Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Pet Project

This year, me and the BRG are not doing Robert's Snow . While it's a relief not running a fundraiser, the cause is still something close to our hearts.

Which is why Anna and I have joined THE PET PROJECT: PICTURE BOOK ART FROM THE HEART. It's an illustration show and charitable online auction with a unique bent. Each of the 29 illustrators involved have chosen their favorite charity or 'pet project' for their illustration's bidding to benefit. It's kind of like Robert's Snow, but not on snowflakes and only 29 artists who chose their own charity.

So we, of course, have chosen the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute as our charity. My piece is an original painting that I've posted above. Make it go for big bucks!

The auction opens on eBay on 10/5/06. If you would like to be alerted when the auction opens, enter your email address at The Pet Project Website:

Anna and I are going to be at the exhibit opening on Oct. 5th, so say hello if you are in the area. But regardless of where you're located, bid away!

If you think about it, I bet you know someone close you who has had cancer or has been affected by it and here's a chance to help. I don't want to go on and on about it, as I've said it already here during the Robert's Snow event, so suffice to say bidding for our art is for a GREAT cause.

Opening: Thursday, October 5, 2006 from 6:00-8:00 PM
Zero Station 222 Anderson Street, Portland, Maine
The Pet Project Website:

Friday, September 29, 2006

beer drinking and book talk

I'm so glad I went to the bar outing last night! I'd read the invite on (fun to see the infamous blogger herself in the flesh!). I’d dragged a few of my publishing friends with me (who had no idea what it was all about but I think they’re also glad they went) and was surprised to see my agent in attendance. I love it when I bump into people I'm not expecting (thanks for dinner, Rebecca!) The outing was great fun! I love talking about publishing and books and it's exciting when there is a group of others who like to do the same thing. I hope another get together can happen soon and maybe some other blue rose blogging ladies can come with!


How I edit

People will think I'm a horrible writer. I'll never write another book again. I don't know what I'm doing. What if I'm wrong?

Sound familiar? Do you have these thoughts, these doubts? Well, replace "People" with "The author," replace "write" with "edit" and you have the doubts that go through my head every time I edit a manuscript and write an editorial letter. I get the same anxiety when I send off an editorial letter as authors get when they send off their manuscript to an editor. Or artists when they send sketches or final art. (Okay, well, maybe not "the same" but similar.) I don't want to hurt the author's or illustrator's feelings, or anger them. I don't want them to think I'm incompetent and/or crazy. Because I have the highest level of respect for the creative people I work with, because I could never do what they do.

I hope that my editorial letters have the right balance of praise and constructive criticism. I know that it can be intimidating to receive a four or seven-page editorial letter. But I hope my authors know that I love their writing, love their work, to know that we're on the same team.

The task of writing an editorial letter to me is daunting, and I certainly had no idea how to go about doing it when I edited my first novel (sorry, Libby!). But I learned as time went on, I learned from my mentors, and I learned from reading the correspondence files that circulate in my department: each week, everyone in editorial (when we remember to do this) places copies of our editorial letters and other outside business correspondences into a centralized folder which is then circulated throughout the editorial department so that we can be aware of other editors' projects, problems that other editors are having that may be similar to our own, and also so the younger staff can read many different editorial letters to start to understand how to write them. I think this process is the same in most other companies, and it's one of the crucial learning tools for an editorial assistant.

I think every editor develops his or her own editing style, and I've certainly honed my own throughout the years. I shared some of my revision process at the SCBWI annual conference in LA, but I thought I'd go through it now in more detail in the hopes that it will be helpful. It's generally always changing slightly, but I just went through this four+ times in the past few weeks, so it's pretty fresh in my mind.

1) First, I read through the manuscript (this is my favorite part of the process!). I make very few notes, just read for the experience, and jot down things I notice, usually broad, over-arching things. (Although if I do happen to notice a typo or sentence that feels off here and there, I'll mark it.) But I'm really just looking to get a fresh read, reading for the overall experience as a final reader would. Is it enjoyable? Am I pulled into the book right away? Is the pacing off? Do I care about the characters? Does the plot make sense? Is the ending satisfying?

2) Then, if I can, I'll let it sit for a few days. Sometimes, right after the first read I think, "there's nothing I could do to improve that novel!" But inevitably things will come to the surface during that "sitting" time, issues with the plot, questions about certain characters, solutions (suggestions, I should say) to problems I've been having with the book, resolution to how I've been feeling about the ending, etc. I also want to see if the book "stays with you"--do I remember it several days later?

3) After a few days, I'll sit down again with the manuscript and go through it carefully, line by line. I do some line-editing now, although I think I'm generally pretty light overall in this regard. I tend to just call out sections or underline sentences that aren't working for me, but rarely will I actually reword things myself--as I've said before, I'm not a writer myself, so I like to give the author the freedom to work it out themselves. I'll jot down more notes on a separate sheet of paper that I know I'll have to expand on in an editorial letter.

4) And then finally, I copy my generally messy notes onto a clean copy of the manuscript that will be sent to the author. This step not only allows me to clarify my notes for the author, but to also review my edits, decide if I still agree with them. As I do this, I also expand on issues I need to in an editorial letter, trying to offer several suggestions for how I think an issue can be solved as I go. Sometimes I add and delete my own edits as I go along. I'll often just type things out into a Word document chronologically first, and then later go through my letter and reorganize it by topic: characterization, plot, pacing--whatever I think the main issues are in the manuscript.

5) I tweak the letter a lot. Get it to the structure I want, add the opening and closing (make sure the author knows that these are my suggestions only, not demands), print it out and edit it on paper two or three times until I think it's ready, and then send it off. I'll usually email the letter first and then send the hard copy of the manuscript to follow a few days later. This way, the author has a day or two to mull over my comments before they receive the actual manuscript and start to work, and inevitably their subconscious mind will already be starting to work out solutions to problems with the manuscript (if they agree with my comments, that is!).

And I fully expect the author to disagree with me sometimes, and if they offer me an explanation later to why they disagreed and didn't revise something, that's fine with me. Occasionally there's an issue that I feel especially strongly about, and in those cases, I'll keep requesting the change on subsequent revisions, reiterating why I think it's a problem. But after asking three or four times, there's not much more that I can do. Ultimately, it's the author's work, and we can't force the author to make changes he or she is not comfortable with, or in agreement with.

This process repeats until the manuscript is "done." Generally, the first editorial letters are more general, and as we go I get more nitpicky about the little things, and the last edit is just "clean-up" of all of the little things that are left. I've never taken less than two rounds, and on average it takes three or four, oftentimes more. And I put "done" in quotations because sometimes it feels like it's never really done to the author--they want to keep tweaking and revising. But at a certain point, we need to declare it done and get it into copyediting.

So, there you have it, my process. Of course, depending on the time crunch, sometimes this process is cut down--I'll combine 1 and 3 and delete 2. Or I'll combine steps 3 and 4. Or I'll cut down on how many times I edit my own letter. Also, when I'm reading a revision, unless there were many structural changes or major plot-point changes, the "fresh read" isn't as crucial a step.

I am an editor, and although editing is probably one of the most important parts of my job, I feel that it's only 10-15% of my job description. In fact, when I was on a panel at the New School last year and explaining what I did, I completely forgot to include "edit"! But as daunting as it is, I do relish it. I love examining these works of art carefully, trying (and I emphasize "trying") to get to know the book as well as the author does. I do respect the work, even as I seemingly "rip it apart," and ultimately I just want to help the author get the work to the next level and get it ready to introduce to the world.


Check out my updated "How I edit 2.0" post.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

first books and relationships

I was looking for the exact quote but I think it's long gone. A few years back (I think!) I'd read in PW about Mark Brown's first book memory. He said his editor sent a limo and Champagne to his door on the book's release date. I was SHOCKED when I read this. Was publishing THAT much better back then? When a book of mine gets released, it gets zero fanfare. I've grown accustomed to this fact. But boy would a little fanfare be nice! Picture books have also changed a lot since then. They've gotten bolder... edgier. Is this a good thing? A bad thing? When I was little there weren't any books like the ones I create so I must wonder what *I* would have thought of them. Hopefully I would have liked them.

A friend of mine just gave me Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom. It's clear from reading the letters that Nordstrom really valued her author/editor relationships. So here's another random question-editors and authors out there: what are your relationships like with the people you work with? Do you think having a close, friendly relationship helps? I've talked to so many authors who've told me they've never met their editors! Wow. I don't know how I would operate if that were the case. I like the face-to-face contact. I like to know who's on the other end of the computer/phone. Do you think face-to-face contact matters? Does it make a book better?

Well, those are my rambling thoughts for now.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

1,000 Handkerchiefs

There are some days when my job seems kind of ridiculous. Yesterday I spent an entire day obsessing about the head dress for the bird below, a character for a new book I'm working on. It is not really ridiculous. I mean, she has to look just right! But a whole day? Sheesh.

First she started out with glasses and no kerchief. But, thanks to input from the BRG's, they helped me see that she was looking too old and not girly enough.

So I added a kerchief with flowers. But she was still looking kind like a hip granny, not the nerdy little girl she was supposed to.

So I nixed the glasses and repainted her face. But the pattern didn't seem right yet.

This one was brighter and more cheerful, but not right either.

I think I got it with this one.

Its hard to tell sometimes when a painting is finished, but sometimes you just know it and then you are done. I love reaching that point. Where you stop debating shades of pink and let your painting leave your desk so it can go out into the world and live its own life.

Good Influences

When their children got in trouble, parents often said that the parties involved were a “bad influence” on each other. As one friend of mine put in our teenage years, laughing:
“Meanwhile the kids are having a great time.”

It still feels strange – but nice – to have friends who are fun and a GOOD influence. The Blue Rose Girls are both. When we spend the weekend together, we get to talk about children’s books as much as we want; and we inspire and reinforce each other as artists. The only bad thing we do is eat too many cupcakes. We talk about careers and jobs and other practical things and give each other the kind of advice that really helps (instead of the kind that makes you feel like a bad person).

But we’re a good influence in other ways, too: I’m getting to work earlier as a result of the visit (one hazard of being a freelancer is wasting time, especially in the morning. Too often I dawdle mine away). But this week – so far! – I haven’t. I’ve gone for a bike ride first thing, partly because of the BRGs. It was cold when they arrived, and hot by the time we decided to go for a bike ride – so instead of wearing their blue jeans, Anna borrowed a pair of shorts, and Grace decided to wear her pajama bottoms (they were flowered and looked MUCH nicer than the black spandex most people around here wear for biking).

On Monday morning, I decided to go for a bike ride first thing and accomplished this partly by wearing my pajamas (I did pull a fleece on over the top). Perhaps parents would not count this as being a good influence on each other, but I do – and maybe part of being a good influence is that we reinforce each other in being who we really are.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

boy do they have some kids' book ideas for you!

Calling all kids' book folks--writers, illustrators, booksellers, librarians, editors, etc. What has been the most OUT THERE story idea you've ever heard? I'm talking about those times when you're at a gathering and someone overhears that you have something to do w/kids' books. Then they immediately launch into the "I have a GREAT idea for a kids' book that I KNOW will get published soon..." and all you can do is sigh.

I'll start -- I was at a party a while back and a seemingly normal guy told me about his story idea. It was about a selfish child who loses her precious red shoes. She needs to be taught a lesson... (so far okay) and THEN things got interesting. "The girl whines that she can't find her shoes and Jesus comes in the form of a giant hand which comes from a cloud to tell her she doesn't need the shoes and she should learn her lesson..." This guy with beer in hand blabbed on and on about Jesus and shoes and even bunnies may have been involved, though I'm not sure. Then he said "So, you think you could help me with it?" "Help you?" I said. "Yeah, he replied, "help me get it published....

why doesn't blogger like us?

Because if it did, it wouldn't be acting so strange and ignoring us when we hit "publish post" or "add comments." For 8 hours it has given all of us the silent treatment. What did we do?

But I have gotten through. Ha-HA!

So, while I have this opportunity, I'll share with you our future plans (if blogger ever forgives us). Coming soon will be:

1. Guest Bloggers: We'd like to get some different points of views--teachers, librarians, booksellers, agents so we've recruited some new voices to chime in once every month (or every other month, don't hold us to that). If you'd like to be a future guest blogger, let us know.

2. Over Cupcakes: These will be our discussion where we will talk about more controversial issues or just things that we all have lots to say about. Best when read with cupcakes.

There's more, but I'm afraid this won't post and I'll be spending all this time writing things that won't see the light of day.

Monday, September 25, 2006

down to the cupcake level

This is an attempted group photo we blue rose girls tried to take of ourselves this weekend. The goal was to "take a picture with all of us and the cupcakes."

I made the cupcakes. Before I made them, I had grandiose schemes of piping professional-looking blue roses, awing everyone with my culinary expertise. However, as I began the attempt, I realized frosting roses were beyond my capabilities so down-graded to simple blue flowers. Yet, even trying to create the "simple" flowers was a challenge--the frosting was too soft, my kitchen too warm, my control was shaky and my time was limited. I remember being distinctly disapointed, feeling that my blue flowers resembled ameoba-like blue octopi. Yet, when I brought them to our blue rose girls weekend, it seemed as if everyone loved them and even I had to admit they were delicious. So, in the end, a nice warm sense of pride filled me.

And I realized, that is the epitome of my creative process. I always begin with dreams of creating a literary masterpiece; and, when faced by my own limitations, realize I can only do the best of my ability, which always seems to falls short. However, despite its flaws, it still finds ways of pleasing its audience; and even I appreciate what I've accomplished. And, in the end, I am proud of my creation.

But this weekend I realized one more thing. Perhaps all those imperfections are not flaws. Perhaps, like our failed, imperfect group photo, those are the things that make me love it even more.

Question on the Week: What is one book you wished you had written?

Question on the Week: What is one book you wished you had written?
Please send us some new questions! We are running out! We know you're curious!

ANNA: Yes, a very hard question. There are too many to list here. There are some books that appeal to me more as a writer, and some more as an illustrator. For today I'll pick one that the writer in me wishes I could have written, one of my all time favorite novels from childhood, The Fledgling. Just looking at the cover gives me shivers. Looking over the first few lines makes my heart ache. This book captured for me so many feelings about childhood (including an obsession with wanting to fly). I hope that one day my writing will glow with a fraction of the emotion and resonance that this book does.

ALVINA: This is such a tough question--part of me wanted to say Harry Potter because it's a wonderful book, and has been so influential...and yeah, well, there's the money, too. But although so many books ran through my head: Malcolm Gladwell's two books, Bloomability by Sharon Creech, Zen Shorts by Jon Muth, Emily of New Moon or Anne of Green Gables by L.M Montgomery, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Year of the Dog by Grace Lin (it was my story, too!)...I think if I had to pick just one, it would be To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, a book filled with wonder, truth, pain, wisdom, and joy. And because it was, to me, as an author's body of work, perfection.

GRACE: Off the top of my head, I would say The Lion and the Red Bird, of which I sang it's praises here. It's my favorite all-time picture book, though really the list can go on and on and on. For novels, up there is The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, which is also on the aformentioned linked list. I'd also say books like Anne of Green Gables, the Ramona books and the "shoes books" by Noel Streatfeild. I could keep going on and on, but the question did say one, didn't it. Oops. Anyway, my basic criteria is: Did I love it as a child? Do I still love it as an adult? Has it withstood time, still in print? Is it beloved by past generations and without any sign of decline for the future? Those are the kinds of books I wish I had written.

You can’t hide who you are in real life when you write fiction – even if there is absolutely nothing autobiographical in the book, your life (and the angle on/approach to life that’s produced) will come through. So – even if were a genius like these writers, I couldn’t have written these books. But we are WISHING here!

Pride and Prejudice,
Jane Austen
Twelfth Night OR A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare
The Tailor of Gloucester, Beatrix Potter
Matilda, Raoul Dahl

Why these 4? Because each is funny with lots of other emotions too and in its way is absolutely perfect. I almost always feel the way Grace described herself feeling after making those cupcakes when I’m done with a book – that gleaming perfect thing has become: this. But as Anna said in the 1,000 Handkerchiefs post sometimes you do have that “this is it” feeling and I feel quite sure that all of these authors had that after these books.

Jane Austen called P&P (which has to be the most DELIGHTFUL classic ever written!) her “own darling child.” Beatrix Potter said The Tailor of Gloucester was her favorite of her books (mine are probably Peter Rabbit or The Tale of the Two Bad Mice, but I think this is the “best”). No one knows what Shakespeare thought about his work (except that he wrote it all in one draft!) and I don’t know enough about Dahl to know what he thought.

As for what I hope to really write: I'd like to write something loved by children AND adults for generations, the kind of books people would read and reread, seeing different things in the book at different times and at different ages. That's how I feel about my favorite books: I didn't even understand Pride and Prejudice the first time I read it, though I loved Lizzie and Mrs.Bennet made me laugh.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Another beginning

Libby's posts on beginnings, and then Anna's post about BLOW OUT THE MOON (which was a beginning for me, too), and then Meghan's post about how it feels to begin painting a new book made me think about another beginning--my start at the company I work now.

This week another editor and I took our shared assistant out to lunch, and she was recounting how she felt after she interviewed with me, how badly she realized she wanted the job, so much so that she could barely talk about it after the interview to her boyfriend. This was so different from her reaction to other interviews she had been on that her boyfriend commented, "You really want this job, don't you."

It reminded me about my own beginning. I talk about my "path" in my interview here, but not the specifics, really. Not those moments, those specific moments that I'll remember forever:

-I remember how I spent the night before my interview frantically trying to figure out what to wear. I didn't own a suit then (I still don't, actually), and was trying on skirt after skirt, shirt after shirt. I finally settled on a black business skirt separate, and a nice, deep purple, short-sleeved T-shirt. And I borrowed a long black suit jacket from Grace (do you remember, Grace?!) that didn't quite fit right, but I thought made my outfit look more professional. I found out afterwards that Megan found my outfit "refreshing" compared to all of the boring interview suits. Whew.

-I remember how it was so incredibly hot and humid and sticky the day I interviewed--it was the middle of July. After my interview I was so distracted and excited and worried, because I wanted the job so much, more than I wanted anything else in the world. I was so distracted that after the interview I went to get on the T (subway) and completely forgot about using a token and ended up walking into the turnstyle without paying. Ouch.

Other moments:
-A few weeks later, I was standing at the information desk in the children's section of B&N where I worked, waiting for the phone call. I had interviewed for two jobs at the time, the EA job and also a position at the Horn Book, a job that my coworker at B&N also interviewed for. The Horn Book told us that they would wait to see who Megan hired for her editorial assistant before making their decision, because they assumed that was the more desireable job, but that process had of course dragged on longer than expected, so we were waiting for that call, too. I would have loved either job. So I was standing at the information station talking to my coworker when the intercom buzzed saying that she had a call. My heart started beating faster when she took the phone and I could tell that she was getting good news, and I felt a mixture of despair and hope. When she got off the phone she was trying not to be too happy because she knew I was worried about my own situation. But I was happy for her. And even though I despaired that I wouldn't end up with either job, I also hoped that perhaps my not getting that job meant I would be getting the other...

-The WAITING. Oh, the waiting. It was agonizing. We all know how that waiting feels! Like waiting for the phone call from someone you like, like waiting to hear about a manuscript you've submitted. Like waiting to hear what your agent or editor thinks about your new book. But it was worth the wait. My future boss called me later that afternoon to make me the offer. I remember I was standing near the cash registers when my manager walked up to me and told me I had a call. When I picked up, it was her.

-And finally, a moment I talk about all the time. Two weeks into my job I remember the distinct feeling that I had found it. IT. I think I was photocopying something at the time--the exact task I don't quite remember, but I know it was somewhat menial. But still, I loved it, and I couldn't believe that I was actually working in children's book publishing, that this was my job, and I realized that this was what I wanted to do with my life, this was where I belonged. EUREKA!

I love these little snapshots of moments, these memories, remembering where I came from, how I felt. As my career progresses, I hope I don't forget these beginnings.

Yay, us!

MotherReader has posted the Top Picks for 2006 (so far) Masterlist and blue rose girl Meghan's Aliens are Coming, Grace's Year of the Dog (three votes too, wow!) and Alvina's edited Firegirl, Sound of Colors, Hippo! No, Rhino, and Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies) are on it. As the other brg's most recent books were ineligible (Blow Out the Moon was '04, Francine's Day '03) or a bit too recent (What could be better than this? was just released last month), methinks we were pretty well represented.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Yesterday I got my first epidural shot. I’d known that I’d be getting it since last week. The doctor was looking at my MRI of my lumbar spine, said “I want you to see Dr. Allen,” then I promptly did and it was then that I discovered what Dr. Allen would be doing. He said it was a procedure where I’d get a small needle inserted into my back that would numb the area (just a SMALL needle… uh-huh), and then a larger needle (I believe LARGER was emphasized) would be inserted. A live X-ray type device would be used to help pinpoint the exact area that the giant needle would be visiting.

He said “You should have someone accompany you home… some people walk out of here just fine and others don’t.”

“Others don’t?” I asked. “Ha! Maybe I’ll have to be taken out in a wheel chair! Or a stretcher!” I said in jest. Oh, I do think I am funny.

Dr. Allen didn’t comment.

As the days passed I got more and more nervous about the procedure. All I knew is that a GIANT needle was going to be inserted into my delicate little, tiny, did I mention delicate (?) spinal column. If you are crazy like me, you’ll Google all the bad things that can happen––spinal fluid leakage, headaches, fevers, infection… DEATH! Okay, death isn’t a side effect but my brain told me it was. YOU WILL DIE from this, my brain told me (my brain doesn’t mess around and it DOESN’T have a sense of humor).

Then two days ago a coworker told me how horrible it would be. She said “Oh! My sister got one when she was pregnant. She had to have a catheter! It was AWFUL! You'll have a catheter!” That sent me over the edge. I wasn’t having a baby and knew it couldn’t possibly be the same, but OH THE AGONY.

Needless to say when all my vitals were hooked up yesterday in the scary surgical-type room, my blood pressure was through the roof.

The doctor asked what the highest my blood pressure has ever been and I said “160/110.”

He said “Oh! It’s exactly that!”

“Ha ha, chuckle, chuckle,” my brain said. “They think my high blood pressure is nothing and these are the last few minutes of my short life! Soon I will be dead! Dead! Dead! Goodbye cruel world, goodbye!” Okay, my brain wasn’t being that dramatic but you get the point.

“Do you mind needles?” he asked.

“YES,” I said. “I DO mind. I DO NOT like them,” I answered.

“Well, I guess you’d better look away then,” he said jovially.

What, you may wonder, is the point of all this chatter? Am I trying to turn this children’s chat blog into my own personal story- time? Maybe. Perhaps we could call it Fireside Chat with Meghan II. But seriously, I’m here to tell you that the anticipation of starting the artwork for a children’s book is EXACTLY THE SAME as the anticipation of getting a medical procedure. Well, for me anyway. A paintbrush may as well be that epidural needle. When were those other times that my blood pressure has been 160/110? When making a kids' book....

My editors always assume, I think, that it is fun to paint. “It looks like SO much fun!’ they always say.” But it’s not! It’s not fun AT ALL! Okay, once I get going it’s fine… but it’s those first few days when I tentatively hover near the table…when I push that white paper around…when I go to the art supply store and buy just a FEW new tubes of paint because A FEW tubes are better than TOO MANY…when I tell my friends “goodbye” because I won’t be seeing them for a while. I usually have a nice dinner right before getting going and tell my friends “Guys, this is my last meal with you. You won’t be seeing me for a long while.” We cry, we hug, and then I go on my way... and slump back to the dark, lonely studio. Okay, we don’t cry or hug but maybe we should.

Then, at the stroke of midnight, I begin. I usually paint in the late and early morning hours because there’s not that daytime distraction--happy people living their lives and that sort of thing. Sometimes I “take a break” around 3 am or so and then wake to find myself at 5am on the couch with the TV playing The Jeffersons WAY TOO LOUD. At other times I make it all the way to 5 or 6 am, still painting, still going strong. It’s at those times that my “second wind” kicks in and I get all hyped up. Sometimes I take a break to do sit ups and lift some weights. But then I’m back at it, painting away.

But the reason I get so anxious about the painting process is THE STRESS that accompanies it. When there’s only a week left and I know I’m not going to finish, when the editor starts the emails politely asking “How’s it coming along?” I feel the pain. Then I go to my part-time job, come home exhausted, put my new audio book on and get to painting. I’ll paint and paint and paint but sometimes the process can’t be sped up no matter how hard I try. When the artwork is due the next day and I have 4 pieces to go and I know I might not make it…and I'm so tired my brain starts playing that Rocky theme song over and over again––da da daaa, da da daaa (you know the one) ... when I know I won’t sleep and I won’t eat and the heart palpitations kick in and I feel light headed and TIRED and SICK…when that happens, I’d rather get the epidural shot. I’ll take that long needle in the back any day! This is whey the anticipation of the giant needle is exactly the same as the start of a book. Sad, but true.


Dear Readers: I hope you don’t think the above tale is depressing. I don’t mean it to be. I mean for it to be a light, beach read. Print it out, take it with you, drink some lemonaid, sit in the sun and enjoy. But please, if you have anything to add…if you don’t understand what I'm talking about or IF YOU DO…let me know. Please share your "day before the shot" tales. I'm sure I'll feel better once you do.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Seven Beginnings, cont.

People’s reactions to these opening paragraphs fascinated me! What some people loved most, others hated most, down to words: “moon-face” drew some people in and repulsed others. What some considered too wordy, others loved – “It was dusk – winter dusk.” I loved the sound of those words and the image they created! To me, that sentence, combined with the “pleated hills” in the next, somehow conveyed the whole feeling of the end of a winter day with the dark and cold closing in.* Anna and I loved it, but other people couldn’t even finish the paragraph!

One thing all the openings share is how specific and definite they are, and this, I think, is part of their appeal. If the big house in the country had been “far from anything,” the opening wouldn’t be as appealing as the fact that it is “ten miles from the nearest railway station and two miles from the nearest post office.” The same with all the others: even the one I liked least (Hatchet) was specific: the plane was a Cessna-something or other – but maybe someone who would like this the best would know exactly what that plane was and be drawn in?

Specific details are risky – what one person loves, another will hate or find boring (risk to me is always a good thing and essential in the arts!). But maybe the riskiness of concrete details is why business letters and such are written in abstract, vague, general terms: so no one will react emotionally to anything.

But specific details do more than evoke an emotional response and summon up images – they offer a promise that the author is going to tell you exactly, precisely, the truth….and the best writers have an almost magical ability to know exactly which details are the most interesting, important, significant. They tell those and leave out the rest.

For me, all of these openings worked (even Hatchet, my least favorite!). I usually write my posts the night before, so I can edit them at least once in the morning, and I literally could not stop reading the first book I picked up, Homecoming. Once I had read the opening I HAD TO GO ON -- I stayed up all night finishing it. Didn’t even get to open the other books so I can’t say if any would have had this same effect….but they all made me want to go on reading (there were other books that made me want to stop immediately!) and I did go by openings, not favorite books. The first sentences and paragraphs of some of my favorite books seemed pretty blah and boring or, in one case, pretentious. But that is another topic….as is the fascinating point Nancy made about names.

*I'm not saying this BOOK was my favorite (it isn't), or maybe even this opening, I just LOVE that sentence.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Blow Out the Moon

I don't know if any of you are this way, but I have a constant backlog of books I have been meaning to read. I keep lists of them in my office, jot them down on scraps of paper in my bag, borrow them from friends and libraries, then accrue massive late fines as I put them down to finish something else. Seriously, I just paid my neighborhood public library $19 for my last batch. Basically I am a slow, but ambitious reader. And I do mean slow. It was always a problem in school, I could never finish a book in time. I have a good attention span, so that is not the problem, its just that I get caught up in all the detail... I think and think about every sentence, turn it over in my head a few times before reading on...

That said, it is no excuse for why I haven't read my friend Libby's book Blow Out the Moon until now. I've know her for 2 years and it has taken me that long to sit down with it. For that I owe her a huge apology hope she will forgive me!! I've had it for ages, even had her sign it, but not had or made the time.

Anyways, now I have (better late than never), and it is FANTASTIC! I am going to have to sing its praises on this blog in the hopes that everyone who has not yet picked it up will run out to their bookstores and libraries... because it is so worth reading! I am absolutely in love with it- I don't think I've fully understood til now how much Libby really has retained all the best qualities of childhood, as she so perfectly articulates them in her writing. There were so many moments I read a passage and remembered instantly feeling that way when I was a kid, though I had completely forgotten it.

The best thing about this book is that it is written completely from a child's perspective. So many things that are important to children, events that are big and looming to them (though not always to adults) are recorded just as a kid would view them, and delivered as though your best friend was confiding to you on the playground. They are delivered lightly and delicately, as the story builds on itself. The little photos sprinkled around the chapters were fascinating as well- getting to see the real life characters and all their little things made me feel like I was getting to peek inside a secret world.

I will stop so I don't completely embarrass you Libby. Every so often I am struck by how lucky I am to have such talented friends!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Zen Lessons

I think one of the most difficult things to achieve in our profession is not fame or glory, but peace. We spend hours and days and years alone with our own worst critics--ourselves. The never-ending criticism, relentless pushing, and brutal honesty take a toil on our psyches. So when others seem to achieve success, it’s only natural to feel the turmoil of despair and twinges of (gasp!) jealousy.

And to deny that is lying. Beneath the insecurity, artists are egotistical. We have to be. There is a certain brashness to what we do—deep down we believe that what we are writing and creating is worth the attention of others. That what we are trying to say is something unique and worth communicating. So when one witnesses the attention, praise and adoration of another's book, while their own is forgotten-- there's a fear that perhaps it's because the other book is better and more special. And then the aforementioned ego comes into play, rears its ugly head; and the insecure artist begins to make comparative lists, ticking off stickers and posters and publicity campaigns as measurements of quality.

Because it is a hard, hard lesson to learn that someone else’s success does nothing to take away from our own. It’s a lesson that I’m still learning. Sometimes when I see an older couple happy together, I feel a bitterness wash over me as I think my husband, because of his unstable health, and I may never reach that. But that bitterness has to be quickly checked because the person it hurts the most is me. It's similar to when we get upset when others get special treatment or acclaim. Our despair only hurts ourselves.

In the book Zen Shorts, when a rude woman is carried over a puddle by an old monk and she doesn't even thank him, the monk's companion broods about it for a long time until the monk says:

"I set the woman down hours ago," the older monk replied.
"Why are you still carrying her?"

And that message is one to take to heart. Maybe if we ungrit our teeth while congratulating others, let go of the comparisons and stop carrying our dejection, we can find some peace. And maybe it’ll even be something close to zen.

Question of the week:As an illustrator, should you take on a picture book project with a less-than perfect manuscript?

Question of the week:
As an illustrator, should you take on a picture book project with a less-than perfect manuscript?

This question will be answered throughout the week. If you have a question you'd like answered by the blue rose girls, please pipe up! (We're running out!)

MEGHAN:No. I get asked this on occasion and the reason I won't do it is because I write books myself. I don't want to say that the writing is easier or less time consuming because it's not but the artwork is more agonizing and the time to do it is more concentrated. Money-wise it's better for me to take on just writing tasks than just illustrating ones. Creating artwork can be draining. I don't have any plans to ever illustrate someone else's text UNLESS their story is one that I couldn't come up with. If I think it's amazing then perhaps I would. Obviously a less than perfect MS is out of the running.

GRACE: Well, I’d love to say no—only take on projects that you believe in. But, I also know what it’s like to go through the grocery list and cut out everything except for ramen noodles because that’s all you can afford. And in that vein, I’ll admit to taking on a few manuscripts myself that I haven’t been to fond of. If your finances demand it, try to see it as a challenge. Obviously the publisher doesn’t think it’s a less-than perfect manuscript or else they wouldn’t be printing it. What’s more important is that you see this as an opportunity to make something discordant able to sing.

ALVINA: Interesting question! Although I'd like to think that we wouldn't publish a text that is less-than-perfect as Grace says, I have to say that there are many factors involved in the decision to publish...ahem...and leave it at that for now. But I'll also say that sometimes manuscripts are shown to potential illustrators before they are edited, so that's something to keep in mind. As for your question, there are many things to weigh into your decision, but first of all, if you don't respond to something in the text, if you aren't inspired to create something wonderful around it, then perhaps you are doing it a disservice and shouldn't take on the project--another illustrator would be better for it. But if you are responding to something in it, but don't think it's the strongest text, necessarily, but this is your chance to break into the industry, then maybe I'd take on that project, because getting that one published book sometimes helps you get the next and the next. (I think the fellow BRGs can attest that one book contract helped open doors for them.) Also, what if the text was written by a celebrity? Or a more established author? On one hand, the text might not be very good and you might get some flack for doing it, but on the other hand, it's great exposure and potentially higher pay. I wouldn't look down on a working illustrator for taking that kind of job, and in fact, the illustrations are often what makes those celebrity books bearable. I hope this doesn't offend you picture book authors out there, but whereas I think you need both a superb text AND superb art to make a superb picture book, if you have wonderful art and mediocre text, I think the book can still be great, but if you have a fabulous text but mediocre art, it mars the experience for me. As an illustrator, you can bring the book to another level. As Grace says, make something discordant sing! Well put.

"if you have wonderful art and mediocre text, I think the book can still be great,"

-- I can't tell you how depressing this is to a writer! And I think it explains why the writing in picture books so often IS inferior to the art: it's not valued.

I am a writer and my advice is: don't do it. Having a story illustrated by someone who not only doesn't like it but doesn't even respect it is the worst thing that could happen to that story! If it were my story, I'd rather have it stay unpublished than have it illustrated by someone who felt that way. If you don't like or understand something (and -- although you are probably right that the text is mediocre, it could also be that you just don't like it!), it's not fair to the author to illustrate it.

Alvina, I'm really glad you answered this question in such depth and so honestly! I am doing the same -- well, at least as far as the honesty goes.

This something I think about a lot. It would be interesting to look at the picture books that have lasted -- I have a hunch that some (though not all!) of the ones that have lasted for decades have great stories and mediocre art! At least, that's what we concluded in the RISD class "Picture and Word" when it was taught by Phil Bailey and Judy Sue....we wrote and talked about the relationship between the two a lot, and I remember Phil writing on one of my papers that a great story with mediocre art would last, whereas a mediocre one with great art wouldn't! I also remember him using several books as examples of that point. But that was just his opinion -- and it was a long time ago, too! Still, it would be interesting sometime to look and count up.

Ashley Woolf, who was in the same class, says on her Web site that it had more influence on her than any other she took (and Ashley, if you read this: Hey! I still remember you telling us about your parents putting you to bed each night with, "Welcome to Mr.Sheet's Theatre" -- and lots of your other comments too). It was certainly the best class *I* ever took in college or graduate school.

ANNA: Yes, interesting question! If you are published and have broken into children's books already, which is a very difficult thing to do, then each book you choose to do after influences the course of your career, and gives you a chance the grow as an artist. If you are going to take on a project, which could be a year of sketching and painting, you must feel a level of dedication to it, if you don't want the experience to be depressing and frustrating. There should be something in the story that inspires you, that you can tap into and make your own. If you read the story and you don't feel anything, I wouldn't do it, it will be torture and like Libby said, disrespectful of the author. If, however, you read the story, which may not be perfectly written, and it sparks something in you than that may be worth exploring, in that case I would give the story a chance.
If, however, you are unpublished, I think there is a little less room to be choosy, and that first published book could be a platform for you to showcase your skills to get more work, especially if you do not write and are not submitting your own book dummies. I would still say that illustrating a ms you hate is not worth it, and really won't be much of a showcase as it will not inspire your best work. But if you think the story is enough of a springboard for you to get your feet wet then I would do it. A couple other things to consider... there is such a learning curve with that first book, I think all of us illustrators would say that our approach/style has changed somewhat since our first books, with each project you grow and change. That said, it might be worth it to make your first project one that is a little less precious to you, so you can get a feel for the medium in a more professional way. I would also consider the subject of the book, and if you would like to do more books along the lines of the one you are offered, as often editors/art directors will hire you to do something similar to other things they've seen you do.

Friday, September 15, 2006

go fish

Just wanted to let you know I am still being tormented by fish.Even though I am at a loss of what all these fish want from me, they continue to invade my presence. You'd think while I'm biking, I would be safe(because you know how much a fish needs a bicycle). But witness this recent photo of me, taken just a mere five days ago. See anything fishy?

Fish and giant fruit...there's a caldecott somewhere in there. Or a trip to the psychiatrist.

And what makes me so qualified to edit children's books?

It's interesting that Meghan just wrote about "What makes us so qualified to write for kids?" yesterday, because earlier this week I was just thinking about writing this post. I think about this every time I speak at a writer's conference, because as I've mentioned before, it feels odd to be in this position of power.

Some people think it's weird that so many children's book editors don't have children of their own. At my company, the only editor with children is our Publisher. There are many editors out there with children, but at my company it's a rare thing, and it's not deliberate. Many of us hope to have children one day. Many children's book authors and illustrators also don't have kids, and in fact a few famously dislike them. So, does this make us less qualified to judge what children will like? I don't think so.

To expand on what I've commented below, to a cewrtain extent, kids will like most anything you put in front of them if you present it the right way. Of course, this isn't completely true, but this is why so many prospective writers say in their cover letters, "I've tested this on my child/grandchild/2nd grade class/daycare and they loved it" and why this doesn't influence us editors one little smidgeon. For the most part, kids will like a little cartoon with stick figures about a person who farts that you draw for them. But do I want to publish that? No. But perhaps another editor will. The truth is, children are so diverse--one child's favorite picture book will be the Berenstain Bears, another's will be The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, another's will be Todd Parr's books. And another will love all three, but hate Richard Scarry. It's hard to predict what child will like what book, and it could drive us crazy trying.

I think much of the answer is illuminated by Libby's post on Wednesday. Seven beginnings, and for the most part, we all had different reactions to them. It just reinforces the fact that this is a subjective business.

Not to keep beating the diversity issue over the head, but the truth is, editors have different tastes and philosophies, and the more diverse a group editors are, the more we will ensure that we're publishing books that all kinds of children will like. When I acquire a book, sometimes I'm acquiring it as the kid I once was, and sometimes I'm acquiring it as the adult I've become. Everything comes into play. The editor of the Gossip Girl and A-List series, who works on mainly young women's commercial fiction, has said that she's looking for books that will entertain--that's her main goal, and she's certainly achieved that. Another editor is looking for really fun, humorous middle grade novels that are age appropriate. I tend to be drawn to novels that I feel are "important" (I feel a little silly saying that, but it's true). And because of the different interests and backgrounds and tastes of our editors, our company published a pretty wide range of books: commercial and literary, silly and serious, issues and light, fiction and fantasy, historical and contemporary, etc..

But I guess I haven't really answered the question of what makes me qualified. But the truth is, I don't really know. I'm a voracious reader. I have been from before I can remember. I love books. But is that enough? Part of it is just the on the job training, the apprenticeship. I could go through my resume--my bookselling experience, my internships, working with children, "playing well with others..." I don't know what it is, really. Many people don't last long in this business, and yet I can't imagine being apart from it. Maybe it's the same thing that drives people on the creative side. The passion, the love, the need. At any rate, here I am, and here I hope I'll stay.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

What makes us so qualified to write for kids?

I ask myself this question a lot. I also often ponder who knows what kids will like and why and then I ask if it’s possible to entirely determine what the picture book age will like at all. Do authors know best? Do editors know best? Librarians? What about those pesky reviewers? Consider the picture books you liked as a kid. Why did you like them? Was it the story? The illustrations? Was it the way your mom or dad read to you? Can an adult read to a child in a certain, excited way that will make them like the book despite the so-so storyline? I asked my mom why she never read us kids Dr. Suess, for example. She said “Because I never liked Dr. Suess. I read to you kids the books that I liked.” Then again, as I recall, there was a book that my little sis LOVED that I know my mom got bored with pretty quickly. It was called Bear By Himself. None of us could figure it out… yet she loved it.

SO many things go into what influences kids… the same as adults. They watch TV and then want the next superman book. That’s why they can’t be trusted to pick out books for themselves at the bookstore! I’ve watched them in action.
Mom says—pick out one of these books that you’d like Mommy to read…
Kid—goes straight for the spinner rack
Mom—Honey, no, not Scooby Doo
Kid—Ignores mom and continues pulling out Scooby Doo books
Mom—Honey you’re making a mess. Please put the books away and come sit down so we can read a story
Kid—continues making a pile and starts shoving Scooby Doo books in mom’s face
Mom—shakes head
Kid—knocks down the whole rack of books and booksellers come running.
Mom—gives up on reading a book and lets kid buy a sticker book
Hmmm, maybe kids aren’t reading at all! This is why authors are poor!

Anyway, one thing I do know—children’s book authors are in touch with that inner child. They REMEMBER being a child probably better than most people. They will never forget their likes and dislikes. It’s not enough to witness your kid doing something cute and then turn it into a story. Kids don’t want to read about themselves all the time. They want to live out their fantasies… get out their frustrations… and so on. Let's just hope all those parents aren't buying sticker books!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Seven beginnings

Which (if any!) of these openings made you want to go on reading? So titles and authors won’t prejudice people, I’m putting them in the first comment (mine!). All have stayed in print since they were first published (at least 19 years).

When I typed them up, I didn’t expect them to have anything in common. I was surprised by how IMMEDIATELY each (with one possible exception) creates a feeling, world, atmosphere. Some do it by the end of the first sentence; it takes others a paragraph,but they all put you right into the story. To me, each also has an air of authority, of confidence, even inevitability. THIS, the author seems to just know, this exact moment, is where this story starts.

How the authors achieve this I don’t know – I’m going to think about it and if I can figure it out, say next week. But for now, I’d really like to know how other people react to these – not to the books themselves, but to their beginnings. So I hope you'll say which ones (if any!) made you want to go on reading.

The woman put her sad moon-face in the window of the car. “You be good,” she said. “You hear me? You little ones, mind what Dicey tells you. You hear?”

It was dusk – winter dusk. Snow lay white and shining over the pleated hills, and icicles hung from the forest trees. Snow lay piled on the dark road across Willoughby Wold, but from dawn men had been clearing it with brooms and shovels. There were hundreds of them at work, wrapped in sacking because of the bitter cold, and keeping together in groups for fear of the wolves, grown savage and reckless from hunger.

Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids. They were sent to the house of an old Professor who lived in the heart of the country, ten miles from the nearest railway station and two miles from the nearest post office.

Brian Robeson stared out the window of the small plane at the endless green northern wilderness below. It was a small plane, a Cessna 406 – a bushplane – and the engine was so loud that, so roaring and consuming and loud, that it ruined any chance for conversation.

5. Chapter I
The Old Sea Dog at the ‘Admiral Benbow’
Squire Trelawney, Dr.Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17--, and go back to the time when my father kept the ‘Admiral Benbow’ inn, and the brown old seaman, with the sabre cut, first took up his lodging under our roof.

The Fossil sisters lived in the Cromwell Road. At that end of it which is farthest away from the Brompton Road, and yet sufficiently near it so one could be taken to look at the dolls’ houses in the Victoria and Albert every wet day. If the weather were not too wet, one was expected to ‘save the penny and walk.’

Once on a time there was a poor husbandman who had so many children that he hadn’t much of either food or clothing to give them.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

this made me laugh

Today, I received a rather elaborate author marketing plea in my inbox. It made me laugh and laugh. David's book isn't exactly my type (my tastes are tempered towards girly nostalgic like Princess Academy, Penderwicks, Anne of Green Gables, Libby's Blow Out the Moon, etc.) but kudos to him for turning the usual shallow marketing e-mail into a literary masterpiece of humor. If the writing in his book is half as funny as his e-mail, I'll have to give it a shot.

Hello All,

I am happy to announce the official launch of the paperback version of Girls for Breakfast (Laurel Leaf, $5.99), available in stores Tuesday, September 12, 2006! Actually, I’m probably misusing the word ‘launch’--this isn’t so much a launch as it is me, standing on a dock by myself after sunset, smashing a half-empty bottle of Two Buck Chuck against the side of some stranger’s boat and then running away. As some of you already know, first novels face a difficult road to survival, and this novel in particular faces an even tougher road ahead because it doesn’t bear the current hallmarks of popular YA/adult fiction. This novel isn’t about four friends (which seems to be turning into a rule as of late), there are no wizards in this novel (although there is a fair amount of whizzing), no teen vampires (there is, however, mention of a “lady of the night”), and most unfortunately, this novel doesn’t have the luxury of having been carefully formulated (as opposed to
written) by a team of 40-year-old execs sitting around a mahogany table in some boardroom in Manhattan, brainstorming on a dry erase board about what teen girls like to read. Because of this, the novel depends almost solely on word-of-mouth in order to find an audience, which is why I am writing you today. If you are receiving this email, it means that I truly consider you one of the following:

-a dear, dear friend
-someone I secretly admire from afar

What I’m talking about is the very livelihood of a little book that touched your hearts last year, each and every one of you. Do you remember her? Try to picture the paperback version of this novel as a little child, in a war-torn country, and she needs just $5.99 to survive another week in the refugee camp. And maybe, just maybe, if you buy not one but, say, four copies of the paperback, it’ll guarantee that she lives to see a, er, second printing. That’s what is at stake here. This isn’t about me, anymore, is what I’m saying. This is about the book. And what this little girl, er, book, needs right now is your support, and so I ask that you help me spread word of its existence.

Right now, in fact. This’ll only take a moment. I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your computer chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell, “I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!! People of (name of your city), go out and buy a paperback copy of David Yoo’s wonderful debut novel, Girls for Breakfast, available in bookstores and online as of September 12, 2006!”

That’s all I ask.

That said, I’m thrilled to inform you that the paperback version is, in all honesty, far superior to the original hardcover, for several reasons. I know what you’re thinking: “Dave, that’s impossible! You’ve always been a liar…” But it’s true, I swear, on my bully from high school’s grave. Here are the 5 main improvements that have been made:

1.) Transportability: Many of you complained last year
that the reason you didn’t buy my novel was you “never buy hardcovers” because they’re so bulky, because they have the ability to maim. To which I replied under my breath, “Well, I don’t like some of my friends because they’re bulky, and I think they should be maimed.” I feel we’ve both grown up a lot in the last year, and I honestly believe we’re past that, and I’m psyched to inform you that, as a mass market paperback, this novel is now back to its birth weight, and shows up to the weigh-in at a svelte 6.8 x 4.3 x 0.8 inches, making it small enough to fit handily in most purses, laptop bags, and if you’re overseas—fanny packs.

2.) Affordability: At the implausibly low price of
$5.99, the paperback version is now officially cheaper then, well, just about everything. Don’t even try to tell me, “But Dave, I don’t have six bucks to blow on a book,” because I’ll immediately reply, “But it’s less then six bucks.” There’s a reason I got kicked out of mock trial by Mr. Czepiel senior year of high
school: when it comes to debating, I can be downright ruthless.

3.) Altruism: I didn’t want to have to mention this,
and frankly, I don’t even know if this is real or fake, but on the off chance that this turns out to be authentic I feel obligated to bring this up: several weeks ago I received an anonymous, scarily credible letter in the mail that stated that if x-amount of paperback copies don’t get sold by a certain date, all the animal shelters in this country will…explode.

4.) Numerology: I don’t know if you believe in this
stuff (I for one make even the most basic decisions, usually involving socks, using numerology) but irregardless, I just ask that you keep an open mind for a moment and consider the following example of what numerologists refer to as ‘digit summing’:

Price of paperback copy of Girls for Breakfast: $5.99 Add up the principles: 5 + 9 + 9 = 23 Subtract 1st principle from total: 23 – 5 = 18 Subtract 2nd principle from revised total: 18 - 9 = 9 Subtract 3rd principle from revised total: 9 - 9 =
Answer: 0
Go ahead, check the math, I haven’t…

5.) Readability: Lastly, and most importantly, the
actual text of the novel has been revised. While the following is commonly known within publishing circles, most gap-toothed laymen don’t realize that pretty much all published novels contain several mistakes. Given the number of times the author and editor rake over the material, let alone the existence of copyeditors (or what people in the industry refer to as
“Godsbane”) you’d think all errors would be found prior to going to print. Incomprehensibly, you’d be dead wrong, and my novel is no exception, but we’ve worked really hard on fixing the text, and I’m proud to say that, as a result, the new paperback version of Girls for Breakfast is cleaner, sleeker, well oiled, and overall just a much better ride then before. Which leads me to the biggest news of all--I am happy to announce the opening of:

The 2006 Girls for Breakfast Paperback Contest!

I’ve noticed in the past year that many authors seem to have contests and various interactive things that they do that readers seem to eat up, so I figured I’d join the fray. I invite you and anyone you know to participate in this inaugural contest. The objective is mind-bogglingly easy: simply find 5 changes that have been made to the text of the paperback version (by comparing the paperback to the hardcover version) and you win! What’ll they win, me? Well, if you correctly find 5 edits that have been made to the text, contact me and you will win:

1.) A signed copy of the paperback version (by the
author himself)
2.) A free year’s membership to the author’s official
fan club, Davey’s Palz!
3.) And while supplies last, this lovely fountain pen:
(picture not available)

This contest will run through December 15, 2006.
Spread the word, this contest is open to just about anyone (see restrictions below) and remember the final words of Pliny, “Ya can’t play if you don’t pay.”

Rules and Regulations:
1.) If you think you are a winner, please send your
answers along with a SASE to the author’s publisher in order to receive a signed copy of the paperback version of Girls for Breakfast. Pending approval, please allow 18-21 weeks for delivery.
2.) Do not taunt happy fun ball.
3.) Employees and any family members of employees at
Random House, as well as its subsidiary, Halliburton, are barred from participating in this contest.
4.) Also barred from participating, people from the
following states: North Dakota.

Girls for Breakfast is finally here today, September 12, 2006, available in stores and at various on-line outlets, as well as mentally, if you’re one of those people. For more info, visit or . Thank you for your time, and have a great day.

I love you.

David Yoo

Delacorte Press/Laurel Leaf Books
Paperback isbn: 0-440-23883-8
2005 Booksense Pick
2005 Reading Rants Top 10 Books for Teens
2006 NYPL Books for the Teen Age

David Yoo
Author of

"This edgy and wickedly hilarious tale..."
-School Library Journal

"Instinctively funny."
-Austin American Statesman

Visit or for more information.

The anti rock star

Last week I went to see one of my favorite musicians perform at the MFA. Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power) is the most reluctant rock star I've ever seen.

She has the most beautiful, other worldly voice you could imagine, and the artistry with which she lets it rise out of her body leaves me with chills up my spine. But the reason I mention her here (besides the inspiration of her great song writing), is that she is notorious for getting on stage, stumbling half way through a song, then having a full on panic attack on stage. She rarely gets through a song with out profuse apology, or some kind of strange spastic physical reaction to performing.

At one point at the concert last week, she collapsed on the piano she was playing (mid song of course) after crying out to the sound guy at the side of the stage "I feel like you're staring at me!!!" The poor sound guy hit the deck behind the sound equiptment and stayed there for the rest of the show. Why? Because he was so transfixed by her, he wouldn't dare do anything else to interupt her singing.

What is my point? The sound guy was not the only one who felt as he did. Every person in the audience was at the edge of their seat, hoping for her success.. Chan Marshall's fans are LOYAL and they love her (as I do)... though she is possibly the worst performer I've ever seen. Her nervousness and panic are met with shouts from the audience for her to keep going, that she sounds great!

Why am I mentioning this on a children's book blog? I like to look to many forms of art for inspiration and guidence as I work my way into the artist that I want to be... and most recently I have been thinking about how I communicate about my work, and how I present myself to people. When it comes down to it, in order for marketing, promotion, and "branding" to not feel fake and uncomfortable, they have to somehow evolve out of the person that you are, to expand on a truth that exists in your work, otherwise it will just feel like selling out.

In her own twisted, self-effacing way, this is what Chan is doing- she is being herself, an extension of what she writes about in her songs, and her fans love her all the more for it, in an industry that is generally all about appearance. I think what can strike a tone in people, whether in music or books, is a kernal of truth, something genuine. Thinking about marketing as just another form of self expression makes it far more compelling to me.

This might seem like a long drawn out way to get a simple point across, but seeing her perform made me feel inspired so I thought I'd share.

What other round about experiences do you incorporate into your philosophy as writers and artists?

Monday, September 11, 2006

A multi-cultural author

My first published book was, The Ugly Vegetables, a story about my mother and I and the Chinese vegetables we grew when I was a child. One look at the cover and you can see it’s chock full of the multi-cultural label.

And that label, as anyone who has experienced it knows, is quite a double-ended sword. However, when it was published I was still a bit green about the genre. So it was with a little surprise when a fellow striving author/illustrator (not a blue rose girl, btw) said to me, “It’s a good that you’re using your culture, that’s what’s getting you published.”

Was it? Suddenly, the validation that I had broken through the publishing wall was marred by the idea that I had somehow squeezed through a back window. Was I only getting published because of my heritage and subject matter? Was I cheating? Was I selling out my culture for a career?

And this fear was something that haunted me. During that first year of publication, I constantly felt ill at ease, as if I was a chicken floating with swimming swans. I hadn’t intended on getting on a platform for diversity in children’s literature—I had just wanted to get a story I loved published. But, without meaning to, my book was seen (by those who read it, the numbers of that is another story) as representative of the underserved Asian-American experience. And who was I to represent that? I felt, in my desperation to get published, I had faked my way in.

So soon after (during the discussions for another project) when an editor asked me to change my Asian girl character to a Caucasian boy, I should’ve felt a sense of satisfaction and relief. The reasons were good—changing the character would make it so that the book wouldn’t be considered multi-cultural, its sales wouldn’t be limited and I, as an author, wouldn’t be pigeon-holed. But, instead, I was uneasy.

Suddenly, I found myself not caring if I was getting published for the wrong reasons or I wasn’t selling enough books for the right ones. Somehow, given the opportunity to prove I was publishable without my heritage seemed a pale consolation prize when compared to creating a book that was true to my vision, the readers who loved my books and the child I was many years ago.

And it’s not that I’ll never do a book with a Caucasian boy (I would do a book on anything if I felt it was right) or that my books are meant to preach (horrors!). But, I realized that being able to publish my work was a gift not to be squandered on something soulless. And my soul is Asian-American.

So, strangely, it was the unsettling nature of this editor’s request that made me find my balance. It sifted away my fears, the practical reasoning and the backhanded compliments and left me proud of what I am, a multi-cultural author.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Question of the Week: What is one book that changed your life?

Question of the Week: What is one book that changed your life?

To be answered throughout the week (feel free to share yours!).

Children in Hiding
This book is an early reader, I think I read it when I was in 1st or 2nd grade (my version was called Tomas takes Charge). In it, Tomas (while surviving in an abandoned building with his sister) meets a woman who is a children’s book illustrator. Before reading this book, I never really thought about how there was a person who drew the pictures for the book—that it was job the way a doctor or a bus driver was. And I thought, hey, that’s neat. I’d like to do that…

One of my favorite books as a kid was Blackboard Bear, by Martha Alexander. I think what I found so powerful about these books is the way the boy's imagination is his strength, and helps him resolve his problems. I can still remember the tactile pleasure of imagining a real blackboard bear climbing off the wall to be your friend and biggest fan- it so summed up the loneliness that I felt as a kid, and inspired me to be creative!

I have so many potential answers to this question, but if I have to pick just one, I'll say Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. I first read this when I was about nine-years-old and of course I didn't understand a lot of it--I didn't even get why she was writing to "Kitty"--I missed the part when she explains that it isn't a real person. But two things I've gotten out of it that have stayed with me even today (of course, I've read it at least two more times since my first initial reading). 1) It inspired me to start writing in a diary, and I've kept writing in one ever since (you can see a stack of them here). 2) The famous quote, the one that Libby highlighted, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are good at heart,” has resonated and stayed with me my whole life.

If you have a question that you'd like us to answer as a future question of the week, feel free to post it in the comment section. You may do this anonymously as well, if you'd like.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


My book HAS TO BE sent out Monday (or so insists my editor). I'm not talking about sent out from me to them... I'm talking sent out to go to print--text in its place, illustrations, all of it!

It's Sat. and I have to work from 4-10:30 today. This is what I need to do tonight (?) and tomorrow.
1) 4 illustrations (3 if my F&G doesn't have ends)
2) The author's note. It's not fact checked (can't trust copyediting for this one!) and it's not done
3) I had hired physical therapists to help me put exercises in the back. They did their part but I decided they should write an intro. I decided this on friday. I'd need it by mon. morning. Clearly that isn't going to happen.
4) artwork to go with the exercises
5) a bibliography? Do I need one? Any opinions? I used lots of newspaper clippings, a few books, etc. I'm not really wanting to put this in there for the kids but rather to cover my own butt because the info is so conflicting
6) a note from an M.D?

As you can see, I'm totally screwed.

My F&G will not contain endpapers at this point. It might not have a bibliography. The exercises will at best contain sketches as placeholders for the finished illustrations. Oh my, this F&G is going to be awful! The designer jokingly said she'd put little smiley faces on the blank pages. However, IF I were famous, perhaps it would be a collector's item. What book has sketches of the artwork? None.

Look for a weird F&G soon!

Weird facts surrounding the book—I STILL can’t spell exercise right and I must have had to type the darn word 2,000 times. Am I an idiot or what? I also am TRYING to remain calm. For ALIENS I experienced a panic attack for the first time—major heart palpitations, chest pains, shortness of breath, lightheadedness at 5am… or DID I have a heart attack? Calm music currently listening to—Nick Drake. Yeah, nice and calm.

Meghan McStresscase

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Coming out...

So, I haven't really come "out" as a blogger to people at work, or even some of my friends. And it feels a little weird thinking that more people I've never met in person are reading this compared to those I have. It was easier coming out in the blogosphere community, although certainly all of us BRGs have had that flash of paranoia and uncertainly--people are actually reading this? Who's out there? I have a feeling that every person who blogs feels this way at some point, so feel free to share your experiences.

I know these blogs are public: they shows up on google searches; I comment on a few popular blogs; I use my real first name, which is somewhat unique. It's not inconceivable that coworkers are reading it, and that's perfectly fine. But it's weird not knowing. Yesterday we had a meeting at work to talk about online marketing, and of course the blogosphere was mentioned. I wondered who in that room knew that I blog. I know a few who do, a few who comment (keep it up!). I wonder if the others would approve, if people would think it was weird. If I'm breaking any rules or doing anything wrong by blogging.

And it's also weird telling people. I outed myself somewhat impulsively at the SCBWI conference by announcing the blogs at one of my workshops, and it was ultimately liberating. But it was a little weird meeting people there and them telling me, "Oh, I read your blog!"--but it feels both great and weird at the same time.

How does one come out of the, er, internet closet? With friends it's easier. Someone asks me how the half marathon was, and I send them the link. I put it in the signature of my personal email address. Friends who do read it mention it in the presence of other friends, and they find out. But what about work? I don't think it would be frowned upon, necessarily, but for some reason I feel a little embarrassed about it. And what about coming out to my authors? I haven't really made it a point to tell my authors and illustrators about my blog, but I know quite a few of them have discovered it while googling their books.

But I like being a part of this community because I see which books are being discussed, which books people love. I gain insight into the minds of writers and illustrators, agents, librarians, other editors. I feel like I'm doing my part in writing about the books I work on. I'm getting to write stuff other than business correspondences. And it's fun!

Okay, quick tangent: speaking of "coming out," to authors, I revealed myself as a blogger to Justina Chen Headley a few months ago, although I have a feeling she probably already knew. Well, okay, just now I was reading a few blogs and found out that she has a new one, too! So if you're an author trying to market your books (I think very applicable to my fellow BRGs), check this out.

Justina, if you're reading this, I hope you don't mind me outing you...

If you're reading this and you're a friend, or a coworker, or an author or illustrator, or a librarian, or a teacher, or a bookseller, or a lurker, make yourself known! Come on out!

And those of you who are in an office work environment, how do you deal with this issue? Are you out at work? And authors and illustrators, how would you feel if you found out your editor had a blog?

It's done! Next up...

FINALLY! I finished that darn crowd scene! Below is a bad, out of focus photo of it. If I weren't so lazy and pressed for time I'd scan that baby in. Maybe tomorrow....

What's ironic? Me currently listening to Eminem while working on a kids' book (love the slim shady song)... or the audio book for Lolita. (I find the MC to be despicable, if any of you were concerned. I just want to be well "read." Ha.)


Occupational hazard

In the vein of Grace's goldfish post I would like to report that it is just a bad idea to have a studio in close proximity to your kitchen. My charming little work space is a mere 5-6 feet from a giant pile of brownies on our kitchen island. They have been beckoning me to visit them hourly today, and I just don't see how I am going to get any work done at all.

How do I promote myself? I don't.

My 5th book is coming out in October.... (which is crazy, but that's a talk for a different time)

The B&N in Union sq already has it. Book release time means review time. I should have a thick skin about these things and I mostly do but like all good glass-half-empty people I dwell on the negative. The book got its first good review from Kirkus, which I got yesterday. This prompted me to google the title to see if there are any other reviews. It got another good review... but then I stumbled upon some blog that reviews kids' books and there was mine. The guy said something like "I don't know how this book ever got published..." or some such. He didn't say much else except that. OUCH!!!! Do I think about the Kirkus review? Not really. I think about Joe Shmoe's comment that no one will ever see (until I'm posting it now!). Is this the way most authors behave? Is it just me? Is my life as an author destined to be an emotional rollercoaster FOREVER?

This brings me to another thought. The old -- If you act like a superstar then you'll be one. I NEVER act like one. I'm sure most authors wouldn't have even mentioned the bad comment. It's obvious that I'm honest to a fault. I have trouble promoting myself and talking myself up. Just today my physical therapist asked if I had any books that were good for 4 year olds. I said yes but I didn't elaborate. I didn't say what an author is SUPPOSED to say which would be something like "Yes! I have one in my bag! Would you like me to autograph it?" Or - "Yes! Go to B&N and ask them to order one for you and several for the store." Of course I would never say that. I never say much. I'm the author who wasn't meant to be. Sure, some humility is good (that's why I keep my lowly bookseller job) but I could definitely use a dose of confidence! I'm actually embarrassed to admit that I created the books I have. I'm scared when someone wants to look at one in front of me. All I see are the flaws. I wish I could get over that.


Monday, September 04, 2006

tormented by the subconscious

Recently, I have been obsessed by goldfish. For some inexplicable reason, I am drawn to them. I feed them at the lake:

I spend too much money buying decorative paper with goldfish motifs:

And I eat goldfish crackers as if I'm starving:

Usually, this means there is a story idea brewing. The last time this happened was when origami animals seemed to envelop me. They kept appearing and reappearing (even though I couldn’t fold a paper crane to save my life) until I finally gave them their own book in “Lissy’s Friends.”

So now, obviously, there must be goldfish swimming in my subconscious that are demanding to be set free. Of course, I don’t know how to do this. Any ideas? Do you guys ever suffer the torment of an idea wanting to be formed?

Question of the Week: What have you created that surprised you as soon as you saw it "on paper"?

This week's question is: What have you created that surprised you as soon as you saw it "on paper"?

This probably wasn't my question to answer, but I'll say one thing I've created that surprised me as soon as I saw it on paper was my credit card debt. ;)

I feel like I am constantly surprised by what happens to an idea when you put it down on paper, no matter what I'm working on. Its part of the excitement and challenge of forming something out of nothing- that the thing you see in front of you attempts to recreate an idea you had in your head, but once its down on paper it starts to grow and becomes something new.

I think all my projects have suprised me in one shape or form once I've put it "on paper." My book Year of the Dog was initially a picturebook and then an easy reader which finally became a novel. That process only took about 5 years.

crowd scenes

I'm currently working on a crowd scene. Those are the hardest and most time consuming to do. I've found that it's a lot like carving. You have to whittle away at it piece by piece until the scene forms. For other scenes I'll lay out blocks of colors quickly, but not when I'm doing such a busy spread.

Here's a sample of the progression (the whole thing will be posted on my website later)

Friday, September 01, 2006


Like the logo? Thank Ki-Ki (, graphic designer extraordinaire and slave labor sister. Now we just have to figure out excuses to use it.


Yesterday I didn't really have time to post. This is because my schedule is absolutely CRAZY. I have two books due and they're both going to be late (not my fault but I won't get into that!).

The reason why my nonfiction books take longer is because I do REASEARCH! Lots of it. The story I'm working on now starts in 1903 and goes through the 60s. Think about all the changes in clothing styles, home decorating, transportation, etc. For example--Did you know that bathing suits until the 30s weren't at all what we use today? It was NOT acceptable for men to prance around in shorts--their upper bodies had to be covered! The shirts they wore were very much like skirts. Women wore what I'd describe as dresses to the beach. True, they had what they called "swimwear" but it certainly didn't look comfortable to swim in!

Here's a sample of the research images I get (and I use a ton of them!)

I often ask myself why I'm so interested in nonfiction since fiction is easier and a heck of a lot less time consuming! But the answer is always the same--it's a challenge and I learn something new!