Follow by Email

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On Happiness

Best Blogger Tips
Vintage gnome-elves that Frances passed along to us-- they make us so happy! :-)

My spirited and wise next door neighbor Frances Maciel passed away a couple weeks ago. Ian and Lil Dude and I adored her.  She was like an abuelita—a grandmother—to Lil Dude.  She called him her ‘jito (little son) – they would sit together on the comfy astroturf porch of her flamingo-pink-trimmed house and munch on nuts together, chatting and laughing.  She made us many tamales over the years, and regaled us with funny stories about her life here in our ‘hood, sometimes in English, sometimes in Spanish.

Lil Dude and I visited her at the rest home the day before she had the massive stroke that led to her death a few days later. That day, she held my hand tightly in her hand, gnarled with arthritis.  With shiny eyes, she looked at me intently, and said, “Life is beautiful. Be happy.  Don’t waste life being angry.”  She repeated those words, over and over. “Life is beautiful.  Be happy.”  I squeezed her hand and looked into her eyes and promised to take her advice.


This morning, Lil Dude woke up in a grumpy mood. At breakfast, he moaned, “Why is everyone being mean to me?”

Ian and I had to suppress our smiles, because just yesterday Lil Dude woke up in a joyful mood and kept exclaiming, “Wow! Why is everyone being so nice to me?!”

This morning, I tried to explain to him (in five-year-old boy language) that this was all about his perception.  He felt grumpy, so it seemed that the world was being mean today… but actually, Daddy and I were treating him just the same as yesterday morning. The difference was his mood, his perception.

I thought of Frances’ words.  I told Lil Dude that happiness is a choice. We can choose to be happy.  And one magic trick to becoming happy is to make a list of things that make you happy, things you’re thankful for.  So we made a list: “The snow is awesome.  I get to wear my snow pants and boots today.  Our house is cozy with our Christmas tree. I had yummy waffles for breakfast…”

And it worked.  He smiled.  He changed his mood to happy and the world became nice to him again.

For most of us, choosing happiness is a skill we must develop and practice, so why not start young rather than waiting till your deathbed?   A pallative nurse, Bronnie Ware, recorded the epiphanies of her dying patients in her blog Inspiration and Chai. She found that one of the top five regrets of dying people is:  I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Bonnie writes, “Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice… Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.”

I promise myself to take Frances’ advice to be happy, to remember that life is beautiful.  I will honor this, and I will continue to teach her ‘jito to choose happiness, too.  

And, dear reader, may you choose happiness in your own beautiful life as well…

Rest in beauty and happiness, querida vecina Frances.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Taking Action NOW!

Best Blogger Tips
Like all of you, I've felt overwhelmed with sadness and horror and anger about the shootings in Connecticut. To my readers who've been affected by the tragedy, my heart goes out to you. I am so sorry that you and your loved ones have suffered. 

In my last post, I answered a reader's question about The Queen of WaterWhen you listen to [Maria Virginia's] stories and or those of similar background and history, do you ever feel guilty about our often over-privileged lives and how do you face/deal with that?

My answer was basically that I transform that guilt (or any other overwhelming emotion) into action. And this is also my response to the shooting tragedy. I'm transforming my sadness, horror, and anger into action. 

For me, taking action often means writing books-- like The Queen of Water (indigenous issues) and Star in the Forest (immigration issues). Sometimes it means letters to my representatives or letters to the editor.  

In the case of the increasing assault weapon violence in our country, I believe that an essential part of the solution is to strengthen gun control.  Maybe you agree with me, or maybe you think the main approach should be to give free access to mental health care and restrict mentally ill people from obtaining weapons (which I agree is also important). 

Whatever your response is, I hope that you're doing something about it now rather than just feeling awful and talking about how awful you feel.

I've signed White House petitions about gun control and written emails to my congress people (on the state and national level, along with the governor and the president.) I've also written a letter to my city's newspaper.  Here's the jist of my letters:

It’s not enough to feel saddened and horrified by the shooting in Connecticut. It’s not enough to offer prayers and hugs and tears.  We need to take responsibility for the gun laws in our country.  With reasonable federal  laws, we could have prevented this violence.   Every single one of us who has a child or loves a child should feel compelled to take immediate action to ban or restrict access to weapons for mass killing. According to a CNN/ORC poll in the Washington Post in August 2012, most Americans support a ban on semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity clips. Every single person who supports these bans should be writing to their congress people, signing petitions, and making it clear that we will no longer allow the politically powerful NRA lobby to endanger our children’s lives. Let’s not just talk about how saddened and horrified we are.  Let’s take action now.

No matter what your age, you can easily find contact info for your state and national representatives online and write to them. If you don't know who they are, you can find out here. I also urge you to write to your governor and the president, who you can contact here.  You can sign a White House petition for better gun control here.

Remember, your letter can be simple and short.  It will only take you about twenty minutes to take this immediate action. And you will feel better when you do.

Thank you, dear readers, for your big hearts and social conscience.



Monday, December 3, 2012

Q & A for Queen (part 1)

Best Blogger Tips

Hi guys!

This’ll be the first in a series of q&a posts about The Queen of Water.  These are questions I didn’t get a chance to answer on the live chat I did last week as part of Primary Source’s Global Reads online book club. (Thank you SO much to everyone who participated, and sorry I didn’t get to everyone’s questions during the session!)

First, here’s a comment  from a high school student, Karen...

“I loved your book!!!! I am originally from Peru and I connected so much with the story because my grandmother story was like Maria's (actually my grandmother's name is Maria too!!!) she was from a remote part in Peru and she arrived to the capital, Lima when she was 12 to work as a maid for a family.... I imagine my grandmother perhaps going for a situation similar to Maria... it  was very emotional to me.....!!!!! I wonder if the book is gonna be published in Spanish so I can give it to my grandmother to read... again I LOVED YOUR BOOK!!!!”

Thank you, Karen!  I’m really honored that our book helped you connect with your grandmother.  It's very moving to hear how much the book means to you. I *wish* it were available in Spanish, but our agent wasn’t able to sell Spanish translation rights. Maria Virginia and I are trying to make it happen through other avenues, though. Please give your abuelita an abrazo from us...

Kevan -- Any thoughts about a movie?

We wish!  Our agent didn’t sell any movie options, unfortunately.  I think it would make an inspiring movie, though, and would make her story available to a much bigger audience.

From Linda: Laura, what is your next book?

My book The Jade Notebook (set in coastal Oaxaca, Mexico) just came out this year. It’s third in an international travel-adventure-mystery-romance trilogy. (The Indigo Notebook, set in Ecuador, is the first in the series.  The Ruby Notebook, set in France, is the second.)

From Linda:  Do you provide any royalties to Maria for her story?

Maria Virginia and I decided to split our advance and all royalties down the middle, 50%-50%.   Our agent directly deposits Maria's money in her account.  Individually, I also donate a percentage of my royalties (at least 5% per year) to non-profits that support indigenous rights in Latin America.

In the book, many Spanish words are used. How did/do you decide which ones to translate rather than have in English?

All my books contain some words in phrases in languages other than English (Spanish, French, Mixteco, Quichua).  I make the decisions pretty intuitively— honestly, it just comes out that way when I write.  I think the foreign language terms I incorporate are usually words or phrases that don’t have a great English equivalent, or terms that have special cultural /social significance attached.

Anonymous: Did Maria Virginia ever meet the actor who played MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson)?

I have tried really, really, REALLY hard to get in touch with Richard Dean Anderson! I’ve done detective work online, and had some leads, but I've been met with dead-ends every time.  The agency that I *think* represents him hasn’t returned any of my phone calls.  Argh! Maria and I have a signed copy of the book that we want to give him… and we think he’d like it if we could just get it into his hands!

When you listen to her stories and or those of similar background and history, do you ever feel guilty about our often over-privileged lives and how do you face/deal with that?

I do feel that compared to most people in the world, my life is very privileged (as far as having education, necessities and luxuries, safety, social freedoms, etc.)  I’m very aware of this fact, every day.  (Living for two years in an impoverished region of Oaxaca, Mexico, really brought this home for me.)  I believe that since I had the random luck of being born into this life, it’s my responsibility to do what I can to help people in tougher circumstances become empowered to change their lives.  Writing is one way I do this.  (I’d say that if you feel guilty about our over-privileged lives, turn that guilt into fuel for taking action to promote global social justice!)

Okay, my freshly baked apple tart awaits me now... Thanks for reading!  I'll be posting another batch of questions and answers soon, so stay tuned!

***Also, on a different note, if anyone's interested in a personalized, signed copy of any of my books (for yourself or for a gift), you can order it from Old Firehouse Books, my wonderful local indie bookstore.  Here's their website-- in the comments section of the order form, you can write who you'd like me to personalize the book for.  Or, you can just email or call Old Firehouse and tell them you'd like me to personalize your book. I live close to this book shop, and can easily swing by to sign books... just make sure that you order the book at least a couple weeks in advance if you want it to arrive in time for the holidays. ***


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Vegas was weird...

Best Blogger Tips
Very, very weird.  Vegas is such an artificial place-- it seems designed to keep you trapped indoors, far away from fresh air and daylight.

I was there for the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) conference a few days ago.  The people part was great-- Random House editors and sales folks, authors I adore, enthusiastic teachers and librarians, my wonderful agent.

Loved the workshop I was part of-- Social Justice and Kids/Teens Literature. I gave a talk about The Queen of Water and was on a panel, *and* I got to listen to other authors' speeches and teachers' ideas/reflections.  Fascinating.  Made me miss teaching! And I came home with a suitcase of free books!

But I gotta say, I was really, deeply craving fresh air and sunshine.  I'm the kind of person who goes on a long walk in the woods every day, and I spend my indoor time near lots of windows where I bathe in the sunshine like a lizard.  I came home late from Vegas and the next morning I practically ran to my favorite trails by the river and gulped in the sweet woodsy air.  Ahhh.

Hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving.  We had old friends stay with us-- lots of little boy energy and firetruck play (I counted six firetrucks at one point.)

I'm itching to get back to writing-- I took a week off for these various adventures, and man oh man, do I want to get back into my book-in-progress. (I'm about 2/3rd through a first draft.)

That will have to wait till Monday though. Life at the moment revolves around Lil Dude, whom I'm about to bathe right now.

Happy weekend,

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Creative Writing Pep Talk

Best Blogger Tips

Hey guys! I was asked to write a pep talk for writers in my region who are doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  I thought I'd share it with you, too.  Even if you're not in the midst of a novel, it might motivate you to engage in any creative project... and it will definitely give you a sense of what goes on inside me as I write my books. Here goes: 

Hello fellow novelists,

Two weeks down and two to go… congrats! Right about now you might be feeling crazy and desperate, maybe craving a pep talk that goes beyond “Butt. To. Chair.”

I give myself pep talks almost daily.  I have twenty years’ worth of journal pages filled with variations of the same self-pep-talk: Yes, Laura, you can finish this book.  No, Laura, it will not suck. And where would I be without the inspirational quotes plastered all over my writing space?  My latest ones are from Einstein, whom I’ll quote in this particular pep talk (for you science-minded types who might roll your eyes at my Rumi quotes.)

Einstein Quote #1: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.”

Writing a book is mysterious.  Even after seven published books, I feel this way. Just when I think I have the process all figured out, I fall flat on my face.  We writers yearn for step-by-step instructions on how to realize our dazzling and intricate visions. The mysterious can be exasperating.

Here’s my take on it:  Writing a story is a dance between your mysterious-deep-huge mind and your small-rational-ego mind... with the mysterious-deep-huge mind leading.  My small mind comes up with thousands of ever-shifting reasons why I shouldn’t delve into the depths, thousands of reasons why I should give up on my story.  My small mind is scared of relinquishing control.  It wants to quit.

What I’ve learned is this: Embrace the mysterious. This is your source.  Know that it is fearsome but beautiful.  Know that as a writer you must swim down into its darkness, explore it, and then return to the sunlit surface, laden with treasure.  Figure out your own metaphor for this.  Figure out your own way of humbly connecting with your source and showing gratitude.  (To do so, sometimes I put a vase of flowers on my desk or light a candle or get on my knees and give thanks.)  (Am I getting too mystical? Sorry. I tend to do that, which is why I started all this by quoting a scientist.)


Okay, back on track. 

Einstein Quote #2: “A human being is part of a whole, called by us “universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.”

Why do you write stories?  I write stories because I have a strong urge to do so.  I hesitate to use the word “calling,” but honestly, that’s what fits best.  Writing stories makes me feel alive and purposeful in this vast universe. (Also, I get grumpy and head-achey if I don’t write.) 

All of you who have embarked on NaNoWriMo have this calling, too.  Maybe your reason for writing stories is different from my own… but to sacrifice sleep, a social life, and possibly basic hygiene for a month, you must feel a calling. 

Over space and time, certain humans have had this irresistible urge to tell stories and the courage to do it.  You are part of this sea of story-teller souls.  This is an incredible gift.  Humans need stories, and you – you-- have the calling to give them these stories.

Offering and receiving stories breaks down that “optical delusion of consciousness” that Einstein mentioned.  Stories let us exist in other skin, other minds, other lives.  They give us a sense of oneness with people—real and invented-- who might be, on the surface, vastly different from ourselves.  Isn’t that a miracle of sorts?  And you’re a key part of it.


Einstein quote # 3: “There are two ways to live your life—one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.”

During this month, your small-rational-ego mind has probably found hundreds of reasons why you shouldn’t finish, why your book sucks, why you suck. Your duty as a storyteller in this universe is to ignore that jabbering, and dive down deep, courageously, into the mysterious.  This month, you’re practicing the dance between the small mind and the big mind.  Honor this miracle. 


Einstein quote #4: “The distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

I wrote one of my favorite self-pep-talks in the early nineties, over a decade before my first book was published.  In my journal, I told myself, “Laura [um, yes, I often address myself by name in my journals], your book already exists, somewhere, in a future time. All you have to do now is write it.” 

Your book already exists.  Trust this.  All you need to do is write. Now.

(Well, and then revise for a few years… but that’s the topic of another pep talk.)

For the next two weeks, as your butt is in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard, may your insides thrum with wonder and gratitude and courage.

Warm writing wishes,


*Also, quick reminder: for those of you interested in participating in a live online chat with me about The Queen of Water on Nov 28 2012 as part of Global Reads, please go here for more details.   This is a really cool, free program, and everyone is welcome!*

                                                                    (Another Einstein quote... couldn't resist!)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Tips on Revising your Novel...

Best Blogger Tips

Hey guys,

Here's the third installment of my novel-writing tip sheets, in honor of NaNoWriMo-- hope it's helpful!  This is something you'll want to use after your first draft, but it can't hurt to look it over now, and let your unconscious mind start working its magic...

Laura’s Revision Checklist

  • Storyline, Pacing, Structure

    • Are important transformational moments and revelations given in scene, not summary?
    • Does each of the subplots have a clear narrative arc or a storyline that corresponds with characters’ changing feelings?
    • Are the central story questions established early on?  Are all the threads and subplots developed and resolved?
    • Are suspenseful moments as suspenseful as possible?  See if you can make them more suspenseful—perhaps by slowing them down, perhaps by clarifying or raising the stakes.  Remember that suspenseful moments need play-by-play narration in scene, not in summary.

  • Characters, Relationships

    • Is each character’s voice distinct?  Pay attention to each character’s way of expressing her/himself—the unique cadence, sentence structure and length, word choice, metaphors, etc.
    • Are all characters—even minor ones-- three-dimensional, with their own motivations and quests?
    • Do characters act in ways consistent with their personalities (and if they diverge, is it clear why)?
    • Is there enough back story to understand the characters (but not too much)?
    • Do all important relationships grow and change?  By the end, is there clear evidence of how the main characters have changed?

  • Theme, Language, Style

    • Is the language rich with sensual details and imagery (but not over-doing it)?  Is the setting vivid?
    • Is there a good balance of scene and summary? Are you showing rather than telling whenever appropriate?
    • Does every scene have a point?  When possible, does each scene ask a question, then answer the question, then ask a new question at the end?
    • Does every scene resonate on several levels? Have you cut irrelevant parts and any repetition of words, phrases, or content? 
    • Do scenes open strongly?  Are the scene breaks powerful? Active, (not passive) verbs when possible? Tenses clear and consistent?
 *Stay tuned for next week-- I've been asked to do a regional NaNoWriMo pep talk, which I'll plan on posting here, too. I'm having fun writing it...*