Saturday, February 28, 2009

In response to Laurie's suggestion

In her comment to my post last week, Laurie suggested that someone draft a letter to Congress, so people who wanted to could send it to their representatives. So, here's my attempt for anyone who wants to do that -- or use mine as a taking-off point for her own letter: it's usually easier to rewrite something than to start from scratch. Or maybe we could we all edit and rewrite it using the blog's Comments....I already sent this draft to my Congressman, Joe Courtney, who, I'm proud to say, was one of the only people in Congress who voted against Bush's bail-out to the bankers.

Anyway: here's the letter I sent him. I can always rewrite it according to the Comments and resend it.

Dear Joe:
First, thank you for being our representative in Congresss. I voted for you and I think you're doing a good job.

I am a children's book author, writing to you about how the publishing industry is suffering and how Congress could help, without spending a dime. If you believe that good books are important to children, and that the publishing industry is worth saving, this is important. [EVERYONE: This sentence is clunky, I know...rewrites extra welcome here!]

Once, publishers made most of their money from "mid-list" books: books that sold "only" a few hundred or thousand copies a year. These books provided a steady income for publishers until, in the late 1970s, Congress passed a law saying that publishers had to pay taxes on their inventory.

This meant that these mid-list books were no longer as profitable. At around the same time, small, independent bookstores were being replaced by big chains, and publishing houses were merging and becoming bigger and more corporate.

All of these things -- but especially, having to pay taxes on the backlist -- led publishers to concentrate their resources on "big books," books they hoped would become best sellers. Simple arithmetic shows how this meant fewer books: where once, a publisher would have paid 25 authors advances of $10,000 each, they are now much more likely to pay one author an advance of $250,000.

The publishers' assumptions about what might become a "big" book have also limited what's published. They've stopped publishing, or limited, certain kinds of books. There are fewer books for children aged 8-11 (books for "young adults" sell better). Children's books that are considered "quiet" (no big exciting events) aren't as common -- would SWALLWS AND AMAZONS be published today? Genres that aren't in (like realistic fiction) are harder to get published, even though some children love realistic fiction. In general, the whole trend of children's publishing today is towards fewer books that SOME children might love -- because lots of children might not like them. Children's books are becoming more like TV: trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Could Congress repeal the law about having to pay taxes on unsold books -- "existing inventory"? And clarify the provisions of the Child Safety Act so books don't have to undergo needless and expensive testing? And -- though this one would cost money - give subsidies to schools and libraries not for new buildings but to BUY GOOD BOOKS?

This would support both the arts and education -- and what could be more worthwhile than encouraging children to read by making books that they'd fall in love with readily available to them?

I would be happy to volunteer my time to help this cause and I bet lots of other authors would, too.

Yours sincerely,
Libby Koponen

Friday, February 27, 2009

Claim your books: you could make some money

The BRGs were talking recently about the Google book settlement and whether or not it was worth bothering to fill out online claims for our books. In short: YES.

It only takes about five minutes to fill out the online forms and (if you do and Google scans your books before May), you will be paid at least $60 and maybe as much as $300. That's worth five minutes of MY time!

NOTE: You may need to enter the title, rather than your name -- that's how I found my books.

Here is what the Authors Guild had to say about the settlement:

"The settlement strengthens authors' rights and will, if approved by the court, result in millions of dollars of payments to authors. At least $45 million will be paid to authors and publishers to release claims for books that are scanned by Google by May 5th of this year. But that's not the most significant part of the settlement, in our view. We expect the licensing that this settlement would enable, particularly of out-of-print books, will result in far more revenues for authors over the coming years.

The settlement covers essentially all in-copyright books that were published by January 5, 2009. (Some authors have told us that they think of the settlement as covering only books for adults or nonfiction books. This is incorrect. Books of all types are covered by the settlement.)

We think it's in the strong interest of authors of all books, whether in print or out of print, to go to and claim their books. Here are some of the benefits of doing so:

1. If you file your claim by January 5, 2010, and a book in which you have a copyright interest is scanned by Google before May 5, 2009, you will be entitled to a small share (at least $60 per book, but up to $300, depending on the number of claims) in a pool of at least $45 million that Google is paying to release claims for works that were scanned without rightsholder permission."

(There were more benefits but you can read them yourself at the Authors Guild Web site -- I just wanted to give the main info for those who hadn't seen it.)

POETRY FRIDAY: Pot Roast by Mark Strand

Food is important in my life—and my husband’s. Both Mike and I enjoy cooking. Everything we make is from scratch. Some of Mike’s specialties are homemade pasta and pizza, soup, salsa, stuffed squid, blueberry pancakes, and eggplant lasagna. Sometimes, preparing food puts me in a Zen-like mood. I often find it relaxing.

So much of our lives revolves around cooking and eating. We get together with friends for dinner. We celebrate holidays with family and traditional foods. Making and eating food involves our senses of taste and smell and touch and hearing. Sometimes the eating and preparing food may reawaken thoughts of the past—as it does in the following poem by Mark Strand. I first read the poem in 2001 in Americans’ Favorite Poems: The Favorite Poem Project Anthology, the book that was given to all of us educators who participated in the First Summer Poetry Institute for Teachers at Boston University.

The woman who submitted Pot Roast to the project as her favorite poem wrote: "Eating is something we all do. Sometimes the experience can be totally gratifying. Most of the time we barely remember doing it. This poem reminds me how powerful and evocative this daily ritual can be."

Pot Roast is one of my favorite poems too.

Pot Roast
By Mark Strand

I gaze upon the roast,

that is sliced and laid out

on my plateand over it

I spoon the juices

of carrot and onion.

And for once I do not regret

The passage of time.

I sit by a window

that looks

on the soot-stained brick of buildings

and do not care that I see

no living thing—not a bird,

not a branch in bloom,

not a soul movingin the rooms

behind the dark panes.

These days when there is little

to love or to praise

one could do worsethan yield

to the power of food.

You can read the rest of the poem here.

Here’s a link to the website of The Favorite Poem Project.


At Wild Rose Reader, I have a macaronic verse that I wrote for Tricia’s Poetry Stretch this week. It’s a silly poem called The Exterminator’s List of Things to Do or A Typical Workday for Tom DeLay.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Mommy’s Favorite Children’s Books.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

nothing to post

I had full intention of posting the rest of the video on arm wrestling today but I can't because I haven't gotten anything done this week. I got REALLY sick and the doctor yelled at me for not going to the emergency room and taking "matters into my own hands," instead, by consuming a dangerous amount of pain meds. The conclusion was that there's nothing I can do for the pain except "sleep." I said " I can't sleep for two weeks!" He didn't have a response. Now I must go to 2 more specialists--another neurologist and a cardiovascular surgeon because my blood pressure is 125/70 in the left arm and 150/90 in the right. 3 doctors. None know why that is.

So yay. More doctors. More drama. No book work done. I'm petrified that the economy is going to eventually affect me. At BN workers are getting their hours reduced. And here I am with no way to get more income. I can't work on a book when I feel like I"m going to puke! Oh well. The next step is a chemo drug. We'll see what happens.

I'm not posting this so that you can think "Oh, poor Meghan." I'm posting this because this is a warning to all self employed people. You are risking A LOT when you go that root. There's no safety net!!!!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Save the Date!

You're invited to the WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON booklaunch on at 5:30 on June 6th at the Porter Square Bookstore!

Yes, that's right, I'm having another party. I haven't worked out all the fun (though there will be moon-shaped cookies) but I'm trying to give lots of advance warning so you can mark your calendars. Please come!

For those of you not in the Boston/Somerville area, I'm planning virtual party of sorts at the Grace Lin Books Group on Facebook. Like I said, I haven't worked everything out yet, but I am planning lots of fun and prizes...with the grand prize being your name or your likeness (or your child's, whatever you prefer) in an upcoming book of mine! Stay tuned!

(I promise later to give an update of my time here in sunny San Antonio--it's going to be 80 degrees here and I only have turtleneck sweaters!)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Tale of Two Hollyhocks

Benjamin Hill over at Dave's Garden blog wrote a lovely article about Priscilla and the Hollyhocks, click here to read. Makes me wish the parking lot behind our building had even the tiniest place to garden. I'll just have to save my hollyhock seeds for the day when we have a yard.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Have we gone too far for safety?

Related to Libby's great post below, I'd just like to mention the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) again. Elaine also touched on this in an earlier post, and I mentioned it in my Kindling Words wrap-up as well.

Publishers, libraries, bookstores, and other industries who earn a living selling, producing, or supporting children's products have been scrambling to try to abide by the CPSIA which was to come into effect this February 10th. Thankfully, a stay of execution was granted for one year (read more info about that here). Of course, nothing has been resolved, still.

Alison Morris had a great post about this last week in Shelftalker, where she linked to this article by a lawyer decrying the NY Times editorial supporting the Act.
Clueless. Disgraceful. Grossly ill-informed. And cruelly hard-hearted toward families and businesses across the country that are facing economic ruin.
Jezebel also linked to this very sharp article in the Guardian. This is probably the most frightening part of the author's take on the Act:
Thus a great many books could very soon become inaccessible. Even when they survive on private shelves, it is technically illegal to pass them on for free. And on top of all that, the law is incoherent: what's to stop a child from being exposed to books for adults published prior to 1985? Why not ban them all? Though I probably shouldn't even say that. The idea of banning books as a health hazard would be all too popular with those politicians who are opposed to freedom of speech, but too mealy-mouthed to come out and say it.
Of course we want to ensure our children's safety, but at what cost? And is this really the right law? Want to know what you can do to help? Check out these sites here and here. (Thanks to Jenny for the links)


In happier news, I'm watching the Academy Awards right now. I love watching award shows, but I must say, I keep crying! From the touching clips, to Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black's passionate acceptance speech, to Heath Ledger's win (and his family accepting the award on his behalf), it's been an emotional night!

It's one of the things on my "Things to do before I die" list to attend a black-tie awards event. I guess that, technically, I've already crossed this off my list, as I attended the National Book Awards last year, so I guess I'll have to upgrade to attending the Oscars. Now that's going to be a challenge, but hey, I can aim high, can't I? Maybe I can apply to be a seat warmer.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Congress, publishing, and us

One thing the Bush years really showed me is how much government policies can change a country -- I never really got that before, even though I knew it abstractly.

Once, publishers made a steady income-- in fact, most of their money --from their back lists, books that sold a few hundred or thousand copies a year. Sometime in the late 1970s I think, laws changed and publishers had to pay taxes on those backlists. Backlists became less profitable, and publishers began counting more on bestsellers, less on midlist books, for their profits. There were other reasons for this, too -- more chain stores, fewer independent book stores; changes in the ownership and management of publishing companies due to mergers -- but the change in the tax law was definitely one factor.

Of course every house (and let's face it, probably every author, too, including this one) hopes to publish a big book. Although sometimes well-written, literary books make it big, most of the books publishers pay large advances for are commercial books, sometimes at the expense or even to the exclusion of other kinds of books. It's just arithmetic: when one author gets a $250,000 advance (which, by the way, may or may not be earned by its royalties!), twenty-five other authors can't get $10,000 advances.

What bothers me about this is that some of those not-signed books may be stories that smaller numbers of people would have passionately loved. And I don't think there is any way to predict what will or will not become a best-seller -- or even what will appeal to anyone! It's hard to even predict whether or not someone you know well will like a particular book! But it's probably safe to say that the fewer kinds of books there are, the less likely some children (especially those with unusual tastes) are to discover new books they passionately love. Obviously, some big books have passionate followings; but not universal followings. So for readers as well as authors I hope well-written books with good stories and real characters that don't scream Next Big Thing keep getting published. But I'll get to the action item.

While Obama and Congress are still trying to change the economy, why don't all of us write to our Congress people and suggest a simple way to support the arts AND education, as well as create jobs and bail out an industry that in my opinion anyway is a lot more worthy of government help than Wall Street or the auto industry? One simple way: reverse this law taxing backlists. Let publishers keep backlists without paying taxes -- and while they're at it, exclude books from the Child Safety Act, and give schools special book-buying subsidies.

And if anyone wants to know where the publishing history in this post comes from: a long article that appeared in the old, pre-Tina-Brown New Yorker.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Will You Marry Me?

On Valentine’s Day, my daughter’s boyfriend Jerry brought her to the top of a mountain in New Hampshire and proposed to her. My husband Mike and I are thrilled. Sara and Jerry are a great twosome!
The Ring!

There are times I get a bit nostalgic thinking about my daughter’s childhood and how much fun Mike and I had watching her grow and change and experience life. She is ready for the next big “life” step—marriage.

Sara at Three

Sara--All Growed Up!!!

Here’s a poem I’m posting today in honor of the newly engaged couple.

A Red, Red Rose
by Robert Burns

O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve!
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my luve,
Though it were ten thousand mile.


At Wild Rose Reader, I have an original rhyming acrostic.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at The Holly and the Ivy.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

arm wrestling BRG style

So we got together this sunday for a little evening gathering (I came late - not a surprise). somehow the conversation got to the topic of arm wrestling (I think I first suggested it - again, not a surprise) but this time it wasn't my idea, I swear! Linda and I were to face off. This is how we ended the evening. I think we both injured ourselves.

Anyway, I filmed it with my crappy camera. Then of course I needed to make a little opening. Since my laptop needs some space I don't have any room to put the video on it until I get room and can delete some things. I did manage to make an opening for the bit. I will say this: I've been feeling like complete crap all week - a headache that wouldn't go away no matter how much vicodin I consumed and a permanent quesy, vomity feeling. Good times. So somehow this evening after consuming I swear a whole bottle of ibuprofen this week, I actually felt somewhat normal? And what do I do with my time? Make an opening for the video of course. And does it seem like I'm normal? No. More like on heavy drugs. Observe:

Once again, there is at least one typo. Uh, yeah, I forgot it's 2009. So much for that.

Does Linda win? Or do I? Stay tuned....

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Heart Day

Here is perhaps a little known fact about me. I usually avoid doing bookstore events like the plague. Don't get me wrong, I heart bookstores. I even heart other author's events at bookstores. But my own? Pass! I did just one too many bookstore event where I was the lonely author in the corner, only spoken to when someone needed directions to the bathroom.

So, I surprised myself when I signed up for the Kids Heart Authors Day put together by Mitali Perkins. But, I wanted to pay back some of the goodwill that people have given me by supporting the small graces project and I also thought, "It's a group signing. Worst case, at least we can be bored together and ALL show that one lost person where the bathroom is."

But the event at the Curious George Store had a lot more than one person:

And, instead of being bored, I was busy having fun signing books and teaching kids how to draw a dog:

So busy in fact I barely got to speak to my lovely fellow authors: Nancy Viau, Mary Brigid Barrett (who was one of my teachers at RISD!), and Laya Steinberg:

I had a good time! Maybe I've changed my mind and I heart bookstore events after all...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Monday, February 16, 2009

More thoughts on censorship

I'm in Mystic, CT with some of my fellow Blue Rose Girls right now, and so am cheating with my weekly post a bit by posting something I wrote on my personal blog last week:

School Library Journal has a great, thought-provoking piece on self-censorship here.

Here's an excerpt:

Self-censorship. It’s a dirty secret that no one in the profession wants to talk about or admit practicing. Yet everyone knows some librarians bypass good books—those with literary merit or that fill a need in their collections. The reasons range from a book’s sexual content and gay themes to its language and violence—and it happens in more public and K–12 libraries than you think.

“It’s probably fairly widespread, but we don’t have any way of really knowing, because people who self-censor are not likely to broadcast it,” says Pat Scales, president of the Association of Library Services to Children and author of Protecting Intellectual Freedom in Your School Library (ALA Editions, 2009). And since most people think librarians are the best champions of books, adds Scales, their jobs give them the perfect cover.

The American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom only documents written challenges to library books and materials (there were 420 cases in 2007), and even then, it estimates that only one out of five cases are reported. But when it comes to self-censorship, it’s almost impossible to quantify because no one is monitoring it or collecting stats, and there’s no open discussion on the subject. We most often hear about it through anecdotes or if someone is willing to fess up.

“In a way, self-censorship is more frightening than outright banning and removal of challenged material,” says author and former librarian Susan Patron, because these incidents tend to “slip under the radar.”

I was especially surprised by this paragraph:

Researchers Jeff Whittingham and Wendy Rickman asked media specialists if their collections offered the most popular gay-, bisexual-, lesbian-, and transgender-themed books published between 1999 and 2005, including Alex Sanchez’s Rainbow Boys (S & S, 2001), Brent Hartinger’s Geography Club (HarperTeen, 2003), and David Levithan’s award-winning Boy Meets Boy (Knopf, 2003). Almost always, the answer came back no.

Boy Meets Boy is one of the sweetest, most delicious YA novels out there. I can't believe that it's not shelved in most/all libraries!

In terms of censorship, I must admit that on occasion I do ask authors to replace certain words that I know teachers, parents, and librarians may object to. Two of the main culprits, aside from the obvious curse words, are "retarded" and "fag." (It actually makes me cringe just to type them.) And yes, I know kids and teens really do use those words when they speak, but personally, I wouldn't mind if they used them less. But I'll only recommend changing or deleting words depending on the usage, and depending on whether the same tone and authenticity can come across using different words. I've also often asked an author to cut down on the cussing by 50% or whatever percentage I feel is appropriate depending on the type of book it is, the intended audience, and the subject matter. But I do leave it up the author to decide. And I would never not acquire a book because of the language.

For you authors and editors, teachers, parents, and librarians out there, do you self censor?

Read my other recent post on censorship here.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Small Grace

Would you like to know who was the highest bidder in the February Small Graces auction?
Would you like to find out who won this lovely painting by our fabulously talented Blue Rose Girl Grace Lin? Then check out this post at Wild Rose Reader.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Party

This is from an old diary....I think it makes sense without any explanations, but maybe not. Let me know! That's one of my reasons for posting: how much explanation things need is a big question, always, for me when I write.

February 14
Tonight the kids and I had a Valentine’s Party. We spent all afternoon — or rather, they did — making cards and decorations. I baked a chocolate cake with chocolate icing, and, at their request, decorated it with a “V” (for Valentine’s Day). They said I couldn’t come into the upstairs living-room, where we were to eat on a card table they’d dragged up from downstairs, until they said they were ready. When I went in, they were all wearing their best clothes: the boys had on grey pants, ties, and navy-blue blazers; Rebecca was wearing her new long dress.
Then we went to my closet to choose what I should put on. They all vetoed my first choice — Steven said:
“No, you wore that every day last summer and I’m sick of it.”
Finally Rebecca picked a long white evening dress. When I tried it on, everyone approved:
“Twirl around again, Libby.”
Nathaniel ran downstairs to get me an apron (his idea) so I could finish cooking. Rebecca said,
“Do you feel shy in your dress?”
I nodded, and she said,
“I did too at first but now I don’t.”
They finished “getting set up” while I finished cooking; I heard Benjamin saying,
“Oh, I’m so excited!”
Finally, they were ready and so was the dinner. When I brought it in, all the lights were turned out, candles lit, a fire made; STAR WARS (DA da, dadada DA da) played, over and over. The table had been lovingly set, with little cards and name tags and small piles of candy (I’d given each of them 8 cents to buy it with) by each place. Balloons covered the floor (Benjamin and Steven’s idea — that you shouldn’t be able to take one step without kicking a balloon).
I suggested that we have a toast. Solemnly, everyone filled their glasses and I said:
“Happy Valentine’s Day!”
Everyone clinked glasses all together, carefully, in the middle of the table, very seriously. Then they looked at each other, gave delighted smiles, and said:
“Let’s do it again!”
This time, everyone said, at the same time,
Their demeanor and conversation were an odd mixture of the formal (imitative of their parents’ Sunday dinners?) and childlike. Clearly, this was a special occasion to them, a time for Party Behavior. Everyone ate very politely. I told them I’d made up a song, which I would sing when I brought in the cake. This, too, was a ceremony: they wanted to be told when it was coming so they could be “ready.” When I said I was coming, they all blew whistle pops simultaneously and shrilly. Then Steven shushed them and I sang the song again.
They liked the song. They all wanted a piece of the “V” on their cake. They commented very politely that the cake was good, only the icing (bittersweet chocolate) “a little too sour.” After the cake, we opened the cards we’d made — Nathaniel had written riddles on all of his, with the answer concealed by a small heart (taped on) that you lifted up.
Then we took the Dixie cups by each plate and threw their contents — confetti they had made by cutting colored paper into tiny pieces — into the air.
I felt like a privileged spy from the adult world, witnessing their fantasy of what a party is. They’d prepared it all so lovingly — the little piles of cards and decorations and confetti (it must have taken them a long time to cut up all that paper) by each plate, the balloons, all the candles, the fire, the music, the very best clothes. It was really one of the nicest parties I’ve ever been to.

(from me now) Happy Valentine's Day to all, especially Benjamin, Nathaniel, Steven and Becca!

Friday, February 13, 2009

To My Dear and Loving Husband & More Love Poems

If you’re in love—skip the flowers and the chocolates and the teddy bears—express your romantic feelings with P-O-E-T-R-Y, fellas! Ladies, too!!!

Here, in honor of Valentine’s Day, is my favorite “love” poem for my husband.

To My Dear and Loving Husband

by Anne Bradstreet

If ever two were one, then surely we.

If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;

If ever wife was happy in a man,

Compare with me ye women if you can.

I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,

Or all the riches that the East doth hold.

My love is such that rivers cannot quench,

Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.

Thy love is such I can no way repay;

The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.

Then while we live, in love let's so persever,

That when we live no more we may live ever.


Poetry Valentines—Poems to email and pdf poem valentines that you can print and cut out

Be Mine: Poems for Sweethearts (Includes poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Derek Walcott, Robert Frost, Shakespeare, Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickinson, and e.e. cummings)

Love Poems (Includes links to poems by Paul Laurance Dunbar, Robert Penn Warren, Robert Herrick, Sara Teasdale, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Lord Byron)

More Poems for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Poems from the Poetry Foundation's Online Journal

Valentine Poems for Children by David McCord, Valerie Worth, Jane Yolen, Barbara Juster Esbensen, Jane Yolen, and Shakespeare


At Wild Rose Reader, I have Edward Lear’s ever-popular poem The Owl and the Pussycat and a recommendation for a beautifully illustrated picture book version by Stephane Jorisch.

Kelly Herold has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Big A, little a.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

a new series... and possibly a waste of time

Here we have my first video in a series of interview type videos on different artists and their work spaces. I need a new video camera because mine isn't compatible with my mac editing software, which means everything is super hard to do/make. I started to edit this one and gave up not even half way through... oh well.

so my goal would be to do ones on other artists. This is just a test. Do not think this is the real thing!

p.s - like how I spelled procrastination wrong? Ah, whatever.

the bookstore that changed my life

I will be booksigning, reading and leading a dog draw-a-long (a dog drawing lesson) at:

Curious George Bookstore
1 JFK Street (Harvard Sq)
Cambridge, MA 02138
Ph: 617-498-0062
Sat., Feb. 14th from 10am-12pm

Yes, that's THIS Saturday (I meant to tell people earlier, but I forgot. I am the worst promoter of these things). It is a part of the Kids Heart Authors Day program spearheaded by Mitali Perkins. Participating authors were encouraged to proclaim their love of independent bookstores, particularly the one they would be signing at. Me, the delinquent, never sent anything in for the official press release which I am quite ashamed of. Especially as I am signing at the Curious George Bookstore, the place which really did change my life.

You might think I am being over-dramatic with that statement, but I am not. In the beginning of my children's book career, when I didn't even know if I would be able to make it a career, I was a bookseller at the Curious George bookstore. It was a better education in children's books than my four years at art school. Day in and day out I was inundated with children's books and there I truly got a feeling of what makes a good book. It was truly enlightening.

But it was even more life changing than that. While working there, I met Robert--whom I never have regretted in my life, despite the heartaches. I also met Ranida whom I fixed up with Robert's roommate Luke--and they are now a happy family with their first child. So the Curious George Bookstore changed their lives too.

And I am still feeling the effects. I also met talented Alissa Imre Geis there, who became a friend and recently wrote a very sweet post about Lissy's Friends.

So come and see me this Saturday! Maybe the Curious George Bookstore will change your life too!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Old Red Shoe web site goes live!

At last, the web site I put together for my new book What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe? is up and running! I wanted to put together a web site separate from my main site to help teachers, educators, and parents use the book in an easy way. There are tips for doing the activities, a curriculum guide to help teachers use the book in a classroom, and details about how the book was made.

Click here to take the new site for a test drive! And stay tuned for events to celebrate the book's release in late March...

Monday, February 09, 2009

Kindling Words 2009--it keeps getting better

Last weekend I attended my fifth Kindling Words. (Incidentally, I remember the first one I attended, with Grace--I read a very early draft of what turned out to become The Year of the Dog!)

Kindling Words, for those of you not familiar with it, is a children's book professional retreat. Attendees include published authors and illustrators, and editors. I wrote about the retreat two years ago here, and my very high opinion of it has not changed at all. I was sorry to have missed last year because of my trip to China (although not sorry to have gone to China!), and it was good to be back this year and see so many familiar faces--and many new ones, too. Because of the great demand for the retreat, the number of attendees was increased this year to 85 from 75. And I was absolutely shocked and thrilled to discover that the editor strand was 16 people deep! Incredible. Over twice as many as two years earlier.

Kindling Words is held at the beautiful Inn at Essex, also home to the New England Culinary Institute, so yes--the food is delicious!

This year I drove up with fellow editors Nancy Mercado of Roaring Press, Rotem Moscovich of Scholastic, and Stacy Whitman, formerly of Mirrorstone, now freelancing. We arrived in time for cocktails and dinner. Thursday nights have been unprogrammed in the past, but this year the organizers had something special planned. We split into three groups and rotated into three different rooms. My first room was being led by Gregory Maguire, and we went around the room, each composing one line of a poem (the first and last lines were provided by W.H. Auden). The result, as you'll see later, was both humorous, random, and moving.

As we were writing the poem, we could hear drumming in the background, and so it was no surprise that our next room was filled with drums. This is us before getting any guidance:

I can't remember the name of our drum leader, but he was incredible. He also left his drums for us all weekend, with the one caveat that we were not allowed to drum alone, which resulted in some spontaneous community drum circles.

The final room was filled with large canvases and lots of paint. We were to paint until all of the white of the canvas was covered, and paint using our poem as inspiration.
Here's a video of us painting while Gregory reads the second half or so of our poem:

And here is our painting farther along:
The next morning, the "regular programming" began. This year, KW regular Nancy Werlin led the author's strand. She spoke about matching your writing with a reader's appetite, accepting the fact that not every reader will have the right sensibility for your work, and making sure you satisfy their craving at the end. I found a lot of what she discussed helpful in thinking about how I edit.
Mary Jane Begin led the illustrator's strand. Now I've seen first-hand why her courses are in such demand at RISD. She was extremely informative and the images she showed were inspiring. Here she is using sketches from Ratatouille to discuss characterization and development. I also found her presentations helpful to my own work as an editor, in terms of evaluating art.
The amazing Ashley Bryan was the keynote speaker for Friday night. I had heard him speak before, but just briefly at the Eric Carle Honors and the Original Art Show opening. I realized that those had just been an appetizer for the main event. He read poem after poem in his wonderful, rich voice, so expressive and inspiring. He also had us repeating lines after him. I, for one, was energized! It made me want to read more poetry. And that's the whole idea, isn't it?

Saturday night was the traditional candlelight reading. One change was to divide the readers into two rooms so that everyone who wanted to read would have the chance--personally, I didn't prefer this set-up, as not everyone had the same experience to discuss later. But still, as always, it was such a wonderful and varied event, as people read five minutes of their unpublished work--from humorous picture books, to tragic young adult novels.And the grand finale was the bonfire where we burned pieces of papers with goals and/or things we'd like to let go. I chose to write down something I wanted to let go (the secret stays with me and the fire!). And, as always, we sang song around the fire. It was a bit too cold to stay outside for very long, though. But each night we retired to the hospitality suite for wine and socializing.
Over the weekend, the editors met in three closed sessions (two planned, one spontaneous). Our topics ranged from the economy (bad), technology (eBooks), the child safety act (frustrating), our editorial processes (varied), dealing with agents (auctions), relationships with authors (fulfilling), and more. We also held a panel with the larger group where we answered pre-submitted questions, the majority of which were about the economy. I was coming from a very different perspective in that regard, as I work for one of the few publishers who is doing quite well right now (Stephenie Meyer!), but everyone, even us, is bracing for the worst and being extra-cautious. That's not to say that we all are not continuing to buy books and publish them carefully and well. In some cases, the editors welcomed a bit of a slow-down in acquisition, as that allowed them to focus on special projects that they've been meaning to work on for a long time. I think we can all sympathize with that.

Oh, and another thing I discovered with horror was that many other companies were discouraging their editors from taking agents to lunch, to help cut costs. You know how I love those agent lunches!

In all seriousness, though, these are tough times. I've been seeing friends lose their jobs, both in publishing and out. For all of you authors and illustrators out there, it probably will be true that publishers are buying fewer books right now. But don't despair--if you can't sell your project now, do what you always have done--keep creating art. Keep writing, keep painting, keep on keeping on. This too shall pass.

Special thanks to all the organizers: Marnie Brooks, Tanya Lee Stone, Alison James, and Mary Lee Donavan. This truly was the best KW yet!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

"Make it shorter!": Another Trick

Lincoln's birthday is coming up, I guess, and Adam made a poster of Lincoln for a school project. He asked me if I would "type up" some of the stories I've told him about Lincoln's sons, so he could staple it to the poster.

I said I had something written already -- but he didn't like it. He wanted me to delete all of it, start over, and "make it shorter. I just want the funny parts." I did, taking out even stuff *I* really liked such as Lincoln's good-bye (and to me tear-inducing) to the people of Springfield. Though I miss that part, the cuts vastly improved the piece.

And I wrote so much faster! I wish I could always have Adam in the room while I write. The approved draft was only one page. He wanted me to make two copies, "so I can give one to my teacher," and sign both. When I woke up the next morning, I couldn't resist doing a few parts over -- I drove them to Adam's house before school and he agreed that it was better with these (few) additions. It still all fit on one page.

This "make it shorter" (hearing it in Adam's voice, especially) is a great mantra -- for me, anyway. And I've found a trick that makes cutting thing I like easy. This is it: don't delete them, cross them out with Strikethrough. That way, the words are still there--I can tell myself that I can use them someplace else if I need to. But I won't. I don't even read them them when I'm revising-- and I bet when I get to the final draft, I'll delete them without reading them then, either.

This may all be really obvious but for me it's a liberation from the time I used to waste deciding and agonizing. I know some people save all editing and rewriting until they get everything done; but I like doing it this way. It saves time. And, by crossing out not deleting , I can count how many words I've written without doing mental arithmetic: "Really more because I took out those two pages...."etc.

The crossing out is just plain satisfying -- like bringing drab clothes to Goodwill and seeing how much more space there is in your closet.

Friday, February 06, 2009

POETRY FRIDAY: Burning Trash by John Updike

Today, in rememberance of the late John Updike, I have one of his poems.

Burning Trash
by John Updike

At night—the light turned off, the filament
Unburdened of its atom-eating charge,
His wife asleep, her breathing dipping low
To touch a swampy source—he thought of death.
Her father's hilltop home allowed him time
To sense the nothing standing like a sheet
Of speckless glass behind his human future.
He had two comforts he could see, just two.

You can read the rest of the poem here.


At Wild Rose Reader, I have reviews of Valentine Hearts: Holiday Poetry and The Ballad of Valentine, a picture book in verse. I also have links to sites with valentine poems and book lists.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Wild Rose Reader today.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


I've recently purchased some art on the web because it was affordable--I'm talking under 100 dollars. That's a rarity. After hanging a few of the pieces I got to thinking--why couldn't I make some art for sale at an affordable price? I'll admit that I won't readily sell any art from my books, especially at a low price. I won't sell any of it for less than a few thousand most likely. BUT I'm perfectly willing to part with some of my tiny B&W things. I figure since they're small I could price them at less than 50 bucks. Is that too cheap? I'm not sure. There's a fine line between seeming unworthy by pricing too low and being just low enough that people will still value the pieces.

Anyway, stay tuned. I may be selling those little "gems" soon!
(II am slightly sarcastic with the gems thing)


Wednesday, February 04, 2009


So, here is some free advice to children's book authors and illustrators who know they probably will not win one of those fancy library awards: plan a school visit on the day the awards are announced.

Or maybe it should be "plan a school visit in San Antonio, TX." Because, that's where I was, and thanks to the lovely librarians and their excited students it was a fantastic day. I didn't even think about being a non-contender. I didn't even care.

And why should I?

I had wonderful and extremely fashionable teachers waiting for me and my Bringing in the New Year presentation with hand-made dragons--one even had eyes that lit up.

And there were the welcoming librarians, such as Kim Green the super-coordinator who not only organized my visits (I was there a week) but also organized an amazing Robert's Snow-inspired fundraiser at her school (proceeds going to Dana-Farber). See that big bag she is holding? It is all full of coins that the students brought in. There is a reason why she has to hold it with two hands--it is HEAVY. They were still counting when I left, they were over $600 at that point. Isn't that amazing? And that is just her school. All the schools I visited that week did some sort of charity, inspired by Robert's Snow. Wow.

And then of course the students! What can be better than a captive audience, thrilled to hear your book? They enthusiastic and attentive and, also, very sweet. Not only did they say the loved my books (and I was their favorite author ever), they even told me I was pretty. What are the chances the award-winners were told that?

Because, this is what we make children's books for--the children. As I've said before, kids loving your book(s)is truly the best award. Better than one of those stickers. Or at least close.



Based on my jealousy of not being in the absolutely fabulous and funny video below, I've decided to make my own video based on Cribs the MTV show that shows famous people's homes and workspaces. I love seeing other people's homes and workspaces. As of now, I just finished watching my nightly 2:30 am installment of Cribs, and that's when it came to me. I need my own mocumentary!

So, uh, stay tuned. I might need to buy a new video camera.

In the meantime, if any of you have any cool photos or documentary type things on your spaces let me know so that I can look. Thanks


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Ready for our close-up

So when friend and fellow author/illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka recently called up the Blue Rose Girls and asked if we would make a cameo in a little movie he was putting together, we were totally flattered to be part of what was bound to be yet another fun and ingenious project (his Monkey Boy video from a few years ago was a total riot).

So we got together and brainstormed a spoof on Sex and the City (I'm Charlotte, can you tell?), only with cupcakes instead of Manhattans... we are of course pretty bad actors, but we had a blast doing our skit.

When we saw the final product, we were blown away by the absolutely hysterical movie he put together, featuring such book legends as Tomie dePaola, Jane Yolen, Mo Willems, Jon Sciezka and Tony DiTerlizzi.

Jarrett played the movie at the SCBWI conference in NY this past Saturday.

Watch the full video here.

I especially love Tomie dePaola's part and Jarrett jumping around on the beach at the end, so funny!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

if only i could open my big mouth

So I've finally checked out some of the award winners. Grrr. I want to say what I think! As you can imagine, I don't have a good opinion of them all. In fact, there are some big criticisms that I'd like to make. Sigh. But I can't. I won't bash a fellow-author or illustrator's work publicly. So I guess that's that. That's why when we BRG have discussed doing book, reviews I've always said "no." Perhaps one of these days I can launch an anonymous blog. Then I can say what I really want to say. Until that day comes... 

I guess this is a meaningless post.

On the topic of awards--a big congratulations to Sean Qualls! Yay Sean! Now there's a guy who deserves it.