Monday, January 25, 2016

Book vs Movie- A Couple of Reviews

New Reads for 2016
by Hilde Garcia
Enjoying some ice cream before picking up the book on my lap!

Lately, I haven't had the luxury of sitting back and reading a book. I encourage my students to do daily reading in both languages I teach, but find all my spare time is spent on grading their book summaries and exams.  However, during the December break, I kicked back, opened a box of cookies, and read two great novels, completely opposite of each other in their message and style, but both very inspiring.

Amazing movie!
The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green

I am a huge fan of Mr. Green's work. I heard him speak at an SCBWI conference a few years ago and was so moved that I ran out and bought Looking for Alaska. Now there's a novel that packs a punch. You don't see the curves coming and they hit you like a truck.  I teach 6th grade students and they were all urging me to read The Fault in Our Stars. Some of them had even read it in Spanish and all said I would love it. They were impressed with the fact that I had met Mr. Green. I was impressed that they were recommending books to me.

So I read it. OH. MY. GOD.  I shed more tears than there are stars. Why couldn't Gus and Hazel be together forever? Why did their stars fail to align? I was captivated by Green's language and setting and my heart ached for the lovers whose stars didn't cross.

But what I really loved was the movie version. Finally, a movie that did the book justice. There was attention to detail and the casting was impeccable, and the producers took care with Green's language, keeping it in tact and authentic.  The movie ended and I found myself crying as much as if I had read the book all over again.

My students agreed, it was a beautiful novel, deeply moving, and forever impactful.  I highly recommend both the book and the movie version!

I am Malala
by Malala Yousafzai

There are days where I barely have time to eat, let alone read, so watching the news is pretty impossible. I live in the world of my students and children and somedays it's all I can do to keep up with them.  But everyone was moved by Malala and her quest for education and the tragic events that came as a result of her desire to learn. Even I, the news hermit, couldn't ignore the impact of Malala's attempt to go to school.

I happened to be out on quiet Saturday night during my winter break with my children and our favorite past time is to hit a book store- usually an independent one, but on that night, we hit the Barnes & Noble near our house.

And there it was, her memoir. My kids were off perusing the shelves, making pleas of extra effort on chores if I could only by them another book.  (That's a hard one to say no to when the world if full of kids who plug in and mine are screaming for books that don't require batteries.)

As I said, "No" half a dozen times, I sat down and started reading Malala's memoir. I couldn't put it down. I ended up buying it. I read it when I got home and the kids went to their own rooms to read the books they had bought- yep, we never leave empty handed from a book store and I caved.

Are you kidding? Wouldn't you kill to have a couple of kiddos whose idea of fun is to buy books and then go home and read them?

Malala's own words flowed off of the page and into the air, so eloquent, so sophisticated, so simple. This beautiful and vibrant girl so full of energy living in a place where her light was trying to be extinguished.  I couldn't stop learning about her world, her culture, her life. I wanted every detail to stay with me forever. I was drawn to her book with a force that surprised me.

Doctors helped her get back to about 80%.
Sure enough, I am at the library the next day- with none other than my twins, who now claim that they had to check out books because they had already read the ones from the night before and they needed the next installment of whichever series they were both reading at that moment- and I see under Upcoming Events: He Named Me Malala.

What? There's a documentary? I went home, found it on Netflix and watched it as soon as I had finished the book.


Again I was impressed with the attention to her story, the authenticity of the documentary, how much I was able to learn that went further into her life, beyond the scope of her memoir, and it was indeed captivating.  I came back to school and raved about it to my students and now they are all fighting to read the one copy. Note to self- get more copies!

In recent years, so many "hot" books were turned into movies, but the movies were so poorly done.  My children are avid fans of Percy Jackson. I think, to date, they have each read the series in its entirety 15 times. And they were so disappointed with the movie. The chose not to watch the rest of it or any others produced. They felt the same way about The Spiderwick Chronicles. One of their favorite book series and the movie didn't live up to the novel.

And while I enjoyed The Hunger Games, I am not sure I feel the movie did the trilogy justice. It was visually accurate and riveting to watch the story unfold, but there was so much that wasn't addressed that I think I will always be "a book first and maybe movie after" kind of girl.

In my family, we all agree that Harry Potter was done well, but the books are so epic that to capture every detail, we would have needed 3 movies for books 4 through 7, not only for Book 7.  However, the attention to details was excellent.  When an author stays involved and doesn't give up creative rights, I feel, we get a better movie version of the book.

It was great to have had the chance two incredible stories whose movie/documentary held up to the book.

There is also a young reader's version of I Am Malala which is sold everywhere and students can also get it through Scholastic Book Clubs. That's where I am planning to order some extra copies with the points I have accumulated!

I guess I can't wait until Spring Break to see which novel I will read. I currently began Fish in a Tree… but it might take me until then to finish it!
I'll let you know how I like this one!

Do you have any books you read that were made into a movie? Did you like it? Did it leave you needing more?

Please post your thoughts!

Happy Reading.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Dispatch: #46: The Fields of My Father

by Lupe Fernandez


In the fields of my father, they grow corn, alfalfa and lettuce,
a man chases crows away from newly planted seeds,
a tractor stirs of dust,
fallow burns.

In the fields of my father, they sprout power plants and warehouses,
a boy with a cell phone pedals by brick and cement houses,
a purple truck thump, thumps music from a stereo,
speed bumps grow like bruises.


In the fields of my father, they celebrate La Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe,
a wooden tower in front of the church spit red, green and white fire,
a devil, a drunkard, a dandy, a housewife dance with El Torito,
police dance with gangs.

In the fields of my father, they eat potato chips, hamburgers and hot dogs,
my father's half-brother - Tio Perico - counsels me to let go,
to let go of my father's cruelity,
and remember his frailty.

In the fields of my father, they do not mass at the northern border,
they cook chili relleno, mole, birria, agave tamales and beans,
they hold hands, kiss babies, go to church,
they go to work.

In the fields of my father, I smell dust, exhaust, ice cream, pollo, carnitas,
I eat fat tortas and drive on dark highways,
I stay in a hotel near Starbucks,
I dream of fields.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Beta Readers Anyone

By Susan J Berger

You’ve honed your manuscript. Been through the revision process more than once. You’ve possibly been through a critique group. (I personally love feedback from my critique group.) Now it’s time to look for a beta reader or three.

A Beta reader is a person who test drives your book. Unlike a critique group which gives feedback in small bites, a beta reader reads the whole thing.

The term beta is derived from the software industry where beta versions of a program are sent to users to test.

I am sure we’ve all been through beta versions of software. With the best will in the world the software industry has put out some real doozies in the first version. They didn’t put in bugs on purpose. They thought they had a saleable finished product.

 As writers, we too are capable of being blind to errors.
We know our work too well.
We describe events or a world in a way that is clear to us, but not clear to an outside reader.
We’ve lived with the characters so long, some of what is clear to us about our characters did not make it onto the printed page.
They are plot holes we fail to catch.

A beta reader reads a finished manuscript and tells the author about the bugs so the author can improve its readability, and saleability. Ideally, a beta reader finds your glitches. I think an author needs at least three readers because they may pick up on different things.


For Time and Forever, I had five, including my beloved fellow Pen and Inkers and one beta reader who gave me a line edit. That was above and beyond the call of duty. She improved my book immeasurably. 

Hey, maybe the manuscript doesn't have any bugs. I have not personally experienced this, but it can happen. An author I didn’t know posted a YA novel for "last looks” in one of my SCBWI yahoo groups. I adored it. I was fully caught up in her world and characters. I ended up sending her a fan letter. Wouldn’t it be nice to get that from a reader before it’s sent to an editor?


What do you want from your beta reader?

 Here is a great link to beta leader questionnaire:


Where to find your beta reader?

It goes without saying that we all want the crème de la crème of betas. I know it takes time and trials to find a good fit.

You want one who regularly reads in your genre.

It’s best if they are not related to you. I find my friends are perhaps kinder than they should be because they love me.

If you belong to SCBWI or an independent writing group, you can possibly arrange a beta swap. Check the listservs.

Sometimes you get lucky. I met a beta reader in an airport waiting for a delayed flight. We swapped manuscripts and I did another revision based on her amazingly helpful feedback. (I think I got the best of the deal, but I hope I was helpful.)

You can search the web – Key word beta reader.

Yahoo groups You could search Yahoo Groups or start a new topic within your group.

And a general Beta group where you post your genre.

Facebook: Search beta readers followed by your genre. I see some people looking to find beta readers. Perhaps a swap could be arranged.

Next I tried Twitter. Lots of hits with beta reader. Found this wonderful blog. written by a beta reader.
If you are lucky enough to know a teacher, you might persuade him/her to have the students read your book as a project. Problem: I did this with my mid grade novel. Tasha the Magnificent. The kids loved being part of an authors process and I didn't get much criticism. As a strategy this might work better for YA and high schools. WE aim at our readers, but we have to sell it to agents or editors.
 Good hunting!

PS.  need a beta or two myself. Unfortunately, not in the children’s genre. But hey, maybe someone who reads this post also writes romance.
Kate's Hero is a romantic comedy. Approximately 207 pages.
 One four leaf clover. Two stubborn People. A leprechaun with a mission. What could possibly go wrong?
Any takers?
Will be happy to swap. 

In any case. Good hunting. 


Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Writer's Emergency Supply Kit, only $19.95!

by Hilde Garcia

I wasn't feeling very literary tonight. Not inspired, even though it is a new year. Trying to query more often because I promised Sue I would, and because, well, I do want to get published, but finding it more daunting with every click.

So I found something to make me laugh and thought I'd re post it in case you are feeling the blues, too.  Funny, I wrote this about 5 years ago, and it still applies 100% and the laundry on my bed still looks the same.

The only difference is that now, I write almost all the time with my computer and very little with my pen, and I have a full time teaching job, which although makes me long for the good old days of no paycheck and some free time, now gives me one more awesome place to write- my classroom. On any given Sunday, I will hide out and accomplish bundles, even volumes!

Alas, today was not one of those days. There was no internet and no heat. I gave up and came home to a raging game of Monopoly, in which my daughter cleaned out her brother and their close pal.  I sat in front of my computer, watching them, thawing out my fingers, and woke up with drool on the keyboard. It is amazing that I haven't short circuited this thing.

In any case, I found 4 publishing houses that might be a fit and now I will spend the rest of the evening getting those submission letters out via email.  I hope you will enjoy this post as it was one of my favorites.

Happy New Year from all of us at Pen and Ink.

by Hilde, originally posted 5/2011

In a perfect world of yesteryear, one could retire to an antique wood desk in an attic study and write their masterpiece uninterrupted by children, phone calls, texts or emails. Armed with only a plume, ink and parchment, anyone could have finished a draft and it might even be good under these conditions.

However, in today’s war zone world of beeps and whistles, dings and multimedia image bombardment, all competing for room in our brain, we’re lucky if any ideas find their way out. They, the constant things that pull us away from writing, will kill us if we don’t have a survival kit in place.

Therefore please use My YA Emergency Supply Kit in hopes that your story, fighting for freedom in your mind, sees the light of day.

1- Keep a chocolate stash. Any kind will do. If it’s free, even better.  (See’s Candies gives samples, so bring several disguises, stock up and then hide the samples in zip lock bags). Put it where your kids and significant other can’t find it. Stash it and forget about it. When you’re desperate, you’ll remember exactly where you hid it. And don’t put it all in the same place. Trust no one with that information.

No idea? Eat a pound of chocolate, something will surface.

2- Blank journals or plain wire bound notebooks- single subject.  Stash a few blank ones around the house and garage. When all the noise gets to be too much, hide and write. The best places to hide? Under the pile of laundry. If it is as big as mine, you can just sit on the other side and say nothing. They’ll never find you. The garage is also good, behind the boxes. The bathroom works if you’ve dead bolted the door and put the noisy heater on so you can’t hear them. Also good- the back seat of the car, if you have no car seats.

Computers are good, but if you don’t own laptop which you can pick up and move, and they’re coming to get you, grab paper and hide. (And now that I have an iPhone, I have even written on that thing which is super portable, too.)

3- And of course, PENS. Papermate, flexi grip elite, medium point, blue ink. They last forever and are comfy and can go the distance. It’s hard to keep these in my drawer with sticky fingers so I tend to wear mine around my neck. (It has a nifty clip feature and no cap to loosen). Have pen, will write. I’ve written on the back of receipts, recycled paper, my kids’ homework- already graded. If it’s a blazing good idea, no paper or surface is sacred.

And eyeliner works as well as pens when in a pinch.

4- Other necessities:
a. warm comfy socks, can’t write if your toes are cold.
b. JELL-O, cherry flavored, good for a quick mind energy spurt (especially at midnight like now, yum). (And an original comment suggested whipped cream on the JELL-O. I concur.)
c. The remote- make sure you know where it is- sometimes Lifetime TV wins over writing and can provide inspiration. (Having to look for the remote kills the buzz.)
d. A pint of ice cream- Cherry Garcia… or Butter Pecan or whatever is in the freezer.
I know own an iPhone and have even used it to write a blog post while on the go!

Anything is acceptable as long as the whole pint is yours.

And when all that fails, open a beer. It can’t make it any worse.

5- And most importantly, an idea. You are SOL without that. And when you do have that idea, protect it at any cost.

a. Turn off email- that ding will boot your idea right out of your head.
b. Turn off phones. If they really want you, they’ll call back.
c. Ignore your kids! That’s why TV and toys were invented.
d. Sign off of Facebook, Twitter, My Space and all things networking.
Every tweet or FB notice is a moment lost on your book. 

Writing your YA novel is like a war in today’s world when you are competing for quiet time in a hostile terrain. You have enemy distractions coming in from all angles. You have to take cover until your idea is safely on paper.

Don’t let them get it. Don’t let them win. Write it out. Write on. The writers will persevere, in spite of the intrusions.

Don’t worry about how good your writing is. Just write it. You can fix it in revision. BUT you can’t rewrite it if you haven’t written it in the first place.

Now go and get that chocolate.