The 40 Challenge: Day 6

It’s Monday. Today is my day when the kids go back to school and I can sit down and crank out some work on my WIP. USUALLY. Instead today was filled with phone calls. Did I mention I HATE speaking on the phone. Email me, text me, tweet me and I’ll be more than happy to communicate with you but talking on the phone exhausts me.

Even so, I did manage to scrape together time to meet all of my goals. I hope you’re proud!

Here are the stats:

40 minutes reading

THE SWAN KINGDOM by Zoe Marriott. The writing is lush and delicious. It reminds me so much Robin McKinley’s early works such as BEAUTY and THE BLUE SWORD.

40 minutes running
The weather cleared slightly so I was able to go running in Memorial Park thank goodness. Exercising outside is so much nicer than running on a treadmill at the gym and being surrounded by preening weight-lifters.

40 minutes writing
Taking a break from one WIP to work on my other WIP. I didn’t have the most productive writing day on record but it was a writing day nonetheless so I can’t really complain.

That’s all folks! Hope you had a great day. Now go give your significant other a kiss and curl up with a good book. That’s what I’m headed off to do right now – nite!


The 40 Challenge: Day 4 and 5

This weekend was the annual SCBWI Houston conference. I hope everyone will be indulgent with my goals for the past few days. Here are my stats – be gentle with my okay?

Saturday/Day 4

40 minutes exercise – 15 minutes yoga in the morning and then 25 minutes running around the conference center either looking for people, looking for coffee or recovering from my manuscript critique.

40 minutes writing – during the conference I tried to summarize the speakers comments via Twitter (you can read the comments on the hash tag #SCBWIHouston if you would like!) Then I posted an overall summary of the conference as well on this blog. So in fact, I went above and beyond the forty minutes – hooray for me!

40 minutes reading – I continued with the wonderful novel HERE LIES ARTHUR by Philip Reeve.

Sunday/Day 5

40 minutes exercise – I ran on a dreadful treadmill as it was raining outside and then lifted weights.

40 minutes writing – I spent the day sending out thank yous and comments to all of the conference go-ers. In addition I worked on my WIP and this post of course!

40 minutes reading – I finished the Philip Reeve novel. It was wonderful and left me longing for a sequel!

Now I’m off to finish watching Masterpiece Theatre. It doesn’t get any better than Jane Austen does it?
Best wishes and blessing to you all.


SCBWI Houston Conference 2010

Today was chock-full o’fun with the wonderful SCBWI Houston conference. We had a bevy of wonderful presenters who inspired, encouraged and educated a sold-out crowd of aspiring authors and illustrators.


The day kicked off with the award-winning author Cynthia Leitich Smith. My favorite highlights of her speech were her suggestions to “take your writing seriously, even if others don’t” and “craft is the key. Nothing else matters”.


Next up was the charismatic Harper Collins editor Ruta Rimas. Unfortunately, I missed most of her discussion in lieu of my manuscript critique. I did catch the end of her speech when she shared an inspiring quote from John Gardner, “It’s the sheer act of writing, more than anything else that makes a writer”.


Patrick Collins followed. He’s the Creative Director at Henry Holt. Patrick guided us through the development of a variety of book covers. Who knew that changing a font or a color could so dramatically change the appearance of a book?


Our star agent of the conference was Sara Crowe. She spoke on how to find the perfect agent and how as writers we needed to “embrace revision”!


Nancy Feresten from National Geographic provided us a bounty of information about the ever-evolving nature of the publishing industry. She also informed the crowd that National Geographic is looking for writers of serious reference, innovative narrative nonfiction and fun reference materials.


Lisa Ann Sandell, author and editor for Scholastic gave us advice for writing the perfect query letter. Pointers included being straightforward, concise and to never include rhetorical questions.


The conference concluded with the wonderful Alexandra Cooper, senior editor for Simon and Schuster. She walked us through the intricate acquisition process.


It was a fantastic day – thanks to all the magnificent organizers and attendees!




The 40 Challenge: Day 3

Day 3



I’m done already! And it isn’t even midnight! Tonight begins the spectacular SCBWI Houston conference so I’ve been working extra fast to reach my goal before I meet up with some of my favorite authors, illustrators and book people.


Stats for Day 3


40 minutes exercise – I took the kids ice skating after much begging and pleading. Due to the fact that the Man-child had been running a fever for the past few days it was a last minute decision. In the end, I should have taken them to a movie instead since the sick one sat on the benches for most of the time.


40 minutes reading – I started HERE LIES ARTHUR by Philip Reeve. It’s the story of King Arthur told from the point of view of the young girl Gwyna. So far I’ve really enjoyed it.


40 minutes writing – I buckled up my courage and tweaked a query to send off to a super new agent who just set up shop. Fingers crossed! Then I worked for a few minutes on a book critique that I should send off later tonight after Himself comes home and corrects my poor French grammar.


I have no idea how I’m going to complete the challenge tomorrow with the conference all day long. Anyone have any time bending ideas or suggestions they’d like to share?


Wishing you all a wonderful Friday!



The 40 Challenge: Day 2


Wow! That was an interesting day.


Some might say that I’ve bitten off a little more than I can chew with this 40 Challenge and well, those some would be right.


Today started early. Around 2:30 am the Man-child woke up on fire with fever. The rest of the early morning was spent administering medicine and checking to see if the fever had broken. At 6:00 am the alarm rang. Himself turned it off. Twenty minutes later a large French torpedo shot out of bed. Apparently Himself had an early morning call with Australia, thus the panic. By 6:20 am, I was drinking a cup of coffee, waving good-bye to Himself as the Man-child shouted for breakfast. The rest of the day got crazier from there.


But enough about that and on to the important stuff:


The Stats for Day 2:


Reading: 40 minutes and then some. I finished the ARC of ELSEWHERE by Jacqueline West. The book won’t hit the shelves until this summer but reserve your copies now! It’s brilliant. Sort of The PENDERWICKS meet CORALINE. I loved it and so will you.



Writing: 40 minutes writing a critique of ELSEWHERE during the Little Woman’s karate class.


Exercise: 26 minutes of yoga during the Man-Child’s nap.

                 2 minutes of sprinting out to the curb after forgetting to put out the garbage.

                 2 minutes of sprinting out to the curb after forgetting to put out the recycling.

                10 minutes running up and down the stairs as the kids brushed their teeth.



In conclusion, I did reach my 40 Challenge today – just barely. I have high hopes that the Man-Child is now feeling better thus allowing me tomorrow to go to the gym and get so real exercise. I’d also like to get some work done on my WIP and start a new book.


Hope you all had a wonderful day. Here’s to a brand new start tomorrow. I’m off to scrounge up some chocolate. Good Night!


The 40 Challenge: Day 1

Well, one day down – 39 more to go! I reached my goals today through luck, tenacity and triple dosing on the chocolate. I ran for 40 minutes, started a major rewrite of my WIP and then rounded out my hat trick with reading ELSEWHERE by Jacqueline West. (I’m not finished with the book yet but so far I adore it! The author’s voice is witty, clever and never talks down to the reader. I love books that make the reader feel smart.)

I have to admit I’m already worried about this weekend. Weekends are difficult anyway for me writing-wise. With the man-child, woman-child, himself and their various activities, play dates and birthday parties the schedule is always a little crazy.

This weekend will reach new levels of insanity since I will be gone all Saturday at the SCBWI Conference here in Houston. I’m super excited to meet all the editors, agents and authors attending. BUT HOW AM I GOING TO EXERCISE? AND WRITE? AND READ? Things I should have thought about before I started the 40 Challenge, hmm?

Well, to paraphrase Scarlett, I’ll worry about all that tomorrow. Right now I’m off to drink my mint tea and curl up with a book. Wishing you all a good night and a sunny tomorrow!


The 40 Challenge

The 40 Challenge

Carnival has officially left the building. So put away the necklaces and crepes and welcome Lent: forty days of fasting, abstinence and reflection. (cough)

This year I plan on doing things a little differently. Instead of trying unsuccessfully give up chocolate AGAIN, I’m challenging myself to improve my life in other ways.

So for the forty days of Lent, I’m doing the 40 Challenge.

What’s this?

For the next forty days I challenge myself to complete everyday:

40 minutes of writing
40 minutes of reading
40 minutes of exercising


For me it is all too easy to let these three things fade into the background in my life as a wife/teacher/mother. And yet, they are three things that feed my spirit and make me feel, well, good.

Actually chocolate does the same thing but forty days of chocolate eating is not a challenge I truly need to work to accomplish.

So I’m going to be checking in daily to update everyone on how I’m doing in addition to my interviews with authors and other “book” people.

Anyone interested in joining me?


Interview with Debbie Gonzales

February marks the Year of the Tiger according to the Chinese calendar. Tradition promises that 2010 will be a year of action and change. One author who embodies all of the positive Tiger characteristics is Debbie Gonzales. Between writing books, maintaining her creative website and organizing events with the Austin chapter of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators), Debbie is always in motion. Recently I visited with Debbie about inspiration, discipline and the craft of writing.

Where did you grow up?

As a child I transferred all over the United States with my father’s business. I’ve lived in California, Arkansas, Texas, Colorado, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. But I proudly call Texas my home! I was born in El Paso and have spent most of my years in the Dallas area. I love the Lone Star State. There’s no place like it.

What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?

Here is where I struggle. Because I am working hard to build a new career as a freelance writer, most of my time is spent working on projects for my beloved clients. I craft teacher guides, design curriculum, teach creative writing workshops, annotate lessons with state academic standards, and work on web copy. I also have several other academic projects in the queue. All that to say, I have to be ultra-determined to chisel out time for my creative work. So, a normal day, you ask? It’s up at 5:00 for an hour of creative work. And then, from 8:30 until 4:00 it is all about my business. After spending some evening time with my sweet hubby, I might sneak back to my desk and crawl back into my fiction for a few hours before calling it a great day.

Where do you get your inspiration?

From my well over 35 years of working with children. I have had the privilege of working with kids from ages 2 to 20; troubled kids, rich kids, poor kids, funny, silly, and sad kids. I’ve been able to experience the drama of life while sided up, shoulder top shoulder with the finest people on this Earth…kids! Most of what I have written about has been pulled directly from an experience or observation I have had with a child. I truly consider myself to be blessed with such riches.

Who are your favorite writers and why?

When I first began this journey, my favorite authors were those that I felt moved children, especially kids that were reluctant to read (What a joy it is to witness a child’s first delight in reading independently!) Jerry Spinelli can get a kid to read. So can Louis Sachar, Lois Lowry, Mildred D. Taylor, and Marion Dane Bauer, to name a just a few.

Of late, because I have the honor of getting to know some the finest writers in the nation, I have come to love not only the amazing work of a number of contemporary authors, but appreciate their personal demeanor, as well. I am truly grateful for the incredible selflessness of so many talented and successful writers who play a huge role in the success of countless fledging authors. Off the top of my head, to list some of my current favorites Kathi Appelt, Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, Stephanie Green, Nancy Bo Flood, Liz Garton-Scanlon, Uma Krishnaswami, Rita-Williams Garcia, Deb Wiles, John Dufrense, and Jane Kurtz come to mind at this moment.

Tell us about your books and what you are working on.

In addition to the Gilt Edge Early readers, I have two completed middle grade novels that I am quite serious about publishing, ALIEN ALL-STAR and BEAR MOUNTIAN.

Both novels have had a wee bit of buzz, and after yet another rewrite, maybe they’ll find a home with a nice publisher. I won’t stop working on them until they do.

Describe your website. (It’s so cool!)

“Simple Saturday” is a direct result of my years, and years, and years of working with kids. The premise is to weekly present a variety of inexpensive, simple, yet entertaining activities for families to enjoy together. That’s it. In addition to books reviews, and posting teacher activity guides, I include all kinds of things to do…magic tricks, art and science activities, anything and everything…simple pastimes intended to bring families together for some low cost fun. The way it works is that on Friday I post the materials needed to make Saturday’s activity. A step-by-step, tongue-in-cheek, description of the activity is posted early on Saturday morning, complete with goofy pictorial shots of my husband demonstrating some of the steps. Honestly, the response to my blog has been astounding! Truly, I post on Saturday morning and just watch the page view counter soar. Wow! I am having fun with the website, and it seems lots of other folks are enjoying it, as well. Come by and see me at http://www.debbiegonzales.com and join in the simple-and-sometimes-very-silly fun!

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Find a community of writers. Surround yourself with people who are serious about the craft. Let me repeat…serious about the craft. Craft, first. Publishing second. Work on your skills. Hone them while keeping your eye on the prize. Also, actively participate in the larger community of writers. Volunteer to help with your local SCBWI group. Establish a critique group. Become involved in whatever ways your schedule will allow you to do. Stay positive and always move forward. When you do, I believe that is when the good stuff happens. Keep writing. Don’t stop. Support others, and they will happily support you.

In February I will be assuming the role as Regional Advisor for the Austin SCBWI Chapter. We already have so many great events planned for 2010. I’d like to encourage your readers to check out our website at http://www.austinscbwi.com to keep abreast of the great things happening in Austin, Texas. Y’all come join us! We’d love to see you.

Are you a author or illustrator with a recently published book? Any questions or comments? Please contact Melissa at melissaburon@yahoo.com or visit her blog Book Addict at http://melissaburon.livejournal.com.

This interview also appeared in the Houston Banner newspaper.