Monday, August 31, 2009


No time for a real post today--just got back last night from a lovely Blue Rose Girl meet-up at Libby's place in Mystic. Anna and I drove back to NY together so that Anna could meet with her publisher about Disappearing Desmond.

One thing I wanted to mention is that two weeks ago, I finally folded and joined Twitter. I had been resisting, not because I didn't think I would like it, and not because I didn't think it would be worth it, but rather because I knew I would probably become addicted to it, and did I really want to add another internet addiction to my life? But I joined anyway, and sure enough, I'm hooked. If you would like to follow me, I'm @planetalvina. Grace, Anna, and Libby are all on Twitter, too: @pacylin, @annaalter, @blowoutthemoon. Follow us!

I'll leave you with these links that started from a conversation on Twitter. Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein posted an open letter and a modest proposal to agents about the timing of submissions here. Agent Michael Bourret posted a response here. Cheryl responded again here, and Michael responded to her response to his response of her blog post here. You following? I have a few thoughts in the comments section of some of the posts. At any rate, it was an interesting discussion, and it was pretty cool to see everything unfold on Twitter, although I haven't fully gotten the hang of it. But I do see the value of it so far. Do any of you Twitter? (or should I say "tweet"?) Do you find it worthwhile?

Friday, August 28, 2009

First Grade: A Poem by Ron Koertge

I’m sorry that I’ve been AWOL (Absent Without Literature) so many Poetry Fridays this summer. And I’m a little late in posting today because I had an acupuncture appointment this morning. I've had an extremely busy summer. Anyway…I thought that the following poem by Ron Koertge would be a most appropriate one to post today—just as children are heading back to school.

First Grade
by Ron Koertge

Until then, every forest
had wolves in it, we thought
it would be fun to wear snowshoes
all the time, and we could talk to water.

You can read the rest of the poem here.

Over at Wild Rose Reader, I have a review of J. Patrick Lewis’s new poetry collection, Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Each Day of the School Year. It’s a great book to have on hand in an elementary or middle grade classroom.

At Political Verses, I have a poem that I wrote for Tricia’s Poetry Stretch this week: A Going Back to Parocial School Poem--Circa 1956—which I also posted at Wild Rose Reader this week.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Book Aunt this week.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

and her eyes were as big as breadrolls...

One of the things on my to-do list this summer was to create a new program for my school visits. I'd like to offer writing workshops for classrooms, so I could work with students one-on-one. I've been pleased that so many classrooms have used my books to teach similes so my thought was to offer a Simile Workshop (this is also upon advice of sage fellow author Barbara O'Connor who instructed me that workshops should be "specific" and "focused"). What do you think?

But before I start carving my workshop out in stone, I thought I'd throw it out to you! What are the top things you would want your students to learn from an author in a Simile Workshop, or any writing workshop for that matter? What are the things you definitely need to do/know when teaching a workshop like this? Tips welcomed!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Beyond the book: GEEKTASTIC edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci

Beyond the Book: GEEKTASTIC: Stories from the Nerd Herd edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci
Oh boy, there's so much beyond-the-book geeky goodness to share. First of all, here's the skinny on the book itself:
Haven't you heard? Geek is the new cool! Acclaimed authors Holly Black (Ironside) and Cecil Castellucci (Boy Proof) have united in geekdom to edit short stories from some of the best selling and most promising geeks in young adult literature: M.T. Anderson, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, John Green, Tracy Lynn, David Levithan, Kelly Link, Barry Lyga, Wendy Mass, Garth Nix, Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, Scott Westerfield, Lisa Yee, and Sara Zarr.

With illustrated interstitials from comic book artists Hope Larson and Bryan Lee O'Malley, Geektastic covers all things geeky, from Klingons and Jedi Knights to fan fiction, theater geeks, and cosplayers. Whether you're a former, current, or future geek, or if you just want to get in touch with your inner geek, Geektastic will help you get your geek on!
This is the book that I've acquired based on the least amount of material. I've acquired books based on partial manuscripts, but I have never acquired a book based on basically one paragraph:

Description: From Dungeon Masters to cosplaying Klingons, Science Fair winners to the Drama club stage crew and band geeks to comic book collectors searching for that pristine back issue, GEEKTASTIC explores the subculture of geekery, letting those who are often the supporting cast become the stars. The inner sanctum of geekdom will be penetrated and demystified. In this book all will be revealed, from the convention hook-ups and fanfiction rivalries to the civil wars between lovers of original Star Trek and those on the side of the next generation, and the unfortunate incidents when the bacchanalia of the chess club goes just a little too far. Hang on to your laptop and chug some Jolt cola, because once and for all, you'll see that there's very little difference between the most popular and the least.

GEEKTASTIC promises to make you cringe with recognition and embrace your inner geek.

But what the pitch also came with was the incredible team of Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci, and five fantastic contributors already attached: John Green, MT Anderson, Libba Bray, Scott Westerfeld, and Kelly Link. And what it came with was a fantastic idea that, to borrow the words of Holly and Cecil, sang to my geek heart, and sang to the geek hearts of my colleagues.

The project went to auction, and in my offer letter, I included some of the geek qualifications of my colleages (names deleted to protect, geeks):

“I saw Star Wars seven times when it first came out and even saw it twice on the same day. I also made a Star Wars scrapbook and had a huge crush on Mark Hamill (what a geek! Everyone knows Harrison Ford was the cute/smart/cool one.)” –former neck-gear-wearing geek

"I seem to always love TV shows about misfits and geeks or else I watch shows that only misfits and geeks would watch: 1970s Favorite TV Show: Mork and Mindy; 1980s Favorite TV Show: Square Pegs; 1990s Favorite TV Show: Daria; 2000s Favorite TV Show: Antiques Roadshow UK" --geeky watcher of the entire Lord of the Rings Director's Cut DVD collection (in one sitting)

“In high school I truly believed you had to do paperwork to join the apathy club.” –recovering Zappa addict geek

“I used to have crushes on anime characters, like Spike from Cowboy Bebop. I would download the Japanese theme songs from these anime series and pine for my unrequited, animated love.”–cartoon fetishist geek

"Sometimes I look at my friends and wonder what our superpowers would be if we were a crime-fighting squad." –resident fantasy/sci-fi loving geek

“I was a band geek - part of the colorguard to be exact. We'd march around the band at football games waving our flags in our skirts & boots thinking we were cooler than the cheerleaders - oh, definitely not...” –former wannabe cheerleader geek

"One Halloween I dressed up as the Ebola virus--I even included symptoms written in blood-like red pen on my back. The other kids thought I was dressed as puke." –former infectious diseases geek turned adult hypochondriac

"I recently went to a competitive cat show and took a class on puppet making." –former Moon Boot-wearing geek

“I feel like my geek qualifications are far too numerous to list, whether it was collecting comic books as a kid (and buying two copies--one to put away and never touch--and one to read) or collecting action figures in my 20s... Or it could be getting braces for the first time when I was 30 (alas, no headgear)! But perhaps my geekiest moment is the level of excitement I feel over the possibility of having this book to work on--lot's of very geeky marketing ideas come to mind that would help readers from coast to coast celebrate their inner geek!” –all-around geek

As for me? Well, I included my geek qualifications, too--in resume form, no less (click to enlarge): According to the agent, the incredible Barry Goldblatt, every other interested party also included their geek qualifications, but I'm proud to say that I was the only editor to include hers in resume form.

We got the book, and team Holly and Cecil were on board. I've never worked on a short story collection before, so this was a bit of a challenge. We came up with our dream list of contributors, and asked for rough topics from our existing contributors, and then chose contributors to fill in the blanks. We wanted to cover all kinds of geeks: book geeks, sci fi geeks, band geeks, comic book geeks, theater geeks, science geeks, and more. The final book as everything from a baton twirling geek (story by Lisa Yee), astronomy geeks (Wendy Mass), LARPers (Garth Nix), Quiz Bowl geeks (David Levithan), Buffy the Vampire Slayer geeks (Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith), Rocky Horror Picture Show fanatics (Libba Bray), and it's kicked off by a story by Holly and Cecil, about a Klingon and a Jedi hooking up at a ComicCon. Geek categories that didn't get a full story were covered in the comic interstitials between each story, illustrated by Hope Larson and Bryan Lee O'Malley, including this one:
There's truly something here for everyone. I've really loved how a story that one reviewer may not have cared for was the favorite of another reviewer. Sure, some of the stories speak mainly to hard-core geeks, and non-geeks might not get all the references. But that's kind of the point. This is a book for geeks, by geeks; but it's also a book for past geeks and future geeks.

Other challenges:
-contracts details were a headache--we had to negotiate with many different agents and coordinate payment for 19 different contributors.
-How would the editing process work? We decided that Holly and Cecil would edit the short stories until they were happy with them, and then pass them along to me.
-How to determine the order? At one ALA, Holly, Cecil, and I sat outside in a courtyard and each made our own order--it was like making a mix tape. Then we compared lists and worked out the order together.
-Keeping track of all the stories and all the deadlines was a juggling act for me and my assistant Connie. And yes, I may have once sent queries for the wrong story to the wrong contributor... whoops!
-The subtitle: we went through so many different possibilities, from "Stories of geeks by geeks," "Stories of geeks and the geeks observed," "Stories for your inner geek," "Stories of the Awesomely Uncool," "Stories from the Nerdishly Obsessed," and so on. In the end, it was assistant editor T.S. Ferguson who came up with the final subtitle, "Stories from the Nerd Herd." And yes, we debated the difference between geeks and nerds, but in the end, we felt that this was a book for geeks and nerds alike to relish in. This is a picture we took of Holly right after we settled on the subtitle:

Working on the package for this book was so much fun. The designer Ben Mautner had the genius idea of approaching Design collective eBoy for the cover avatars. Our brilliant marketing team came up with the idea of having eBoy make avatars of each contributor, which we also used throughout with each author's bios. (Read more about the cover design in the PW Cover of the Week article here.) We even made a wink at the whole "All Your Base are Belong to Us" thing on the back jacket flap ("All Your Stories are Belong to Us."). Viva the nerd herd!

The book has been greating great reviews, including from trade reviewers:
“Throughout, this all-inclusive love fest plays homage to the classics of D&D and Star Trek, but there’s plenty of room for fans of new faves such as the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica and Joss Whedon-verse as well…Geeks, old and new school, will appreciate this collection written by their own.”--Booklist

"Geektastic explores universal themes in original settings, and its talented authors bring transparent, infectious enthusiasm to what is obviously a cherished topic."--The Horn Book

Blogs: "Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci's wonderful anthology of nerdy fiction and comics, Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd was a great read: the short fiction ran the gamut from soul-searing angst to high comedy and all the territory in between....All told, Geektastic is a cliche-busting, smart, and funny book about celebrating your inner mutant. Highly recommended."

But my favorite review is from one of our teen Hip Scouts: "I’m not sure that I can describe how much I loved this book, but I’ll do my best. Imagine kittens sneezing adorable kitten sneezes whilst dancing on a rainbow. That’s how great Geektastic was."--Meg, 16
Read more about GEEKTASTIC here, and play a game featuring the avatars, the Great Geek Escape!

Read a recent interview with Cecil and Holly here. Check out pics from our Geektastic bowling party at BEA here. And check out the fantastic Lego avatars our resident Lego expert Jonathan Lopes created for ALA:

I LOVE this book. Love it.

So, how geektastic are you?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

looking back

Oh boy, looking back. I just answered a questionnaire for something. Two answers were about my speaking "career."

I’m making myself do school visits. I was petrified of public speaking. In college, if I was called on, my face would turn tomato colored, I’d sweat, and generally not participate. Somehow if you force yourself to do things you’re uncomfortable with, you can grow to like them or at least make them tolerable I don’t think I’ll ever love doing school visits (they’re draining!) but I don’t mind them anymore.

My first public talk was at a big B&N store. I’d never spoken to a group larger than 10 or so people and they were bussing in 200! I was told I needed to read my book and do a Q&A. Easy enough, I figured. Wrong! I was informed once I go tthere that I needed to talk for an hour! I was mortified. I had nothing prepared. Needless to say, the talk didn’t go well and I avoided public speaking for another 5 years after that.

When I was in school I didn't talk at all. Many people may have assumed I was stuck up or thought I was better than everyone else, but in fact, like most shy people, I thought everyone was better than me! That's why I didn't want to talk. I didn't want to be judged or made fun of. I slowly came out of my shell. Now people I know at work and my friends who didn't know me in college can't imagine that I was ever shy! For me that's hard to fathom because inside I will always be that shy insecure person. I think NYC sucks the shyness right out of you and like I said above, the more you make yourself do something the more comfortable with it you become.

After graduating I delivered pizzas for a year. I submitted my stories while working there. When it was slow I'd sit at one of the tables and take out my stamps and envelopes and put my "dear editor" letters in them. When I moved to NYC I hoped to get closer to my dreams. I worked at an art supply store and did more low wage monotony. I also got an apartment that I couldn't afford and my parents had to bail me out. At that point I swore that I wouldn't get published and I was destined not to do anything meaningful with my life. After all, how many "dear editor" letters could I send out? But after putting together my new and improved portfolio, complete with bubble wrap cover, something happened....

stay tuned

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

i'll look back too

With my fellow Blue Rose Girls reminiscing about their lives less ten years, I thought I should do the same. Unfortunately, I have no journals and a poor memory, so am a little hazy about exactly what I was doing. But I remember in 1999, I was poor, living off of ramen noodles, my first book "The Ugly Vegetables" was published, I was working at a bookstore and this happened:

A woman that I had had a cooking class with came into the bookstore. A friend that was also taking the class had told her about my book (I would never have told her myself) and she came in with the express purpose of getting it. Kind-hearted soul that she was, she was so excited that she never even noticed me at the back of the store.

"I took a cooking class with her!" the woman said proudly, " I just saw her last week!"
"Uh, great," my co-worker said, with a definite lack of enthusiasm, "I see her everyday."
Don't tell her I work here! I thought to myself, Don't tell her I'm here!

My co-worker, who was almost as socially awkward as myself, offered no more information and the woman just gave a puzzled smile as she bought the book. And I breathed a sigh of relief from behind the bookshelf I was hiding.

I look back at this memory with quite a bit of amusement. Somehow, I had felt if customers knew I worked in the bookstore the "author mystique" would be ruined. I'm not sure why. If I went into a bookstore now and was told the person behind the counter was the author, I'd be thrilled-- not disappointed. But I guess ten years ago, I had this ideal of what an author was supposed to be like and if I didn't fit the ideal then people would know that I was a fake!

The truth is before 1999, I had spent so much time concentrating on trying to get published, I had an extremely hazy idea of what came afterwards. I guess I thought after getting a book published, I'd be set. Transformed. I would be rich and witty and sophisticated...not eating instant noodles, awkward, wearing dirty sneakers and working as the lowest rung of a bookstore (I was an extremely bad bookseller).

So how have I changed since then? Not too much, but enough. I'm not rich, witty or sophisticated but I am less awkward (I hope!), I have clean sneakers and I don't work at a bookstore. I do sometimes still feel like I am faking the author thing but usually realize in time that there is no author ideal to pretend. But most of all, I am profoundly grateful that everything seems to be working out-- that the path I began ten years ago was allowed to continue and that I see it stretch out before me.

And I don't eat Ramen noodles anymore either. That stuff can kill you.

buy a T-shirt, help Taiwan

There's been a lot happening in the news, so you might not have heard about the devastating typhoon in Taiwan. Luckily, it seems that my relatives are okay, but I was happy when the Taiwanese American Organization approached me in their call of artists--asking Taiwanese-American artists to donate a percentage of their sales to typhoon relief efforts until August 31st.

So, for every item sold at my gracelin store, I will donate 50% of my profit to the Taiwanese American Organization's Typhoon Relief.

This is the perfect time to buy cute T-shirts, bibs and onesies. C'mon, don't you know a baby that needs a "My Little Ha Gow" onesie? And you'd look especially gorgeous in a flying dragon T-shirt--good karma is a great beautifier!

Buy away!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

More looking back

I was going to post the second half of my work-in-progress post from last week, but I was inspired by Alvina's post yesterday to look back at the beginning of my career and my very first real job (the rest of the Desmond painting post will go up next week). Her journal entry reminds me of just how wide-eyed I was too!

I started out in publishing about 12 years ago. My first "real job" out of college was at Houghton Mifflin Company, working as the assistant to the art director in the children's book department. I was just as excited as Alvina when I got that call. But I think made WAY more mistakes and looking back I'm surprised I ever got it in the first place.

The job I had actually applied for was a designer position in the children's book department. I'd seen the listing in my school job newsletter and thought it would be a great way to get some professional experience in the kid's book world, which I was desperate to be a part of. So while I'd never taken a graphic design class and had no idea what was involved in designing a book, I decided to apply. I didn't have a computer, so I took out some stationary I had made in a college class and hand wrote a letter to the art director that was not even remotely professional. I cringe to think back about it. I think I explained my love for children's books in some kind of rambling fashion. I remember running out of room at the bottom of the page.

By some kind of random stroke of luck I got a message on my answering machine a week or so later asking me to come in for an interview. Then I made my big mistake #2: I forgot what job I had applied for. I was sending out so many resumes at that point, I had sort of sent out the letter with great hopes then moved on to the next plan to support myself as an artist and forgot all details about it. So when I called back about the interview I actually asked what job they were calling about. Ha. Thank goodness for polite, kind people.

Anyways, I interviewed for the job, and it was instantly clear I'm sure that I knew little if nothing about book design. Also, I knew nothing about how to dress or prepare for a real interview. I went to art school. So when I was picking out my outfit I thought "if there are no holes or paint on my clothes, I will look professional!" I am sure that I did not look professional.

But somehow, the art director was merciful. He happened to need an assistant so he offered me that job instead. Maybe it was my passion for books, or maybe he just thought it would be entertaining to have an employee who had no clue how to interact in a business setting. On casual Fridays I remember wearing giant farmer's overalls cut off at the hem, a flannel shirt, worn out lace-up boots, and my hair in pigtail braids. I got *lots* of funny looks from the suits who had dressed down in khaki's, and quickly realized "farmer-wear" was not the same as business casual. I remember when I was introduced at the company wide sales conference I stood up and curtsied. I don't know why. I guess I thought it was more formal than just nodding my head.

But thank goodness for that job. If I hadn't gotten that peek into the inside of the publishing world, I don't think I ever would have mustered the courage to start submitting my illustrations and book dummies to publishing houses. Everyone I worked with there was gracious and patient and gave me great advice all along the way. And I got a taste of the kind of passion and dedication editors, designers, marketers, and productions teams have for books- which assured me that I had found my place, even if I stumbled a lot along the way.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

10 Years: a look back

Yesterday, August 16 was my ten-year anniversary of starting at Little, Brown and Company. (I mentioned this last week to a former coworker who said, "The 16th is a Sunday. That's kind of sad that they made you start work on a Sunday. Those slave drivers." Ha!)

To commemorate the day, I decided to look back in my journals from the time I interviewed and started work. They're a little embarrassing, but I couldn't resist sharing. (And reading back on the diaries made me wish I still kept a journal--that seemed to go by the wayside once I started blogging, even though how I blog and how I used to write in a diary are completely different.)

So, back in June of 1999, my internships at the Horn Book and Charlesbridge had come to an end, and my former supervisor at the Horn Book, Jen, told me about a job at Little, Brown.

My entry for June 28, 1999:
I sent off my cover letter and resume to Little, Brown. I really really want this job. It's exactly what I want.
I want it I want it I want it!
Please please please.

I will get this job.
I am confident.
I will get this job.
I will get this job.
If I say it enough, it will happen.
I believe!

And then on 7/1, after I had an interview scheduled, I practiced a few potential interview questions, including:

Why do you want this position?
I think this question is basically asking, Why do I want to work in children's book publishing?
On a basic level: I love children's books. I want to have a career doing something I love, creating something that I have a passion for. But not only do I just love children's books, but I think they are extremely important. Just like other forms of mass media, I feel that books have a potential to have a huge impact on children, both negative and positive. Books can open children up to endless possibilities, different points of view, but they can limit children as well. It's important to ensure the quality of the books that are published.

(Wow, I sound like I'm in a HS debate or in a beauty pageant or something--but I thought it was cute that I was practicing interview questions. I had totally forgotten that. I was so diligent!)

And here's the entry from 7/14/99, two days before my birthday. This was the best birthday gift ever:

"Hi Alvina, it's Megan XX of Little, Brown and Company. I'm calling around 3:20 on Tuesday. Sorry I couldn't talk to you more yesterday, but anyway, I have good news and I'm looking forward to talking to you..."

So goes the beginning of the answering machine message Megan left me...I couldn't believe it. My heart was beating so fast...I felt dizzy and dazed. I called back, and she offered me the job.




How quickly your life can change...

I was so depressed Monday and most of Tuesday because I was convinced I didn't get it.

My interview went well, but not fantastic. I was so excited, because it turns out Megan had edited several books featuring Asian Americans, because she felt that Asians weren't depicted enough in children's books.
Then on Thursday I went into the Horn Book to interview with Karen [the Horn Book was hiring a Marketing/Administrative Assistant], and Jen said "So I talked to Megan...she really liked you!" and I got all excited again.

Megan had said she'd either have a decision by the end of the week or call for second interviews at the end of the week.

I didn't hear anything on Friday. It was torture all weekend. I majorly ground my teeth.

Monday morning, I called.
"Hi Megan, this is Alvina Ling, I interviewed with you last week."
"Oh, yes, hi Alvina."
"I was wondering if you've come to any kind of decision yet."
"I...I...uh, I'll definitely know by the end of the day tomorrow."
"You'll have a decision by the end of the day tomorrow?"
"Yes. I'll definitely call you then."

I didn't take that as a good sign. I thought she had basically decided, and it wasn't me, but wasn't prepared to reject me on the spot.

On top of it all, about an hour later, standing in the kid's section with Jeannine [she was the children's section supervisor at B&N and had also interviewed for the Horn Book job], she received a phone call from the Horn Book offering her the job. [read more about this moment here.]
I was pretty depressed. She was so happy, and she felt so bad for being so happy, and why should she feel bad?


A real job.
I have my first real job.
I'm so excited.
And I don't even know what I'm going to get paid. [ha!]
And I don't care, even.

On 8/16:
My first day at Little, Brown was today.
It went pretty well.
I think I'll like it. I'm sorta scared, thought. There's so much to remember. So many thing to do and keep track of.

But I think I'll enjoy it all.

On 8/26:
So I've been at L,B for almost two weeks now. This was my first week solo (as in, without the former assistant Scott to show me what to do).
I feel like I'm getting the hang of things. I'm getting to know people there. They're cool.
I feel like I've been making some silly mistakes. No attention to detail. I should be more careful.
But I really think I'm going to do well there.
I guess it's really all up to me.
As my mom likes to say,
If it is to be, it's up to me.

Why, yes it is, Young Alvina, yes it is.

I'm glad to see that after ten years, I'm not completely jaded, although I'm certainly not as wide-eyed and innocent as I was back then. But as I say every year when I look back, I'm still in a job that a love, and I still feel that there's a great responsibility that comes with creating children's books. As I noted in my last post, I live my job a lot of the time, and believe me, I certainly DO care what I get paid nowadays! But all in all, I especially love that I am constantly learning and growing in my job, that each year brings new challenges with all the new books I edit. And this is what will keep me happy and satisfied for another ten, heck, another fifty years! Happy Anniversary to me!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

August Auction

Ooops, almost forgot! This painting is on sale NOW (auction ends tommorrow)!


view POP

I've finally put up a sneak peek of my new book POP.

Check it out here:

Please note that the text and design are not finalized. I changed a lot of the text and the paragraph spacing is not going to be included, among other things.



Wednesday, August 12, 2009

an author event without the author

Since my book has released in July, I have not done a lot of in-person appearances which is a big bad in terms of book promotion. I'm going to try to schedule some for the fall, but in meantime I am offering what I like to call the authorless author event.

What is this? Well, are you arranging your group's Moon Festival event? Want to have a memorable library event? In charge of the next Mother-Daughter Book Club? Or looking for something unique for your child's birthday party? Well, what I have is an event kit that allows you to have a fun event with my book without me being there!

Thanks to the brilliant minds at Curious City, this kit provides a download-able invite, posters and instructions for the journey-like game all based on WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON. Participants get to play the role of Minli, mirroring her quest to find the Old Man of the Moon. They are given a bag of tools and as they journey through the room are given 10 age-appropriate puzzles to solve. They solve the puzzles by using items in their tool bag or things they pick up along the way. In the end, kids are rewarded at the end with a mysterious gift. The meaning of that gift can only be revealed by reading the book!

This event kit was recently tested with a Families with Children from China group in Maine with an extremely enthusiastic response. The girls declared it, "Cool, very cool!" and "Really fun, really intriguing, I can't wait to read it now!" This was quite encouraging and hope it piques your interest in having a similar event! This event can be used with kids who have not read the book as well as those who have.

You can download the event kit HERE!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Disappearing Desmond painting in progress

Thank you for your input last week on the Desmond jacket- we did indeed pick image number two (the fence one)! Its good to know you all agree.

This week I am painting...

The sketch:

The underpainting:

Layering on the color:

Building up the color/texture of the sand and the waves:

Still working on the background, and adding color to the figures:

To be continued next week!

Monday, August 10, 2009

A day in the life of an editor

I'm a little bit stressed these days--it's been a busy summer that is just going to get busier. I've now had two consecutive weekends where I've had to come into work, and three weekdays where I've been in the office past 11 pm.* What have I been doing? Well, it's performance review time for one, so I've been busy preparing my assistant's review, and also my own. And as for everything else? I thought I'd share with you an excerpt from one of my talks from Chautauqua, "Thinking Like You Editor," in which I started by sharing a typical work day in the life of an editor:

So, here’s my typical work day: I get into the office around 9 AM every morning…okay, it’s usually more like 9:15. I turn on my computer and check any voicemail messages. While my computer is booting up I get my morning coffee and breakfast—I have a whole shelf and drawer full of cereal and oatmeal, soup, and snacks. An editor needs her energy!

I check email while I eat my breakfast—email is a daily struggle for me, with my inbox containing between 200 and 300 emails at any given moment. And now that we receive most of our submissions electronically, the memory of my inbox is filled up quickly unless I’m constantly sorting and filing and deleting my email. So really, any free minute I have, I’m sorting through emails trying to cut the number down. This is why sending unsolicited email queries and submissions is not a good idea. I’m looking for reasons to delete email.

Speaking of unsolicited email queries, I recently received an anonymous emailed query. It was addressed to me, an editor at Bloomsbury, and two agents that I know, one here in the U.S., the other in the UK. I'd like to first point out that we are all female, and the letter was addressed: “Dear Sir.” It was a rambling, badly-written letter, and one line referred to the novel as: “It is properly typed, and most of the spelling mistakes have been corrected.” I love how she or he specified most, not all. And I'll also point out that the only reason why I actually read some of the email is because one of the agents replied to the rest of us making fun of it. So...don't send unsolicited queries.

Okay, so really, that first half hour or so of breakfast and email is as typical as my days gets. From there, they vary wildly, which is part of the reason I love my job so much—every day is different, and it’s almost never boring!

So now I’ll continue telling you about my NOT-so-typical work days. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I have 9:30 am meetings—jacket committee on Tuesday and editorial meeting on Thursdays. On Mondays I have an update meeting with my assistant at 10 am where we go over a submissions list of what each of us have—trying to manage the submissions pile is also an ongoing battle that I’m always losing. We talk about what’s happening that week, if we have deadlines to meet, what we’re both working on. On every other Wednesday morning I have Production meeting where we go over each title with our design, copyediting, and production departments to make sure everything is going according to schedule.

If I’m not in a meeting, I’m mainly either responding to emails (including responding to authors and agents about submissions) or reviewing various materials in my inbox that are circulating, such as picture book mechanicals, proof, marketing materials, and so on.

At lunch, some days I’ll eat at my desk and work through lunch, and other days I’ll have lunch with an agent or an author or a colleague. I actually love going on to these lunches, because I’m a bit of a foodie, and also, I like meeting and getting to know the people I work with. But these expensed lunches are one of the perks of publishing.

In the afternoons, it’s back to meetings. I might meet with an illustrator who’s coming to show his or her portfolio. I might have a meeting with a designer to go over cover ideas, or to review sketches for a picture book. I might have a meeting with other editors to discuss a project one of us wants to acquire. I might have a conference call with an agent and/or an author. I might have an informational interview with someone trying to break into publishing. I might be meeting with a foreign publisher or a packager, or in a meeting with marketing and publicity to discuss plans for a book. Or, I may have our acquisitions meeting, which we call Pub Comm. I also have biweekly update meetings with MY boss, to go over my projects or give updates and/or ask questions. And my assistant and I have monthly meetings with our senior managing editor to make sure we’re on schedule and aware of deadlines.

Because of all these meetings, and of course the preparing for meetings, it’s rare that I get to either edit or read during the work day. I take things home to read or edit at night and on weekends. And some days I’ll take a work-at-home day and edit at my kitchen table, checking email every few hours. I work at home once or twice a month, or more often when our deadline for getting final manuscripts into copyediting is coming up. I’ll also work late to have some quiet time to edit. Some days I’ll leave between 5:30 and 7 if I have something going on after work, but if not I’ll work until 8 or 9. The latest I’ve ever stayed is probably 11 pm.

**end of first section of talk**

(Okay, make that 11:30 pm. I refuse to stay past midnight. It's just not right.)

At any rate, that's pretty much how my days go. In terms of the editing part of my job, here's a paragraph from later in the talk, when I'm talking about editing (I included much of my How I Edit post in my talk, which you can read here):

Another thing that I’d like authors to remember during this process, is that at the same time I’m editing your novel over and over, I’m also editing all of the other novels on that same list. I may have up to six novels on one list, and so it’s a real juggling act. Edit, send letter, get in revision, edit, send letter, get in revision of other novel, edit, send editorial notes, etc. etc. Final manuscripts are due copyediting in May for Spring books, and October for Fall books, so the two-three months or so leading up to those key months are especially hectic.

Right now, I'm midst of my juggling act for our Fall 2010 list. I'm on the second revision for some novels, and am waiting to get in the first draft for other novels, am waiting for revisions of still more. I sent an editorial letter for one novel a week and a half ago, was in the office today finishing up another one to send tomorrow, and then will dive into the editing of a third novel. And I already have a fourth novel lined up in the queue.

And while all this is going on, I feel a huge amount of guilt because I haven't been able to keep up with my submissions pile. Grrr. I know, I know. Enough whining...back to work!

*but don't worry--it hasn't been all work and no play!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

"Lead the way, Catwoman!"

This summer, I've been babysitting three days a week for someone almost three. Being a babysitter for someone this young is a different kind of relationship.

It's oddly intimate -- I don't think I've spent this much concentrated time with anyone in years (maybe ever? Eight hours a day, intensely engaged in conversation and play? When with him, I'm not doing anything else -- not trying to do errands, or write, or anything: my whole attention is on him). What makes it odder is that Jake is so young and so articulate -- and thinks so differently. I don't really know how he thinks, actually: what he understands and what he doesn't is surprising and mysterious, as is what catches his interest. I do know that I can't talk to someone this young as I do to someone my own age or even eight: there are whole huge concepts that don't exist; time, for example. "The weekend" and "tomorrow" are just words he uses without really getting.

When we read picture books, odd details capture his attention and I am quite sure that (intelligent as he is) he doesn't really connect the events in the story -- they're all isolated incidents or images, and he delights in (and repeats, verbatim) some phrases. He LOVES A Chair for My Mother. And what was the first thing he commented on, the first time we read it? The fire trucks. Does he know that a fire burned down their house? I don't think so -- but he loves the story. And every time we read it, he points out the firetrucks.

Objects, especially how things work, connect (a favorite word of his), fit together all fascinate him. So do:

*his toys and pretend play of all kinds ("Who will YOU be?" is a favorite phrase)
* food
*his own body
*rules ("Is THIS the way we do it?" or "Some rude, naughty person threw that trash on the street!" -- this condemnation is repeated whenever we see any)
* words (is this unusual, or not?).

He loves words: their sounds, the ring of a dramatic or emotionally charged phrase, bringing phrases or concepts from books we've read into his play ("Just like Humpty Dumpty!" he said excitedly when something fell). He's also a great mimic, and I can tell who he's been with on the days I haven't been there by the phrases that crop up in his play.

One day, bending over and cupping his hands, he offered me a pie (a pretend pie):
"I made it myself," he said proudly -- JUST like the kind of grandmother who bakes: gestures, intonation, proud expression, all perfect.

Other times, I'm a bit taken aback to hear my own voice. Yesterday we were in the library and as we were leaving,
he said, quite loudly:
"Lead the way, Catwoman!"
(We often play Batman and Catwoman, though in his world, the two are friends. I have used that phrase, though with Batman at the end, often.)

One effect of all this is that I'm writing picture books. I appreciate them in a way I never have before -- or maybe, in a way I don't remember. When I write for eight and nine year-olds, I just plug into myself at that age; this is harder, in a way. But being around Jake has shown me the appeal of an orderly world, with a logic and structure that's quite different from a story for someone older.....though since they will have to read it over and over, I think it's fine to put in some things that will appeal to parents, too. Now that I have read many books until *I* know them by heart, I get that one, too.

(Though thank you, Alyssa, for reminding me of the point when we talked about my ms.!)

In case anyone is interested, these are the books he asks for over and over:
MY FIRST MOTHER GOOSE, Iona Opie and Rosemary Wells.
A Chair for My Mother
Chikka Chikka Boom Boom!
and, more recently, not sure if this will last, one of those books about Charlie and Lola: I am Too Absolutely Small to Go to School (we read the one about not eating things in the library and he chose the school one to take home)

Friday, August 07, 2009

Writer's Block & A Poem about Poetry

I’ve had a bit of writer’s block in the last few months. In recent days, I have been struggling to finish a poem that I began writing over a month ago. (I was asked to write the poem for a special person—and a special occasion. I wanted the poem’s focus to be about reading, writing, or sharing poetry.) An idea for a poem popped into my head almost immediately. I sat down and began typing.

That poem about poetry has five stanzas—each stanza is a quatrain with a rhyme scheme of ABCB. Most of the poem flowed fairly easily—but I just haven’t been able to get the fourth stanza right…no matter how much I rework it. And the deadline for submitting the poem is at hand. I got so frustrated when I was rewriting the fourth stanza for the hundredth time yesterday that I decided to give up on it and begin work on another poem. The second poem seems to be a more natural expression of my feelings. It’s written in free verse—and, I think, captures the passion I have for poetry in a more natural. I’m hoping I can polish the poem to my satisfaction by Saturday.

At my blog Political Verses, I have a link to the website of The Nation. I clicked on the link before I went to bed last night/early this morning to read some news. That’s when I found Poems about Poems: Why Not?, an article written by Katha Pollitt. Pollitt has published a number of poetry collections. In her article, she includes a poem by Grace Paley entitled The Poet’s Occasional Alternative. It was the perfect poem for me to read at the time. I thought I’d post if today. (I’m sorry I can’t space the words exactly the way Paley did.)

From the Poet’s Occasional Alternative
by Grace Paley

I was going to write a poem

I made a pie instead it took

about the same amount of time

of course the pie was a final

draft a poem would have had some

distance to go days and weeks and

much crumpled paper

You can read the rest of the poem here.

At Wild Rose Reader, I have an original poem entitled Rain Barrel.

My poetic contribution at Political Verses this week is Bah Humbug Exercise: A Poem That Could Have Written by Rush Limbaugh.

Tricia has the Poetry Friday Roundup at the Miss Rumphius Effect.

Thursday, August 06, 2009


I admit -- I've been a bad poster... because I haven't been posting. But this is because I've been busy! Mostly I've been busy throwing up, though I have gotten some work done too. My book - POP - is done... or done for now. What a relief! I'll post some pictures in a bit.


My parents' house is really wonderful in the summer and it's a great escape:

I did make myself kind of sick trying to do a 3 mile run near their house. Half of it was entirely UP HILL and IN THE HEAT. I really felt ill when I was done. Oh well. I was warned.

Some other summer things I want to get done is finish painting my bedroom striped:

And also I need to get rid of the broken stuff and buy new stuff now that I finally have money. Horray! Below is my beloved but very broken toaster oven. In my college days I used to decorate my appliances, as you can see:

And lastly, it's summer in the city. I need to try to see the beauty even when it's stinky and really hot.

A new cover for LIAR!

Bloomsbury has just announced that they will be designing a new cover/jacket for Justine Larbalestier's LIAR, which I discussed last week. From Publisher's Weekly:

“In response to this concern, and in support of the author’s vision for the novel, Bloomsbury has decided to re-jacket the hardcover edition with a new look in time for its publication in October. It is our hope that the important discussions about race and its representation in teen literature continue. As the publisher of Liar, we also hope that nothing further distracts from the quality of the author’s nuanced and accomplished story, and that a new cover will allow this novel’s many advocates to celebrate its U.S. publication without reservation.”

I think this is the right decision, so good for them, and good for everyone pushing for them to do the right thing. I'll be so curious to see what the new cover looks like.

Update: looks like they have a new cover image up on PW now! Wow!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

so, where do I go from here?

Daruma Doll, a symbol of the mantra:"Fall down seven, Get up eight"

My novel is published and launched. If you remember, it's the book I told myself would have no excuses; that for this book I would refuse to rush and sacrifice quality, this book would epitomize the best I could possibly do. I tried to continue the "pulling out all the stops" attitude with promotion and marketing, as well.

Which is an interesting pursuit. I figured out early on that the only way I could do promotion without feeling extremely uncomfortable was to think of it as a party. Celebrations in-person or online, I tried to make myself the warm and welcoming hostess of my book birthday parties; trying to make sure everyone had a good time.

Did it work? Who knows? But what I've realized is that this way is more embarrassing. If the book flops it is just that much more egg on my face. Somehow, when you disdain promotion and your book doesn't sell, it is a comforting excuse. You can always attribute poor sales to a lack of marketing. But if my book doesn't sell after all the stuff I am doing, well, I could have to face that the book might just not be that good. And from that crushing, heartbreaking revelation where would I go?

I guess I go where we all do. To the next book and to do it all over again.

This is how it works
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else's heart
Pumping someone else's blood
And walking arm in arm
You hope it don't get harmed
But even if it does
You'll just do it all again

-On the Radio by Regina Spektor

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Disappearing Desmond jacket

With the book dummy nearly finished, I've begun working on the jacket for Disappearing Desmond. Here are some of the sketches I sent my editor and designer. Which is your favorite? Which one do you think we picked?

PS This is a book about a shy kid who hides and comes up with creative ways to disappear into the background because he is afraid of being noticed.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Beyond the Book: Fade to Blue by Sean Beaudoin

Beyond the Book: Fade to Blue by Sean Beaudoin*

Looking back, I was disappointed to discover that I had never written a post dedicated to Sean Beaudoin's debut novel, Going Nowhere Faster, which came out in April 2007. Going Nowhere Faster was a novel about an unmotivated genius, Stan, who has just graduated from high school and is working a dead-end job at a video store. I called it Good Will Hunting meets Clerks. It was hilarious, with a sharp voice and memorable characters, and from the moment I read the proposal, I knew that Sean was a special writer, someone with a bright future.

His second book, Fade to Blue, does not disappoint. In fact, in my mind it changed Sean from "just" a contemporary, humorous, smart writer, to a writer where there are no limits. A writer who can do anything, a writer who will keep surprising.

Fade to Blue
is what I call Donnie Darko meets the Matrix. Or maybe it's Charlie Kaufman meets I Am the Cheese. Or perhaps it's Feed meets Be More Chill. However you describe it, this book is crazy. It's crazy good.

Speaking of crazy, the book starts out from the point of view of Sophie, a goth girl who thinks she just might be going crazy. Her father disappeared mysteriously almost a year earlier, on her 17th birthday. And now her 18th birthday is approaching, and she's having these crazy dreams. And did I mention that there's a weird Popsicle Truck stalking her?

Kenny Fade is the opposite of Sophie. He's the big man on campus, basketball star who has everything. But it's not all perfect with him, either, because, like Sophie, he thinks he may be going crazy.

The book alternates chapters between Sophie and Kenny, with some chapters from Sophie's brother O.S. and some other mysterious figures thrown in. It's a mind trip, and above all, it'll take you on a ride. It's innovative, funny, smart, and a little bit scary and sad, too. And it will make you think.

In terms of how this book came to be, this was not one of those books that came to me almost done. This one needed work. Because there were so many twists and turns, and because the mystery element was crucial to the overall success of this book, I needed help--I needed that invaluable "fresh read" several times throughout the revision process. In addition to my assistant, I had to recruit the help of three other editors along the way to give me that fresh read. This was truly a group effort, and a fun one at that. The revision process was as crazy a ride as the book is.

The book's title was also a challenge. The proposal came in called Sour White, which never felt right to me or the acquisitions committee. In the book, Sour White is the name of a soda that plays a key role in the plot. But most of the people we polled, and for some reason mostly women, had a negative reaction to the name. So, the author came up with a long list of other possibilities, including: Scatterblue, Standing Without Permission, Black Kite Blue, Splickity Lit, Sky Blue, Code Blue, Neon Blue Panic, and more. (BTW, Sophie's last name is "Blue")

What do you think? Do any of these appeal more than Fade to Blue? Maybe one will work as the title to a future book.

In terms of the design of this book, a lot came from the idea of having a comic book artist illustrate the cover, as a comic book plays an important part in the plot. But Sean took it a step further and asked if it would be possible to include an actual comic in the book. Now, when he asked this, I think my first thought was "Cool," and I think my second thought was, "How the heck do we do that?" Luckily, the amazing designer, Kirk Benshoff, who at the time had started to work mainly with our graphic novel imprint, Yen Press, was up for the task of figuring this out with me. We started by coming up with a list of possible artists. I believe it was Sean's agent who suggested Wilfred Santiago, who ended up being the artist we chose. And from there, it was working out the budget for the interior comic, having Sean write the text and description, and then Wilfred worked his magic.

Here are some shots of the 12-page interior comic. Does this mean that I can now say that I've edited a comic book?

And finally, check out this fantastic blogger review. Perhaps we'll put a blurb from it on the paperback edition: "This book is nine different level[s] of F*CKING AWESOME!"

I concur.

Sean is hard at work on his third YA novel, tentatively titled You Killed Wesley Payne which is due to pub next Fall. It's a slick, noir-ish mystery set in a high school where the cliques are battling for power. So: What do you think of that title?

*pronounced something like "bo-DWAH"