Archive for August, 2010

Acres of Books – Taking Advantage of Book Sales

Last Saturday (August 28th, 2010) my friends, my aunt and I, made our way to Long Beach, CA to take advantage of  Acres of Books’ Going Out of Business Final Sale.

Acres of Books was established in 1934 by Mr. Bertrand Smith (1874-1965). He was a book seller in Cincinnati, Ohio, who came out west to start a new book shop.  He sold many rare books and used books, often buying from the many bookshops in London’s Charing Cross Road, as well many walk-in sellers.

The bookstore was situated in a warehouse-type building, 150 feet in length.  At one point they carried over 1 million books in stock, making them the largest used bookstore in California.

Back then, when business was thriving, the store looked like this:

Sadly, that is no longer the case.

The bookshop has been stripped down to its bare bones–its last remaining wooden shelves in various states of disrepair. The  dusty, old books begging for a new lease on life reminded me of lonely dogs and cats in animal shelters, waiting for kind individuals to take them home.

Stacks of vintage crates lined the walls.

We bought one crate for $25, along with two tickets with Maiko’s name scrawled on it.  One ticket was taped to our chosen crate, while the other one promptly went into my pocket. We left the crate in the designated area, bringing only the free shopping bag they gave us to put our chosen books in.

I wandered through the dusty (and often dark) aisles,  trying to find books whose authors I recognized,  and writing books that weren’t too outdated, and fiction books I would  actually read.

The bookshop had an entire section just for fiction books:

I felt like we were on a treasure hunt as we tried to find good titles and recognizable authors.  At the end of the two hours we spent at the shop, we had shirts caked with dust, a crate full of books and smiles on our faces.

I stared at the big sign printed above the front entrance to the bookshop, as Lena, my aunt Bernadette and I waited for Maiko to bring the car around. I imagined the shop as it used to be years ago. I  felt a pang of sorrow for the book shopping experience now forever lost to me and others ,who never had the chance to see the bookshop  in its days of glory.

I hate to think of old books just wasting away in the dusty shelves.  I could only hope  all the books would find new homes to brighten and entertain.

As soon as we got home, we wiped the books clean with a damp cloth and arranged them in their new home:

At the end of the day, we were happy to have saved at least 44 books. Getting them at $25 a crate (along with the free shopping bag and energy-saving light bulb they were giving away)  was only a bonus.

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I was scanning through my facebook friends’ posts the other day, when I found a video showing these Chinese ladies performing a quick-change act on TV.

I was so amazed, I had to repost the video to share it with my friends.

Quick-change artists  can change with super speeds from one costume to another in front of a live audience, as shown in the following video of David and Dania who appeared on America’s Got Talent:

Considering how we women usually take forever to get ready for an evening out; the fact that these ladies can change in a few seconds is truly amazing.  The way their dresses change in form and color almost instantaneously, is truly like magic.

But the truth is, there is no magic involved in quick change, only sleight of hand movements and special tricks.

Will Goldston, (1878-1948), a popular English Magician  published the  “Exclusive Magical Secrets” in 1912,  in which he explained five different Quick Change methods based on one tear away seam: the hook and eye fastener. That was back  at the turn of the century, when they didn’t have velcro,  and had yet to incorporate fish bone pull fasteners  and magnets into their layering techniques.

Nowadays, when information is so readily available at our fingertips, even common folks who are interested in learning how to do Quick Change Tricks, can do so within the comfort of their own homes. Here’s a video of one such person:

Watching these quick change artists made me think about other things that seem to be magical in nature, but which probably have a scientific explanation.

One example that came to my mind was BESTSELLING AUTHORS.

How in the world did I come up with analogy, you might ask?  Bear with me while I struggle to explain.

I  recently read an article about  the highest paid authors  This got me thinking about how they got on that list.  I thought about what makes their books so special that they can sell a bazillion copies almost overnight.

I remembered thinking:  it’s almost like magic–the way their books draw people, young and old alike, into their stories.

This was a really silly thought, of course–because, after having read many books on the craft of writing,  I know what makes a story good. And after reading tons of  fiction books, and analyzing them from cover to cover,  I have a good idea of what elements  make up a bestselling novel.

Enrique Jardiel Poncela, Spanish playwright and novelist once said: “When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing. “

These bestselling authors may make it seem like writing is an effortless act, because they manage to churn in one bestselling book  after another; but the truth is–they  spent a great amount of time and energy honing their craft, and painstakingly revising and rewriting their work until it became ready for publishing.

My point is, quick change artists and bestselling authors have this in common: although their works appear to be almost magical in its delivery, a lot of time and technique went into shaping their respective crafts behind the scenes.

In the process of  explaining this analogy between quick change artists and bestselling novelists,  I’ve come up with this line which applies not only to writing, but to every other craft out there:

If we wish our works to appear almost magical in its seamless perfection, we must work doubly hard to perfect our craft behind the scenes.

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Mockingjay Release & Hunger Games Dream Cast List

Today is the day I and all other Hunger Games fans have been waiting for: the release of MOCKINGJAY–the final book in the trilogy.

Author Suzanne Collins has done a spectacular job of keeping me hooked on the series.  Apparently, it’s done the same for millions of other people all over the US, who’ve lined up for the midnight release of the book.

(Author Suzanne Collins reading from her book )

I hope amazon keeps  its pre-order promise and delivers the book right to my doorstep so I could go home, rip the box it came in, and devour the book in three hours like I did the first two!

There are so many things that make the book so hard to put down.  There’s the fast pacing of the events, the  tightly woven plots and subplots,  the well-fleshed out characters and their intricately presented interior monologues, and of course the undying love triangle of Peeta, Katniss and Gale.

If I were to choose, I would say that the major pull of the novel comes from the love triangle.  Love triangles seem to be the formula for a successful and bestselling novel (as proven in a certain popular vampire-human-werewolf book series).  After all, what could be better than having two incredibly hot men fighting over you, right?

Now that the final book has been released,  I’m already looking forward to the movie version of the story. On March 18, of last year, Lionsgate announced its rights to distribute and produce The Hunger Games. It would be great to see the characters I’ve fallen in love with come alive on the silver screen.

Fans have already created their dream cast, a list of people they think should play the characters, as evidenced by the following webposts:

I’ve made up my own dream cast– some of who  have already been suggested in the above lists.


PEETA MELLARK:  LOGAN LERMAN (Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief)


PRIM EVERDEEN: ELLE FANNING (Pheobe in Wonderland)


CATO: NICHOLAS HOULT (Clash of the Titans)





And finally…

HAYMITCH: AL PACINO (Take your pick of movies)

Who do you think should play the big three? (KATNISS, PEETA & GALE)


Check out suggestions for who should play KATNISS Here.

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UCLA Writer’s Faire

A couple of my writing  friends and I woke up bright and early last Sunday (August 22nd) to attend the Writer’s Faire at UCLA. We were eager to catch the free  mini-workshops offered by the UCLA Writers’ Extension Program and learn new things about writing.

The Writers’ Faire was held at the Young Hall, Court of Sciences and Geology Buildings of UCLA.

Because  it was our first time attending the  Faire, and because we didn’t want to miss out on the offered workshops, we arrived a good two hours before the faire officially started. We scouted the rooms of the free workshops we were interested in attending, then settled down to wait.

The mini-workshops started at 11am and ended at 3pm.  Each mini-workshop an for a length of 40 minutes, and was led by a panel of professional screenwriters, poets, non-fiction, and fiction writers. The topics ranged from Writing Your First Novel, to The Business of Screenwriting, to Getting Published.

(Lisa Cron, Victoria Patterson and Aimee Liu speaking about “Getting Published”)

Three gourmet food trucks (Slice, Nom Nom  and Spring Street BBQ) provided lunch from 11:30am – 2pm, for hungry writers. Sadly, we didn’t get a chance to sample any of their food. We didn’t want to run out of seats for the popular mini-workshops, so we opted to bring our own lunch in order to avoid the long lunch lines.

We hopped from one mini-workshop to another (a total of 4 for the day), absorbing every nugget of information and writing tips we could find. The mini-workshops were a great way of learning about different writing topics, meeting professional writers and authors, and also getting to know the many instructors who would be teaching courses at the UCLA Writers’ Extension Program.

Anyone who was interested in taking writing classes was able to meet advisors for graduate writing programs, sign up for the offered Writers’ Certificate Programs and even enroll in the UCLA Writers’ Extension Program Fall Courses with a 10% discount.

A variety of exhibitors were also present at the Writers’ Faire so writers could buy products and services related to writing, as well join various writing groups and even find freelance writing jobs:


Antioch University Los Angeles

CSU, Northridge

Demand Studios

Final Draft

Greater Los Angeles Writers Society

International Black Writers and Artists

Independent Writers of Southern California

Organization of Black Screenwriters

Otis College of Art and Design


The World Stage

The Writers Store


UC Riverside at Palm Desert


West Hollywood Book Fair


Writers Guild Foundation

The Writers Junction

All in all, the UCLA Writers’ Faire was a good way for beginning writers to sample the many courses offered by the UCLA Writers’ Extension Program, as well as meet and maybe even make friends with other writers.

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Last night at Torrance Borders, I had the pleasure of meeting Todd McCaffrey.

He is the bestselling author of the Pern novels Dragonsblood and Dragonheart  and the non-fiction Dragon-holder–where he paints an entertaining portrait of the early life and career of the great Anne McCaffrey.

(Anne McCaffrey, with her award for Grandmaster of Science Fiction at the 2005 Nebula Awards Ceremony)

In case you didn’t know, Anne McCaffrey is the first woman to win a Hugo for “Weyr Search”  in 1968.  She also wrote The White Dragon , which was the first Sci-Fi hardcover to reach the New York Times bestseller list  in 1978 .

She also happens to be Todd’s mother.

Todd Johnson McCaffrey is a mechanical engineer, pilot, screenwriter, artist, self-confessed geek and most importantly, heir to his mother Anne McCaffrey’s beloved Pern series. He has already co-authored several Pern novels her, such as: Dragon’s Kin, Dragonsblood and Dragonharper, and is poised to write more.

He answers 20 questions about himself on his website: You can read his answers here.

The answers he gives are not only informative, but downright entertaining. In real life, as I discovered last night, he is just as funny and upbeat. He arrived early at the book signing and immediately began an informal version of the event with some of his fans (who also arrived early).

Here he is talking about his new novel  Dragongirl:

In the following video, he talks about writing as therapy, and writing as a journey:

It’s always a wonderful experience to meet authors in person and get to talk to them about their books and about writing.  Like most of the authors I’ve met, Todd McCaffrey was eager to share writing tips and more than willing to give aspiring authors like myself advice and inspiration.

Here is the advice he gave me, in his own words:

I left the bookstore that night feeling energized and eager to write.

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Since most of our members haven’t experienced an actual critique session, I thought it be good to devote a session to prepare them for their first ever critique.

So on August 11, 2010, We had our second meetup at Barnes & Noble, Manhattan Beach. The free (and ample) parking spots were a bonus compared to the massive interior of the bookstore and the spacious Starbucks coffee shop.

I had asked several members to show up earlier than the others to help me set up. Of course, they had no idea what they were really in for. I sprung the surprise once they were all assembled: they were going to be part of the first ever Torrance Children’s Book Writing Group Leadership Team.

After getting over the surprise, they eagerly went to their roles. They helped with the sign-in —distributing nametags and membership forms to the members who were joining us for the first time. They also helped collect fees to help with the materials and the monthly website fee.

When he had all bought our drinks and snacks, we settled around the tables and began the introductions. We shared our names, what we were currently writing or what we hoped to write, and answered the question we had drawn from a box. The box was filled with questions like: “What’s the one book you would like to have with you if you were stranded on an island?” Aside from being a great way to get to know people, the questions might help spark the next story idea.

Since we had five new members, I had to re-introduce the group. I told them we would have writing sessions, critique sessions, discussions on various writing books and children’s books and much more.  I also shared some writing events that they might be interested in attending, such as the UCLA Writer’s Faire on August 22nd, and the various book signings at Borders.

After these announcements, we dove into the Writing Worksheet. The questions on the worksheet helped us reflect on our writing past, our current skills as writers, and helped us set writing goals we wish to achieve.

Once we shared where our writing goals and dreams, I told them we had to do something about it. If we want to get published and accomplish our goals, we needed to take ourselves seriously. After all, if we don’t take our own dreams seriously, who else will?

One way to take our writing goals seriously is to make time for writing and other writing related activities. I gave out the following worksheets based on Evan Marshall’s Marshall Plan for Novel Writing.

The worksheets had the following aims:

1. Writing Time and Place Chart

  • To help us develop discipline and routine as writers.

2. Choosing Genres Worksheet

  • To help us hone in on what genre/ type of book we will be truly comfortable writing –something we can actually commit to

3. Story Idea Crisis Worksheet

  • To give us ideas about what we want our book to be about, and if we already have story ideas–to hone in on the bare bones crisis/ idea that our storyline will be based on

4. Story Idea Checklist Worksheet

  • To help us hone our basic plot and our main character’s goal

5. Manuscript Preparation Worksheet

  • To help us figure out our target word length
  • To help us prepare our manuscript for the critique session

I also gave out a handout about word length in children’s books, based on Cynthea Liu’s book: Writing for Children and Teens: A Crash Course (How to Write, Revise, and Publish a Kid’s or Teen Book with Children’s Book Publishers).

The second part of our meetup was devoted to preparing for the critique session itself. Some of us shared our critique experiences. Others, who hadn’t yet been to a critique session, shared what their expectations were.

After sharing the purpose of a critique, I explained that different types of books required different critique elements. I gave out the following handouts based on Becky Levine’s The Critique Group and Writing Group Survival Guide:

1.      Critiquing Picture Books

2.      Critiquing Beginning Reader Books

3.      Critiquing Chapter Books

4.      Critiquing Fiction Books

5.      Critiquing Memoirs

6.      Critiquing How-To or Self-Help Books

We also went through the critique guidelines I had prepared.  After reading through the guidelines for both writer and critic, we proceeded to plan our major critique.

We agreed that we should all get to read each other’s writing samples. In order to do that, we would have five people critiqued during the next meetup, and the others would be critiqued in the following sessions. We also agreed to email everyone our writing samples on or before the 30th of August, to give our fellow scribblers time to make notes on each one before the meetup on September 4th.

We ended the meetup half an hour later, our binders filled with worksheets and hand-outs, and our minds crammed full with new information.

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Mr. Sponge Blob

Have you ever met a person so obnoxious, so loud and so improbably rude that he seemed to suck the very life from a conversation like an evil sponge?

I had the pleasure of meeting one such person Wednesday night, at our second TCBWG meetup and were it not for other awesome team members, I would have resorted to something criminal.

I had spent half the month preparing worksheets and hand-outs and researching on the topics of our next meetup, and I excitedly went to work with my newly formed leadership team preparing for the session.

Mr. Sponge Blob, as I shall call him from now on, oozed into the meetup and I greeted him eagerly, just as I greeted the others. I told him to go ahead and get his nametag from Jenn and to sign-in.

Now, this would be an easy enough request for any normal person, but people like Mr. Sponge seem to be made of a different breed.

After blatantly refusing to sign-in, he sat down with a scowl on his face and loudly asked “I thought this was a writer’s circle?”– without even waiting to find out what the writing group was really about. Of course, I answered “Yes, it is, and you’ll see that, but we have to wait for the other members to get settled before we begin.”

Once we were all in our seats, I explained how we would go about with our introductions.  He butted in by asking: “Where do you get these things?” He was referring to the nametag, and was waving it around with his bushy eyebrows raised, as if it were an insect he had been asked to wear instead of paper. He finally stuck it on his chest, shaking his head, as if the mere idea of wearing a nametag among strangers was insane.

I shook it off, and proceeded with the meetup as usual. As I went through the first worksheet—the writing worksheet, which was designed to help us reflect on our writing past, present and future—Mr. Sponge Blob began his reign of terror in earnest. He repeated his question: “I thought this was a writer’s circle”, proceeded to accuse us of advertising the group’s purpose wrongly, then attacked every question as if it were offensive or rude.

By this time, I was sharing raised eyebrows, darting glances and tight lips with my other members. I began to sweat, wondering if Mr. Sponge Blob would continue his antagonistic streak and how I would go about handling the situation if he did.

As the meeting wore on, Mr. Sponge Blob refused copies of all the worksheets, and hand-outs, but he would answer all the questions anyway. He had an ego the size of Alaska and had no trouble showing just how much better he was than all of us. He found every opportunity to criticize the purpose of the question, or the questions themselves.

It was amazing that I managed to remain calm and amiable throughout the session. It helped that I knew my Leadership team had my back, and that they had anger and irritation enough for all of us. My team members defended each question with grace and put him in place, whenever he went out of line.

Plus, every time he said something outrageous or antagonistic, I imagined an acme anvil falling on his head, or Bugs Bunny using a saw to cut a hole underneath his chair.

Just as expected, he refused to join us for the group picture at the end of the meetup. I think we were all relieved he didn’t. His face is not exactly one that we would like to look upon again.

I found it funny that despite all his scathing remarks, and uncalled for antagonism, he remained throughout the session.

Of course, this wasn’t the end of Mr. Sponge Blob’s terror. The very next day, as I was about to write a review of our previous meetup, I found that he had rated the meetup a 1 (which pulled our combined ratings from a 5 to a 3), and had left the following review: “The group is for inexperienced writers, run by an inexperienced writer.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the purpose of joining a writing group to improve one’s writing skills and to improve oneself as a writer? Why in the world would Mr. Sponge Blob join a writing group, if he felt like he had nothing else to learn?

Some of our members commented that they felt he was there to pick up girls. Whatever, his motivations were, I doubt Mr. Sponge Blob would’ve been able to “pick” anyone up. His charms were not exactly winning.

But being the eternal optimist that I am, I have decided to look at this experience in a positive light. Our meetup was a success, because despite the many bumps Mr. Sponge Blob so willingly provided, we managed to accomplish what we had come for.

At the end of the session, I had proof that I had chosen my team members well. The newly formed Leadership Team had undergone a baptism of fire, and I was certain, that if we could survive this experience together—we could survive anything.

Our team has forged a bond of friendship and respect. After this experience, we’ve come out stronger, more unified, and even more determined to make our little writing group the best we can make it.

I guess we have Mr. Sponge Blob to thank.

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I spent almost the whole weekend preparing for our second meetup this Wednesday.  I refined the agenda, prepared the materials we needed  (sign-up sheet, reminder cards, etc), typed up all the hand-outs and worksheets, and printed them out for the people who RSVP’d to attend the session.

It was hard work, but the funny thing is, I didn’t mind at all.

The truth is, writing is a lonely task. There are days when I feel like my manuscript will never be published, days when I feel like the sacrifices are too much and the blessings too little. Often, I have to rely on the strength of my own conviction to keep on the “write” path.

One day, I realized I didn’t have to journey on this writing road alone. I sought out a writing group, and was lucky enough to enjoy the company of other writers when I attended the SCBWI Westside schmooze.

It felt great to be part of a group of people who know how hard a life of writing can be. It was wonderful to share ideas and experiences with them. My passion for writing was reawakened after every session. I attacked my rewrites with fierce intensity and my hope for a future as a full time writer was renewed.

I knew I could never go back to just writing on my own.

So while the schmooze was on its summer break, I went looking for a writing group near my home. Since there weren’t any, I decided to take the crazy plunge and organize a writing group myself. I did some research, figured out how to do it, and the rest is history.

Organizing a writing group is hard work, but I will keep on doing it for as long as other writers wish to share their experiences, ideas, thoughts and troubles with me.  In the end, the rewards are greater than the sacrifices.

The road feels long when you travel on it alone; but in the company of friends, the winding path straightens, the way becomes smooth, and the journey fleeting.

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The Writing Nut Invades Cafe Press

Just for fun, and just because I wanted to see what my logo would look like on a shirt, I decided to sign up for Cafe Press’s Basic Shop. You can check out my shop here:

Here are some of the designs and slogans I came up with:

I was thrilled to find out that my designs could be printed in different colors,

As well as different products:

Apparently I get 10% if my product sells. That really isn’t much, but the profit is only second to my joy in being able to see the logo I worked hard on printed on shirts and different products.

I guess it’s because the more we pour our hearts and souls into our creations, the more we love them, and the more we wish for others to love them,too.

It’s like writing a novel — we spend years honing our craft and rewriting our manuscripts until we can do more–and in the end, all we really want as writers is for other people to love our painstakingly chosen words just as much as we loved writing them.

It would be wonderful if people found my designs nice enough to buy, but the truth is, I just like knowing that something I’ve created is out there, waiting to be given birth to in a real world.

I’ll probably end up purchasing some of the items myself, if only to see the writing nut smiling up at me saying: “Thanks for giving life to me, Mom.”


Please feel free to leave  slogan suggestions!  If your slogan suggestion is chosen, I’ll have your slogan printed on a product of your choice and you can have it for free!

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Introducing the Writing Nut

I could say that I created my very own logo for future business prospects–such as establishing my own brand of writing instruments and materials–but I would be lying.

The truth is, I just wanted a unique logo for the business cards I like to give out–something that I made, and not some clipart I downloaded online.

Besides, I  like to constantly create things and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity for me to stretch my creative muscles if I created my own business card/letterhead logo.

I created my first logo using Microsoft Word’s Drawing Toolbar and a few cliparts. It looked something like this:

I even added a hat just to give it a touch more color:

Although I thought the logo looked cute,  I wanted to challenge myself and make it look at little bit more detailed.  I downloaded a free drawing software program called Inkscape and after figuring out the settings, I spent the whole day creating my Writing Nut.

It may not be the most professional looking logo out there, but I thought it captured the essence of my website and my writing life perfectly.  Beside the enjoyment of  learning a new software program, I also got to explore other creative processes.

Of course, I’d still like a little bit of feedback. What do you think of the writing nut? (Does it even look like a nut?) Can you suggest some things for improvement?

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