Thursday, August 31, 2006

society of illustrators original art

The Society of Illustrators show is happening at the end of next month. It's the original art show which displays what the judges think are the best-illustrated books of the year. I checked out all the books last year and there was quite a variety. I can't say that I would have picked the same ones... and some of the choices were a bit enigmatic, but it's always worthwhile to check out the show (I also can't complain since I was in it!). It's really interesting to see which pieces look better in person and which don't. I think my artwork looks better in person. I paint quite large (for an illustrator) and sometimes my art doesn't reproduce that well (especially the dark pieces that reflect light from the scanner).

If you happen to be going to the opening, please find me and say hi! I'll definitely be there taking advantage of the free wine (which may be a dangerous thing). I can also buy extra tickets so maybe this time I'll bring my posse!

What do you all think of these shows and awards? Do you agree with the choices? Disagree?

I might have more to say later this evening after my run, so stay tuned....


food for thought

Alvina has written an interesting post about race on her personal blog which I wouldn't want Blue Rose Girl readers to miss. Being a "multi-cultural" (ah, dreaded label) author/illustrator, I found it especially thought provoking.

Go to :

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

That thing with feathers

Black Beauty grows old (and Ginger dies!); Mattie never is nice to Wanda Petronski, and joins the other girls in egging her on about her “hundred dresses”; Lyra causes her best friend’s death; Anne Frank goes off to a concentration camp …. but all these books still left me with a feeling of hope -- about people and possibilities. Great books do this not with platitudes or PC messages or Walt Disney happy endings, but because of the way their (very real and believable) heroes and heroines react:
“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are good at heart,”

“Yes, she must have [really liked us],” said Mattie, and she blinked away the tears that came every time she thought of Wanda standing alone in the sunny spot in that sunny spot in the schoolyard, looking stolidly over at the group of laughing girls, after she had said, ‘Sure, a hundred of them – all lined up…”

“The first ghost to leave the world of the dead was Roger. He took a step forward, and turned to look back at Lyra, and laughed in surprise as he found himself turning into the night, the starlight, the air, and then he was gone, leaving behind such a vivid little burst of happiness that Will was reminded of the bubbles in a glass of champagne.”

Maybe it has nothing to do with the way the characters react, maybe it’s just something the best writers show us or induce in us about the gallant human spirit. Anyway, I feel bigger-hearted and more hopeful after reading them.

“Hope is the thing with feathers –
that perches in the soul.” – Emily Dickinson

And how about that word “perches”? Pretty perfect. That some people write that well – and that some girls now still read and love her poetry – gives me hope, too.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

weird things never finished

So I was checking my website stats as I do on occasion and saw one hit for "the other website." I though, "What on earth is that?" and then I remembered!

What scares me is that someone found this! It's hidden darn it! I didn't even fix the typos.

This is an example of ambition going nowhere. Or A.D.D. Or who knows what. Perhaps I was feeling a little devilish that day. Needless to say, the other site never happened. Instead I decided to put that "other stuff" on what is now "the lounge" which is also currently neglected (except for the fireside chat).

Here's another thing that makes me sad that I haven't finished--

Have any of you started any projects that just never happened? Have you wished that you finished? Do you start new things as a form of procrastination? I know I do!


p.s - what's with that "head on... apply directly to the forehead" commercial and what is it advertising??????


What kind of person becomes an author/illustrator?

Reading everyone's responses about the question of the week last week (what distracts you) brought up some interesting points that I've been turning around in my head lately... I find it fascinating that almost everyone's response was the same, that we are highly distractable until fully engaged with a project, and at that point completely unable to pull away from it. Maybe this is true of other professions as well, or maye we all have ADD, but I've noticed that just about ALL the artists I know are the same way... there is endless procrastination and then TOTAL IMMERSION. Every second of the day is spent, consciously or not, plugging away at some problem, trying to resolve a color choice or a turn of phrase. There is no time for making sure your clothes match or tying your shoes. A can of chili will do nicely for lunch because all you have to do is turn a can opener, then you can get right back to work.

I've always sort of gone back and forth in my opinion about this way of working. Part of me longs for a more balanced life- where I can spend my day concentrated, focusing on writing or painting, and then put it aside and go to the movies or a dinner party and talk about politics or the weather.

Then another part of me feeds off the creative frenzy. In some way I even enjoy the way it simplifies life, makes all problems about one problem- creating something unique and beautiful, something original.

The conclusion I usually come to is that I don't know how much choice there really is. I think if I didn't obsess and hone in a project to the exclusion of all else I would never muster the energy to get through it, to push myself, to make something I felt proud of. And there is something sweet in that one last dash to my desk to look at my drawings before bed.

One day maybe life will shift around and I won't have the luxury of immersing myself like this, so I may as well enjoy it now. Even if my roommates look at me with a confused expression as I step out of my studio, one shoe on, the other somewhere else, my hair in a mess, my eyes half glazed...

Monday, August 28, 2006

Hope and Beauty

Children’s books ooze with themes of hope. No matter how dreary or depressing the subject matter, it’s a seemingly unbreakable rule that the children’s book reader is left with a sense of optimism.

Yet, that is not the case for the children’s book creator. Who knows, perhaps we funnel all our hope into the books, leaving none for ourselves. But the nature of our profession, between the rejections and the rat race of marketing, is one that easily leads to despondency. It’s so easy to wallow in a pit of gloom when others have legions of fans, posters, billboards and awards while your books go quietly out of print as if they never existed. Or, worse yet, when they never even get published and aren’t allowed to see the light of day. Suddenly, the hours, days and years of slaving for a project just seem so…pointless.

But they’re not. In one of my most favorite picturebooks, Miss Rumphius, the grandfather says to young Alice, “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.” Alice spends her life trying to figure what to do, in the end realizing that her way is to spread lupine seeds over the earth.

Well, our books are our lupine seeds. Yes, some die, some never take root and many of them are only seen by a handful of people. But the beauty they have brought to the fabric of the world is immeasurable by a calculator or cash register. And it doesn’t matter if our books are only one or two out of the millions out there, does the commonplace nature of a daisy make it less lovely?

When things are rough, many times I say to myself, “I should quit making children’s books, I should do something else…” But the truth is-- what would I do? What else could I do to make the world more beautiful? And I realize that there is nothing else I can do because there is nothing else I want to do-- which means there is nothing else I was meant to do. And that, in itself, gives me hope.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What outside influences do you use to keep yourselves focused ?

Our question of the week is:What outside influences do you use to keep yourselves focused?

This question will be answered throughout the week so keep checking back!

What outside influences do you use to keep yourselves focused?

This is a somewhat ambiguous question--so many ways to answer it! When it comes to my job, it's all about people. I'm influenced by my coworkers and wanting to be good to work with and do a good job; by the authors and illustrators I work with, not wanting to let them down; I'm influenced by the librarians, teachers, parents, booksellers, and others who will read the books I work on; I'm influenced by the knowledge of the reader I am and the memory of the reader I once was as I child; and lastly I'm especially influenced by the child reader that I'm trying to reach, what I think they will love.

I also do have some inspirational quotations up in my office to help me keep things in perspective. One is "Follow your compass, not your clock" which is something I heard at a talk given by Andrea Jung, CEO of Avon. Someone had said this to her when she was trying to make a big career decision amd was conflicted, and I love to think about it when I get frustrated with work, or start thinking that I should be at a higher level, etc. I think, my clock might be saying I'm ready for something else, but my compass is telling me what is most important.

Another quotations is on I commented on in Grace's "Hope and Beauty" post above. "It is Simple. We are where we should be, doing what we should be doing, otherwise we would be somewhere else, doing something else."

And one last quote is from college. I think my roommate Grace (a different Grace!) penned it when we were stressing about midterms or finals. "Feel a sense of iner peace. Do your best. It's never too late!"

One thing that always brings me back to focusing is looking at work that inspires me, and reminds me why I wanted to make books in the first place. This is one of my all time favorite books. It awes me on so many levels. The quiet, perfect pacing, the understated storytelling, the somewhat unresolved, haunting ending.

This book brings me back to my desk for other reasons as well- my older sister gave it to me as a birthday present when I was applying to college. Chris Van Allsburg taught at RISD, and this was one of the deciding factors in my decision to go there to study illustration. So I guess this book also reminds me of all the hope and excitement I felt taking my first real step towards being an illustrator.

Well, I like to write when things are completely quiet with no distractions; I do have a music mix on my ipod I listen to when I paint.

But the one thing I’ve always done is make a folder for my work (I posted a photo of a couple of them to the left). I have a penchant for beautiful paper, making folder portfolios gives me an excuse to buy and use it (though I have a lot more paper than my folders need!). Usually I make the folder at the start of a project—as an incentive to fill it! The folder is a visual reminder for me to keep focused.

Here is my most recent folder made for the art of Lissy's Friends! I just had to post it because I love that bunny paper.

Definitely other people's art. I can get really inspired by a landscape, most especially skies and clouds, but often I end up feeling overwhelmed with the idea of trying to capture glorious reality. Seeing what choices other artists have made to come to their own conclusions of beauty is what gets me motivated to try my own version. I've been most certainly overwhelmed with the prospect of painting the landscapes of northern Tibet for my next book, until I found Nicholas Roerich's paintings of the same thing. His simplified paintings burst with colour, vastness, and desolation. Now I'm itching to get painting again.

Also, music. I could not work without music. Before I paint, I turn it up, I dance like crazy, I spin a baton, I get energy moving in my studio and my body, and then I sit down, and funnel it into my hands. (Did I just admit that in public?)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

do you google?

I have a booksigning tomorrow... (it's going on 3am) and I might not be able to post later, so I'll post before bed.

this is my question--
How many times a week do you google your own name?
Is there another person by the same name who shows up a lot? Does he/she irk you?

I'm sooo immature. I often think it would be nice to pay off the other Meghan McCarthy's and tell them to get a different name. There's an M.Meghan Mccarthy (a film maker) who obviously doesn't really have Meghan as a first name! (hey, just use your first name will ya? What could it possible be? Mulva?) and there's a Meghan McCarthy staff writer. (stop writing about budgets and staff meetings because it's boring! Okay?)

So come on folks, fess up! I know you do it too!


Friday, August 25, 2006

quiet births

Many months ago I painted the last painting of a picture book, got on the train and dropped it on a white desk in the lobby of a New York publishing company.

Suddenly, two days ago, a heavy cardboard box shows up on my front porch in West Haven, CT. What the heck is it? Was I up at 3am bidding on eBay in my half sleep again last week? Oh no, it's 20 copies of my 6th book that I worked on for a year and a half.

Books are born without a lot of fanfare. Even my own family has gotten a little jaded about them. I never expected that when I dreamed of being an illustrator. It turns out if you want fanfare you have to make it yourself. The problem is I'm always about as tired as any new mother who's just given birth. Finding jobs, managing a business and painting is already more then a full time job, how can anyone fit PR person and party planner in there on top of it all?

But they do. I marvel at what the other Blue Roses are able to accomplish. I also think being the only non-writing Blue Rose gives me a slightly different relationship to my books. I get a lot of emails from new illustrators wanting to know how to get into the business or what my technique is, but the only 2 pieces of fanmail I've ever gotten were from children who confused me with the author. Doing a booksigning often requires repeated lengthy explanations about the difference between a writer and illustrator and how that arrangement works out. Which I love doing, but sometimes I worry I'm a consolation prize.

I swore the last time I had a book out I wouldn't let it go without throwing it a party, but here it is, and I'm caught unprepared again. Maybe even just a potluck in my backyard would do. Anyone want to come?


I wanted to post a comment about the - how do you promote yourself - question a while back, but never did. This sat I'm doing a signing at a library. OF COURSE it's outside and OF COURSE it will rain. This is what happens. But anyway, this time I'm going to bring (if I buy ink that is!) new promo bookmarks I've made. I've found that at every signing I go to, people ask for "a card" or "my website" and I am NEVER prepared. I've made my own bookmarks that will hopefully sum up my career since day one (scary! Is that possible?) Below is a picture—

Another promo idea that worked TOO well—
I had the idea to make keychains for my book The Adventures of Patty and the Big Red Bus. I thought it would be the promo that wouldn’t die. People would essentially travel with it and other people would see it. So my brilliant idea was to give them away for free. Okay, that’s simple enough, right? So I posted “free kaychains” on my website. Here’s the problem—I was and IS inundated! I have bags and bags of envelopes like Santa! This WOULD have been a brilliant marketing tool if I hadn’t decided to make the keychains myself. This involves printing out two different images, gluing them together, cutting them, and then placing them in the plastic. Problem #2—the plastic parts didn’t hold up for more than a day! So my solution was to glue the plastic parts together. Now I have a million steps AND each kaychain was costly!

Lesson learned. Make sure you are able to make the promos! Make sure if you advertise that they’re free that you can fill the demand. NEVER assume no one will want something that is free. I feel SOOO guilty that I still have mail from a year ago! It eats away at me. I wish I could fill the orders but I have two books due at once! The mail continues to sit… and sit… and sit…


Analogous life

I've been thinking in analogies lately. This week, running has been on my mind, because I'm running in the NYC half marathon on Sunday, and I've been thinking about how running compares to getting published. As I've mentioned in some of the posts in my personal blog, one of the attractions of running for me is the fact that it's perfectly measurable. I can run 1 mile, or 10 miles, and nothing can take away that achievement. After November, I hope I'll be able to say that I've run in a marathon. That's an achievement that won't be able to be taken away. Being published is like that. Even if you only publish one book that goes out of print in a year, you're still a published author, and I think that's one of the great appeals of it all. Well, perhaps you published and non-published authors can comment on this...

But I'll also say that I no longer run to be able to say I've done it, just as most writers don't write to be published. I run because I find joy in being outside, feeling solid ground beneath my feet, breathing hard, pushing myself, feeling the breeze, feeling the sweat run down my face, being alive. From what I know (I'm not a writer myself), writers are the same way--they write for the joy of it, for the pain of it, because it makes them sane (and insane!), they write because they have to write.

Okay, I'm stretching this analogy a bit, I'll admit. Another analogy I was pondering recently: on Monday I walked to work eating blueberries. I start thinking: Life is like eating blueberries. Sometimes it's predictable--the big, plump blueberries are usually sweet, and the small blueberries are often sour, but I'll eat them anyway in the hope that they'll be sweet, although sometimes you don't end up finishing them because the sourness scares you off. But then every now and then a small blueberry is incredibly sweet, sweeter than a big plump blueberry, and that gives the most joy and makes you keep eating."

Cheesy, I know. But I liked this better than "Life is like a box of chocolates."

More: During our workshop on revision at the SCBWI conference, Justina Chen Headley compared the author-editor relationship to a marriage, and I agreed. We talked about how communication was extremely important, just as in a marriage. But then I thought about it a little more and said later on, "For the editor, it's a polygamous marriage." Editors love all of their authors, but can't devote all of their time to just one. (Many authors are polygamous, too, of course.)

In my editorial meeting, we also use the marriage analogy. If the response to a project is positive but not over the moon and the editor is trying to decide whether they're passionate enough to push it further, we ask, "Do you love it? Would you marry it?" They might just like the project a lot, but not love it enough to marry it, and if they're not prepared to marry it, then they shouldn't sign it up. (Unless, of course, the project is extremely rich, i.e. is going to make you a lot of money. Then you might make an exception and marry for like, not love.)

What analogies do you use in your life?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

poor pluto

This isn't really children's book related, except that it's unsettling when things we've always accepted as facts are changed. Like brontosaurus not existing, and now Pluto is no longer a planet!

And also a funny tidbit, someone found our blog recently by searching for "Pursuing Blue girls." I wonder if they were looking for something dirty...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Sometimes it’s easier than you think

Last week, I sent in a ms. for a children’s book – my name won’t be on it, and I’m not getting royalties, and the publisher probably wouldn’t want me to name it here anyway. So I won’t. It’s the second book I’ve ghostwritten for this artist and publisher (and of course, but I better say it anyway, the artist is not one of the BRGs! They write their own books!).

My usual method is to procrastinate and agonize about that and (once I finally settle down) write most passages over and over – but for some reason I didn’t do that with this project. I just calmly did the research at odd moments here and there (well, maybe it wasn’t quite THAT effortless, but that’s how it seems now)….and when I was ready to write, I did. (I put that in bold because I think it’s important.) I didn’t fiddle or fuss, when I knew something I wanted to say, I poured it into my laptop or Neo. Once, I think. Maybe I wrote some parts a few times, and I did a clean up at the end, but the point is that I didn’t agonize over any of it. I thought about what was interesting in the research and then wrote it down when I was in the mood to do so. I alo told the artist the main idea I had for the fictional part of the story and she loved it – and it was fun to talk about it with her, too.

When I was done with the ms., the artist and I went over it together (I thought if we did it together it would be easier and go faster. It did!), and amicably crossed things out– my goal had been to get rid of half. But:
“I LIKE the page about Lincoln!” she said. I said we could at least take out the fact that the statue of him in the Capitol is missing the left ear (that was its state when Lincoln died and the sculptor decided to leave it unfinished.) “I think that’s really interesting!” she said, sketching it. There were a few conversations like that, but we did take out a third of it.

I went home, rewrote a few things the next day, and the day after that, rewrote a little more and sent it off. I liked it; but had a (slight) sense of unease. It couldn’t be THAT easy, maybe it was all garbage, was I deluding myself? (etc.) But about a week later I got an email from the editor saying she loved it and thought kids would be “really excited” about it.

I’m going to remember this incident. Maybe it can always be this easy – and even if it can’t, agonizing doesn’t help! So, I have some new rules (as if I need more rules!). But these may really HELP me and I believe in the almost-magical power of writing things down or saying them out loud. This blog is both. So – although these may be incredibly obvious to others, here’s what I’ve learned.
1. Don’t wait to write until I have “enough time,” or a long stretch of uninterrupted time. That will never happen. (Until I really get into it and then no one CAN interrupt me, because I won’t hear or notice them.)
2. DO wait until I know what I want to say and am sure it’s interesting to me.
3. Don’t rewrite as I go along – just keep going and clean it up at the end.
4. Don’t worry about what other people will think of it: just please myself -- at least until the first draft is done! Don’t even worry now about what I will do then -- hey, maybe I’ll read it over and like it a lot!
5. Maybe when it’s time to take things out, get someone to sit with me the way this artist did? It made it SO much easier and more relaxed to just sit there in a café together, crossing things out and talking as we did it…

I hope I remember these things and act on them – it really boils down to trusting myself to know what I want to say and then just saying it.

Once ( a long time ago!) I made a list of things to avoid in future boyfriends and showed it to a new friend who, instead of commending me, started laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“That you would have to remind yourself of stuff like this.” (I don’t remember what was on the list but I can imagine). Maybe these writing rules are equally obvious to others….but I DO have to remind myself of them – WANT to remind myself!

This is a really long post…but no one has to read these things! And I do promise to make my next one shorter. But I won’t edit and rewrite: I’ll just pick a shorter topic.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Score 1 for the quiet stories

Over the years, one of the comments I often get about my work is that it is quiet. It is an interesting label to ponder, particularly because we live in such a "loud" culture. It seems to me, we are surrounded by loud. Tv's are loud, traffic is loud, advertising is loud- there are very few moments in the day when we sit calmly and do something quietly, reflectively, thoughtfully. What more perfect for quiet reflection than reading a book? Of course I love adventures and thrilling plot lines as much as the next reader. But I am drawn to making books that satisfy another need, books that offer depth read after read, that let you breathe page to page.

It is a challenge for sure, some (not all) publishers feel that if a book isen't "loud" enough to scream its way off a book shelf then it won't sell. With that in mind, I get particularly excited with art with a "quiet" aesthetic is commercially successful.

Okay, so its not quite a book I'm thinking of, but it relates to storytelling so I'm including it on this blog anyways! This weekend I saw 'Little Miss Sunshine,' and it made me really happy. If you had to describe the plot in a short sentence, you could say it is about a family on a road trip to a beauty pageant (don't worry- I won't ruin it for you if you haven't seen it). In a world of movies (and books) about wizards and ghosts and kids being shrunk down to ant size, it is just really refreshing to see a story with very little plot at all that is just as funny and witty and entertaining. The story is essentially an exploration of the characters and their relationships with eachother, its revealing and touching and I felt really captured the essence of being a kid in a complicated family.

Now this is not a kid's movie per say, there is a lot of swearing and pretty inappropriate kid subject matter. But my point I guess is that I just find it really inspiring when directors and writers find a creative way to say a lot with a little, to get a big point across without over the top plot wrangling. Like any good book, the audience is allowed to be an active participant in the unveiling of the story, that feels like it tells itself.

Monday, August 21, 2006


As I mentioned earlier, after my whining about my Amazon rankings, I’ve begun to feel twinges of concern. It's not that I'm not proud of my work or that I'd ever put it down (okay, maybe I would, but I've tried not to do that in front of people). It's the "semblance of sucess" that I worry about. A lot of good marketing is about making it seem like your book is selling like hotcakes, that your fans are rabid and you are just the hottest thing out there, even if you're not. Many marketing gurus see it as prophetic actions, using overstatement as a blessed commandment.

But, in one the books that I loved as a child, Jenny Sam and the Invisible Hildegarde, one of the main characters says,
“…there are two kinds of pride. One is false pride, and it makes you care about the wrong thing, makes you dress better than you can afford to, and pretend to be something you’re not. The other makes you grateful for what comes and too proud to pretend.”

And I think that is what I wrestle with when it comes to marketing. I don’t want to pretend to be something that I’m not. I want to be proud of the work I’ve done, proud enough to be honest of its shortcomings and its failures.

But this does not sell great quantities of books. So, someday, perhaps I will have to learn to swallow my pride.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What distracts you the most?

Our question of the week is: What distracts you the most? Answers to be given throughout the week so keep checking back (and feel free to comment).

When I read Linda's I thought––"Yes, same thing!" Then I read Grace's and Alvina's and Anna's and Libby's and I felt the same way about theirs, too. I have ADD as well. I was diagnosed with it in the 4th grade because I was little miss daydream. I had a very hard time reading, etc--still do! I'll never forget going to the doctor and being tested for ADD but not knowing that's what I was being tested for and thinking it was an intelligence test--what a nightmare! Explain what's going on to your kids! (yes, I'm getting off track already) I was also hyperactive. The key to ADD is harnessing it and using it to your advantage. One symptom is the ability to SUPER concentrate on some things. That's what happens with me. I can focus on one thing and not get up for hours and hours--that's how the books get done! However, if I'm in distraction mode EVERYTHING distracts me. I'll be painting and the next minute I'm hoping up to turn on music and then I'm deciding I want to start a novel and then I find myself in the kitchen getting a drink... then I forget about the drink and find myself on the computer writing an email... only I don't finish it because I'm back at my painting...then I'm back at the email because I wouldn’t want to forget about that!... then I'm getting out the house paint because I've decided the walls would be better blue... but not for long. That's my behavior a lot of the time. When I'm like that it's almost impossible to get anything done. Go to my website for a good display of ADD at its best. When ADD is GOOD you start what you finish!

Often, everything. A breeze through an open window. A good song. The sudden remembering of a missed appointment. An aching forearm. My dog barking. A scrap of paper on the floor with an interesting word I must at that moment look up in the dictionary. A strange smell.

Other times, nothing. When I'm on a roll, and I'm either not able to get something right in a painting, or, everything is going right in a painting, I can sit for 8 hours straight without knowing it, and suddenly realize I'm dying of thirst and have had to pee for 4 hours.

my husband, reading blogs and blogging (ahem...okay, gotta go!).

Same as Grace, except for the husband part.

And life, in general. Not wanting to miss out on anything. Then again, I like to think that work distracts me from life, rather than vice versa.

Oh there are so many things! Email mainly. Playing with my new computer. Thinking about how to organize my day and how long each task will take, making lists and charts about what I want to do instead of just doing it!!

I have ADHD, something I never realized until I volunteered in a school for kids who had been kicked out of regular public school. The class I visited every week was all boys, aged about 9 to 11, and I felt completely at home with all of them. I went once a week for 3 years and at some point realized that most of them had ADHD and I did, too.

So almost everything distracts me. I get distracted (and this is not an exaggeration) walking into the kitchen to get a cup of tea. The only way I can NOT get distracted is to get REALLY INTO what I'm writing -- and one of the good (or bad!) things about ADHD -- which I may blog about sometime soon! -- is that once you get really into something, almost notning can get you out of it. In this state, I go into the kitchen to get a cup of tea (or something) and forget why I'm there--I'm thinking about what I'm writing. So I go back to my desk. Then I remember what I went in for. I go back, forget, etc. -- sometimes it takes 3 or 4 trips to get it right. Unfortunately this is not an exaggeration.

But the question was: what distracts you MOST? Probably -- email and being online (any kind of screen time is really fatal!). A close second might be the amount of time wasted trying to decide about big things (stay at my job or leave it, stay here or move etc.) and little ones, like the most efficient way to organize my time and obsessively listing, planning, trying to figure things out. Fortunately, once I get really into a book, I fall into a routine and then there is nothing to decide about -- all I do is write and when I'm not writing, I think about it. But if I have other reponsibities (like a job) this is hard to do. ANd things that BREAK the routine (trips, houseguests etc.) are distracting. I am trying to find better ways to deal with all this than having life be a constant choice between writing novels or not going anywhere! (NOTE: I don't need all this space and time to write nonfiction or do my ghostwriting work, only to write novels. I say "novels" in the plural because even though I've only published one, I've written several.)

Since I always feel like other people's reactions are more interesting than my own, AND maybe to make myself feel better about needing so much time and freedom to really write, I'm going to close with a quote from Jane Austen. Usually, her sister Cassandra did the housekeeping -- which meant not cooking and cleaning but ordering the meals etc. -- but when Cassandra was away, she, Jane, had to do it. On one of Cassandra's absences Jane Austen a letter about the distraction of housekeeping:
"I can not write when my head is full of mutton and orange wine."
She meant ordering the making of it, not that she was befuddled from drinking it!

You asked.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Anna was the second Blue Rose Girl I met. As she wrote already, she, Grace and I were in a children's book class together at RISD. I was readjusting from a year in Rome and discovering I was failing with watercolor, my favorite medium. The next semester I would give it up altogether and embrace acrylic wholeheartedly, but that semester I was brooding about it.

In Rome the days were spent wandering the streets drawing from life. Back at RISD, captive in a small dirty white classroom, I was struck with Anna right away because of her fantastic face and peaceful demeanor. I preoccupied myself with drawing her during crits on the sly. I'm not sure I even knew her name for a while, and I don't think she ever caught on to what I was doing.

I didn't get to know her until years later by internet, when we started a listserv for RISD illustration grads, and eventually met again in person. It turned out I liked her as much as I liked drawing her. And though I'd always admired the classical sensibility of her assignment work, her professional illustration portfolio had become stunning in the short time since graduation. Her stoic little family of cats, foxes and mice live in suspended magic, drawn with a delicate and wonderfully self-confident hand, a rare combination just like Anna herself.

Grace, Anna and Meghan all have a consistent, unidentifiable spirit woven through the worlds they manifest on paper. I've known and looked at their work for so long, I wonder if it's evident to others how much I'm influenced by them.

I delayed this entry for so long looking for the pictures I drew of Anna 12 years ago. The dig uncovered dozens of sketchbooks and old inspirations I'm glad to find again, but Anna is eluding me. So I post without them before I'm in danger of proving my reputation for procrastination correct, and offer blue roses instead.

Friday, August 18, 2006


The second book I was planning to write about is Hippo! No, Rhino by Jeff Newman, which is, like, one of my favorite picture books EVER, and not just because I edited it.

Today is the Sixth Carnival of Children's Literature, this time hosted at Castle of the Immaculate, and through it I found this lovely review of Hippo! No, Rhino.

The publication story of this book is fairly straightforward--one of our designer's, Saho, had a friend whose boyfriend was an illustrator, and Saho asked me if I'd like to look at his book ideas, so I said yes. Hippo! No, Rhino was one of the ideas and I instantly fell in love with the project.

This almost-wordless book starts off with a clueless zookeeper named Randy mixing up the signs and putting a sign saying "Hippo" at Rhino's cage. Poor Rhino! His expression of dismay is priceless. Here's how the text goes after that:

Blue lady and old man in green: "Hippo."
Rhino: "No, Rhino!"
next page
Rhino: "FIX THE SIGN-O!"
a couple pages later...
Green teen and girl with glasses: "...Hippoooo"
Rhino (nicely): "Noooo....Rhinooooo."
next page
Rhino (not as nicely): "THAT'S NOT MINE-O!"

You get the idea. The art is bright, vibrant, and retro, reminiscent of such classics as The Little House and Eric Carle (as suggested in the Publisher's Weekly review). To me, it's the perfect picture book. Fun and distinct art, it stands up to repeat readings (there are so many clever details in the art), and the illustrations and text are perfectly matched. Since the moment I saw this book, I felt it had the potential to become a classic.

Hippo! No, Rhino should be available at your local independent bookstore! (yes, that's a hint)

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

In the Break

Our Fall list is starting to come out already, and I've been meaning to write about two of my summer books. I'll try to do one tonight, and one tomorrow.

The first is YA novel In the Break by Jack Lopez. VOYA calls it a "captivating novel by an author who is a surfer about surfing, adolescence, friendship, and loyalty." Kirkus says: "Lopez's debut shares much of the atmosphere and elements seen in urban fiction, and he nails the conversations between Juan, Jamie, Amber and their friends with a gritty, dead-on teen-speak that surges through the pages, giving extra shots of hang-ten adrenaline to the already fast-paced plot."

This is the publication story of In the Break:
Right after our move from Boston to NY in 2002, an agent I had never worked with before called me and asked if I’d be interested in reading a surfing novel. I said sure, send it in. Now, because Little, Brown was in the midst of our move from Boston to NY, our submissions piles were being sorely overlooked, as we struggled to keep all of our books on schedule despite being shorthanded and having about ¾ brand-new staff. So I had a reader review many of my manuscripts including In the Break (which was then titled Second Break), and the reader wrote up a reader’s report recommending that I give the novel a second look. So I placed it in my very large “to read” pile, and promptly forgot about it. A whole year (yes, a WHOLE YEAR!) after the manuscript was sent to me, I found the manuscript in a pile, and sheepishly called the agent. I told her that I still hadn’t read the novel, but another reader had read it and liked it, and I planned to read it right away if it was still available. Now, I don’t know why she never followed up on the manuscript—I won't name names, but she was mostly an adult editor, so maybe she wasn't as invested in this manuscript, or perhaps she too busy herself, but luckily for me it hadn’t sold in that long time. So I took it home to read, and althought I thought it needed some work, something about it really caught my fancy--the rawness of the writing reminded me of The Outsiders, one of my favorite books. And even though I've never surfed, the descriptions of the water and surfing were so beautiful and compelling. It had all of the drama that I loved reading about when I was a teen--violence, romance, tragedy. I wanted to publish it.

So I brought it to our editorial meeting and three other editors were interested in reading it--a good sign! They all had editorial concerns, many that were similar to mine, but all felt that it was a project worth pursuing--one compared it to the movie Y Tu Mama Tambien (which I still haven't seen!). We decided to bring the manuscript to our Publications Committee meeting with a revision letter accompanying it to show the committee the edits we felt needed to occur before publication.

Happily, the novel was accepted, and after a last-minute cover change when one the chains was unhappy with our original cover (long, frustrating story--but isn't the cover fantastic? The whole design is perfect, thanks to Designer Alison Impey. Props to Alison, and thanks for her patience...), it was just published this July. There are many things I love about this book, but one interesting thing to note is that the author, Jack Lopez, is Mexican American, and the narrator of the book, Juan, is as well. But although there are some cultural details throughout, his ethnicity does not play a large role in the book, and I'm happy that this hasn't been pigeonholed as simply a "multicultural book." In fact, the reviews so far, which have been great, have not even mentioned his ethnicity. While I think there is still need now for ethnic-identity driven books, particularly when there isn't already a lot out there--such as Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies) for biracial teens--I hope there will be more and more books that feature main characters of color where their ethnicity is not the main subject of the book, and reviewers do not choose to direct the book towards a specific niche audience.

In the Break is an adventure novel with substance, and it should appeal to both boys and girls, teens and adults. It deserves a wide audience. And I just got happy news yesterday--it was chosen as a Book Sense pick. Yay!

Visit the author's website here.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

another thing...

I know it's not my day to post but I just wanted to bring up two topics.

First of all, after my Amazon rant I began to feel a bit of worry. Am I exposing too much of my non-success? So much of promotion and publicity is "spin." Sometimes it's more important for a book to look and seem like a bestseller than it is for it to actually be one. Like movie ads that say, "This movie was amazing..." and if you go look up the review the actual line says, "This movie was amazing because it was so bad." That's what's so weird about marketing, it's the slanted viewpoints that you give out. What do you guys think?

The other thing I wanted to bring up was with all these recent posts revealing my, um, not-neat side was an episode in my defense...

Once, a group of us (professional author/illustrators) were giving a talk to illustration students. We all went on and on about how hard the profession was, how you had to be dedicated, etc. Pretty run of the mill stuff, until one of the illustrators said that "Illustration is not a good profession for girls. You have to work long hours, etc. and women like things to be neat and clean." Awkward silence. And then, I think Jarrett said, "You haven't seen Grace's house."

Ah, that's me. I'm all about equal opportunity messiness.

Someone Different

When we had our Brunch Until 5 pm (July archives for anyone who missed it), I mentioned the book Grimble and Alissa the author and illustrator had read it and loved it as much as I do.

It’s really exciting to find someone who loves a book YOU love that no one else you know has ever heard of, let alone read. I heard of Grimble in a JK Rowling interview -- it was one of her favorite books. Alissa and I kept trying to describe it to everyone else, and okay, this may not have been obvious at the time from the way I kept talking, but I did notice no one seemed too impressed. It’s a hard book to describe in a sound bite. We fell back on “the way it’s written,” which isn’t usually a great attention grabber or headline.

So I’m going to try to do it justice here. It begins:

“This is a story about a boy called Grimble who was about ten. You may think it is silly to say someone is about ten, but Grimble had rather odd parents who were very vague and seldom got anything right.”

One day he comes home from school (“the orderly part of his life”):
“…and shouted ‘I am home!’ and no one shouted anything in answer, so he went around the house looking for messages because his parents always left messages. It was the one thing they were really good at.”
They’ve gone to Peru, and left notes all over the place about what he should do while they’re gone.

This sounds horrible, but he manages….you’ll have to read the book to find out how. I’ll just say that – funny as it all is – the psychology is right on target: he reacts with a mixture of anxiety, practicality (child, not adult, logic and practicality), and insouciance…this mixture is part of the book’s charm for me. I’m interested in children who are survivors, especially that sort of survivor.

Also (and this also is perhaps part of the charm?) the parents aren’t that bad. Their messages are bizarre, but reassuring. They are more aware of Grimble as a person than you might think – e.g., he’s reading a cookbook they’ve left him –
“Having made the mayonnaise he dipped the hard boiled egg halves into it and ate them. As there were lots and lots of pages of the manual still to read he decided to look at the end of the book because usually, if you turn to the last page, you get the best part.
He turned to the last page and it said, ‘Grimble. Attention. Wipe your mouth. Go to bed.’

To give you an idea of THE WRITING, I opened the book at random promising myself to quote the first sentence my eye hit. This is it:
“On Friday Grimble woke very early and went out to give the pigeons the last of the sandwiches from the oven; these were now very stale and tasted evil but pigeons not only have poor table manners, they are unfussy about what they eat.”

Sadly, this book is out of print. I have 2 copies, because I bought one online and gave up on its arrival – AFTER I ordered the second, the first one came, a tattered paperback from a bookstore in Australia. Alyssa, it’s waiting for you! And maybe JK Rowling’s interest means that someone will republish it. I hope so. It doesn’t meet my ultimate test of a good novel (while you’re reading it, you forget that you’re reading, you’re just THERE), I’m not sure WHAT I would have thought of it as a child, but I like Grimble the character, I like the writing, and the book makes me laugh out loud every time I read it. --Libby

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Amazon rant

Because I am a sucker for punishment, I’ve been viewing my book rankings on Amazon. Does anyone else find it demoralizing that Amazon has added percentages of the amount of people who actually buy the book? I’m talking about the listing at the bottom that says, “What do customers ultimately do after viewing this item?” and then a 5 title listing such as: “88% buy Counting Kisses, by Karen Katz…1% buy the item featured on this page: Fortune Cookie Fortunes, by Grace Lin”

Hey, this is my page! We don’t need to know that most people are buying someone else’s book. And what is this saying to the customer? I know you’re looking at this book, but most people are buying this other book, so maybe you should buy that one instead? Thanks for nothing. Curse you, Counting Kisses!


Hi all,

In the vein of Linda's post about how she met Grace I thought I would tell some stories about how I met the Blue Rose girls crew (since reading Linda's post was so fun). I first met Grace and Linda in a studio class my junior year called "Picture and Word". I remember them always sitting together (I think they had just come back from study in Italy), it was clear that there was a strong bond and I admired their friendship as well as their work...

But the first time an idea was planted in my head about who Grace really is as an artist was when I came upon an artist's book (a hand printed/hand bound book) that Grace made called 'A Forest for the Trees'... it was on display at the end of the semester on a classroom table, a beautiful story about Grace, her family, and her childhood. By the time I got to the last page my eyes were full of tears and I felt utterly moved by this very raw truthful expression of who Grace is. Unlike many of the other assignments students tack up on the walls, it was honest without being overly explicit or sentimental or didactic. It just felt true.

It was years later before I got to tell her that- after graduating and moving to Boston and getting a job at Houghton Mifflin, one day one of her promo cards came across my desk and I wrote her back... since then she has been a personal and professional inspiration that I am so grateful for!

Linda also made quite an impression on me, before we ever got in touch or became friends. In college she would come to class wearing knee high lace up boots and big skirts with petticoats, just like the characters in her illustrations. What stood out the most to me then, and now, is the way Linda's life is interwoven with her work, right down to the clothes she wears! She has always been one of those people who finds inspiration where other people overlook it, and incorporates it into this grand vision that is ever evolving.

This is especially obvious recently, with her work in puppetry and performance (which includes roller derby and, yes, firespinning!) It might seem at first that these things would be at odds with eachother, in particular with children's book illustration, but instead they just seem to me to be facets of a complex and philosophical artist who is constantly pushing herself to try new things and understand life through creative means.

Okay, enough gushing, I will have to get to Libby, Alvina, and Meghan next week... I hope at least this gives new readers a little of the appreciation I feel for the ladies on this list!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Red Flag

As our question of the week deals with publicity and marketing, I feel a red flag raise in my head. These topics are easy obsessions for me, as I imagine it is with many authors. I’m not naïve enough to think marketing doesn’t matter or that all you need to do is create a great book; in fact marketing is something I’ve learned to embrace in the last couple of years.

But it’s a dangerous embrace, because it’s so easy to become too focused on it and lose yourself. Promotion is like an abusive lover, always claiming there’s something more you can do and that somebody else is doing it better. As authors embark on more and more elaborate schemes to get their work noticed (like this), the quest to become a household name can become a neurotic game of prestige and fame. For myself, I sometimes fear I may let it overshadow the more important things that I am trying to accomplish. I have many thoughts on this topic, but I must cut this short. I am WAY behind schedule on my work, which I have to begin thinking about promoting.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Question of the Week for August 13-19

This week our question to be answered throughout the week at will is:

What's the one best thing you've ever done (or seen someone else do) when it comes to promoting a book?

We'd love to hear everyone else's answer to this question, too--so leave a comment. Thanks!

Well, speaking from the editor perspective, the best thing I've ever done to promote one of the books I've edited is to send out emails about specific books, add a little blurb about the book to my email signatures, and write about the book in my blog. Here are a few of my book posts: Flight of the Dodo, Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies), Year of the Dog, and Blow Out the Moon. I'll always put my books face-out or on display when I see them in a bookstore. :) And I advocate for the book in-house, of course. Other than that, I encourage my authors to think of creative promotional ideas on their own--and encourage them to read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, because you never know what's going to help the book take off. I wish I could do more...

In terms of what I've seen other authors do, I think Jarrett Krosoczka did a great job promoting Punk Farm: he made a myspace page for the book (before most others were doing this), and had friends record a song as the band Punk Farm. He made great stickers and T-shirts, a fun website, a preview movie, and more. It paid off, resulting in a Dreamworks movie deal.

I'm looking forward to my company's promotion of Chowder by Peter Brown. We have a really fun, creative marketing plan, including some traditional things: ads, mailings, stickers, cards, etc., and some really different things: teaser poster campaign in a targeted neighborhood of Brooklyn (look for it over Labor Day weekend) and a screen pal (a little animated Chowder keeps you company on your desktop!). Peter has set up a great website, too--I can't get over the dripping drool! So we'll see how it goes. Chowder just got a starred review in Booklist, so we're off to a great start! I'm in love with the quirky, drooling bulldog.


Well, I've done postcards, written articles for newsletters, gone to my fair share of bad and good events, done interviews, spoken at conferences, hired a publicist (who is on maternity leave right now), and gone on the Today Show. It's hard to tell which of those a weird way, there is no real "best" All of those things contribute, working hand-in-hand.

I think, for me, the absolute best promotion is word of mouth. So for The Year of the Dog (my most recent book), I really exploited my mailing list. My website allows people to sign up to be on my mailing list and at prior events (when I don't forget, which is 50/50) I brought a book for people to sign up in. Then, when The Year of the Dog was released I sent everyone an e-mail blast and followed up with a postcard. These are people who I know like my work and are interested in it, so I didn't feel like I'm spamming them. And the kind of people who sign up for mailing lists are the kind that, if they like your book, tell their friends--who hopefully tell ther friends and so on...Anyway, I think it worked, though I haven't received royalty statements for it yet.

The "best" thing I've heard done was by author Brian Lies for his, "Bats on the Beach." He laminated his car and sent himself on tour with an elaborate presentation which including beach umbrellas. From all the accounts I've read and heard of, he worked his tail off--basically doing all the work for bookstores and publishers for them. Whatever he did, it caught the eye of Daniel Pinkwater who reviewed the book on NPR, catapaulting it to a NY Times bestseller. My hat's off to Brian (who is the nicest guy, he did a snowflake for Robert's Snow twice!); but honestly I couldn't do what he did. Just reading it makes me tired. But maybe that is why he is a bestseller and I'm mid-list!

Linda: The best promotional move I've made so far is to join a roller derby. I've gotten myself in the press more in the last 2 months then I have in all my career as an illustrator. Children's book illustrator by day, derby queen by night makes for great material apparently.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

I finally answered the question of the week...

Check it out! I'm at the very bottom.

Stay tuned for our new question of the week shortly.

From the slush...

Well, I have to run to work so perhaps I can "chat" more later. In the meantime, since it's my day to post, here are a few images of the slush/contest pile at Random House. Want to know why it takes so long to hear back? This is why! I do commend them for their organization. This does make me wonder, though, why I got discovered from the slush in the first place. I had no connections... I didn't know what I was doing... yet someone pulled my half-baked MS out of the pile and bothered to respond. I will be forever grateful to my editor, then at RH now at Viking, for giving me that chance. If she didn't, I may be working for minimum wage and doing something awful like working at a register right now! Oh... wait... I do DO that. Feel free to find me at Union Sq B&N and watch me grumble as I make change hour after hour after hour. Ho-hum, so booooring and mindless. Still, I wouldn't be where I am today, with my 5th book coming out in Oct. and 4 more under contact if I weren’t given that chance! I would be twice the loser I am today!

The wonderful designer who works on my books told me I need to stop fussing with photos and this blog and get back to work! So I shall….


Friday, August 11, 2006

SCBWI wrap-up

Well, I have to dash this off, but wanted to post something today. Sorry if it's a little helter skelter!

I had never attended one of the big annual conferences before, so this was a new thing for me, but I had a great time. Partly because I knew so many people there, and partly because the energy and warmth of everyone was just filling up the whole place. I won't do shout-outs, so I'll just say hi to all of those people I met and hung out with. You know who you are!

All of the speakers I saw were amazing. Poor Jane Yolen who got incredibly ill with food poisoning the night before her speech and was in a wheel chair--she was inspiring, sick or not, and I'll forever hear her mantra "Write the damn book" echoing in my head, and no doubt I'll borrow it for future talks of my own. She deserved her standing ovation.

The winners at the Golden Kite luncheon were incredible, too--their speeches made me cry! And I sat next to a lovely woman who has attended ALL. 35. CONFERENCES. Amazing.

Even though I'm not a writer and not aspiring to be, I learn so much myself and meet so many great people. I learn tips on how to be a better speaker, a better presenter. It keeps me coming back, and I hope I'll be invited back in the future. And hey--I'd love to do the New York one, too. (hint hint)

It's funny--the thing I mentioned on the panel discussion that was talked about most was my use of the term "young women's commercial fiction" instead of chick lit--Cindy would be delighted. Cindy is the editorial director of our paperback young women's commercial fiction imprint which includes Gossip Girl and The Clique, and she's demanded that we use this term and we've happily complied. Maybe it will spread! Spread the word! No more chick lit.

These conferences always give me a taste of what it's like to be a celebrity, but on a smaller scale. But it's true--especially after I give talks, people are constantly coming up to me as if they know me, as if they WANT to know me. It's a very odd feeling, and not an altogether unpleasant one. And its comforting to know that when I leave I return to anonymity. I think that's the beauty of being in publishing, being an author or illustrator--you can receive the respect of your peers, people who know of you fawning over you (I loved seeing Tomie dePaola's with his groupies around the lobby bar), and yet mention the name to your friends (c'mon, Tomie know Strega Nona, right?!?!) you get blank reactions. So strange. But it's nice to every now and then go someplace where you can feel important and special.

This week has been a blur, and now I need to get out of here--I'm heading to Grand Central to catch a train up to Westchester. For one of my book groups this month (yes, Jodi, the "real" book group), we're having a get-together at Julie's house--I'm looking forward to it. And that echoes what I felt was the theme of the conference and a point a emphasized in my workshop--Community. We have such a great children's book community here. I see it in my friends, my colleagues, at conferences. Kindling Words, SCBWI, Robert's Snow for Cancer's Cure, book groups, Blue Rose Girls, etc. I'm so happy to be a part of it all with all of you.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


The first Blue Rose Girl I met was Grace when we were sophmores at the Rhode Island School of Design. I knew who she was because she had dated a friend of mine. But the first time we ever talked was when she came into the room where I was waiting for my Italian class. I think she was leaving a note for my teacher.

She said she was going to see Maurice Sendak give a talk at the Brown University auditorium just up the street. I couldn't believe that Maurice Sendak, one of my heroes, was giving a talk just up the street and myself being in the Illustration Department had heard not a word of it. I thought, this girl is amazing that she has this information. So I skipped class and followed her.

We sat together and she pulled out a very large board with a half finished pastel drawing on it, and began to work on it right there. I was amazed again, at her industriousness and her total lack of concern for the pastel dust spreading out over the beautifully upholstered seats of the Brown auditorium. It's funny that I remember very little about what Maurice Sendak had to say that day, but I remember so much about Grace.

The next year we were assigned a studio together in the Palazzo Cenci while we were in the RISD Rome Program. She was the perfect roomate, quiet, friendly, and always always working and full of ideas and advice. Her intensity and tremendous output inspired me to keep up. Our studio always looked like a tornado had gone through it. I'll pack rat any interesting piece of trash I find on the street, and Grace... well, she is messy. People would come in just to stare at the chaos.

That was 12 years ago, and we've stayed in touch all that time. She's kept me on track and been the moral support and friendly competition I needed to push myself. We'd always bet on each other in the "Which of us will get a book next?" guessing game. Whoever got a book was suppose to buy the other something from Crate & Barrel as consolation. Had we followed through my house would now be totally decked out and Grace would be poor.

Photos: above, Grace in our messy studio; left, my side of the studio.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Scroll down!

Our Question of the Week: What's on your desk? is being answered throughout the week by all of us. So, that entry down there is getting passages added onto it every day...keep checking on it. This will be the usual format for question of the week, so hopefully something fun to keep you coming back.

If anyone has a question they'd like us to answer for next week (or the weeks to come) please ask now in the comment section. Any question is fair game, from what flavor ice cream we like best to what we think of agents. Ask away!

Guess the Asian

Okay, so I have to work and catch up on emails and everything else in my life, but I thought I'd quickly point out this hilarious post:

We took this picture at the published author cocktail party Friday night at SCBWI. I'm not giving any hints. But to be honest, I can't tell us all apart either. (ha!)

I'm hoping to post a little more about the conference on Friday.

Till then...

He Kept Hoping

Photo and quotes copyright NPR.

A year after the Chechnyan terrorists attacked the school in Beslan, Russia, some of the children who survived told what they remembered about being in that gymn; other children translated their accounts into English. I heard it on NPR and one boy said something I’ve thought about so often since then that I want to tell it here.

He described being in the gym (they were there for 3 days and lots of them died), and then he said that he kept hoping Harry Potter would come. I don’t remember his exact words – but I remember the scene I imagined: a gym with high windows, like ours when I was that age, all the kids scared, and then a boy flying through one of the windows, in a kind of Peter Pan cocky pose. To do this blog I found pictures of the school windows (these are from a classroom, not the gymn, but they show the light, and the view):
[picture should be HERE but they keep putting it above!]

I also looked up the boy’s the exact words:

“One looked at me, and stood there staring at me for 20 seconds. I got scared so I turned away. His eyes were like glass – so black, like glass.” Then he gave himself hope: “I was hoping that Harry Potter would come. I was thinking he had a cloak that made him invisible, and he would come and wrap me in it, and we’d be invisible and we’d escape.”

I struggle a lot in my non-fiction writing about how much to explain -- in fiction, I DON'T explain. Details show the stories and characters. But I feel like blog posts should have points (what do the rest of you think about that?) I'll explain why this story is interesting to me.

*I was haunted by the original event
*the boy's reaction fascinated me: I'm always interested in how kids survive and cope
*he chose Harry Potter -- a fictional character, and one from a book without an overt lesson or political message. That nine year old didn't think of "The Little Engine That Could" or some other didactic story. Some people seem to think fiction -- children's books, especially -- must contain didactic or politically correct messages to be worthwhile. I believe a good story; real, appealing characters; and good writing are enough. They may even be more helpful to kids! By the way I am not saying Harry Potter has or doesn't have all these elements (as it happens, I don't really like HP); but what I personally think of Harry Potter isn't the point here. The thought of him helped that boy.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

One little bit at a time

Hi Friends,

I've been thinking a lot lately about how best to stay focused on individual tasks when the scope of a goal feels immense... in particular, I've been doing a lot of writing lately. I am, gulp, attempting to write a novel (yes finally joining the bandwagon). I keep going back and forth between excitement and joy at the process and utter bewilderment at what a huge undertaking it is, and how new it is to me.

The worst part is I keep picturing in my mind some deluded hipster lounging at cafe in soho- when he is asked what he does for a living he looks down his nose with an agitated expression and snorts "I'm writing a novel! You wouldn't understand." The phrase 'I'm working on my novel' should be banned from the english language, to most ears it sounds as if it might be the most self indulgent thing a person could do.

BUT people do it and I've always wanted to do it. I've mostly considered myself a visual artist all this time, despite having published picture books that I wrote. Its just so different composing a story with no pictures! It is a nice departure though, from my usual method of storytelling. And its been interesting translating memories and personal stories along a theme...

Anyways I would love to hear from you experienced novelists about your process... how much do you plan out the twists of the story in advance, how much just naturally flows when you're writing? Do you start out knowing the precise fate of your characters, or does that become revealed over time?

ps It was a strange coincidence that Meghan's recent post about whether authors/illustrators ever really get time off came right before I got knocked off my feet sick this weekend (I never get sick)! I have spent the last few days sleeping it off and feeling guilty for not working, or making myself work anyways and feeling even worse! It really is a difficult thing to pry yourself out of your studio and declare a day off... my mind keeps coming back to whatever project is on my desk...

Monday, August 07, 2006

This or the

In my current work, I’ve driven myself mad trying to make the colors brighter at the end of the book (when the girl is happy) than those at the beginning (when the girl is sad)--even though she is wearing the same red coat. It becomes an insane process as I struggle with whether to use jewel red or crimson…and probably when the book is printed, the color difference won’t even be noticeable.

But it’s these little things that we, as creators, can’t let go of. Mary Newell Depalma, when writing A Grand Old Tree, told me a story of how she got into an argument with her editor over a “this” or “the.”

“…the roots of her grandchildren sink deep into the earth,” her editor had marked.
“…sink into this earth,” she had marked back.
“THE earth,” he had replied.
“No, THIS earth,” she insisted.
“I can’t believe you’re being so difficult,” he said.

And I suppose we are a difficult bunch. Exacting, demanding and a bit crazy-- but the ones who really feel the brunt of this is ourselves. While we toil and labor at the subtle nuances, do others, in the end, even notice the difference between a “this” vs. a “the” or a jewel red vs. a crimson? Probably not.

And nor should they. Because that is what makes what we do so beautiful.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Question of the Week: What's on Your desk?

This week, our question is: What's on your desk? This will be answered at will throughout the week...

This is not really my desk. I have been visiting my husband's family in Montreal and have temporarily set up shop on his Grandmother's kitchen table, hence the antique chairs, plastic tablecloth and tea cup saucer palette.
I think she is secretly horrified at the mess that I create. I know she is mystified that my paintings don't reflect the chaos of my work area. She keeps saying in her half-English/half Italian how my paintings are so "delicato" and that I am like a "boom."So I think my interpretation is pretty spot on.

Right now, I'm working on Lissy's Friends, a story about a girl that makes life-size origami animals that become her friends. For this book, I've invested in piles of origami paper and japanese fabric, as I wanted all the patterns to have that flavor. I didn't even bring a quarter of my reference material so I wonder what Nonna's impression of my studio would be...

My desk has been filled for the past week with sketches for the jacket of a book I am illustrating called Priscilla and the Hollyhocks. Its a very different book for me than others I've done thus far, both in subject matter and style. Its been a nice change of pace! Usually my books feature a protagonist going through the day to day events that are important to kids. This story is about the self reliance and heroism of a girl sold as a slave to a Cherokee family, who then ends up walking the trail of tears with them. Needless to say there are no bunnies or kitties!

This is a close-up of my rendering of Priscilla. I want her to appear sad and weary, but strong and self-posessed.


I don't paint on my desk because my desk is in the living room and I want to keep it somewhat neat. My computers sit on the desk. I paint on my dining room table... and yes, it's messy. That's why I like to keep it out of view. I'd love to see an illustrator's space that is neat. If I see one, I will not trust this illustrator. It seems to me that if they bother putting all the caps back on the respected tubes and they keep a nice clear container of water by their sides and a nice holder for their brushes then they're confused as to what they should be concentrating on. I think a lot of artists become so absorbed in their work that keeping their workplace clean is IMPOSSIBLE. This does not matter whether he or she is neat in other aspects of their life... their home is tidy, their car is tidy, etc.

When it gets late at night sometimes I pull out a beer from the fridge to get me through the late early morning painting shift. Then the next day the nice green bottle sits on my desk until I bother to put it into the recycling bin. Hey, I know what you all are thinking! I love my beer! That's right! Don't fault me!


p.s - the lion painting is for the ATLAS book. That darn lion has been the bane of my existence! I've hated him for SO long! I just couldn't get him right. It took a week or more of repainting the darn head over and over and over again for me to be satisfied with him. Sigh. Sometimes illustration becomes a war... you just hope you can win it before you miss your deadline! The lion is saying "Grrrrrr" because that's what I was saying every 2 min. or so. Damn that lion!


1) 22 title ideas for my new novel from a fourth-grade class: this was from a really fun school visit. At the end the kids asked if I had written any other books, and I told them about a novel I was writing. They listened really seriously and then made suggestions:
“Does her name have to be Philippa? Couldn’t her father have a nickname for her?”
I said that he did and told them it was Flip (and why): you can see how this got translated into a title. I have this one on the front of the pile because I love the fact that this boy added:
“Don’t correct spelling.”
Someone asked what the book was called and I said I didn’t have a title, and somehow (I forget how) they said THEY would think of titles and we agreed that I would come back at the end of the day – my time in their classroom was up – and get the titles and read the rest of the chapter from Blow Out the Moon. I had tried to skip some of it but one girl said,
“No, no, please don’t skip anything! We want to hear all of it!”

2) A pebble from Jane Austen’s driveway. It may not have been there while she was alive, but MAYBE it was – and I’m glad I have it. I also have 2 English pennies from her lifetime. These I keep on the tray under my desk.

3) The rings I always wear when I’m writing my books: the sparkley pink one is from Grace. She said she saw it and thought of me. The other one I bought. I only wear these when I’m writing something I really like or when I’m seeing close friends. When I’m writing other stuff, I wear green rings: green for money!

4) a card (with a really sweet note inside) that Alvina wrote. On the white shelf next to my desk (you can’t really see it in either picture) is a card of Anna’s kittens and bunny doing ballet, and a birthday card from Anna that means a lot to me. Thank you all!

I always like to look out the window and so I’m including the current view – one of the surprising things about living the country is how short the season for all flowers is.


Currently the most interesting of my multiple desks: a stack of puppetry books, some puppets- one very old and several very new and in progress, and a wedding dress. I'll let your imagination run wild on why these particular things are here.

Man, it took me a long time to answer the question of the week! Sorry about that. My desk is not nearly as artistic as the other Blue Rose Girls' and is entirely more cluttered. But I guess this will prove one of my "how I work" points that I mentioned at my breakout session when I said "piles."

I've annoted the items on my flickr site, so you can see the photos here, here, here, and here. And yes, this is the normal state of my desk. My assistant tells me that I'm not that disorganized, because I still basically know where everything is. I'll just leave it at that.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

One last thing! Music while I'm working...

I'm a lover of music so from now on I will also tell you all what I’m listening to while writing this. Currently it's Belle & Sebastian -- If You're Feeling Sinister. This is hands down their best album, in my opinion. It's sorrowful, yet hopeful. I feel mentioning music is relevant because it effects how I write... how I paint... how I create. While I've been painting, I've been listening to The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards. The physical therapist I've been seeing recommended it. So far I'm really enjoying it.

success and the road to publication

It’s my turn to post and just as suspected, I can’t come up with a thing to say. Certainly nothing insightful like the previous posts by the wonderful and talented others. I’m going to take this opportunity to throw some random thoughts and questions your way. Consider this sort of a free association.

My first question is––if you are a writer, what would you do if you won the Newbery? If you are an illustrator, what about the Caldecott? I’m afraid, sadly, that I’m the type of person who can never truly enjoy things for what they are. This is a conversation I posted on my personal blog––

What would I do if I became successful?
On Monday, while at work, a coworker asked what I would do if I ever won the Caldecott.
"Yeah, like that would happened," I said.
She said "You'd pass out, wouldn't you?"
I said "I would never win. It's like winning the lottery. It's not gonna happen."
"But you'd pass out."
"No, I wouldn't."
"Yes, you would."
"No, that wouldn't happen. This is a silly conversation."
"You'd pass out. I would."
"IF that happened, and I got the phone call, then I'd think someone was prank calling me. I'd tell the caller they were mean and that it's not cool to do something like that. Tricking people is not nice"
"Well, once you realized that it was for real, you'd pass out."
I thought for a moment. "No, I'd worry about giving a speech. I'd worry about what I was supposed to wear. I'd worry that I wouldn't be able to get up early enough to make it onto the Today Show."

My second random thought is I guess more of a complaint––I can’t stand that 3 out of the 4 publishers I’ve worked with want the cover before any interiors. Obviously you want the cover to reflect the book as a whole… but how can you do that if you don’t know what the rest of the book will look like! This is a constant problem. It is also a problem when you’re not quite sure what you want your characters to look like and keep changing your mind. Okay, the “you” in this rant is obviously a fill in for “me.” If there are others out there who feel the same way, speak up! It’s time we illustrators take a stand!

Here’s another random thought––I often forget how large my desire and desperation was to be published. At the tender age of 22, fresh out of RISD, ALL I wanted was to be published! I didn’t care if I was successful or had money or anything else. That was my one goal. I remember when I got the “phone call.” Actually, it was a phone message. I had just moved to NYC and was not mature enough to leave normal voice mail messages. Instead, I did accents. One week it sounded like a southern belle lived in the little Williamsburg ghetto-style apartment while the next week one could swear it was someone from Englad. Confusing? Yes. Funny? I thought so! I think my editor-to-be called back three times before leaving a very discombobulated message. She said something like “Um…I don’t know... um... I don't know if I have the right phone number… this is…um…I’m looking for Meghan McCarthy. This is so-and-so from Viking Children’s Books and I’m calling with good news…” I remember leaping out of the shower with no towel on (feel free to imagine whatever you’d like there!) and jumping up and down. I knew what this meant! I took a moment…more like 15 min…to collect myself, then called my mom and a few friends…THEN called the editor back. After I got the official offer I thought I would be set for life! I told my friend “I’m going to be an author and I will never have to worry about money or holding down a crappy job again!” Okay, I was WRONG WRONG WRONG but that’s the way the story goes.

What was your first offer like? Editors––what’s it like from the other end? Let me and all of us know!

I have now rambled on for a VERY long time. It’s funny how “nothing to say” turns into a LOT to say.

(soon I will come up with my own amazing tagline! Or perhaps you can help me decide what it shall me. Yes, that will be grand)

Friday, August 04, 2006

news from the left coast

Greetings from LA! I'm on my lunch break right now, so thought I'd give a quick update. The conference officialy kicked off this morning, but I had fun at the Faculty dinner last night hanging out with Justina Chen Headley (author of NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH [AND A FEW WHITE LIES]), and then drinks later with an assortment of agents, authors, and illustrators including Mo Willems, who I had never met. We had fun trying to think of what one word we would say at the Faculty introductions the next morning--apparently it's tradition for each faculty member to say their name and then one word--either an inspirational word or a funny word, or really whatever you want. We thought of some greatly innapropriate words (vagina, anus, Eskimo, corn nuts...), but in the end none of them were used, of course. I loved the variety of words actually spoken. Some inspirational, "joy," "shine," "passion," some funny: "Kegger!" and the 4'11'' (and a half) Jodi Reamer standing next to 6'5'' David LaRochelle: David's word: "short story", Jodi's word,"tall tale", some random: "treadmill" and "chocolate," and some fitting: "the end" from Lisa Yee, finishing us off.

The two keynote speakers were both magnificent in their own way, although both started off by somewhat insulting LA, which I thought an odd way to start off a speech in front of a room full of mostly locals, but it seemed to work. Jacqueline Woodson was lyrical, engaging, and awe-inspiring, and Mo Willems sardonic and self-deprecating, funny, and eye-opening. A great start to what I hope will be a wildly successful conference! And now I must go prepare for my first workshop: How I work and what I publish at Little, Brown. I just found out I'm speaking in the huge main conference room--I wasn't expecting that, but all will go well, I hope--since I'm just talking about me me me, I think I'll pull it off.

Oh, and my word, of course, was "bloomabilities." At first I was not going to translate it, but after a test run beforehand with people asking, "what's that?" I went ahead and translated it as "possiblities." I think that's why people attend these conferences, for all the possibilities they hold.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

ranting on Amy

In Little Women, there is a scene where Amy, after seeing the great works of Europe, decides to give up her ambitions as an artist. Why, Laurie asks, “with so much energy and talent?”

“… because talent isn't genius, and no amount of energy can make it so,” Amy responds, “ I want to be great, or nothing. I won't be a common-place dauber, so I don't intend to try any more.”

Alcott writes this in an approving tone; as if she is applauding Amy for having the maturity to give up on her dreams. Even as a child this bothered me. What was she trying to say? If you can’t achieve greatness, don’t even bother? That your efforts are merely wasted energy in the vortex of creative geniuses? That only the immature, vain and spoiled cling to their disparate talents?

I suppose this rankles a bit deeper in me now that I’ve become an author on the mid-list. Mid-list authors realize how elusive greatness is. Like the sky, no matter how high you climb, it is always above you.

Everyday I am humbled by the amazing works around me; and time and time again I’ve been forced to accept that there are achievements beyond my capabilities. But, still I refuse to accept that striving for it is childish hubris. Maybe it is true "that talent is not genius and no amount of energy will make it so"; but what is more noble than attempting to fulfill your potential? Is it better to waste the gifts you are given because you doubt what you can accomplish? Perhaps, greatness is not the power to awe others, but the satisfaction of excelling within your own limitations.

At one point, Amy thinks of Laurie, “If that's the way he's going to grow up, I wish he'd stay a boy.” I feel the same way about her.