Monday, February 23, 2015

Dispatch #34: Ramon Vasquez In Memoriam

Ramon Vasquez
by Lupe Fernandez

February morning, the pallbearers wheel the casket into St. Joachim's Church and leave it before the altar. During the funeral service, I wonder what the Ramon I knew from Burbank Elementary school would think of this service.

What if Ramon and I, at age nine, discovered a time machine, I would be scared to use it and Ramon would encourage me to go with him.

I was a shy kid. Ramon was funny, artistic, well-like and handsome. He took an interest in me at Burbank to bring me out of my silent shell. Sure we did a few things that were unlawful - the trash fire in the bathroom was a good test of the school principal's fire extinguishing skill - but Ramon was a good kid. Okay, Ms. Roberts, my fifth grade teacher, didn't want me associating with Ramon; she thought he was a bad influence on me. But Ramon allowed me to hang out and play with the other guys. George. Joey. Martin. Mark. Tommy and others.

Girls liked Ramon. He flirted with them. I enjoyed it vicariously.

Ramon and I travel from the year 1972 to 2015 and find ourselves inside a church.

"That's you!" I point out Ramon's casket to Ramon.

"I wonder what I look like. Let's good look eh?"

I hide while Ramon sneaks a peek at his body.

He finds me. "I look bad," he says.

Ramon recognizes his weeping family. People he doesn't know, people older than him. Crying.

"Everybody's so old." he says.

"That's you," Ramon points to a bearded man with glasses. "You got a girlfriend." He refers to a red-haired woman holding my hand.

"I do?" I'm amazed. Girls scare me.

"You got fat," he says Ramon looks at my skinny body and then at my adult self. "Too many frijoles."

People in the back row tell us to be quiet and ask about our parents. They stare at our clothes.

"Let's go back," Ramon says. "I don't want to miss Sanford & Son." One of his favorite TV shows. He loves comedian Redd Foxx.

I wasn't Ramon's best friend. Our kids didn't grow up together. The ground we played on, the elementary school we attended is razed. The lot abandoned. A new school built across the street.

Old Burbank Elementary Lot/New Burbank Elementary across street

The mural he created on the wall of La Mexicana Tortilleria on A Street is covered over with new paint. After I graduated from high school, I left town and didn't keep in contact with anyone.

Through Facebook I discover Ramon's obituary.
Ramon C. Vasquez July 28, 1961 ~ Jan. 29, 2015 Resident of Hayward Ramon, son of Adrian and Esther Vasquez, born in the small town of Zinaparo, Michoacan, Mexico and lived in Hayward from the age of 4. Ramon Graduated from Sunset High with the class of 1980 with high honors and innumerable academic awards and recognitions.
I attend the funeral with my wife, Angel. I don't know what ailed him. I don't know if he had kids. I do know my fellow high school Alumni grieve. Everybody liked him. Respected him. Ramon's body is buried in the green fields of Chapel of the Chimes.

He lives forever on the playground of my childhood.

Monday, February 16, 2015

"Hilde, wake up, your blog post is due!"


By yeah, you guessed it, me, sleeping like a baby.  
(No photo available of the current me, sleeping selfies are not a thing yet).

by Hilde Garcia

One of my biggest struggles is coming up with a blog idea consistently that won't bore my readers.  Last night, I stared and stared at the screen, daring it to talk to me, checking my email constantly, wishing someone would send me an email so I could do something other than write, and I just woke up… holding my computer… without a post.

Monday morning.  I missed my deadline.

Hmmm.  There has got to be an easier way.  I need some transformation.

What do you do when you are just not feeling it?  When you just feel like it's futile to even try?

Google it.  (It needs to be a new verb in the dictionary).

So I did.  I typed in "quick ideas for writing a blog post."

And Google came up with 176 million links!


I was more than a bit scared.  Truly, that much on how to write a blog?  Oy vey.  And why didn't I do this sooner?  Am I that disconnected with the technology world that I didn't think to use the resources all around me?  So many ideas?  No idea where to start!

The truth is, I feel much like a fraud.  Why should I give anyone advice on anything about writing?  I am not published.  I have no claim to fame.  I don't even have an agent, someone who thinks I will eventually be a published writer, but here I am, dutifully giving some type of advice or sharing something "interesting" every three weeks with everyone and anyone who stops at our blog.

DO I even have the right?  Shouldn't I be someone of worth or merit?  Someone with credentials?  Or at least consistent writing habits?  My daughter just published an article in her school newspaper.  It's her 4th one.  She's only 10 and she's already worked on her school newspaper, interviewed her cheer coach, and even Mr. Richard Peck!

When I grow up, I want to be her!

But truly, I think the conversation goes deeper than that.  It goes to the core of who I think I am as a writer.  And I tie the act of writing with the success of writing and truly, they are two different facets of the same thing.  But when I write, I worry about how I will come across, what will people say, will anyone think I am worth the read?  And I stop believing that I am a writer.

I should just write.

But I don't.

However, it is never to late to start a new year's resolution, and lucky for me it's only February, so I have a whole lot of year left.  So I have a plan.

Here are the first ten links of the 176 million links Google found on "how to write a quick blog post".  I am going to go to each link and explore… and try each tip.  And I will share with fellow writers how it felt or what I learned in hopes that someone feeling rather "fraudish" can find his/her way too.

A place to start.  A plan.  I'll take it!

Happy Valentine's Day Weekend.

May you love everything you write or at the very least the road you took to get there.

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  • Monday, February 9, 2015

    First Line/Paragraphs from the 2015 ALA Awards

    by Susan J Berger

    This week the ALA announced it's 2015 awards, I know you are all dying to hear those first paragraphs. The links are to Goodreads. I will start with picture book honors.

    Caldecott Honor Books 

       Nana in the City Illustrated by Lauren Castillo, written by Lauren Castillo

    I went to stay with Nana at her new apartment in the city. I love my Nana.


    The Noisy Paint Box: The  Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art

    Illustrated by Mary GrandPré, written by Barb Rosenstock

    Vasya Kandinsky spent his days learning to be a proper Russian boy. He studied bookfuls of math, science and history. He practiced piano scales to the marching click of the metronome. He sat stiff and straight at dressed-up dinners while the grown-ups talked and talked and talked.
    Vasya's well-off world was perfectly polite . . .until the day his aunt gave him a small wooden paint box.

    Sam & Dave Dig a Hole Illustrated by Jon Klassen, written by Mac Barnett
    Sorry Couldn't find text on this. Here's the description.
    Sam and Dave are on a mission. A mission to find something spectacular. So they dig a hole. And they keep digging. And they find . . . nothing. Yet the day turns out to be pretty spectacular after all. Attentive readers will be rewarded with a rare treasure in this witty story of looking for the extraordinary — and finding it in a manner you’d never expect

    Viva Frida
    Illustrated by Yuyi Morales, written by Yuyi Morales
    Soy  I Am


     I . . .

    Viva Frieda also won the Pura Belpré (Illustrator) Award honoring a Latino writer and illustrator whose children's books best portray, affirm and celebrate the Latino cultural experience

    The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus,

    illustrated by Melissa Sweet, written by Jen Bryant.

    Peter snuggled into Uncle's lap as the carriage clattered through the valleys of Switzerland. Baby Annette slept in Mother's arms, a small pink blossom against a wall of black.

    I know your aren't supposed to use "color words"in a picture book, but I wouldn't have missed that description for anything! Sometimes words are their own pictures.

    The Right Word also won the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for most distinguished informational book for children
      This One Summer,
    illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, Written by Marico Tamaki .


     Winner of the Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children

    The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend,

    illustrated  and written by Dan Santat
    AAARGH! I placed a hold on the LAPL copy, but I couldn't find the first lines online. So I messaged Dan on Facebook.  He obliged. Thank you, Dan. I can't wait to read this book. I love the premise.

    "He was born on an island far away where imaginary friends were created."

    Newbery Honor Books


    El Deafo by Cece Bell, illustrated by Cece Bell I was a regular little kid. I played with my mom's stuff. I watched TV with my big brother, Ashley and my big sister Sarah. I rode on the back of my Father's bicycle. I found caterpillars with my friend Emma, and I sang.

    But then everything changed.
    This is a graphic novel. I read as far as I could on Amazon and now I have to get the book.

    The second Newbery honor book also won

    The Coretta Scott King Book Award

    Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
    February 12, 1963
    I am born on a Tuesday at University Hospital
     Columbus, Ohio
    a country caught

    between Black and White.

    I am born not long from the time
    or far from the place
    my great-great-grandparents
    worked on the deep rich land
    dawn till dusk
    drank cool water from scooped-out gourds
    looked up and followed
    the sky's mirrored constellation
    to freedom.


    The Newbery Award

    The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

     At the top of the key, I'm
                     MOVING &GROOVING
    POPPING AND rocking-
    Why you BUMPING?
                  Why you LOCKING?
    Man take this THUMPING.
    Be careful though,
    'cause now I'm CRUNKing
                Criss CROSSING
    and my dipping will leave you
                     G on the floor, while I
    SWOOP in
    to the finish with a fierce finger roll . . .
    Straight into the hole:
    This book is not all poetry. The pages I previewed on Amazon were a stylistic potpourri.
    Looks great.

    The Crossover by Kwame Alexander was also a Coretta Scott King Author Honor book.
    There are lots more awards. Next post I will do first paragraphs of the winner and four finalists of the William C. Morris Award for a debut book published by a first time author writing for teens. Happy writing and reading.

    Monday, February 2, 2015

    Dispatch #33: What Is Love?

    by Lupe Fernandez

    What is love? Where does it come from and who's responsible?

    Let's ask our panel of experts:
    - Roselio, two months  
    "Love is naps. Cookies. Playing with Mr. Teddy. Splashing in mud. Pulling out pumpkin brains at Halloween."
    - Roselio, age 6

    "I can't wait for Mrs. Masked Marvel to come on at two. I know how to tell time. I have Mrs. Masked Marvel figure and secret closet with lots of dresses.
    - Nadia, age 7
     "Love? Bleech! Ya gotta me kiddin' me! Girls? Sheesh! They play stupid games and always laughing and doing stupid stuff like playing with dolls." 
    - Jose, age 8
     "Girls? Gulp. Uhhhhhh...(swoon and faint)" 
    - Calaveras Cal, estimated age 10
    "You Know Who's the most beautiful girl in my class. When she looks at me, I hid behind a tree."
    - Angel, age 11 

    "This boy in my class leaves me love notes and candy Valentine hearts. He's always staring at me. What's wrong with him?"
    - Georgina, age 11
    "Love. That's what a boy says to get in your pants. He's all over you with his hands behind the gym and says, 'I love you so bad.' They're only good for getting cigarettes and beer."
    - Marlene, age 14

    "I can't stop thinking about her, man! I mean it ain't fair. It's like I ate a bad bag of Cheesy Crunchies and I can't get a dookie. Her green eyes. Her Russian accent. Oh man, I'm getting a Perestroika in my Pants."
    - Roger, age 16

    "He was everything. The present. The future. I don't care what people said about him. I wasn't forced. We were together. It was like my body felt every note ever heard. Every taste ever tasted. Filling me up. I saw outside myself. Other people's rules don't matter."
    - Anhelica, age 16

    "He's the heat of summer. The wrap of a blanket in winter. The crisp crunch of leaves ready to fall. He's fresh cut grass in spring. Yellow sunflowers kissing the sun. Ice cold glass against my hot forehead. Sweet red fruit juice running down my arms. He's sunset and promise of a new day."
    - Violet, age 15

    "I don't give it much thought. I suppose I'll get married some time after college. I would be suffice if my future husband as in the Aero-Corp like me."
    - Julia, age 17

    "It hurts my heart. I dig deep inside me when I think of her. What could have been. What should have been. I feel her lips taste mine. Memories of her are slow motion anguish that I can't be with her. When she touched my chest, God filled me up. She was the first person to make me feel needed. She waited for me in class. Her eyes lit up. I will always love her for that. Always."
    - Roselio, age 18

    Well, there you have it folks.

    The experts have spoken.

    What do you think?

    Sunday, January 25, 2015

    Getting to Know Kathy Kottaras

    by Hilde Garcia

    I am so lucky!  I meet the coolest people in the most fun places.  As a mom, teacher, and writer, there is never a dull moment.

    About 18 months ago, I am at the Americana waiting to board their trolley.  Our school is launching our Principal’s Book Club at the Barnes & Noble store and the line for the trolley is longer than the state of California.

    Enter Kathy.

    KK       SO have you read the book?

    HG       Yes, I love When You Reach Me!

    KK       Me too.  I love middle grade and Y. A.

    HG       Middle grade? YA? No one uses those terms. You must be a children’s book writer.

    KK       I am! I’m Kathy.

    HG       I’m Hilde.

    And that was the start of our beautiful friendship!

    HG      What went through your mind when you got the call for a two-book deal?

    KK      I was expecting a call, but I didn’t think it was going to be right at the start of the week on Monday.  So I decided to drive around town, and I went to a thrift store.  I mean what else do you do when you’re nervous?  Shopping, of course.  But the store was closed.  As I pulled up to the store, my agent called.  I parked anyway and took the call.  During the phone call, I tried to keep my composure and sound perfectly professional (at least I hope I did!).  When I hung up though, I got out of the car and started screaming and jumping up and down.  I was by myself in an empty parking lot, but I couldn’t help it.  It was just so exciting. 

    HG      Tell me about your writing journey.

    KK      I taught high school for seven years before teaching community college, and I have always loved YA lit.  I started writing for myself when I was about 25 by taking classes through UCLA extension and Litreactor.  Eventually, I published some short articles, poetry, and short stories.  I was just sort of finding my way, finding my voice.  I was a fan of YA lit, so I decided to try my hand at one.  I spent four years on that book.  I tried to query it, but I didn’t get any response.  I think that experience was about me learning what it means to write an entire book.  I shelved it and started from scratch.  That was in 2012.

    HG      When will your book be out?

    KK      Fall of 2015. How to Be Brave- St. Martin's Press.

    HG      That’s so cool.  Tell us about your book.

    KK      It’s a YA contemporary entitled How to Be Brave. It’s about Georgia Askeridis, a seventeen-year old girl whose mom passes away and leaves her a letter to ask her to live differently from how she lived, to be brave and do everything.  Georgia’s sort of cynical by nature and is trying to buy into the whole positive thinking thing, so she creates a bucket list.  She wants to honor her mom and live differently, but she also has to face her own demons along the way.

    HG      Sounds sooooo good.  I want my copy. Hey folks, you want to see brave, check out the link above and watch Kathy zip through the air!

    KK       Thank you!

    HG       What’s your position at Pasadena City College?

    KK       I teach composition, creative writing, and literature.  Currently, I’m also teaching a children’s literature class which spans from picture book through YA.

    HG      How does that job fuel your writing?

    KK      Of course you learn just as much from your students as they learn from you.  I also get to talk about writing all day.  My job is to get them excited about reading and writing, so it motivates me.  It’s just a great job to keep my mind active what it means to be both a reader and a writer.  I am constantly inspired by my students and by their desire to engage with the world.

    HG      I know what you mean.  I feel the same way too.  My students are busy writing mini novels, and it’s amazing to take them through the process.  My daughter still talks about your creative writing workshop last fall. 

    KK      That’s so cool!  And I’m so glad she enjoyed it!  Thank you for letting me know!

    HG      How did you secure your agent?  What was that process like?

    KK      Well, I just did a blind query.  I started in June 2013.  I sent out some queries and I got some responses, so I knew immediately that I was in a different situation than with my first manuscript.  I then went to the SCBWI Summer conference here in LA, and I got more feedback and inspiration.  I took a break, went through my book one more time, and then started querying again in September.  By November, I had interest from four agents. I happily chose Courtney Miller-Callihan with Sanford J. Greenberger & Associates.  She’s amazing.

    HG      I remember you came up to me during morning drop off at school.   You leaned in and whispered, “I got an agent.”  It took all about one second before we looked like a couple of schoolgirls who had been asked out to the prom.  Just hugging and jumping like no one was around.  And getting lots of stares from parents not privy to our conversation.  I was so happy for you.  How has being a member of SCBWI furthered you along?

    KK      Oh my gosh. 100 million percent!  If it wasn’t for SCBWI, for sure, I would not have gotten this far this soon.

    HG       I agree!

    KK      I am in complete and utter gratitude to SCBWI.  I’ve been to the SCBWI national conference three times, the OC Agents Day event twice, and the OC Spring Retreat in Temecula twice. 

    HG      Me too.  I did the Ventura County events and they are always amazing.  I always get re-connected and inspired, and I feel like I can scale a mountain, or at least my draft.

    KK      Many of my closest friends, including you, I’ve met through these events.

    HG      Same here. It’s our own little Idaho and I am forever grateful for everything SCBWI provides in the way of support, knowledge, and networking.  How do you balance being a mom, working as a teacher, writing and even the laundry?

    KK      I have a very supportive family, which includes my husband, who is always encouraging me.  We all figure it out together.  I have a good team, and we are in it together.  But also, sometimes the laundry just doesn’t get done (although right now I’m hanging up clothing as we speak.) 

    HG      Yep!  I swear Mt. Washmore never ends and if I am too tired, I just push the laundry aside and sleep.

    KK      Ha! I’m there with you. Also though, it feels like a team effort.  I am really blessed that way. The people in my life are always willing to help me.

    HG      Let’s just say, my husband is the dish man, and if I have to chose between the and laundry, well, it’s the dishes, because my kids know what to do.  If they can’t find the underwear, they come to my bed.  It’s there, somewhere, but clean dishes?  That’s where I draw the line!  What was the biggest struggle you had in getting this MS to this point?

    KK      Well this book is about facing fears, and I would say the hardest part has been facing my own fears and self doubt.  That’s what I explored with this particular story.  I had to work through my own confidence, even with the first step of sharing my work with others.

    Actually, the first person who read it was my childhood best friend.  She read it quite by accident.  I always email myself a copy of my drafts. I’d meant to send it to myself.  Her name is Kate, and I am Kathy, and I didn’t pay attention to autocorrect.  I guess I had accidentally sent it to her.

    One day, I received a text from her telling me how much she loved my book.
    At that point, it was only at about 20,000-words, but she also said that I should keep going with it.  I was so confused.  I wrote back and asked, “How did you get it?”  And she said, “You emailed it to me.” At first I was freaked out, but I realized that she was complimenting me on it. That gave me a push to finish it (and double check who I send my emails to).

    Seriously though, I value her opinion, and that’s what I meant about my family and friends supporting me.

    And I am really putting clothes away right now.

    HG      Yeah you sound quite breathy.  Did you have a second book started when you got your deal or did you have to begin from scratch? 

    KK      I had the concept, but I wasn’t sure fully what the story was.  I have about 20,000 words complete at this point, so I feel like I have a direction, but it’s still the early stages.  You know how it is.  But I am excited about writing it, and I am having fun.

    HG      Is it a sequel or its own stand-alone novel?

    KK      Stand alone, YA contemporary, as yet untitled.  It’s set in Chicago like my first novel, but this one is set in the summer.

    HG      So, where can we find you?

    KK      Here's my site. And I'm also on Twitter- twitter@ekatwrites.

    You can also find the book on Good Reads and Amazon.

    HG      I am going to pre order my copy now!  Kathy, you inspire me. And your friendship this year has kept me going.  It’s nice to have the mom, teacher, writer connection all in one.  Kindred spirits indeed! 

    Thank you for this interview.

    KK      Thank you! You’re so awesome for calling me up to do this!