Monday, July 25, 2016

The Magic of VCFA.



I did something awesome for myself this summer. I started the Masters of Fine Arts program for Writing for Children and Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

I've had many friends ask about my graduate school experience, so I thought I'd write a blog post.

Note: My photos capture the fun, social aspect of VCFA. It's not an accurate depiction. Lots of learning + self evaluation + being away from home = one crazy Veeda.


Back to the fun part.

Most students stay in the dorms. Eat in the school cafeteria. Yes, it's hard to share a hall bathroom. Yes, the food gets tiresome. Yes. Living in a dorm.

BUT . . . there is something invigorating about a casual hello to a classmate on your way to brush your teeth turning into twenty minutes of deep observation on a lecture that inspires you both. And you forget why you are holding a toothbrush and where the 2nd floor restroom is.

Eating in the same dining hall as everyone in the program was one of my highlights. Not necessarily the food, but the good company. The faculty and students all dine together and the informal setting leads to really good conversation.

Each class has a name. School pride in the dorm rooms, right here. 

I even sat at the same table with visiting writers April Pulley Sayre (so much poetry in her writing. In a nonfiction picture book about vultures!) and Maggie Stiefvater (super cool with her tarot card readings at lunch).


Bringing home these April Pulley Sayre books for my kids. 

Fan girling over Maggie Stiefvater. Her book, The Scorpio Races, brought back my love of horses. 


I appreciate how most people didn't bring up the publishing industry during residency. So often in writer's conferences, I feel like the first things you are asked are: Who's your agent? What books have you published? Are you even worth talking too?

Dinner in town with some of my classmates. I super heart them all.

I didn't feel this comparison at VCFA. There are several authors with books out and many more with agents. These milestones aren't the things that identify them. We are all at school to learn about writing. This similarity is bonding enough.

Montpelier, Vermont is straight up Stars Hallow.

There were times when my brain felt like it was going to exploded. Sooooo much thinking. I needed a mental break. I took several trips into town. It helps. Montpelier is charming and lovely and it's like walking into the world of the Gilmore Girls.

New England homes, you kill me.

Or possibly, a J.K. Rowling novel.



Leaving campus for ice cream always helps, too.




There was one point during my residency when I was feeling all the feels and thought I couldn't make it to another lecture, or face another person. I missed my family. What am I doing, so far away from my children? What am I doing, so far way from the writer I want to be?



I went back to my dorm room and did something I do to get me in better spirits back home. I turned the volume up on my phone, and had my own private dance party.


This song ALWAYS gets me going.


Yes, it really works. After five minutes and forty three seconds of shaking it off, I was out the door again. Speaking of dance parties, VCFA knows how to have a good one. Towards the end of our time, we have a dance to celebrate the graduating class.


DJ Yamile bringing down the house with visiting faculty DJ Daniel Jose Older.

Children's book writers are young at heart. We know how to dress up and get down, get down.

A Midsummer's Night Dream meets Steampunk, and it's a beautiful thing.

Even after the dancing hangover, the next day we are right back to work. Another highlight? The experiencing of finding out your upcoming semester advisor. The list is posted on a bulletin board in College Hall and it's one crazy exciting evening.

The sorting hat does it's magic.
During my ten days at VCFA, I:

- wrote a poem for the first time since 7th grade

- was inspired to be a voice for diversity in children's literature

- Started a writer's journal and didn't make it too precious to use

- believed in my voice

 and

- made life long friends.

Thanks, VCFA. I'm so excited to be apart of this family.

Celebrating the completion of our 1st VCFA residency. Ice cream all around.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

YALLWEST Recap.


Last weekend I took a road trip with some author friends down to Santa Monica for the YALLWEST book festival. It was a great experience.

My favorite? Being around kids who absolutely love to read. Talking to them was the highlight of the trip.

Made friends with these beautiful girls in line -- with shirts and tote bags they illustrated themselves!

On our car ride to California, each of us made a goal of what we wanted to accomplish during our time at YALLWEST. My friend, Erin Summerill, has her debut coming out this December. She made a measurable goal to pass out 30 bookmarks. Erin accomplished the goal and handed out even more -- I was so proud of her!

While we stood in line, Erin handed out bookmarks for Ever The Hunted and chatted up everyone standing near us. It was so special to see these young readers light up when they knew they were standing next to an author

A lot of them asked Erin to sign their bookmarks, and even wanted a photo with her. I think she was a little embarrassed -- but it was inspiring to see her grassroots effort and talk about her upcoming book. 


An Advance Reader copy, or ARC, of Erin's Book. I heart this cover (and the story too).


The panels were also really great. I felt the power of female friendships in writing at this breakout with Sarah McCarry, Brandy Colbert, Holly Black, Kody Kiplinger, Tamara Ireland Stone and Robin Benway. It was fun to hear them talk and laugh with each other.



 I picked up a lot of ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) and I'm most excited to read these two:


I also had Nicola Yoon sign my copy of Everything, Everything. I cannot stop talking about how much this book. It is EVERYTHING. It's one of my favorite reads this year. Nicola is so lovely and I'm excited for her upcoming book.



Ok, I lied. My favorite part of my weekend is hanging out with my friends who love writing. We talked for 10 + hours in the car about books we love, things that inspire us, the crazy highs and lows of  the publishing industry -- and still felt we had more to say.

Also, the beach. Oh, Pacific Ocean. How much I love you. I loved the sunshine and the soft sand and dipping my toes that glorious water. It refreshed my soul.

I'm so glad to be home and sleep in my own bed, but I'd go again in a heartbeat. Xo




Monday, February 15, 2016

Get up, Get up.

Trying to convince myself I'm having fun.

This winter season, I went skiing for the first time in ten years. I used to go all the time in college. I used to be pretty good. Then, life and motherhood happened.

Fast forward one decade. I'm standing at the top of the beginner slope, scared all over again.

My first run was awful. Torture. I kept falling. On my butt, on my face. I was so tired. My legs ached, my lungs burned and the last thing I wanted to do was get up and try again. 

Unfortunately, I had too. How else was I going to get down? (I contemplated taking my skis off and walking down the hill, but pride wouldn't let me do that.)

Eventually, I made it to the bottom. I encouraged my sister and brother-in-law to go again without me. Even though I completed the run, I felt defeated. As caught my breath, a few thoughts ran through my head.

1) I am an old lady.

2) I tried skiing. I don't have to do it again. But . . . 

3) . . . . if I don't try again, I won't know what will happen if I get back up.


When my sister came back to get me, she asked if I was finished for the day.

"No," I said, shoulders back. Head high. "I'm going to try again."

Gulp.

This time down the slope, I took my time. I leaned into my turns, felt the snow beneath my feetStay away, fear. My legs remembered how to move, my lungs remembered how to breath. The rush of adrenaline and wind whipped through me and then it happened: I felt brave.

Shame was replaced by the joyous sunshine of accomplishment. And guess what? For the rest of my skiing time, I had fun.

I fell. 
I got up. 
I tried again. 
It hurt like heck, but I did it.

My writing process has been a lot like this skiing experience. I've stumbled so many times. It's been painful experience. Querying is miserable, pure mountain climbing torture. A struggle I've wanted to throw my skis at.

However--

I know giving up is not the way to get down this hill. Brush off the snow and try again.
To feel the wind kiss my face and and the thrill of the ride pump blood in my veins?
So very worth it. Let's get back up.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Favorite Reads 2015.

Blogging is hard. I like reading and writing more. Here are a few of my favorite reads lately.


We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

It's about Irish Americans. A multigenerational family. The slow, heartbreaking unravel of Alzheimer's disease. It's so devastatingly moving. After I finished it, I was still thinking about for days. Weeks. Months.

I still think about it.

This adult book and debut novel is the first book that comes to mind when asked for a book recommendation. (Mature content and language.)





To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

I heart this Young Adult book so much. Not just because it's about sisters or first loves or because the main character is Korean American (yay for diversity!). It's funny. Quirky. Thoughtful and sad. This is the book I want to share with my younger sisters -- and pretty much every woman, every person -- in the world. Sequel out in May 2015.







The Matched series by Ally Condie

I read all three books in one binge week and I can't believe it took me so long to pick them up. It's dystopian YA, and I love the poetic writing, the strong characters, the complex world. It's about following your own path and staying true to yourself. My only regret is that I didn't read them years ago.







What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

This adult novel was my selection for book club last month. It opens with spin class. Falls into amnesia, divorce, death and the sticky, complicated mess that is love and marriage.

It reads as easy as a summer beach selection, but there's depth and beauty that makes for great book club discussion.

I made Thomas Keller's lemon meringue bars to go with the book's theme, I think both the treat and book were a hit (Yay for Thomas Keller and book club!).





Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Another YA book with Asian American characters! My heart is happy. Especially with the cool '80s music. Punk rock love. It's brave and real and mortifying and hopeful. (Mature content and language.)

xo and happy reading. :)


Monday, September 29, 2014

How the 'Gilmore Girls' Saved Me From Depression.

Images from "Gilmore Girls" Season 5, episode 7, "You Jump, I Jump, Jack."

There was a point in my life when getting out of bed seemed impossible. Besides the crippling nausea that comes with 1st trimester morning sickness, I began to feel the loss of my mother who passed away a few months earlier.

It was a strange and beautiful time. I was a newlywed. Married life was just as wonderful and tumultuous as people said it would be. I was a first time mom, a growing baby and pregnancy hormones were a package deal.

My husband was in graduate school and I worked the late shift as a newspaper copy editor. Driving home around midnight, I often felt the need to comfort my stress with the consumption of (fill in the blank) ______________ a) Wendy's Chocolate Frosty b) Nachos Bell Grande from Taco Bell or c) Cheetos. I once had a dream that I gave birth to a bright-orange baby, with skin coated with powdery cheese. I cut back on Cheetos after that.

With my late night schedule and pregnancy weariness, I woke up for breakfast around the time most people sat down to lunch. One sleepy morning, I vaguely remembered my husband's goodbye kiss. Wide awake, I did nothing but stare at the soft green walls of my bedroom.

Depression wrapped around me like a blanket. Its thick, darks layer covered up any light. Hours crept by. Then, I had a thought: 'Gilmore Girls' will be on soon.


I blinked. I liked that Rory Gilmore, budding journalist.

The daily syndicated reruns came on at noon, right around the time I was having my first meal of the day. With my morning meal of ice cream or leftover Chinese, I found myself being drawn into the magical world of Stars Hollow.

Slowly, I sat up. One foot in front of the other, I shuffled past the confines of my room. Watched my show. Ate my meal. Went to work. The next day, same thing happened.

Wake up to bleakness. 
Remembered the "Gilmore Girls."
Get out of bed.

Over the coming months, my heart -- along with my expanding belly -- started to fill. I cried when Rory dedicated her high school graduation speech to her mother, Lorelai. When Lane and David kissed for the first time to the background track of David Bowie, my numbness melted.

My obsession for this comedy/drama became so intact that not only did it get me out of bed everyday, but I looked forward to it while in labor. With no real comprehension of what my next few hours would be like, I got excited when I saw a TV in the delivery room.

Clutching my husband's hand, I gasped. "It's Tuesday night, 'Gilmore Girls' is on at seven!"

I missed the show that night (turns out, having a baby is hard work), but my husband gifted me with a few seasons of "Gilmore Girls" on DVD. I watched my show. Nursed my baby. Recovered from childbirth. The next day, the same thing happened.

Feed my daughter.
"Gilmore Girls" time.
Get out of bed.

Now a days, my alarm clock goes off much earlier. I no longer work at night, although teething babies and sick kids still keep me up.  My children fill me to completion. When I think of my mother, I see her in them.

This Wednesday, October 1st, all seven seasons of the "Gilmore Girls" will be available on Netflix.  I'm among the many, buzzing with excitement and counting down the day when I will be reunited with the show once again. For me, this day will be a celebration. A chance to give thanks to television show that, once upon a time, gave me something to wake up for.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sisters.

I wrote a post about motherhood and sisters awhile ago and forgot to link it. You can read it here.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Just What I Needed.


Authors Brodi Ashton, Tera Lynn Childs, Lindsey Leavitt and Robin Mellom at yesterday's book signing.

For the past couple of weeks, I've been wallowing in self-doubting despair when it comes to writing. Turns out, the second draft is even harder than the first. Blah. It's been such a struggle.

Over the weekend, I left the house in hopes of burrowing myself away at the library for a few hours of productive writing. Away, away from the chaos that is my home on a Saturday morning! Good bye, noise that is my children. An hour later in blissful silence, I had my arms over laptop. Head hunkered down. Completely asleep. I may have been drooling. (For the record, I have a teething 9-month-old. I'm perpetually tired.)

 I got up to stretch and snap out of my sleepy solitude, and in the midst of my library walking I got lost in aisles of books instead. (Word count procrastination aside, I was really excited to get my hands on this.)

Besides wasting my writing time on a nap in the library, my research has also been discouraging too. I've been up to my eyeballs in articles related to query letters. Landing an agent. More stuff for my book. Instead of filling my head with useful advice, all my online obsessing has given me an overwhelming information overload headache.

Can I really do this?

Answer: .....

Yes.

Because last night, I had a bit of a break through. I was able to see a glimmer of light at the end of this tunnel of dark, dark gloom when I went to a book signing at my local bookstore. I'm still keeping up with my goal from last year to attend one writing related event every month, and I'm really glad I did. You never know what you'll need to hear.

My two oldest kiddos totally captivated by Nick Bruel's January visit to Barnes and Noble.


Back to last night. Hearing these authors speak yesterday about their craft helped me remember that writing a book is possible. Also, very attainable. Many of them echoed the same advice: finish your book. It will help you write the next one.

Brodi Ashton even shared her magic writing acronym, BICHOK which stands for: Butt In Chair Hand On Keyboard. It was pretty funny.

Seated around a large bookstore table with a handful of authors, I heard what I needed to hear. I guess it was just what I needed. (Cue The Cars theme song here.)

I'll try my best not to fall asleep.