hope is on your radar is right here in Richmond. If you’re a fan of books for young readers,  we want to see you at Teen ’13  at the Richmond Public Library on October 17, 6 – 8:30 PM. Food, music, authors, books, free stuff, all in one place. The fifteen Virginia authors who are coming offer a mind-blowing range of styles and topics. The books – all 2013 releases — are about psychic powers, romance, religious zealots, racism, canaries in coal mines, circus freaks, the KKK, bullies, military families, Darfur, dementia, horses, angels, courtiers, girls in juvie hall – you name it. See for yourself on the final schedule and the author list here. Teen ’13 program_proof2 (2)

Oh, and to sweeten the deal even more, there’s free stuff: six $25 gift cards to Fountain Bookstore (which will be on hand that night); three winners of 30-minute video chats with an author of their choice; and an autographed collection of the entire list of books. Huge smooches to the Hanover High School Jazz band for their talents and to the Friends of the Library who funded the food, the space and all the prizes. (And buttons. Did I mention the nifty buttons?) #TRW and #teen13valit

Librarian Patty Parks sporting just a few of the book buttons

Librarian Patty Parks sporting just a few of the book buttons

Other highlights:  On Wednesday, I’ll be at St. Margaret’s in Tappahannock VA to talk about YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS. (A whole school dedicated to amazing girls, located in as beautiful a place as there can be in the world!)54001952

The James River Writer’s Conference, an annual family reunion of sorts for writers all over the mid-Atlantic. Here’s the conference schedule. You can get your feet wet with a one-day pass or come both days. Maybe it’s all that creativity in one place, but I always leave the event feeling excited to get back to the page.

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James River Writers Conference Spotlight: Elizabeth Huergo

4-300x90About this time of year, I start to perk up with bookish anticipation. The autumn brings us the Virginia Literary Festival (Oct 16 – 20, 2013), anchored in part by the James River Writers Conference. Now in its eleventh year, the JRW Conference is a special treat for the writing community since it gathers nationally-recognized and bestselling authors in our city for three days of fun and learning.

DSC_0193-Huergo-First-ChoiceThis year, I’m especially happy to find debut novelist (and fellow Latina author) Elizabeth Huergo on the impressive roster. Elizabeth is a scholar of literature (receiving her M.A. in 19th-century American Literature and her Ph.D. in British Romanticism from Brown University), and she has taught at a number of colleges and universities, including Rhode Island College, American University, and George Mason University. Her novel, The Death of Fidel Perez (Unbridled Books, 2013), is set in modern day Cuba against the eternal question, What if Fidel fell?

Here Elizabeth and I talk about our shared cultural roots and the challenges of conveying the pain and complexities of political history in writing.

You left Cuba as a girl during the years immediately following the Cuban revolution. What had your life been like until then? Where did your family settle in the United States?

Elizabeth and her mother in 1961, weeks before they would leave Cuba

Elizabeth and her mother in 1961, weeks before they would leave Cuba

I was born in May of 1959. My mother and I left Cuba when I was about three years old. My father had to leave about a year before us for political reasons. He lived alone in New York for a year, working, saving, trying to have a place ready for us when we arrived. We arrived in the US with the clothes on our backs, literally; and to a solitude that we were not used to at all. I had lived for those few short years within a nexus of grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. And then, they simply weren’t there. The family I had known became voices on a telephone line popping with static or birthday wishes typed out on strips of telegraph paper.

The loss of family, language and culture affected my parents deeply. They had been dropped into a completely alien world, and they had to learn very quickly how to navigate that world. They were apprehensive, lonely, frightened. They tried to shelter me from those feelings, but children are very perceptive about the emotions of the adults around them. It was all quite traumatic, and yet the luxury of being able to stop in order to work through the pain was simply not available. So they set their minds to the task of survival.

Elizabeth's debut novel

Elizabeth’s debut novel

Your debut novel, The Fall of Fidel Perez, follows four main characters over the course of a day during which a rumor of Fidel Castro’s fall from power sweeps Havana. It’s a dark joke, of course, since it’s really a drunk man named Fidel Perez who has actually “fallen.” The novel is certainly not a comedy, and yet you start with this very dark joke that deepens over the course of the book. Can you talk a little bit about that choice?

How do you convey revolution  or exile to an audience that has never felt the blunt force of history’s dislocations? I would define exile not only as a literal dislocation, but as a deeply internalized dislocation, a cataclysmic shift in the very ground of a person’s being. Fidel descends from the Sierra Maestra, symbol and agent of a counter-revolution that itself springs from a nexus of social injustice and foreign colonization. Like so many other people, I lost my homeland, the trajectory of my life, and the lives of my family, inflected permanently.

The tragedy springs from an interminable chain of causes and effects that lie far out of any one individual’s grasp or reach.  And once I was able to see that, the loss of control became funny, darkly funny. Tears became laughter. And the beauty of laughter is that it both acknowledges and transforms the pain, helping us take the next step. Every great dramatic tragedy I can think of has a comic subplot, which suggests that laughter is an integral part of sorrow.

Growing up, as you did, as a girl in a Cuban home, I remember the feeling of longing and regret that seemed to infuse every adult conversation, especially political ones. As I followed Saturnina, Pedro, Justicio, and Camilio, I felt that same sense of nagging regret, regardless of how each character had experienced his/her share of the revolution. How did you go about building each of these characters? Did you begin from their political position, from their personal trauma or somewhere else?  Which was your favorite character to build? Which one, if any, gave you trouble?

I work out from each character’s core and toward plot and theme. Yes, the characters are tormented by regret, which is often what can happen when we look back at our lives. Each character is trying to resolve that sense of regret in some way. Pedro Valle longs for forgiveness; Saturnina longs for her son’s return; Camilo longs to act, to step out of his complacency. Saturnina was my favorite character because her name derives from a story my mother tells about a woman in Remedios who decided one day to put on every piece of clothing she owned and live in the streets.

06043rI travelled to Cuba years ago, and one day, during my visit, as I was walking through l’Habana vieja (Old Havana), I peered into a building covered by very beautiful blue and white mosaic tiles. I didn’t realize, though, that on the other side of the tiled façade most of the building was in ruin.  I peered inside expecting a grand foyer, one more example of the island’s rich architectural history that I could photograph.  Instead I saw the top of a barely intact stairwell, and an old woman sitting in a rocking chair, the morning sky behind her.

I let go of the camera hanging around my neck.  I wanted to apologize, but there was nothing for me to say.  This fragile old woman, a bundle of rags and bone, sat there like an ancient Madonna in a grotto. She nodded at me as if she were giving me permission or forgiving me for the intrusion. I had this deeply mystical experience as I peered up and across that threshold. I named her Saturnina, and she haunted me until I told the story of the history she had lived through, of the wounds history had inflicted on her.

Cuba_Panorama_de_L'HabanaThe entire novel spans a few hours, but it also manages to cover a few hundred years. How do you handle pacing in a novel that has to be exciting both moment-to- moment and as it covers backstory events that occur over centuries?

Carefully! I plotted the transit of the two major characters across the City of Havana very carefully. I had in mind Bloom’s transit across Dublin in Joyce’s Ulysses. I also knew that Pedro Valle would be looking back in search of absolution and Saturnina looking forward in search of love and reunification. So I knew their narratives would be working in counter-point to one another. Then I had to think carefully about scenes, and how the end of one scene might propel the next one.

The research in your novel is extensive. What were the big surprises for you, if any? What proved most difficult?

I read a lot of Latin American history. I also got very interested in historical methodology. Then that got me interested again in the psychology of how we perceive, which got me to comparative mythology and the ways in which different cultures tell basically the same story in different ways. So the most difficult thing to do was to stop reading!

Saturnina and Pedro Valle are telling the same history, and yet they are telling it differently. Both of them are right. The big surprise for me? I had been operating all my adult life on the assumption that there is such a thing as historical progress. The more I read, the more I realized that, yes, there are real technological and scientific advancements, but rarely is there a shift in consciousness, the sort of shift in consciousness that would allow us, the human race, to stop repeating the same acts of violence over and over again.

In my view, there’s no more volatile conversation among Cuban Americans  than politics. Did you feel any pressure as you wrote about Cuban politics and US policies? Were there things you felt cautious to say? For example, you refer to American-based Cubans as thinking of old Cuba as a “utopian diorama.” I can practically hear the protests. What has been the response so far?

You are right, of course; political discussions can be volatile, but that’s true about any group of people that has lived through difficult, life-changing events. Besides, I was not writing my personal political views. I was writing the views of characters who had lived through various phases of Cuban history. There are characters in the novel who are well to the left of center; there are other characters who are well to the right of center. Mostly, though, there are characters trying to understand the meaning of their lives in relation to colonization and revolution.

fidelfingerYou don’t include characters in current day Havana that mourn the supposed fall of Fidel? Why did you make that choice? 

On this point I have to disagree with you. There are voices throughout the novel that express sorrow at the passing of Fidel Castro. There are jubilant voices. There are voices that express terror and confusion. There is one especially sardonic voice at the very beginning that laughs at the death of a “little dictator.”

 What is your hope for Cuba in the coming years?

The idea that there are people who need to be dominated, divided against one another, (either for what is paternalistically referred to as their own good or in the name of economic self-interests), still has the upper hand, even in this new century, and after the bloodiest century in recorded human history.

My hope is that the US will realize that Cuba is a sovereign nation and not a Caribbean outpost, part of its “backyard.” Shutting down Guantánamo and returning that land to its rightful owner, Cuba, would be an important symbol and movement toward that realization.  My hope, too, is for a peaceful revolution, one that leads to greater autonomy and real democracy.

What are you working on now?

I’m almost done with my second novel, Between Ana and Ella, which is a contemporary rethinking of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath from a Latina perspective. The story is set in DC.

 

Elizabeth Huergo will appear at the James River Writers Conference on Saturday, Oct. 19 and Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013. She will discuss her novel and her thoughts on setting and voice.

Visit www.jamesriverwriters.org  for more information.

Win a copy of the galleys for THE DEATH OF FIDEL PEREZ by leaving a comment on this blog. Winners will be announced after Labor Day.

 

VLF