Friday, August 29, 2008

On a train recently I was relieved to see this brother and sister lounging and reading, with a few brief intervals to talk to each other, the whole way to CT --

maybe especially because of all the other kids I'd seen playing games, maybe because of WHAT they were reading. He was reading

and she was reading

When I was a child in the early 1960s, I loved MAD -- so did my friends. We found it hilarious; it articulated how we thought and felt about the world around us; and it made us feel smart -- I'm not sure how it did that. But the last time -- quite a few years ago, maybe it's gotten funny again -- I bought MAD it didn't even make me smile. IT had changed, not me.

I know because I have a lot of those old MADs and they still make me laugh out loud.  I don't reread them too often  -- I don't want them to lose their power. There aren't that many books that can make me laugh aloud.

Can anyone recommend ANY? I can think of:
*David Sedaris, especially when he's reading his own work aloud
*English novels like LUCIA and COLD COMFORT FARM (and even funnier, a short story "Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm, before the civilizing influence of Flora Post") and LUCKY JIM. Maybe because I lived there as a kid, I find their brand of silliness really funny.
*Josephine Tey usually has some amusing passages -- that sheep farmer quote here awhile ago came from her -- and there's a PG Wodehouse story called GOOD-BYE TO ALL CATS I find hilarious, in that high-spirited silly English way
* Parts of MATILDA are funny, too, and HARRIET THE SPY in places. 

But what else? There must be more!  When was the last time you laughed out loud while you were reading and what made you do it?


Due to the vocalized complaints about the nude by Jenny Saville, I have removed the said "offensive" painting. Again, I only did this because I share this blog with others. If it were solely my blog rest assured I would not cower to individuals who are easily offended by wonderful works of art. It's also sad that usually the loudest vocally are usually in the minority... and the minority usually gets its way, but that's the way life goes, eh?

I do recommend checking out Saville's paintings. The one I posted was the least grotesque--she is much like Lucian Freud, as in she doesn't flatter the human form. But that's why I love her work--it's intriguing.

Again, as I'd said below, I grew up around art. There were plenty of books in my parents' house with nudes in them. Even WORSE my dad often painted my mom nude and then I had to see her big butt hanging on the living room wall! There's nothing wrong with the human body--we ALL have one. Some may wish that we didn't have certain features, but none the less, it's all there, whether you like it or not. If children were exposed to the human form at an early age then they wouldn't equate it with sex. It's the same thing as letting kids have sips of wine when they're younger--then they don't go hog wild when they turn 21.

I will also post the names of the artists when I get the chance... and websites if I can find them.

I will also clarify that I posted the paintings because that's what I was looking at to get my creative juices flowing. There are a few projects that I really have to get going on and sometimes looking at art helps.

For example: for my book on bubble gum I was toying with different looks for the book--I usually pick an artist as inspiration. For this book I’ve decided on Wayne Thiebaud. Here are a few of his paintings.

So stay tuned. A book on bubble gum is coming!

Your ever controversial BRG member,

POETRY FRIDAY: Three Songs at the End of Summer

The summer of 2008 has been an especially gray, damp, and rainy one in my area of New England. Fortunately, my husband and I planned our Maine vacation for the best weather week of the season. Now that the end of summer is upon us, we’re having glorious sunny, dry days with temperatures in the seventies and low eighties--perfectly lovely weather that doesn’t usually arrive until September.

For Poetry Friday this week, I selected poems by one of my favorite adult poets, the late Jane Kenyon.

Three Songs at the End of Summer
by Jane Kenyon

A second crop of hay lies cut
and turned. Five gleaming crows
search and peck between the rows.
They make a low, companionable squawk,
and like midwives and undertakers
possess a weird authority.

Crickets leap from the stubble,
parting before me like the Red Sea.
The garden sprawls and spoils.

Across the lake the campers have learned
to water ski. They have, or they haven’t.
Sounds of the instructor’s megaphone
suffuse the hazy air. “Relax! Relax!”

You can read the rest of the poems here.

At Wild Rose Reader, I have a review of Hamsters, Shells, and Spelling Bees: School Poems and links to other poems perfect for sharing with elementary students at the beginning of the school year.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Charlotte’s Library.

Happy Labor Day weekend!!!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


why should today be any different from yesterday?
the days i circled the sun
instead of you
was a revolution
without a victory

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Paring down

As some of you know I've recently adopted two stray kittens, who day by day are becoming more tame and friendly (here they are sleeping on "the" desk chair, no longer "my" desk chair). I am in awe of every step they take- yesterday they actually came to greet me when I got home, instead of running under the couch to hide! It gave me chills.

However, I live in a loft, that is one big room with no walls or doors. My studio is in this space also and this is proving a bit of a challenge. Paint brushes are getting chewed on, containers of pens knocked onto the floor and pieces of paper ripped into little pieces. Basically nothing can be left in their reach (which increases every day). Its like having a toddler. Or a flying puppy.

This is forcing me to get minimal and pare down. Normally I would say that key to my creative process is to have lots of things around me for inspiration. I have bulletin boards full of color combinations I like, patterns and pictures. When I make a painting I surround myself with sketches and reference material.

But lately I've had to put all that stuff away so it doesn't get chewed on and I'm actually kind of enjoying it. Something about having a nice clean surface to work on without any clutter is inspiring in itself, a completely blank slate. Maybe having all the things on my desk I thought I needed to get started was just an excuse. We tell ourselves a lot of things about what we need to be creative- quiet or noise or alone time or a certain set of paint brushes. But lately I've been thinking that is all a bunch of crap. Maybe it helps to set the stage with that stuff, or maybe we artists are just creatures of habit.

Either way this is proving a good experiment. Working in a space without all the stuff that reminds me of the things I identify with has been a nice change of pace. Maybe I will transition from reformed pack rat to actual neat freak? Or maybe I'll just have to do another cat book!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Another year goes by...

Warning: this is another “I love my job” post.

I just realized that I missed noting my nine-year anniversary as a children's book editor. I started as an editorial assistant back on August 16th, 1999, and have stayed at the same company for my whole career thus far. It's been quite a run! I honored the anniversary last year in this post, and I'm happy to say that I still feel the same way:
I can't say I've loved every second of it, but I can say that I'm extremely happy with where I am, am constantly challenged and inspired, and I still absolutely love my job.
Not bad, eh? I don't foresee changing my mind about my career in the near (or far) future. It's just such a rewarding, challenging, and fun job. I’ve been doing a bunch of informational interviews lately, and when asked if I like my job, I can’t help breaking out in a smile and saying, “I love it.” Do I recommend getting into children’s book publishing? Absolutely. As long as you can stomach being an assistant for 2-5 years, and pinching pennies for 6+ years, it's completely worth it.

One thing I love is that just when I think I've figured something out, things don’t go quite as planned. For example, at the beginning of the year, when thinking about my work goals, I decided that I wanted to focus on acquiring picture books and middle grade novels as opposed to young adult. But guess what, my first three acquisitions were all young adult novels. I guess it’s kinda like dating—sometimes the best way to find what you’re looking for is to stop looking.

For the last two or three years, my work anniversary has coincided with our company’s performance review, so it’s been a great time for me to look back on the previous year, and look forward to what I want to accomplish in the upcoming year. I'm at a point in my career when the differences from year-to-year aren't as obvious as they were in the earlier stages. My job responsibilities haven't changed much in the last four years or so. What changes are some of the people I work with, the books I edit and the challenges that each different project brings, the way I approach each new milestone--how many rounds the editing process takes, how I position the jacket copy, how I present the book at our Focus meeting and librarian previews, which conferences I attend, and what new books I acquire. Each year is special because of the books.

I think the main challenges of this past year have involved book production, from learning the perfect way to reproduce Ed Young's art, and finding the right uncoated paper for the upcoming Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein, to figuring out how to publish Grace’s next novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon in full color. Wabi Sabi looks absolutely beautiful, and I hope the production and design of Grace's novel will be as gorgeous as her text and art when it comes out next Spring.

Who knows what challenges and surprises this next year will bring? We'll know next August when I celebrate my ten-year anniversary!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Question of the week: How are you procrastinating?

Grace: I keep going to secondhand stores and looking for old dry good containers to enlarge my homonym garden. These are my most recent finds:

Anna: Searching for the perfect present for my Uncle's 70th birthday tomorrow. So far I have The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a trashy mystery novel, and some Deadwood DVDs... just need one more thing to top it off...

Alvina: Watching the Olympics, of course! I wrote a little more about my obsession on my personal blog here.

Libby: Setting up a bowl for REAL goldfish, who I got thanks to______ 's comment on this blog. Goldfish are more interesting than I would have thought -- did you know that their color comes from exposure to the sun? At the pet store they had some black ones and some white ones, too.

I chose one small one (Swift) and one larger one (Sure) -- the names come from a ship, The Swiftsure, commanded by my heroine's father.

Here they are on their way home from the pet store, looking kind of freaked out:

And here they are at home:

Anya upstairs (a graduate student who specializes in fish) told me that goldfish can only remember things for 3 seconds, but I don't think this can be right, because at first they were fascinated by the fake fish at the bottom of the tank (not the little red ones, the big orange one with a tail). Now they ignore it. They liked the starfish, too, but now they ignore that. I will move the tank around and add new shells often so they don't get bored; and if they seem bored, or start getting whiter, I'll bring them back to the big tank at the pet store.

PS Everyone will, I hope, notice an improvement in my photography soon when I start taking pictures with my new camera instead of my cell phone. But I know from experience that setting up any new device takes more time than I want to put into that right now. The fish were enough procrastination for today!

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Yesterday on Marketplace they described a Washington lobbyist's wife who has a "gift-wrapping room" in her house. Not only does she have a room just for that, she orders sheets of uncut money from the Treasury and uses them as wrapping paper. I won't go on and on about how emblematic of this administration that story seems -- but I can't get it out of my mind.

Fay Weldon once wrote -- after describing the very different meals two of her characters were enjoying (one was mega-rich and the other, due to plot twists, was in a state home for abandoned kids):
"If there is any real wickedness in the world, it is that the haves have so much and the have-nots have so little."

For awhile, the history of this county seemed to be about reducing the gap; but in my lifetime, it's grown. A lot.

I'm writing this here to get it out of my system - these kinds of thoughts do NOT help in writing a novel, even one that takes place (as my current novel does) in the early 1800s in England. Or maybe they do help -- maybe these feelings (like the ones in Anna's yoga training that put more energy into teaching) can fuel creating a world that's very different. A fictional world, that is.

Friday, August 22, 2008

unique to RI

I added another page of interest to my website -- unique phrases/foods to RI.

Here's a sample:

If there are any RIers out there who know of other ones, let me know!

p.s - I know some of the terms are found elsewhere in the US

enchanted forest

Ah, yet another photo series. When I was a kid I went to the enchanted forest--a play land with the lady in the shoe, alice in wonderland, etc. It closed down because of lack of funds. Lo and behold, it's right down the street from my parents' house! And I love abandoned places. Here are a few photos:

The series will be up soon. One might wonder why I'm doing this instead of book work. Well, it's the same thing as me being super sick and in pain and working out like crazy--it's a needed distraction for my over busy mind.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


My life sucks. I wasted ALL day trying to go to two neurologists today. One kept me waiting for 1 hr and 45 min. Now my pupils are dilated and I can't do anything because of the bright lights. Plus my book projects are not working out. Nothing is working. It's times like these when I want to run away and join the circus... or in more realistically, the police department. I'm really tempted.

Anyway, watch this cool video. It has nothing to do with books so shoot me. But you'll all be glad that it has nothing to do with chairs having sex either.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


As the WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON deadline closes in, I seem unable to escape my bad habits. I've tried to get on the bike every couple of days and I've eaten so many blueberries (instead of candied ginger) that my blood must be blue hued. But the other day, maybe because I have been painting so many moon scenes I began to crave half-moon cookies:

These are the cookies that I ate in my childhood, bought at the local bakery. Every time my sisters and I return to our childhood home we always indulge in these baked treats, much to the chagrin of our significant others. Full of Crisco and corn syrup, they don't rank high on a gourmet's palate--however mixed with nostalgia, they are delectable.

And they are especially mouth-watering in contemplation. Throughout my entire painting of this picture, I kept thinking about them. You can have one after you finish this, I told myself.

But it was not meant to be. Half-moon cookies are surprisingly difficult to find in my adult locale. Instead, I satisfied myself with a cannoli (which was very good) and the mental promise that once I finish all the paintings I would bake my own half moon cookies. Hey, once I'm finished, you can all have one!

my weekend at the fair

I went to my parents' house for a little vacation (and to cat sit). I had some friends visit - including Libby - and went canoeing, explored an abandoned amusement park (photos to come), and went to the fair. My garbage book is dangerously close to not making the deadline, but if I don't make it happen I won't have a book out for 2009! Yikes for many reasons, one including no income for the tax year. One might ask what I"m doing taking a vacation, but I have NOTHING TO DO! I"m sitting and waiting to hear back. Until I get the green light to paint I have nothing to do. It sucks being in this position but I'm trying to make the best of it.

Anyhow, it took me all day to put up these photos. Please take a look and enjoy!

For the series go to

Monday, August 18, 2008

Applying yoga to public speaking

As some of you know I've just returned from a 24 day yoga training with Ana Forrest, a master yoga teacher. One of the reasons I wanted to study with her in particular was that I wanted to learn about teaching and public speaking from an expert. I've been doing both for some time and come to enjoy these roles in many ways, but I thought it was time for some "official training".

I ended up learning a lot of really helpful tools for developing an authentic speaking voice (pardon the new-agey lingo). This is crucial to yoga teaching (though I don't plan to become a teacher), but also really any profession where you have to talk about what you do. I got constant voice coaching and did a lot of exercises to refine my skills and get connected to what I want to say when I'm standing in front of a room full of people.

Here are some of the things I learned:

-Speak from full. Before you speak, inhale deeply. Often we speak after we've exhaled, and your voice doesn't have as much power that way. This may seem like a simple thing, but try to pay attention to it next time you're talking, its actually really hard to keep track of!

-Speak louder than you think you have to.

-Stay connected to whatever emotions you're having while you're talking. Again, seems simple. But when you are nervous for instance, you try to distance yourself from what you're feeling. Instead use the nervous energy to feed what you're saying.

-Rehearse a speech you have to give in different voices (ie angry voice, sad voice, happy/hyper voice), then go back to your normal speaking voice. This will help loosen you up and give your speaking better inflection.

-Stay away from using repeat words of any kind, including "um", "like", "we're gonna", that type of thing.

Speaking of which, I'm headed to some libraries today to give a couple talks, details here...

Some thoughts on Book Design

I was thinking recently about how hard it must be to be a book designer. I admire what they do so much, their thought and creativity that goes into the design of each book. I think I'm especially in awe of how covers of novels come to be--with pictures books, they already have an artist and images to work with and inspire them, but for novels they have to conjure up a design from thin air, sometimes. But what I think must be the hardest thing to deal with is knowing that ultimately their design is not "their own"--that they have to answer to so many different opinions. The editor has to be happy, the author has to be happy (even thought most authors don't officially have consultation or approval of the cover, of course we want them to be happy!), and in most cases, an entire jacket committee consisting of marketing, sales, design, and various editorial sorts have to be happy. And it doesn't stop there--we want the book buyers to also love the cover, and of course you're also trying to make the cover appealing to both the adult buyers (booksellers, librarians, teachers) and the kids, too.

And sure, as an editor, I sometimes think about all of these people while editing a text, too, but I also know that ultimately, the book truly belongs to the author, and although I may ask them to change something, they have every right to say no. When I bring a book to editorial meeting and then on to our acquisitions committee, sometimes (often) different people have different opinions. One person might hate a part of the book that was someone else's favorite part. Some people might dislike a plot twist that others think make the book special. It goes on and on. And so I've come to realize that when it comes time for me to edit the manuscript and work with the author on making the book better, I have to decide in my own heart and mind what I feel the book needs, regardless of whose feedback it goes against. Because I know that in the end, if the author can make it work (and of course they can!), the readers will accept it.

Designers don't have that freedom. They have to answer to all the people I've mentioned above. That's their job. And I know that in the past I've struggled sometimes with trying to balance the designer's vision with that of the author's--it's a shame when they aren't aligned. Personally, I trust our designers and their vision, and love working with them on cover designs. In some cases, I have an idea of what I want the cover to look like, but oftentimes I'll wait and see what the designer comes up with first so as not to taint their creativity. Sometimes I just have a feeling I want to convey. "The cover should be joyful, full of color and light" or "it should be thoughtful and quiet, have a very literary feel" or "I want to make sure that the cover has crossover adult appeal" and so on. And the designer takes this all in and works their magic. And although it might take a few takes, the designer never lets me down. 

There have been times where I'm discussing a novel with the designer and telling them, honestly, that I have no idea what I envision for the cover. One example is for the novel Firegirl by Tony Abbott, which is about what happens when a new girl joins a 7th-grade class. The new girl is a victim of severe burns on her face and body, and because of her appearance, some of the class fear her. The only image that came to mind when thinking about the cover, which I knew would not be appropriate, was to show a photograph of a girl being burned. And so I put it completely in the designer's hands. She came back with an idea I found absolutely perfect. This is one of my favorite covers for a book I've edited. What do you think?
Another thing difficult about book design is that everyone has an opinion about covers. It's inevitable. We judge a book by its cover, after all! And in the case of picture books (as many of my fellow BRGs know) and some novels, you're working with an illustrator or author who is an artist, and sometimes also a designer themselves, and then the designer has to adjust how they work even more, and weigh everything with their own expertise, and their own knowledge about what works and what doesn't in regards to the market and our own jacket committee. It's not an easy task. I feel lucky to work with such talented designers. They rock! Here's a sampling of some recent and upcoming novel covers our designers have done that I especially love:

In somewhat related news, I'll be speaking at the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI conference in October and have been asked to talk about the process of how illustrators are chosen. I'll no doubt be polling our talented design team for some feedback and anecdotes, and I hope to be able to share more posts about book design in the future.

Here are a few blogs dealing with book design:

Mishaps and Adventures is the blog of an art director
Jacket Whys discusses children's and YA book covers
The Book Design Review discusses the cover design of adult books

What are some of your favorite book covers?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What's on your desk?

GRACE: Working like crazy on WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON illustrations. I always have about 20 references for one painting--my desk is full of reference and the actual painting just takes a fraction of the desk! For this painting I looked at Chinese roof tiles for designing the circle motifs of the painting border.

MEGHAN: Okay, this isn't my desk... but I just cleaned off my desk so there's nothing on it. This is the new coffee table I made (w/the help of my dad). On it is a new book of paintings I got Forever and Ever, by Shawn Barber - and a half spider, half human sculpture I ordered online from a cool artist who makes crazy things.  This is her website: - she's part of the pop surrealism movement... and I'm really into pop surrealism!

ANNA: I've just returned from a month long yoga retreat, so the only thing on my desk is this persistent feline.