Saturday, May 30, 2009

What Carla Likes

My daughter, Sean (12) is the voracious reader in the family (besides me). Carla (14) reads horse books. Her bible is Horse, Follow Closely by Gawani Pony Boy. She doesn´t read much fiction, although she did like The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.

I asked Carla, if she were to choose a novel, what she would look for.

"Something realistic. About real people," she said.

So while the YA market seems to thrive on stories about seers and vampires and teenaged witches, those are not the stories my kids look for. For what it´s worth.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cooking Up Ideas

The novel for teens. I´m still wondering what to do with it. I thought I´d put some ideas in a word-blender and see what shakes out.
Here´s some elements. Many come, again, from my 12-year old Sean.

* a wierd and funny friend
* the friend is obsessed with a boy and they toilet paper his house
* the friend never eats with her parents, always alone
* the friend, at a school dance, cuts herself with a plastic knife
* the friend wants to go on a show like MTV´s Made and become popular overnight
* the mom is nutty and likes seagulls
* during a sleepover, the friends have a bloody boogie fight

Hmmm. Some of these elements might not fit in 1974. Some might not fit together at all.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Bicentenial Story?

I´ve written two beginning paragraphs on a Young Adult novel. The character is 15 and in a new school because her family has moved from the East Coast to Milwaukee. I´ve set it in 1974 because that´s when I was 15 and I can completely saturate the thing with a coming-up-on-the-bicentenial ambience. But do kids want to read about kids in the seventies? Is setting the story in that decade all wrong? Will they read the jacket copy and put it down? Where´s the book on how to write for teens?

Also, a snappy voice is only going to carry the story so far. What happens? If it is going to be picked up by the movies, what is it´s beginning, middle and resolution? (This helps me structure a story.)

Further burning questions:
1) When are tourists going to come back to Mexico and walk into our business, Jasmine Day Spa, in San Miguel de Allende?

2) Isn´t it time for a haircut?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Teenaged Fish Out of Water

I´m thinking about what to write next, and a YA novel keeps coming to mind. My 12-year old, Sean has become a voracious reader after galloping through the Twilight series. When I take her to San Miguel´s library, I see her pick up and put down book after book. A boy and his dog. No. A kid who escaped evil parents and has to live underground or be found. No. A girl befriends a welfare mom when she babysits her kids. No. So what does she like?

Sean´s recent favorite is I´d Tell You I Love You, But Then I´d Have To Kill You by Ally Carter. It´s about a fancy prep school for girls that´s actually a spy school. These girls can speak twelve languages and dismantle bombs, but still fret about regular adolescent stuff. Sean likes the voice, which is a little bit sassy but not dumb. She doesn´t like overly bitchy voices or characters. In sixth grade, she loved Beverly Donofrio´s Thank You, Lucky Stars because the conflict about what to do when your best friend dumps you was so true-to-life.

I asked what she likes in a book and Sean said, "Funny. Or has a funny friend."

"Do you like fantasy, or super hero girls?"

"No. Just regular kids."

Suddenly I thought of myself at 15, having to move from Philadelphia and all things comfortable - aunts, uncles, cousins, summer picnics, two best friends in high school called Annette and Cheryl, and another one, Meg, from grade school. We moved to a Milwaukee suburb called Whitefish Bay. For the first day of school I polished up my Sly Stone platform shoes and pulled on my wide jeans, ready to conquer the halls of Whitefish Bay High School. But I walked into a school where the kids had walked right out of the Preppy Handbook. They went to cotillions. I didn´t even know what a cotillion was!

So I´m playing with this idea. The teenaged fish out of water. I think I´m going to get an outline together and then, later, have Sean read my first chapter.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I Wanna Be Latina

Over on Twitter, I´ve begun following Latino writers and writing groups.

I´m a white-as- tropical-beach-sand Philadelphia Irish Catholic. Married a Mexican. My name: McKinney de Ortega. Can I be considered Latina?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Good News Despite Mexico´s Disfavor

An agent who has a "special interest in Mexico"! Just when everyone is advising me to do nothing until Mexico gains favor in the world again. How Mexico can be blamed for this flu is beyond me. On to my cover letter...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Jack and Magic´s First Year

Here´s another basketball story:

When my dad, Jack McKinney, first started as head coach of the Lakers, he walked into one of the first practices, where passes were going everywhere, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar´s skyhooks weren´t going through the hoop, and said, "It looks like LAX in here." The balls stopped bouncing; everyone grew quiet. Nobody talked to Kareem that way.

Then Kareem picked up a ball, and continued shooting. So the other players did too.

It was Jack´s first year - his first few days, actually - as an NBA head coach. He took rookie Magic Johnson aside and told him he wanted him to play guard, and he wanted him to be the floor leader. My dad knew Magic´s unique spirit and enthusiasm could really spark the team.

"Coach, I don´t know if I can do that. You want me to tell Kareem what to do?"

"Kareem told me he´s looking for leadership from you.¨

"All right, Coach. If Kareem says so," Magic said, wide-eyed. "I´ll do my best."

That was in 1979. By the end of that season Magic was a media star, the Lakers had won the championship and my dad was looking for another job. But that´s another story, one told in my memoir.

Years later, Jack interviewed Magic Johnson for a pre-game show, and reminded Magic of how
he´d agreed to lead the team at Kareem´s request. "Magic, Kareem never said that," Jack admitted.

"Coach, you got me!" Magic laughed. And the two retired basketball legends laughed, knowing it had all worked out for the best.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

John Wooden, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Bill Walton and Who?

Who, besides UCLA´s John Wooden, is the only other sports figure to have coached both Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Bill Walton?

Jabbar and Walton are two of basketball´s most famous centers. Both played at UCLA for John Wooden and, then, during different years in their NBA careers, under Jack McKinney. There´s your answer.

Jabbar was a member of the 1974-1975 Milwaukee Bucks, where McKinney was assistant coach. McKinney was also the assistant coach to the 1977-78 championship Portland Trailblazers, which featured Bill Walton at center.

When the Los Angeles Lakers were looking for a coach in 1979, it was Jabbar who suggested McKinney. McKinney was lured away from the Trailblazers, and began the 1979-80 season as the Lakers head coach, but he didn´t finish. Does any sports fan out there remember why?

I know why, of course, because Jack McKinney is my father. That´s a photo of us up on the left at my birthday party in December. Jack fell off my brother´s bicycle and ended up in a coma. The story of that year with the Lakers is told in my memoir, Fast Break South, which is presently looking for representation.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Mexican Family

Here´s what it´s like to have Mexican family: After three weeks of earning nothing in our spa because every hotel reservation, home rental and wedding has cancelled for the month of May due to flu hysteria, and thus we have had no clients, I was close to a breakdown. I have children, dogs, cats and horses to feed, and no money was coming in.

I cruised the web for writer jobs, knowing that wouldn´t really help. I needed immediate cash. I needed food in the fridge. Plus, Universidad of Leon was going to kick my husband, Carlos out in his last year if he couldn´t pay May tuition.

As I was figuring our phone service in the business (Jasmine Day Spa) would last through May 16th, but that after that, we could use our cell phones, my mother-in-law called. “Ven. I made albondigas for mis muchachitas.” My mother-in-law´s albondigas, or meatballs, are favorites with our girls. Carlos went over and picked up enough meatballs and rice to feed us for days.

My sister-in-law called next. “I want to buy your Pointer. Want to sell it? I have $10,000 pesos in cash now. I´ll give you the rest later.” Carlos raced over and sold our second car to his sister and came home with a pocketful of bills. His nephew, Cruz, gave him a ride back into town, and handed Carlos a pot of his mother´s rice to take home.

Carlos´ brother, Hector was the next to call. “Use our Land Rover to get to school,” he said. "We never use it during the week." He took Carlos out for a few Victoria beers before he gave him the keys.

My mother-in-law, sister-in-law and brother-in-law, Hector all appear in my memoir, Fast Break South. When Carlos and I went out in our first year together, Hector usually came along.
Fast Break South is looking for a home with a literary agency right now. I´ll let you know if it finds one.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Nicest No

The top shelf New York literary agent has replied! With about the nicest no anybody´s ever received. She said. "How I wish I could help you! Your story is amazing and so moving. Your material is well written and engaging."

On to finding someone else. Unfortunately, a large part of my story takes place in Mexico, and psychologically, the idea of Mexico is hitting people´s fear button right now, because of the flu.

I´ll probably try an agent I met two years ago at the San Miguel Writers Conference. She at least has experienced San Miguel´s charms.

I´m encouraged to have a couple of heavy hitting cheerleaders - my historical novelist friend, Sandra and Fred Hills, former Editor-in-Chief of the General Books Division of McGraw-Hill and former Vice-President and Senior Editor of Simon Schuster. Fred says he wishes he were still in acquisitions at S&S to have a chance at buying it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

First Date

My memoir, Fast Break South tells about my romance with the totally wrong guy - a poor Mexican teenager. I was 33 and college-educated; he was 19 and hadn´t finished high school. But he was so cute! And decent. The Prologue includes a snapshot from our first date:

October, 1992: San Miguel de Allende

It is an October night in 1992 and, despite the chill in the air outside, I am wearing a sleeveless powder blue velvet top with front darts atop my low slung black jeans. My clothing choice would be vintage and hip in downtown Philadelphia where I routinely roamed four months prior, but here in a discothèque in the heart of central Mexico, the irony is lost and I suspect I even look a bit old-ladyish. Around me, Mexican adolescents dressed in shiny pants, short skirts and high heels shimmy to the disco beat but I have stopped noticing the teens because I am kissing one with my eyes closed.

His name is Carlos and he is my 19 year-old student and I have tried to resist him because I am the teacher, but not really. I haven’t been trying to resist him at all; I’ve only told myself so. If I had, I wouldn’t have agreed to come out with him on a Sunday night, when the disco closes earlier than other nights so it seems more innocent. I have brought along my teacher friend, Gussie to pretend to myself I am not going out with a student but the ruse is rapidly falling away. Muted squares of light from the disco ball above fall across our faces and Cristian Castro is singing, “Babe, I love you so. And I want you to know. That I’m going to miss your love, the minute you walk out that door.” Then he sings, “Please don’t go. Don’t gooooo. Don’t go away.” And there is a deep sadness to the words already because I have been asking myself in the cooler days of October why I am still in Mexico. I am a 33-year old coach´s daughter, teaching English a few hours a week for less than minimum wage and it is something, but not much, so I also ask, not only for how much longer will I stay, but what would be my destination should I leave. And now I am kissing my student and the questions will never be asked in a carefree way again.

But tonight, under the glittering disco ball, shuffling in a small circle on a wooden floor, one arm delicately around Carlos’ shoulder, the other hand clutching the too-long sleeve of his paisley button-down shirt, realizing his lips are so soft because he has almost no facial hair, I am not thinking of my life’s direction or lack thereof. I am just una muchacha besando a un muchacho, not wanting the song or the kiss to end.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Got Over Whining, Plus, My Memoir

I was sitting around whining on Facebook about having no business and no money due to having a totally dead tourist-based business which has no clients presently due to the Mexican flu hysteria. And my friend Sarah Hoch of San Miguel´s Expresion en Corto commented from, oh, um, CANNES that now was the time to be blogging. Wise Sarah!

My memoir is called Fast Break South and the proposal for it has been at the office of a top New York literary agent since late April, if I can trust Mexpost. She just got back from the London Book Fair and has lots of catching up to do no doubt. Do you think if I offer $20 bucks, she´ll take it home and read it this weekend?

My father, Jack, coached basketball at St. Joseph´s University - a school completely nutty for its basketball - in the 70s, and then coached in the NBA in the 8os. Part of my memoir is about being the coach´s daughter. The other part is about how I came to San Miguel one summer, flipped over a 19-year old kid from a poor family, and never went back to my life in Philadelphia.

Wouldn´t you like to know how those two elements relate? Wanna know if we´re still together?
Hope so, because that means you´ll probably like reading my memoir!