"What we do in this life, echoes in eternity."
Maximus, Gladiator
"Our creator would never have made such lovely days, and given us the deep hearts to enjoy them, above all thought, unless we were meant to be immortal."
Nathaniel Hawthorne

Monday, April 13, 2015

Scenes and Early Readers

My kids' second Spring break is over and I'm in full production mode for Packet 4 and my free lance project in a non-fiction project. I've been toying with chapter books and early readers these past few days, and I've been trying to read as many chapter books as possible. I'm shocked (not really. Maybe a little) by the lack of diversity in early readers and chapter books. I only found KEENA FORD, by Melissa Thompson and RUBY AND THE BOOKER BOYS, by Derrick Barnes, and DYAMONDE DANIEL, by Nikki Grimes. I found SOFIA MARTINEZ, but I haven't received it yet, and I'm anxiously waiting to read it with my daughter who's in second grade and loves chapter books. More than ever, We Need Diverse Books in which every child may see herself.

I've also been studying on scene, and one of my VCFA friends recommended THE SCENE BOOK, by Sandra Scofield. It's a treasure trove of advice that's keeping me up at night thinking about my WIP. I've also been up reading Nation, by Terry Prachett and because of some wonderful news I can't wait to share with everyone.

Books. Wonderful books. I love to see them, talk about them, touch them, arrange them in shelves and find them under my kids' pillows every morning when I make their beds :-)

What books are you reading?

Monday, April 06, 2015

He Lives and Here We Go Again

Last time I updated the blog, I went ahead and purchased the domain with my name. Blogger makes the transition super easy and painless, so now I (and this blog) can be found by going to www.yamilesmendez.com. Pretty sweet, huh? I had a wonderful weekend with my family. Although the brunt of the cooking and the Easter preparations fall on me, my writing was relegated to the bottom of my priorities, but I still got some done. If anything, I've been journaling/brainstorming/free-writing every day, which keeps the writing muscles warm, both in my typing fingers and my mind. Every time I hit a creativity block, it's because I have simply not shown up at the page.

I want to link up to some wonderful websites that have helped me tremendously lately. This wonderful blog by Emma Darwin, This Itch of Writing, has the most life-changing advice I've ever read on point of view and psychic distance. I learn of it from my wonderful advisor, Mary Quattlebaum whose help is making me a better writer than I ever thought possible. I also started subscribing to The Skimm, a daily newsletter that gives me the latest news before I start my day. It's April, and that means 30 Days, 30 Stories is in full swing. At least, it should be. In the past a different author published a short children's story, poem, etc, on the blog. This year, there aren't enough tributes, er, volunteers, so the blog has been sadly quit the whole weekend. If you want to participate, please contact Bruce and he'll assign you a day or work things out with you. You don't need to be a writer, or a children's writer to share. It's fun, stress free, and a great way to connect with other people. This is one of my favorite events of the year.

Last of all, I'm energized about Easter Sunday. I miss Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas in glorious, beautiful summer. But Easter in the North, with Spring's promise of re-birth and second chances and life, can't be beat. I know that Jesus lives, and I love him, and I'm grateful for another week, another Monday to fight for my goals. And if you need an excuse to smile this Monday morning, here's a little gift. Go ahead and be different!

Thursday, April 02, 2015

New Visions Award Finalist and the second half of the semester

At 2 in the morning I clicked send, and Packet 3 of 5 was out of my hands. Unbelievably, this was my easiest packet although I had only three weeks to work on it, instead of four. Maybe it was so because I've been reading ahead. I remember that when I first found out the packet requirements, I was most nervous about the reading. Ten to Fifteen books per packet! How was I ever going to read so much. But when I was halfway through packet 1, I realized I had passed the required amount of books, and I could add the extra ones to my next packet. The reading became problematic when I realized I'd rather read and mark up books all day long thank work on my writing. Now I'm forcing myself to read slower and with more attention. Right now I'm reading Sorrow's Knot by Eric Bow, and I'm blown away by its beauty and richness!   

Packet 3 is sent, but I'm deep into drafting, getting ready for Packet 4. Even if my advisor assigns me something different from what I'm working on, I like to keep the momentum, my writing muscles warm and alert. So even though it's snowing here for the fourth time this year, in my mind I'll be in beautiful Puerto Rico as I device more trouble for my main character.

As the post title suggests, I am a finalist in Lee and Low's New Visions Award with my middle grade ON THESE MAGIC SHORES. I loved working on that manuscript, and although all I can do now is wait for the announcement, my fingers are itching for a chance to go back to it and revise it. 
Here's Lee and Low's official announcement. I'm so honored to be among such a group of talented and hard working women! I can't wait until each of these books is published! 

And last but not least in this update, I wanted to share that I have received my first check for freelance writing! It's a modest amount, but it means the world to me. It means someone liked my three stories so much they were willing to pay for them, and guess what? They're getting illustrated! I haven't cashed it yet because I love looking at it and the encouragement letters I got from three dear friends. They remind me I can do this, I'm not alone, and all the work is worth it!


Friday, January 16, 2015


I'm exhausted tonight, but I'll just post a picture of the day. It's so cold! I'm grateful I brought an electric blanket. Best purchase ever. 

Rolling up my sleeves

Today I met with my advisor, the amazing Mary Quattlebaum and we went over my study plan for the semester. It feels so surreal to be in the program! Today my workshop critiqued my piece, and I was so encouraged by the wonderful comments and advice. What a wonderful residency this has been so far. We're half way through, and I feel like this is Hogwarts and that I've been given a wonderful gift just by being allowed to be here. 

Today my word is "inspired," especially after listening to Katherine Paterson who received an honorary doctorate from VCFA. She's exactly who I want to be when I grow up as a writer, not because I write the same stuff she writes, not even similar, but because she's always approached writing for children with respect and devotion for children, our target audience. Today I'm INSPIRED!


Today Suma and I walked to town in -17 weather to eat some pizza. The food was worth the trek. We also found out who our advisors for this semester are. Best Chritmas Eve-like feeling ever. Here's a picture of the teachers looking down as the students celebrated out assignments. I'm going to be working with Mary Quattlebaum and in beyond excited. 

Villains, the Himalayas and letting go

Today I had the privilege of attending a lecture about the writer's journey by the amazing Uma Krishnaswami. I will keep her words in plain sight to remind myself that this writing business (not the industry but the craft of writing and telling stories) is a journey with many challenges and also rewards. 
We also has a costume party with a Villains theme. I didn't bring a costume but I wore a mask I made a couple of nights ago during the 1st and 2nd semester gathering. 
Today I learned to let go of some things. My children miss me. They miss me more than I miss them to be honest. I'm having fun. I'm constantly busy. I'm meeting new friends. But they have a long weekend and they're home wishing we were doing something fun. Luckily my sister-in-law took them all in for a sleep over. If I were closer to home, tonight I would have (reluctantly) packed my bags and gone back to them. But I can't do that. So I'm working as hard as I can, taking advantage of as many lectures and classes as possible to make this time away from them worth it. If I take this time now, I'll hopefully go home a better mother and wife. I know I'll be a better writer. 
Group picture! We have three girls missing and the men from our group. 

A chilly -29 tonight in Vermont. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Speed dating and the reckoning

Before I left for Vermont, baby Hulk was sick for weeks and weeks. Nothing serious (except a scary bout of bronchitis and two series of antibiotics for ear infections), but it was still wrecking and heartbreaking to see him struggle for so many days. I stayed healthy through it all, thankfully. Of course my time of reckoning came the day I was headed to my first residency. I used my essential oils and all the over-the-counter medicine I could think of to keep the beast at bay, but today laringitis caught up with me. Not being able to talk hasn't stopped me from talking, which hasn't been helping me recover as fast as I've wanted. So tonight, I opted to take a break and stay in my room to rest and give my body the chance to heal. I didn't want to miss the faculty or class readings at night, but I don't want to miss any lectures or workshops tomorrow or the day after either, so I chose to rest. It's been good. Sometimes it's good to disconnect from everyone and rest the body and mind.

Of course once my roommate came in for the night we stayed talking until super late, but that's part of the experience, right?

The two lectures today by An Na and Martine Leavitt were amazing and energizing. I can't wait to implement heir advise! 

Tonight I'm posting a picture of my lovely roommate (with her permission, of course). 

PS: I had just found out Messi didn't win the Ballon D'or so I wasn't the happiest duck in the pond. I'm a little better now. Did you now the last time Messi wasn't a top three finalist he was still in his teens?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

My idol

Today was the second day of the residency and the first day of workshops. The morning started in the best way, with a sacrament meeting that the missionaries and the Montpelier bishopric prepared for the LDS students. I got to partake of the sacrament and share my testimony. The member of the bishopric made a comment as to how we each acquire a testimony in a way we understand. I see this in my life, how my love for books brought me to the Book of Mormon and the gospel. How I attended BYU and now I'm here at VCFA. This is nothing short of a miracle and I'm so thankful for this experience. What a tender mercy to carve out time out of our busy schedule for the peace and comfort of the sacrament.

The workshop was spectacular! But my favorite time of the day was listening to Katherine Paterson (first row!) and feasting in her wonderful words. Among many things, she mentioned that we heal through writing, as writers and readers.  what a privilege! The lectures by Cynthia Leitich-Smith and Kekla Magoon were also firework worthy. 

I'm staring to get tired of cafeteria food. I'm hungry for some hearty Italian. Maybe tomorrow I'll venture to town. 

Here's a picture of me and my idol. When I grow up, I want to he just like her

Saturday, January 10, 2015

First day of school!

Today was the first official day of school. We had orientation after orientation, and after so much orienting I think I know how things work--or better yet, I know who to ask when I don't know the answer, or even the question.

The cafeteria food has been surprisingly good, and I've been carrying my thermos with hot tea all over because it's so bitterly cold I felt my mind shutting down a few times. Luckily the dorms, although Spartan, are very comfortable. Maybe what makes it so comfortable and enjoyable is the companionship of my wonderful roommate, a woman I'm in awe of and whom I hope to introduce soon.

I also attended my first lecture, which was amazing.
Day one down. Tomorrow we start with workshops, and I can't wait to meet my workshop partners!

Note to self for next winter: bring the heaviest, warmest, most comfortable winter boots and leave the fancy ones at home.

Friday, January 09, 2015

First day of first semester at VCFA

Today I flew by myself for the first time in years. In fact, the very last time I was on an airplane without Jeff or the kids was when I was still at BYU. So today on the flight I read and slept.

Vermont was colder than Utah, but I was expecting it to be even colder, so I wasn't surprised. I had already made arrangements for a shuttle to take me to Montpelier, and while I waited, I had a wonderful conversation with the gentleman at the airport's info counter. He told me of his days traveling the world as a delta employee, his love of horses, and pretty Spanish flamenco dancers. He's of Irish-Scottish ascent, so he was way excited when he mentioned Irish dancing and I knew exactly what I was talking about. 

The trip to campus was super pleasant as the Bosnian driver pointed out the price of gasoline at the different stations we passed. 

I made it to campus and received my welcome package, including meal card and room key. My lovely roommate was already in the room. After dinner we had the new student orientation and I found out there are at least three other people from Utah. 

After some time pouring over all the welcome paperwork, going over my assignments, and talking books with my roommate I'm ready to turn in because tomorrow the real deal begins. 

I'm so grateful for the opportunity to be here! It's a dream come true. And although the rooms are quite Spartan looking and the shower situation is more than interesting, I'm very excited for tomorrow. 

My desk, featuring my portable kettle for mate water:

My bed: featuring my pony sheets and my black bear to keep me company. 

Monday, December 08, 2014

That time of the year again

Yes, it's the holidays, but I'm talking about registration for the LDS Storymakers conference in May. You don't need to be an LDS person to attend. You just need to want to learn about craft and connecting with other writers. But even if you don't want to connect, you should attend if you're a writer or thinking about writing. It's my favorite conference ever, and next year it will be amazing. The keynote speaker is Martine Leavitt, whose book Keturah and Lord Death was a National Book Award finalist. She's also a faculty member at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Besides being the keynote speaker, she's also teaching an intensive class titled "The two hour MFA," to give you an idea of how amazing it will be.

Next year my fourteen year old son will come along with me, and only because of that I'm more excited than I can express.

Take the plunge! Sign up for it!


Tuesday, September 02, 2014

It's not a Hogwart's letter or an invitation to Camp Half Blood, but it's the best next thing

It's September, and yesterday the Hogwarts Express left Platform 9 3/4 without me. Again. Although this summer has been pretty eventful (Coco attacked by a pitbull, Princess Peach spraining her foot, and Swan having an emergency appendectomy on Sunday night), I still haven't received my invitation to attend Camp Half Blood. I swear I'm Poseidon's offspring, and enough people can attest that I can be a major witch somedays ��

Who cares that I'm too old for either Hogwarts or Camp-Half Blood? I'm still eleven in my heart. But last Saturday, I received the best next thing besides an invitation to either school or camp. I got my letter of admission from The Vermont College, specifically for the Master In Fine Arts Programs In Writing for Children and Young Adults.

I hugged that giant envelope against my chest, and ran to my family who was playing soccer outside. I wish I could encapsulate the feeling of the late afternoon sun shining on me, Jeff and the kids, as we all celebrated this victory. The next day, when I was sitting in the surgery waiting room at Primary Children's Hospital, waiting to hear news on my daughter, I drew on this feeling. There was no need to encapsulate it after all. It's in my memory forever. I'm sure the future will bring days in which I'll wonder why I ever thought going back to school with five little kids and a husband with a very demanding job was a good idea, but for now, I'm ecstatic with my letter and the promise of adventure in the words "Congratulations! You have been accepted."  Vermont College of Fine Arts, here I come!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

My #PitchWars Mentee Bio

I debated whether or not to write this. I don't want to jinx myself writing a bio and ruining my chances of being chosen by one of the mentors. But then, the other option was obsessing over my twitter feed. So I deleted my twitter app from my phone and decided to jump in. Why not? The main thing I want from PitchWars is the opportunity to work with a mentor.

Instead of having a GIF party, I decided to paste a personal essay I wrote to apply for the MFA program I've been dreaming of attending for years and years. I wrote a first draft of it during an exercise in Cynthia Leitich Smith's workshop during WIFYR, and I learned so much about me from that exercise that I decided to expand on it in my application.

So here it goes:

Rosario and the Parana River
I was born in Rosario, Argentina in the late seventies, at the cusp of the military dictatorship. In spite of censorship and persecution, my country has always been the breeding ground of thinkers and writers such as Borges, Cortázar, Quiroga, and Mármol. They used words not only to express themselves, but to also give voice to the voiceless and call the world’s attention to the reality of the southernmost country in the world. 

The first time words made sense to me, it was like I was seeing for the first time. I was five years old, in a crowded, middle-of-the-winter smelly bus, clutching my grandfather’s hand, when I read the bright words on a billboard. After that flash of understanding, words overwhelmed me. I couldn’t not read. Not anymore. But I couldn’t yet write. 

A few days later, playing school with older neighbor girls, I felt a writer’s frustration for the first time. In her expert second-grader voice, my friend read from the primer Argentine children have learned from for the last fifty years. “Pelusa mete la pata,” she said and waited for me to write it down. I saw the sentence in my mind. Pelusa, the dog, making a mess, sticking her leg in a pot of paint and leaving tiny blue footprints all over the floor. I saw it, but I didn’t have the tools yet to put my thoughts down on paper. Unfortunately, writer’s frustration is a feeling that has haunted me all my life. 

For weeks I sat at the kitchen table copying down letters from the salt box or the Coca-Cola bottle. Once I had the tools, I set out to build my own stories. When I was grieving the death of my grandfather, I wrote of a princess whose grandpa died of cancer. That was the beginning of my vocation as a contemporary writer. Although I love fantasy and speculative fiction, real life has so many mysteries that I’ve been exploring them ever since. My love of reading and writing have always walked hand in hand. As my eagerness to create stories grew, so did my search for stories that fueled my imagination and gave meaning to my life. 

At home, my family owned one book, the Bible. I read the Old Testament stories so many times, I almost memorized them. The Old Testament has something for every reader: mystery, betrayal, love, faith, sibling rivalry, murder and intrigue. 

One summer, my mother bought a dictionary from a door-to-door salesman, and my eyes were opened to the world. I read the words, but more than anything, I poured over the appendices at the end. The list of countries and their capitals. The list of dead tongues. I made stories about those people whose languages don’t exist anymore. 
In the list of modern languages, I marked the ones I would one day learn. I marked English, and with the help of a Spanish/English dictionary I learned it. Years of pouring over the dictionary and deciphering the phonetic guide gave me the opportunity to read my favorite authors in their native language. It also left me with dreadful mispronunciations. To this day, I have to remind myself that tired is pronounced TIE-erd and not TIE-red. 

When the Bible and the dictionary weren’t enough to satisfy my thirst for story, I turned to a neighbor and friend who graciously lent me the books of her meager library. That’s how I learned the Grimm and Andersen fairy tales and discovered the words of Monteiro Lobato, the great Brazilian children’s writer. He wrote about Little Nose and her friends, who listened to her grandmother’s stories in the Yellow Benteveo Farm. From Monteiro Lobato’s books I learned everything from Greek mythology to geology. From European history to Archimedes and math. Last year, on her last trip to Argentina, my mother found those books and brought all twenty-three to me. My love for Brazil and its people, in spite of the eternal rivalry between our two countries, has a beginning in the Yellow Benteveo. 

When I write now, I think of the books that shaped my vision of the world. Because of stories, I learned I could accomplish anything. Maybe that’s why when at the age of nineteen I left my country to attend university in the United States, I wasn’t scared. I was thrilled at the opportunity I had to live such an adventure. In an extended family of over seventy people, I’m the only one who graduated from college--in a foreign language that I learned from a dictionary. 

Even though writing and reading have always been a part of my life, I’ve been writing seriously for over seven years. During this time, I have attended several writing conferences, such as LDStorymakers and Writing and Illustrating For Young Readers. At the latter, I’ve attended workshops taught by Martine Leavitt, Ann Dee Ellis, and Cynthia Leitich-Smith. I’ve also attended SCBWI LA. I’ve been a member of a writers group, The Sharks and Pebbles, for almost five years. 

I’ve always been self-driven when it comes to learning and education. Besides English, I also speak Portuguese and Italian. 

Easter Day Family Picture
have five children, and I’m a stay-at-home mother. If anything, my children have inspired me to write from their perspective: the child who grows up between cultures. Being from Argentina, I come from several backgrounds. Even though my family tree has roots in Palestine, Spain, Yugoslavia, and the Pampas, I’ve always considered myself one hundred percent Argentine. I see a different experience in my children’s lives. Identity and what it means to belong to a culture or cultures are topics that resonate with me and inspire me to tell my stories. I write thinking of the little girl who seldom saw herself in the pictures of a book, but whose words are worth reading and writing about. 

I yearn for a mentor to guide me in my journey. In time, I feel I can also become a mentor for others--writers whose voices have been quieted, but who don’t want to remain silent anymore.

I didn't add in my application that I'm obsessed with fútbol, but that's such an important part of me I can't leave it out. I love it. I've never played it, but one day, I'll sign up for the women's futsal league. I will.
All my boyfriends :-)

Mentors, pick me! Pick me!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Don't leave me summer. Please.

I'm still recovering after the World Cup final. What an amazing adventure Brazil was!

It gave us James Rodriguez and his dance moves.

And his goals:

Mascherano and his Braveheart like talk to Chiquito Romero

His hug with Messi when we qualified for the final

Messi's happy tears 

And his tears of sadness even when he was chosen the best player of the world cup

David Luiz heartbreak 

And the tragedy of that terrible game against those who must not be named

Brazil was beautiful and all the emotions gave me plenty of food for many, many books. 

I went to SCBWI, I'm working for revisions that an agent requested (!!!), and I applied for the Vermont College Children's Writing Program. My garden is exploding with plants if not vegetables. Summer is almost over but it's been beautiful and I'll never forget it. Like I'll never forget this team:

Or the fact that my husband went to the World Cup with his friends and not me. Nope. Not forgetting any time soon ;-)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The World Cup is here. I repeat: THE WORLD CUP IS HERE!!!!

Brazil 2014 starts today, and I admit, I'm happier than a kid on Christmas morning or my middle schooler on the last day of school. In my house, we breathe, eat, drink, and dream futbol (I detest the word soccer, sorry). This is the one time my two passions merge. Books and sports are beautiful. Sports inspire my writing, and writing has always been the medium through which I express myself, like a sport. It's no wonder my first "real" novel had a futbol soccer star love interest, and this one I'm working on is about an Irish dancer. Some say dance is an art, others that dancers are God's athletes. I tell you, my Irish dancers practice up to eight hours a day during the summer. They're athletes in every sense of the word.

If you're new to the World Cup but want to know more about it, this short clip explains how it works.

And here's a link that will tell you all the schedules, TV listing, etc.

Now back to books. Alex Morgan, the US Women's National Team super star and my daughters' heroine, has a series out. It's cute and fun and it's about girls being strong and wonderful!

There's also Hope Solo's bio for young readers.  

There's even a Magic Tree House: Soccer on Sunday.

Do you know of any books I can add to this small list? Name them in the comments! I hope you have a wonderful World Cup month, whatever you do!

Friday, May 02, 2014

Entry for the Voice: A Chair of Every Color


A young ballerina crippled by anxiety finds healing in the world of competitive Irish dancing.  

Florencia del Lago’s immigrant parents raised her to be a go-getter, an over achiever. So of course everyone was thrilled when she landed the part of Clara in The Nutcracker. But on opening night, Florencia suffered an anxiety attack and couldn’t perform. Now, eight months later, Florencia’s anxiety rules her life. Her only consolation is that she still has her best friend in the whole world—Selena. 

For her twelfth birthday, Florencia agrees to a shopping trip to the mall with Selena and a group of girls. When Selena is caught shoplifting and blames Florencia for it, Florencia’s world comes crashing down. 

Betrayed, friendless, and heartbroken, Florencia sees an Irish dance competition. The music ignites a determination buried deep inside. She enrolls in lessons and finds she’s actually pretty good at this Irish dance thing—especially for a Latina with not a drop of Irish blood. She’s so good, she might even have a chance to make it to the Irish Dance World Cup.

Plagued by her anxiety, her jealous ex-best friend, and the memory of the fateful Nutcracker, Florencia sets out to conquer her self-doubt. With the help of an Instagram celebrity, a boy fighting for the Irish Dance World Championship, a rescued cat with a crooked neck, and a pen-pal who lives in a rest home, Florencia will fight to vanquish her fears, forgive her enemy, and, hopefully, believe in friendship again. 

A Chair of Every Color, a middle grade novel, is finished at 57,000 words. I’m a member of SCBWI and a contributor of the Utah Children’s Writers blog. My two daughters are Irish dancers and, like me, children of many cultures. 

Thanks for your time and consideration. 


Yamile Saied Méndez

250 Words:

 I was once a star. A shooting star. Una estrella fugaz, like Mamá said in Spanish. I was bright and beautiful and high, high in the sky. 
Like all shooting stars, I fell down. To reality. When I landed, well, I was just a piece of rock. Tiny, bumpy, unimportant. 
When I was practicing to be Clara in the Nutcracker, I loved the promise of the spotlight, the sound of clapping hands, the thrill of pushing myself just a little more to make a perfect arabesque or pirouette. 
The spotlight, the clapping, the pushing myself must have been a little too much. I didn't last three minutes on the stage that opening night eight months ago, that terrible December 20th.
I froze. Forgot my steps. Failed everyone. 
I fell so fast, no one had time to make a wish. Not even me. I didnt even dare dream that Id dance again, that Id ever step on a stage.  
These days I didn't wish for much. 
When Mamá asked me whatever I wanted for my twelfth birthday, I didnt think twice. 
All I wanted, all I thought I could handle, was a late-night with my best friend, Selena. Shed saved the night and the Nutcracker. She made a perfect Clara. 
My friend, a movie, pizza and ice-cream, and me. At home. 
Simple as that.
When she heard me, Mamá choked on her chamomile tea. She gasped as if I had asked for a pony and the moon.

Thursday, May 01, 2014


Five years ago this happened. Five years ago! I now realize that there are a lot of books in Spanish for children that are incredible difficult to find in the US. And not only books for children, books, in general. I ordered Cien Años de Soledad right before Gabriel Garcia Marquez died and I'm still waiting for it.

What I realized these last five years too is that there aren't a lot of books about kids whose lives stray even a little from the norm. Or if there are, these books are "niche, issue books." My kids read and write English because it's the language of the country where they were born. I also strive to introduce them to writers and artists that marked me as a child because that cultural legacy belongs to them too, in Spanish, the language of our family.

I write stories about dancers, and soccer players, girls fighting to win the middle school government election, all told from the point of view of characters who live between cultures. That's a subject close to my heart because I'm the granddaughter of immigrants, and immigrant myself, mother of children who look at me with doubt when a stranger asks where they're from.

The DIA school in Salt Lake invited me to present at their school because in Utah at the time, there wasn't a single Hispanic/Latina writer. I might be wrong, but I think it's still true to this day. I hope this will change soon, not only because of selfish reasons. After all, I am submitting to agents at the moment, trying to find representation for my middle grade novel about a Latina dancer crippled by anxiety, who finds healing in the world of competitive Irish dancing. I know there is a lot of talent in the Latin community, and also the Polynesian, and the African American, and the regular Utah who descends from the Pioneers.

I read once that books are the mirror of society, and so far, our shelves don't represent the beauty and diversity I see everywhere I go even in homogenous Utah. Our state lauds the Pioneers and their struggles to live in a land where they could worship and live in peace. That desire to live in peace and achieve one's potential is still very much burning in the hearts of hundreds of people, many of them children, whose skin color, accents, sexual orientation and beliefs vary from our own.

Let's give everyone a chance to see themselves in the media! Growing up one of my favorite shows
was Heidi, the girl of the Alps. I had no idea where Switzerland was or what it was like to be a shepherdess, but I had just lost my grandfather and I missed him more than I could express. I didn't express it and developed what I now know was anxiety. I loved that show because I saw myself reflected in it. When Heidi was taken away from her "abuelito" I cried my little heart out. And how I celebrated once they were united! Heidi's friend, Clara, was in a wheelchair. Poor Clara. But what a forward thinking show! Clara was smart and kind and she was the best influence Heidi could ever want.

I want every child to see themselves in a book, a movie, a musical. Not like the quirky sidekick, but the hero/ine. Because we are all the heroes of our own stories. I invite you to participate in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign on Facebook and Twitter. Why do you think we need them?

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

20 years of Riverdance. The legacy of the Celtic Tiger

I don't remember exactly where I was 20 years ago. In 1994 I was in high school, fighting to learn English and apply to BYU. Everything is a blur. But one night that year, during the Eurovision show held in Dublin, the world met Michael Flatly, the Celtic Tiger. And Riverdance was born.

Years later, I'm not an Irish dancer myself, but three times a week my daughters practice under two wonderful teachers who toured the world with Michael Flatley. My children can claim a little bit of Irish from their paternal grandma's side, but that Irish is pretty diluted among the other cultures our family comes from: Palestinian, Argentine, Puerto Rican, Texan, Yugoslavian, Spanish, Anglo-Saxon. We have it all but Italian, which we still love because we're Argentines, right?

Irish dancing doesn't belong only to the Irish anymore. It belongs to the world. It's an art form that speaks to people from all cultures, religions and countries. Watch the video of the original Riverdance performance. I dare you not to feel anything. Last December, my daughters' studio held a Christmas show like nothing I ever witnessed. They recreated the original Riverdance number. I was mesmerized by those dancers, and my older daughter was one of them! Even my son the soccer player (just turned the wise age of thirteen) said that he loved it, that he wished he could do what those dancers were doing.

The life of an Irish dancer who competes is a life of sacrifice and discipline. My eleven-year-old arrives home at almost ten every night. She leaves for school at 7. She's always excited and inspired by her teachers, by the other dancers, and the Lord of the Dance himself.

My champion daughter, fighting for a place in the Dublin world cup. It wasn't meant to be, but like she said, "There's always next year!" and she was back on the practicing floor the same day.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

And the winner is...

Thank you so much to those who took a moment to leave a comment on the Utah Children's Writers blog. I really appreciate your support! I love 30 Days, 30 Stories. I participated in it for the first time in 2009. It was the first time I dared share my writing with the world. My story was Teenage Warriors and you can read it here.

The support I received at the time was overwhelming and it kept me going. Even if one person likes my story, my day is made because ultimately, the writer's dream is not only to share stories, but to connect with the reader. In a way, until someone reads our words, the writing process isn't complete all the way. Writing and reading are only two sides of the same coin after all.

As promised, here's the random winner:

Cristina!!!!! Message me or email me at cheboricuas (at) gmail.com and I'll send you the book of your choice or Unravel by Julie Daines.

And before I go, I leave you with a piece of inspiration that Julie Peterson Wright shared in her class during the LDStorymakers Conference. This is just what I needed: a little reminder to keep going, little by little.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Storymakers 2014 and a perfect pet

Tonight I'm heading up to the beautiful city of Layton for one of my favorite events of the year, the annual LDStorymakers Writers Conference. It really is like General Conference for writers. This will be my fourth year attending, and it never ceases to astonish me how much I learn each year. Plus all the wonderful people I see. It's a wonderful opportunity to meet old and new friends and finally match a name I met online to a face in real life.

If you attend, please look for me. I'd love to meet you! I'm especially excited to attend Orson Scott Card's intensive class. I also have a pitch session with an agent. Pray for me and cross your fingers that everything goes well, and by everything, I mean that I don't forget my pitch and blank out on the agent :-)

There's a lot of advise out there for when you attend a conference, but here is my contribution. I hopw it helps:

Writer conferences are a great way to learn about your craft, meet new people, and push yourself to the next level.

  • Learn about your craft: Storymakers offers tons of different classes for writers who are on different levels in their careers. From beginner to multi-published, there's great opportunities to learn from the greats. 
  • Meet new people: Last year I made business cards with my information, such as twitter, blog, email. I always give out my card, but the most important thing to do is to just go out there with an open mind and a ready smile. Writers are mostly introverts who love nothing more than to be left alone with the voices in their heads, with a few crazy extroverts as the exception :-) But even if writing per se is a lonely endeavor, the writer's path doesn't have to be. In fact, it can't be, at least not if you want to remain sane. I struggle with making small talk, but it has helped me tremendously to be ready to say hi to the person next to me, to ask about their projects, to congratulate them on their successes and cheer them up as they march to their pitch sessions like gladiators to the arena. The writing community (especially here in Utah) is highly talented, but also VERY compassionate and supportive. Go out there and meet friends.
  • Last of all, writers' conferences push you to reach our next level. I'm inspired when I see my friends attain their dreams and goals. I love it when writers I've followed from the very beginning are nominated for an award or win the First Chapter Contest. Seeing how everyone perseveres makes me want to continue fighting for my dreams.
I hope to see you this weekend. And if you can't come, I'm sure there will be another chance to meet in the future.

Oh, it's my turn today to post at the Utah Children's Writers blog. We're celebrating 30 Days, 30 Stories. Stop by the blog and leave a message! As as thank you, I'll be doing a giveaway from the names that post at the blog. In honor of World Book Night (which was yesterday, but we can continue celebrating), I'll choose a random winner and send you a book of your choice. If you don't have a preference I'll send you Unravel, A Tale of True Love by my dear friend and critique partner Julie Daines.
Here's the link.
And here's the story, just in case. Thanks!!!!

30 Days: The Quest for the Perfect Pet

The Quest for the Perfect Pet
by Yamile Saied Mendez
One day after dinner, Mamá finally said I was ready for my first pet. 
But not a cat. 
Cats made Papá sneeze.
Not a dog either. 
Everyone already has a dog and I wanted my pet to be:
Most of all, my pet had to be a good listener. 
I wanted a friend I could tell secrets to. 
Early next morning, I set out looking for my perfect pet. I passed the pet store without a glance in its direction.
I walked straight into the zoo. 
Right away, I found my perfect pet. After some tugging, and pushing and shoving and flapping of giant wings I brought it home. 
My pet was special. 
Ostriches aren’t that common in my neighborhood after all. 
My pet was different too. I could bet all of my Easter candy no one but me would bring an ostrich to school for show and tell. 
But my ostrich wasn’t that much fun. Instead of sitting primly while I served tea, it swallowed Mamá’s china tea service in a single gulp. 
I asked her to give it back, but it just stared at me and then started crying because her stomach hurt. I patted her head and told her “this too shall pass,” but she wasn’t a good listener. Before Mamá even said a word of protest, I took the ostrich back.
Now that I was pet-less and looking, I took advantage and chose another pet from the zoo.
My hyena was special.
 That’s for sure. 
But when she saw the mess the ostrich had made in my room, she started laughing and laughing. It wouldn’t stop. 
She laughed so much, I suspected she was laughing at me. I told her I needed a hug. After the incident with the ostrich I was so tired I became teary. But the hyena didn’t cuddle, she said. She just insisted on ordering some take-out. 
In the end, I made her a Cuban sandwich with mustard and sweet pork that she ate on the way to the zoo. 
The hyena wasn’t fun, cuddly or a good listener, but I was determined to find the perfect pet. 
Then I saw this cute little guy, doing all kinds of summersaults and jumps. Before his mama noticed, I grabbed his hand and we ran home. 
My spider monkey was special and different and oh, so much fun! 
He showed me the correct form to swing from the monkey bars at the park, and later, we snacked on dried plantain chips, my favorite kind.
But then my monkey got sleepy and cried for his mom. I gave him a hug as he cried and cried. I felt bad for the little guy, so I took him back. 
I definitely needed a pet that was special and different and fun, but most of all, I wanted it to be cuddly. And then, I had an idea. Because what’s more cuddly than a bear? 
A panda bear!
Oh my panda! It was special and different and it was so much fun to watch him climb the trees and dawdle all over the park! But his claws frightened me, and when it smiled and I saw his big teeth? I wasn’t so sure I wanted to cuddle with it. 
I took it back to the zoo where to my surprise I found the zookeeper waiting for me! After I promised I wouldn’t borrow any more animals to try out as pets, he agreed to send the police back to the station and me back home.
I wanted a pet. 
The perfect pet.
Someone who would listen to me.
I was so distracted by my longing for this creature that I walked right into the pet store sign. 
Bunnies for sale, it said. Come and find your perfect pet.
With butterflies in my stomach, I walked into the store.
In a wooden pen, a single bunny played with a plastic ball. 
She jumped over a log. 
She rolled on the grass. 
She played hide-and-seek with me.
She was black like midnight, so small it fit in my cupped hands. When I kissed her head, she nuzzled against my lips, soft and cuddly. 
“You’re the perfect pet,” I whispered in her long ears, “You’re special. You waited for me all this time. You’re different. I’ve never seen such a small rabbit like you. And you’re fun. I saw how you played with the ball.”
I didn’t need to say how cuddly she was. She fit right into my heart. And while I talked to her, she listened, flicking her little ears, like she understood everything I said. 
She was an excellent listener. I mean, her ears were perfect for the job!
I paid the store lady with some money Ratón Pérez left me for my teeth the week before, and we walked home. 
Both of us. 

My perfect pet and me.  

This is my daughter Areli with her perfect pet, Midnight. She's my constant source of inspiration.
Disclaimer: at least she hasn't brought a hyena home. Yet. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Unraveled, A Tale of True Love book giveaway!!!!

Valentine's Day is just one day away, and what better way to celebrate than with books?  Everything is better when you celebrate with books, especially if the book is beautiful, magical, timeless love story.
If you're a guy, and you just groaned and reached to close this post, please, don't. Even Star Wars is a love story, everything a consequence of Anakin's love for Padme...

My favorite love stories are those that don't only present me with two people in love, but also introduce me to a fascinating time period, a sweeping setting, rich mythology , and yes, a brave heroine and a chivalrous hero that together are much more than they ever were on their own.

One such book is Unraveled, A Tale of True Love, by my friend and critique partner Julie Daines. It was released just a few days ago. I love this book!!!!

The story is about Bronwen, who after an illness that took most of her family, is crippled. One night, she and her mother receive the visit of a mountain witch, who leaves Bronwen a pair of enchanted shoes. When Bronwen puts them on, she's whole again. Thrilled with the possibility of living a normal life, and urged by her mother, Bronwen makes the trip to the King's Court to present herself as it's the custom with girls her age. There, Bronwen will find true friendship, the attention of the King's son, who falls in love with her beauty, and also the attention of the Head of the King's Guard, who knew her first, when she was just Bronwen. Most importantly, Bronwen will learn to love herself as she discovers that sometimes a pair of magic shoes can't solve all of her problems.

Seriously, read this book. It's thoroughly researched,  expertly crafted, and it will sweep you off your feet with its beauty. In celebration of love, I'll be giving away a copy of Unraveled to one lucky person. All you need to do is leave a comment and tell me about your favorite love story, in a book, movie or song.

Spread the word for extra good karma!!! I'll be announcing the winner on my post next week over at the Utah Children's Writers blog. Good luck and Happy Valentine's Day!!!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sometimes it's okay to use white flour

Our Santa Lucia, or as Peach calls her, Santa Chulia

I love bread. That's the main reason I could never do a paleo or Arkins diet. I grew up in a family for whom a meal wasn't a meal without bread. Oh Argentine caserito and mignones, how much I miss you! There's nothing like you where I live! My favorite part of going To Puerto Rico? Pan sobao. The best of Barcelona and Paris? No, it's not cream Catalana or macaroons. It's the bread, of course. 

Bread and butter. There's nothing more delicious. 

When my third child developed a gluten intolerance, I had no choice but to go gluten free too. The whole family did.  It's easier to avoid an allergen if it's not in the house, right? But I missed my carbs-rich comfort food! I experimented with all kinds of grains, and little by little, I did get used to eating a variety of grains. Teff, quinoa, spelt. We all became friends. 

When my son's sensitivities decreased, I introduced wheat in our diet again. I continued using the grains I had discovered though, and most of the time, I make bread or cookies with whole wheat I grind in my beloved Nutrimill. 

Christmas is not Christmas without the baking and kneading, right? Especially in the northern hemisphere, where we are reaching the darkest day of the year. Today is the feat St Lucia. Sweden celebrates its midwinter Festival of Lights by honoring St Lucia. When I started introducing the Waldorf approach of raising a family, I found a lot of celebrations and traditions from all over the world that we adopted. St Lucia is one of them. My Princess Peach still calls it St Chulia's day (instead of Lucia) and I don't correct her because her mispronunciation is so darn cute! Well, according to tradition, a girl with a crown of candles wakes up the family, bringing the light with her. I'm usually the one waking up the family in the morning, and since I don't want to walk around with a crown of candles on my head, I make sure I at least bake saffron St Lucia buns every year. Yesterday my Princess Peach was home and she wanted to help make the buns. I was happy to have her help. I set out all the ingredients. Instead of white flour though, I used whole wheat. Well, the first time I scalded the yeast and had to start all over. I almost cried over the wasted saffron. I had used my very last envelope of powdered saffron I brought from Barcelona last February. I started again, taking care not to waste any more of the precious spice. By then I was very pressed for time. My writers group was meeting that night and I had just received a text from a friend reminding me that Princess Swan had Irish dance rehearsals--an hour away from home. I tried to hurry as much as I could. But in cooking there's no rushing the process. The dough was crumbly and heavy as a brick. The dough would not rise. I let it rest for HOURS, to Princess Peach's agony and despair. After writers group, and after I put the kids in bed, I rolled up the dough and baked it. The rolls smelled wonderful but they were super heavy. I remembered last year's rolls with such longing! 

This morning, determined to win the battle against whatever it was that was blocking my St Lucia's buns baking ability, I mixed the dough again. I took care not to scald the yeast. I used some more precious saffron, and ... White flour. They turned out okay this time. Because sometimes, even though white flour is basically a nonfood, it's still delicious and wonderful and comforting and light. 
Sometimes it's okay to use white flour. That's the lesson I learned today. 

Here's a picture of the wonderful white flour, sugar dusted buns and a sad looking, burned whole wheat bun. 

And here's a link that tells a little about St Lucia's festival:

Interested in making the rolls? Maybe you'll have better luck than me. Here's a link to the recipe. Saffron rolls are delicious! Even without raisins. 

What holiday traditions does your family have in preparation for Christmas? Share away! 

Friday, December 06, 2013

No half marathon but it's okay

Something that went well? PrincessSwan's comp in Cali
I always plan my blog posts, and sometimes, I follow the outline in my thoughts and I write an okay post. Other times, I just go with the wind, Argentine style, and end up with a stream of consciousness spew that when I read it later, I'm like, "who wrote this?"

This one is a combination of the two. I wanted to write a blog post the day after Thanksgiving and tell the world that although this year was brutal, I still did great things.

I did finish NaNoWriMo. And I did it in record time. 16 days of writing frenzy. Jeff was in Nepal and I had so much time to write! I don't really know why I had time. As I type this, I have a super clingy 17-month-old baby semi-asleep in my arms. He's even holding a strand of my long hair to make sure I NEVER put him down. And by never, I mean, NEVER. So I don't really know how I was able to write this book--which remains untitled. I'm thrilled about it. It's loosely based on Persuasion and it follows the story of a young, single mother and the boy whose heart she broke six years ago and who is now a world famous soccer player.

I'm putting that book away for now to finish edits on my Middle Grade book about a Latina Irish dancer who wants to go to the World Cup in spite of her anxiety problems.

I know. All my stories are so sad. They have good endings though :-)

What I didn't accomplish was the half marathon I trained all year for. I got sick the day before Thanksgiving, and although I wanted to run it, I couldn't even get up to cook Thanksgiving dinner, which we had to reschedule.

So 2013, I didn't reach all of my goals, but I will. The year isn't over yet. I might have to run it in the snow, with this clingy boy holding on to my hair, but I'll still do it. I'll even post a picture; I promise. It could have been worse, right? I could be RSL. *tears*

Thursday, October 31, 2013


For a long time I decided that I'd finish the re-write of my book at the end of September so I could read all through October. No writing, just preparing my mind for the writing fest of November. But the end of September came and my book wasn't finished. It took me an extra week. I plunged into reading right away, decided to enjoy October, my month of creative vacation. The reading was great. The running was feeling better and better every day. This year would be the year I'd decorate the whole house for Halloween, a christening of sorts for this new place. But the middle of October slapped me, and I never saw the hand coming.

Yaya's last Halloween
My mom had gallbladder surgery. A simple procedure. She was home the same day. I was grateful for my month off because I could go to her house every morning and stay with her until it was time for the kids to get home. Baby Hulk slept in her bed with her while I read. The three of us watched and old telenovela that we loved. We talked. I held her hand, thinking how cold it was and wanting her to get better.

Thursday morning, I arrived at her house and she was already up. She had cleaned the kitchen. She wanted to be doing things, like always. She didn't feel well though. I took her to the doctor who reassured us that she would be okay.

That night, already Friday morning, she passed away.

And today is Halloween, one of her favorite holidays. We won't have her delicious treats or her laughter as the kids pretend to scare her. The house isn't decorated. But we'll celebrate anyway because she loved it.

In October I learned that writing isn't the most important thing, but it helped me record those things that are vital, that I need to keep on going. The memories of the people I love most. Writing helps put my thoughts in order. To create from scrambled thoughts in my head.

Tomorrow, I'll start my new story, the one I've been planning since the summer. Now that I think about it, the overall story arc, it dawns on me that maybe I'm not up to par with the image of this story I have in my mind. I'll have to draw from my heart then, and that will hurt. But it will also heal. Words, beautiful words.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Back to WalMart

Desperate times call for desperate actions. I wanted a book so I went to WalMart.

House of Hades, by Rick Riordan, came out today. I don't think I ever recovered from the terrible cliffhanger at the end of The Mark of Athena. I know my oldest child never did. Like with most important books, I pre-ordered my copy from Amazon. Like it always happens, Amazon shipped out the book today. It won't even be here until Thursday. What are two more days after waiting a year in agony, you may ask? Two days are eternity and torture and cruelty. Snow at the end of September.

So like every year, I made my annual trip to WalMart. There are many things I hate about WalMart, but if I'm being fair, I have to acknowledge that in matters of life and death, as in, I have to have that book now, they've never disappointed. 

I arrived in the store and the first thing I saw was a display of House of Hades. Empty display. I frantically searched the store. All the displays were empty! Amidst the panic attack that was now choking me, I had the cheerful, ray-of-sunshine thought that all the empty shelves meant people read. People love books. Other people like me have to have the newest Percy Jackson right now. Still, I had no book and my trip to WalMart had been for nothing. I grabbed shampoo and a few other things, because I was there and I had a list. None of the things I grabbed were on my list. To make matters worse, there were two items I did have on my list that, of course, I didn't buy. 

I passed the electronics section and I got distracted for a second. There was a FIFA 14 display with a picture of Messi. The display was empty. All this means was that people also love video games. And Leo Messi, right? If they love Messi, they love Rosario, because, hey, he was born there. And so was I! Therefore, they love me. 
I felt loved then, but still panicky. 

Then I saw it: a little rackety display with copies and copies of House of Hades. I almost grabbed two. One for my son and one for me, until I remembered that hey, amazon already sent me my book. Right on queue, a text message came in, announcing that my book had been shipped and should arrive by Thursday at 8 PM. 
Really Amazon? Thursday by 8 PM? By then, you better send me the next book, because my son and I will already be weeping and gnashing our teeth over the cliffhanger that's sure to come!

Crazy WalMart trip. Baby Hulk learned how to climb out of the cart. 

Even he is so excited about the book! See also all the other stuff I got? None was on my list! 

Here Baby Hulk is learning WalMart is a "special" place. He wasn't sure about the meowing cats. At first, he wanted to hug one, because he's a hugger. But when the "kitten" moved its legs and pushed him away? I thought he was going to run away! Which would explain his climbing out of the cart, now that I think about it. Also, notice that cart is empty at this point. All this means is that all those empty displays? They were probably part of Walmart's  strategy to get people like me to buy stuff we don't need. Tricky, tricky, tricky WalMart!