Headed Down to the RGV!

Well, the family and I are headed down to South Texas for Christmas. The boys will be seeing their 'Buelo and 'Buela for a few days, hanging out with the Raymers, the Costales all the way from Hawaii, the Rincones, and a few other folks from back in the day. Also, Friday night from 8PM to around 11PM, I'm joinging Daniel Garcia Ordaz and a few other poets and writers at Carinos in McAllen for a reading. It's like a flash mob, put together by Daniel on the spur of the moment, so thanks to El Mariachi for getting it done.

I'm reading out of Finding Our Way, the now out of print title, and selling copies, talking about my new chapter book, the bilingual The Lemon Tree Caper: A Mickey Rangel Mystery, and possibly reading some other stuff. Maybe a poem or two. Selling and signing copies on the spot, too.


The Lemon Tree Caper Cover is IN!!!

Though it's not due out until October of 2011, I thought I'd give you a taste of my next book. This is the second appearance for Mickey Rangel in his bilingually formatted mystery series. I've got to hand it to Arte Publico Press/Pinata Books, they put out some good covers. Artwork on this and the previous one is by Giovanni Mora.


The Absolute Value of Mike

The Absolute Value of Mike by Kathryn Erskine (Mockingbird) is a novel about this 14 almost 15 year old boy named Mike, who is sent to spend the summer with his great aunt and uncle, Moo and Poppy, resepctively, because his distant genius father is going abroad to teach in Romania and he isn't allowed to take unsupervised kids with him. At first, to be honest, I didn't care for the story. It was a bit too quirky. Moo, nearly blind but in denial, has named her truck Tyrone, and misses being in one wreck after another, seemingly magically; Poppy sits like a statue in his livingroom, depressed at the loss of his son; Past, a homeless guy, has eyes like Bono's (the U2 frontman) and exhudes all kinds of wisdom; there are three guys called the Three Stooges; and one more quirky character after another. But the story eventually grew on me. The town is helping Karen, the town minister who also has lost a husband, to adopt a boy from Romania (a coincidence that Mike's dad is teaching there) named Misha (also a coincidence that Misha stands for Mike). But Mike, a kid, makes it all happen, after some turmoil. All in all, it's a good read.


Q&A with Nancy/Stella's 7th Grade Readers!

Q: What age were you when you wrote a book?

RS: When I wrote my first book, The Jumping Tree, that Delacorte/Random House published in 2001, I was in my late 20s. I had promised myself that I'd get my first book out by the time I was 30. I'd read in college (Bob Jones University) that my favorite writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald, had told himself he'd publish his first book by 21 or around then, and he did. I was already passed this age so I just rounded up. And I did. Kind of. I was 29 or 30 when the book was contracted.

Q: What do you do when you run out of ideas?

RS: I don't think we can run out of ideas. The world is too full of material from which to pick to write about. I'll pay attention to everything and everyone around me, I jot down in my writer's notebook or put in the back of my mind, the stuff I find the most interesting. When I need an idea for a story or a poem, I go back to my notebook or think about what I've seen, smelled, heard, touched and decide, this detail/person/etc. is where I'll start. And I go from there. In Finding Our Way, for instance, in "SylvieSylvieSylvie" there's a scene where the main character is explaining, in his own way, part of why he's the way he is; it's the flashback where he remembers his mom screaming and beating on his sisters. I took that from a magazine picture I'd cut out of a magazine.

Q: What is the hardest part of becoming an author?

RS: You've got to be patient. Few are he examples of a person who picks up a pen one day, writes a story or poem or article, having never done so before, and within a month sells that piece. For me, it was around 10 years before I published something. It was a poem. And it wasn't easy street after that one. It took a while longer before I published something else. But all the while I kept telling myself, "Rene, this is worthwhile. Keep it up. You won't regret it." The hardest part, then, is all the rejection you'll get at the outset, because it is hurtful for editors to keep telling you no, no, no, we don't like your work. But you persist, you keep going back to the drawing board, you keep making your stuff better, and one way or another all that hard work'll pay off.

Q: How do you know when your stories are completely perfect?

RS: I don't know it. I'll think I'm finished with a story, and on re-reading it, I find something, huge or small that can get better. And that's the idea of revision: to make the story better, clearer for my readers to get fully, or as fully as one can without being the writer. In the story "Alternative," for example (which is one of my favorite stories to read aloud to groups of students), after the book came out, I was reading it to an audience and in the moment I realized it could be better, so I stopped partway into my reading, pulled out my pen, and made the change I wanted to make. Then I re-read it and kept going. I'm retyping that same story in the hopes of publishing it in another book, and guess what? I'm making changes again. You'll remember the part that talks about technology: Atari/Playstation becomes texting and messaging. But also some bigger stuff. I'm considering mentioning Arturo's dad, because a student once pointed out that I hadn't included a dad and was that part of why Arturo is the way he is. I haven't decided to make him a dad very much in his life or a dead-beat dad.

Hey, if I'm ever in Chicago and I've got a couple hours off, I'll make sure to drop by. I'm coming in November for a conference, but my time there is taken up all the way through. But some other time. You'll have to keep in touch, keep reading my books, keep reading other people's books, and just maybe, right?



Almost Awards/Honors for A Good Long Way

So, yeah, though my novel didn't get the award for the Texas Institute of Letters' award for YA novels, I was a finalist, the only finalist (the winner was Dotie Enderlie), and The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College chose A Good Long Way as an Honor Book for the 2011 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People. They write: "Our judges were very impressed by your book and felt it deserved special recognition." How very cool is that.


But Good News for Sure: The Lemon Tree Caper's Got a Pub Date

The next in the Mickey Rangel detective series (the first being The Case of the Pen Gone Missing/El caso de la pluma perdida) is due out in October 2011. It's called The Lemon Tree Caper/La intriga del limonero. Soon enough I'll see the artwork for the cover. Here's the suggestion I submitted to Pinata for it (forgive the very basic artwork):

News (Bad or Good?) on Finding Our Way: Stories

Got news last week or two that my collection of stories, Finding Our Way (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House) is going out of print, hardback and paper. It's a sad note, but I can spin it positive if I want: I've always wanted to see a story from it, "The Dive," side by side its partner story, "Jump Away," that's appeared in an anthology called Every Man for Himself (edited by Nancy Mercado) and in Boy's Life, the Boy Scout's magazine, so this might be my chance. The ideal: to take "The Dive," "Alternative," and "Finding Our Way" from it, and throw them together with other stories that've appeared in several anthologies and others that've never appeared anywhere before, for a total of some 12-14 stories. Any takers?


Great News for A Good Long Way!

My most recent novel, A Good Long Way (Pinata Books, 2010), pictured at top left, has just been announced as a finalist (1 of 14 titles) for ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year award in the YA category. What an honor! They'll award gold, silver, and bronze prizes in each category. My book is in the Young Adult category. I'm overjoyed for the book and for Arte Publico Press/Pinata Books who took on the project. Check out the rest of the finalists at www.bookoftheyearawards.com/finalists/2010/category/young-adult-fiction.


Victor Martinez, Author of Parrot in the Oven, has passed away.

Sad news indeed. His novel for young adults, Parrot in the Oven, Mi vida, is among my favorites. It is heavy with theme and symbolism, and what an honest and harsh and beautiful story. Read it! Again and again. It's that good.

For a great personal write up, read Rigoberto Gonzalez's piece on his Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=625332529#!/note.php?note_id=10150180808038056&id=23653221870.

Another Great Review of A Good Long Way

From Midwest Book Review: http://www.midwestbookreview.com/lbw/feb_11.htm (this'll get you to the whole page on which you'll find a ton of reviews; either click on the Fiction Shelf link in the table of contents, or scroll way way way down until you get to Fiction Shelf titles, and you'll find mine there. Or, here's the individual review:

A Good Long Way
Rene Saldana
Pinata Books
c/o Arte Publico
452 Cullen Performance Hall, Houston, TX 77204-2004
9781558856073, $10.95

Adulthood comes at many kids like a pile of bricks. "A Good Long Way" follows three teenagers as they come to terms with their lives. Beto leaves home after clashing with his father one too many times and looks to Jessy for guidance on living on his own, no longer caring for school. Roel, Beto's brother, struggles with the conflicts of his father and trying to make his own way in the world. A story of growing up all too quickly, "A Good Long Way" is a solid and very highly recommended read (emphasis mine).


Cover Art for Great Antho: You Don't Have a Clue

Anthologist/Poet Sarah Cortez has edited a book of detective/mystery stories for teens called You Don't Have a Clue. I've got a story in it titled "Right Size," and it's due out in April. Check out the cover:


Down Home Coverage of A Good Long Way

So it's not the La Joya/Penitas Times, nor the Monitor, but it is a Valley paper (the Brownsville Herald). Thanks for it, Travis. Nice meeting you by phone a couple weeks back:


Currently Reading...

Ofelia Dumas Lachtman's The Summer of El Pintor, the first in the Monica Ramos series (apologies: I couldn't find a quick image of this book). A few posts below I write about her other works. Man! How could I not have read her before! She needs to be in classrooms at the older elementary levels (Call Me Consuelo) and middle and high school classrooms.

Not To Be Outdone, Mikah...

Not to be outdone by his older brother, though inspired by him, Mikah, too, does comics and mixed media art. The first he calls "Portrait of Daddy," or something like that. The next is his "comic," though looking carefully at it, you see that there is no storyline from panel to panel, BUT he did tell individual stories, full blown and including rabbit trails, with each panel.

Lukas' First Full-color Comic

Though a bit on the "old" side (meaning, from the end of his Kindergarten year), here's Lukas' first full-color comic. The assignment came with like two weeks to go before the end fo the school year, and it was a kind of free-write/free time the teacher gave the students. Lukas showed up with this after school and told me the story that unfolds from panel to panel. He loves all things Star Wars/Clone Wars, and this is his vision of a battle between the Droids and the Clones Warriors, Captain Rex et al. Just the other day I showed it to him and, once he'd thought about the work some, he was able to tell me the same story, basically. It's grown some since then, but so has he. I should expect huger stories from him.


Audio of The Case of the Pen Gone Missing: A Mickey Rangel Mystery

So here's a first for me: an audio version of one of my books, The Case of the Pen Gone Missing: A Mickey Rangel Mystery, in Spanish and English.

I'm excited. So much so I put it on for my boys to listen to the other day: Lukas was on his DS playing one of his games and I thought he wasn't listening (keyword: thought), and Mikah started out listening (keywords: started out). Mikah maybe listened through chapter one, maybe part of two, but he was more intrigued by the psycadelic images on the computer screen than the story itself. When he wandered away from the computer, I said, "Okay, I guess I'll turn off my story." But Lukas said no, that he was listening to it, and sure enough, he was. There's mention of a trinket bracelet in chapter one, that later becomes a part of the unraveling of the mystery, and when I asked him its significance, he was able to tell me ("No," he said, "she's lying b/c it wasn't her grandmother who gave it to her but the bad guy, her boyfriend."). He was listening. But at just over 40 minutes, even my story wasn't enough to keep him onboard. He, too, wandered away for the final chapter. It's a good read. Get a copy at http://www.loritobooks.com/ or friend Lorito Books on Facebook.