Many paths to a destination that looks different to every author.

It’s Spring break here in Utah, and my family and I spent a lovely weekend glamping (glamorously camping) at Zion park. Now, our style of camping veers from that of a hardcore person, like dramatically. But it’s something that works for our family of several kids and aging grandparents. According to my youngest kid’s words, it was the most epic vacation we’ve ever been to, and the memories we made will only become sweeter with time.

Which made me think of the path to publication because I’m an author, and I’m always thinking about the stories I’m working on, the ones I cheat with because I won’t have time to write them for a good couple of years, and the paths I took to get to this point in my career.

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Now, I’ve been writing aiming for publication for more than a decade, and my first books will come out next year, one in January and another one in the spring.

This doesn’t mean that I haven’t been able to share my writing with my readers before then. Last year I had an essay published at Uncanny Magazine, which was the highlight of my year. I’d been submitting short stories to Uncanny for a long time, but it was a personal essay what finally opened the door to this amazing publication for me.

A friend of mine introduced me to an educational products company that bought several of my short stories for young readers, both in English and in Spanish, and developed them in multi-media, including audio and educational software. Teacher friends often messaged me to tell me they’ve come across one of my stories at school, and that was always a thrill that kept me motivated to keep writing for children.

Like I stated in the title, the writerly destination looks different for each author, very much like the Mirror of Erised in Harry Potter.

My main goal was always the possibility to connect with at least one reader, and I know that even when being published in the educational market wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I stated this wish, the purpose of my writing was fulfilled, even if it was through a trail I hadn’t even anticipated when I started writing.

Still, I wanted to see my stories in a printed book.

For years and years, I worked on middle grade and young adult novels, but the first piece of writing that got me a publishing contract was a poem I pitched as a picture book¾which eventually went to a multi-house auction and earned me two-book deal with HarperCollins. The wish of seeing my name on a book is coming true next spring!

I’m so grateful for the unexpected blessing, and true to my Slytherin nature, I still wanted more. I wanted to sell a novel, but selling wasn’t much in my control. Although I was very close to selling a novel several times (Revised and Resubmit by editors, going to acquisition meetings for a couple of my stories), this goal kept eluding me. Until my agent came to me with an opportunity to write a book by a very well-known publisher¾a dream house! The editor provided a concept, and I auditioned for the opportunity to develop it. By auditioned, I mean, I wrote a full synopsis, and a partial, and we sent it off. To my surprise, we got an offer! I wrote that middle grade novel in record time, and I just sent off copy edits last week. I even saw a potential cover a few days ago, and I’m still reeling with happiness.

Now, although I didn’t come up with the original premise of this story, it still came out of my heart. When I reached out to a friend of mine asking if she thought I should make the main character a Latina girl, she reminded me to stay true to myself, and I did, and my character is one of the dearest to my heart. Although I was working with an already established concept, I had the liberty to literally color it at my pleasure, and I’m so happy with the results!

I’m excited to share more about this project that releases in January when my editors give the OK.

I never expected my first novel to come out of an in-house need, but I’m so grateful for the opportunity to take this different path that will lead me straight to my main goal: connect with readers.

When my novels didn’t sell although my writing received great feedback, I researched on different options, and I was surprised at some alternate paths I had never considered before. Besides self-publishing, with which a lot of authors find much success, I came upon the concept of book packagers.

A book packager is a company that develops ideas, often high-concept, and find an author to execute them. Then, they sell it to publishers. The book packager retains the rights to the piece, and the author often receives a flat fee for writing the story, but the author’s name often appears on the book cover. Take a look at your shelves. A lot of favorite best-sellers were conceived by a packager who worked in collaboration with an author. Sometimes the author is already established, but many times, this kind of collaboration can catapult a debut author’s career. Some book packagers to note are CAKE Literary (founded and directed by industry powerhouses Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton), Glasstown Entertainment, Alloy Entertainment, Working Partners, Etc.

Other authors work with I.P. (intellectual property), that is, they’re asked to write a story in an already established world, like Star Wars or Marvel.

The more I looked, the more I realized there are many paths to my main goal I had never considered before. Of course, not all paths will work for or appeal to all writers, but if you don’t know about them, how will you know if they’ll appeal to you?

I encourage you all aspiring and established authors to look at all the options you have to share your writing with the world. You never know what will spark for you.

When my family was in Zion’s, the best views and greatest experiences didn’t happen while driving on the paved highway. It wasn’t until we ventured on the trails, that we discovered views we could have never imagined before.

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YamileMendezYamile (prounounced sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez is an immigrant writer and reader, a dreamer and fighter, a Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA graduate, a 2014 New Visions Award Honor Winner, and one the 2015 Walter Dean Myers Inaugural Grant recipients. Born and raised in Rosario, Argentina (cradle of fútbol), she now lives in Alpine, Utah with her husband, five children, and three dogs, but her heart is with her family scattered all over the world. Find her on twitter: @YamileSMendez and online: yamilesmendez.com.

Don’t Forget to Celebrate

I love the beginning of the year, the renewed bout of energy, and the eagerness I usually feel to start working on something new. I’m one of those people who make New Year’s resolutions, and I’m very determined in sticking to them throughout the year¾except with sugar. I have yet to succeed in eliminating sugar from my diet for more than five months, my current record.

When it comes to writing goals though, I’m very good at staying on task.

What I’m not good at is at celebrating victories (big or small), and recognizing my own progress.

Picture1Example: last January I graduated from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Earning my MFA degree was one of the hardest things I ever achieved. At the end of the ride, I was euphoric, fueled by adrenaline and positivity. Except for when I tallied myself against the expectations I had for my career at the beginning of this journey. At the time of my graduation, there were no editors vying for my work, and a part of me saw this as a failure.

It was unfair of me to expect this. The MFA was a journey to improve myself as a writer, and I was under the (unfounded) impression that a book deal, or many, would be the validation I needed to prove to myself that all the money, time, and effort I’d dedicated to my craft had been worthy.

It was unfair of me to judge my writing through the sleep deprived, emotional eyes of a person about to deliver a lecture and have a reading of the most personal writing of their life in front of the whole college. But that was what I did.

It’s no wonder that after my graduation I had the deepest bout of depression of my adult life. After reaching for a goal for so long, and achieving the pinnacle, the drop wasn’t a pretty sight.

However, during these months I did one thing right. even though I was depressed and unmotivated, was keep writing. Keep at the habits I had established during the two years of my graduate program. When I couldn’t read because nothing interested me, I got my fill of story through the many TV shows I’d neglected the last twenty-four months (GOT FTW!). Slowly, as I kept writing, something happened.

I understood that I had grown as a writer. For the first time, I enjoyed my new writerly muscles. In my mind, I found writerly tools I didn’t know I had. I knew how to use them too.

When I had to write outside of my comfort zone, or under a short deadline and I could turn in a first draft that in my previous life would have been a fourth or fifth draft, I saw my improvement. The time, money, and effort weren’t for nothing. They made me strong in ways I hadn’t recognized before.

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This year, my resolution, my wish is not to undervalue my journey, not to ignore the small victories, not to compare myself against others. I’m going to celebrate each victory (there will be sugar), and I’m going to keep on keeping on. I’m already feeling good about 2018 because actually, I can!

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YamileMendezYamile (prounounced sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez is an immigrant writer and reader, a dreamer and fighter, a Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA graduate, a 2014 New Visions Award Honor Winner, and one the 2015 Walter Dean Myers Inaugural Grant recipients. Born and raised in Rosario, Argentina (cradle of fútbol), she now lives in Alpine, Utah with her husband, five children, and three dogs, but her heart is with her family scattered all over the world. Find her on twitter: @YamileSMendez and online: yamilesmendez.com.

November Magic

I love the month of November so much, I named my newest puppy November (Nova for short) although she was born in October. My birthday’s in November, you see?, and as a child growing up in the Southern Hemisphere, the best things happened during this magical month. The weather finally warmed up, and the best strawberries were for sale on every corner verdulería. As if the sweet scent of fresh strawberries weren’t enough, the perfume of blooming jasmine intoxicated me with possibility. It must have been that it was the last stretch of the year (our school calendar actually matches the year calendar. School ends in December), and I felt like in this, the most magical month of the year, I could do anything.

When I moved to Utah, one of the greatest shocks was that my birthday was now in the Fall and not Spring! Not only that, but after the Christmas holidays school resumed (before Three Kings day! Blasphemy).

I’ve always been a writer, and had fantasized with writing a novel. Some day. I was already out of college, and the mother of four, when I heard about NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. The basic premise of this now worldwide event is to challenge yourself to write a fifty-thousand word manuscript in 30 days (see how it works here). It was November 6, and knowing the odds were slightly against me because I’d never written this much in such a short period of time, I signed up anyway. I’m happy to report that I achieved my goal, and after typing THE END, I felt a high like no other. I was hooked on writing forever.

This November, I’ll write my eleventh NaNo manuscript. A Master of Fine Arts in Writing, several literary awards, publications, and late-night writing sessions with a fantastic community of friends later, I’m thrilled that once again, November will start and I’ll challenge myself to finish what I now think is impossible.

Last year I wrote on the official NaNo blog about three main things I learned through the years:

  1. I can do hard things
  2. Writing is a process of discovery and surprises
  3. Writing in community is a powerful experience.

You can read the whole post here. But my main message today is this: use NaNoWriMo to your advantage. There are a few NaNo rules (start a new manuscript and only include words that you write in November), but I don’t have the freedom to do that this year. My schedule is full to the brim with deadlines, and I need to finish three manuscripts: a YA contemporary I want to send on submission by March, and two middle grades (one of which is a super-secret project I hope to announce soon). The minimum word count for NaNo is approximately 1,667. I write way more than that every day. In fact, I do a NaNo every month. But November is special. There’s an electric charge in the air. Think about all the people in the world typing with abandon! (or yoked to an outline, but still).

For some people, writing this amount of words in thirty days is daunting endeavor. Set your own goal then. If you can’t write every day, dedicate a few days of the week just for writing. Free that story waiting inside you. Let it out in the world.

As for me, I’m going to lasso the energy floating around and finish the year with a bang. Who else is with me?

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YamileMendezYamile (prounounced sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez is an immigrant writer and reader, a dreamer and fighter, a Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA graduate, a 2014 New Visions Award Honor Winner, and one the 2015 Walter Dean Myers Inaugural Grant recipients. Born and raised in Rosario, Argentina (cradle of fútbol), she now lives in Alpine, Utah with her husband, five children, and three dogs, but her heart is with her family scattered all over the world. Find her on twitter: @YamileSMendez and online: yamilesmendez.com.

 

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Summer is almost over, and the most wonderful time of the year is right around the corner. And no, I’m not only talking of the Fall, with its scents of cinnamon and burning leaves, the taste of everything-pumpkin-flavored, and Halloween. I’m talking about NATIONAL HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH.

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When I first started writing (back in 2009) a Utah school invited me to visit them for Hispanic Heritage Month. I still remember my nerves as I, an unpublished writer, prepared a presentation for all grades attending this bilingual school.

To start, I read a couple of my short stories, but my favorite part of the day was sharing my love for the books that marked my life as a kid growing up in Argentina. Although I believed EVERYONE should read Juan Ramón Jiménez’s classic Platero y Yo and all of Isabel Allende’s books (especially her trilogy for teens), I would’ve wished to share books by Latin American authors. US-born and/or immigrant Latino authors who represented the kids who looked at me with such wonder and admiration.

All these years later, I’m thrilled that the list of Latino authors I’ve read and met is so extensive that I can’t name them all in a single blog post, but I’ll feature a few of my favorites—many of whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet in person and some I count among my friends.

I believe that in order to become better writers, we should read voraciously. I became a writer because of my love of reading, and never was I happier when during my years at my MFA program, I could count reading time as “school work.” Even after graduation, I never got over the habit, I’m happy to say. What I love the most about books and stories is sharing my favorite with the world. Here they are:

matt_sidbr.pngMatt de la Peña:

Matt de la Peña isn’t only a New York Times Best-selling author; he’s also a Newbery Award Winner for his picture book Last Stop on Market Street. His Newbery Medal acceptance speech is empowering and life-changing. He’s also the author of multi-award winning novels Mexican White Boy, Ball Don’t Lie, and We Were Here, among others. A confessed former reluctant reader, he’s spoken widely about his attitude about male emotion and his relationship with his father. Matt’s books are dynamic and stereotype-shattering.   

Zoraida Córdova:

zoraida_vlc_photo2.jpgBorn in Ecuador, a New Yorker at heart, Zoraida is the author of the Vicious Deep trilogy (amazing mermaids!), the On the Verge series (steamy young adult), and the Brooklyn Brujas series (speculative contemporary YA). Her latest novel, Labyrinth Lost, was a Tor.com Best Book of 2016 and has been optioned for film by Paramount Studios. She loves black coffee, snark, and still believes in magic, which is obvious in the way she writes about brujas saving the world right in the middle of Brooklyn. Her new series Hollowed Crown was recently acquired by Disney Hyperion, and is loosely based on the Spanish Inquisition of the 15th century, but adding a thief of memories. I can’t wait for summer 2019 to get my hands on it.

Margarita.jpgMargarita Engle:

Margarita was born in Los Angeles, but from a young age she developed a deep love for her mother’s country, Cuba. She’s the current National Young People’s Poet Laureate. Her numerous books have won multiple awards including: The Newbery Medal Honor, The Walter Dean Meyers Honor, Pura Belpré Medal, PEN USA, Golden Kite, etc. etc. Margarita’s books are pure magic made words. My favorite of hers are: Enchanted Air, Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, The Surrender Tree, among others. Besides being a very prolific writer, she’s an agronomist and botanist.

Daniel José Older:

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I had the pleasure of working with Daniel during the last semester of my graduate program. He’s not only the author of the acclaimed, award winning Shadowshaper cypher about teens with the power to infuse ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories, but also the magical Bone Street Rumba series about in-betweeners who walk in the realm that separates life and death, and sometimes ride ambulances to save the world. He’s also an activist and his Buzzfeed article “The Twelve Fundamentals of Writing the Other” (and the Self) should be required reading for all writers.

medina_high07.jpgMeg Medina:

Another Cuban American writer that’s changing the world! Her YA Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass won the Pura Belpré award and is being developed for a TV series by the producers of Jane the Virgin. Burn Baby Burn was longlisted for the National Book Award. She’s also written picture books (Mango Abuela and Me), and Middle Grade fiction (Milagros Girl From Away).

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The queen of modern magical realism! Reading one of Anna-Marie’s books is like diving into a pool of technicolor images, alluring scents, intoxicating flavors, and magical textures. I will forever read everything she writes. I can’t get enough of her stories.

The Weight of Feathers is kind of like a Romeo and Juliet but featuring two families of entertainers: mermaids versus ravens. Palomas versus Corbeaus. It’s so gorgeous I dreamed for weeks in the rhythm of the words.

When the Moon Was Ours is a magical love story with the background of a lose version of La Llorona, the Weeping Woman of Latin American folklore. It’s so incredibly well-written and mesmerizing it was longlisted for the National Book Award.

And Wild Beauty (out October 3) tells the story of the Nomeolvides women, who have the power to bring flowers out of barren land, but who are condemned to pay back to this land with what—and who– they love the most. I was fortunate enough to read an advanced copy of this book, and I can’t wait for the rest of the world to fall in love with Estrella and her cousins just like I did.

Courtney Alameda:Courtney+Author+Photos2013_117.jpg

Born and raised in California, but now living in Utah, Courtney is a force to be reckoned with. Because each of her stories is so unique and carefully written and researched, she’s also one of my insta-buys.

In Shutter, she brings together the first families from the classic Dracula to destroy monsters both corporeal and spiritual.

In Pitch Dark (upcoming in February 2018), she introduces us to Laura Cruz, a shipraider whose family looks for human history among the stars (it’s amazing!!!!!). And in Seven Dead Gods, she collaborates with another Utah author, Valynne Maetani, to bring to life Kira, a seventeen-year-old loving in modern day Japan, who brings together seven “death” gods to save Kyoto from destruction. The “foxy” love interest is the most alluring character I’ve read in a long time. I’m in love with him.

Courtney also writes the comic Sisters of Sorrow.

Other writers to read and get to know: Pablo Cartaya, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Celia C. Pérez, Yuyi Morales, Juana Medina, Rene Colato Lainez, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Francisco X. Stork, etc.

These wonderful authors and stories shouldn’t be relegated to one particular month in the year, and I hope that you’ll be motivated in getting to know these names if you don’t already know them. Come back and tell me in the comments which one was your favorite.

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YamileMendezYamile (prounounced sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez is an immigrant writer and reader, a dreamer and fighter, a Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA graduate, a 2014 New Visions Award Honor Winner, and one the 2015 Walter Dean Myers Inaugural Grant recipients. Born and raised in Rosario, Argentina (cradle of fútbol), she now lives in Alpine, Utah with her husband, five children, and three dogs, but her heart is with her family scattered all over the world. Find her on twitter: @YamileSMendez and online: yamilesmendez.com.

The Boy Who Lived and Changed my Life

We are thrilled to welcome our newest contributor Yamile Saied Méndez!

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling was published 20 years ago. I was eighteen, still living in Argentina, and although I’ve always been a reading addict, I wouldn’t find Harry Potter for a few more years.

Oh, how I would’ve loved to have read this magical story before I arrived at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, a long way from my home at the other end of the world, in Rosario, Argentina. I could’ve used Harry’s perspective at arriving at a new place that was all I’d always dreamed of. Like Harry, I met some of my very best friends to this day that first Spring/Summer. I didn’t have to fight giant spiders or the Dark Lord, although I faced loneliness and homesickness, and in the winter, the pervasive presence of an old familiar companion, depression, my real life dementors.

Although it might sound cliché, I kept the dementors at bay thanks to the love of my friends, a wonderful boy who’d become my husband a little later, and the support of my family. When I met Harry, the world was a-frenzy with the arrival of Goblet of Fire. It was the summer of 2000, and I was awaiting the arrival of my first baby, my son Julián.

My husband and I lived in North Carolina very close to his sister’s family. Her kids lent me the first three volumes of the series so I could catch up before Goblet’s release day. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the opening page changed my life. I didn’t stop reading, devouring each page until I reached the end of Prisoner of Azkaban. Happily, I joined the world as I waited for Goblet of Fire, which I devoured the night I bought it. My husband worked nights, and reading all night and sleeping during the day fit our lifestyle, even after our baby was born. There was an excruciating three year wait until Order of the Phoenix came out. During those three years, I read the four first volumes carefully, analyzing every word. I listened to Jim Dale’s audiobook adaptation, and to this day, I judge every audiobook by the Jim Dale standard. There are a few close seconds who are my favorite readers, but none like him.

I became involved in online forums like The Leaky Cauldron, and I loved discussing the books with strangers who loved Harry and gang as much as I did.

But during those three years I didn’t only read Harry Potter. I started reading for pleasure again. I fell in love with kidlit. I realized that because I grew up in another continent, my ignorance in terms of beloved American kids’ classics was abysmal. I set out to remedy this immediately. I’m still going strong at it. I found Max from Where the Wild Things Are, all the Margaret Brown books, Anne with an E, and everything else I could get my hands on. I took my baby to the library’s story time mainly for me. I needed my weekly haul of books. I started writing.

When Order of the Phoenix came out, we were living in Puerto Rico, out in the island (as the Puerto Ricans say), and I couldn’t go to the midnight release party. Amazon didn’t send me my pre-order copy until A WHOLE week had passed since the release day. I vowed that never again would I trust the postal service or online orders. For Half-Blood Prince, I already had three little potterheads to keep me company. I told them Harry’s story trying not to spoil it for them, especially for my son Julián who literally knew about Harry since he was in utero.

And for the release of Deathly Hallows, my dear, amazing, adoring husband took the family to London and Scotland, to wait for the book in “the” holy land. After touring the Balmoral hotel and different castles, we waited in line at the Waterstone in Edinburg. That night, my little Julián painstakingly read the book next to me, but he finally fell asleep, his pudy hand still holding a wand. A year later, when his reading skills were off the charts, he read Deathly Hallows in twenty hours. He was seven years old. He’s been re-reading Harry every year ever since. He’s also a voracious reader like me.

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Harry Potter is the reason I fell in love with kidlit. I read it; I write it nonstop. My stories are not like J. K Rowling’s, not at all, and that’s okay. Harry and his world have followed me all over the world throughout the years, and it’s not a coincidence that when I was at my MFA program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts (my real life Hogwarts, hands down), my class chose The Harried Plotters as the class name as it’s the tradition in the school. For our graduation, my classmates and I got Mischief Managed tattoos, and we raised our wands in victory (this is one of the perks of attending a writing for children program :p).

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Harry gave me magic, and I love the characters and this world because like Dumbledore told Harry, even if it’s all happening in my mind, it doesn’t mean it’s not real, right?

What book has changed your life?

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YamileMendezYamile (prounounced sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez is an immigrant writer and reader, a dreamer and fighter, a Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA graduate, a 2014 New Visions Award Honor Winner, and one the 2015 Walter Dean Myers Inaugural Grant recipients. Born and raised in Rosario, Argentina (cradle of fútbol), she now lives in Alpine, Utah with her husband, five children, and three dogs, but her heart is with her family scattered all over the world. Find her on twitter: @YamileSMendez and online: yamilesmendez.com.