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How a meditation on Taking away suffering and Giving love helped me process the Orlando shooting

I was still in bed on Sunday when I received a message from a CNN colleague asking if I could come into work to help cover the breaking news. A mass shooting, the message said. I clicked on CNN’s homepage, the headline read: 20 dead, toll expected to rise. By the time I finished breakfast, the death toll was 50.

That Sunday, I’d promised my family we’d go on a wilderness hike, so I spent the day with them instead. Not out of duty, but because I wanted to be surrounded by the ones I loved. I wanted to laugh with them, walk next to them and listen to their beautiful voices. I didn’t want to take a second of the day for granted. Once again we were reminded, life was so precious. In an instant, it was gone.

On Monday, I joined into the collective sense of grief on social media. The loss was unimaginable. Forty-nine lives cut short by someone consumed by their own hatred. Later I learned, one of the victims had moved from Puerto Rico to Florida, like I did in 2002. I expect we had shared memories of the home we left behind, and shared hopes for the future.  Hi family, like mine, still lived on the Island.

In the afternoon, my grief turned into deep sadness as I watched a major party’s Presidential nominee call for a ban on all Muslims immigrants and then encouraged both hatred and fear.

My heart ached for my friends—LGBTQ, Muslims and immigrants—and for the dimness of our present circumstance.

How do we begin to process such a hellish reality?

Taking and Giving—a 2,500 year old practice

I needed to do something. But what could I do from my desk in Atlanta? Or stuck in traffic on the way home? My answer came in the form of an age-old Buddhist practice called Taking and Giving. It’s been said that this practice is like a powerful crystal able to purify even the most unthinkable of sufferings. And it can be done on the go.

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What to Ask a Prospective Literary Agent When They Offer You Representation

THE CALL has arrived! Congratulations.

Aside from the normal combination of elation and disbelief, you may experience some other side-effects, such as: pacing in circles until the carpet has wore off and keeping a bucket around because you just might puke any second now.

Tell yourself to get it together! THE CALL awaits and you have important questions to ask this prospective agent. This is after all, a business relationship. You must be clear as to what this relationship will entail before you sign the contract.
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Georgia YA & MG Writers Mixer Event Photos!

Thank you so much to everyone that participated in our Georgia YA & MG writers mixer! We had a terrific turnout and it was so much fun to catch up with old friend and make new ones.

And thank you to the amazing staff of Charis Books for lending us the space. Everything was perfect!

If you would like to receive updates about our Fall 2016 mixer register using the form at the bottom of this page. See ya’ll soon!

How to write accents in your dialogue

The best cure for the “manuscript on submission” anxiety, I’m told, is to start working on a new one. And so I have.

My new novel-in-progress is set in Europe with a troupe of international characters and multiple languages. Building this multi-cultural world presents a unique challenge: how to represent languages and accents on the page.  

I consulted with editor extraordinaire Deborah Halverson, author of Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies and founder of DearEditor.com.
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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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