Angie Azur is a YA Sci-fi Writer.
Writer for PALEO Magazine.
Former Intern at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
SCBWI & COWG Member.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Support Local Stores

I love the internet. I write all day. I surf when stuck. I love my computer. So I’ve gotten into the cycle of buying gifts on line. It’s easy. I point, click, add my visa numbers, even have it all wrapped, shipped and done! But as easy as it is, I feel a small loss. I am not connecting with a store shop owner. I am not seeing all of the lovely gifts displayed in artistic ways. I do not wonder at the holiday lights or decorations. So I took a stroll around town to get a deeper sense of the holidays.

I started at Henry’s Toy Shop. I fell in love. It’s a cute, small, but filled to the brim toy store. The owners are there everyday with a smile and a new gadget for you to try. The young people they employ are happy and helpful. I loved it. I bought three gifts, one for a birthday present, and one for each of my two kids for Christmas. I had one wrapped, the other two placed in the bag.

Two days later, after having the gifts hidden under a blanket in the back of my car, I retrieved the red bag to place it in the hiding spot for the big day. But to my dismay, one of my gifts was missing. I searched the car. I searched the bag, sure enough, it was gone. So I popped into Henry’s Toys store to see if by chance the young man who had wrapped my gift, had left one aside. Nope. It was not there. The owner asked what had happened and I told her the story.

She immediately checked, but it was gone. And there were no more left in the store. But she ordered a new one for me, free of charge. I stood there, surprised. She was taking me for my word. I could be lying. I could be trying to swindle a free toy. But she insisted that I get a new one for free. Would my cold, faceless internet stores do this? I think not.

I have switched my cold, key, computer buying to small town store supporting and I love it! I hope you all enjoy the holidays as I have. See the lights and the decorations that the small stores in your hometown have artistically put up for your enjoyment. Talk to the store owners. Smile with them. Stroll with coffee in hand, or in my case, coffee and umbrella! But most of all, get connected to your town and support the people who make it lovely.

Happy Holidays,
Angie Azur

Monday, October 18, 2010

2010 Mills College Writer's Conference

Tomorrow, Saturday 23, 2010 SCBWI’s Mill’s College Conference begins at 7:45 am. More to follow once I have digested the mounds of information and pinpointed a few great quotes. Hope to see you there with your laptops, iphones, ipads, pen & paper in hand.

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What a great conference! I am still B.I.C. (butt in chair) because of it. Inspired and greatly excited about my dream of being an author, the conference pushed me further. And here’s why: THE SPEAKERS. The group of established writers, illustrators, agents, publishers and editors spoke to me.

And a special thanks to the SCBWI volunteers who kept the conference running smoothly under Margaret Speaker Yuan, Regional Advisor and  Colette Weil Parrinello, Assistant Regional Advisor.

Joe Cepeda (Illustrator) - quote of the event - “As quick as you run to style is as quick as you run away from yourself.” Think about that. Everyone wants their own style, but searching for it, manipulating it to come, chasing after it only destroys your style. How do you get style then? Practice, practice, practice - BIC. If you’re a writer, write. If you’re an illustrator, illustrate. That’s it. That’s the answer. Relax, breath, your style will come. It will show through your work, but you must practice.

Other great quotes from Joe: “There is a moment in every painting where I think this is the worst thing I’ve ever done.” Even the great question themselves and for good reason. Stay humble. Always do your best work. Slack none. Push yourself.

Joe spoke about illustrating someone else’s words: “Your words should be beautiful in themselves because I’m doing something else.” Meaning, he brings another choice or outlook to your work. Let him be the artist, you be the writer. And, “When your baby is dropped off at my door, I’m raising it now.” I agree. Writers must let go. Once you send your baby out into the world, that’s it. Move on to your next great piece. Let go of your baby. Trust the artist, publisher, agent to do their best work next.

Ammi-Joan Paguette (Agent/Erin Murphy Agency/Writer) - quote of the event - “We need more fun stories.” Such a great statement. With the news pouring out our dirty laundry all over the television, children need hope. They need fun. They need to escape. They need strong characters to hold onto, to relate to, to love. They need more fun stories!

Ms. Paquette became an agent once she was a published author. She’s a bit of a whiz with it too. Selling over 12 manuscripts within her first year on the job. She balances family, writing and a new career very well! When she is reading a manuscript she thinks, “How did this book feel to me? What worked? What didn’t?” She wants to feel passionate and fall in love with the book and characters....don’t we all. The five elements she looks for are: Hook - Voice - Plot - Theme - Characters

Pam Turner & Ginger Wadsworth (Writers) - quotes of the event - Ginger “B.I.C. butt in chair - start and go all the way to the end. Allow your first draft to be really, really bad.” She started off like many of us, writing, then rewriting, then rewriting again, but never finishing anything. Now she starts and even if she hates what she wrote, she keeps on going. You have to finish something to know where to start the beginning. She also thinks, “What would Rachel Carson do?” She worries about the environment and this shows through her writing.

Pam “Stuff happens, be flexible.” She travels into the field for her work and sometimes things don’t exactly work out. So be flexible, roll with the punches. Use what is happening in your writing. Take the picture you can take. Keep moving forward.

Caryn Wiseman (Agent/Andrea Brown) - quote of the event - “Do not query me with your erotic adult book idea. I am a children’s agent.” She said this with a smile and joking tone, but it’s so true. Before you query any agent/publisher be sure they would be interested in your work. If you send Caryn an adult novel you are wasting your time and hers and making a bad name for yourself in the process. Do your research first!

She is looking for funny, high-concept. And please be sure your work is complete before sending it off to her! She also said that trends trickle down from the adult books, so look at those trends. Here’s what she thinks when she is reading a manuscript: Who? What? When? Where? Why should I care?

Lisa Yoskowitz (Agent/Moving to Hyperion soon from Penguin)
quote of the event - “Today we will talk about picture book guideline....I’ll do most of the talking.” Lisa had a funny wit to her. I like listening to her speak. She also said, “First impressions are very important in life.” And I agree. As I looked around the room of writers and illustrators only a few stood out. Most dressed very relaxed for the event.

To me, this was a business meeting. I would potentially meet my new agent. And I would be meeting writers in my field, illustrators who might one day bring art to my words. I wanted to make a great impression on them. The first one you make is what you look like and how you’re dressed. It’s the truth, the facts people. The next time you go to a conference, think, this is a business meeting.

As writers/illustrators we are loners. We lock ourselves up in our offices, coffee shops, and cars, drawing, tying and ignoring the mirror. But agents and publishers live in the real world. They are from New York, San Francisco, LA and other style conscience cities. So dress to your business sense part of your mind when you meet them, save your creative, relaxed looks for your cave.

Bruce Hale (Writer) quote of the event - “The suspense must be there on the first page!” Absolutely Bruce! And he knows suspense, well at least his geco detective does. Suspense gets the reader to want to know what’s going to happen on the next page. If they don’t care, then your book won’t sell.

Bruce said that most stories begin in the third chapter. So writers, write your first chapters, then ask: Does the reader really need to know this? Was I writing this for myself to get to know my characters? Will the reader care about these first few chapters? Do they move the story forward? If not....toss them aside.

Bruce asks himself: What does the character want? What prevents the character from getting it? What traits does the character have that will trip her/him up?

“Give your character a buried secret.” Bruce said secrets will fester, trying to come to the surface. Secrets can create suspense. Use them wisely. The “Uh-oh factor” - the more danger the better is how Bruce creates characters with character.

But be appropriate, he adds. “The brutal murder of little rabbit fu-fu probably won’t made a great picture book.”

Kaylan Adair (Associate Editor/Candlewick Press) - quote of the event - “I chose to talk about Candlewick because it is near and dear to my heart.” Candlewick is independent, owned by its employees. Her enthusiasm toward her company shined as she smiled while showing pictures of the publisher’s new digs.

The picture book is their backbone and Kaylan loves them. She edits everything from PB’s to YA’s. She looks for strong literary writing, strong confident voice with emotional pull.

Tim Myers (Writer) - quote of the event - “Should I be tweeting while I’m talking?” He often wonders how much is too much when it comes to self promotion these days. There’s so much to choose from, facebook, myspace, twitter, and of course having your own website and joining writer/illustrator sites. How do you know how much you should be doing? You don’t. Try them on and see what fits. If blogging is for you, do it. If not, then don’t. It’s very personal.

He posed the question, “What does literacy do?” And answered: Gives a sense of wonder, promotes spirituality and that we are significant, develops who you are, makes you better armed to decipher the world you live in, and creates great conversation.

He quoted a young man who had made wrong choices in life, landing himself in jail. When they met, the man said, “I need a story to make a path for me.” Wow. That resonated inside of me. Children, especially those going through abuse or abandonment, need a story to follow, to guide them to a better place.

The conference ended with a story told out loud by Tim. He held everyones attention. And I felt as a kid again listening to a great storyteller. And I did come home feeling, “despair that I’ll ever get published, yet giddy to get started!” Thanks for that Tim and the rest of the inspiring speakers at the Mill’s College Conference.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Strong Female Characters

I attended the “Hit and Misses: Women Working in Film” talk on Saturday Oct. 16, 2010. The panel consisted of a moderator; Lisanne Skylar - an award winner for a short documentary, Oldtimers, also known for No Loans Today, Dreamland and Getting to Know You, and four speakers: Mindy Affrime, known for Tell Me a Riddle, Female Perversions, and Golf in the Kingdom : Cristina Colissimo, One Lucky Elephant, The Accidental Environmentalist, Modern English : Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Miss Representation : Stefanie Sycholt, Malunde, and Themba - A Boy Called Hope, which received the Cinema for Peace Honorary Award 2010.


I assumed the entire audience would consist of women, but to my happy surprise a few men did attend. The talk started off as any other, an introduction to each speaker and the moderator. The women ranged from mid-thirties to mid- fifties and their history in the business was impressive, even though they haven’t quite broken into the money making part of the business.


You might think this panel would start off by man-bashing, but encouragingly they did not. They do not blame men for the lack of women represented as directors, producers and writers. They did agree that it is harder for a woman to break into the upper ring, and that the boy’s club still does rein. But there are men willing to give a woman a chance, if her work shows talent.


Some women in the audience felt the need to oblige us with a tale or two of their past working with rude, prejudice men. We all have our sad stories, and I can give you just as many women vs. women as I can recite men vs. women. That’s not the point. The point is women need to get their stories out there. We need to be represented, not only on the page, and in front of the camera, but behind the scenes as well.


The panel did bring up an unequal issue though, children. One of the women quoted a statistic “40% of people entering college to become directors are women, but only 3% of directors today are women.” What happened to the other 37%? In most cases bearing babies delays women’s dreams. How many stay-at-home-dads do you know? I know one and he’s pretty kick-ass cool, but that’s one. His wife gets to continue on her career choice and I applaud this.


My husband is also an outstanding man, willing to push me toward my goals, but our kids are mainly my responsibility (until I make more $ and he swears he’ll stay home). But in between getting my MFA and writing, I had two boys. I love them, but the guilt I have when I am writing vs. playing with them is enormous.  I write when they are at school, but when one of them gets sick, my writing is put on hold. In most cases, I am the one taking them to the dentist, doctors, play-dates, etc... And I enjoy every bit of my time with them, but it takes time away from my writing, from my goals and my individual dreams for myself.

The panel discussed finding a “tribe” and surrounding yourself with strong people on your side. I am in the process of doing this. I am a member of SCBWI, and I intend on joining SF Women in Film to find more support. I believe the panel is right on in this point. Strong, supportive, willing to babysit for you people will help you attain your goals.


My favorite quote of the panel came from Mindy Affrime, “Put your blinders on and go!” She was talking about your goals. Pinpoint them, and don’t let anything stop you. You may get slowed by your day job, relationships, marriage, children, dogs, etc... but don’t give up. Get your story out there!


But what is your story? How do you want to be portrayed? What if a writer was writing a movie about you? Sadly women generally are shown to be sexy sidekicks in films, where the strong, hero is a man. The panel brought this point to my attention and I never really looked at the reality of this portrayal. So I searched the internet for strong, female characters in a movie, where the woman was not considered a sex symbol. Very hard to come by. A few of them listed above achieved this, but many of them showed the strong female at least once naked, or in her undies or wearing a push-up bra.


Erin Brokovich is a strong female, but Hollywood chose a beautiful actress and showed off her legs and breasts in the film. Even Ripley, from Alien is shown in panties during her trip into space. Think about the movies you’ve seen in which the main character is a woman. Is she a true representative of women you know? How was she portrayed in the film? Do you think a woman wrote the part or a man? Where are the female heroes?


My goal is to write strong female characters, ones in which my sons can look up to. And to teach my sons that women are strong humans and have helped changed the world. Looking at my writing thus far in my career, I noticed that many of my characters are male. I am a strong female, and due to this I was dubbed a tom-boy. Is that fair? Why is being strong at a young age compared to being a boy? I wonder, why have I chosen to hide my female strong side behind male characters? Could it be I was taught that women stay home, make babies and take care of the household? Absolutely! In fact my father told me that he would not pay for college because I was “just going to get married and have kids.”


Well I might have gotten married Dad, and had kids too, but I am an equal part of the human race. And I have a lot to share and strong female characters to write. So what do you think about that? Ha!


I truly enjoyed this panel of “going for their goals” women. They inspired me and I hope you as well. And remember to surround yourself with strong people, men and women alike, who will help you attain your goals.




Write~On, Angie Azur

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

HURTFUL WORDS


So I've had to take some time off from my writing due to many things, but I am back again. And I have a topic that I must discuss ~ Hurtful Words.

On a beautiful Sunday morning I opened my email as my children watched cartoons and my husband made breakfast. I read through my friend's updates and deleted some junkmail, leaving one email sender with a name I did not know. And when I read the letter, it was filled with insults against me, my husband and my writing career. It was filled with hurtful words.

Now I do have a degree in psychology, so instead of reading this person's mean words and taking it inward, I dissected it. I wondered, why someone would take the time to send such a letter, oh, did I mention they made up a fake gmail account so I would not know who it was? I wondered what type of life this person must have and I felt sorry for them.

My first urge was to write back, dismiss the incorrect things they wrote and correct them. But then I thought it could be some crazy person wanting to egg me on too. So what to do? In the end I decided to ignore the email - delete it entirely from my folders.

But I kept on wondering about the person. And why someone would write such things to another person. What they hoped to gain? A teacher once told me that the amount of anger someone carries is directly related to the amount of hurt they are feeling. I am sorry that this person is hurting. And I wonder what can be done to help them?

When someone hurts us, either by ignoring, fighting, cutting us off in traffic, the flip of the finger, angry emails/letters, talking behind our backs, it ultimately means they are hurting in some way.

So let it go. Relax. Remember who you are.

~Angie Azur

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A FEW GOOD TOYS TOSSED

Dedicated to all those parents who are tired of yelling, screaming and getting angry at their kids.

Today I hosted a playdate. I had a three-year-old over for my younger son and a six-year-old over for my older son. They were having a great time, but if you put 4 boys together, there are bound to be small fights or incidents where an adult must step in and help resolve.

My older son, Noah, decided that he wanted to go outside to ride scooters, but the other 3 boys were happily playing in the backyard. I said, "We'll go outside in a bit, let everyone play first."

Being six and independent, Noah went outside, gathered the other kids up and came back in with all of them, ready to go ride scooters.

I said, "Noah, I told you after everyone was done playing in the back. Go play for a bit." I had a girlfriend sitting across from me, and I wanted to continue our conversation while the kids played.

Noah began to whine. He walked toward me, pulled on my shirt. Debated with me on why they wanted to go ride now.

When this used to happen, before I know what I know today, I used to get angry, really annoyed and upset. I would raise my voice, even shove his grip off of me. But now I have a parent-weapon. One that I use when I am about to lose it, or when one of my boys is getting out of control.

I looked at Noah, directly in his eyes and said, "I'm going to take a toy out of your room if you don't listen." At that, he made a frowning face, and went back outside.

My girlfriend sitting across from me seemed impressed. "How do you remain so calm?" she asked.

This question gave me the idea for this blog. I didn't used to be so calm. One time I screamed at them so loudly that I think I hurt something in my head. At that moment I realized, either I was going to live my life yelling at my kids, losing my voice and eventually end up on crazy pills, or I had to come up with something that worked, something that I could say in a calm voice that took the wind out of their sails immediately with no talk back.

Here's what I did:

About a year ago, Noah would not go up to his room for a time out. I couldn't carry a kicking, screaming 5 year old up a flight of stairs, and I was about to loose it. I was boiling. So I went to his room, took a favorite toy (and I mean favorite - it must be - no matter what the $$ cost or who it was a gift from). I brought the toy downstairs.

Noah stopped crying and looked at me curiously.

I opened the garbage can and in front of him, threw the loved toy away.

He screamed, ran to the trash and tried to retrieve it, but I said, "If you take that toy out, I will go upstairs, get another one and throw them both out. And I will keep doing it until you have no more toys in your room". Then I stared him down.

After crying and saying goodbye to his favorite toy, he put it back in the trash and closed the lid.

I felt awful. He was so sad. But, the next time he deserved a time out, he went to his room. All I had to say was, "If I get to your room before you do, I'm taking a toy." You've never seen a 5 year-old run so fast to his time out!

I have used this toy-to-trash rule for over a year now and it works like no other punishment I have ever tried. We have thrown out some wonderful toys, some expensive toys and some family gifts, but all worth it to me. I don't lose my temper. I don't lose my mind.

My house is more calm. My children pay attention when I am parenting them. Fights are ended quickly between the two of them when I warn that I am heading to their rooms. And because I have thrown out the toys, not just taken them for a few hours or days, they listen. Less toys have been trashed too, now that the threat ends the drama. There's less yelling from me, less anger in the house and less irritation for all of us.

So parents - if you find yourself angry with your kids, yelling, irritated, and feeling like you've lost the control, throw out the toy! It only takes a few good toys tossed to end the drama.

Good Luck!
Love Angie