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Charis After Hours – Young Adult and Middle Grade Writers Mixer

Join us on May 14 at 7 p.m. at Charis Books & More in Little Five Points for a drinks and dessert writers’ mixer. This is an excellent opportunity to meet and build relationships with other writers in our area, meet a critique partner or join a writing group. Multiple published authors will attend, so bring all your questions. This event is a drinks and dessert potluck, so please bring a beverage (alcoholic or not) or a dessert, or a cheese and fruit plate to share. The evening will be hosted by  Aisha Saeed, Katie M. Stout, Marie Marquardt and Mayra Cuevas. Please RSVP here.

How I got my fairy godmother – or what some call a literary agent.

I am thrilled to announce that I have signed a literary representation contract with agent extraordinaire, fellow Boricua and overall fairy godmother, Saritza Hernandez from Corvisiero Literary Agency.

 

Saritza is ranked the top agent for Digital YA sales in Publishers Marketplace so I went into a total state of shock and disbelief when she 1) responded to my query within 30 minutes; 2) read my manuscript over a weekend; 3) offered representation four days later. This is the kinda stuff that I always heard happened to other people. I marveled at their “how I got my agent” stories like I marveled at those girls who made MC Hammer pants look cool when I was growing up. I never (in a gazillion years) thought it would happen to me. And yes, I had a pair of those pants: green with blue hearts. Yes, I know.
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A month-long meditation retreat, the most amazing spiritual experience of my life

How an Enlightenment Skeptic, Found Spiritual Confidence

By Mayra Cuevas

It wasn’t an overnight decision. In a sense, I had been preparing for this month-long meditation retreat since my first mediation experience twenty years ago. I was 16, living in rural Puerto Rico and diagnosed with severe depression. My parents took me to see a therapist. She prescribed only one thing: meditation. Not only did she save my life, but she initiated me on a life-long spiritual journey.

In my 20s, I continued my meditation practice by joining a Buddhist tradition. Initially, I went to a meditation class once a week, and then I slowly incorporated teachings, short weekend retreats and eventually began attending two-week international courses. The transformative nature of my meditation practice always left me wanting to know more about these profound teachings. The peaceful effect the practice had on my mind and the positive changes in my life were irrefutable.

The only doubt that always remained in my mind was whether I – as flawed a being as I currently see myself – could attain what Buddhists call Enlightenment. “The highest of all possible human goals is the attainment of complete enlightenment, an ultimate state of peace in which all obstacles obscuring the mind have been removed and all good qualities such as wisdom, compassion and skillful means have been fully developed.” – from Clear Light of Bliss, Ven. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.

For me, the answer had always been, “I don’t know.” I was skeptical, not about the teachings but about my own ability to realize their full potential. After all, I was not a monk living in some mountain cave. I was newly married with two step-kids, working in a pressure-cooker environment, trying to launch a second career as an author. Could I really aspire to enlightenment? The answer came during this retreat. Read more

A Muslim and a Buddhist’s Quiet Rebellion: A Dessert Recipe Swap

“This is my favorite Almond Harrissa recipe,” Roba said as she handed me the ingredients and baking method printed in neat white paper. I took it smiling and gave her my favorite flan recipe in return. The exchange left me feeling a little like a rebel. Somewhere else in the world, what we had done could amount to a death sentence. And in our own country Islamophobic sentiments were tearing communities apart. Instead, we were reaching out to each other, seeking not only understanding but also friendship.

It had been three weeks since the Paris attacks. Roba and I had spent many shifts working side-by-side on terrorism stories at CNN’s International Desk. From our seats in the newsroom we had watched, documented and reported on the growing anti-Muslim bigotry and vitriol in Europe and the United States. We saw Muslim and Arab communities become the real targets of hatred as result of the actions of a deranged few.

The recent events had left me with a longing to connect with my Muslim colleagues in a deeper way and to understand how their lives had changed in the last three weeks.
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How to find the right freelance editor for your book or novel

By Mayra Cuevas

This weekend, while attending the Atlanta Writers Conference, several writers asked me about my experience working with a freelance manuscript editor. Many told me they had considered this approach but were uncertain about the process. They also questioned whether the financial investment would yield any real benefit.

In August I sent my contemporary YA manuscript to freelance editor Deborah Halverson, the award-winning author of Writing YoungAdult Fiction for Dummies, founder of DearEditor.com and former books editor with Harcourt Children’s Books. Her services for substantive editing included providing feedback on overall voice, plot, pacing, characterization, setting, etc.

Before hiring Deborah, I had written two full manuscripts. I had worked on my YA contemporary manuscript for 18 months and had done multiple revisions. I had sought feedback from my critique group and beta readers. I had also pitched the manuscript to a small group of agents and while I received several requests for a full manuscript the overall response was that the story still needed work.
I reached that point: I had no idea how to fix my own story. I knew then, it was time to hire a freelance editor. Read more

An afternoon with four awesome YA authors at the Decatur Book Festival

Last weekend, I attended the Decatur Book Festival’s Teen Stage panel “Thicker Than Water.” It was a discussion on the family bonds that make up YA novels. The panelist were authors Una LaMarche (Don’t Fail Me Now), Elizabeth Lenhard (Our Song), Marie Marquardt (Dream Things True) and Katie M. Stout (Hello, I Love You).

Family loyalty was one of the first topics to be addressed, one of the main themes in Marquardt’s novel.

“Alma’s family is primarily an undocumented immigrant family from Mexico,” she said speaking about the protagonist in Dream Things True. “Evan’s family is a politically complicated family. They are so different but in fact they share a lot in common, they feel a pull to live up to what their families want them to be.”

Stout’s treatment of family bonds in Hello, I Love You prompts her protagonist Grace to hide from her family in a boarding school in Korea.

“You don’t get to choose them,” Stout said, speaking of one’s family. “And you might not always like them, but they are still people that you need to love as human beings. We might not be best friends and disagree but I choose to love and respect you.”
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Tami Cowden’s The Men We Love, the Women We Want to Be: Using Hero and Heroine Archetypes to Create Dynamic Characters

Tami Cowden, writer of The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Literary Archetypes, was in Atlanta recently teaching the workshop The Men We Love, the Women We Want to Be: Using Hero and Heroine Archetypes to Create Dynamic Characters. The day course was organized by the Georgia Romance Writers group.  

Cowden provided great insight on how to use different men and women archetypes to build our characters.
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To the Afghan woman who died on the street killed by a mob, you are not alone

“I watched a woman die today.” This is what I tell my husband as we are eating pepperoni pizza and watching a recorded episode of Seinfeld – part of our nightly routine. He doesn’t say anything for a while. We just stare at each other, pizza slice in hand. He can see the tears are beginning to pool on the corner of my eyes and turns off the television.

“She was beaten to death by a mob. Then burned,” I say this as I am picking at the crust of my pizza slice. I rip off small pieces with my fingers and put the baked dough on my mouth, chewing through the tears that are streaming down my face.

“There was a big crowd, mostly men, and they were cheering. There were so many of them. Standing on balconies, looking, recording. No one helped her.” I have the largest lump on my throat and have to set aside my plate to reach for a box of tissues. I had been holding this in since ten in the morning. It is seven at night.

I didn’t have to watch the video. No one in the newsroom makes us watch these things. But today, Afghanistan was under my watch and with the country came the story of this woman, a 27-year-old accused of burning the Koran. Her parents said she was mentally unstable. We were deciding what to do with this video full of horror and all the evils in our world. I pulled the clip on my computer and the moment I saw her face I couldn’t stop watching. My heart tugged at the screen wishing I could reach out to her, pull her out of the axis of that mob and give her refuge. Instead, I watched as men, so many of them, beat her with long wooden boards. They hoisted her up onto a roof and then pulled her down to the ground. They screamed things at her. They reveled in the blood covering her face. They kicked her when she was barely able to stand. I kept watching, because now I couldn’t leave her alone. Because by watching I was acknowledging the barbarity of the last minutes of her existence.

The woman didn’t survive. Towards the end of the video I watched her body burn. Whether she was still alive it was impossible to say.

The scene prompted an irrational anger in my heart. I was angry that no one helped her. That they watched on the side-lines, phones in hand, recording like it was an act in an impromptu play. And I was angry that from my chair in a newsroom in Atlanta, on the other side of the world, I couldn’t help her either. She had died alone, burned like trash on a street gutter.

When I got home I prayed. In Buddhism we have this special prayer called a mandala. It is a prayer offering everything that is beautiful and pure. Offering all the happiness and peace there is in this world – in all worlds. I made that prayer for this woman, whom I didn’t know and never would, but whose life was as precious as mine. I prayed for her happiness, wherever she may be. She didn’t have to be alone anymore.

Writing from your life and other things I learned in a one-day intensive with author Meg Medina

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass won the 2013 Cybils Award and the 2014 Pura Belpré Award.
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass won the 2013 Cybils Award and the 2014 Pura Belpré Award.

Last Friday, I attended a writer’s intensive workshop with the amazing Latina author Meg Medina. The workshop was part of the SCBWI Southern Breeze Springmingle 2015 Conference.

The best way to describe it: like group therapy for writers – we laughed, we cried, we wrote. It was by far the best writing workshop I have ever participated in.
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Second Annual Winter Writers Retreat

In January 2014, my critique partner Marie and I held our first winter writers retreat with the idea that it would become a yearly tradition. And it did!

Last weekend we held our second annual winter writers retreat with double the attendance! Yes, we went from two to four! Ha!

We were happy to welcomed Peggy and Lee into our little writing getaway. Peggy, a published author, is writing a literary biography, while Lee is working on her first manuscript, a contemporary romance. Marie and I are both working on contemporary YA manuscripts.
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