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Coming Up: Sunny California for the L.A. Times Festival of Books

By Appearances, middle grade, The Writing Life, young adult

Sunny California, here I come. I’m in town for this weekend’s LA Times Festival of Books and I couldn’t be more excited. Come say hello! Here’s where you can find me: On Sunday at 11am I’ll be on a YA panel with friends and fabulous authors Ibi Zoboi and Elizabeth Acevedo:  “Young Adult Fiction: Writing the Real World, Conversation 2101.” We’ll be in the very good hands of Claudette S. McLinn, as moderator, who is the executive director of the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature. Later that day, I’ll “change gears” (ha!) and chat with three wonderful authors Marie Cruz, Karyn Parsons, and Lisa Ramee for the “Middle Grade Fiction: Grown Up Challenges” panel at 1:30pm. My friend and Hamline MFA colleague Brandi Colbert will be our moderator. Besides these panels, I can’t wait to meet up with fellow authors, librarians and, most of all, READERS! And, of course, enjoy some delicious California cuisine… See you there!

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ALA Midwinter in Philly

By Appearances, Awards and news

Just a quick hello from ALA Midwinter in Philly, where I have re-learned how to walk for miles in six-degree weather. Ice, slush, cold toes, runny nose…I’d almost forgotten what it feels like to live in a place that keeps moving regardless of the weather. As I ride home on the Amtrak, I’m feeling so grateful for some of these favorite moments: Setting out on the train with two of my dearest writing friends, A.B. Westrick and Gigi Amateau. The whole train was filled with librarians. (I’m looking at you Lucinda Whitehurst, among others!) It had a Hogwarts sort of feel to it. We decided to stay in a Bed and Breakfast instead of a standard hotel. Cheaper and cooler, in my book. We were at Casa Buono in the Italian section of Philly.  The view from my window. Kat, Dana, and Laura- the goddesses of The Virginia Shop hauled all their quirky literary wares to the Convention Center, fought for parking spots, and kept us all laughing. Here they are during our wonderful Asian dinner at Sampan on S. 13th Street. I also enjoyed a great meal at the Candlewick Press Family Ho-down at Supper (South Street) on Friday night. (Thanks again, Andie!) No kidding: I met Jen Delgado from Delaware. (No relation, THANK GOD to Yaqui!) Always cool to see books by friends. Here are the galleys for Sandra and Rich Wallace’s new novel, BABE CONQUERS THE WORLD (Cawkins Creek/Highlights). Fans of strong girls and sports should look for it in March 2014. Had a…

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Read Local: You’re invited to Teen ’13

By Appearances, Community work, The Writing Life

Mark your fall calendars, teen book lovers. You’re invited to Teen ’13, a literary party that will celebrate Virginia’s homegrown talents.  If you’ve had the chance to sink your teeth into a local Virginia peach this summer, you already know why it makes sense to buy local.  But you shouldn’t limit yourself to buying local food. You can feel  good about “reading local,” too – especially if you’re a fan of teen fiction. That’s because Virginia has an impressive bench when it comes to authors. We’re home to New York Times bestsellers and to authors who have won the Newbery Award, the Hans Christian Anderson Award, the National Book Award, and other top literary prizes. And that’s to say nothing of the hefty number of Virginia authors whose works regularly grace the annual “Best of” lists  that recognize the top books for kids each year. Free and open to the public, Teen ’13 will give book fans of all ages a chance to gather at the Richmond Public library to enjoy food and drinks, buy books, meet their favorite authors in person and win everything from indi bookstore gift certificates and free Skype visits to autographed copies of books and more. Fourteen Virginia authors will attend – all of whom have new releases in 2013. (Teen 13 authors and book blurbs.) It’s exciting enough to have all those creative types in one place. But what’s most satisfying to me is that teen fiction – or YA, if you prefer –  will be part of…

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Some music for Yaqui Delgado

By Appearances, The Writing Life

So I’m putting the finishing touches on the launch events for Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass which comes out next month. And because it takes hours to work out all the details, I’m listening to music that puts me in the mood. Yaqui Delgado takes a shard of truth from my personal life. I wrote this novel white-knuckled some days, thinking back to when I was an early teen facing down a schoolyard bully. I was learning everything about everything back then: learning about lousy adults, learning what it meant to be a Latina, learning how to really take care of myself when others couldn’t. It was a scary time, but all these years later, I find myself thinking a lot about all I took away from that experience. It was a Puerto Rican girl, Aida, I remember most. She lived upstairs, cut school, and had bad acne but a hot boyfriend nonetheless. More importantly, she taught me to salsa. Sometimes she gave parties in her hot apartment with Celia Cruz and the Fania All Stars (Johnny Pacheco, Hector LaVoe, etc) blasting out of her mother’s stereo until the walls shook. When I think back to that time in my life, the soundtrack belongs to those old masters. So, here’s a little YouTube gem of the late Celia Cruz fronting the band in Africa. And then, a more recent piece by Celia – Sin Clave– to get you in the spirit via Cuban music that (like a tough…

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Trailer for Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

By The Writing Life, Trailers

It’s Unity Day at pacer.org’s National Bullying Prevention Center.  I didn’t buy my orange t-shirt, but I did finish the trailer for Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, my upcoming YA novel that’s about this very topic. I shot the footage in Queens a couple of months ago when I was home for a visit. Brought back a lot of memories. (Some that made me shudder.) [wpvideo jfB70Xin]

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A Little Bit of Fiesta at City Hall

By Appearances, Community work

Happy Hispanic Heritage Month! This is a month for everybody to channel their inner Latino, but don’t worry if you don’t know an empanada from a salsa. I can help you, especially if you’re in the downtown Richmond, Virginia area next week. That’s because on Monday, September 17, 2012 The Hope Tree Project comes to the lobby of City Hall at Broad Street and 9th Street! (Map here.) We’re having a little lunchtime party as the kickoff, and I hope you’ll come. You’ll remember that this exhibit of the hopes and dreams of Richmond’s young people started out as a collaboration between me, eight area high schools, and the folks at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden last spring, when The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind first pubbed. Well, we’ve moved the exhibit to its final phase —  the concrete jungle — where the public can see what our kids are thinking about themselves and our community. The exhibit is, of course, free and open to the public. The lobby doesn’t have trees (bummer) but I have a plan. Or I should say… my friends at Pine Camp Art Center (Shaun Casselle) and the Office of Multicultural Affairs (Tanya Gonzalez) have a plan. All those twigs that fell out of trees during last month’s gusty days?  Yep, they’re being recycled into the show. (How’s that for clever use of resources?) We’ll be spending our Saturday putting them in place. If you work downtown, please come down and join us for the  reception…

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The Hope Tree is Growing

By Appearances, The Writing Life

Just a little update about The Hope Tree Project. (Details en español here.) Student artists are working out their answer to What is a dream you have for yourself or for our community? I got a sneak preview of their milagros thanks to Megan McConnell, art teacher at Meadowbrook High School, who brought a few to share at my book launch party for The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind this past weekend. (Thanks, Megan!) I’m also happy to announce that the fabulous Latin Ballet of Virginia will be joining us for the launch on April 30 and will perform selections of Verde. This work celebrates nature, hopes and dreams. What could be more perfect? (And check out these costumes!) Let me know if you are interested in an invitation to the opening. Latin Ballet of Virginia, scenes from Verde Where I’ll be next:    March 21, 2012: University of Richmond, Gotwald Science Center, 5:30 pm. Lecture, reception and  book signing. March 23, 2012: The Steward School 11600 Gayton Road, Henrico, VA, 9 am. International Day presentation March 28 – 30, 2012: National Latino Children’s Literature Conference: University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. Presentation on YA and community building — The Hope Tree Project!

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The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind blog tour starts today

By Appearances, The Writing Life

Just wanted to give you the heads up this morning. I’m on tour. Yep — and I’m still in my pajamas as I’m telling you this. That’s because it’s a blog tour — the single most author-friendly invention since the pencil. Eight YA bloggers have invited me to answer questions — some serious, some funny — about my novel, The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. For me, it’s a chance to channel my inner Where’s Waldo without ever leaving my kitchen computer. I meet their readers, talk about my project, and get the word out in anticipation of the March 12 pub date. For the bloggers, it’s a chance for fresh content and connections. For you, it’s a chance to win stuff (sometimes) and get the scoop on what is behind the book you’re reading. Today, you can catch me on Waste Paper Prose, where I did  a  v-log (video version) at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens here in Richmond, VA. Don’t make fun of my hair in the last section. It was windy, okay? Visit at  www.wastepaperprose.com. I hope you’ll make time this week to stop in on these blogs and get to know some rabid book lovers. You can see the dates and stops on the skyscraper that I’ve posted in the sidebar to the right. A big thanks to:  Waste Paper Prose, Book Briefs, Muggle-Born.net, The Book Cellar, Teen Reads, A Cupcake and a Latte, Joyousreads, and The Hispanic Reader. You’re invited to Meg’s book launch party for The…

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My Favorite Book This Year: A Monster Calls

By picture book, middle grade, YA, What I'm reading

I love so many books, it’s usually impossible for me to say that I love one more than another. It’s the mother spirit in me, wanting to love them all in some special way. But all that changed this morning when I finished reading A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (Candlewick Press, 2011). The chilling illustrations by Jim Kay, the balance of tenderness and rage, the magical realism  — I can’t heap enough praise on this work about a boy visited by a monster during the final days of his mother’s illness. Even more awe-inspiring is the fact that Patrick Ness was asked to complete a story idea first proposed by Siobhan Dowd, the human rights activist who lost her own battle to cancer in 2007, shortly after her spectacular debut novel, A Swift Pure Joy, was published. Let me just say this: I started reading this gem Saturday, while I was manning a volunteer table at a school function, and it took no time to go deaf to the world around me. Sunday morning before the sun had even come up, I ignored the chance for an extra hour of sleep and reached in the darkness for the book. A parent and child having to let each other go too early is, in fact, a monstrous event. To me, Patrick got it exactly right in this magical book, and as frightening as it is to follow a tale of a boy’s grief, it is a beautiful and resonant story. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8-psqOON-Y]

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Latino reads for you

By Adult books, Latino Life, picture book, middle grade, YA, The Writing Life, What I'm reading

Last Saturday I did a Hispanic Heritage presentation at Richmond’s Fountain Bookstore. Here is the list a couple of you have asked for. These are some of my favorite Latino reads, oldies and new releases, from picture books to adults. I could list dozens more, but here is a start. Feel free to add recommendations in the comments section. (P.S. Fountain had most of these titles on their shelves, so give them a call.) Picture books  Los Gatos Black on Halloween by Marisa Montes and Yuyi Morales A poetic spanglish romp on Halloween night. Gorgeous illustrations. Fantastic bilingual vocabulary http://marisamontes.com and http://yuyimorales.com La Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred by Samantha Vamos A farm maiden decides to make arroz con leche – rice pudding. Energetic, bilingual vocabulary, gorgeous illustrations. www.samanthavamos.com Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, by Carmen Agra Deedy Carmen is a storyteller of Cuban origins. Also the author of Growing Up Cuban in Decatur Georgia. This is a classic folktale about how to find the right mate in life. The illustrations are gorgeous and the text gets at kids funny bone. http://carmenagradeedy.com/ My Name is Gabriela by Monica Brown Brown presents a beautiful bilingual biography of Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral. In 1945, Mistral became the first Latin American woman to receive the Nobel Prize for literature. http://www.monicabrown.net Middle Grade  The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan and Peter Sis This middle grade novel is about the early life of poet Pablo Neruda. It is written in a style that parallels Neruda’s THE…

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What a tough book can teach you

By The Writing Life

Well, we’re back from the beach and feeling rested in a way that only a seaside vacation can provide. But this year, instead of coming home and feeling gloomy, I had a present waiting for me from my fabulous editor, Kate Fletcher. Ta-da! The galleys for The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind due out in March. I started writing this novel a few years ago, thinking it would be the story of  a girl named Sonia, a seasonal crab worker on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Originally, the title was Jaibera – which means “crab girl” in Spanish. If you know anything about crab picking, you know it’s hard and dangerous work. The young women who pick crab these days are increasingly from other countries. They come to feed their families, but they miss home —  and they’re vulnerable. My early manuscripts were met with very mixed results, and the truth is that I almost gave up on this book many times. Was it an adult book or YA? What was most exciting — her life at home in her own country or her life here? And what about that little taxi-boy, Pancho, who kept snagging my attention? Was romance going to be part of this story? I think every book teaches the author something new. My first novel taught me to dare to be a writer. My picture book taught me to try new forms. This novel taught me to be fearless in revision and to have faith that a solution…

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Four Days as a Kid’s Book Radical: CHLA

By The Writing Life

I’m just back from four days at the Children’s Literature Association’s conference. This year’s theme? Change and Insurrection in Children’s Literature. The conference was held at Hollins University. For me that meant a three-hour ride through some of the most beautiful countryside in Virginia. Scholars of children’s literature from universities across the world came to present papers and debate ideas about books for kids.  I sat in on sessions about apocalyptic heroines and the use of music as a catalyst in YA literature; on racial whitewashing in The Babysitters Club and “kick-ass slayers and teen terminators;” on gendered portrayals; on how Maurice Sendak tackled taboo. Often, it made my brain hurt the way a good workout reduces my muscles to Jello. Here are a few other reasons I’m so glad I got invited. Steve Withrow’s documentary The Library of the Early Mind. Steve is a children’s book author and now a film producer. His documentary is a collection of the big names in children’s literature – authors, influential critics, librarians — talking about the books that are on everyone’s shelves. It is by turns informative, heartbreaking and hilarious. (Yes, Lemony Snickett is just as over-the-top in real life). I hope this movie gets shown everywhere and that it finds its way to PBS because it’s fantastic. Beyond the absolute “cool factor” of seeing what each author looks and sounds like – it’s an intriguing look at why and how writers compose.  Here’s a peek at his trailer. A beautiful exhibit on…

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¡Mucho gusto!

By Intros, Uncategorized

Introductions are always a little awkward, except when you’re an author meeting kids of any age. Thankfully, they go right for what matters, no small talk. So here, by way of introduction, are my vitals in kid format. I live in Virginia with my family (husband, mother-in-law, three teens), a black, shaggy dog (Noche) and a fierce hunting machine cat named Wolfe. My house is, in fact, messy, especially around deadlines, when I forget to bathe and I wander around mumbling dialogue. My favorite candy is MilkDuds, no matter what my dentist says. I buy the extra big box at the movies every time. I write for about four hours a day at a little desk tucked in my livingroom. When I can’t think of what to write I walk Noche or throw in some laundry. Yes, I speak Spanish and English. My family is from Cuba. No. I’m not especially rich or famous. I don’t need extra big sunglasses or anything. You can ask me other burning questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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