Archive for September, 2012

SCBWI Working Writers Retreat Day 3

I woke up bleary-eyed on the last day of our retreat. I had stayed up late revising my first page and helping my friends with theirs. It was fun, though. I felt like I was in college again cramming for a group report or paper the next day.

I wasn’t the only one who was half-awake. Some of the attendees had spent a late night too—either revising or singing their hearts off at the karaoke session.

The warm breakfast perked us up and soon after, we returned to our rooms to do some last minute packing and to load our things into the car before the First Pages Reading.

Lee and Sarah, our ever-ready organizers, gave us a few reminders and words of encouragement. And right before we began, Lynette, our Stretch Coach, helped us relax our tense muscles. After a minute of stretching, I felt relatively calmer.

The First Pages Reading is a little like American Idol for Writers. A panel of acquiring agents—and editor—sat in front of the room, listening to us read our first pages and giving us some helpful comments after.

Our teachers for the weekend, Agents Jill Corcoran and Abigail Samoun, and Editor Heather Alexander were on the panel. The organizers had also invited Agent Jennifer Rofe of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency as our special guest panelist.


First Pages Reading Panel of Acquiring Agents/Editor

All 40 participants had 3 minutes each. We would read for a minute and half, and listen to the panel’s feedback for the rest of the time.

Lee volunteered to go first so he could show us all that there was nothing to fear, and so he could keep the timer for the rest of us.

It was nerve-wracking affair, especially for those who were experiencing the first pages reading for the first time. But everyone was very supportive and took every opportunity to say “awww” or laugh at the right moments.


First Pages Reading

Our group went third, and even though I had done this before I still felt very nervous as I stood behind the podium. I snuck a glance at the audience and saw some encouraging smiles and a few nervous ones. Knowing we were all in this together made me feel a little better.

I read my 250 words as clearly and loudly as I could, and listened as the panel gave their comments. One agent said there seemed to be too many ideas on one page, but they generally liked the concept for my story. The paragraph about blood calling out to blood peaked their interest in particular. I made note of all their comments, thanked them and walked back to my seat, breathing a huge sigh of relief.


First Pages Reading

I was so glad to have gone earlier on. Now I could sit back and enjoy everyone else’s stories.

After the last person had gone up, cheers and a round of applause erupted throughout the room. We clapped for each other and the panel, and breathed huge sighs of relief.

A round of relieved applause

 Sarah and Lee made sure we ended the retreat on a high note. Prizes for a drawing were given away. Lucky participants took home discount coupons for other SCBWI events, a bottle of wine and even a free manuscript critique from the famed writing duo of Judy Enderle and Stephanie Gordon.

Heather Alexander, Editor at Dial Books gave us more reasons to rejoice. She added upcoming titles from Dial Books to our giveaway pile.

Editor Heather Alexander gives away Dial Books 

We left the Retreat with a page full of revision notes, business cards from our new friends and memories to last us a lifetime.

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Every Wednesday, I feature a writer and his/her workspace.  My aim is to get to know fellow writers better through their workspace and writing habits, and have them  share some of their writing wisdom here.

Today, I am most eager to welcome author Julie Flanders, whose debut novel Polar Night will be published in 2013.

You can find Julie blogging at

Welcome, Julie!


Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living? What genre do you love to write? What are some of your hobbies or interests? Do you have a hidden talent?

Julie Flanders


I work as an academic librarian in a small liberal arts college. I currently work at this job full-time, but my goal is to eventually be able to support myself through writing full-time and working as a librarian part-time.

I write adult fiction, and my first novel is POLAR NIGHT, a suspense story that includes paranormal elements. I’ve had a tough time figuring out just what genre it is! I’m currently working on a novel that revolves around a historical romance and includes a ghost. So I guess I would say that I love including elements of the paranormal genre in my writing.

I love animals, and one of my biggest interests in terms of non-fiction writing is writing about animals and animal-related issues. I write columns about animal news and general pets issues for the and make it a point to support animal rescues through my writing. As far as hobbies, I love to read and I love going for walks and exploring new walking trails with my dog. I also can’t deny that I am a television junkie.

If I have a hidden talent, I’m afraid it is still hidden from me! I don’t think I have one.


On Workspace

1.  Where do you do most of your writing?

I do almost all of my writing on my couch! I know I am probably in the minority, but I don’t have a desk just for writing. I love stretching out on my couch with my laptop and plenty of pillows

The only desk I have is my lap desk for my laptop.

 Julie’s workspace


2.  Where did you get your desk?  How did you go about arranging your work area?

My sister gave me my lap desk as a present and I know it sounds silly, but it’s one of my favorite presents I’ve ever received.

Julie’s lap desk

When I stretch out on my couch and have my laptop on my desk in my lap, I’m totally comfortable and able to get the writing juices going. My couch is my work area!

Julie’s writing couch

3.  What are some important things on your desk?  Are there specific things you need to have around you as you work?

My dog Clancy and my cat Nate are my companions while I work. They stretch out on the top of the couch or at the far end near my feet and keep me company. This helps me relax and get writing.

Julie’s dog Clancy on the couch

 4.  What do you love most about your workspace? Do you have any favorite objects on your desk, or things you use often?

I just love the comfort of it. I do have a shelf of writing books in my living room that I consult when needed.

5. What’s your writing beverage?  What do you love to drink while you’re writing?

I love coffee if I am writing in the morning, but otherwise I just drink water. It’s boring I know but I actually love water!

 Julie’s cat Nate on the couch


On Writing

1. Who is your favorite author?  Who inspired you to write?

I don’t have one particular favorite, but I am a huge fan of Elizabeth George, JK Rowling, and George R. R. Martin. I would say Elizabeth George helped to inspire me to write, because I love her Inspector Lynley series and when I first read them many years ago I loved making up additional stories for Lynley in my head when I was done with the books. I didn’t realize at the time that what I was doing could actually be called fan fiction! I never actually wrote the stories down, it was just something I’d do in my head when I was restless or bored, not just with George’s characters, but with other characters I loved or ones I imagined myself. It took many years before I finally started writing the stories in my head down.


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

Since I work full time I mostly write at night or during breaks at work, and I alternate between writing my current novel and writing my non-fiction articles. I enjoy contacting people I am interested in writing about for my articles and conversing with them, so that takes up a good bit of my time in terms of my non-fiction writing. I’m not sure if this is a quirk, but I can’t stand any noise when I am writing. I don’t like to have music or the television on when I write.

3.  Do you write everyday?  How many hours a day do you spend writing?  What are some of your worst writing distractions?

I try to write every day but I’m not always successful. The hours totally vary, if I really get into a rhythm with writing I will write for 3 or more hours at a time, but if I’m stuck sometimes I’m lucky to make it 15 minutes. I think my biggest distraction is probably my phone! If people call me while I’m writing I have a terrible time getting back to what I was doing. I’m also terribly distracted by television, I have to admit. I love watching tv!


4. Why do you write?

It took me almost forty years to figure it out, but writing is the only thing I really love to do. I always thought, oh, I’m not creative, I could never do that. But the truth was I had just never tried. Once I finally gave my writing a chance, thanks to some wonderfully encouraging friends and family members, I realized it’s what I love and what makes me happy.


5. Any writing tips or techniques or words of wisdom you want to share with us?  How about a favorite writing quote?

I think the only words of wisdom I have is to encourage anyone who wants to write to just get started and do it. My favorite writing quote, and one I always try to keep in mind, is this from Stephen King’s On Writing:

  “you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”


6. Would you like to share a favorite picture with us?

My favorite picture of myself is one I just discovered when going through some old family albums after the death of my father. The picture is of my dad and me on Martha’s Vineyard, in a place called Menemsha. My dad’s family has lived on Martha’s Vineyard for centuries, and my family visited there nearly every summer when I was a kid. I’m three years old in the photo, and holding my dad’s hand as we climbed on the rocks alongside the shore. The novel I am currently working on takes place on Martha’s Vineyard, and a pivotal scene takes place on these rocks. The photo has become very special to me.



Thanks, Julie, for giving us a glimpse into your writing life.


Wednesday Writer’s Workspace is an ongoing series, and if you’re interested in being featured here, simply leave me a message in the comment box, and I’ll be sure to email you.


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SCBWI-L.A. Working Writers Retreat 2012 Day 2

September 8, 2012, Saturday (Day 2)

The Working Writers Retreat in Pictures


7:30 AM


 Stretching with Lynette, and a walk around the Retreat Center


8:00 AM


Breakfast at the Dining Hall

 9:15 AM

Agent Jill Corcoran at the Critique Session, photo by Claire Di Liscia Baird

 11:30 AM


Formal Group Picture (Award Winners 2)

Informal Group Picture ( Best Sellers 2)


Faculty and Organizers

Practicing poses for the class picture

Formal class picture

Informal Class picture

12:00 PM


 2:00 PM

Q & A With the Faculty

3:15 PM

More critiques with the amazing faculty

5:30 PM


6:45 PM

Final critique sessions

Editor Heather Alexander 

9:00 PM

More stretching with Lynette

9:30 PM


Post it Disco Ball

Requesting a song from the DJ

 Broadway worthy performance, Ann singing “Popular” from the Musical Wicked

Snacks for hungry singers

Solo performance






12:00 AM


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SCBWI-LA Working Writer’s Retreat 2012 Day 1

September 7, 2012, Friday

This year I volunteered to help out with the retreat, so although registration started at noon, I decided to leave early. My friend Lucy carpooled with me and we arrived in Encino at around 10:30 AM. The traffic wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, so it gave us time to relax and scope out the place.

Sarah and Marilyn arrived half an hour later, and Lucy and I helped them unload their cars and set up each room for the retreat.

Attendees soon began to trickle in. They got their keys from Marilyn at the Registration desk and went to get settled in their own rooms.

Holy Spirit Retreat Center rooms, Encino, CA

The writing retreat officially started at around 1. Sarah and Lee, SCBWI-L.A. Regional Advisers and super organizers, went through the schedule with us. They’d thoughtfully printed out copies of our individual schedules and placed it in our I.D.’s.

Sarah and Lee showing us the schedule print out

 They also encouraged us to set our goals for the weekend. Once we had written them down, they introduced our esteemed faculty members.

Attendees setting down their goals for the weekend

Our teachers for the weekend included two agents, one editor and two prolific authors. They each introduced themselves and gave us tips on how to revise our manuscripts.

Aside from giving us revision and editing techniques, the faculty also discussed plot and voice at length. They also explained what they look for in the books they read.

Here are some of the tips they shared with us:

Agent Jill Corcoran, Herman Literary Agency

* If I read a manuscript, and keep on reading long into the night. Or if I wake up in the morning, and I still remember the story I read, I know it’s a god one.

* There are three types of voices: writing voice, manuscript voice,  and character voice.

* You, as an author, choose the writing and character voice.  You can select different combinations of voice to use–dark and funny, sad and funny, etc

Agent Abigail Samoun, Red Fox Literary Agency

* I usually can tell in the first two sentences if a story’s going to work. I look for an intriguing opening paragraph  and a character that I want to be with.

* Narrative voice can be very important. The story has to be pleasing to read, respective of language, and pleasing to read.

* Plot can be tricky and intimidating.  A story needs to have tension. To add tension to your story, be your hero’s worst enemy. Figure out how you can be mean to your protagonist, and how you can get them into more trouble.

Editor  Heather Alexander,  Dial Books

* Plot, character, world–these are things your story is describing. These are the things that make your book as a whole.

* Look through ever sentence, and ask if they’re developing plot, character or world. If not they’re not,  change it.

*Each paragraph should be a balance of at least two of these elements, if not all three.

* Voice can trump everything sometimes.

* Opening sentences can say a lot about the world. Don’t ever start with the character waking up.

Judy Enderle, author of many children’s books (Picture Books to Young Adult)

* Author’s voice refers to the way you put your words together–your word choice and the flow of words

* Character’s voice is the way your character expresses herself or her background

* Be aware of what your writing style is. Maybe repetition is a particular character’s tag line.

Stephanie Gordon, author of many children’s books (Picture Books to Young Adult)

* You have to fine tune your manuscripts before you query. Comb through your manuscripts and look for Redundancies (ex. pointy thorns) and be aware of using too many verbs or adjectives (ex. The ogre snarled and sounded angry)

The Faculty Panel

As in last year’s retreat, the attendees were divided into two major groups: The Best Sellers and the Award Winners.  I was part of the Award Winners group this year, which meant that immediately after our panel on revision, I had to proceed to our assigned room for the first critique session.

There were four of us in the group and we were all fairly nervous since our first session was with Agent Jill Corcoran. Jill gave us some tough love and helped us see what we needed to improve in our first chapters. I made notes of Jill’s suggestions and mulled over the revisions I needed to make during the hour long break after  our first session.

The retreat center’s bell rang at 5:30, announcing the start of dinner. I waited for my roomie EJ, since we had to share one key for our room (normally we get two, but the previous participant forgot to return the key).  We discussed how our first sessions went as we headed to the dining hall.

I had just enough time to brush my teeth and grab my things for the next critique session with agent Abigail Samoun. I read chapter two for Abigail, and was lucky because she remembered my story from last March, when I had opted for a chapter 1 critique at the OC Agent’s Day.  She asked me a lot of good questions regarding the story, and gave me some tips to lift the chapter to a higher level.

The hour long critique passed quickly enough, but Day 1 of the Writing Retreat was far from over. I had an hour  to revise or relax in the room, while my roomie EJ was out for her critique session. I opted to spend the time unpacking and taking notes.

At 9 PM, Fitness guru Lynette began the much needed Stretching session.  She taught us several stretching exercises which we could do on our own, after long hours of sitting and writing.

Stretching with Lynette

The stretching certainly helped us release the tension we’d been holding the whole day.  We headed back to the main Lakeside Hall for the Wine and Cheese Social, for a much needed “winding/ wining down” session.

Claudia, Judy and Edie enjoying some wine at the end of the day

A variety of cheeses and crackers were provided for us to sample, along with bottles of wine and sparkling cider (for those who don’t want to drink).

Cheese platter at the Wine & Cheese Social

The social was a great way to meet new friends and catch up with old ones. It was also a fitting way to end the long day of writing.

Writers mingling at the Wine and Cheese Social


Stay tuned next week for the continuation of my SCBWI Working Writers Retreat write up. 

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Every Wednesday, I feature a writer and his/her workspace.  My aim is to get to know fellow writers better through their workspace and writing habits, and have them  share some of their writing wisdom here.

Today, I am thrilled to welcome Alana, newest member of our own CBW-LA’s board, and author of that incredibly helpful blog writercize.

Welcome, Alana!


Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living? What genre do you love to write? What are some of your hobbies or interests? Do you have a hidden talent?

 Alana Garrigues

Hello there, loyal Nutschell enthusiasts! It is an honor to be here with all of you today. I would first like to thank Nutschell for offering me the guest slot, and to all of you for allowing me to share a bit of my writer’s soul with all of you.

I have the unique pleasure of knowing Nutschell in person through the Children’s Book Writers of L.A. – the non-profit writer’s group that she founded a couple of years ago. And, truth be told, she is the reason that I started this blogging thing! During a writing workshop about query letters (recap can be found on this very website), she began talking about the writer’s platform, and how important a public image can be in this day and age when self-promotion and marketing is valued nearly as much as the story itself. Not one to blog about my personal life, reviews, political opinions or the like, I hemmed and hawed a bit in my head. I wanted the blog to be purposeful, but not alienate any particular audience. I wanted to be driven to write it.

A couple days later, in the shower, where all great ideas are born (that, or in the car!), writercize was born. Writing exercises. I would create a writing exercise meant to be completed in 5-20 minutes, type up a little background or intro to the exercise, and – here’s the catch – try it out along with my readers. I would post whatever writing was borne of the exercise, whether I loved it or hated it. The exercises are meant to be used by writers, dreamers, students, teachers – anyone who wants to jostle the creative juices and get them flowing again. There is a combination of fiction, journalism, non-fiction, poetry, word play – a little bit of everything!

For over a year, the blog went strong, and then my twins turned five and had the summer off school, and I took a little break from the blog. In the meantime, ideas are still brewing in my mind for future posts and there are nearly 200 exercises posted and somewhat categorized sitting on the site, waiting to be discovered by just the right readers and writers!

So, enough of that background. Thanks for sticking with me! On to the nitty gritty of Nutschell’s interview….


I am lucky enough to dedicate my days to “staying home” with my children. I put that in quotes because, as any mother knows, staying home rarely means staying home, with errands and school and classes and playdates. But, yes, I stay home with five year old identical twin girls. They are in half-day kindergarten these days, so I have a few hours that should be spent on the couch with a soap opera or great American novel, eating bon-bons, but I’m not. I try to stuff a whole bunch of life into those few undisturbed hours. I am a freelance journalist, and I write a few stories a week for our local weekly newspaper, as well as the odd company bio or website lingo here and there. I am looking to extend my freelance writing to broader markets over the next year. Beyond journalism, I volunteer with a couple of great non-profits and keep myself pleasantly engaged in the community, to the best of my time and ability!

 I like many types of writing – as far as kids’ stories go (hence CBW-LA), I am playing around with picture books at the moment. When I have more time, I can see it morphing greatly into YA literary fiction. I also love, love, love to write about true events and people. One of the best things about journalism is being able to meet ordinary people with vision and drive doing truly extraordinary things, and I get to view the world through their eyes over the course of an interview. That is a really special gift they give me, and I am constantly inspired by their passion and commitment.

My writing strength is clarity and organization – my weakness is creating the story … and keeping a tight word count. Probably why I am so drawn to journalism with a weekly or a magazine!

 I am not sure that I have any hidden talents, but I do really like to mosaic and I am a pretty good cook. No dish is ever the same in my house, because I don’t adhere to any recipes and cook everything according to the day’s creativity, but I really enjoy making a mouth-watering meal. I try to garden, but lose interest a little too quickly to reap any great reward. Photography makes me ridiculously happy. I speak Italian. I bounce around to different museums as often as I can. I used to teach piano, but have hardly touched one in about 15 years. I want to learn to surf. Really, really badly. I could be anything in the world, I would be a student forever. I LOVE to travel, and to hike. I’ve camped on several feet of snow in Whistler, ridden on top of a bus in Ecuador, taken a sailboat ride down the Nile.

I digress – back to the interview.

On Workspace

1.  Where do you do most of your writing?

I do most of my writing at my computer on the desk, which sits in the SE corner of my living room. That is where I blog and write articles. Emails are primarily composed on iPad, unless they are long or I need to cross-check my computer for additional information.

Creative writing has to happen as far away from technology as possible, so I take a notebook and pen upstairs to the chair by my bed, or into the backyard. I like absolute quiet while I write.


2.  Where did you get your desk?  How did you go about arranging your work area?

 My desk is from good old Target. Nothing special about it! It comes with a white chair that I used to use, but when I began to spend more time sitting in front of the monitor I switched to the black swivel chair from some office store. Much more comfortable, though not nearly as aesthetically pleasing together! If only there was a method to the madness of my piles, life would be good.

Alana’s workspace

Perhaps one day I will have an assistant who can read my mind and intuitively file things as I would. I have two weaknesses when it comes to organizing spaces, actually three:

 1 – I can see the potential of beauty in my mind’s eye, and that trumps reality. I become blind to what is actually before me.

2 – I despise routine, so anything that needs to be attended to frequently falls to the wayside. (Like newspaper clippings – they get done about once every 3-4 months while the papers pile up.)

3 – I don’t want to jump into organizing unless I know I can complete it, in the way I ultimately will love it. There’s no half-ass in my world. I either make it happen really well, or I procrastinate until I can. Bad, bad habit that I have been trying to break for a few decades. Perhaps this will be the year ….

3.  What are some important things on your desk?  Are there specific things you need to have around you as you work?

 Nothing on my desk is terribly important, although it does have cards and a few trinkets from friends and family who make me very happy. I have a dim light from IKEA with cherry blossoms etched in – two textures of off-white – and that makes me smile.

 4.  What do you love most about your workspace? Do you have any favorite objects on your desk, or things you use often?

My favorite thing about the desk would have to be its placement – right next to the window, with very tall Birds of Paradise outside. I also get to see the hummingbirds and wild peacock who come visit while I work, which is nice.

 5. What’s your writing beverage?  What do you love to drink while you’re writing?

My beverage of choice used to be a green tea, or a black tea with milk. These days, it’s a latte made with the delicious Nespresso machine. No matter what, it has to be warm. I don’t drink it hot – tongue burns to easily – but I don’t like cold drinks over ice either. So, once it has steeped and cooled off for about 15 minutes, it is ready for me to savor.


On Writing

1. Who is your favorite author?  Who inspired you to write?

My favorite author would possibly be Roald Dahl. Shel Silverstein is great. Madeline L’Engle. A.A. Milne. Those are all kids’ authors, and probably come to mind because I spent so many years loving them, and they were relatively prolific. I love that Dahl jumps across genres. As far as “regular” writers, I’d have to go with Maya Angelou, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Kate Chopin. There are books that I really enjoy, but perhaps since writing for adults takes more time, the authors haven’t published as much. Or maybe it is because I have less time to read now than I once did. I admire Ken Follett for his story-telling ability. Shockingly, I have never read a single Stephen King novel.

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

Rituals before writing …. hmm …. get my drink. Spend anywhere from five minutes to an hour “procrastinating” – letting material sink into my head. Sometimes that means Project Runway, sometimes going for a walk, sometimes poking around Facebook. Something mindless while my subconscious processes. Then release the energy and let it out. Write first, edit later. I never edit as I go.

3.  Do you write everyday?  How many hours a day do you spend writing?  What are some of your worst writing distractions?

I write most days. At least four days a week, often more. I try to take the weekend off to spend family time and re-energize, but it is rare that not a word creeps into my weekend. I spend about 10 hours writing Monday and Tuesday, and more than that researching, and then it tapers off to an hour a day for the rest of the week, until my mind is spent. I definitely front-load my energy. My biggest distractions are my own brain, my children and sleepiness.

 4. Why do you write?

 Why write?

I write because I love it. I write because it allows me to be introspective and creative and crazy and quiet. I write to try on different people and professions, to play around with scenarios and emotions. I write to communicate. I write to explain. I occasionally write to entertain. I write because words are important. I write because it is a skill that I want the world to appreciate, to remember the value of literature and the written word. I write because I can reflect with my thoughts and research as I go. I may get tongue-tied over an idea in person, as my mind races faster than my lips. I write because ideas come to me at random, inconvenient times and places, and I need to record them to share them. I write to leave something of myself for my children to see as they grow older. I write because words make me smile. I write because it is fun to write.

5. Any writing tips or techniques or words of wisdom you want to share with us?  How about a favorite writing quote?

I have no favorite writing quote. The only wisdom I can offer is to live life offline as much as you can, so that when you plug into your computer, you have the energy and experience to make things happen on paper. Don’t be afraid to “overhear” nearby conversations and pick up on dialogue. Research, research, research so that your story sounds plausible. Commit to yourself, and incorporate writing into your life. No one write a novel

And visit writercize. Often! I would love to have you over to try out some of the exercises over there!




Thanks, Alana, for giving us a glimpse into your writing life.

Wednesday Writer’s Workspace is an ongoing series, and if you’re interested in being featured here, simply leave me a message in the comment box, and I’ll be sure to email you.


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SCBWI-LA Working Writers’ Retreat CLASS of 2012

The retreat was exhausting, fun, and memorable. I made a lot of new friends, caught up with old ones and learned so much from the stellar faculty we had. Aside from taking lots of notes from the panel talks and critique sessions, I also took tons of pictures of every event.

When I first attended the Working Writer’s Retreat three years ago, I forced my nostalgia and love of pictures on my patient classmates, and asked to be the unofficial photographer for the event. Everybody loved the pictures and the practice soon stuck.

On this, the third year of my retreat photography, Regional Advisers and awesome retreat organizers Lee Wind and Sarah Laurenson officially made me the retreat’s photographer in residence.

I’m not a professional (not even an amateur, really), but I do love taking pictures. I hope to one day take actual photography lessons and improve my skills. But for now, these fun pictures will have to do.

SCBWI-LA Working Writers’ Retreat CLASS of 2012


Faculty and Organizers



Award Winners




Best Sellers






We did some serious work that weekend.

But we made sure to have fun, too.










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Spotlight Week: Legend Giveaway

This week, the Spotlight was on Marie Lu and her exciting YA novel LEGEND.

If you haven’t heard of Legend, you can check out my Review.

Also check out my Interview with author Marie Lu.

And Marie Lu’s cool book trailer:



It’s the end of another Spotlight Week, which means it’s time for another awesome giveaway.

 Today, I’m giving away a SIGNED COPY of LEGEND!


To win, just Leave a comment below and tell me why you’d like a copy of the book.

I’ll put all your names in my magical drawing box and pick the winner.


I love encouraging people to unleash their imaginative and creative sides, so the more creative your answers are, the more chances you have of winning. If your comment/answer tickles my fancy, I’ll add another slip of paper (or two) with your name on it to my drawing box.


Also, if you tweet about this giveaway, or share it on Facebook, I’ll add more slips of papers with your name on it.


The contest will end on September 28, 2012, Friday. Good luck!


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I met Marie Lu for the first time at the Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in Redondo Beach. Two author friends, who knew Marie, invited me to her book launch for Legend. It was a great launch, and Marie was a generous host. She provided her guests with refreshments and giveaways. (I actually won a UK Arc of the book :) )

With YA Author Marie Lu at her Legend Book Launch, December 2011

 Marie talked about how she got into writing. I was amazed when I found out that she’d started writing stories when she was in High School. Like everyone else, however, she put in 10 years of hard work before she reaped the rewards with the Legend trilogy.

I thought Marie was the coolest person ever, after hearing her talk. I was always so happy to see her at the various book tours and panels I attended, and I’m definitely looking forward to Prodigy!

If you haven’t heard of Marie Lu and her awesome book, Legend, check out my review.

Without further ado, I present the beautiful Marie Lu.



 Author’s Bio from her website

I write young adult novels, and have a special love for dystopian books. Ironically, I was born in 1984. I like food, fighter jets, afternoon tea, happy people, electronics, the interwebz, cupcakes, pianos, bright colors, rain, Christmas lights, sketches, animation, dogs, farmers’ markets, video games, and of course, books. I suck at working out. I also get lost very easily, but am a halfway decent driver. At least, I like to think so. :)

I left Beijing for the States in 1989 and went off to college at the University of Southern California. California weather sweet-talked me into sticking around, so I’m currently in Pasadena with my boyfriend, two Pembroke Welsh Corgis, and a chihuahua mix. In my past life, I was an art director in the video game industry, but now I write full-time.


The Beautiful Marie Lu, photo by Paul Gregory


1. Tell us three random, unique, or weird facts about yourself.

I was bitten by a rat when I was three. On my eyelid. I know.

I’m slightly ambidextrous; for some reason, I’m left-handed when I eat, throw things, and ride bicycles.

I witnessed the Tiananmen Square student protests when I was five years old.

2. What books and movies inspired your love for Sci-Fi or Fantasy?

My first introduction to the Fantasy genre was Mattimeo, by Brian Jacques. That book still has a very special place in my heart. I loved a lot of 80s fantasy movies, too—The Dark Crystal, Legend (ha!), Labyrinth, The Neverending Story, etc. I can’t remember what my first introduction to Sci-Fi was, but I love Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card, as well as 1984 (George Orwell) and The Giver (Lois Lowry). Blade Runner and The Matrix are two Sci-Fi film favorites from my youth.

3. What day jobs did you have before you became a full time author?

Before I became a full-time writer, I worked in the video game industry as an artist and art director. I went to work for Disney Interactive Studios right out of college. It was extremely fun—I still dabble in making games (we’re making a Facebook game for Legend called Cities of Legend) and still play a bunch. Assassin’s Creed is my current favorite game franchise.

4. Does your skill as an artist or video game designer ever come in handy when you’re writing? How?

It definitely helps me out of writer’s block! Before I start writing any story, I have to sketch out my characters first. Otherwise, I can’t really get a handle on who they are. I also like putting in game-esque elements into parts of my stories, such as the Skiz fights in Legend.

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

I always wrote for fun ever since I was five or six years old, but I started writing seriously when I was fourteen, when I saw a newspaper article about a young author named Amelia Atwater-Rhodes who had gotten her first book published when she was only fifteen. That was when I realized real people wrote books!

6. Why do you think YA is so popular? Would you ever consider writing a book in another genre—a middle grade book, or picture book for instance?

YA is pure fun to me; I think most YA is very accessible, and the characters are at a very interesting age where they experience so much change. I’ve definitely thought about venturing into picture books, although I think writing picture books is extremely challenging—it might be the hardest category in the world to write for.


Legend Author Marie Lu, photo by Paul Gregory

7. What inspired you to write Legend?

One day in 2009, I was lying on the carpet in my living room (this is how I daydream), and the movie version of Les Miserables was on. The Jean Valjean vs. Javert concept started me thinking, and the central idea for Legend came almost right away: a teenage version of Les Miserables, with a famous teen criminal vs. a teen prodigy detective.

8. Day and June are both prodigies and have some really cool skills and abilities. What skill/abilitiy would you love to have? (Ninja-esque abilities? Computer-like math skills?)

I pretty much created June to have all of the skills and abilities that I wish I could have! I really wish I was excellent at math and programming; if I were, I’m pretty sure I would have gone into astronomy (a field I really love). I also wouldn’t mind having Day’s parkour skills.

9. You’ve sold the film rights for your book. (Hurray!) Which scene from the book are you most interested in seeing live on the big screen?

This is a hard one to answer—but I’d really love to see the Skiz fight between June and Kaede!

10. Tell us about your path to publication. What is the coolest thing about being a published author?

I wrote four unpublished manuscripts before I wrote Legend, so it was a long road for me! The coolest thing is being able to write full-time. It’s mind-boggling to me that I get paid to make up stuff. It really is a dream job. I still can’t believe it! I also love hearing from readers. Their emails absolutely make my day, every day.

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

I’m very much a morning person, and I like to get my writing done before about 1pm. Any writing I do in the afternoons tends to be absolute crap. I also need to listen to music while I write—but only music without lyrics. Lyrics distract me.

12.  What do you like to do when you’re not writing?  Any hobbies, sports, crafts you like to spend time on?

I love reading and drawing, of course, and both making and playing games. My boyfriend and I occasionally fight over our PS3. I need my Assassin’s Creed fix, dang it—he can play Battlefield 3 . . . but only after I’m done.

13. Are you currently working on any other projects?

Yes, I’m working on a new story idea that I’m hoping to tackle fully after the Legend trilogy is finished. This one will probably be fantasy.

14. What advice would you like to give to writers on the road to publication?

Be brave. Don’t be afraid to write (and toss) a bad/unpublishable book, or even 4. Or 10. Have faith that you can get published someday, but be brave enough to learn how to write better each time you try. When agents and editors reject your manuscript, 98% of the time the fault can be found in your manuscript. Don’t blame the market or the publishers. Just be brave enough to write a better manuscript.

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

 YOLO! Seriously. You only live once, so don’t be afraid to pursue what you really want to do with your life. Live without regrets.


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This month’s Spotlight Week features LEGEND by YA Author Marie Lu.




Legend by Marie Lu

336 pages, Hardcover

Genre: YA, Ages 12 and up

Published on November 29, 2011 by Putnam Juvenile

ISBN-10: 039925675X

ISBN-13: 978-0399256752


What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths – until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.



My Review

“My mother thinks I’m dead.”

With a mere 5 words, Legend author Marie Lu managed to reel me in, and throughout the rest of story, she never let up.

The story is told from the perspective of the two main characters June, and Day. Their alternating POV’s throughout the book gave me a clear picture of dystopian world from two very distinct points of view. June comes from a privileged military family, while Day was born in the slums. The two are from completely different worlds, yet as their adventure progresses, they begin to find that they share certain similarities, and perhaps even a common enemy.

The dystopian world Marie Lu creates is an intriguing one. The once great nation United States of America is now mere legend, and its eastern and western halves locked in a constant war. Violence and the pain that comes with it is to be expected. The war between the Colonies and Republic has dire social, physical, and psychological consequences on the general population, and none feel the effects more than the two main characters, Day and June.

Day and June’s developing relationship throughout the story made for an enjoyable read. It certainly created lots of social conflict, and pushed the characters to question their own identities.

Legend has a variety of thrilling action-packed scenes. One that stands out in my mind is the Skiz fight scene. Marie Lu writes in a visually descriptive way. I could easily picture the action unfolding like a movie in my mind. The story’s first person, present tense POV adds a lot of immediacy and excitement to the story’s many plot twists and turns.

All in all, Legend is a fast-paced, action-packed, emotionally catching read. I’m eager to find out how Day and June’s story develops over the next two books in the trilogy. Prodigy, the second book in the series, is slated for release next year, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!



Tune in this Wednesday for the 2nd installment in this Spotlight series, where I feature an interview with author Marie Lu!

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A Day-long Birthday Celebration in Pasadena

I love organizing, and I love surprising friends. Naturally, I volunteered to organize the surprise birthday of one of my best-est friends, Lena.

August 25th was her birthday, and lucky for us, it fell on a Saturday. I took into account all the things my bestie Lena enjoys and sculpted a day-long celebration event for her, with the help of our other friends.

Pasadena, is one  of cities in the Los Angeles County. It’s best known for as the home of the Tournament of Roses New Year’s Day Parade. While planning for Lena’s birthday, however, I discovered that Pasadena has a lot more to offer than I first thought.

Here’s an account of all the things we did there all in one day. You might find it useful if you ever find yourself lost in Pasadena.

Activity 1: Foody Field Trip 

Thanks to Goldstar, we managed to snag some awesome discounted tickets for a Foody Field Trip Tour of Pasadena.

Our tour guide, Janae, led us on a walk-eat-walk tour of Old Town Pasadena.

Foody Field Trip Tour Guide Janae

 Our meeting place, and our first stop, was at Pappa Rich, a korean bakery with hundreds of outlets all over Asia.

Birthday Girl Lena with Papparotti – Pappa Rich’s mascot

Their one outlet in the U.S. happens to be located in Pasadena. We had a taste of their most famous maple mocha bun with creamy butter inside.

Maple Mocha Bun

 Our second stop was at Chado Tea Room. Here the manager taught us about the different types of teas, and how they’re made. We got to see a Chinese Black Tea Brick up close and even learned the different benefits of each type of tea.

Chinese Tea Brick 

We also got to sample a variety of teas, and even had a bite of their scones.

Chado Tea Room’s Tea Samples 

The third stop on our Foody tour was Choza Mama, a Peruvian restaurant where we got to sample some wonderful Peruvian food.

Lechon Adobado at Choza Mama

 The fourth stop was at an Argentinian Restaurant called 1810. We sampled the best steak ever, and even had a glass of red and white wine to boot!

1810 Argentinian Restaurant

The fifth stop was at Haven Gastropub. We sampled the in-house beer and the home-made ketchup which they served with their fries.

Beer, flatbread,fries and homemade ketchup at Haven Gastropub

The sixth and final stop was at Violet’s Cakes, a cupcake shop that offers a variety of yummy gluten-free cupcakes. They also happen to be finalists of Food Network’s Cupcake Wars.

Mini cupcakes at Violet’s Cakes

 The Foody Field Trip ended at around 1:30PM, but after three hours of eating and walking, we still weren’t done for the day.

Our next stop was at 300, a nice bowling alley in Pasadena. Here Lena got to use the personalized bowling ball we’d given her for her birthday three years ago.  Bowling was a fun way to shed some pounds after the crazy food trip.

Bowling with friends at 300

After two hours of non-stop bowling, we headed back to Old Town Pasadena for the next event. We took Lena to her favorite tea shop, Bird Pick, where we ordered her favorite Lychee Oolong Tea and surprised her with some birthday cupcakes.


Tea and birthday cupcakes at Bird Pick

 A couple of hours after we’d devoured the last of the birthday cupcakes, we walked half a mile to Lena’s final surprise venue for the day.

Lena loves movies and she’d been wanting to try out the iPic Theater in Pasadena for some time. So we bought some tickets and reserved seats to watch The Bourne Legacy there.

iPic Theaters is the ultimate movie-going experience. For $29, we each get our reclining lounge chairs, pillows, blankets and popcorn. We also get to order and eat dinner at the theater itself. All we had to do was push a button on our seat, and a server arrived to take our order and deliver it a few minutes later.

Awesome movie-going experience at iPic Theater

Birthdays are special for me. It’s the one day a year where I get to show a very good friend how much she’s appreciated and loved. Sufficed to say, Lena was super happy, and incredibly overwhelmed after the  day’s adventure. I know we all had fun celebrating it with her!

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