Archive for December, 2010

Thank You, 2010!

Tomorrow is the first day of the New Year. This is a time when people are generally nice and when most of us attempt to make good on all our New Year’s Resolutions. (Attempt, being the key word).

But that’s tomorrow. Today is the last day of the year.

We Filipinos have an old proverb: “One who doesn’t learn from his past, cannot hope to succeed in the future.”

So before we start listing down all our goals for the New Year, and before we make an effort to fulfill our resolutions, we must look back at all our accomplishments, and the lessons we have learned this past year.

Since this is my very last post for the year, I will do just that. I’ll look back at 2010, and list down all the writing milestones I’ve passed, and all the goals I’ve achieved.

March 1, 2010

I joined a writing organization for the first time ever. It was a move that changed my writing life. Writing opportunities blossomed for me. Through the SCBWI, I met writers who continue to inspire me, and to help me achieve my goals. I also met two of my best writer friends – Jenn and Lucy through one of the schmoozes here.

March 11 – 14, 2010

I attended my first ever writing conference. It was the most memorable and most helpful conference I attended this year. I met so many wonderful people in the writing world (writers, agents, editors, etc) and even made a few friends. I learned so much from the Big Sur Writing Workshop that helped me improve greatly on my manuscript.

big sur 1024x768 Thank You, 2010!

April 12, 2010

I started taking martial arts classes, not only because I’ve always wanted to, but because I felt like it would improve the way I wrote my fight and action scenes.

April 14, 2010

I attended my first ever SCBWI-LA Schmooze, where we critiqued a chapter from our manuscript. I got to meet wonderful writers like Lee and Rita and made great improvements on my work based on the feedback I got.

April 25, 2010

As always, I attended the LA Times Festival of Books. I got to meet some awesome people like Buzz Aldrin, Sarah Silverman and Pam Grier. They shook my hand and signed my books and even took pictures with me.

with pam grier Thank You, 2010!Pam Grier

May 14, 2010

The Writing Nut was born. I launched my website using journal entries about writing which I had written through the years. Nothing fancy, but it was definitely a start.

thewritingnutlogo Layer 175x211 Thank You, 2010!

June 30, 2010

As I was desperately missing our SCBWI-LA schmoozes (we were on a summer break), and because I felt there was a need for a children’s book writing group in our South Bay area, I joined meetup.com and established the Torrance Children’s Book Writing Group.

A few hours later, I still didn’t have members. I began to have doubts. I thought I had wasted the $19 which I had paid to organize the group. At the end of the day however, I had about 2 members (Yes, Lucy, you’re one of them). Now we have 54 members.

Best random decision I ever made.

tcbwg Thank You, 2010!

July 20, 2010

The TCBWG had its first ever meetup. Only four people showed up, but out of the four, I have since made three great friends. Amanda, Lucy and Nandini have stuck it out with me since then. For their friendship, I rewarded them with more responsibility– as co-organizers of the group. J

August 18, 2010

I met Todd McCaffrey at his book signing in Torrance Borders. He signed my copies of Dragongirl, Dragon’s Kin and Dragon’s Fire and even allowed me to interview him for my blog.

with todd mccaffrey2 Thank You, 2010!

September 17, 2010

I met Cornelia Funke, author of the Inkheart Trilogy. She signed my copies of Inkheart, Inkspell, Inkdeath, Dragon Rider and Reckless, took pictures with me and gave a few words of writing advice.

with cornelia funke Thank You, 2010!

September 24-26, 2010

I attended the second writing conference for this year. The Working Writer’s Retreat led to more writing connections and friendships as well as an outrageously fun photo shoot.

group shot with text1 Thank You, 2010!

September 26, 2010

The West Hollywood Bookfair was a blast as usual. It was even better this year as I got to interact with my favorite middle grade and YA authors.

Here they are in no particular order: You can see their interviews here.

Frank Beddor  – The Looking Glass Wars Trilogy and the Hatter M Graphic Novels

with frank beddorIMG 7343 Thank You, 2010!

Francesca Lia Block  – The Weetzie Bat series

with francesca lia blockIMG 7369 2 Thank You, 2010!

Tracy Trivas – The Wish Stealers

with tracy trivas IMG 7416 Thank You, 2010!

Carolyn Cohagan  – The Lost Children

with carolyn cohagan IMG 7405 Thank You, 2010!

PJ Haarsma – The Softwire Series

with PJ Haarsma 1 Thank You, 2010!

Amber Benson – Death’s Daughter

with amber benson IMG 7398 Thank You, 2010!

Michael Reisman – The Simon Bloom series

with micahel reisman IMG 7421 Thank You, 2010!

I took pictures with them and they all gave awesome advice for beginning writers. You can find their interviews here:

October 9, 2010

I took my first ever Belt Test for my Filipino Martial Arts Class – and passed. This year marks my year as a Yellow Belt.

with master erwin 768x1024 Thank You, 2010!

October 13 – 17, 2010

I flew to Orlando, Florida with my dearest friends. We enjoyed Disney Epcot Center and experienced the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the first time. We all promised to return for another round of Butterbeers.

October 27, 2010

I met one of my favorite actors Milo Ventimiglia at Borders Torrance. He and his friends and co producers were signing copies of their comic books Berserker and Rest.

hpland Thank You, 2010!

November 10, 2010

I attended Portia De Rossi’s book signing at Borders Westwood. I exchanged a few words with her and got my copy of Unbearable Lightness signed. What a beautiful person inside and out!

portia Thank You, 2010!

November 12, 2010

I met the awesome Lauren Kate. She signed my copies of Fallen and Torment and graciously agreed to be interviewed for my blog. Her advice to “Never give up, it only takes one person to say yes” has become my writing mantra.

withlaurenkate 1024x768 Thank You, 2010!

December 20, 2010

I finished the 6th draft of my manuscript. The same day I began the 7th and final edit of my novel. What a milestone!

This year has been an awesome writing year for me. It’s always a shock for me to realize that I only joined the SCBWI, started blogging, organizing our writing group and attended writing conferences this year. I feel like I’ve been doing it forever.

I end the year with gratitude and humble amazement. I am grateful for all the things I’ve accomplished, lessons I’ve learned, the wonderful people I’ve met and all the amazing experiences I’ve had this year

Thank you 2010!

Hello, 2011!

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Merry Christmas!

Every Christmas I look forward to the Three F’s – Food, Fun, and Family, oh and the One P – Presents!

As Filipinos, we of course, celebrated on the 24th. My parents and my aunts always bring too much food. Though there were only ten of us, I felt like we had food for an entire army.

food 1 1024x768 Merry Christmas!

food 1024x768 Merry Christmas!

As is tradition, we wait until midnight to open our presents.  We passed the time by watching two movies (Salt and Knowing, both good movies, but very un-Christmasy),

movie 300x225 Merry Christmas!

Playing games like Poker and Sungka,

poker 300x225 Merry Christmas! Poker players

sungka 300x225 Merry Christmas!Sungka champs

And of course, eating!

eating 300x225 Merry Christmas!

When the clock struck twelve, we exchanged presents. The house was filled with exclamations of joy and surprise as each one of us opened our presents.

surprise Merry Christmas!

I put a lot of thought into the presents I give out every Christmas, and it’s always the highlight of my year whenever I see my loved ones opening their presents. It truly is better to give than to receive.

But receiving presents is a great thing, too. I  got a whole bunch of awesome presents this year, including some really cool and very useful books:

books 300x225 Merry Christmas!Children’s book made from recycled materials

books 4 225x300 Merry Christmas!

books 2 225x300 Merry Christmas!books 1 225x300 Merry Christmas!books 3 225x300 Merry Christmas!

Books to help me make some travel plans

blanket 300x225 Merry Christmas!The softest blanket ever

earrings 300x225 Merry Christmas!fancy earrings from mom

colored pencils 300x225 Merry Christmas! colored pencils made from newspapers

japanese language tutor 225x300 Merry Christmas!Japanese language tutor

waterbottle 225x300 Merry Christmas!water bottle (kitty not included)

cup 225x300 Merry Christmas!Starbucks ceramic cup made to look like a Starbucks styrofoam cup

socks 300x225 Merry Christmas!soft, (and fragrant) socks

But the best present I received this year was given by my two best friends Maiko and Lena:

computer 1024x768 Merry Christmas!

No, they didn’t give me a whole bunch of wires.  They gave me a box full of awesome computer parts, along with a CPU case.

This means I get to fulfill a lifelong goal–to build my very own computer.  And that’s why this is the best present ever–not because it was the most expensive gift I received, but because these two friends put together a lot of thought into giving me a present in order to help me fulfill a goal I’ve been after for a long time.

Sufficed to say, I spent my entire Christmas Day building my computer (with Lena, our resident computer technician’s help, of course).

Christmas was fun as usual, but it could have been happier if my sister were around to celebrate with us.  We’re counting the days until she gets home from Mali. Two Christmases from now, she’ll be joining us. It will be our happiest Christmas, I’m sure.

And though Christmas Day has come and gone, Christmas season doesn’t really end until a week after New Year’s. So I’m still wishing everybody a Merry Christmas!

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My Purple Pen

I just finished the 6th draft of my novel last Monday. That means I’ve been over my entire manuscript six times. Yes, writers are extremely patient beings (at least when it comes to the page).

And now I’m working on the 7th draft. As they say, “seventh time is the charm”.  Okay, okay, so it’s “ third time’s the charm”, but my third draft wasn’t exactly working, so there.

Some people might think me crazy for editing my manuscript through the holidays. The truth is, writers take advantage of all the time they can muster to work on their manuscripts– especially writers who have daytime (or night time) jobs. I, for one, am quite grateful that I actually have time to edit. (Besides, I love my characters, and I’ll take any excuse to spend time with them.)

Editing isn’t easy. It takes up an enormous amount of time, and an infinite sum of brain cells to spot errors and replace weak words with better ones.

I have a whole slew of writing implements whenever I edit.

yellow My Purple Pen

I use my yellow highlighter to highlight characters, locations, objects and time references so I can then input them into my Ywriter program. Since I’m writing a series, I think it’s important to keep track of these things for future use.

blue1 My Purple Pen

My blue highlighter is used to highlight words, phrases or whole sentences which could be translated from American English to British English. This is because though I have American major characters, part of my story is set in England. I have a roster of minor characters, and I feel readers should have an authentic feel to the language they actually use. For example, I must be sure to use the word “trousers” for my British characters, instead of “pants” because apparently “pants” are what they call their underwear.

green My Purple Pen

Though it is very difficult, I try very hard to be aware of repetition in my chapters. Repetitive thoughts, tags (swallowed, gasped, etc), words and phrases are highlighted using my green highlighter so I can replace them with new and better words.

For everything else, however, I use my purple pen.

Purple Energel pen My Purple Pen

I dropped by Staples the other day to buy Purple Pentel EnerGel, metal tipped, .07 mm liquid gel ink pens. Actually, they come in packs of threes, so I just got one pack. At least, I’m hoping I won’t need more than three pens to edit my manuscript.

My students (from seven years ago) will remember that I used to correct and edit their papers using a purple pen. I thought red pens were too overused, and bit scary (all my teachers had used it to remind me I was human). So to blunt the blows (and to make my students’ papers look less intimidating), I used a purple pen.

Now my students are probably averse (and maybe slightly traumatized) by the color purple, but I did have good intentions.

Anyway, back to editing. My purple pen is used to encircle all of the following words:

1. –ly adjectives and adverbs

2. –ing/ – as construction

3. Weak nouns

4. Weak verbs

a. Interiors (think, wonder, realize)

b. Infinitives (to come, to see)

c. Passives (was hit, was sitting)

d. Subjunctives (would, could, should, might, must)

5. Exposition  – usually introduced by the following: If-then, not only-but also, either-or, neither-nor, more-than, some-some others, not-but, etc.

6. Punctuation errors

7. Spelling errors

8. Capitalization errors

9.  Grammatical errors and all other problems with the chapter which I need to fix.

Sometimes, -ly adjectives and –ing/-as constructions, and weak verbs are actually necessary to make the paragraph work, but more often than not, they are weeds that need to be cut. In any case, my purple pen highlights them for me so I can decide if they can stay or not.

Though I  use many other editing tools (internet, books, dictionary, thesaurus, a cup of tea, etc), I love my purple pen the most.

We’ll be spending a lot of time together, my purple pen and I. Through the holidays and everyday until my manuscript is published, we will work on ways to make a good story even better.

What’s your favorite editing tool?

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Writing Weather

I feel like I live in Forks.

No, it’s not because I see pale, white, brooding boys who sparkle in the sun. It’s because for the last few days the rain has been pouring non-stop. And I’m supposed to be living in LA.

I’m not complaining as much as I should, though. Sure the rain makes it harder for me get up in the morning, or drive to places. But the writer part of me loves the rain.

what lies beneath house rain Writing Weather

Rain isn’t something we often see in sunny California. On days like these when the sky is dark and a blanket of gloom surrounds the city, I find myself wishing I could stay home so I can enjoy the rain.

I don’t know about other writers, but the perfect writing weather for me always has something to do with precipitation. Rain. Snow. Storms. When these things are raging outside, I always feel the urge to do something writing or reading related.

Maybe it’s because there’s nothing else to do but to stay indoors.  Or maybe it’s the general melancholy that comes with hearing gloomy weather. Whatever it is, the sound of the rain pattering against the window pane always sends me into writing mode.

On rainy days, I like to curl up on the couch with hot cocoa, two cats on either side of me, and a good book.

215822A Steaming Cup of Coffee on Coffee Beans Posters Writing Weather

Or I like to sit in front of my desk, thinking up stories as I watch puddles forming on the streets below.

writing Writing Weather

I would like to enjoy more days like these, but sadly this isn’t the case. The reality is, I have to drive to work in the rain and sit in the office working numbers while the day slips by.

I guess that’s why I’m working really hard on finishing my novel. The truth is, I’d be happy just to get my book published. But let’s be honest here, a big advance is every writer’s dream.

But we writers don’t want a big advance so we could live in big houses and buy ourselves fancy cars. I don’t know if its true, but I think most of us writers would like the big bucks simply because it allows us the financial freedom to stay home and write an endless amount of stories.

I, for one, would like to be able to stay at home and enjoy the rare writing weather. On rainy days like these, my belly longs for hot chocolate, my mind wishes for the comfort of my very own writing desk, and my heart aches for the company of my characters.

For now, I will keep on writing and working hard to reach my goals. But one day, I hope to be lucky enough to enjoy the rain.

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The Amazin’ Kindle

With Christmas just around the corner, and while many people are doing last minute Christmas shopping, some people might still be twiddling their thumbs wondering what to give the avid reader and writer in their family.

As a voracious reader and writer, I can probably speak for the rest of us—we writers/readers would love nothing more than to be able to carry a thousand books (at the very least) in our pockets so that we can read anytime, anywhere.

“Impossible!”  you say.

Not really. Not if you get us an ebook reader. I don’t recommend things I myself haven’t used, or things that fall below my standard of quality. So while there are many ebook readers out there, I can only recommend one with utmost confidence–the Amazon Kindle.

amazon kindle 2 1 The Amazin’ Kindle

How do I love the Kindle? Let me count the ways.

1. I love the convenience of being able to carry 1,500 books in my pocket. (Well, okay, maybe my pocket’s not that big—but you get the picture.) The new Kindle is now able to hold more books than I can possibly read in a month. 3,500 books to be exact.

2. I’m a big fan of books in any format. Aside from being able to carry ebooks and pdf files, the Kindle can also store mp3’s (this means music if you want it)—and more importantly, audiobooks. Since my commute to and from work takes an hour (if I’m lucky), listening to audiobooks is a great way to pass the time (or not go insane). I have an account with Audible.Com, which allows me to download audiobooks into my Kindle in a matter of minutes. All I have to do to enjoy these audibooks while I’m driving is to plug it into my car’s auxillary port using an audio cable (the same kind ipod users use to plug their ipods into their cars).

3. The Kindle’s fast, free 3G wireless means I can download books anytime, from almost anywhere in 60 seconds. Kindle has a Global 3G Coverage which allows users to download ebooks in a minute from over 100 countries and territories. You can check the wireless coverage here.

4. I used to be one of those people who scoffed at the idea of reading a book through a piece of machinery. I seeing the words come alive on paper, and was worried that reading the through an e-reader wasn’t going to give me the same satisfaction. While I still prefer the feel of paper under my fingers, I have to admit that reading from my Kindle is not only pleasurable—it is also very convenient.

First of all, I don’t have to lose my place on the page if I wanted to drink/eat something while reading. The Kindle is lighter than a paperback at 8.7 ounces and 1/3 of an inch thick. I only need one hand to hold the Kindle, and a thumb to turn the page.

Secondly, Kindle’s high contrast e-ink screen makes it look like I’m actually reading a page from a book. More than that, I can read in bright sunlight without the glare.

Thirdly, when my eyes get tired, but I still want to read, I can simply use the Kindle’s Text-to-Speech function. This allows me to close my eyes and listen as a computerized (but not entirely unpleasant) voice reads the rest of the passage to me. This also means that I can listen to the books I’ve purchased while I drive home from work.

5. I’ve never encountered battery life problems with my Kindle. A single charge from my Kindle can last me weeks—if I don’t use my wireless coverage. If I use my Kindle’s wireless capacity, the battery life will probably last me for a week at least. I can even re-charge my kindle from my car using a Kindle car charger. The one I use is the igo everywhere universal car charger kit with the kindle igo tip.

igo everywhere universal wall and auto charger  The Amazin’ Kindleigo everywhere universal car charger kit

i go tip kindle  The Amazin’ Kindleigo kindle tip

6. I have several ebooks on my Kindle and almost all of them have been downloaded for free. I choose from the 1.8 million free, out of copyright pre-1923 books to download to my Kindle. I don’t even need my Kindle near me to download these books. I can simply go online and download ebooks to my Kindle from my Amazon webpage.

7. Buying the ebook version of a book I need is sometimes the smarter choice. Ebook versions are usually cheaper than either paperback or hardcover versions. Plus, I get to download and read some chapters for free before I decide to buy the book.

8. Although I don’t use the function myself, the Kindle offers not only books but blogs, newspapers and magazines as well. This means that if you so choose, you could get a subscription from the New York Times and have it delivered everyday straight to your kindle.

9. I don’t have to worry about losing the books I’ve purchased on Kindle because these are automatically archived and backed-up on Amazon. This means that if I’ve accidentally deleted a book on my Kindle, I can easily re-download the book wirelessly for free anytime.

10. If I want to read a Kindle ebook, but my Kindle is for some reason not within my reach, I can read these ebooks using Kindle’s Whispersync technology—through my iphone, ipad,pc, mac, android device and blackberry—if I had any.

11. The great thing about the Kindle is that it comes with functions that are useful to writers like myself. It allows me to share meaningful passages from a book I’m reading with friends and family through its built-in Twitter and Facebook integration. If I’m reading a book and I don’t understand a word, I can easily look it up using Kindle’s dictionary lookup. I can also highlight helpful passages and make notes to use in my writing.

12. My favorite thing about the Kindle is that it allows me to carry anywhere the many writing/story related notes I’ve made for myself. How?

I’ve downloaded this software called Stanza. This software helps me transform my pdf files/ word documents into a kindle format, thereby allowing me to save many valuable notes into my kindle. So if I need to pull up some notes about the book I’m writing, I don’t need to lug around a lot of notebooks or papers. I can simply pull up the information using my Kindle.

stanzablackberry The Amazin’ Kindle

I imagine this kind of thing might be useful for college students as well, who meticulously write out their notes for classes. Whenever they need to study for an exam, they only need to take out their kindle and retrieve the notes they’ve stored in there.

To see all these functions in action, take a look at this video from Amazon:

Still not convinced that the Kindle is worth buying? Let me tell you a story.

One day, I broke my Kindle’s 5-way controller. (That’s the little button on the lower right corner that acts as the Kindle’s mouse and lets you choose options from the menu.) Don’t ask me how I did it because I really couldn’t tell you. I just looked down and noticed a crack straight in the middle of the 5 way directional button.

I could still use my Kindle, but not very conveniently. I had heard a lot of good things about Amazon Kindle’s customer service. So not knowing what else to do, I called them up.

Was I ever so glad I did!

I explained the problem to the perky agent on the other line. I expected him to tell me that there was really nothing they could do about it since I was already out of warranty. After putting me on hold for a few seconds, he announced that they would be sending me a replacement and I should receive it within the next few days.

I thought, well cool, I can probably figure out how to replace the 5 way button myself. I clarified this with the customer rep, who said that it wouldn’t be necessary since they were sending me a replacement not for the part, but for the whole Kindle.

Say what?

Flabbergasted, I asked them how much it would cost me. “Nothing,” the agent said gleefully. He said that I would be charged 3.99 for the shipping cost, but that this would be refunded a day later so in truth I really wouldn’t be charged anything. All I had to do was return my broken Kindle using their UPS shipping label within 30 days.

The agent had told me to keep all my kindle accessories, including the wall plug as they only needed the broken Kindle unit returned to them. He also told me that if I had ebooks or audiobooks which I hadn’t downloaded from the Amazon store, I should probably save those since Amazon only has a copy of the ebooks I downloaded from them.

Three days after calling up Amazon, I received my brand new Kindle. It even came with its own charger, which means now I have a spare charger. All this for FREE.

When I got the Kindle as a gift, my best friend had bought it for over a hundred bucks. That was two years ago. Now the Kindle is selling for as low as $139 (Free wi-fi), or if you want to be fancy and have free wi-fi and 3G–for $189.

So if you’re still wondering what to give the readers and writers in your life, give them the Amazin’ Amazon Kindle. They will be indebted to you for life.

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The series of unfortunate events I’m referring to all started two Sundays ago, when my friends and I decided we just had to try and finish our Christmas project.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

We had spent three hours assembling a particularly complicated piece of machinery, only to discover that it wasn’t working. While Lena, our resident techie, tried to figure out what was wrong with the thing, Maiko went off to make the long overdue overseas call to her mom.

I stayed with Lena and watched her problem solve.  Since I really didn’t know much about the machine she was working on, I wasn’t much help. Just to appear useful, I tried sending her what I thought was positive psychic energies to help her out.  I think it really helped, as a minute later, she announced that the problem must have something to do with the gadget’s power.

If we wanted to get our project finished, we needed to buy a new power supply soon.  The clock struck 6:30pm. The stores would close at 7. Lena and I decided we should rush to the nearest electronics shop (and maybe to that other store we were meaning to get our white elephant gift from).

Using caveman sign language, I told Maiko that Lena and I would be heading out. She mouthed that she wanted to come with. So she got changed in under two minutes while still managing to have a conversation with her mom.

As it usually happens during suspenseful movie moments or often in horror films–it was pouring cats and dogs when we got in my car and drove off. I should have known it was an ominous sign that something unfortunate was going to happen.

rain A Series of Unfortunate Events  and Im Not Talking About the Book

We got our power supply, and white elephant gifts in record time. About half a mile away from the house, I realized I needed to buy some gas if I wanted to get to work the next day. I stopped by the nearest gas station to fill up my tank.

It was then that I realized that my car hood was smoking. We hadn’t seen it because we had been driving in the rain. But under the fluorescent lights of the gas station, we could clearly see the smoke rising.

smoking engine car A Series of Unfortunate Events  and Im Not Talking About the BookMy car doesn’t look like this, but the smoking engine does look remarkably similar.

I popped the car hood and inspected the engine. A man waiting for his turn behind me noticed the smoke, and asked if he could be of help. I thanked him and waved him off thinking it was no biggie, and was probably just the hot engine getting a bit of the rain.

While I filled up the tank, Maiko and Lena looked around under my car hood for a possible problem. Lena noticed a blue puddle underneath my car and yelled “The car’s leaking!”  Maiko took one look at it and declared it was just some slushie somebody had spilled previously.

blue slushie1 150x150 A Series of Unfortunate Events  and Im Not Talking About the Book

Maiko pointed to my coolant tank. It was completely empty and we surmised that it was probably why my engine had overheated. Since I always carry spare coolant in my car, this was no problem. I quickly filled it up, and we left the gas station.

Five minutes later, under the glare of the garage lights, we noticed my car engine was smoking once again. Lena looked under the hood. There was a fresh puddle of some luminous blue liquid. “Aha! I knew your car was leaking!” she said triumphantly.

Maiko stared at the puddle and laughed. “I thought it was slushie!”

We checked the coolant tank again and were aghast to find it completely empty. Something was definitely wrong with my car. The Triple A guy we called agreed that I should definitely take my car into the shop to get it checked.

I counted my blessings, thankful that at least I didn’t have the car trouble while I was driving on the freeway in the rain. My optimistic side convinced me that if I took my car in at 7am, it would be fixed by 11am and I’d still make it to work.

Boy, was I wrong.

Monday, December 6, 2010

It was a good thing the Honda shop was seven minutes from the house. By the time I got there at 7:30am, my car engine was smoking again.

I told the shop mechanic Mike about the blue liquid leaking from the car, the smoking engine and the ever-emptying car coolant tank. While he processed the papers, I settled down in the waiting room. I made myself comfortable, thinking I’d have at the most three hours to finish reading my book while I waited for my car to get fixed.

Mike came in a few minutes later and said that he won’t be able to tell me what my car’s real problem is until after lunch.

Even with the free cupcakes, coffee and hot chocolate, there was no way I would last in the waiting room until lunch. I signed up for the shuttle and headed home.

I kept myself busy and waited until lunch for them to call me back. I was still holding out hope that I wouldn’t have to miss work completely. By 1 PM, I had given up on waiting and contented myself with being able to do some things around the house which I couldn’t normally do on a work day.

Mike, the shop mechanic called me at 4:30PM and told me that my car engine was cracked. The good news is that the repairs are still covered by the warranty. The bad news, is that I’d have to wait between 3-4 days to get my car back.

Great. How was I supposed to drive 20 miles to work without a car? The public transportation system in LA is not exactly helpful.  It occurred to me that LA drivers must feel just as helpless  when their cars are out of commission .

Seeing that I don’t have much of it, I didn’t want to spend money car rental fees.  I racked my brain for a less painful solution to my car trouble. I hit upon the brilliant idea to borrow my sister’s car. Since she was in Mali doing her Peace Corps duties, I thought she wouldn’t mind. I told my mom about my car issues and asked her if I could borrow my sister’s car. She told me to just drop by anytime to pick it up.

Lena was kind enough to drive me to my mom’s house.  When I got there, however, I hit upon another unfortunate event.

After handing me the car keys, my dad told me about how he had come home from the mall last Sunday and discovered that the Accord had door problems. When I asked him what door problems meant, he showed me. The car remote control would not unlock the doors. What was worse, was that even the manual way of opening the car door was out of the question.

We called on Triple A again, and the guy came and unlocked the door for us. He warned me not to lock the door again or I’d never get into the car. We had to call him again minutes later for another problem: now the car door wouldn’t close. He fixed the problem and told us that we could drive the car, but we probably should take it into the shop to get fixed at some point.

Sighing, I thanked him and Papa and drove the car back home. It was going to be an awful long day tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I took my sister’s accord in to the car shop. I was there at 7am, and Mike the guy who was working on my car, was surprised to see me come in again.

honda center  A Series of Unfortunate Events  and Im Not Talking About the Book

New car, new problem. I told him about the door problem. After an hour of running diagnostics, he reported that there were two problems with the car: the actuator, which was in charge of the electrical car entry system (meaning the remote control system), and the manual lock.

This meant that he not only needed to get a locksmith in to fix the manual problem, he also needed to order some actuator parts which were not available in their shop. He told me I just had to pay for the parts he had to order ($68 worth) and pay the rest of the bill ($416) when I came back on  Thursday to get the car door fixed.  Mike said I could still drive the car, I just wouldn’t be able to lock it.

Wonderful. I had gotten out of car rental fees only to be stuck with a car that had worse (and more expensive) problems.

Grumbling, I drove across the shop to the credit union to withdraw some money to pay for the parts. I got out of the car and decided to test the work they had done on the car.

I ended up locking myself out. AGAIN. I pressed down on the drivers door lock, and all the doors automatically locked. I tried using the remote control, but it wouldn’t work.

Apparently, they had fixed the remote control issues on all the passenger doors but NOT the driver’s door. The passenger doors would lock and unlock with the remote control, but ONLY IF  I didn’t lock them using the driver’s door lock.

I called Triple A for the nth time this week. Once the door was unlocked, I drove across the lot to the Honda Service Center and told Mike the service guy what had happened. In the process of demonstrating the problem, I got locked out again. He called one of the shop’s mechanic to unlock it for me.

The only thing that would open with the remote control was the trunk door. The old shop mechanic went in through the trunk to open the door. He recommended that I leave the car in the shop.

Leaving the Accord was out of the question. I had already missed work the previous day and I couldn’t afford to miss it again.

Resigned to my fate, I drove to work.

Once at work, however, I realized that I could NOT possibly leave my car door unlocked.  I was parked on a street that was too near the very busy Wilshire Blvd. What if my car—I mean my sister’s car—got stolen?

I was already an hour late for work. I had to make a decision.

I locked the door and made my way to the office.

Nine hours later, I stood by my sister’s car watching the street for passing cars or passing people like some suspicious character out of a Detective movie. I did not want to be mistaken for a car burglar so I had to wait.

When the coast was clear, I popped the trunk and scrambled to unlock the driver’s side door. Once that was done, I leapt out of the passenger side door, closed the trunk, hopped in the driver’s seat, then drove off.

Wednesday, December 7, 2010

My co-worker chose this day of all days, to hitch a ride with me to his house which was a few blocks from work. Of course, I couldn’t show him how I got my car door open, so I made him wait by the shop. He had to wait at least ten minutes because for some reason cars kept passing by  on the street so I couldn’t dive in the trunk just yet.

After dropping David off,  I couldn’t go home straight away. I had to get a few things at Costco.

Going into my car through the trunk in a busy parking lot was out of the question. People would think me either crazy or crooked. Either way, the cops would get called.

I decided to risk leaving the car door unlocked. I dashed into the store, picked up all the things I needed and ran back to the car in record time.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw my sister’s car still parked where I had left it.

Maiko had spent most of the day laughing with her co-workers about my car trouble.  Peeved, I suggested that she should experience Trunk-Diving herself.

Here’s Maiko finding out for herself just how exciting my life has been the last couple of days:

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I demonstrated the proper way of TRUNK DIVING,  having become an expert at it over the last few days:

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Maiko and Lena, who watched me dive into the trunk and wiggle my way to the car door, were amazed at how smooth and easy I made it look.

I told them practice makes perfect. That and the fact that I had to learn how to do it really fast so that no one would see me.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I was at the Honda Service Center bright and early again. The parts had arrived and the locksmith had been called. All I had to do was sit patiently at the waiting room and wait for everything to get fixed.

By now the service center felt like home—I’d been there more times than I could count.

Mike came in minutes later and said that the car would be done after lunch since they weren’t sure when the locksmith would arrive. I groaned. I thought it would be done in an hour and I’d drive off to work in my sister’s car. Of course, I was wrong again.

I signed up for the shuttle and had to wait half an hour before the shuttle driver—an old man who looked like he should be retiring– came in and announced the shuttle would be leaving. I had a bit of trouble giving the shuttle driver directions since he spoke very little English and I spoke no Spanish.

Sitting shotgun beside the old man wasn’t a pleasant experience. He drove a bit too erratically for my taste—like maybe he couldn’t really see where he was going or something. We almost hit an oncoming car when he decided to overtake the Garbage Truck parked on the street.

I was so relieved to get home in one piece.

Luckily, it was Maiko’s day off. I told her the problem and she was nice enough to let me borrow her car. I hopped in her Rav 4 and drove to work slower than usual.  I wanted to make sure I didn’t get into any accident since I wasn’t driving my own car.

At half past eleven, Mike called me up with good news. My own car was fixed and my sister’s car would be done by the afternoon. I breathed a sigh of relief and thanked him.

Since Maiko needed to run some errands, she biked to the Honda center and picked up my car.

Of course, now I had two cars when I only needed one. After work, I dropped Maiko’s car of at her house and Maiko drove me to the Honda center to pick up my sister’s car.

We celebrated the end of my car troubles by going to TGI Friday’s.

Friday, December 10, 2010

I drove my sister’s car to work because I would be returning it that night to my mom. I was extremely pleased that I didn’t have to go in through the trunk just to be able to drive off.

It felt like I had been holding my breath the whole week. I finally let it go when I returned the car keys to my mom. We waited for Maiko, who was supposed to pick me up and drive me home.  She arrived an hour later, and after dinner and hanging out with my mom, she drove us to my aunt’s house for a last minute Physical Therapy house call.

We finally got home at 11PM. I was so happy to see my little Civic waiting in the garage for me.

This episode is definitely not something I would like to repeat again.  But I’m forever looking at the bright side of things, so in a way I am thankful for this life-altering experience. At least now I know how to get into  a locked car through the trunk.

More importantly, I have more life experiences to write about.

Maybe I’ll have one of my characters go trunk-diving one of these days.

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I had the pleasure of meeting Tracy Trivas last September at the West Hollywood Bookfair. She was there to promote her book: The Wish Stealers.

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After signing my book, she agreed to do a video interview for my blog. I gave her my business card and she contacted me a few days after to give me compliments on my write up of the West Hollywood Bookfair.

And that’s how our email correspondence got started. She gave me the awesome opportunity to send her some questions so I could post my first ever author interview. I sent her 15 questions, which she all patiently answered.

So without further delay, I present my first ever author interview:

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The beautiful Tracy Trivas, author of The Wish Stealers

1. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I never had a specific profession I talked about as a child, but I was a voracious reader. I devoured the Anne of Green Gables books and wrote in stacks of diaries, which are time-capsules of elementary school life!

2. What were your favorite books growing up?

Books with strong female characters and ones with lots of mystery and enchantment.  I think a lot of young people who read are secretly longing for role models–searching for the voice, strength, empowerment they’d like to have but don’t have just yet. I loved all Judy Blume books, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, A Secret Garden, The Choose Your Own Adventure Series, and of course Anne of Green Gables.

3. When did you know you were going to be a writer?  What prompted you to take your writing seriously?

I have written my whole life—journals, stories, ideas.  I don’t think there was one clear ah-ha moment for me about writing, it was just something I always did and one day a few ideas coalesced with enough weight to form into a book.  I think there are a lot of great ideas our there, but to sustain a long story with emotional resonance takes some brewing time.  Finally The Wish Stealers felt substantial enough to weave into a full-length novel.

I wanted to write a book about those people in the world who are “Wish Stealers.” People who try to shoot down a dream, remind people of failure rates, and negative statistics.  These “Wish Stealers” can even be family members or good friends, but at certain moments they project all their own fears of failure onto another people’s delicate wishes.  I wanted to remind people to protect their dreams and wishes and keep focusing on what is possible.

4. What inspired you to write “The Wish Stealers”?

When I first moved to Los Angeles in my early 20’s filled with vague dreams of a fulfilling creative career, I slammed head first into something awful—WISH STEALERS–strangers, acquaintances, even friends who were thrilled to spout out how many people fail at creative careers. They stated what the odds are for failure, why back up plans should come first, and how being realistic was more important than dreaming. I scrawled on a Post-it note, after one particularly negative conversation: “Mr. Wunderkiller!  Wish Stealer!”  I underlined the words three times and threw the Post-it in a drawer. The idea of physically stealing coins out of a fountain, and the larger metaphor of people who shoot down a dream fascinated me.  The idea for THE WISH STEALERS was born.

5. Which character in “The Wish Stealers” did you enjoy writing the most and why?

Such a hard question!  I loved writing Griffin because she is so full of hope and potential, and she faces her lessons head on.  It’s her journey and she is brave and hangs tight and steady when things get tough.  But Grandma Penshine, with all her life-wisdom and kindness, is my ideal grandma.  She’s an artist and “mixes paints as if mixing sacred medicine.”  It’s a tie between Griffin and Grandma Penshine.

6. Do you write outlines for your stories, or do you just follow wherever the story leads?

For this book I did write an outline and created big charts listing all the characters, what they represent, and scene ideas.  I had to weave how the wishes/coins are returned and that took a lot of plotting first.

7. How long did you work on this book? How many rewrites did you do before you finally felt it was ready?

About a year.  Before I began writing, I researched wishing customs all over the world.  I found that in almost every culture people wish.  Members of the  Zula tribe in Africa wish when they spot a stripped weasel—the little creature is believed to have the stamina to carry a wish to fruition. In Japan on July 7th, an entire festival is dedicated to wishing.  In Poland, when a chimney sweep appears on a roof, an observer is supposed to touch a button and make a wish.  In America we are big wishers: dandelion dust, birthday candles, shooting stars, and falling eyelashes!  I also read up on alchemy and Macbeth’s trio of witches.  I read biographies of Madame Curie; I wanted to weave into my story great people who had met with resistance from WISH STEALERS and triumphed.  I also visited a guitar store as my protagonist, Griffin Penshine, plays bass guitar and dreams of being “a rocket scientist or rock star.  I also met with children and asked them what they would wish for. So many kids wished for puppies, world peace, and to have their braces off!

8. Tell us about your path to publication.

I flew to NYC with my manager who set up meetings and we received multiple offers on the book.  In two days The Wish Stealers was sold.

9. How has your life changed since you got published?

My life has expanded so much since the book was published.  I have met so many people, children, teachers, bookstore owners, librarians, friends, etc.  Visiting schools and going on a book tour was, and continues to be, a highlight for me.

10. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?

I prefer to write in the morning and I prefer to write at home.  A great writing day would last 4-5 hours and a long walk or jog after.  But different obligations and family life don’t always allow for an ideal writing day.

11. Do you encounter challenges in your writing life? What are these challenges and how do you overcome them?

Sure, I imagine every writer encounters some challenges.  For example, I have just finished a YA novel, and I wanted to make sure the story is as tight as I can make it. Are there slow spots?  Are the characters as three-dimensional as I can make them?  I go through my draft with a fine-tooth comb cutting words I may have overused subconsciously or adding to parts that may be clear in my mind, but not to a reader.  I work hard fine-tuning everything before it goes out into the world, because once it does it is done.

12.  Are you currently working on any other projects?

Yes, a YA book—I’m so excited about it!!!

13.  What advice would you like to give to aspiring writers?

Write what you love! You will spend a lot of time with the project—years even–and when people write glowing reviews or negative ones, it doesn’t matter because you’ve written something you love, something you deeply believe in, and are proud to add to the world.

14. What would you like to say to your young readers? Is there any advice that you would like to give them?

My whole book is about Wish Stealers—people who steal dreams and shoot down wishes.  I would like to tell young readers to do what Grandma Penshine advises Griffin to do when she meets a negative Wish Stealer:  “Stuff your ears with clouds and don’t listen!  Your dreams are precious and valuable.”

15. If you could have anything at all, what Christmas present would you like to receive?

Such a hard question!  When I visit schools the children always ask me what I wish for…I always say “more wishes!”  Choosing one wish or a magical Christmas present is way too hard to pick on the spot. icon smile Author Interview: Tracy Trivas, The Wish Stealers

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Book Review: The Wish Stealers

Do you believe in wishes?

Griffin Penshine does. She loves to wish on stars, and pennies, and anything else she can think of. She wishes for a baby sister and for her school to smell like chocolate chip cookies.

Her life changes one day, when an old lady offers her a gift of twelve shiny pennies. Hoping the gift will bring her luck as she starts the school year at a new school, Griffin accepts the gift.

As the day wears on, however, Griffin realizes with horror that each penny represents a stolen wish. She discovers that the old woman was a Wish Stealer. What’s worse, is that by accepting the old woman’s gift, Griffin herself, has turned into a Wish Stealer. Now Griffin’s good wishes will never come true, and  the opposite of her good wishes seem to happen.

To break the Wish Stealer’s curse, Griffin needs to return all twelve stolen wishes. She must return all twelve pennies to the people who wished on them, or the curse affects not only her, but her family as well.

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This YA fantasy book, written by the amazing Tracy Trivas, has such an original plot and great, believable characters.  Children can relate to the idea of throwing a penny into a fountain and making a wish.

Readers will find their hearts fluttering as they read about Griffin’s attempts at trying to figure out how she can right wrongs done in the past. She learns a lot about herself in the process. She discovers that the happiness of her family and friends far outweigh her desire for being popular. In the book, Griffin even teams up with her science partner Garret to create a fundraiser for Pennies for the Planet.

The Wish Stealers shows children what is truly essential in life. It teaches children that helping other people achieve their wishes can be its own reward. The book encourages kids to be Wish Granters instead of a Wish Stealers.

The best thing about the book, however, is that after reading the story, children (and other readers) can actually go back to their real lives and make other people’s wishes come true.

The book features a real charity called Pennies for the Planet. This charity is part of the National Audubon Society, and is powered by kids who collect pennies (and any other helpful coins) to save wild lands and the wildlife within in these conservation places.

Hunt for pennies in your dressers, in the folds of your couch, in dirty jeans or even in your smelly socks. Where you find these pennies is not important. What’s important is that you can use these pennies to make a big difference in our world.

You can check out the author’s website or togethergreen.org to learn more about how you can start your own fundraisers to help the planet.

More importantly, pick up a copy of The Wish Stealers and read them with your kids. You’ll not only enjoy the wonderful story, you’ll also teach your kids valuable life lessons, and inspire them to make the world a better place.

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Tune in next Thursday for an INTERVIEW with TRACY TRIVAS, author of THE WISH STEALERS.

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The Wheel of Fortune is Driven by Hard Work

My aunt was on Wheel of Fortune yesterday.

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Yup, she was the one in the yellow shirt and brown vest. And yes, she rocked that show!

Family members and friends gathered at her house yesterday to eat the feast she had prepared and watch the show. Contestants were not allowed to talk about the details of the show until the airing, so we had no clue what the outcome was even though she had taped the show in August.

We all sat down, eating nervously and watching the show with such intensity (good thing none of us had heat ray vision, otherwise the TV would surely have exploded under our severe gaze).

Never  in my life have I watched the Wheel of Fortune with utmost concentration. I was anxious every time she missed an answer, and saddened when she went bankrupt during one round. And when she won the last round, I was right there with her cheering my heart out and jumping wildly—well, I was jumping wildly inside, because at the moment I had a piece of chicken in my mouth and food on my lap, so jumping outside was out of the question.

My aunt told us about her experience after the show. She shared with us how she had applied to be on the show, then her joy at getting accepted. She told us about having trouble finding a ride to the show, then getting there and being forced to wear make up (which she detests).  She joked about being the smallest person on stage during the show, and how she needed to stand on a riser just so she could reach the wheel.

After the thrill of taping the show, there still was months of anxious waiting. Apparently, the winners of the show don’t really get paid unless the show is aired—then if the show is aired, they get paid 120 days later. Now she is in the final leg of waiting for her prize. Once she gets paid, then she can finally say the process is over.

Her experience in joining a game show is a lot like the writing process. (Bear with me, it’ll make sense soon.) My aunt applied for the show in June, went for the taping in August, waited three months for the show to be aired, and now she’s waiting for her final prize. She put in a lot of hard work before and during the show—without any idea of whether the she would get the fruits of her labor. Now, that the show has been aired, she can breathe a little, but there is still a lot of anxious waiting to do before she can taste the sweet fruit of victory.

As writers, we go through the same process. We put in a lot of hard work in order to write, rewrite, edit and complete our manuscripts. Once we have a manuscript ready, we shop around for an agent or editor who would accept the fruits of our labor. If we’re lucky enough to find one, there is still that anxious period of editing and waiting around for a publisher who thinks our work is sellable. Then, even when we get our dream publisher, there is still the grueling process of marketing our product and trying to get to where we want to be in terms of our writing career.

All of my aunt’s hard work paid off, but she’s still waiting for her prize. In the same way, we writers think getting published is the endgame, when it is really just the beginning.

Most of us think that getting published is a matter of luck. Just like most of us think that getting on a game show is purely a chance thing.

The truth is, the wheel of fortune is driven not by luck, but by hard work.

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My aunt went through a lot of preparation and hard work before the show. She studied the show to make sure she had the best chance of getting to the final round. We may think that some published authors just got lucky in terms of getting an agent or publishing house, but the truth is that all published authors have labored to ensure that they had the best chance of getting published. They’ve had to rewrite and edit their work a hundred times at least. They’ve sent out thousands of query letters before they finally got the agent or editor they deserved. And even after all this, they continue to work on promoting their works and ensuring the success of their writing careers.

So, fellow writers, take heart. The road to a successful writing career is long and hard, but the journey is surely worth taking.

The wheel of fortune only turns for those who have strength enough to turn it, and only goes so far as you’re willing to take it.

So take that wheel of fortune and work it hard. At the end of your journey, you just might find a pot of gold waiting for you.

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