Sunday, April 11, 2010


by Lupe Fernandez

Clairbourn School looks like a country club. Manicured lawns freshly mowed by Mexican landscapers. Neat, trim peaked roof houses. Children’s toys in their places and no graffiti. I notice the white pillars and porticos.

I sit in the “Den of the Cougars” otherwise known as the gym. Yellow and blue flags hang from the walls celebrating league champions for Single Tennis, Boys Soccer, Girls Volleyball and other sports. I’m here for the competitive sport of writing, publishing and selling.
Overhear someone say, “This place looks like a southern plantation.”
The room fills with a babble of voices. Hundreds of words mingle; merge to form greetings, life experiences, writing projects. A laugh. The quest for the proper chair to sit in. Who’s here? Who’s not? Didn’t we meet at….? Aren’t you a friend of …?

News flash: No more coffee!

The day begins with “bathroom announcements.” Toilet paper shortage in nearby bathrooms, more toilet paper in the bathrooms further away.

Rachel Abrams, assistant editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books topic is “This Book Needs to Be Read! Honing Your Craft and Writing Your Best.” She reads from three favorite books as examples of how to start a story.
Abundance of Catherine by John Green.
Gorgeous by Rachel Vail
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Another favorite book is Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech.
Ms. Abrams answers a question about voice in historical fiction: Adolescent issues are the same regardless of the time period. Another question inquires about bodily functions? “Okay as long as they’re plot driven,” she answers. She outlines pitfalls in writing dialogue:
There’s information dumps.
Chatty or on the nose gabbing.
Adverbial speech tags – Adverbs in dialog tags are editors’ pet peeve.
Ms. Abrams focuses on characters, plot is secondary. Middle Grade/Tween – ages 8 to 12. Teen 12 and up. Represents Middle Grade and YA, preferring paranormal and teen romances.

When she cites other favorite authors, the name sound like a litany of saints, accompanied by ooohs and aaahs, murmurs of acknowledgement. “That’s a good book.” “I read that one.” Or furious scribbling on notepads or typing on laptops.

Discussing styles, Ms. Abrams cites Vladimir Nabokov, "In reading, one should notice and fondle the details.” She recommends finding an agent. Responding to a question about personal editorial “pet peeves,” she says, “I won’t have a job if you guys didn’t need editors.”

Break 10 a.m.

Now begins the Information Age ritual of checking cell phones, blackberries, blueberries, crackberries and strawberries for messages, emails, gmails, tweets, sweets, sheets, cleats and a better seat.
After speaking, Ms. Abrams waits at the head of a receiving line. Writers are eager for her blessing, her business card, a comment, an encouragement, a smile for that great story.

10:34 a.m. Call to Order and Take Your Seats.

Lisa Wheeler, picture book author, topic is Rhyme with Reason. She candidly admits to receiving 2,500 rejections in four years. Friends call her “the Meter Maid.”
“Just because kids like rhyme,” she says, “is not a good reason to write in rhyme.”
Ms. Wheeler encourages picture books writers to “defend their rhyme.” As a child, she ran into the living room when TV commercials played so she could listen to the jingle. After the commercial ended, Wheeler left the room. The word seven is a bad rhyming word. Bad rhyme doesn’t sell. “Rhyme is poetry – not just rhyming end lines.”

Break. 11:30 a.m. Announcements. Raffle. My raffle ticket number is 429045. Come on lucky 45!Curses! I don’t win.  Lunch 12 p.m. Sun appears. Morning overcast broken. San Gabriel Mountains visible to the north.
Overhear someone say, “I’m a light airy person.”
After a nap on the gym bleachers, I open my eyes amid the crowd, noisy gym.

Jill Corcoran, an agent with the Herman Agency, speaks on “Queries & Synopsis: How to Get Agents & Editors Salivating to Read Your Manuscript.”

Among the sentences not to include in a query letter:
“I am a new writer.”
“This is the first book in my 9 book series.”
“Hope you and everyone around you are doing well.”
Ms. Corcoran wants to know why the author wants her as an agent. “You gotta know what sells you.”
She emphasizes vigilance on your internet presence. Don’t post anything that could harm your career. I guess I’d better take down my Lion Tamer Website.
Kathleen O’Dell, Middle Grade author, speaks on “Crafting Books for Restless Middle Grade Readers.” “Don’t be afraid to quit,” Ms. O’Dell says, “You’ll come back if it calls you.” The editing process “is not for babies. The author must earn the trust of middle grade readers. “Bordom is death for kids.”
Overhear someone say, “You know her, she’s on Facebook.”
In regards to a lengthy manuscript, she once used the “Harry Potter Defense.” An editor said her manuscript was too long. Kids wouldn’t read it. Ms. O’Dell responded, “What about Harry Potter?” Needless to say, the “Harry Potter Defense” is spoken no more. Talking about the writing process, she says, “It’s a temptation for writers to be lazy.” There’s bitterness at being rejected and fear at revision when receiving an envelope from an editor.

The last speaker is Young Adult author Libba Bray. Ms. Bray tells a story about receiving knowing glances and flirtations from firemen when she told them that she wrote “young adult fiction.” Ms. Bray realizes the fireman thought she wrote Adult as in X-rated. “Writing porn is more socially acceptable than writing for teens.”

Ms. Bray lists her advice on writing.
  1. No one ever died from a day of bad writing, except writing a safety manual.
  2. Name you inner critique.
  3. If it doesn’t scare you to at least write your story, you haven’t raised the stakes.
  4. Read. Read across genres.
  5. Don’t write Cherrios – not exciting, just filler, unsatisfying, soggy, forgettable.
  6. Remember. Write for your inner teen. Remember the emotional language of 10, 14, 16.
  7. Find your own voice and honor it. “You know who does the best Raymond Carver? Raymond Carver.”
  8. Change up your game - as long as it serves your story. Don’t get complacent.
  9. As a Public Service Announcement, Ms. Bray urges us, “Just say no to the hot pterodactyl boyfriend.” Avoid current trends.
  10. Earn your moments. Truth should make us uncomfortable. Don’t flinch. Don’t give characters qualities they don’t have.
 Her talk was inspirational.

A green cart sits in the back of the gym, stacked with musty dark brown Christian Science Hymnal books. Perhaps we should start this day with a song. “O’ Publisher Near to Thee,” or “Holy Trinity”? (The Trinity is Agent/Editor/Publisher – until a media paradigm shift.)
I recline on the hard worn bleachers, ready to cheer. “Go Writers Go! Query Back! Query Back! Way, way back! Goooo Unpublished Writers! Yeah!”

A pep rally, indeed.

“Stories survive,” Ms. Bray says.

Time to go home and write.


  1. What a wonderful account! I feel like I was there--from overheard conversations, to hymnal carts and people on their "crackberries." How fun and informative this post is, Lupe. Thank you.
    I like the quote from Abrams that she wouldn't have a job if writers didn't neeed editors. Somehow that relieves me of that feeling I'm not good enough if I'm not perfect (yes, I'm a perfectionist)
    Don't use Harry Potter Defense. Check.
    And, oh, how I wish I could have heard Libba Bray. Thank you for this peek at the day.

  2. Tricia, you're welcome. I left out a section on eating a Bristal Farms box lunch. Chocolate Brownie wedge...hmmmm....

  3. Three cheers for your post. You captured the essence of the day - I should know - I was there! I considered posting some thoughts about Writer's Day on my blog - but really - what's the point? I'll just refer my readers over to you.

  4. Bless you Lupe. That was great. As always you framed the event in your description of the setting and the activity of the participants. Then you reported the pertinent information. Thank you

  5. Great summary of yesterday's events. Thanks!

  6. Lupe,
    So wish I would have attended. Bray's talk sounds fabulous. Thanks for posting the highlights of the day!

  7. Megan - I'm flattered you'd refer your readers to me. However, I'm sure you have some recollections that I missed. For example: Did Bray or O'Dell compare the revision process to the stages of romance?

    Susan - Thanks for the support.

    Julie - Glad you read my post.

    Lori - During Q&A, I asked Bray the following question: "What is a vixen like you afraid of when you write?" She said she liked the sound of the question and wanted to repeat it to herself. I used the word "vixen" because she had described herself with the same word earlier in her humorous talk.

    Lupe F.

  8. What an awesome day!! Thanks for summing it up so well - my head is still spinning from information overload.

  9. Lisa, thanks for patronizing this blog. I'm glad the gym wasn't sweltering like last year.

    Lupe F.

  10. Hey Lupe,
    So fun to share such a great day! Thanks for letting me jump ahead of you in line to talk to Libba, and thanks for all the great pictures you took for me. Wow! I mean ALL those pictures! I had no idea :) I posted some on my blog. There's a particularly good one of Libba.

  11. Rilla - Taking photos is a hobby of mine.

    I just remembered Libba urged everyone to assign a name to their inner critic. A guy in the audience called his "The Bitch."

    I'll call mine, "The TV."

    Lupe F.

  12. It was a great day - thank you for helping us reflect on it and collecting these notes! One small important correction - the second speaker was Lisa Wheeler, not Linda. :)

    Thanks again for sharing!

  13. Eliza, thanks for catching that error. Ms. Wheeler's name has been corrected. The blogger will be severly reprimanded. No cookies for him.

    Lupe F.


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