I joined SCBWI in 2008 and it’s been the best decision I ever made. I’ve been to many speaking engagements before I joined SCBWI, through the MFA program, but many YA speakers forget to mention SCBWI. I don’t fault them for it. They have a lot to usually get through, but I do think it’s a society everyone should join if they are even remotely interested in publishing in the YA, middle-grade, or picture book categories. It’s not exclusively for writers either. It’s also for illustrators.
If writing for teens and children isn’t up your alley, I encourage you to join a writing society. There are so many out there and almost all of them offer their own membership benefits and have conferences throughout the year. This includes AWP, the Mystery Writers of America, Horror Writers Association, Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, and many, many more. Personally, I love writing picture books, MG, and YA books so SCBWI feels like its tailor made for me.
The first person to turn me onto SCBWI was my professor, Juan Felipe Herrera, for children and YA writing course. A children’s book author himself he knew the importance of joining a society like SCBWI. Through SCBWI one is able to make valuable connections with other authors, editors, and agents that you wouldn’t normally be able to talk to except through e-mail (if you’re lucky). SCBWI started back in 1971 and has since then grown to over 22,000 members worldwide with over 70 regional chapters that range from board books to YA (Young Adult) novels. It’s the largest children’s writing organization in the world.
I’m glad he did encourage me. I’ve also had other professors recommend I join SCBWI as well. Since I first joined, I’ve been to several spring conferences in Temecula, CA; and am attending my first ever Working Writers Retreat this weekend. At every event I’ve attended, I’ve made valuable contacts and more importantly, I’ve built up a network of like-minded writers who are all in the same boat. We all want to be published and we are all there to help each other out.
I’ll let you know how the event goes! Even after obtaining my MFA and attending other conferences, I still get nervous reading my own work out loud. I think because I'm reading a little part of me. Even if it's a small part.
In the meantime, happy writing!
At eighteen, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Most people don’t and those who actually do know are few and far between. I entered UC Riverside as an acting major; Never mind, that I hadn’t taken any acting classes in my life, but had done some modeling in high school. The UC system allowed me to change my major right away and I had always loved science so I decided to become a science major my first year. That didn’t last past my freshman year because I hated math. Still do, but it allowed me to do something amazing. This confusion about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life gave me the freedom to explore as many majors as I wanted.
My sophomore year in university I became a liberal studies major with an emphasis in English and a minor in Creative Writing. I loved to analyze everything so this was perfect. That same year I also fell in love with anthropology so I decided to double major my junior year. Anthropology allowed me to get inside heads of people and cultures. It gave me the courage to think bigger. Something I hadn’t done till college. I wanted to do something meaningful with my life.
I loved writing and anthropology so much that I ended up taking several years to decide which one I wanted to go back and get my masters in. I loved studying cultures. The stories my professors would come back with amazed me. They’d talk about smoking peyote with the locals or smuggling people to freedom. They’d speak about bringing supplies back to countries where people couldn’t get basic medical care, a proper education or even a roof over their heads. They’d talk about women who had to sell themselves to put food on the table. They wanted to be a part of the solution. They’d help these women start their own businesses, even though the businesses were small, it was enough to put food on the table without having to subject themselves to the degradation they had in the past. I wanted to help so much. I even considered sending letters out to work with Dr. Weil (And get my masters at University of Arizona where he was teaching at the time).
I had letters of recommendation for both an anthropology masters and for MFA programs. I almost applied for the anthropology masters, but writing tugged at my heart and soul more. In the end, it won. It was in a Masters program that I really learned to hone my writing and to think about feelings and emotions. I could write analytical papers no problem. Give me a 20 page paper on Egyptian women and their households and I could turn that around quickly. Understand that evidence on Egyptian women was often burned so this took awhile to figure out, and yet I could do this faster than delving into a character’s emotion or mind. It took a master’s program to force that out of me. I had to imagine myself in their shoes. I found myself getting upset at the murder of a father or sad at the desperation in a character who just wanted to find out who she really was. It opened up a side of me I never knew I had. It’s that reason that I highly recommend going back to get an MFA.
In the process, I also found a happy medium when it comes to helping others. I work pro-bono as the Director of Partnerships for Project Migration, a fashion accessory company with a charitable initiative. Proceeds from the sales go back to help single mothers and their children in Africa. No matter what happens during the day I always write. If I’m angry, I let that emotion come out because sometimes my character’s best emotions come from the pain I’m feeling. Allowing them speak, allows me to heal. Something I couldn’t have done if I didn’t learn how to write everything out.
I could have taken the easy way out. My family has owned successful Italian restaurants for over thirty years. When I was younger, I used to sit in our oversized dark red booths and hear about how my great uncle and Grandpa were good friends with Frank Sinatra. I remember my dad telling me that he worked out in Hollywood with my great uncle one summer at the restaurant my Uncle Sonny used to manage for years called Martonis, and at the end of the summer his reward was a trip on Frank Sinatra’s plane that was flying to Vegas where my dad would hear Elvis in concert. I would hear about how when my Aunt Tisha was a little girl sat on Cary Grant’s lap. I would hear stories about Styx and Damn Yankees from my Uncle Bob, may he rest in peace. He used to do promotions for them ages ago.
And, recently one of my uncles, who was in the Vietnam War and had married a German woman named Bonita, told me that his ex-wife had a grandpa who was a Nazi. She was poisoned into thinking that everyone was inferior to the German race. She would often tell him in arguments, “You cannot help that you are the way that you are. You’re an American and of Italian decent. You’re not German and Germans are the perfect race.” They used to argue often over that and when she wanted him to stay in Germany with her and wouldn’t let him see his family, his answer to her was a no-brainer; they divorced.
Most people would think it's a no-brainer, why not just fall into the family business. Everything is set up, but if I did that I would be miserable. Now granted working for family has allowed me time to write my YA novel, but would I never run a restaurant. It's not my passion. Writing is.
Writing doesn't pay well most of the time, but I don't care. It's what I love. I live and breathe for my writing. That's how my uncles feel about the restaurant business. When we had to sell one of the restaurants you could see the devastation in their eyes. Now that's passion and love for what you do. If someone told me to just stop writing, they better have a damn good justification for it. Even then I wouldn't listen.
I often come across people in the restaurant who are eager to read my book and ask when it will come out. What they don't understand is that writing is also about rewriting. It's about rewriting some more. It's about sending it out to an agent and hoping they love it. It's hoping an editor will love it enough to sign you on as a client and it's hoping you have a fan base that will continue to grow. Otherwise you're just writing for yourself. In any event, even if it takes years, I'm not giving up. It's a persistence game. You don't tell a MLB player to stop playing baseball or a ballet dancer to give up because her feet are too big or her stance is too wide. They wouldn't give up, they'd work harder. That's what I do. Work harder to follow my passion because that is what life is about. Having something to live for and the courage to go after it!