SCBWI Weekly TEACHING GUIDE: Q&A Medical Tech Inspired by Nature

HOMESCHOOLING SCIENCE ACTIVITY (based on my book, Medical Technology Inspired by Nature):

All across the globe, animals are inspiring scientists to invent amazing new technologies. To start your science activity for this week’s lesson, first . . .

  • Go online to find a photo of an animal called a gecko.
  • Did you find the photo? Look at this unique and tiny creature.
  • Did you know that the gecko has sticky feet?
  • Their feet have tiny hairs. These sticky hairs help the gecko to cling to surfaces.
  • They can climb very steep walls.
  • They can even walk on the ceiling without toppling to the ground!
  • Are you amazed? You should be.

Next, you will learn about the unbelievable medical technology that is based on the gecko.

  • Scientists invented a new medical tape based on the gecko.
  • The tape can help people who have been injured.
  • It can bond a cut on the skin.
  • It can seal deep wounds.

Now, think about what you’ve learned about the gecko. Think about the medical technology that the gecko has inspired. See if you can answer these multiple choice questions:

  • What is on the gecko’s feet that help them stick to surfaces?

A.   Tiny little wings.

B.   Tiny hairs.

C.   Tiny feathers.

  • What medical technology was invented inspired by the gecko?

A.   A new type of sponge.

B.   A new type of mask.

C.   A new type of medical tape.

  • What does the surgical tape do to help patients?

A.   It can bond a cut on the skin and seal deep wounds.

B.   It can erase years of unsightly wrinkles.

C.   It can help those with poor singing voices.

Good job!

[Homeschooling teachers . . . Here are the answers to the questions: B, C, and A. Note that next week’s lessons will be more challenging.]

Please join me for next week’s activity: Inspired by the Sandcastle Worm.



The Problem with Flower Petals …

Here’s the thing: I have a flower petal problem. I know. What a problem, huh? But like many things in life, it’s all in the way one views it.

My home in Southern California doesn’t have a garage. It has a carport. Above the carport blooms a thick vine of thorny red flowers. The vine grows down a white trellis where it becomes part of a large flowery bush. These flowers grow everywhere. Strip malls, gas stations, in patches of land between busy streets. They are called Bougainvillea.

Everyday, like falling snow, dry wilted petals drift onto my driveway. Hundreds of crunchy red petals scatter my lawn and carport. Everyday, we trek flower petals into the house. They stick to the bottom of our shoes. They float with an afternoon breeze landing in our trees. They line our garden, sticking to other flowers in our flowerbed. I sweep them up or blow them away and they return the following day. Day after day, flower petals. Never ending flower petals.

And so, what am I trying to say? In reality, flower petals are lovely. These flowers have been called “flower machines that explode in color.” To passerby, they are a delight to look at in hues of pink, purple and red. Sometimes they are white or bright orange. But when they cause me to work or end up in unlikely places, they’re not so delightful.

My point being, the words in my stories are like these flower petals. Sometimes they are a delight, lovely to look at. And sometimes they’re a nuisance, a bothersome mess that gives me grief.

Words or flower petals, or whatever else life offers, good or bad, we can choose to view them as positive or negative. In my case, if I’m being honest with myself, whenever I find a flower petal stuck to the bottom of my shoe or peel one off my entryway floor, I often think, “There are worse things in life than a flower petal stuck to my shoe.” And there really are.

I am a writer. Nothing will ever change that. And so I think: there are worse things in life. There are worse things in life than being rejected over and over. And over again.

Some days feel like there isn’t. But there really are. So I say as I flick a flower petal off my sweater sleeve.

Reblog: Hello, my name is Thankfulness …

Some people shorten my name and refer to me as Thank you, Thanks, others Thx, or I have even seen during text messaging, TU, which I believe if switched around is also the abbreviation for a university in Texas. But either way, whenever and whichever way people refer to me, it makes me happy when they do so.

I exist between the clouds and sky, watching gleefully, observing random acts of kindness, unexpected and even anticipated little surprises given, and the human race at its finest. Though recently as I flurry here and there across the atmosphere of the earth, a faint and distant alarm, profound and uncomfortable rises in my typically untroubled and carefree soul . . . more and more I am being referred to less and less.

In some parts of the world there is a day when groups of people gather and use my name more than usual. They do so along with feasting on a grand amount of turkey and other, what they refer to as “fixings,” wherein they unbuckle and loosen their trousers and lounge on a sofa watching a sport called, football. In parts of Asia families refer to me during a visit to the graveyard of their ancestors and celebrate by indulging, once again in a “bountiful banquet of food,” and then dance about in a circle.

But just recently I have noted a string of opportunities for people to use my name; a random act of kindness, a favor for a friend, a gift of hospitality, and the receiver(s) said nothing. For example, two men were installing an air conditioning unit for a family when the lunch hour approached. One of the family members offered to run to a nearby sandwich shop and purchase food for all. He even offered the workers their choice of sandwich and drink. They placed an order and handed a few bills to the family member. He refused the money and said, “No, please, it’s on me.” The worker put his money back in his pocket and replied, “Okay.” The other worker did not volunteer any money at all. When the food was delivered a few minutes later the workers took the food and did not even peep my name, not even a whisper of it. I was diffused.

Not long ago, a father and son asked another parent and their child to spend an afternoon at a carnival and cornmaze. The father was excited to show hospitality to the other parent by purchasing their carnival and cornmaze tickets. Though, the other parent and child, after enjoying a pleasant afternoon together, walked away and never said my name. And sadly, I believe they did not even think it.

There are more, many more stories to be told in this regard, but I hope that people won’t forget about me all together. Because if they do I will eventually become nonexistent, and in time . . . fade away and disappear forever.



Blog Announcement: Agent Patty to sub out new picture book!

This week, my agent plans to query my new multicultural nonfiction picture book to editors. I love this picture book. I hope they will too.

Last summer, before we moved away from Idaho, my son and I decided to visit the newly renovated history museum in Boise. That’s where I discovered the topic for my new picture book. I snapped a few photos of the placard and told my son, “This is a great picture book idea. Someday I’m going to write it.”

From there we continued our museum tour and enjoyed the rest of our day.

A few weeks later we said goodbye to our city. We moved to California. And several months after that I was offered representation from Patty at Metamorphosis Literary Agency.

A new city, a new life, a new agent. I felt this warranted a new book idea. Then I remembered. The museum in Boise. I took a photo of a great idea for a picture book. And so I began to write.

It has taken nearly one year from inspiration to the final draft, the one I just sent to my agent. And now my story is about to make its debut to the publishing world.

I love the creative process. How a trip to a museum becomes a new book. How ideas churn around for days, weeks, and years. How they eventually find a new home, hopefully one day in the hands of a young reader.

Drowning in Words: words, words, words … and more words

I have a problem. I don’t have time to read all the books. When I scroll down Twitter or catch up on my blog reading, there are many, many, many books that look fantastically compelling and wonderful, but how can I read them all? I want to. I really do.

As a person in the human race, engaged in society, alert to current events, and basically just living, I am like many others: An over-consumer of information. From the time my eyes flutter open to see a new day arise, I am inundated with words. Words coming at me in all forms … Oh my, even this very second as my phone was charging in the kitchen it just dinged. Like a bee to a flower I automatically stood up from writing this blog post and went to check my phone. It was an email from my son’s old school district. More words, more information.

By reading this post, you too are being flooded with words, words, words (sorry about that), but hopefully you will glean a few ideas on ways you can recharge from information overload, and live to read another day.

  • This is obvious. Unplug. Turn off all of the devices. This is easier said than done. Being unplugged can feel unsettling. What if we miss an important phone call, text, or email? What if there was a natural disaster, accident, or attack somewhere in the world and I wasn’t informed of it the moment it happened, or the moment the news media headlined it on my news feed? Am I missing a new photo or story being posted on my WordPress blog, Instagram, Facebook, or any other number of social media outlets? Also, why do I feel a natural compunction to check how many minutes, hours I’m on my phone, or how many steps I took today? Remember that old adage: Curiosity killed the cat. That’s us. We’re informing ourselves to death.
  • Open the front door and walk outside. Even for a few minutes. Even if it’s 100 degrees and burning hot. Even if it’s 20 degrees below zero and freezing. Just go outside and feel the sun on your face, the spray of rain on your skin, take a deep breath and allow nature to reset your soul.
  • Stand up and stretch. If you’re sitting a lot (as I do) movement will help get the blood flowing again. If you’re standing a lot, sit down and take calming breaths. Close your eyes for a minute or so, allow the words and information of the day to melt away by listening to music or your favorite song.
  • Laugh. Oftentimes, we write lol after things we’ve written, even if it wasn’t that funny. With this in mind, even if you’re by yourself, laugh out loud at nothing. Even if you don’t have a reason to laugh. Try it. You’ll feel much better.
  • Spontaneously hug someone you care about. Even if it’s a side hug. Human touch can help recharge our spirit. Plus, it makes the other person feel better too.
  • Last of all, be honest with yourself and others about how much information overload affects your life. Talk about it. We all feel overwhelmed by words and information from time-to-time.

In any case, I realize that I don’t have time to read all the books, but I can pick my top 5 and go from there. We all have choices to make. We just have to do what the old monk on the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade said, “Chose wisely.”


A little story behind the song …

Here’s a writing prompt, a warmup writing exercise, a first draft with no revisions:

The girl had long black hair that fell down her back to her waist and thick bangs, long and in need of trimming that fell into her eyes. She tip-toed down the narrow hall, and wondered many things. But what she didn’t wonder was if all little girls were left alone in the middle of the night in dark houses. They were not. She knew that. She was alone because her mother had died, and Pop had to feed and cloth them, and put a roof over their heads.

Finding her secret spot under the staircase, and by way of tiny slats of moonlight that came through the blinds on the window, the girl could see the faint outline of her flashlight and art book and pencils. Turning on her flashlight she knew the exact spot to position the beam of light so that she could sit comfortably and draw in her art book.

With darkness pooled around her, alone, and not one who particularly enjoyed either, the little girl created an imaginary creature who would whisk her away to another place where little girls were never left alone in the dark.

This little girl was my mother. She told me this story my entire life. And so, I wrote a MG fantasy series about this creature my mother invented to comfort her fears and to survive childhood. Because my mom is half-Irish (her mom was Irish) and half Filipino (that would be Pop), one day I wrote an Irish lullaby about the magical place my mom escaped to every night under that dark stairway.

Here’s the Irish lullaby I wrote, years ago actually, (dedicated to my mom, grandmother, and my grandpop).


A Day in the Life of a Writer …

Writers like me live our lives waiting for the extraordinary. That one defining moment when the call or the offer comes rolling in, like an enormous ocean wave preparing to create a big splash in our lives. We hope. We wait.

Just for kicks and giggles as they say, here is an ordinary day in the life of an ordinary writer like me …

6:30 am: California sunshine comes streaming through the window blinds. Time to start another day. The house is quiet. I do a little reading and thoughtful meditation.

More recently, I’ve subscribed to Jane Yolen’s poem for the day. Waking to a new poem in my inbox from Jane is an inspiring way to start the morning.

7:30 am: Breakfast is usually oatmeal or a bagel and a cup of tea, and after the getting-ready-for-the-day routine is done, I check my primary emails.

8:30-9:30: Sometimes an educational editor/publisher will respond to my query’s and request additional writing samples, or maybe they will inform me that I’ve been placed on a list for future writer-for-hire assignments. I will reply to those emails.

Other times, I will get an email from my agent. A few weeks ago she wrote that my MG novel, The Wanderings of Abby Rose went out to a few editors. There isn’t much I can do but wait. Though I do spend more needless hours than I should fretting and thinking, “If only one, just one editor would love it like we do … if only.”

There are other times when my email brings rejection letters. On those days I treat myself to ice cream or cookies or both. Sometimes cake too. Cake makes everything better, don’t you think?

But many many days, my email is crickets. Crickets rubbing their spindly legs together, chirping the song of silence. Complete and utter nothingness. A void.

9:30 to 9:45: A quick look at social media. It’s always nice to scroll down a Twitter feed and read about the milestones and setbacks of my fellow writers. In times past, this would depress me, but focusing on being a support to my peers by replying, retweeting, and liking their posts makes me feel like I’m contributing, like I’m giving them a little boost for the day.

9:45 to 11:45: Writing. Or sometimes revisions. And getting ready to teach school. My son does an online high school through Texas Tech University where my hubby got his undergraduate degree. I’m always nearby if he has a question.

Sometimes while he works, I’ll pause from what I’m doing, and gaze outside the window. Sometimes I imagine what it would feel like to see my novel in print, on the shelf in a bookstore, and in my hands, a real living breathing book.

Noon to 1: Lunch and returning texts and personal phone calls.

1-3: More schoolwork and writing and reading. More checking of emails.

3-bedtime: Preparing and having dinner. Chatting with the hubby and son about our day. More wondering and dreaming and hoping. And maybe a little tv watching.

My days aren’t always this structured, and usually many other personal events are happening throughout the day too, but this is an overall idea of what a typical day in the life of a writer looks like.

I’m not certain how other writers spend their days. But this writer loves to spend a little time each day dreaming of the possibility of what might someday be.

TIME TO TALK NUMBERS (From Query to Agent Offer) …

While querying my MG manuscript I would soak up success stories online, hoping to find clues that would help me formulate a plan for my own eventual success story.  For every 100 queries sent to agents, approximately 5 to 7 partial or full requests, and from there at least one offer of representation. Boom! Done.

Not so much.

There is no cookie-cutter formula. Like a snowflake, or a fingerprint, every writer’s success story is different, unique to their individual journey. And in my opinion, being brave enough to write a solid query letter, pushing send, and taking the risk to put your dream out there for others to critique is a success story in itself. To me, all writers who take the chance are heroes, whether they are offered representation or not.

My main reason for sharing my numbers is to encourage my writer friends, to help them (you) to see how each rejection inched me closer to my goal; and honestly, how toward the end I felt like giving up. Possibly, you have been there too. Or maybe even there right now.

In the spring and early summer of 2018 I queried 110 agents.

Form Rejections: 39

Personal Rejections: 3

Closed No Response (CNR): 58

Partial Requests: 3

Full Requests: 7

Re-write and Resubmit (R&R): 1

Offer(s):  0

I received the R&R on my birthday in July. The task seemed so daunting, I put the manuscript aside for two months and ruminated. I wanted to give up.

By early autumn, I ordered a how-to-book about plot and character arcs. One of the agents who had sent a personal rejection suggested the book, “Creating Character Arcs” by K.M. Weiland.

I spent months studying, jotting notes in the margins, wondering if I had the writing chops to pull it off. There were many times when I wasn’t sure, but by late autumn the manuscript was complete.

I felt insecure. What if I sent the R&R back to the agent and she didn’t like it? I felt a strong compulsion to wait.

I had an idea to start querying again. If I received a few requests, maybe the revised manuscript was strong enough to be resubmitted. Maybe. And so, I began to requery and received 6 requests from 54 queries. One of the requests was a partial that became a full within two weeks. I thought this was a good sign.

With this good news, I thought it would be a good time to send the R&R agent the vetted and newly revised manuscript, but it was early December, and so I decided to wait until after the holidays.

And then on December 5th, I received an email from one of the six agents who had requested. She says that she “love, love, loves” my story and wants to chat. What a surprise! Oh, my! Yay!!

I immediately sent the R&R agent the manuscript along with a detailed letter that I had previously drafted regarding the changes I had made using bullet points, etc. She wrote back that she would get to it after the holidays. I had a feeling the “chat” with the other agent was going to be an offer, but there was no guarantee of that. She may have been requesting revisions. And I wanted the R&R agent to get the ms just in case.

Yes, the “chat” was an offer to represent my MG book. I was, of course, elated! I contacted the other agents who had requested materials, and a few pending queries about the offer, but since the deadline was two days before Christmas Eve many of the agents and another who had requested the full were rushed. Many of them said they needed more time, and the others who had read it quickly, like the R&R agent, said it was “lovely” and I’m a “great writer” but they weren’t connecting, mainly because of the rushed reading.

Yet I was overjoyed with my offer, and I sincerely enjoyed chatting with Patty, so I accepted her offer. And after the holidays I signed my contract with Metamorphosis Lit Agency. I already feel like part of the family there, and everyone has been so supportive.

I share my story and these numbers to show my fellow writers and others that yes, I made some mistakes along the way. I made some strategic miscalls too. Many times I wanted to give up. But still, it all somehow came together. I never gave up, and in the end that’s all that matters.









Meet My New Agent, Patty Carothers …

I am thrilled to announce that I am now represented by Metamorphosis Literary agency!

I love the approach my agent, Patty, is taking with my MG book. I love how after our chat, she sent an official offer letter and a sample of the contract for me to consider. I love how after I accepted her offer that I signed an electronic contract with no muss, simple and easy. I love how every author is interviewed on their blog. I love how I felt welcomed by the entire agency, including co-agent, Amy Brewer, as well as the owner, Stephanie Hansen. I love how Patty is an author herself. And last of all, I love that she loves my book.

The word metamorphosis means a transformation, like a caterpillar into a butterfly. My name, Venessa, means “butterfly.”

I believe I have found my little niche, the place where I will finally blossom to become the writer/author I have always dreamed to be.

A New Picture Outside my Window…

When I look outside my window I see palm trees, rolling hills, and sunny skies. My writing space faces the window. A pretty picture to glimpse at every so often while I think and imagine new plots and characters.

I miss Idaho. I miss the old picture outside my old window. But like an old sweater that loses its shape, it was time to reshape our lives. So here we are, grateful for our new adventure.

Part of my new life is querying and submitting to agents. I will always always appreciate my former agent. She taught me so much! But this last year, being the year of new adventures, I have had some amazing opportunities. My educational book as part of a STEM series debuted, MEDICAL TECHNOLOGY INSPIRED BY NATURE.

Also, I have an R &R with a great agent with “no expiration date” so I’m really being thoughtful and taking my time with the revisions. Something else my former agent taught me.

The picture outside my window has changed, but the beauty of the picture is celebrating the old while admiring the new.