Monday, April 28, 2014

Dispatch #21: My Little Sister
Has an Ejector Seat

Nadia "Naranja"
by Lupe Fernandez

Another in a series of "Where Do Ideas Come From?"

After a day at the park, I was having a hard time buckling my prospective brother-in-law's son into his child safety car seat. So many straps and a tight fit. The chair reminded me of an ejector seat used by jet pilots, so my brain went...hmmm...

I have a hard time strapping in my sister into her CX-52 safety car seat. CX stands for Camacho Experimental. The number is the how many seats my dad has designed. Nadia giggles when I put her pudgy arms through the shoulders straps. She waves her fingers in my face and puts one up my nose. Gross. She thinks it's funny. Yeah, funny.

"Quit it, Naranja."

"Your sister no es fruita," Dad says from the front seat.

Her name sounds like the Spanish word for orange. Nadia. Naranja. Get it? She's an orange. I gotta get my laughs somewhere.

I snap her shoulder straps into the center buckle with a bright red button. I dig under her butt to find the lower straps. She squirms and kicks me in the chin, and laughs so hard drool spills down her chin. 

My sister would find a car wreck funny.

"I go boom!" she says.

"No," I say to her, "No boom this time. This time you stay. Okay?"

"No, I go boom!"

CX-42 Prototype
I wish she'd go boom to the Moon. I tug at the lower straps and get them one at a time into the center buckle. "Come on, suck it in." My sister is getting too big for the CX-52. I push on her belly. The lower straps click into the center buckle.

"Boom! Boom! Boom!" She pounds her fists on the arm rests.

"No way," I say to her, "No way, I'm going after you for the millionth time."

"Nadia secure?" Dad says.

I tuck on her straps and fit her sun hat on her big head. "Secure."

"Okay, let's go."

I point my finger at Naranja's face and whisper, "Don't mess around with it. I mean it this time."

She sticks her tongue at me.

I shut the door and walk around the back of the rover. I rattle my dusty, dented bike on the rack to make sure it doesn't fall off. Then I get in the rover next to Dad. He blesses himself, looks at me and I bless myself. Then we put on our googles. 


The rover takes off down the rutted dirt road. I look back at my sister and she's singing to her Ms. Masked Marvel Doll. Dad skids the rover, slams the brakes, climbs a steep hill, bangs into a pot hole the size of a crater and nothing. The head cushions on Naranja's keep her noggin from slamming around and making her brain into oatmeal.

Dad's smiling. So far, so good.

Yeah, I pray. I pray this is the last test of the prototype and...


The ceiling above my sister's seat pops off. 


The rockets under her car seat fire and she blasts out of the rover. Smoke floods the rover. I can't see and thing and I'm choking to death. Dad slams the brakes. I hit my buckle release and jump out of the rover and land in dirt. I tear off my googles and rub my stinging eyes.

The bright red and white striped parachute is easy to spot in desert blue sky. A trail of smoke drifts over the sage brush. The orange seat sways easy, like a swing at the park, as it descents to the ground. I let out a big breath.

CX-32 Prototype Ascent Rockets
Dad watches her through his binoculars. "30 meters. South, southeast." I hear defeat in his voice.

"Accelerometer failure," I try to cheer him up, "Those things are iffy." 

He grunts. Not convinced.

"No way she figured it out," I say, "Not this time."

Ugh. I unhitch my bike and push off through the scrub. I really hoped this one was it. I've collected every thorn and spiny needle in this desert on my legs and arms that I'm surprised there's any left. I check my bike compass and steer toward my sister. Her nonsense babbling brings me closer to her. I skid to stop, kicking up dust, and hop off my bike.

The parachute flutters over her like a curtain. Naranja stuffs some fabric in her mouth and chews on it. 

I signal Dad my location and take out her water drinky cup from the pack on my bike.

"Thirsty, little booger?" I pull the parachute fabric out of her and give her the drinky cup.

Naranja sucks it down. That's when I see the arm rests. The covers are torn off and connections exposed. 

The scorched rover pulls up and Dad gets out. The hot engine ticks in the sun. 

"How does she do it, Dad?" I show him the electronics. "How?"

Unofficial CX Prototype Testing Ground
(Mojave Desert)
Naranja puts down her drinky cup and says, "I go BOOM!" She laughs at us.

Fifty-two times. Fifty-two! My little sister has hot wired the CX ejector seat and went BOOM!

"Back to design," my Dad says. He unstraps Naranja and carries her back to the rover.

"Daddy, I go BOOM!" She laughs like its the funniest thing ever.

Poor Dad.

Wait 'till Mom finds out...

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Query Letter Revisited

by Susan J. Berger

Last Sunday I attended my first meeting of LARA, Los Angeles Romance Writers.

The speaker was Anne Cleeland and the topic was 8 questions to ask yourself before querying. Anne has four published novels and is a member of RWA,
Anne has her own style of querying. It’s direct and ignores many of the given rules. Anne’s background is in the legal field. I thinks her suggestions are clever and logical. I asked Anne for permission to share and she granted it.

Define your book.
Be specific. Genre and sub Genre, Editors are trying to fit slots in a publishing line. Make it easy for them.

Kind of book: Picture book, Easy reader, Early Chapter book, Mid-Grade, YA

Fiction or Non Fiction?

Is your story Contemporary? Speculative Fiction? Fantasy? Science Fiction? Realistic Fiction? Historical Fiction? Graphic Novel?

This link to a GCSU course syllabus give great examples of types of children's literature.

Have a short pithy hook.
It should indicate the sub genre. You are not TELLING your story. You are trying to get someone to OPEN your story.

Example of a tried and true hook:

When [event] happens,[main character] must confront [conflict] and triumph [describe how]

Variations: Give era and/or ;location if this is of interest: “Set in the Barrios of Los Angeles”

Start with an intriguing fact “Following a school lockout. . .”

Or try to tie in to a pop culture phenomena.

Anne gave the following examples. Tainted Angel is a Regency Version of Mr.& Mrs. Smith.”
"In Murder in Thrall, Sherlock Holmes is Breaking Bad."

Who Do You Query?
Subscribe to Publishers Market Place. (Join for one Month. It’s 25.00. Make your list of top agents and deals in your field. Look for the top 100 Deals.

Here’s a link to how one author used this method and sold her book. The site is Miss Snark. and the post is on the meaning of deal terms. Look for Maya’s comment. It's the second one down.

Other places to research agents: and Literary Rambles. Casey has a huge data base of agent interviews which you can search by age category they represent. I recommend checking t the agents' websites before querying.

Before writing your query, know the buzz words. Then Use Them.
Project = book, Mss, literary vs. commercial, hook, trending, character driven vs plot driven, external conflict vs. internal conflict.

Anne created her own version of the query letter. She got lots of requests using this format.

Dear Ms. [Agent:]
I see that you sold [name of project] to [name of editor] and I was thinking my historical series might be a good fit for the same line.

The first book, Tainted Angel, is a Regency version of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. One of the most beautiful courtesans in England is actually a spy working for the crown. Or  is she working for the enemy? The hero is a fellow spy who must choose between love and allegiance.
The completed project is 85,000 words. Please let me know if you would like to see a partial manuscript.
Thank you for you time and attention.
Very truly yours,

Anne Cleeland
Chapter One
[Anne pasted chapter one into the letter.]

I think that’s a great idea. Maya Reynolds in her comment on Miss Snark spoke of doing the same thing.
You’ve just saved you and the agent time and money. If she doesn’t like your writing, that’s the end of it.
Note the signature. She has a website and she has a twitter. I think that’s professional credibility. If the query and chapter interest the editor, she can look up Anne’s bio.

The other taboos Anne broke:
She sends multiple queries on the same book to different agents. Obviously they are personalized for each agent since she mentions deals they have made. Many panned out.

She pasted the first chapter in the body of the letter. (NEVER send an attachment.)

She re-queried the same agent after receiving a rejection. She sent her a different book.  

(I did that too. Allyn Johnston rejected my first Ms, The Undertoads, and I immediately sent her Log on Log. I sent it as a thank you joke. I never dreamed she’d accept it.)

She didn’t respect an agent’s stated request for no new clients or no emails.

If you want to query someone and you cannot find the email go to this site: 

Best time to query?
Avoid querying at conference times. Everyone is overwhelmed. Anne said, "Do go to the conferences. Volunteer, pitch, Glad-hand and be friendly. Dress for business. Have a card and hand it out like candy." Then you get to put "Requested submission" as your header when you do pitch. But avoid querying the month before and after a conference. Anne mentioned that Tuesday evenings are good times to send your queries. Probably Wednesday as well. (I think this is sound advice. But you'd have to look up all the conferences in your field to make this feasible as a strategy.. I wonder how many days would end up as viable query times?)
Did it work for her?



     Tainted Angel                                                                              Murder in Thrall
I can’t wait to try it myself.

Write on!
Visit Anne at
You also might be interested in this post on Query by Jane Friedman

Monday, April 14, 2014

Instead of Matzah Ball Soup Tonight,
I Wrote This Post


by Hilde Garcia


Normal people are in bed. I am not normal. I can only hear our thoughts at this hour. I need total quiet, which only occurs when everyone is sleeping, including the dog and my dishes are done.

Passover starts tonight. My family and I decided to celebrate our Seder on Sunday evening, which had me shopping at 10pm on a Saturday night. I went to three Ralph’s and Whole Foods in search of Cherry Flavored Manishewitz. It seems that Concord Grape is the favorite flavor choice for the year, but I still tried.

And I met some interesting people along the way. Everyone wishing me Chag Sameach- which means joyous holiday. I felt like I belonged to the tribe. Well, I do, but I recall when I was in school and how little I felt like I belonged.

So I am at the second Ralphs and I am in the Passover section. When this gentleman overhears me asking for the Manishewitz- which is really sweet Kosher for Passover wine- he takes it upon himself to show me where it is. We then begin a 30-minute conversation about religion, choices, following your heart and saving the world.

He tells me of a Muslim girl his temple was trying to save from being hanged for killing the man that tried to rape her- she was defending herself, but the man died as a result. She was 15 and now she’s 22 and facing death.

And I thought, why on Earth am I talking to this complete stranger in the wine aisle at a Ralphs about some poor soul whose fate is being decided by a very unjust process-well, according to me that is. And in that moment, I no longer had to run home to cook, nor to finish my shopping. I didn’t even feel tired anymore. I simply listened while holding a 5-pack of matzah and a bottle of Passover wine.

Then I come home and clean the fridge- really well. I clean when I am mad. And I was. At all the hurt and injustice on the planet. At the fact that so many souls never get the chance to be creative because insanity still prevails.

The man’s name was Isaac and he was truly a kindred spirit. He asked me, “Why you become Jewish?” Funny, the answer was so easy. “Because I followed my heart and this is where I belong.”

I think about the literature we expose young people to and I wonder if we are sending powerful enough messages about the world around them? And are we sending it from the point of view of the child or young person. Not Westernizing it but painting a portrait of how they see the world. Truly, in today’s world, we are so much more diverse and for that, I am so thankful, but it seems we can do more.

In my last post, I talked about some great novels that featured strong heroines in very unique stories. In particular, Wanting Mor by Rukhsana Khan and Sold by Patricia McCormick. These novels brought forth stories of the lives of girls in countries where their freedoms are not what we are used to here in the U. S.

Today, I’d like to share another amazing story that not only moved me, but my entire class of 4th and 5th graders when I read it aloud to them. A Long Walk To Water by Linda Sue Park. It is based on the true story of Salva, one of some 3,800 Sudanese "Lost Boys" airlifted to the United States beginning in the mid 1990s.

Before leaving Africa, Salva's life is one of harrowing tragedy. Separated from his family by war and forced to travel on foot through hundreds of miles of hostile territory, he survives starvation, animal attacks, and disease, and ultimately leads a group of about 150 boys to safety in Kenya. Relocated to upstate New York, Salva resourcefully learns English and continues on to college. Eventually he returns to his home region in southern Sudan to establish a foundation that installs deep-water wells in remote villages in dire need of clean water. This poignant story of Salva's life is told side-by-side with the story of Nya, a young girl who lives today in one of those villages.

This powerful story not only showed my kids how precious their world is, it opened their eyes to how other kids live. I think as writers we must always search out these stories and share them with young readers so they can grow up and perhaps change the world.

Especially in today’s world of immediate gratification and over stimulation, we need to teach kids how to listen and follow their hearts.

The following historical fiction titles (with live links) are some of my favorite choices that transport kids into stories of strife, hardship, and hope. Jane Yolen’s book speaks the most to me during this Passover Season.

May your holiday, Passover or Easter, be joyous and surrounded by love.

Run, don't walk to your nearest independent bookstore and buy these books.
- The Management

Monday, April 7, 2014

Dispatch #20: Wealth of Words


by Lupe Fernandez

When I drive, the front axle of my 2000 Mitsubishi Eclipse makes a grinding noise. The mechanic says the transmission is failing. A repair will require money that I don't have to spend. I could get a job. Wait...I already have a job, only I pay them. I'm a writer.

If words were wishes, then I'd buy a new car. What are words worth? Remember back in ye ole days when writers were paid by the word? I don't. I never sold anything. Based on that economical model, my 50,000 word manuscript would net me 50K and I'd add more words to up the paycheck.

But only in my dreams.

Best Selling books earn more money than Mid-List books. Does that make best sellers more valuable? What about the authors? Is their worth depending on profit? If it was me with the best seller, I sure as hell would agree. But it isn't, so I don't.

What are words worth? 

Are articles cheaper than propositions? Are verbs more expensive than nouns? What about the much maligned adverbs with their dangling LYs? Are there discount prices for adjectives?

Can I get more bang for my buck with a independent clause than a propositional phrase?

Here's a speculative breakdown:
"a" = 1 cent.
"the" = 5 cents.

"house" = 10 cents.
"The White House" = $10 dollars.

Verbs (pricing various with tense)
"running" = 90 cents.
"run" = $1 dollar.
"ran" = $2 dollars.

How about syllables?
"moose" = $1.50 dollars.
"astronaut" = $3.25 dollars.
"Pnuemonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis*" = $5000.00 for 19 syllables.

What about fonts? 

Are Times New Roman and Courier the English and Spanish of popular languages?

Is Adobe Garamond Pro Bold more valuable than Shruti?

I prefer Times New Roman for prose writing. Courier is too plain. Much more suited for screenwriting. Just call me a font snob.

So who decides?

We should take a vote. There are many parties.

The Noun and The Verb are the two main parties. There are splinter groups like Gerund, Elliptical Clauses and Infinite Relative Pronoun, and extremists like Stream of Consciousness.

Don't get me started on commas.

Volcanic Ash
So vote.

*"Pnuemonou..." is a respiratory diseased caused by the inhalation volcanic silicates particles.