Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Joys of Volunteering

This summer I decided to volunteer my time and started a writing workshop for teens and adults. We've had quite the turn out with students ranging in age from fourteen to forty. I've enjoyed working with the budding writers and encouraging their creative spirit as they venture on the journey of writing a novel.

Last week, middle grade fantasy author, Lou Anders, came out and gave his very informative Scrip Tips lectures. The writers were little sponges, soaking up all the knowledge Lou had to offer. We are also lucky to have middle grade author and poet, Irene Latham, come visit us at the end of the month to talk about finding your writing voice. And for the last class of the workshop, young adult author, Stephen Duncan, will talk about how to get an agent and write a query. The writing community is so amazing and generous with their time.

It has been a privilege to work with the writers in the workshop. And I've learned so much week from week as I prepare lectures, come up with in class writing exercises, and critique work. It has been a wonderful experience, but unfortunately it has meant radio silence on Anita's Edge as of late.

Hope everyone is having a lovely summer! Happy Writing!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


CONVICTION by Kelly Loy Gilbert
Official Release Day Celebration Hosted by MMSAI Tours

*Throws confetti and passes out cupcakes*

Kelly and I are agency mates and I'm so happy to be celebrating the release day of CONVICTION! Here's a little bit about the book:

Ten years ago, God gave Braden a sign, a promise that his family wouldn’t fall apart the way he feared.

But Braden got it wrong: his older brother, Trey, has been estranged from the family for almost as long, and his father, the only parent Braden has ever known, has been accused of murder. The arrest of Braden’s father, a well-known Christian radio host, has sparked national media attention. His fate lies in his son’s hands; Braden is the key witness in the upcoming trial.

Braden has always measured himself through baseball. He is the star pitcher in his small town of Ornette, and his ninety-four-mile-per-hour pitch al- ready has minor league scouts buzzing in his junior year. Now the rules of the sport that has always been Braden’s saving grace are blurred in ways he never realized, and the prospect of playing against Alex Reyes, the nephew of the police officer his father is accused of killing, is haunting his every pitch.

Braden faces an impossible choice, one that will define him for the rest of his life, in this brutally honest debut novel about family, faith, and the ultimate test of conviction. 

“While the mystery of what really happened on the foggy stretch of highway is the driving force behind the narrative, it is Braden’s unfolding story that will captivate readers ... Both hopeful and devastatingly real.” -Kirkus, starred review
“A poignant look at the messiness of love, faith and humanity.” - School Library Journal, starred review
“Braden is a deeply sympathetic character ... a moving debut.” - Booklist, starred review

Now go forth and get your own copy of CONVICTION from here:

Kelly Loy Gilbert is a fiction writer who believes deeply in the power of stories to illuminate a shared humanity and give voice to complex, broken people. She is passionate about social justice, the San Francisco Giants, and organizing things by color. Kelly studied writing at the University of California—San Diego and at San Francisco State, and enjoys serving on the NaNoWriMo Associate Board and leading creative writing workshops for teens. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family in a home teeming with books.

Ships in US Only. Must be 13+ To Enter

Thursday, May 7, 2015

FOLLOW YOUR PASSION: What I learned at Kennedy Space Center

On March 20th I was perusing Twitter and I saw NASA had tweeted about an opportunity to attend the Space X Falcon 9 launch in April and be a part of NASA's social media team. I thought to myself, how cool it would be to see a rocket launch (especially since I'm writing a novel about space). I filled out the application, became preoccupied with life, and forgot about it. Little did I know how much filling out that application would change my life.

Seven days later I received an email from NASA Social congratulating me as an attendee to the media events and launch of the Space X CRS-6 cargo resupply flight. It was an unexpected e-mail. It was an email I had to read several times before it really sank in. And then I ran up the stairs, hands flailing, grin so wide it hurt, and told my best friend (who was trying to put a baby to sleep) in an excited whisper, that I was going to see a rocket launch.

There is so much I want to share about my experiences of being a part of the NASA Social Media Team. But today I want to talk about how an astronaut and a massage therapist inspired me.

After an exciting day of touring the Vehicle Assembly Building; standing at Launch Complex 40 and seeing the actual Falcon 9 Rocket and Dragon; gazing in awe at the historic Launch Complex 39A where the space shuttle missions flew from; we got to meet an astronaut! Director of Kennedy Space Center, Bob Cabana, is a marine, pilot, former astronaut, and an American hero. He stood against the backdrop of the Vehicle Assembly Building (which has housed everything from Apollo, space shuttles, and new SLS Rockets) and inspired us.

There is a prevalent enthusiasm that fills Kennedy Space Center for all things space related and for NASA's next goal, which is to put a person on Mars.  Bob Cabana, said it best, "I want to see boots on Mars in my lifetime."

Mr. Cabana said that at a recent NASA meeting a distinction was made between being an explorer and a pioneer. An explorer is someone who leaves home goes to new territory, studies it, and returns home. But, a pioneer is someone who leaves home goes to uncharted territory and establishes a permanence, a settlement. 

NASA wants to be a pioneer.

I've never heard anyone make that distinction before. It was inspiring. It was exciting. 

A NASA Social member, Lauren Phillips (a champion of STEM education), told Mr. Cabana that she would be skyping with an elementary school later and asked if he had any advice for them? He told the children to do their best in school. And if their absolute best was a C, then that was ok. But to always do your best. He went on to talk about finding your passion in life and pursuing it. He talked about the importance of setting goals and never giving up. Mr. Cabana admitted that if he had given up the first time he wasn't admitted to pilot school or the first time he had applied to the astronaut program, well then he would have never been a pilot or astronaut.

Mr. Cabana's words warmed my heart and encouraged and excited me to stay focused and enthusiastic about achieving my own goals. Here's a picture of some of the NASA Social Media Team with Mr. Bob Cabana.

After the launch of the Falcon 9 rocket was scrubbed later that afternoon because of anvil clouds, a group of us decided to go to a mexican restaurant to drown our sorrows in guacamole and cheese dip. While we were there a woman who was dining at the restaurant approached us, asking if we were a part of NASA. Many of us still had our credentials looped around our necks. We told her that we were the NASA social media team. And with no explanation at first, she asked us all to touch a pendant hanging from her neck. One by one, she walked around our table so we could touch this (photo courtesy of Troy Myatt):

It was a very cool space shuttle pendant, but I honestly had no clue why she had shared her pendant with all of us. She went on to tell us how she had grown up in New York and had been fascinated with space since she was a child, and how no one in her family had understood why she loved space so much. She talked about how important it was to follow your passions and never give up on your dreams. And she told us how the little girl from New York, who loved outer space so much, ended up moving to Florida and became a massage therapist at Kennedy Space Center. How she had the privilege of meeting astronauts and NASA officials, helping them with their aches and pains, and how in her own way she was getting to be a part of the space program.

The space shuttle pendant had belonged to an astronaut who had worn it around her neck when she flew on STS-130 on the space shuttle Endeavour. And when the astronaut returned to Earth she gave the pendant to her friend and massage therapist. 

This sweet woman from New York, who is passionate about space and NASA Kennedy Space Center, never gave up on her passion, and says she ended up with the coolest job in the world. She urged us to never give up on our own dreams. Everyday she wears the space shuttle pendant, something that had actually flown on a space shuttle and been in space, and she had shared that with us. We had actually gotten to touch something that had been in space. 

I'll post more stories like this in coming weeks, but wanted to start here first, with the day there was a scrubbed a rocket launch, but an astronaut and a massage therapist told us to follow our passion and never give up.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Kick-Butt Kid Lit

A few months ago the wonderful Natalie Parker hosted an Agented Author Hook Up. Through this opportunity I had the fortune of meeting ten lovely ladies. It's been great having authors to chat with who are all in about the same place with their individual writing journeys. We can ask each other random questions, learn, and support one another.

Along the way, we decided to call ourselves Kick-Butt Kid Lit and decided to have a social media presence. This month we are hosting a Meet the Authors Q&A so you can get to know all of us. I've really enjoyed reading the interviews and getting to know each author better.

Feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions or would just like to hang out with us for a bit.
We are on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook.

The writing community is super nice and supportive. So I encourage you as a writer, regardless of what stage you are at, to reach out to others and network. It will enrich your writing journey that much more.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Writers Series: Jon and Pamela (J&P) Voelkel

On today's writers series we'll be spending time with Jon and Pamela (J&P) Voelkel who are the author-illustrators of the Jaguar Stones series; Pamela does most of the writing and Jon does most of the illustrating. 

Their books tell the story of a city boy and a jungle girl - a mirror image of Jon’s wild childhood in Latin America and Pamela’s altogether tamer upbringing in an English seaside town. The Voelkels met in London, where they both worked at the same advertising agency, and now live in Vermont.

And here is their latest book in the Jaguar Stone series: 

With his parents in jail and his best friend ignoring him, fourteen-year-old Max Murphy was pretty sure things couldn’t get much worse. But that was before a parade of Maya monsters crashed through his house and the Queen of the Bats tried to sink her fangs into his neck…

Meanwhile, down in the Maya underworld, the evil Death Lords have realized they’ll never conquer the mortal world without conquering social media. So with the bad guys on a charm offensive, it’s up to Max and his Maya friend Lola to reveal the terrible truth before it’s too late.

This epic conclusion to the Jaguar Stones series takes Max and Lola on their wildest adventure yet, north from the teeming rainforest to the lost city at the heart of America’s past.

How has your travel affected your writing process?

As we're sure many people find when they set off to research a story, the act of travel has a way of changing everything. 

In our case, we started out with a fast-paced Indiana Jones type adventure about a city boy who gets lost in the jungle. It was based on Jon's wild childhood in South and Central America, with the Maya pyramids as a suitably spooky background. But when we took our own kids down to Belize to explore some of those pyramids first-hand, we realized we were writing the wrong book. Firstly because almost everything we'd read about the ancient Maya was out of date; and secondly because the living Maya were just as fascinating as their ancestors. 

After that, we went down to Central America many more times and tried to learn new facts rather than validate old ones. It was talking to a group of Maya teenagers in Guatemala that inspired the character of Lola and she quickly became the center of things. It's a delicate balance because our primary goal is still to tell a fast-paced and funny adventure story. But now we also try to bring alive Maya mythology, make a case for rainforest conservation, and dramatize the predicament of modern Maya people. 

Hopefully, the social messages are subtly done, but we'd like to think our readers are sneakily educated while they're being entertained. We feel a responsibility to get things right, so all our books are fact-checked by a leading archaeologist. And because there's still so much misinformation about the Maya on the internet, we share our research with teachers via downloadable reading guides and free lesson plan CDs. So you could say that our travels have driven our writing process and inspired everything we've written.

What was the hardest thing about writing The Lost City?

The hardest thing about writing The Lost City was knowing it was the last Jaguar Stones book and that we'd have to say goodbye to all the characters we'd come to know so well. It's not that we wanted to extend the series - we always knew where it would end and we'd written the very last paragraph right at the beginning to keep us on track - but the books had become part of our lives. In fact, we were already on borrowed time because the series was originally planned as a trilogy but the story took on a life of its own. 

Mostly writing The Lost City was pure fun. Unlike the first book in a series, where you're establishing your world and your characters, you can relax and go with the flow. It's the difference between walking into a room full of strangers and going to a party with old friends. When we wrote the first book, Middleworld, we were terrified that readers would lose interest if we stopped too long for descriptions, so the story moves at breakneck speed. By the time we got to The Lost City, which is the fourth and final book in the series, we'd established a rapport with our readers and we knew which bits they liked because they told us. Some of them even emailed us plot ideas and requests. It's impossible not to be buoyed by that kind of support! So it's going to feel kind of lonely starting from scratch again...

What are you writing next?

Please ask us anything but this! It's become a kind of superstition not to talk about the next book until we have a decent first draft. It's like you can jinx a book by talking about it too much. You feel almost like the book is written but, in reality, all you've done is talk. And if the Jaguar Stones has taught us anything, it's that the book you think you're going to write may not be the one that wants to get written.

Jon and Pamela, thank you so much for spending time with us!

If you'd like to find out more about J & P you can follow them on Twitter @pvoelkel and @jaguarstones of Facebook, and their website.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Some Thoughts About Characters in a Story

So I'm working on a revision for an MG (middle grade) fantasy. Ok, its not really a revision. I'm rewriting the whole thing. My agent, Adriann, wants me to focus on depth of character in this version. And I whole heartedly agree. The last book I wrote was a contemporary YA about a figure skater. I was able to really flesh out those characters because I've lived in the figure skating world for twenty plus years. And it wasn't until I received revision notes on the MG from my agent did I realize that I didn't come anywhere close to being as immersed in the world of my characters in this new story.

So I've been doing a ton of research. I'm practically stalking the NASA website, learning as much as I can about stars, watching YouTube videos on how to operate telescopes, watching ANCIENT ALIENS on Netflix, and I just finished reading a biography about Einstein. What a fascinating individual.

But research can be a daunting task because I'm coming across many ideas and concepts that will never make it into the actual story. But as I read and watch and learn I can feel the characters coming to life in my head. And as the characters deepen, the plot reveals itself.

In the past I always thought I had to map out the plot first and then install the characters (I was wrong). With the YA contemporary about the figure skater, even though I hadn't realized it at the time, I knew the characters as well as I knew myself and so the plot unfolded organically.

This past January I took part in Natalie Parker's Crit Camp and she said something that was a total light bulb moment for me. She said to imagine your story like a pyramid. The base of the pyramid, the foundation of the story are the characters. The middle section is world building and setting, and the top of the pyramid is the plot.

I've heard this before, but it was just the way Natalie said it, the way she diagrammed out, that really resonated with me. And it made me realize that all my favorite books are heavily character driven. The characters ARE the story. THE INFERNAL DEVICES. THE SCORPIO RACES. HARRY POTTER. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. THE RAVEN CYCLE. THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE.
I fell in love with the characters first and foremost.

All these thoughts about character have been percolating in my brain since January and then I saw that J.K. Rowling tweeted this recently:

And it just makes sense! When I first started researching for the rewrite I have to admit that I felt like I wasn't being productive. In my mind productivity = word count. But, I've learned that spending some time to get to know your characters and researching what makes them tick can be just as productive and vitally important to the success of your story.

Happy Writing!

Monday, February 2, 2015

What We Learned From NaNoWriMo

Today my long time friend Cassidy Savidi (@OptionalD) and I are going to talk about how even though we didn’t “win” NaNoWriMo this past November, we learned some valuable lessons.

Let me start by thanking Anita for the opportunity to share my thoughts. I’ve known Anita more years than is decent and have always been impressed by her many talents. I was lucky enough to be a beta reader on one of her projects and can’t wait to buy and champion her first book - whatever it may be.

Awww...I was lucky to have you beta read that project and share your thoughts on it. Even though it ultimately became a drawer novel I learned so much from that manuscript. So Cassidy, tell us about your NaNo experience.

This was my first attempt at National Novel Writing Month, and although I only made it to 28,525 words, I learned a lot about myself and my writing in the process. I managed to build a fairly solid foundation to a new world and fleshed out some interesting characters. I did not “win”, but after 30 days of writing, I have 28,000+ more words than had I never attempted NaNoWriMo. Something always trumps nothing.

Cassidy, I totally agree. It would take some complicated math to figure out how long we’ve known each other and yes, something is always better than nothing.

November 2014 was my second attempt at NaNo and I wrote 10,435 words of a new YA Fantasy. And like you, I don’t think I would have even written that much had it not been for NaNoWriMo. As I was writing the new project for NaNo, I was also concurrently revising an MG Fantasy. What helped me stay on track was Victoria Schwab’s Sticker Method. It was my first time applying this pacing technique to my writing.

I bought a cheapo calendar from Walmart and some sparkly stickers that just yelled, “stick me on something.” Tiny star stickers were designated as rewards for small accomplishments and cuddly, glittery panda stickers for big accomplishments. For every chapter I revised I got a star sticker and for every 1000 words I wrote I also gave myself a star sticker. The sticker method may seem silly to some, but there is something immensely satisfying when you look at your calendar and it is full of stickers. And when the stickers were sparse on the calendar, the sad empty white space gave me the extra kick in the rear I needed to get back on track. I will definitely continue the sticker method in my writing routine and for NaNo 2015. Cassidy, how did you start your NaNo journey?

I started by reading No Plot? No Problem by Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo. Each chapter deals with a specific week of the challenge and some tips and strategies. I recommend this guide for anyone that attempts NaNoWriMo. I did not have any cuddly, glittery panda stickers, but rewards are central to a challenge like this. The NaNoWriMo website has achievements that unlock when you reach certain page counts, and the book offers various strategies for rewards and punishments to motivate yourself. I will caution first-timers that no plot is in fact a problem. I’m a pantser by nature, but you must have some sort of sign posts to be able to make it through 50k words in 30 days. At 25k words I realized that I was just hitting the second act while simultaneously writing myself out into thin air like an authorial Wiley E. Coyote holding an “uh-oh” sign. 50k is a short book. It doesn’t feel short when you have to write it in 30 days, but if you’re used to reading and plotting regular length novels then you may find it hard to pace and pants at the same time. This year, I solemnly swear to have a general outline before attempting NaNoWriMo. Probably.

Cassidy I’m glad you brought up outlines. Prior to November I actually did make a beat sheet (for those of you who don’t know what a beat sheet is I recommend reading Save the Cat by Blake Snyder) and used an act structure diagram to map out the high and low points of my shiny new story. I also wrote one hundred declarative sentences about the main characters. It’s a technique I learned from Mary Kole, back when she was a literary agent. For example, if I was going to write 100 declarative sentences about Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games it would go something like this:

Katniss loves her sister Prim above all else.
Katniss has a sense of duty towards her family.
Katniss despises the Republic.

I think you get the picture.

Even though I didn’t write 50k words for NaNo there is something to be said about an entire month dedicated to BIC (butt in chair) and to word quantity. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate quality words. But sometimes that internal editor just won’t shut off for me and thus the quantity of words suffer. But during NaNo I felt like I could just tell the internal editor to take a vacation and there was something freeing about that.

I agree 102% (100 + 2 because I will now add my 2 per-cents). Writing is a muscle. Thirty days of writing at least 1500 words a day is like doing P90X/Insanity/BeachBody on your mind brain. You will learn that writing will not kill you (though it may feel like it is maiming you). You will form a habit by writing every day for 30 days. A writing habit wards off writer’s block. If you take advantage of the NaNoWriMo website, you will connect with other writers virtually and in person at local write-ins. You may not have much quality at the end of the month, but you’ll have something. There will be glimmers. There may even be a nugget of gold. Even if you end up with something that you delete or ceremoniously render unto ash, you have written every day (or almost every day) for a month. You will have greatly strengthened your writing muscles. Can you imagine if I actually exercised my body every day for a month? Yeah, me neither. So this is as close as it gets.

Writing is seasonal for me. I don’t know why it works out this way, but I usually start new projects in the fall. Take a break for the holidays. And then write and revise from January to early summer. NaNo just seems a great way for me to kick start a new manuscript, and I’ll definitely be doing it next year. How about you Cassidy?

November is an awful time to try and write every day. It’s a 30 day month. There are two major U.S. holidays (one involves massive amounts of tryptophan). The leaves are changing in most areas, and it’s actually morally irresponsible to not go traipsing through them. And yet, November may just turn out to be my most productive month. Thank you, Anita. Good Luck everyone. See you in November. Friend me on the NaNoWriMo website at OptionalD. My mind brain is going to get so buff this year.

Thank you for sharing your writerly wisdom Cassidy and for reminding me to ask people to friend me as well on the NaNoWriMo website at AnitaSk8. Hopefully Cassidy and I will be posting again next year to talk about our Nano experiences.

Happy writing everyone!