Wednesday, April 30, 2008

me again

My last post was perhaps not the best to entice you to read more about me, but just in case you do, Jama Rattigan has posted a thorough and lovely interview of me at her alphabet soup blog. She's also offering two personalized autographed copies of The Year of the Rat for two people who leave a comment there no later than Wednesday, May 7, 2008. Read it here:
Thanks, Jama!


As my publishing schedule has significantly lightened, I have started to feel a bit of panic. Some of the "lightening" was by choice, which may have been an unwise decision, now considering my recent dearth of potential picturebook projects. For while ideas have been plentiful, story writing has not been successful and I begin to wonder if I have just lost my touch.

Then I realize that these are the feelings that I have had for every book that I have done, for the last ten years. Yep, ten. I know this because Charlesbridge, the publisher of my first book "The Ugly Vegetables" has just agreed to put out a 10 year Anniversary edition of the book! The book is going to be redesigned with a new cover, some new spots and backgrounds. Very exciting!

For the new cover, I want to do a throwback to the promotional piece that caught my editor's eye and inspired the whole book:

I'm also hoping they will inspire me for a new picturebook project as well!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Newburyport Literary Festival

I know I promised the second half of this post, with the finished jacket painting but I am scrambling to get ready for a trip and will have to post the conclusion upon my return!

In place of that I thought I'd give the skinny on the Newburyport Literary Festival I attended this weekend. If you get the chance to go next year its a lot of fun. The children's part of the event is organized by the Child at Heart gallery, a children's book art gallery that sells books, prints and original art (they have prints of one of my favorite books ever Higglety Pigglety Pop). They run children's programs all day at the local Montessori school, with authors giving presentations for preschool through middle school. I love sitting in on other author's talks, its interesting how everyone does this kind of thing differently, and I'm always looking for little things to add to my own talk.

I went early in the day (I read books, did a short presentation and art activity- we made nuudle flowers from the Purple Ribbon garden), so by the time I was finished I had the whole day to go to other author's talks. First I sat in on Matt Tavares, who spoke about his gorgeous new book Lady Liberty. It was fascinating to hear about the research process and the history around the building of the statue. He also took on the very ambitious job of drawing a portrait of a kid in the audience which kept everyone rapt. Amazing!

Next I went to hear Lauren Weinstein talk about her new graphic novel Girl Stories. It was really refreshing to hear about her work, since I know nothing about the world of comics. I brought home her book that night and cracked it open, intending to skim, instead I read the whole thing cover to cover! It so perfectly captures that time in middle school when you are on the verge of adolescence. I instantly flashed back to that time and realized what a complicated, thrilling, crazy time of life that is.

Back to the festival... next I got to hear my friend Mary Newell DePalma talk about her book A Grand Old Tree, which I love. She talked about what it was like to turn a tree into a character and how growing up in a family with seven kids (!) gives her ideas for books. I had that warm feeling you get as a kid when you are read to as I sat in the audience, and from the looks of it the kids felt the same way.

There were other events through out the day but those were the highlights for me... it was great getting out of the city and wandering around cute Newburyport as well!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Small miracle

Some of you may remember that my beautiful blue bicycle was stolen awhile ago. I loved that bicycle. I put posters up all over town

Wherever I went, people told me how sorry they were and said they hoped I got it back.

I did. Someone saw the handlebars sticking out of the Mystic River at low tide, called the police, and then, just to be sure, called ME. The brakes are a little mushy but other than that, it works just as well as it did before. When I parked it the first day and went in to do my shopping (and thank everyone in the health foods store for their good wishes, which I believe helped), I heard someone I didn't even know saying excitedly,
"Did the girl who lost her bike get it back?"

YES! I'm glad I didn't just let it go. I not only have my bike back, but my faith in the town and even (in a small way) myself and how I deal with things.

Friday, April 25, 2008

a new hobby is brewing

So I got the unicycle I ordered today. Yay! I had to put it together immediately and start practicing even though I should be getting ready for work (typical - I've been reading about chronic lateness problems so I know I"m text-book). I can ride for a few seconds un-assisted, but that's it. When I get home I hope to practice more.

This means more procrastination! Less book work! Awesome!


POETRY FRIDAY: Analysis of Baseball

April is National Poetry Month and a fine time to read some poetry about baseball. Here’s one of my favorite sports poems, Analysis of Baseball, by May Swenson. Go, Red Sox!

Analysis of Baseball
By May Swenson

It’s about
the ball,
the bat,
and the mitt.
Ball hits
bat, or it
hits mitt.
Bat doesn’t
hit ball, bat
meets it.
Ball bounces
off bat, flies
air, or thuds
ground (dud)
or it
fits mitt.

You can read the rest of the poem here.

At Wild Rose Reader, I have a review of Stella Unleashed: Notes from the Doghouse, a delightful collection of dog poems that was written by Linda Ashman and illustrated by Paul Meisel.

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

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


The weather is finally nice here in New England and it's been a struggle to focus on work. It seems a shame to be indoors, pegging away at a computer when the sun is shining.

Which reminds me of part of the conversation we had this past weekend when Alvina was asking about her speech. After writing one or two books, some authors, Libby suggested, just run out of things to say. They've written what they needed to communicate and they have nothing more.

Perhaps this is true and perhaps this is true because authors and illustrators spend so much time in their insular worlds, expelling their thoughts and dreams. The solitary existence of being chained to our computers and desks does little to refresh our fountains of creativity...and over time, maybe we become wrung sponges. We spend so much time writing about life experiences, that we forget to experience life.

And I am realizing the tragedy of that. I can easily look back on the last ten years and see the countless times I let real life pass by so I could create a fictional one. I know this industry is competitive, I know we have to work hard and long to make it work for us. That one has to pay their dues. But as the financial worries and insecurity continue to shackle me, I realize those dues can never be fully paid. Yet, I have to believe there is a way to balance the accounts better. So that I can go outside.

Which, even though I have a deadline, I did.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

This Saturday

By the way, I'll be presenting as part of the Newburyport Literary Festival this Saturday. My program is free and open to the public (kids and families welcome). I'll be reading my books, showing process work and doing some drawing with the kids. We'll finish off with a simple art activity!

Saturday morning at 10:15 am
Inn Street Montessori School
52 Inn Street
Newburyport, MA

More info here.

See you there!

Abigail Spells jacket continued

As some of you might remember from this post, I've been working on the jacket image for my new book Abigail Spells. After some consideration, the designer had the good idea to make the cover more poster-like. She sent me this layout idea, incorporating my previous sketches into a new design:

I like the simple, pared down design... so I made another sketch, blowing up the characters a little and hand lettering the title:

Once we agreed that this design worked for both of us, I went about tracing the image once more to transfer it onto my paper. I separated the image of the characters and the type, so that they can be used separately if need be:

Next I flipped over the tracing and penciled in the underside of the drawing:

Then I flipped it over again and traced the image a third time, onto my paper. I started laying down the under painting:

As I slowly layered color ideas, I started to get a sense for the palette and patterns I wanted to use:

Again, slowly layering color in place:

Stay tuned for the final steps next week!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Another office move

This will be a short post today--I worked on my SCBWI Austin speech all afternoon on Saturday, only to decide to scrap it and start over on Sunday after talking it over with the Blue Rose Girls at lunch yesterday (not that they advised me to start over, it was just that talking to them inspired me to refocus the talk). I had been trying to combine my first two ideas from last week, but now I'm going to mainly focus on #2. My talk is tentatively titled "The Realities of Children's Book Publishing." If there's a specific question/topic that you'd like me to cover under this umbrella, feel free to leave your suggestion in the comments section! Thanks so much. I'll let you know how it goes. Thanks to everyone for their suggestions regarding my talk AND places to go in Austin! I'm hankering for some good mac and cheese.

And now I'll leave you with pictures from my new office. I moved offices yet again on Friday. You may recall that I moved to an office on the atrium in January. I quite liked the office, but the problem was that it was on the other side of the building, away from my department. An office recently opened up back on the children's side of the building, and so I packed up my belongings into boxes yet again and made what I hope will be my final office move. I'm happy to be in my first windowed office! Big time, I tell you.

Here's my empty old office:
I left behind some SERGIO stickers on my window:
And here's the new space (not fully unpacked/organized--I'm planning on hanging my snowflakes from the Robert's snow auction on the pillar!):

And here's the two things I did manage to hang--an original piece of art of FLIGHT OF THE DODO from Peter Brown, and the star with HOPE stamped on it in honor of CALL ME HOPE by Gretchen Olson.

My view from my desk:

Let's hope I don't have to spend any more time in the near future packing and unpacking...

Friday, April 18, 2008

POETRY FRIDAY: Ars Poetica by Archibald MacLeish

Here is some advice from Archibald MacLeish about what a poem should be.

Ars Poetica
By Archibald MacLeish
A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,

As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown—

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.

You can read the rest of the poem here.


At Wild Rose Reader, I have an interview with children’s poet Joyce Sidman.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at The Well-Read Child.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

a new look

I"m giving my website an overhaul--a whole new look. I guess I got sick of the old version and for too long I didn't have the guts to redo it. But now I have the guts!

Stay tuned.

here are some new pages to check out: (oops, I gave the old link before)

And please, now is the time to tell me what you'd like to see! If you really likes something on my old site, let me know. If you really think I need a section on my eating habits ( I doubt that) then let me know that too!


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Conversations with Barbara McClintock

Last night, Elaine and I went to the Foundation for Children's Book talk with Barbara Mcclintock. These foundation events are great fun, the more I go to them the more I enjoy myself. And I am a big fan of Barbara McClintock's work as well so, of course, that was a large part of the enjoyment factor. She is just like her books-- lovely, elegant, tall...okay, her books are not tall but they are lovely and elegant:

And this is just a snippet of her lustrous body of work. Her work is also very shiny because of all the awards she has won: four New York Times Best Books, two Time Magazine Best Books, six NY Public Library 100 Recommended Books, two Parents Choice, an ALA Notable Book, a NEBA and probably many more stickers and trophies that are too redundant to mention.

The conversation was extremely interesting. I loved hearing about her process,her path, the ideas behind her work. In fact, talking about Adele and Simon set in Paris gave me a squirt of water for a set-in-China book idea that has been blossoming in my these events are good for personal work as well!

However, my favorite anecdote from the conversation was how Barbara learned how to be a children's book illustrator. Nineteen years old and in North Dakota, she called Maurice Sendak on the phone(!) for advice. Which he gave her(!). This brought her to NYC, where she called up publishers from the yellow pages and met with them (!). Then, after having her book dummy rejected sixteen times(!), it was accepted. And it received a NY Times Best Book Award(!). All I can say

I think times have changed(or at least Maurice has, from what I've heard!). Ironically, the only thing that is timeless from her story is that almost every publisher she met with told her that children's books was a nearly impossible field and it was extremely hard and competitive. Hmm, I guess things really haven't changed that much. I'm realizing more and more, going into this industry is truly an act of faith.

But I am glad that I have found fellow believers.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Its been a busy spring. As mentioned here, I've been doing a lot of public speaking, both to kids and adults. If I knew this would be part of my job 10 years ago when I got started I seriously wonder if I would have gone into publishing at all. I've always been fairly terrified of speaking in front of a group- when I had my first school visit I couldn't sleep for two days beforehand. Literally I laid in bed frozen in terror for two nights. Of course the visit went fine.

But strangely, as I've acclimated over the past several years to this part of the job (or rather learned to manage the anxiety), I start to find myself enjoying it. Saturday, for instance. I was one of the speakers at a half day conference put on by the Foundation for Children's Books, a really lovely organization here in Boston that puts on kids book events throughout the year.

When I first showed up for the event at the Athenaeum Library (a historic 200 year old independent library in downtown Boston), I was more than a little intimidated. This library is AMAZING.

This is the ornate entryway:

The floor to ceiling windows looked out on the cemetery where Mother Goose is buried:

And the screen on which I was to present towered over the room, which was quickly filling with librarians and teachers:

To make matters worse the first speaker of the day was Jack Gantos, a seasoned and famously charming speaker. He was one of those people who can just float from topic to topic, mixing broad insightful comments about the nature of art and literature and life with funny stories about Jenna Bush and kids with velcro sneakers. I sat in the audience in awe, that is when I wasn't mentally reviewing my talk and how I could make it pale less in comparison.

Then suddenly something occurred to me. It might seem kind of obvious, but I don't think I've really taken it to heart before. He was talking about his life. I was about to go up there and talk about my life. Our lives are vastly different, but that doesn't make his experiences better or worse than mine. They hired him to speak because of what he has to offer, and I have something different.

Suddenly that was a freeing thought. Because I don't really have a choice about it. I can't choose to be him or anyone else. All I really have to offer is who I am and what I know, no more no less. Suddenly I felt calm. When it was my turn I went up there and gave the talk I planned to give, relatively at ease and it was fun; the audience was great, stories came easily to mind and I felt like I gave an honest representation of me and my work. One of the attendees pulled me aside after and said it was "the best author/illustrator presentation she'd ever heard." I felt delighted, like an elephant might feel if it suddenly realized it could play the violin.

I can't remember a time when I've enjoyed public speaking more. I don't know if I'll always manage this state of mind when I have a job to do, but I pulled it off for one day at least, so I know that it is possible.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Any suggestions for the SCBWI talk in Austin?

My next trip (I wrote about my last one here) is to Austin for their SCBWI Conference on April 26. I've been thinking about what I'd like to talk about--I was asked to talk about something that both published and unpublished writers could benefit from.

Here are a few of the topics I was tossing around:

1) I was considering recycling (and refreshing)
the talk I gave at the Oregon SCBWI conference last year. I titled it We Are All Diverse: My path to publishing, your path to publication. To be honest, it was kind of a hodgepodge speech, with some "you can do it!" encouragement to the unpublished, advice on goal setting, and also a discussion about diversity and the importance of it in publishing. I think even the published got some good stuff out of it, and since only the 60 people at the conference heard it, part of me would love to share it with a larger group. (Plus, I get to share my parents' love story as part of it.) Perhaps if there's anyone reading this who was in attendance, they could weigh in.

2) I was talking about this with Sara during our trip to Florence, and a suggestion she had was to discuss the different types of publishing experiences a writer can have--for example, a huge auction and the advantages and disadvantage that holds, versus a small advance, publishing at a big house versus a small house, etc. Perhaps I could combine this with a discussion on the "pitfalls of publishing"--issues and situations that authors may not normally think about.

3) One of my authors had suggested a while back that I talk about what makes me want to acquire a project, what are the things I think about when evaluating a manuscript, what comes into play. I'm not sure if there would be enough here to fill a whole speech (I think I have 45 minutes to an hour), but I could certainly throw this into whatever topic I decide to go with.

Any thoughts on any of these? Any suggestions? I'd like to pin down a topic by the end of this week so that I can prepare the speech this weekend. I'd appreciate any feedback.

And I've never been to Austin; I'm excited!

Friday, April 11, 2008

POETRY FRIDAY: Workshop, A Poem by Billy Collins

Are you "into" analyzing poetry? Do you find it more difficult to critique your own poems or the poems of other writers? Here is a poem by Billy Collins that I thought would be a good selection to post this second Friday of National Poetry Month.

By Billy Collins

It gets me right away because I’m in a workshop now
so immediately the poem has my attention,
like the Ancient Mariner grabbing me by the sleeve.

And I like the first couple of stanzas,
the way they establish this mode of self-pointing
that runs through the whole poem
and tells us that words are food thrown down
on the ground for other words to eat.
I can almost taste the tail of the snake
in its own mouth,
if you know what I mean.

But what I’m not sure about is the voice,
which sounds in places very casual, very blue jeans,
but other times seems standoffish,
professorial in the worst sense of the word
like the poem is blowing pipe smoke in my face.
But maybe that’s just what it wants to do.

You can read the rest of the poem here.


At Wild Rose Reader, I have an interview with children's poet Janet Wong.

Cloudscome has the Poetry Friday Roundup at A Wrung Sponge.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Fold

Fellow Fusion author, An Na's book "The Fold" just came out today and I look forward to reading it with great interest. In it, an Asian girl is offered the chance to get plastic surgery done on her eyes to give it the coveted Caucasian eye fold.

And this surgery is quite common across Asia, especially in Taiwan. Having those eye folds are mandates of beauty; something I experienced up close and personally.

Because at my photo shoot for my new author photo (my new novel is a Chinese folktale-inspired fantasy--since it takes place in an imagined reality, I thought it fit to have the author photo be a bit of a flight from the imagination as well), my eyes were the first thing that were changed. The make-up artist, after taking off my glasses, cut pieces of thin plastic and glued them to my eyelids and, voila!, I had eye folds. I had misgivings about the entire procedure but was persuaded by the studio workers' coos of admiration.

And that is how they took me bouncing into the studio looking like this:

Into this:

Yikes! (I also was instructed not to smile in the photos which is why I am smirking in all of them). Obviously, I have regrets.

Because now I, the me I know, am unrecognizable in the photos (the only good ones were the ones where I was looking down when the fake folds were not as noticeable). I realized, in that moment I allowed myself to choose between being "beautiful" and myself, when the original goal of the photos was to achieve both. I hope the character in An Na's book realizes the same.

the dark side of electricity...

The electricity graphic novel is underway!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


I got back from Italy Monday night. It was an overall fantastic trip in almost every way.

I was there mainly for the Bologna Book Fair. For those of you not familiar with it, here is a description from the website:

The Bologna Children’s Book Fair is the most important international event dedicated to the children’s publishing and multimedia industry. In its 45th edition, the Fair offers more than 20,000 square meters of exhibition space with a simple, easy-to-understand layout.

In Bologna, authors, illustrators, literary agents, TV & film producers, licensors and licensees, packagers, distributors, printers, booksellers, and librarians meet to:
• sell & buy copyright
• find the very best of children’s publishing and multimedia production
• generate and gather new contacts while strengthening professional relationships
• discover new business opportunities
• discuss and debate the latest sector trends

As a publisher, we go to sell foreign and film (etc.) rights for our books, and also go to possibly buy book rights from foreign publishers, agents, etc. My company generally sends four people every year--two people to sell, and two people to buy. Going to Bologna was always a kind of pipe dream for me, as generally only the publisher and editorial directors get to go. I hoped it would be a possibility some day--I certainly didn't expect to be able to go so soon, but I was fortunate enough to be tapped to go for the first time this year and help buy.

I arrived with two of three coworkers on Saturday afternoon. We rented a car and drove to our hotel. The first thing we noticed about Bologna was that it was sunny and nice. The second thing I noticed was that there were a lot of colorful, little cars. The third thing I noticed was that there was a lot of graffiti.

We checked into the hotel, and then a colleague and I (it was also his first trip to Bologna) decided to get something to eat and explore the city a bit. We found a little outdoor place on via dell' Independenza. Here I am with my first pasta meal, appropriately tagliatelle alla bolognese. So good.
Later that night, we scouted out a bookstore, and of course made a beeline to the children's section. I found an Italian edition of Jerry Spinelli's Love, Stargirl, and found it amusing to see my name surrounded by all the Italian (you may recall that he thanked me in the acknowledgements for letting him use my name for one of the characters):
The next day we set up the booth. Here are a few walls:

I was excited to see a whole wall devoted to my beloved Sergio Makes a Splash by Edel Rodriguez:
And, of course, another devoted to the Stephenie Meyer books:
After setup we strolled over to the Piazzi Maggiore to sit in the sun and have lunch. I had been told that mortadella was one of the specialties in Bologna, so I ordered a mortadella sandwich and was delighted to discover that it was basically bologna. I had wanted to eat bologna in Bologna!

After that, my time in Bologna was a blur of meetings and dinners. We were basically all scheduled for 30 minute back-to-back-to-back meetings from 9 am till 6 pm every day. The first two days I went to most meetings with our Publisher, with a few separate ones here and there, and then Wednesday and Thursday I had my meetings solo. It was exhausting, overwhelming, but awesome.

The exhibits were divided into halls, which were for the most part sorted by country. I think there were around 6-8 halls, but I spent most of my time in just 4 different halls--the US, UK, French, and Asian halls (with other countries mixed in). Our appointments had for the most part been planned with location in mind, but of course there were those few times where we found ourselves going to a meeting in Hall 25, then having to jump to Hall 30, and then back again. But despite all the rushing around, I think the people buying (like me) had the better deal--all I had to do was listen and say what I was interested in. The people selling have to sit in the booth all day and give the same sales pitch meeting after meeting.

I've met with many a foreign rights agent before, so that part was nothing new, but it was great to put some faces to names, and to see publishers from countries we don't normally meet with, like France, Sweden, the Netherlands, Taiwan, and more. I was really drawn to the art styles of a lot of the European publishers, but oftentimes found the content a bit too obscure, sophisticated, or inappropriate for the U.S. audience. For example, my publisher joked that many of the French picture books feature death, nudity, and smoking. I saw plenty of the former two, but unfortunately (fortunately?) none featuring the latter.

All of the agents were regulated to the agent center, which apparently was in a new location this year. Many of the agents expressed dissatisfaction with the new digs, one reason being that they were up in the mezzanine, with no bathroom! I thought the windows were quite nice, though. But the crowded tables gave one the impression of a coral.
I didn't see anything that I absolutely loved right away, but I requested many picture books that I wanted to spend more time with, and of course when it comes to fiction, you just have to read it. It seems that in the past, people more often actually bought things while at the fair (I remember as an assistant running P&Ls and faxing them to my boss in Bologna). We did get a few offers on one of our big upcoming fiction titles, and heard of a few other books getting offers or a lot of interest, but nothing really jumped out as being the "book of the fair." I think the exchange rate played a role in this, too. But there were some promising-sounding things, so we'll see. The emails following up from after the fair are starting to trickle in.

On the selling side, I was of course curious to hear about the books I'd edited and the interest they were generating. I think the three main books that were getting a lot of requests were Sergio (out next month), The Curious Garden by Peter Brown (Spring 2009), and Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein, illustrated by Ed Young (Fall 2008). It was interesting to hear the Japanese publishers' take on Wabi Sabi. Apparently, only one requested to see it, which I suppose is not surprising--it would be like us buying in a picture book about baseball or Thanksgiving from the Japanese. Not impossible, but probably not likely. And one Japanese publisher greeted the concept with skepticism. "How can a picture book explain wabi sabi? It is too complicated. Impossible." I think we were successful, but I'll be curious how this one is received when it comes out.

We dined with various packagers and foreign publishers on Monday night, with our French subagent on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday night, the children's agents from McIntosh & Otis arranged a get-together--various agents, editors, subagents, packagers, etc. gathered together in a little outdoor area to drink wine and compare conference notes.

I met up with a friend and went off to Florence for two nights on vacation after the fair, which I hope to post about on my personal blog at some point (I LOVED Florence. Gorgeous city), but that just about sums up the Bologna Book Fair for me. I hope to be invited back some day! And just for fun, I'll leave you with a few food pictures. Oh, the food.