Archive for September, 2011

Mystical Junction at Tarot Zamm’s Channel

You might remember my cousin Zamm.

My cousin Zamm

I featured her on the very last post of my A-Z Blog challenge. (You can read about her here).

That’s right, she’s the all-around gal who can sing, paint, sell real estate as well as read tarot cards.  The funny thing is, she can do all these things really well.

Although she can do practically anything, she is currently focused on developing her skills and talents as a tarot card reader. This shouldn’t come as a surprise for those of you who know me– you’d know by now that “mystical gifts” run in the family :)

She’s a really good tarot card reader, by the way. She even did a past life reading for me once.  You should try her out.

Anyway, she is launching a new show on her youtube channel. It’s called Mystical Junction and will feature tarot card lessons, free readings, as well as other informative videos about mystical places, events or experiences shared by other people.

And that’s where I come in.

Because we share a mutual love for fantasy and all things mystical, supernatural, and magical, Zamm asked me to be the first video contributor for her new show.

Naturally I jumped at the chance.  I wrote the script, and made a blog about my experience with ley lines and dousing in Stonehenge.

Of course, I had to drag my best friend (and forever I.T. Support person) Lena into the mix when it came to actually creating and editing the video. (Thanks, Lena!)

I submitted the video to Zamm, and she incorporated it into her first episode.

Here’s a preview of the show:

So, well, what I’m trying to say is, you should definitely watch her show.  (Because I’m in it! ) Because you are great friends who love to support me and who love to learn new things.  :)

Mystical Junction Episode 1 will  air on October 1st, 2011.

You can watch it at Tarot Zamm’s Channel.

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September 18, 2011, Sunday

Authors are like rock stars to me. I shiver with excitement when I’m around them, and I’m in constant awe of what they’ve accomplished.

Maybe it’s because I know how long and difficult the road to publication is. It takes an inordinate amount of patience, a great amount of skill and talent, fierce determination and a dash of luck to make it as an author.

So when author Susan Patron emailed me an invitation to her book launch, I was over the moon with excitement.

Susan Patron, picture taken from her website

Just who is Susan Patron, you might ask? Well, Susan worked as a senior librarian at the  Los Angeles Public Library for 35 years. Her first book, Burgoo Stew was published in 1991.

She’s published many other books after that, but the book she is most known for is The Higher Power of Lucky, which won the Newbery Award in 2007.

The book became very controversial because it was a children’s book that featured the word “scrotum”. Some parents, and librarians were in an uproar because they felt that such a word should not ever make an appearance in a children’s book. Naturally, many authors (including other Newberry award winners), bloggers and other librarians rallied around Susan as she defended the choice of the word.

Lucky’s story continued to enchant readers, and the Higher Power of Lucky was soon followed by a second book, Lucky Breaks.

Susan’s book launch was for the final book in the trilogy, Lucky for Good.

I had told Susan about my friend (and author debuting in 2013) Kristen Kittscher, who was also a big fan of hers. And Susan, being the kind author that she is,  sent Kristen a personal invitation to the book launch. Now Kristen, too, was over the moon with excitement.

Debut author Kristen Kittscher & award winning author Susan Patron

A lot of people gathered for the book launch and Susan made it a point to make her rounds and greet everybody personally before the program started.

Can you spot Susan in the picture above?

YA author Cecil Castellucci gave the opening introductions.

YA author Cecil Castellucci

Susan thanked us all for being there, and began her speech. With the help of some slides, she told us a little about her history–growing up as the middle child with two sisters,  working as a librarian and meeting her husband Rene.  Apparently, Rene has a great sense of humor and  is Susan’s inspiration for some of her character’s funny lines.  Thankfully, he just charges her 10 cents per line.

Rene also gave Susan some good advice about winning the Newberry: “Just enjoy being a Newbery, soon you’ll be an Oldberry.”

One of the most interesting points of Susan’s talk was the tale  of how she had come up with Lucky’s story.

She showed us pictures of the cabin where she wrote the story in longhand for years. Susan also showed us a view from her cabin window, where she often looked out as she wrote. She said that the cabin was for writing, while most of her editing and revising was done at home. For constant inspiration, she had taken a picture of the view from her cabin window and turned it into her screensaver for her PC at home.

Susan’s Cabin, where Lucky’s story was born (picture taken from her website)

Susan also told us a little bit about the Eastern Sierra region in California, which became the setting for Lucky and her town of Hard Pan.

A signpost featured in Lucky’s story (picture taken from her website)

Research was a very important part of Susan’s writing process, and she took many photographs of her desert surroundings to get inspiration for the setting. She also made sure that she could do what her characters could do. So when one of her characters invented a book stand made out of a wire coat hanger, she also made one herself.

Also, since one of her characters was a great knot tyer, Susan learned about knot tying and even attended a conference for the International Guild of Knot Tyers of America. In fact, the very person who had patiently taught her the different knots and helped her with research for her book, was present at the book launch.

Also present at the book launch, was Cassandra Campbell, who narrated the audiobook version of The Higher Power of Lucky.

Audiobook narrator Cassandra Campbell & her daughter, with Susan Patron

I learned many new things about Susan’s writing process, and about Lucky’s story–especially during the question and answer portion.

Susan ended her wonderful, inspiring talk with a big applause from the audience.

And the audience applauds

Afterwards, we all lined up to get our books signed. I took the opportunity to thank Susan for inviting me,  and of course, I just had to take a picture with her.

With Susan Patron, Newbery medal awardee


Special thanks to Lena, who accompanied me to the book launch and also helped me take a lot of pictures that day!

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SCBWI-LA Working Writers’ Retreat CLASS of 2011

I met so many wonderful people at the Working Writer’s Retreat and made so many lasting memories. I’m very glad they allowed me to be the unofficial photographer for the event again.

The retreat felt a little like school–only it was way more fun. It seems like we managed to squeeze our wonderful college years into one weekend.  We learned so much, had some life-changing (and perhaps career-changing) experiences, and came out with lasting friendships.

I had a little fun with the pictures I took and I wanted to share them here. For those who see themselves in any of the pictures, feel free to download them and post them on your own blogs or facebook pages.  For those who don’t have any kind of social networks going, it’s about time to get one.  Besides, I’m eager to add you all as friends.

So without further delay, I present to you the

SCBWI-LA Working Writers’ Retreat CLASS of 2011.

Of course, our class had a stellar cast of Faculty members


This year, to facilitate the critique schedules, the retreat attendees were divided into two groups.

The Award Winners

The Best Sellers

We all did some serious writing work that weekend.

But we also made sure we showed everyone our lighter side.

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SCBWI-LA Working Writer’s Retreat 2011

September 9, 2011 Friday

I drove up to Encino, CA, excited for this year’s Working Writer’s Retreat. Last year’s retreat was a blast, and I knew the SCBWI-LA organizers would make sure that this year would be even better. And I was sooo right!

I arrived at the Holy Spirit Retreat Center at around 11:30am, and was lucky enough to find a parking spot on the road near the buildings. I bumped into Liz, a fellow TCBW (Torrance Children’s Book Writer) member, and she pointed me to the administration building, where we had to register for the retreat.

Marilyn was at the front desk, working her usual magic. She gave me my registration packet, and the keys to my room. I thanked her, wrote a nametag for myself and went to unload my bags from the car.

Marilyn at the Registration desk

The Holy Spirit Retreat Center buildings looked new and well kept, and I was eager to explore the rest of the grounds.

Holy Spirit Retreat Center rooms

Amanda,  a friend and fellow TCBW member, and I had requested to be roomies for the Retreat. We were assigned lucky room # 13. It was warm that day, and I was thankful that the rooms had their own AC. The bathroom was a good size, and we had a small desk to do our writing in.

Our retreat room

I unpacked as quickly as I could and checked out the rest of the grounds, although I didn’t go beyond the buildings.  I was already scouting for good spot for our class pictures–which I had volunteered to do again this year.

Amanda arrived and I gave her the keys. We each had our own copies so we could go in and out of the rooms whenever we chose. She was a bit nervous as it was her first ever writing-related workshop/conference. I assured her it would be okay, and that it would be fun.

I made sure to go the Lakeside Room a few minutes before our opening ceremony started. I was ecstatic to find a small kitchen right outside the room. It had all sorts of teas we could choose from, as well as a machine that dispensed coffee and hot water. Writing isn’t the same without a cup of tea, and I was happy that I could drink all the tea I wanted during the retreat.

Drink station

Oh and they also had tons of snacks! I was definitely going to enjoy the retreat.


The opening ceremonies soon began, and this year’s Working Writer’s Retreat faculty members  filed into the room, led by brand new SCBWI-LA Regional Advisers Sarah Laurenson and Lee Wind.  They were all wearing chef’s hats in accordance with this year’s theme of  A Recipe for Revision.

Working Writer’s Retreat master chefs

Lee and Sarah introduced us to a stellar faculty, which included Agent Jennifer Rofe from the Andrea Brown Literary Agency , Editor Tim Travaglini , and Editor Sarah Ketchersid of Candlewick Press.

Agent Jennifer Rofe EditorTim Travaglini , and Editor Sarah Ketchersid

Of course, the faculty also included the incredible dynamic duo of Stephanie Gordon and Judy Enderle, who have written many books together.

Authors Stephanie Gordon and Judy Enderle

During the introductions, each faculty member shared their advice on revising. They also shared a quote relating writing and food–in line with the retreat’s theme.

Jen Rofe, self-confessed Food Network junkie, said that one of the things she had learned from watching cooking shows was never to cook pineapple and pork together, because the pineapple enzymes make the pork mushy.  In the same way, she says, revision is a lot like cooking–we should be wary of putting too many ingredients in our work.

Sarah Ketchersid reminded us to ask ourselves  “have you forgotten a key ingredient in your story? maybe conflict?”.  Conflict keeps a story going and makes it exciting, so she says we should remember to put our characters in constant danger.

Tim Travaglini compared the publishing process to making sausages. The sausages are delicious, but you don’t want to see it being made.

Judy Enderle warned us of the dangers of  too much spice when cooking.  The right amount of spices can make a dish delicious, but adding too much can make the dish inedible. In the same way, if we spice up our work with too much adjectives and adverbs, our readers might not enjoy it.

After the faculty  introduction, Lee told us a few housekeeping rules, and introduce this year’s Grant winner Abi Estrin. Abi won a scholarship to attend the WWR for free, and I was happy to find out that she was going to be one of my critique group partners this weekend.

Abi Estrin, winner of this year’s WWR Scholarship Grant

Scheduling genius Sarah also explained our critique schedules. This year, she had divided all 40 of us into 2 major categories–the Award Winners, and the Best Sellers. There were 5 groups for each category, and each group had 4 members. All of the Award Winners would have their critiques with different faculty members at the same time slot. All the Best Sellers would likewise do the same, the hour after the Award Winners finished their critiques.

The smaller group and shorter critique time (an hour compared to last year’s 2 hours) meant that we would have more time for revision. Sarah also made sure that roomates would be in different categories. This meant that I would have the room to myself for revisions, while Amanda was doing critiques. It was a brilliant scheduling strategy.

I was part of Best Sellers 3, and we all met each other for the first time at 4:15. Our first critique went well, and our critique facilitator  editor Sarah gave us many tips and helpful feedback. Dinner followed at 5:30, and I had the chance to ask Amanda, and Tiffani, first time attendees and fellow TCBW members, how they were finding things so far. I was happy to hear things were going well.

Our last critique for the day was at 8pm. Exercise guru Lynette Townsend’s Stretching session started promptly at  9:15. After getting our muscles stretched and relaxed, we were all ready for the Wine and Cheese social.

Cheese and crackers

Writers mingled, socialized, ate cheese and crackers and drank cups of wine. It was a relaxing end to a day of critiques.

Wine and Cheese Social at the Lakeside Room

September 10, 2011 Saturday

The Best Sellers’ first critique for the day was at 10:30am.  I lugged my tripod and camera gear with me to the session because the photo shoot would be immediately after our first session.  Editor Tim was assigned to our group that day. As we began our critiques, gray clouds crept into view. I could see them roiling from where we sat near the window.

I read my MG manuscript, this time, instead of my YA. When I finished reading, I waited for everybody’s feedback. As my group mates gave their comments, thunder clapped so loudly that we all stopped in surprise.  The thunder rumbled intermittently throughout the critique, making us all wonder if we had been transported elsewhere. It rarely rained in L.A. and thunderstorms were almost unheard of. I took it as a sign that my MG manuscript wasn’t ready for querying.

I was a bit worried that the photo shoot would be canceled due to the rain, but the sky cleared right around the time the critiques ended at 11:30am, and we were able to proceed.

Wait, where’s everyone?

There you are! Hey, where’s the faculty?

100 Points for those who got our teachers some chairs!

Wait, who else is missing?

Oh yes, the photographer!

I’m not as good of a photographer as the amazing Rita Crayon-Huang, but I did manage to get some good class pictures.

SCBWI-LA Working Writer’s Retreat Class and Faculty of 2011

The photo shoot was fun as usual. I took formal, informal and close up shots of each critique group.  Next week, I’ll share those with you!

After the photo shoot, came lunch, and our final critique sessions for the weekend. My group and I decided to hang out before the last critique session at at 4:30, to help each other out with our first pages for tomorrow.

Dinner followed right after, and immediately after that was a  Q & A session on Revision with the faculty. The day before, Lee had asked us to write our revision questions on index cards they had provided. The faculty addressed all our questions that night, even throwing in more food/writing related quotes and advice, to keep in line with the theme.

Q & A on Revision Panel

Everyone listened attentively and took down notes.  Afterward, Lee and Sarah briefed us on the First Pages session which we were going to have the next day.  We were all pretty nervous by the time Lee was done explaining how we would all be reading our first pages in front of everyone, including a panel of acquiring agents and editor.

captive audience

While some  joined Lynette for Stretching exercises designed to REDUCE TENSION,  some writers went back to their rooms to revise their first pages.  I did neither. Instead, I spent almost two hours under the starry night, chit-chatting with Marilyn Morton, and asking for her advice about a particular question I had in mind.

Lee and Sarah had approached me Friday night, and ask me if I was interested in joining the SCBWI-LA Board as a Contest Coordinator. I felt  honored and was stunned, to say the least! I was worried not only that joining would eat up  my writing time and time for my group–I was also worried that I wasn’t worthy of being party of such an amazing team. Marilyn soothed my worries, encouraged me to join and said that being part of the board wasn’t about being published, or having many years of experience–it was about commitment, passion and being willing to help.

Karaoke Night followed soon after, and everyone let loose.

Karaoke Night for writers

Claudia and Edie tried their hand at singing a song from “Wicked The Musical”.

Claudia and Edie, singing a song from “Wicked”

Even the faculty members rocked out that night.

WWR Faculty rocking out

And while everyone was busy picking the songs they wanted to sing next, I approached Sarah and Lee, thanked them for offering me the Contest Coordinator post —and said YES!

That’s right, I’m not part of the SCBWI-LA Board, and I am super  super excited to help out a group of people I’ve admired since the first day I met them.

I left the Karaoke party around 11pm to start working on my first page revision. Roomie Amanda and her group member C came in at around midnight. These two awesome ladies sacrificed sleep and  helped me revise my first page for tomorrow.  C left for her room at around 2. I didn’t actually fall asleep until 3am as my mind was still looking for ways to revise my first page.

September 11, 2011 Sunday

I woke up at 7am, groggy and feeling nervous for the day ahead. I showered, printed out my first page, and packed my stuff.  Then I joined the others for breakfast at 8am.

Breakfast rush

A hearty breakfast shared with fellow writers was just the “picker-upper” I needed for the day. We shared jokes and stories and made each other feel less nervous before the big event.

I loaded my big bags into the car and made my way to the Lakeside Room.

There was an air of excitement in the room. Everyone was getting ready for the session in their own ways. Some people were re-reading their first pages, others were chit-chatting, while others were trying not to faint.

Getting ready for the first pages session

The session began at 9am. Lee introduced the 3 acquiring agents and 1 acquiring editor who would give us feedback on our first pages.

Lee introducing our panel

Agent Jill Corcoran, from the Herman Literary Agency and Jamie Weiss Chilton from the Andrea Brown Literary Agency joined our faculty members Sarah Ketchersid and Jen Rofe to make up the First Pages Reading Panel.

Agent Jill Corcoran, Editor Sarah Ketchersid, Agent Jamie Weiss Chilton and Agent Jennifer Rofe

The rules were simple. We each had 3 minutes of time for our presentation. We had to read the first pages of our manuscript in 1 – 1.5 minutes, so that the panel of acquiring agents (and editor) would have enough time to give their feedback. They would also let us know if they would be interested in reading our work based on the first page alone.

Writing is one thing, speaking is a completely different animal. Naturally we were all terrified.

But Lynette was on hand, thankfully, and she taught us a few breathing exercises before we began.

Breathe in, breathe out!

Award Winners Group 1 went first, followed by Best Sellers Group 1, and so on. I was part of Best Sellers 3, and we were right smack in the middle. We went last before the 5 minute break. I was first in our group, and I had to stretch on the podium and take a deep breath to diffuse my nervousness. But seeing my peers’ smiling faces and the encouraging smiles of the agents (and editor) before me, helped calm me down and I read my first page.

I got some pretty good feedback and helpful comments from the panel and all of them said they would be willing to read more, so I was very happy. :)

The first page session ended and we all thanked the wonderful organizers and the faculty member who helped us during the whole retreat.

Goodbyes were said, and bags were loaded into trucks. Soon the retreat center began emptying. My groupmate Abi and I stayed until 1pm, bonding and talking, then we too said our goodbyes.

I learned so much from the retreat, got some very helpful feedback on my YA novel, gained some wonderful new friends and got inspired to continue writing. I will definitely be back again next year!

**** Stay tuned for the photo shoot pictures next week***

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Celebrating a Birthday: Catalina Island with Friends

One must always take the time to make a friend’s birthday extra special!

At least that was my excuse when I organized one of my best friend’s birthday getaway. Always helpful, ever thoughtful Lena never suspected anything, of course, as I happen to be masterful at being sneaky when it comes to surprises.

The first draft for my new YA novel (which I was supposed to be working on) was set aside. I had been working on it everyday after the SCBWI Summer Conference, and after 17 days, I was about ready for a break.

August 26, 2011, Friday

I left work early that Friday so I could pack for our weekend trip. Then at 6PM, Maiko, Lena and I  headed to the San Pedro Harbor to get our tickets for the Catalina Express Ferry, and await our 7PM boarding time.

Catalina Express booth, San Pedro Harbor

We were so excited, we forgot that San Pedro was just 15 minutes away from the house (and Maiko forgot her sandals). In other words, we got there way too early.

So we spent our time wisely, reading books and taking pictures of random scenes around us.

The San Pedro bridge – view from inside the Ferry station

We finally boarded the ferry. Figuring the view would be much better from the top, we found seats in the cabin upstairs.

Of course, later on, the would prove to be a big mistake.

In the upstairs cabin of the Catalina Express

The ferry started off slowly, as wove its way across the busy harbor.  We stood in the cabin, or outside, enjoying the breeze and the view.  When the ferry reached open water of the Pacific, it sped up.  At first, the bumps and the drops made everybody laugh aloud–after all it was like riding a rollercoaster.

After 5 whole minutes of this bumpy ride and the sickening rise and fall of the ferry, everyone fell silent in their seats. I think we all realized that unlike a rollercoaster, this ride would last for two hours.

Maiko and I had taken some dramamine in case of sea-sickness. It worked very well for me, as I felt nothing but sleepy. It didn’t work as well for Maiko, however,  and I had to sit with her outside because she was already feeling very sick. We sat freezing our faces off in the open part of the upper cabin. After half an hour, I suggested that maybe the waves wouldn’t be as bad downstairs, so Maiko braved the rocking boat and made her way downstairs to find a seat there.

I was afraid I would slip and fall overboard if I even tried to reach the stairs going downstairs, so I just made my way back to our original seat and sat beside Lena, who had decided that being asleep was better than being sick.

The ferry reached the port of Two Harbors after an hour, and we were all very thankful for the short break. Most of the people on the ferry disembarked, while a few of us stayed on to await our Avalon destination.

40 minutes after, we finally reached Avalon, and boy were we glad! We called the hotel to ask for a shuttle, and one came by to pick us up a few minutes later.

Nights are always darkest on an island, and we were glad that we didn’t walk to the Catalina Canyon Resort & Spa Hotel. As soon as we got to our room, we unpacked, got ready for bed and just slept like the dead.

August 27, 2011, Saturday

The next morning, the three of us walked down to the pier shops to  have breakfast at the Cookie Co. coffee shop.  We sat down with our tea and pastries, and  talked about what we would do the rest of the day.

Lena still had no clue as to the surprise Maiko and I had planned for her. She didn’t know that I had also invited some of our other friends to join us in Catalina, and while we were having breakfast, I saw one of them creeping up to us. I immediately distracted Lena by talking about  flat bread as loudly as possible–allowing our friend Leeann to surprise her from behind.

Apparently the ferry ride wasn’t any better when Leeann and her boyfriend JP had traveled to Avalon that morning. So JP stayed in the hotel room to recover while Leeann joined Maiko, Lena and I for a short tour of the pier and its many sights.

Myself, Lena and Leeann

The pier was filled with bobbing boats, and ferries.

Catalina Island Avalon Pier

We saw the round building of the Catalina Casino, and a light house that belonged to the Tuna Club of Catalina.

Tuna Club Lighthouse, Pier and Casino

My camera allowed me to zoom in on the pretty pirate ship windvane on top of the light house.

pirate ship wind vane on top of the lighthouse

After checking out Descanso Beach, (so that we would know where to go for our 3PM kayak tour), the four of us trudged back to the hotel.

I had been texting back and forth two other friends (who Lena had no idea was coming as well), and I found out that they were recovering from the bumpy ferry ride by the hotel pool. So I led everybody to the poolside, and Lena got her final surprise for the day, when I pointed out our (seasick) friends Su & Ian.

Our group was finally complete. We freshened up, got our things ready for the afternoon, and then headed out to lunch at the Cafe Metropole.

Lunch at the Cafe Metropole

Su, Ian and JP were still feeling a bit seasick from their bumpy ferry ride, but a good lunch was just the thing to make everyone feel a bit better.

Lena, myself, Su and Ian waiting for lunch

We chatted over a lunch of salads and sandwiches.

Salad and sandwich at the Cafe Metropole

Then we headed for the Descanso Beach Ocean Sports booth, where we had reserved a kayak tour.

Descanso Beach Ocean Sports booth

We met our kayak tour guide, Dan,  who briefed us for our journey to Frog Rock.

Tour guide Dan, explaining the Frog Rock tour

He gave us all life vests, a bottle of water, and beach sandals that had straps on so it wouldn’t fall in the water.

Our group getting briefed for the tour

Afterwards, we trooped down to the water, where we got into kayaks. There were seven of us, so Lena decided to brave it out and ride solo on a single person kayak.

Friends on the water

We followed tour guide Dan, who told us all about Catalina Island,  to Frog rock, a tall rock that jutted out of the water a mile or so from Descanso Beach.  Maiko and I decided to get a bit closer to the rock, and ended up ramming our kayak straight into the rock. Thankfully, it was just a slight bump and we were okay. Tour guide Dan even took our picture.

At Frog Rock

We paddled back toward Descanso Beach, but halfway there, tour guide Dan pointed to a rocky beach.

rocky beach break at Catalina Island

We parked our kayaks there for a little break. We were supposed to have a little snack here, but Dan forgot the oatmeal cookies, so instead, we just explored the rocky cove, rested our tired arms, and made stacks of rocks.

Stacking rocks to pass the time

Oh, and we also had our only group picture so far.

Catalina Island group photo!

We headed back toward the pier. This time, Lena and I partnered up for the kayak while Maiko took the solo trip. Lena and I were first into the water and we immediately started paddling. We thought we were way ahead of everyone else, but then this mom and son tandem whooshed past us. The mom power paddled all the way back toward the beach.

When everyone had landed their kayaks, we all returned the sandals, and life vests. Then tour guide Dan gathered us one last time, to give us our cookies, a certificate saying that we had survived our frog rock tour, and were now expert kayakers. Dan gave us copies of some of the scenes around Catalina that he had painted. Of course, he had to autograph those.

It was already 5 by the time we made our way to the shuttle stop.

Waiting for a shuttle to the hotel

After hot showers, we all met up again and then trudged into town to look for a dinner place. Maiko had heard about the buffalo burgers in Catalina and wanted to try those. Lena expertly found us a restaurant called Buffalo Nickel. Buffalo Nickel had its own shuttle, and while waiting for it, we wondered why we would need a shuttle to get there when Avalon was so small.

We soon discovered that the road to the restaurant was not only dark, and winding, it was also very narrow–and kind of foggy. We felt like we were on a strange and spooky quest. Five minutes later, we saw the restaurant lights, and we all breathed out in relief.

Dinner at Buffalo Nickel Restaurant

Leeann and I ordered  big fat steaks. We felt like we deserved it after all the paddling we had to do. Maiko ordered the buffalo burger and Su, Ian and Lena  ordered seafood combination plates

Steak dinner at Buffalo Nickel

The night ended with some chats, and a few drinks of wine at the hotel room.

August 28, 2011, Sunday

Our ferry was leaving for San Pedro at 12:30, so we only had time to pack, check out and have a big breakfast at the Pancake Cottage.

Breakfast at Pancake Cottage

Maiko and I decided to share a big plate of bacon, eggs, and the pancake house’s famous potatoes. The meal came with two large pancakes and peaches on the top.

bacon, eggs and potatoes

Pancakes, peaches and cream

After breakfast, we picked our bags up at the hotel and made our way back to the boarding station. Su, Ian, Leeann and JP hung out with us until we had to get on the boat.

I had stuffed my stomach full during breakfast.  I was a bit worried because we were boarding the ferry in a couple of hours and I didn’t want to get sick.

Catalina Express Ferry

Thankfully, though, it was smooth sailing that day and the three of us were asleep all throughout the trip.

I had such a great time that weekend, and Lena couldn’t stop laughing at how we had all surprised her. It was not only a fun break from my monotonous writing schedule, but also a great way to spend some quality time with good friends.

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I Advanced to Orange Belt Without The Orange Belt!

You all know I took another belt test for my Filipino martial arts class last July 9th, 2011. It was a test designed to see if I was worthy of advancing to level 3—Orange Belt.

(You can watch a video of me pretending to be a ninja and see the pictures from the test HERE.)

The good news is that I passed!

The bad news it that you’re only getting the good news now.  J

But you know I always like to tell you about these events, despite the fact that it happened almost a month ago.  So allow me to show you some pictures from our Belt Awarding Ceremony, which happened last August 20, 2011.

We had our usual class session that Saturday. My cousin, Joey, who hadn’t been coming to class the last few months, joined us today and I tried to catch her up on the stuff she missed. I was glad she was there with me.  That day was the 2nd day after our Grandmother’s 7th death anniversary.  It was good to spend it with family, and to honor her memory by by getting my Orange Belt Certificate. After all, she was a guerilla who fought against the Japanese in WWII–she would be happy to see me learning some helpful defensive moves.

My cousin Joey and I,  practicing twirling techniques

After the class, in which Master Erwin showed off his dexterity and skills with the sticks, Patricia, Steve and I lined up to get our certificates.

Receiving my Orange Belt Certificate from Earl and Master Erwin

I was so happy I passed. This was very obvious from the huge smile on my face.

Master Erwin looks on as I show off my new certificate

Patricia, Steve and I posed for some pictures to mark our recent achievement. We had all advanced one level higher and we were already looking forward to learning new things.

Patricia, Steve and myself

We asked Master Erwin to join us for the pictures.

Posing with Master Erwin

If you look closer, you’ll notice us trying to cover our old belts with our certificates. Master Erwin had brought us our new belts–but it was the wrong size, so we couldn’t exactly wear it. 😀

Hiding our old belts beneath new certificates

The rest of the class joined us for our usual class picture.  Steve and I exchanged our certificates in favor of a stick, but Patricia held on to her certificate anyway.

LA Doce Pares, Torrance Group

All in all, it was a fun, memorable day.

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I first met our wonderful speakers Pamela Jaye Smith and Kathie Fong-Yoneda at a book signing in Barnes & Noble, Santa Monica on June 28, 2011. I listened to them, and two other script-writing consultants talk about Screenwriting, and writing in general.

(You can read about the Screenwriting 411 Book Signing HERE)

At the end of their talk, I lined up to get copies of their books signed. They asked me about my own writing, and I told them about the writing group for children’s books writers that I had founded last year. Kathie was most interested, and when she heard that we were always looking for speakers who would teach us for free (since we didn’t exactly have the funds), she immediately offered to be a speaker.

Lena and I had taken pictures at the event, and so we emailed to them a week later. I was thrilled when Kathie said that she was coming down to L.A. sometime in August and she had some free time to maybe come speak to our group. She even got Pamela Jaye Smith to agree to be a speaker as well.

Kathie Fong-Yoneda & Pamela Jaye Smith, with a poster of our event

August 24, 2011, Wednesday

The event was held at the Torrance Municipal Airport meeting room from 7-9PM.

Torrance Municipal Airport  Zamperini Field – General Administration Building

Thanks to Lena, Lucy and Tiffani’s help, we got the room all set up before the speakers and our fellow writers arrived. One of our members, Jeff, was kind enough to bring some coffee in case anybody needed it for a quick boost.

Starbucks coffee, care of Jeff

Kathie and Pamela arrived early, and even gave us some cookies from King’s Hawaiian to add to the snacks we were providing for everyone.

Snacks and water for everyone

We waited a few minutes until everybody had signed in, gotten their name tags and chosen their seats; then I introduced our speakers.

Introducing the speakers

Kathie Fong Yoneda is a former development exec who has worked at such studios as Disney, Paramount, MGM, 20 thCentury Fox and Universal, specializing in live action, animation and both film & television projects. She conducts workshops worldwide and is the author of THE SCRIPT-SELLING GAME (2 nd edition) and teaches an online class on PITCH & PRESENTATION for Writers University ( She also co-exec produced the cable series BEYOND THE BREAK for Teen Nick. &

Kathie Fong-Yoneda, author of The Script-Selling Game

Pamela Jaye Smith is a writer, international consultant and speaker, and award-winning producer-director with over 30 years in the media industry, from feature films to music videos, commercials to documentaries. She is the author of INNER DRIVES, THE POWER OF THE DARK SIDE, BEYOND THE HERO’S JOURNEY, and  SYMBOLS.IMAGES.CODES: The Secret Language of Meaning in Media. As well as in-person classes here and abroad, Pamela teaches online on Mythic Themes, Archetypes, and Symbols for a number of venues. She is the founder of  MYTHWORKS and co-founder of the Alpha Babe Academy.

Pamela Jaye Smith, author of  The Power of the Dark Side & Symbols, Images & Codes

Kathie began her talk by telling everyone the story of how we had first met, and of how they had come to be our speakers. She also told us of how she and Pamela have been friends for years, and of how they work together often on certain projects.

Afterward, Kathie immediately launched into her topic, which was “An Insider’s Look at the Family Entertainment Market.”

Children’s book writers

Kathie gave us an inside peek into how family projects are acquired. First, she answered the question, “What is the family entertainment market?”

Family entertainment, Kathie says, consists of feature films, games, books and web-based projects, although every day technology comes up with some other new way for us to enjoy the art of story telling.

What she loves about family entertainment, is that everyone can appreciate it—whether they are five years old, or eighty-five years old, because we all recall the stories we were told when we were younger.

Based on her years as Disney executive, Kathie has come up with several answers as to what makes family entertainment so popular.

1. There is an understanding that children don’t necessarily have to take center stage. Children like to see teens/ adults, they like to anticipate what their world is going to be like when they get older.

2.  Kids like to see funny, outrageous, out of control or scary situations are popular—every kids’ fantasy is to be in control, to be able to do something that their parents would be proud of. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Harry Potter, Twilight & Spy Kids are example of these kinds of movies.

3. Most publishers and studios like projects that appeal to the entire family, and not just to kids that are under 10 years old.

4. Projects Need to have Cross-Over appeal. Young children don’t go to the movies by themselves. They go with parents, grandparents, or babysitters who don’t want to watch a movie unless it appeals to them.

Kathie showed us a list that she had made of the 100 top grossing films so far. She had highlighted family entertainment movies—and it was clear from the list that G, PG & PG-13 movies outperform R & NC-17 movies. The movie Matrix had an R rating, but when they came out with the second movie “Matrix Reloaded”,  they purposely rated it as PG-13, and it actually did better than the first one.

Another question that Kathie often gets asked is, What kinds of projects attract a buyer?

Kathie listed down the most popular kinds of projects, along with examples of movies in each genre.

Comedies – Home Alone, Night at the Museum

Comedies that have a positive message – Shrek, Toy Story, Up

Dramas  that have some kind of action/magical supernatural elements – twilight, Harry potter, spiderman

Dramas that have universal themes – lion king, mulan

Action –Adventure – Indiana jones, M.I.B, National Treasure

One of the most important questions that Kathie answered that night was How can a writer get his/her work noticed?

Kathie says that over 80% of Oscar-nominated films for BEST PICTURE are adaptations.  Almost 45% of all TV & cable movies are adaptations.  Of those 70% of all Emmy Award winners for TV & cable movies are from adaptations.

Still most books are not meant to become movies.

Studios & networks take a hard look at making films based on books because they have to pay twice as much – once for the book & once for the screenplay.

Kathie says that if a book is not a best-seller, the author needs to generate some interest in order to even have their book considered.

One way an author could do this, would be to use either a  book agent, publisher’s rights department or an entertainment attorney & ask them to submit a document that summarizes his/her book as he/she would like to see it as a movie.

Kathie then gave us a list of things we should consider if we wanted to use this strategy.

1. Remember that novels use words to describe the characters & tell the story.  Movies use images & action.

2. Your synopsis should be a realistic view of how your book can be turned into a movie.  Seldom are most books “ready-to-go” as a film.

3. You need to divide your story into beginning, middle & end, which roughly coincides with the traditional 3-act storytelling structure.

4. You must have a strong, appealing logline.  What is a logline?  How do you construct one?  You can use WHAT IF?

Kathie explained what a logline was. She used the plot from Finding Nemo and Avatar as examples to teach us step by step how to construct one.  She also encouraged us to try and create a logline from one of the many movies she had listed down in the handouts she had given out earlier.

Aside from teaching us about loglines, Kathie also gave us a list of things the producer or studio would need to know if we were to submit a synopsis:

  • ·Who is the hero/heroine?
  • ·What is his/her goal?
  • ·What is the issue, problem or challenge he/she faces?
  • ·Where does a majority of the story take place?
  • ·What is the time span involved?
  • ·Does it take place in the past, future or present?

Kathie reminded us that studios always look for stories that have one or more of the following elements:

  • Stories with a universal theme with a unique twist or perspective
  • Storyline that contains appealing characters that mirror the family audience and explores that audience’s deepest fears and most cherished dreams.
  • And in many cases, they are looking for characters and situations that could become a series of films.  EXAMPLE:  SHREK, HARRY POTTER

I realized that story elements studios and producers of film look for in projects they receive, are the same elements that publishers look for in the stories submitted to them.

Kathie also listed down some major challenges in adapting our books into screenplays. Some of these challenges include the fact that many books span a large chunk of time, and while the main storyline is usually apparent in a book, many writers want to “remain true” to their work by keeping in too many subplots or characters.

This is possibly why novelists can’t write screenplays, the same way most screenwriters can’t write novels.

She said writers and their formats are like athletes and their sport. You may be good in golf, but you may be crummy in skiing. Or you may do well in track, but you can’t swim. Sometimes you can do well in 2 or 3 kinds of sports, same as writing.

Kathie ended her talk by giving us other advice for submitting our works to a publisher or studio.  She says we should keep in mind that once a studio buys the rights to our book or manuscript, they “own” it & we no longer have control over the subsequent adaptation that results from their purchase.

Kathie ended her talk to a loud applause, and we entered the second phase of our event:

Pamela Jaye Smith’s talk: Symbols and the Dark Side in Family Entertainment, Yes You Need It.

Pamela started her talk by asking us to imagine a pie chart for our story. Within that pie chart, there are three elements that we should consider to make our stories good:




Pamela explained that we should ask ourselves what the ratio of these elements is in the story we’re writing.

Enlightenment is art, which shows us some kind of different vision. This is something our stories need, after all, Pamela reminded us, we don’t get much  enlightenment from watching “Dumb and Dumber”.

Entertainment is the element that allows the audience to enjoy the story, while Expression is basically the part of the story that allows us to express ourselves.

Another important thing to remember is that writing is made up of Art, Craft and Business. Pamela said that Kathie did a great job of explaining the Business part, and so her task was to talk about the Art & Craft part.

Pamela went on to define mythology. She emphasized that a myth isn’t a female moth—as one child once put it, but that myths are stories we tell ourselves to explain the world around us and within us.

She talked a little bit about human developmental ages. Each human developmental stage is related to the kind of stories people like to hear about at the different stages of their lives.

The first 7 years of our lives is devoted to learning about how to work our bodies. In the second 7 years of our lives, we learn about emotion. In the third 7 years of our lives, the focus is on our mental growth. The 4th 7 years of our lives  is about combining all those elements.

For the most part, as children’s book writers we work on the first and second 7 years and so our stories are mostly about the physical and the emotional.

One thing to remember is that idealism is part of what creates the magic that makes a book work. That’s why we have heroes, so that we could look up at something or someone. Heroes represent that enlightenment part of a story.

Stories with heroes have worked for thousands of years. One of the first books that Pamela remembers that she loved was Oscar Wilde’s fairytales. Most of the stories in that book are about good behavior for children, appropriate behavior for young adults and sacrificial behavior for adults to get to that greater good.

Lawrence of Arabia is one of those movies that Pamela said made a really big impression on her when she was younger. It wasn’t a kid’s movie, but it was so idealistic—about a person going by themselves into a situation, and becomes a part of it, and adds and improves the situation by what he brings into it.

Pamela calls this the “Going Native” theme. And this is interesting for teens, particularly because teens think they are  “the only one in the world who has ever felt like this.”

She also told us to keep in mind when we write our stories that kids’ brains are usually wired for empathy by age 5—if they’re not, then we may have a psychopath on our hands. And that’s the value of puppies and cuddly things.

Pamela went on to explain that the way to make our characters grow and learn things in our stories is for them to encounter conflict—which she also calls the “dark side”.

There are  3 levels of the Dark Side, or three kinds of conflicts:

Personal – Dwellers on the threshold, or the Shadow. Things inside of us that stop us from evolving. An example is Peter Pan’s refusal to grow up

Impersonal – Includes things we can’t control. Such as forces of nature or time. An example would be the storm in Swiss Family Robinson.

Suprapersonal –  . These are big individual persons or entities that embody the dark side in stories. It could be a corporation, a religion, a race or a specific villain like Voldemort in Harry Potter.

Stories that are most effective are ones that use at least two of these three elements.

Pamela also listed down the 10 Aspects of Opposition and taught us how to select the best ones for our story.

1. Self – the Dwellers on the Threshold. Building skills, overcoming phobias, strengthening weaknesses. Developmental psychology.   Karate Kid, evil twin, Rocky(s), Shine,  The Man Who Would Be King

2. Other individuals – they’re out to get your heroine, or are just plain obstructive or evil. The Odd Couple, High Noon, Grumpy Old Men, The Player, Heathers, The Big Lebowski, Cape Fear, Patriot Games, Face Off, The Italian Job.

3. Family – they hold him back, make unreasonable demands, are unavailable or abusive, emotionally or physically. Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Ordinary People, Muriel’s Wedding, Once Were Warriors, Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Finding Nemo, The Lion King

4.Sweethearts & rivals – the Twilight series, My Life as a DogStand By MeAdam’s Rib, Bringing Up Baby, Philadelphia Story. Romantic comedies and dramas often revolve around love triangles.

5. Religion – crisis of faith, repression, persecution, religious wars. Queen Margot, Witness, The Last Temptation of Christ, Dangerous Beauty, Luther, The Mission, The Scarlet Letter, Agnes of God, Water, Earth, Kingdom of God, The Da Vinci Code.

6. Environment – the Dark Forces. Bambi, Wall-E,  Jaws, Waterworld, Twister, The Right Stuff, The Perfect Storm, Backdraft, The Day After Tomorrow, Armageddon.

7. Technology – run awry. War Games, Iron Giant, Frankenstein(s), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, A.I., Terminator(s),  I Robot, Jurassic Park(s).

8. Wars – and warring factions. Henry V, Lawrence of Arabia, Godfather(s), Gangs of New YorkApocalypse Now, Under Siege, Thin Red Line, Platoon, most war movies.

9. Gods, monsters, magic, demons, and aliens –  Monsters Inc., Percy Jackson,  Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien(s), Independence Day, Signs, The Mummy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, most horror movies.

10. The Dark Brotherhood – the really big bad guys. Harry Potter,  Black Orpheus, Babylon 5, Conspiracy Theory, Legend, The Lord of the Rings.

Pamela also talked how we could use Symbolism to enrich our stories, by coordinating it with imagery.

The 3 categories of Symbolism and how to coordinate your imagery

Emotional – Cinderella’s servant clothes and broom evokes a feeling of being  “less than”.  Luke’s light saber symbolizes individual power and light. Piggie parents, other creatures in Spirited Away are symbols for what they’ve become or are acting like.

Situational – The wardrobe in Lion, Witch symbolizes hidden treasures, doors to other realms and dimensions, and for the kids having to hide who they really are. They are “in the closet.”

Conceptual – It’s more abstract, you’re talking about things like love, loyalty, truth, passion. The spider’s web in Charlotte’s Web is symbolic of the interconnectedness of life.

Using at least two kinds of symbolisms  can make our stories richer.

In closing, Pamela reminded us of the three E’s – Enlightenment, Entertainment and Expression. She reminded us to ask ourselves what the best ratio is of the three E’s for our stories.

Our two wonderful speakers spent a few more minutes answering the many questions about writing, publishing, symbolism, and conflict that our members asked them.

Before we lined up to get our books signed, we took a picture of our group with the fabulous speakers Kathie Fong-Yoneda and Pamela Jaye Smith.

Children’s Book Writers with Authors & Speakers Pamela Jaye Smith and Kathie Fong Yoneda

We all had such a great time listening to Kathie’s and Pam’s informative and truly helpful talk.

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***I’m still recovering from this weekend’s amazing SCBWI-LA Working Writer’s Retreat. I have tons of notes to sort out, pictures to process and friends to email. As soon as I’m done with all those, I will definitely tell you all about the wonderful weekend I had.

For this week and next week, let me update you on some writing related events I had last August. ***

August 13, 2011, Saturday

Johnny Covey, author of the self-published novel “The Answer”, contacted our group and offered to speak to us. We’re always happy whenever authors offer to share their time and knowledge, and naturally we said yes.

Johnny Covey, author of The Answer

Johnny Covey is the author of The Answer and creator of The 7 Equity Extractors, a framework that unleashes each individual’s equity, that untapped potential. He is also the creator of The 8 Dexterities, an exercise that distinguishes your strengths and how to focus on them. Johnny is an inspirational speaker who has been recognized for his ability to rejuvenate an organization by creating a new level of innovation. Examples of this innovation have been featured in a book by the all time best selling business author Robert Kiyosaki, creator of the internationally acclaimed Rich Dad Poor Dad series.

You can learn more about him at

Johnny began by introducing himself and telling us about his writing journey. At the young age of 13, he had developed an interest in Real Estate. As he grew older he learned more about the real estate business, and became very successful for many years.

However, when the market collapsed a few years go, Johnny found himself without a job and without a future. This made him reflect on his own life, and on what he might do to regain the success he once add.

That’s when he came up with the book, “The Answer.”

Johnny created the book in order to help people  break through the stale, negative energy that keeps them from reaching their full potential—whether in business or in writing.

The book is formatted like a journal,  and unlike other books—the font is unique. The book is printed entirely in Johnny’s handwriting. He formatted the book this way to allow the reader to feel like they are the author, because they are. Readers reflect on the various questions Johnny has posed in the book, then write down their answers in the space provided therein. The interactive style of the book was designed to help the readers discover who they are, and what their potential is. Johnny hopes for people to recognize that  all of us have the answers within ourselves, if we only take time to ask the right questions.

After Johnny’s introduction, he gave us an exercise that he called “Pen Ponder”. He gave us a few minutes to answer the question “What is the next step for me?” –the next step referring to our writing careers.

To give us an example of how we can go about  finding the answers to the important questions we have regarding our writing careers, Johnny asked for a volunteer.

Johnny Covey asking Lucy questions

Lucy volunteered. She wanted find out what the next step was for her writing career (in effect, how to get published, and what to do with the books that she had written). Johnny proceeded to ask her questions. Each answer Lucy gave was followed by another related question. Johnny ended his interview with Lucy when he was satisfied that she had arrived at several useful answers to the question “what is the next step for me.”

Johnny Covey and Lucy

Johnny shared the 4 M’s of finding the answers:

1. Models – successful people/ actions we could watch from a distance. They are role models, or good examples of how we can find success.

2. Mentors – People who have achieved what we want to achieve, or a book to help us achieve the goals we’ve written down. In our case, we would need to find other successful writers who we can learn from, and read up on a lot of writing books to help us improve our craft.

3. Mastermind – A critique group or writing group that we can join. A group of like-minded people who can accompany us in our writing journey.

4. Me – In the end, we decide what we need to do to find the next step in the ladder of our success.

Johnny ended the session by asking us to answer the question “What is holding you back from your next step?”

Johnny Covey and the class

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SCBWI Summer Conference Day 3

August 7, 2011 Sunday

Last night’s pajama party ended at around 11pm and after dropping a reluctant Sophia (who is a night owl and wanted to party some more) off at her apartment, I got home at around 12:30am.

I had promised to pick Sophia up around 8am so we could make the 8:30am Agents panel.

As I was still half-asleep, I drove around Sophia’s neighborhood trying to remember where her house was, until she finally picked up and gave me directions. Sophia looked like she was sleep-walking as she got into my car. I felt bad for having to drag her out of bed so early, but though she hated waking up early, she also didn’t want to miss the keynote event “Four Agents View the Current State of Children’s Books”.

It was already 8:30am by the time we got to the Hyatt Hotel. I wanted to pay for valet parking today because it was cheaper than self-parking. (I had been paying $24 for whole day parking the last couple of days). But there was a long line of cars and there was only one parking attendant.

Funny how things always boil down to either time or money. I voted for time, turned my car around and self-parked. We got to the ballroom 15 minutes late, and the panel was already starting, but I’m glad I self-parked. I had a feeling I’d still be in the car waiting for my turn if I hadn’t.


The four agents on the panel were:

Barry Goldblatt, Tina Wexler, Marcia Wernick & Tracey Adams

Tracey Adams , who owns a literary agency with her husband Josh Adams,

Barry Goldblatt, who is married to YA author Libba Bray, and who is celebrating the 11th anniversary of his agency.

Marcia Wernick, who owns the Wernick & Pratt Agency with Linda Pratt.

And Tina Wexler, who is an agent for ICM, one of the biggest literary agencies with offices in London, L.A. and New York.

The four agents had great chemistry and seemed to agree with each other in terms of how they handle their clients.

Here are some of their most memorable statements:

Tracey Adams on being an editorial agent:

“We are like stagers– we stage the work to get it in its best form to submit.”

Tina Wexler on getting writing to the next level:

“We’re only as good as the material we’re selling. If you want to get to the next level, then you must take your writing there. Ask yourself, what are you doing as a writer to get to the next level?”

Barry Goldblatt on what happens if he can’t sell a book

“I don’t measure my success or failure about whether the book becomes a huge hit. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about a good publishing experience for my author.”

Marcia Wernick on digital publishing

“The digital world offers a lot of opportunities, but doesn’t replace publishers.”

The panel ended with a funny lightning around, in which each agent answered the question using only one word.

Barry Goldblatt, Tina Wexler, Marcia Wernick & Tracey Adams, Photo by Rita Crayon-Huang

When asked what the next hot genre was, Tracey said “Thriller”, Marcia said “Suspense”, Tina said “Sci-Fi” and Barry said “horror.”

And when asked what kind of work they wanted to land on their desk, Marcia said, “Brilliant.”, Tina said, “Ditto.”, Tracey said “Award-winner and best-seller”, and Barry said “all of the above.”

SCBWI Conference Blog:

Tracey Adams

Barry Goldblatt

Marcia Wernick

Tina Wexler


As soon as the panel ended, Sophia announced that she was going back to bed. She lived about 7 minutes away from the hotel and her boyfriend was going to pick her up. Lucky girl.

Bonnie, Lissa and I stayed on for the next panel. And though I was freezing my ears off (the AC was on full blast!), I was so glad I stayed.

The next speaker didn’t need an outline to know exactly what he wanted to talk about.

Gary Paulsen, author of at least a hundred children’s books, and three time Newberry Medal winner, was a great storyteller, and we all sat rapt in attention and drank in every word.

Gary Paulsen, author of Hatchet, Dogsong and other children’s books

Gary took us on a roller coaster ride of emotions as he told us his life story. He spoke with the air of a man whose character was built through hardship. I was surprised to find out  that his father was in the military, and was assigned to the Philippines when he was young.

Gary’s parents were alcoholics, and he spent the first 9 years of his life surviving in the grimy streets of Manila. I couldn’t imagine how a foreigner like him survived at that young age back then.

By age 10, they had gone back to the states, and he had learned how to trap for survival. At age 13, he was selling newspapers in various bars—and stealing money from drunkards. He called himself an orphan, outcast, a drunk, smart-ass street kid.

Gary Paulsen, Master Storyteller

He told us the story of how he had gone into the library to escape a beating from a group of boys. And of how a kindly librarian had given him his very own library card, and how he was amazed and happy to have something with his own name on it. He wasn’t a very good reader when he first got his library card, but after slogging through the first book, he began to read another book every three weeks, then one book a week, until finally he was reading several books in a week.

Reading became a way to adventure for him, and I teared up when he shook his head and said  of the librarian—“That woman changed my life, and she’ll never know.”

Gary told us more stories of growing up, how he got into the army, became an expert on missiles, and decided he wanted to be a writer.

He talked about the ups and downs of his life, his writing career, how he got into sledding and joined the Iditarod, an annual sled dog race which only a handful of people ever finish successfully.

Gary Paulsen was a master storyteller and his words touched us on a deep emotional level. His stories made us both laugh and cry, and his very presence inspired us to keep on going.

“You write for writing and everything else is shit,” Gary said,  reminding us that it is our love for writing that will help us survive the publishing industry.

As soon as he had finished talking, the audience burst out in a raucous, respectful standing ovation for the man, the legend, the rock star that is Gary Paulsen.

SCBWI Conference Blog: Gary Paulsen


My mind was still whirling with Gary’s stories as I made my way to the first breakout session of the day.

Editor Julie Strauss-Gabel from Dutton, agent Michael Bourret from Dystel and Goderich and author Nova Ren Suma (who wrote Imaginary Girls), talked about the relationship between author, agent and editor.

Editor Julie Strauss Gabel

Agent Michael Bourret

Author Nova Ren Suma

Julie and Michael stressed that they had known each other for almost a decade, and they trust each other’s judgements. Michael sends Julie the right project, with the kind of voice he knows she likes. Likewise, Julie trusts Michael’s taste and knowledge, and so when he sends her a project, she opens it immediately.

Nova says that her novel Imaginary Girls went through four or five rounds of revisions and was the hardest thing she’s ever done. But she trusted Julie’s suggestions and even felt that Julie knew more about her characters than she actually did.

You can read more about the session at the SCBWI Conference blog,


I left the session early once more, and made my way back to the ballroom. My friends and I wanted to get a good table for the Golden Kite Luncheon. I got there first and after several minutes of wandering around amid the growing crowd, Bonnie, Lissa and I finally found each other.

While I was looking for Lissa, I bumped into author Deborah Halverson. I was so happy because I had brought a copy of her book Writing YA Fiction for Dummies with me, in the off chance that I might see her around.

I was so happy that I found her amid the 1300 people milling around outside the ballroom. I asked her to sign my book and she happily agreed. She even asked me what my plans were and asked if I wanted to join her for lunch! How cool is that! ?

Naturally I said yes, and I asked her if she wanted to join my friends and I at a table. As soon as the doors opened, Lissa led the way into the ballroom. She was a woman on a mission and we all trailed after her as she chose a good table.

I was bursting with happiness as I sat between my good friend, debut YA author Lissa Price and author Deborah Halverson, who wrote one of my favorite writing books! I found Melanie and asked if she wanted to join us, and our Secret Asian Club was almost complete.

A group of San Francisco based young illustrators asked us if they could join our table and we were more than happy to welcome them. The funny thing was, they were all Asian. What a perfect addition to the Secret Asian Club!

While we were served salad and chicken, the Golden Kite Luncheon program proceeded.

First, the new Golden Kite Poster was unveiled.

The New Golden Kite Poster

Then the winner of the Member of the Year award was announced.

Michelle Parker-Rock, long time Regional Advisor for SCBWI Arizona won the Member of the Year Award.

Michelle Parker-Rock, Member of the Year

The winners of the brand new SCBWI Student Illustrators Scholarship were announced–Lisa Anchin, from the School of Visual Arts,  Julianna Brion, from the Maryland Institute College of Art, and Sarah Krzynowek from Huntington University.

Afterward, the various winners of the Golden Kite Awards were announced, and each of them took the stage.

Jennifer Holm won the Golden Kite Award for Fiction with her book TURTLE IN PARADISE.

She thanked the SCBWI and reminded all writers to “never give up” and to know that everyone in the room was here for them.

Tonya Lee Stone won the Golden Kite Award for Nonfiction for her book THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE BARBIE. She couldn’t accept the award in person, but she did send a video message.

Rukhsana Khan won the Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Text for her book THE BIG RED LOLLILOP. In an energetic and inspirational way, she told us of the true childhood story behind the Award Winning Picture Book.
Rukhsana had many more stories to tell, but she had to give way to Alan Silberberg, who was this year’s Sid Fleischman Award winner for MILO: STICKY NOTES & BRAIN FREEZE. Alan shared with us  how he came up with Milo’s story.  He got the idea of telling a heartbreaking story of death, and combining it with humor from his own childhood experiences, and from losing his own mother.

Salley Mavor was this year’s Picture Book Illustration Golden Kite Award Winner.  Her picture book, A POCKETFUL OF POSIES is not only a work of art, but a great  work of a meticulous 3D Craft.

After the winners had all given their speeches, Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser, founders of the SCBWI,took the stage.

Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser, Photo by Rita Crayon-Huang

Lin and Stephen told us, how they formed the SCBWI 40 years ago. They traveled back in time with them through a slideshow of pictures and heard and saw for ourselves how the SCBWI had started from a small number of 1o members, and how it grew to become an  international organization with  22,000 members.

It was amazing to see how far the SCBWI had come. From a simple picnic lunch in the park at their first ever conference to today’s 3 course, amazing Golden Kite Luncheon with this dessert:

Golden Kite luncheon dessert, Photo by Rita Crayon-Huang

We all stood up and gave Lin and Stephen a loud round of applause. We hoped that they felt the gratitude every writer in that room felt, for their efforts in creating, maintaining and improving the SCBWI.

And just when we thought Lin and Stephen were done with surprises, they brought out the SUPER SECRET, BEST SURPRISE SPEAKER that whole conference.


Richard Peck , holding a copy of Stuart Little

Although Richard Peck has tons of books and awards (Edgar Allan Poe Award, National Book Award and the Newberry Medal among these), I’d never really been a true fan until I heard him speak that day.

He wasn’t only  a great speaker (he knew when to pause, when to raise his voice, which word to emphasize), but he was a superb teacher.

Every word that poured out of his mouth that day was a gem of motivation, a jewel of inspiration and a touch of wisdom.  He spoke of what makes a book timeless, what stories are really about, and what our responsibilities were as writers. I hung on to every word he said, and halfway through his speech, I realized I should be writing this all down! So  I grabbed a notebook, and a pen and began to write every word I could.

Richard Peck, Photo by Rita Crayon-Huang

Here’s a small sample of the wonderful things I learned from the great Richard Peck that day:

“Stuart Little is timeless, because he’s the smallest, youngest, most vulnerable hero in the book. It’s an invitation to the reader to step into the page and be in the story.

“We have nothing to say unless we let the readers get on the page and be on the stage.

“Every book begins in the library, in the hopes that it will end there.”

“All books are history books, and our books might be the only history tomorrow’s young will learn. We must recognize the past when it comes around again. ”

“History repeats in every human heart.”

Richard Peck ended his speech with the best quote ever.

“We must tell the youth the truth, that unless you find yourself on the page very early in life, you will go looking for yourself in all the wrong places.”

Every person in the room stood up and gave Richard Peck, the longest, loudest and most tearful standing ovation ever. Bonnie and I looked at each other as we clapped and there were tears of disbelief and amazement in our eyes.  We had both heard the most amazing speech ever and it moved us in ways we couldn’t even begin to understand.


I went to the final breakout session of the day, still reeling with the amazing things Richard Peck said.

Editor Krista Marino spoke about “Perfecting Your YA Voice”, and I learned a lot from her about how to write Young Adult Fiction.

She spoke of the difference between an authorial voice and a narrative voice, and went on to explain that the Narrative voice is a        combination of the writer’s use of diction, perspective, characterization and dialogue.

She reminded us that YA is the teen experience–and is all about how teens view the world. YA is also defined by a teenager’s limited view on life experiences. She told us to think about how small our world was when we were teenagers.

Krista expounded on each of the 4 elements of Narrative Voice–Diction, Perspective, Characterization and Dialogue.


The last Keynote Speech for the Conference was by YA author Laurie Halse Anderson.  She spoke about Daring the Universe with our art.

Laurie Hals Anderson

Laurie quoted from T.S. Elliot’s poem. She began with “Do I dare disturb the universe?”

Laurie said that the job of any writer is to disturb. We all have seeds of talent in our souls.  She says, ” the seed of your art is not content to lie quietly in your soul.”

We must inspire, conspire and aspire with the better angels of our nature.

She told us of her own writing journey, and even gave us great tips on revision and the study of craft.

She reminded us of Mark Twain’s words: “20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you  did do.”

Laurie said, ” Writing forces you to be alive, and being alive can really, really hurt. To write is to terrorize yourself, but to stop writing – that is to succumb to despair, to submit to despair.”

Laurie Hals Anderson pointed out something we were all pretty sure of after the three day conference: the amazing thing about children’s literature is that we are all conspirators, and not competitors.

She ended her speech with the final standing ovation for the 3 day conference.

Laurie Hals Anderson,Photo by Rita Crayon-Huang


I was grateful that Sophia had saved us a spot for the autograph session.  The line was already ridiculously long by the time I got out of the ballroom.

I was so happy to get my books signed by my favorite authors:

With Libba Bray, who signed my Gemma Doyle Books

With Laurie Hals Anderson

Sophia with Jon Sciezka

I didn’t get to buy any of Richard Peck’s books (they were all sold out, I think), but I wanted something to remember him by. So I approached him and asked him to sign my Conference ID. He even posed for a picture with me!

With Idol Richard Peck!


Right after the autograph session, I joined fellow SCBWI Westside Schmoozers  Greg Pincus andRita Crayon-Huang as they walked to PINK TACO at the Century City Mall for the 2nd KIDLIT DRINK NIGHT.

Kidlit Drink Night at Pink Taco

Bestfriends Maiko and Lena joined me as I ended the conference by sharing a meal with new and old writer friends.

With Old and New Friends: Maiko, Lissa, Bonnie, Medeia, Lynn and Melanie

With Sophia, Kristen, & Jo

Maiko, Lena and I hung out with Lissa and Bonnie until about 9, and we all said tearful goodbyes to Bonnie, who was leaving for Vancouver the next day.

The conference was an amazing, exhausting, exhilarating, exhausting, wonderful experience! I hope to save enough money to go again next year.


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SCBWI Summer Conference Day 2

I learned so much just during the first day of the conference that I got a migraine halfway through the day.

Naturally I had to take Excedrin—and that about kept me up all night.  I woke up feeling groggy and still exhausted from my sleepless Friday night. I was worried about how I would last the whole day—especially since we would have the 40 Winks Ball from 7:30PM onwards today.

I got to the Hyatt hotel early enough to save seats for myself and some friends. All of us members of the Secret Asian Club agreed to meet in the same spot on the right side of the ballroom, for all the keynote speeches so it would be easier to find each other.

After the usual round of door prize giveaways (they gave away a bag full of goodies, gift certificates to the SCBWI bookstore and an Amazon Kindle!), and the usual round of twitter jokes that various people submitted, Lin Oliver (whose voice was sounding much better today—she had a sore throat right before the conference and she valiantly braved her emceeing duties yesterday) introduced our first speaker–Donna Jo Napoli.

Donna Jo Napoli

Donna Jo Napoli  is the author of numerous picture books, and books of myths, fairy tales and historical fiction. She is also the mistress of time management, it seems, because while raising 5 children she managed to get a PhD at the M.I.T, publish 70 books for children and teach as a professor of linguistics!

Years ago, someone ask Donna Jo why she would ruin her perfectly good books by putting terrible events in them. Donna went on to list the reasons for banning a book:

  • offensive language
  • disparagement of family values
  • treatment of witchcraft
  • attacks on patriotism/authority

Her books never dealt with any of these, but her books did deal with the hard and harsh realities of life.

Donna stated that incidents of brutality, racism, denigrating importance of handicapped, depressing, morbid topics, shouldn’t be reasons for banning books. She went on to talk about some people’s needs to protect/ shelter their children from the realities of life.

Donna Jo Napoli

I loved what she said about “protected” children – “It’s easy for them to feel entitled. Protected children are not only intolerant but also intolerable.”

Donna’s talk was enlightening and motivating. I only wish  a lot of parents could hear what she had to say about why reading about “terrible” things  in books  can make the reader a better person. Kids who have something terrible happen to them (rape, bullying, etc) often keep these things to themselves—and then they read about the same experience in a book, and they don’t feel so alone. It gives them the courage to face their own hardships.

One of the things she said which really struck a chord with me was this: “Write from what’s inside you. Write from your places of pain, joy, fear.”

Donna Jo Napoli stepped down from the podium with another standing ovation.


After a few minutes break, David Small,  Caldecott Medal Winner and Illustrator extraordinaire, took the stage. He began by showing us a book trailer of his autobiographical graphic novel Stitches.

David Small

Through the book trailer, we learned of David’s unhappy childhood with a mother who hated him. He said that writing and illustrating Stitches was the only therapy that worked for him. He said “the body expresses what the mind doesn’t allow you to.”

David moved on to a Q & A portion, where he invited questions from the audience. One member asked what David would like the readers to know about his book. He said that Stitches was really a warning about families who get stuck in a wrong kind of tradition. “A long line of conga people abusing their children, who go on to abuse their children.” David shared Philip Larkin’s poem about families.

He also said that “life is a shitstorm, and art is our only umbrella.” David ended his talk on a happy note by showing us a short video on illustrations he drew about a typical day on an author tour. You can actually watch David’s videos on  the official SCBWI Conference Blog.

A well-deserved standing ovation again, as David danced his way off the stage—finally free of his childhood memories, and surrounded by a supportive writing community.

Dancing David, Photo by Rita Crayon-Huang


But the SCBWI organizers weren’t done. They brought out one of the biggest surprises of the conference. When this speaker took the stage, the whole room erupted in a standing ovation—and she hadn’t even started talking yet.

Before us stood Judy Blume, author of numerous stories ranging from Picture Books to Adult books, including the best-selling book “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret.”

We were all in awe, and we actually had John Green (or his gall-bladder) to thank. Judy Blume came in place of John Green, who needed surgery.

Judy sat down with Lin Oliver for an interview, that we wish could have lasted longer.

Lin Oliver interviewing Judy Blume, Photo by Rita Crayon-Huang

The first thing I found out about Judy was that she likes twitter. She says “it’s a good way to waste time.”

Lin Oliver asked Judy about her writing process, but Judy admitted that she really doesn’t understand the process or how it works for her. She says she usually starts a book on the day “something happens.”

Judy also told us the story of how she got started writing years ago. Decades ago, she was very unhappy with her life and her marriage—then she started writing.  She said writing not only changed her life, but saved her life.

I was so annoyed at myself for not taking many pictures, or writing everything that Judy Blume said. I was so in awe of her, that I was so focused on just listening to every word. Luckily, the wonderful SCBWI Conference Blog bloggers were able to capture a lot of what Judy said.

You can read their 3 posts on Judy Blume here.

I did manage to jot down a few nuggets of inspiration when I wasn’t gaping at Judy Blume.

Judy says:

On story ideas:  “I start the book on the day something different happens”

On Voice: “What is voice? You just find it.”

On writing: “Ask yourself who do you identify with? We must be the people who identify with kids.”

On getting published: “Determination will get you there.”

Lin Oliver tried to get Judy Blume to tell her beauty secrets, because she looked so young and vibrant despite her years. Judy just smiled and shrugged and said she was just young at heart.

When she stood up to thank the audience, the room erupted into the loudest, and longest standing ovation yet. We felt like we were in the presence of royalty.

Judy Blume, Photo by Rita Crayon-Huang

It was truly an inspiring, heart-pounding, incredible experience to hear a legend like Judy Blume talk.


I was still in a daze when I made my way to the first workshop for the day.

Alessandra Balzer, editor and publisher for Balzer & Bray/ Harper Collins talked about what editors were looking for in the books they acquired.

Editor Alessandra Balzer reading “Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator”, Photo by Rita Crayon-Huang

She said editors look for Originality, Good Writing and Voice in all their submissions.

Alessandra gave us a lot of great advice and useful tips on querying, as well as on writing. She also listed down some genres, that were missing opportunities in the market—and reminded us not to go about chasing trends.

As an editor, Alessandra looks for the following when deciding on whether to acquire a book or not:

Voice –attitude, fresh voice, POV

Author – something special about the author

High Concept – great hook with fast, high stakes

Books that make her cry – People want to be moved

Fresh, Ground-breaking concepts

Heart – Something that resonates with the reader.

As an example of a book with hard, she read the picture book  “Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator.”

You can read more about Alessandra’s talk at the SCBWI Conference Blog.


I left 15 minutes before Alessandra’s talk ended.  With 1300 participants,  my friends and  I thought it was a good idea to grab lunch early. Lissa, Bonnie, Melanie , Kristen and I met at the Breeze Restaurant again. This time, however, we made sure we wouldn’t be late for the keynote right after lunch.

The 1:30 Keynote Speaker was the ever jolly Jon Sciezka.

Jon Sciezka, Photo by Rita Crayon-Huang

Jon talked about how he grew up reading MAD magazines, and comic books. He didn’t get into writing until later on in life. While he was an elementary school teacher, he would read a lot of books to his students. This got him thinking about writing his own books.

Jon talked about how we as writers could write whatever we wanted. There are many forms and genres for expressing our stories out there, and we could write in all of them. As an example, Jon shared with us the many books he had written in various forms.

He wrote Cowboy and Octopus where he combined the weirdest possible characters he could think of. In The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, he added a twist that the readers couldn’t possibly have expected. In the Time Warp Trio, he used his love for history and adventure. He even wrote a fun book on algebra!

Jon Sciezka, Photo by Rita Crayon-Huang

Jon ended his talk by showing us a video of how he convinced a whole class of children to say goodbye to him in a very “ambassadorial way.” The video is hilarious, and you can watch it here

Naturally everyone in the room had to give Jon the ambassadorial goodbye as he ended his funny yet informative talk.

The Audience saluting Jon Sciezka, Photo by Rita Crayon-Huang


After Jon, another legend stepped onto the stage. Norton Juster, author of many books, is most known for his book The Phantom Tollbooth, which is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary this year.

Norton Juster, Photo by Rita Crayon-Huang

Norton Juster calls himself an accidental writer. He told us of how he started in architectural school, how he found himself in the Navy, and of how he eventually started writing the Phantom Tollbooth.

A friend had sent his first 50 pages to an adult editor, who called him up weeks later to offer him a contract. At that time, Norton was living with illustrator Jules Feiffer—who eventually began to draw illustrations for the Phantom Tollbooth.

Norton shared a lot of funny anecdotes about living with Jules Feiffer, and his writing journey.

Norton Juster

He ended his talk by encouraging us to spend time out of context. As an example, he read us a spoonerism poem Prindarella and the Crince.

His speech ended in laughter, applause and another standing ovation!


After all the exciting speakers, I was tired and sleepy by the time I went to the 3:15PM break-out session. I dragged myself up to the Olympic I room, and found myself without a seat.

Editor Beverly Horowitz was already starting her talk on “Forgetting the Trends: Write only the story You Can Write.”

I found myself a seat on the floor and leaned against the wall. I texted my fellow Secret Asian Club members, pleading for them to save me and help me keep awake!

Beverly Horowitz was talking about how we should pay attention to the impact of trends, not only in the publishing business, but also in the world at large.

My friend Sophia got my text message and found me leaning against the wall, struggling to keep my eyes open.

Once more I was thankful that the SCBWI Conference Bloggers were taking note of each breakout sessionbecause the only thing my brain managed to hold on to at that point was Beverly telling us to do our best work. She said the most important thing was our commitment to the quality of our work, and that we should just focus on writing the best story only we can write.

Sophia and I were out of the room as soon as Beverly thanked us for our time. We made our way downstairs to the California Ballroom.

The final Keynote speech for the day was at 4:30pm and we had a few minutes to go book shopping (again). I wasn’t able to go to the autograph session last Friday, but today I intended to go.

The organizers had given us an autograph session schedule and I had taken note of the authors who were doing autographs per day. I bought books for tomorrow’s scheduled authors. I already had with me the books for today’s assigned authors.

Sophie and I found seats where we could easily take off from.

The final keynote speaker for the day was Mary Pope Osbourne, who is best known for her Magic Tree House series.

Mary Pope Osbourne, Photo by Rita Crayon-Huang

Mary talked to us about some of the highlights of her 30 year career as a children’s book writer, even reading aloud funny or heart-warming letters she had received from her fans.

One of them said, “Thank you for writing the Magic Tree House series, it was so thoughtful of you.”

She also gave us some useful tips on plot, voice, character and setting though I was sufficiently pooped by this time to even take notes.

You can probably read more about her speech at the SCBWI blog.


A few minutes before her talk ended, Sophia and I decided to go to the designated autograph session spot. A line had already formed, and there were already 15 or more people ahead of us. We were lucky we got out when we did. There was a rush of people after Mary’s talk, and the line got so long it eventually snaked all the way back to where we couldn’t see the end.

My writing group member Tiffani joined us in line, and we took pictures and chatted to pass the time.

With Tiffani in line for the autograph session

When they opened the doors, I immediately headed for the three authors I had come to see.

Lisa Yee, whom I first met at last year’s moderator at the June Critiqunique session.

Norton Juster,

Norton Juster signing my copy of The Phantom Tollbooth

And Gary Paulsen.

Gary Paulsen, signing my copy of Hatchet

I was a total fangirl, of course, I practically fawned over them!

As an added bonus, Sophia introduced me to her manuscript critique mentor Deborah Halverson—who happens to be one of my favorite writing book authors. Sophia had told Deborah that I had taught parts of her awesome book Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, at one of our writing group sessions on Plotting.

Deborah wanted to meet me and I was ecstatic to meet her! I was only bummed that I didn’t bring my copy of her book. But I did get a picture with her.

With Deborah Halverson, author of Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies


The day didn’t end there, of course. I drove Sophia and I to her apartment so we could get ready and get dressed for the 40 Winks Ball. We rested for a little bit—chatting about ourselves, writing, and eating our much needed snacks. At around 7PM, we got into our pajamas.

I left my car at Sophia’s and she drove us to the hotel. The party was full-blown by the time we got to the pool at 8pm. We quickly found the rest of the Secret Asian Club.

One of my dream agents, Josh Adams, was talking to Lissa and Bonnie, and I was happy that I got the chance to chat for a short time with him. We talked mostly about martial arts, since he has a black belt in taekwondo, and I was taking Filipino martial arts.

Lissa, Melanie, Sophia, Bonnie, Kristen and I would lose each other in all the excitement, and then eventually find each other throughout the night.

There was food, drinks, and dancing

Dancing writers

Wandering sheep

Crossword shirt

Melanie as Waldo

We had tons of fun, but I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

With members of the Secret Asian Club – Bonnie, Sophia and Melanie

With Sara Wilson Etienne, whose book Harbinger will be out soon

Tiffani and I in our jammies

With Melanie and Sophia, Photo by Rita Crayon-Huang

Rita Crayon-Huang, wearing her Newberry Medal pajama


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