Saturday, February 27, 2010


Despite what I said below, I sometimes still do signings. I will especially do this if it is a GROUP signing. Why is this? Is it because I will sell heaps of books? No. It is because I like meeting my fellow authors and chatting with them for a while and I like meeting the people who buy my books and I like meeting the store folks who sell my books. I think group signings are fun! The pressure to worry about gathering a good group of people to show up is taken off of you when you do a group signing. I've also done some fun ones hosted by schools on the upper east side. They're very interesting. Wine is usually served as they are often "adult only" events and little trays of crackers and cheese are brought around. A mix of children's book authors and adult authors are thrown together. Last year I signed next to Kelly Klein who publish a photography book about horses and at another Caroline Kennedy sat at a table in front of me. I remember meeting a fabulous lady with a southern accent who wrote mystery suspense fiction (I wish I could remember her name!). I've had great conversations with these folks.

I've also done some great panel discussions. At some of these books aren't even sold. Why do I do it then? Is it for promotion? No! I do it because it can be fun and I enjoy the company of others.

Would you like to know why I'm doing a signing by myself this month despite what my opinions are? Because I have trouble saying no to things. I need to work on this. I have an autoimmune disease and am ill a lot and have enough trouble going to a part time job yet I still say yes when someone asks me to do a whole bunch of stuff that might add too much stress to my life.

It saddens me that people don't want to hear the truth about how publishing is. People who won't post their names and say things like they won't be buying my books and call me a "publishing diva," are going to silence all the people who have anything honest to say. I'm not a diva. Believe me. If I was then I don't think my publishers would want to work with me. I was a bookseller for many, many years until I got downgraded to being a cashier. I get insulted and treated like the bottom of the earth on a daily basis. I'm so far from a "diva" that it's scary. I just wanted to get a discussion going. But I apologize for offending anyone by telling the truth. I'm not sure what people want out of these blogs or why they read them. I guess what people want is for everything to be roses. The world isn't like that. But if you'd like to pretend it's that way then fine. I'd prefer to live in reality because at the end of the day it's my career and my life and I have to manage it the best I can. I've done a lot of signings and a lot of events and lot of other promotional things and I've learned what works and what doesn't. Next time I'll keep what works to myself.

Friday, February 26, 2010

book signings are a waste of time!

Yeah, that's what I'm saying... and I'm sticking to it! What I think sells books are 1) good reviews (like starred reviews and getting in big newspapers like the NYT, etc) 2) awards--this is a big one! Once you get on a state list, schools all over the state will buy your book! 3) school visits--you can reach a lot of kids within a short amount of time.

When you do a store signing, even a successful one, in my opinion, won't do much. So what if 40 people bought your book? Let's be honest--at least half of those sales were sales purchased by your friends! And if you're are a prolific author, you can't expect your friends to go to all of your signings and eventually you will find yourself at least once twiddling your fingers, sitting alone, in complete embarrassment! There's no worse feeling. And if you do a lot of bookstore signings this can happen more than once! Of course this is the bookstore's fault because they didn't advertise and let you do a signing when they don't have a built in story time audience, but what do they care for? They're not losing anything by having you sit there!

So my advice to all of you out there is just don't bother doing them. Group signings may work better... but even still, it's a drop in the bucket. If you have deadlines and are stressed out it's just not worth it! Save your energy for something else!

February Twilight by Sara Teasdale

Sorry for posting a little late this morning. We had a wild wind storm yesterday and lost Internet access. I solved the problem this morning and reconnected my wireless. Hallelujah!

February is a special month to me. Both my daughter and my mother—as well as my late mother-in-law—were born in February. Tonight, my family will gather at my mother’s house to celebrate her 92nd birthday. (She was born on the 24th—but we’re going to have the party today.)

In honor of my mother, I’m posting my favorite February poem.

February Twilight

I stood beside a hill

Smooth with new-laid snow,

A single star looked out

From the cold evening glow.

There was no other creature

That saw what I could see--

I stood and watched the evening star

As long as it watched me.

Sara Teasdale


My Poetry Friday post at Wild Rose Reader: MARCH: An Original Acrostic.

At Political Verses, I have a new post: Two Rhyming Verses for Creationists.

Jone has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Check It Out.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


I finished the frame and fixed the fact that I cut the mat wrong. You can tell if you look closely but hopefully no one will look closely! I want to post a picture of the finish but I'm too lazy to take a picture. I'll do it eventually. I promise. It's snowing like crazy here!

Anyway, speaking of other things that need fixing - my website, I have just realized, has said that my book Seabiscuit and Astronaut Handbook are "coming soon" - and it has said this for over a year! AAA! The problem is that I make things really hard for myself. These things are not easy to change. I put a background of text behind the books to make a nice design. Example:

(note how it says the date)

Anyway, first I don't recall where I saved the image for that. And then, once I find it, I have to figure out how to fix all of this and add new books and so on. GRRR!!! I make so much work for myself!

Also, I'm participating in a bunch of events this coming month with some Brooklyn ladies and we did a little blog interview thing - it's like the radio but not actually "on air" but rather on a blog. Before I participated I thought of how cool it would be to start my own show. I could interview guests and so on. (apparently anyone can start their own - it's like a blog but you call in). So I did it and then tried to listen to a bit if it. Okay--nails on chalk board! I must have said "um" so many times! Eeek! Awful! I dreamed of being on NPR but forget it.

Okay, so those are my A.D.D topics for the day.


Who Can It Be?

I thought readers of this blog might be interested to find out that a certain Blue Rose Girl recently received yet another big honor for her most recent book.

Click here to read my announcement at Wild Rose Reader.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

not exactly me on the actor's studio

I admit, I have a google alert on my name. I usually just skim through it, just to make sure there is nothing too horrible but I try not to get to obsessive about it (last thing we need is for me to become even that much more self-involved!). But this link to a youtube book report of THE YEAR OF THE DOG was too irresistible!

Isn't this hilarious? I should hire her to do my book trailers!

why I hate cutting mats

If you guys are the english major people out there, and not the artist people (I know some are both) then you won't know what I"m talking about. Allow this brief illustration to help:

Cutting a mat is to make a nice "frame" of sorts for your picture to go inside of. Oh, if only it were that simple.


This is how I feel about it. Perhaps this is because I can't do math? I can't cut well? I cut uneven? I draw with pen on the wrong side? I don't know.

So here's the deal: I had to buy a mat to frame a picture for a show that I will be a part of if I can manage to "nicely" frame the picture. I put nicely in quotes because I think it's all a matter of opinion. So yesterday I wasted my whole lunch hour speed walking to the closet (er, rather most expensive) art supply store to buy a mat. Eeek! They're 20 dollars! Yeah right, I'm not paying 20 dollars. I already shelled out over 30 for a frame (and this is with it being half off) and so if you add it all up I may as well have paid for it to have been professionally done. I can't go through all of this trouble when I could have saved myself the trouble, if that makes any sense. So I paid 2 dollars and some odd change for poster board. Shock and horror, yes, poster board. So what I say, you can't tell the difference once it's behind glass! Or in my case, plastic (don't laugh - I couldn't afford glass... or was it - could but didn't want to?). (do you like how I went from present tense back to past?) I wasn't planning on beveling the edge and so I figured it wouldn't matter. The only problem was that the sad poster board had to entertain itself all day by itself while I was at work. Needless to say by the time I got home the posterboard had gotten itself into some trouble. The side was dented. GRRRR!!! I refused to buy more. So I trooped on. I measured the whole thing out and cut out a hole. Somehow I didn't manage to screw that up! Horray! The bad news is that the outside wasn't measured properly because the whole thing wouldn't fit inside the frame. The problem with cutting a hole in something is that you can't then just lob off some cardboard at one end. Oh no. I carefully had to cut and cut and cut off of each side until the thing would fit. Only it didn't. I guess I was being too careful. So I measured another half an inch and cut that. But SOMEHOW I cut crooked or something and now it's too small! AAAA!!! So what the heck am I supposed to do? The backing will show when I put the whole thing together--just a teeny tiny bit of course--just enough to MOCK ME.

Anyway, that's where I'm at now. I'm NOT doing this again! No! Never! Ever!

Lesson learned? Don't frame things unless they easily fit into 5.99 Ikea frames with pre-cut mats.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Good news

ABIGAIL SPELLS has been named to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choice list. Hurray!

CCBC Choices is the annual best-of-the-year list of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) is a unique examination, study and research library of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For more information and the complete list of choices, click here.

Also the f&gs for Disappearing Desmond just arrived! Aren't they nice and shiny?

Wilbur says they smell pretty good.

Monday, February 22, 2010

So you wanna be a children's book editor?

As I mentioned previously, I wrote a guest post on Justine Larbalestier's blog last week. I discussed what the job of a children's book editor entails, linking to several posts on this blog in the process.

In the comments sections, an author asked me what someone could do to "prepare" for a job in the editorial department, and I responded by listing some of the things I look for when hiring an assistant or intern:

-passion for children’s books: you need to be well read, ideally in a wide variety of genres–not too helpful if you only read fantasy, or only read romance. Be able to speak about the books you’ve read in a way that goes beyond “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it”
-bookstore or library experience shows a commitment to working with books.
-internships with publishers or literary agencies also show commitment to working in publishing.
-working with children is a plus, too.
-taking classes specifically in children’s literature at college or otherwise shows passion/interest as well

I thought I'd expand on this a bit to talk more about other things one could do to prepare for a job as an editorial assistant, and therefore a future editor.

In addition to the above, you could also:

-Take a writing class, and/or read books on writing. A few I'd recommend: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, On Writing by Stephen King, and The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner. This will help with the editing process.
-Take a class in advertising or marketing writing, and/or study jacket copy: practice writing your own jacket copy
-Join a book club, practice speaking critically about books
-Hone your public speaking skills: as an editor, you'll have to present books at acquisitions meetings and sales meetings in front of rooms ranging from 10 people to 50 people. It's also helpful to be able to give talks at conferences, sometimes for rooms up to 1,000 people. The latter isn't a requirement, but it's a good skill to have. Join Toastmasters!
-Take a proofreading and/or copyediting course, and/or study up on grammar rules and learn proofreader marks.
-Read up about the publishing industry: read Publisher's Weekly, School Library Journal, the Horn Book, blogs (Fuse #8, Galley Cat, Nathan Bransford's, etc.), articles, book reviews, etc. It's especially helpful nowadays to try to keep up with what's going on with electronic publishing.
-Read read READ as much as you can. Read both classics and contemporary work. Read as many different genres as you can. Have your preferences, both in terms of genre and format, but be able to evaluate books of all genres and age groups. 
-Learn how to juggle ;)

Here are the qualities/skills I think are most essential for gaining a job as an editorial assistant:
-hard worker
-quick learner
-ability to multitask
-ability and willingness (no, eagerness) to tackle administrative duties such as filing, photocopying, and answering phones
-love reading and books!
-be able to speed read
-be able to also read carefully
-analytical/critical reading
-passion and energy
-ability to work well with others
-ability to keep calm under pressure
-good spoken and written communication skills

If you're serious about working in publishing, you'll have to move to where the companies are: mainly New York, Boston, and San Francisco. It's extremely hard to get an interview if you're not in the city where the job is located--I believe this will be the case no matter what industry you're trying to break into. As I told another commenter:

If you want to work for a publishing company, you’ll probably have to move to where one is. Most are in NY, some in the Boston area, a few in CA…but if you’re not able to relocate, you could research to see if there are any literary agents living nearby, and see if they need interns and/or manuscript readers. As I mention above, you could also work in a bookstore or library. There are many ways to have a career in books! But it’s tough to break into an industry if you don’t live where the industry is housed.

And finally, if you're interviewing for a job in children's editorial:
-Be prepared to answer the questions: What are your favorite books? and What have you read recently that you've liked? Why? If you haven't read any children's or young adult books in the last six months or so, the interviewer may question your commitment and love of children's books.
-Make sure you've done your research, both about the publishing company (know and have read a number of books published by the company) and the person interviewing you (I fully expect people I interview to have Googled me and found my blog).
-Practice standard interview questions, such as, What are your strengths and weaknesses? and Where do you see yourself in five years? For the latter, if you say that you see yourself anywhere other than in publishing still, don't expect to get the job over candidates who want to be in publishing long-term.
-Above all, show your passion and interest in children's books

I hope this is helpful! Any questions?


In other news, I love this blog post about tackling social media. Also, the School Library Journal Battle of the Kids' Books is beginning! Yarrr!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Free eBooks experiment:

I received this email from Kent Brown, Executive Director of Highlights:

I normally trash any e-mail that includes the word free in it. And I often ignore any that mentions e-book, as I'm not up to date on that technology. But I concocted this experiment and egged on my friend Stephen Roxburgh, who is an early adopter of e-books and things high tech. I got used to seeing him in a rocking chair engrossed in his Kindle. Stephen has been a student of the book in whatever format most of his life and is articulate on the importance and magic of story, independent of platform.
Front Street, founded by Stephen and now part of Boyds Mills Press, has among its recent publications four great novels, which we selected for this experiment. They are characterized by the gentle hand of Stephen Roxburgh and the skills of colleagues he trained and inspired.

The novels are ACCORDING TO KIT by Eugenie Doyle (2ce4), CITY OF CANNIBALS by Ricki Thompson (d35f), THE DOG IN THE WOOD by Monika Schröder (3bd5), and WARRIORS IN THE CROSSFIRE by Nancy Bo Flood (2ac4).

To get your free electronic copies, go to and locate the book by title or author by browsing or use the "search" option. When you get to the book page, enter the unique code provided for each book (shown in parentheses above) in the box in the lower-left corner of the page (under the list of prices) and click "submit." You will be asked to provide your name and e-mail address and to select the file format you want. You will receive an e-mail with a link that will download the file you selected to your hard drive, from where you can transfer it to your preferred reading device.

The code will allow you to download one file format per title. If you need a file format that is not provided, write directly to Stephen ( and he'll provide it.

Frankly, it's an increasing challenge to get attention for novels, particularly first novels.

So, in cooperation with Stephen Roxburgh and his new venture, namelos llc, we are offering for a limited time downloads of the four novels. From now until April Fools' Day, you can put these on your e-reading device without charge. And since we are doing this to get the word out, we would be very happy if you shared the opportunity with your friends.

We want everyone to know about these books.

Boyds Mills Press has the hardback editions in stock, and they are available through all the places you buy books. Namelos llc will be selling the e-book versions of these titles in April and beyond. Almost all other Front Street novels are available now for purchase to download at

If you take advantage of this special offer, you can expect namelos to keep you up to date on the books they are offering in e-book format. If that's not to your liking, you will have a chance to opt out.

I cannot answer your technical questions—Stephen can do that—but I'd be happy to hear about your experience with this experiment.

Kent Brown, Executive Director, Highlights Foundation, Inc.
Former Publisher, Boyds Mills Press

Saturday, February 20, 2010

from the BRG archives: obsessing

What kind of person becomes an author/illustrator?

Reading everyone's responses about the question of the week last week (what distracts you) brought up some interesting points that I've been turning around in my head lately... I find it fascinating that almost everyone's response was the same, that we are highly distractable until fully engaged with a project, and at that point completely unable to pull away from it. Maybe this is true of other professions as well, or maye we all have ADD, but I've noticed that just about ALL the artists I know are the same way... there is endless procrastination and then TOTAL IMMERSION. Every second of the day is spent, consciously or not, plugging away at some problem, trying to resolve a color choice or a turn of phrase. There is no time for making sure your clothes match or tying your shoes. A can of chili will do nicely for lunch because all you have to do is turn a can opener, then you can get right back to work.

I've always sort of gone back and forth in my opinion about this way of working. Part of me longs for a more balanced life- where I can spend my day concentrated, focusing on writing or painting, and then put it aside and go to the movies or a dinner party and talk about politics or the weather.

Then another part of me feeds off the creative frenzy. In some way I even enjoy the way it simplifies life, makes all problems about one problem- creating something unique and beautiful, something original.

The conclusion I usually come to is that I don't know how much choice there really is. I think if I didn't obsess and hone in a project to the exclusion of all else I would never muster the energy to get through it, to push myself, to make something I felt proud of. And there is something sweet in that one last dash to my desk to look at my drawings before bed.

One day maybe life will shift around and I won't have the luxury of immersing myself like this, so I may as well enjoy it now. Even if my roommates look at me with a confused expression as I step out of my studio, one shoe on, the other somewhere else, my hair in a mess, my eyes half glazed...

Originally published Aug 29, 2006

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thumbprint by Eve Merriam

There has been quite a discussion at Blue Rose Girls about talent and hard work and persistence being three elements required for success (you have to be GOOD)—and the percentage one needs of each. I don’t know if the percentage of each of those elements can be exactly determined. People are so different—as are their abilities and talents and passions.

I began writing when I was about ten years old. I delighted in writing takeoffs of television shows and other humorous things. I wrote skits for shows and song parodies and light verse when I was in high school. BUT I had a difficult time doing required writing assignments for teachers in elementary, high school, and college. Completing some of those papers was excruciating for me.

I don’t think I have an innate writing talent the way many writers do. I really have to work at my craft. I DO have a passion for poetry—so I read it all the time. I read all kinds of poems—poems by dozens of different adult and children’s poets. I read books about writing poetry. I may work on twenty or thirty or more drafts of most of my poems. I rarely think I’m finished with a piece. I always think I may be able to tweak it a little more and make it better.

I had great poetry teachers—David McCord, Karla Kuskin, Myra Cohn Livingston, Lilian Moore, Aileen Fisher, Mary Ann Hoberman, Valerie Worth, Arnold Adoff, Janet Wong, J. Patrick Lewis, John Ciardi, Langston Hughes, Lucille Clifton, X. J.Kennedy, Barbara Juster Esbensen, Joyce Sidman, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Marilyn Singer, Douglas Florian, Eve Merriam, Tony Johnston, Alice Schertle, Bobbi Katz, Patricia Hubbell. (I know I’m leaving some poets out here.) I learned to write poetry by reading poetry—and by rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. I learned to write by teaching my elementary students how to write. I spent many hours in the classroom working with each child individually—helping them to find their own unique voices. Doing that helped me to be a better critic of my own writing.

I read Meghan’s post yesterday, DNA tests for talent. I find things like that scary. Trying to genetically determine where children’s talents lie at an early age so the children can be trained/educated in certain fields and have their path in life laid out for them. Human beings are too complicated. An approach like that—too simplistic.
I showed little writing talent when I was young--but I had some kind of driving force in me that led me to write creatively...for myself. It wasn't until I was in my late twenties that I began writing children's poetry. Before that time--I had dreams of being a comedy writer. It was through teaching elementary school that I became hooked on reading and writing kids' poetry.

For this Poetry Friday, I thought I’d post a poem by Eve Merriam that I used to share with parents at our September Open House when I was teaching elementary school. It’s about valuing the individual, which became the core of my educational philosophy.

by Eve Merriam

In the heel of my thumb
are whorls, whirls, wheels
in a unique design:
mine alone.
What a treasure to own!
My own flesh, my own feelings.
No other, however grand or base,
can ever contain the same.
My universe key,
my singularity.
Impress, implant,
I am myself,
of all my atom parts I am the sum.
And out of my blood and brain
I make my own interior weather,
my own sun and rain.
Imprint my mark upon the world,
whatever I shall become.


At Wild Rose Reader, I have a review of My Cat Is in Love with the Goldfish, a new anthology of light verse for children that was published in the UK this month. The book includes Jack and June, a poem I wrote and posted with the review.

Irene has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Live. Love. Explore!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

DNA tests for talent

My last post got a good discussion going on talent. I personally believe, as you know, that talent is important. Some of you think that other things like hard work overshadow it. Like I said, hard work IS important. You can't get anywhere without it, but you can't get anywhere good without talent either. People in China seem to agree. They've taken it to an all new level!

In China, they believe talent is pretty important, so important that some are testing early--very early! DNA testing is now being done on kids ranging from 3 - 12 in a new trial program. "Nowadays, competition in the world is about who has the most talent," said director Zhao Mingyou. "We can give Chinese children an effective, scientific plan at an early age." A saliva swab collects 10,000 cells and can isolate 11 different genes. "For basketball, we can test for height and other factors," said Dr. Huang Xinhua, a leading scientist on the project. "We also test listening ability so that can tell us if (the child) might be talented at music."

"It's better to develop her talents earlier rather than later," Chen Zhongyan said of her four-year-old daughter, who is attending the genetics camp. "Now we can find when she is young, and raise her based on what her natural gifts are."

"China is different from Western countries," said Yang Yangqing, the lab's technical director. "There is only one child in our families so more and more parents focus on their children's education and they want to give them the best education."

The flip side of this, of course, is that a child can be pushed too hard into doing something and maybe they'll be pigeonholed. Maybe they'll miss their destiny! On the other hand, maybe they'll be fostered to become superstars.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

sinking in

This is the conversation that takes place in my head almost everyday:

Hey, look, there is a sticker on your book!
Huh, fancy that.
That means Where the Mountain Meets the Moon won the Newbery Honor!
It did?
Yes, remember the phone call?
Kind of. It's a blur.
All those e-mails? Your friends screaming? The flowers? Remember?
Wait, that was for real?

Because even now I still have a hard time believing that my book won an award. I find it a bit easier when I think of it as my book was "given" an award. Because then it is more like a gift. Which it is.

But it's starting to sink in, albeit a bit slowly. Most recently, during my visit to my publisher in NY they had an in-office party to celebrate:

and even though I knew they were going to toast me I was surprised. I almost looked around, behind me, to see who they were clapping for!

And, I couldn't decide what was a lovelier sight. The cupcakes:

Or the books with the pretty silver stickers:

In the end, I went with the books (hard decision though) and went for a group photo with them.

L to R: Ames, my publicist (well, not my publicist but rather my publisher's), Alvina, my editor (well, not just my editor but other people's too), me, and Rebecca, my agent (also shared)

Because my book won the Newbery Honor. Really. It did. I think.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kirkus is back

In case you hadn't heard (I hadn't), the head of the NBA (wha?) bought Kirkus!

Check it out.

Etsy at last

As a long time fan of all the goodness that is Etsy, I have at last opened my very own shop. Hurrah! I've been selling prints of my illustrations (from books and other projects) at craft sales such as the RISD holiday sale for some time, but now they are available to everyone year round easy as pie. I just hope it doesn't tempt me to shop there more than I already do!

I'll be adding more prints from recent books and the occasional original painting now and then when I can. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Here is a sampling of what I put up... some inkjet prints from What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe?, and some little framed bird giclées:

Monday, February 15, 2010

Show 'em you're a tiger!

Happy Lunar New Year, everyone! It's the year of the tiger, which happens to be the year of many of the Blue Rose Girls, including me. As Grace says on her blog:

When it is YOUR year, it means it will be a year of important and possibly life-changing decisions. It's the year where big things happen that change the course of your life.
When I look back on my last year of the tiger in 1998, I realize that was the year I decided to pick up and leave: I drove cross-country from Oakland to Boston to pursue a career in book publishing. It was certainly a decision that changed the course of my life! By the following year, I became an editorial assistant at Little, Brown.

Happy New Year, everyone. May all of your years be GRRRRRREEEEAT!

I love this photo:


For some pictures from an in-office celebration for Grace's Newbery Honor for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, as well as a fun Blue Rose Girls weekend in preparation for Grace's upcoming wedding, check out this post on my personal blog.


Author Justine Larbalestier (Liar) has been having a series of wonderful guest posts on her blog (I myself will be contributing one soon!) In particular, I love this guest post about the importance of diversity, a topic near and dear to my heart.


I've been love love LOVING Fuse #8's countdown of the top 100 most beloved children's novels (I voted, did you?). Here are #75-71, with links to 76-100. I was especially pleased to see Where the Mountain Meets the Moon make an appearance at #81.


Congratulations to all the winners of the Cybils!


Happy President's Day!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Common Cold by Ogden Nash

I'm sorry for posting so late this morning. I came down with the worst head cold/sinus infection Tuesday evening. For the last couple of days I've been in pain from the neck up--even the teeth on the right side of my head hurt. Thus, I selected to post the following poem for this Poetry Friday.

Common Cold
by Ogden Nash

Go hang yourself, you old M.D.!
You shall not sneer at me.
Pick up your hat and stethoscope,
Go wash your mouth with laundry soap;
I contemplate a joy exquisite.
I'm not paying you for your visit.
I did not call you to be told
My malady is a common cold.

By pounding brow and swollen lip;
By fever's hot and scaly grip;
By those two red redundant eyes
That weep like woeful April skies;
By racking snuffle, snort, and sniff;
By handkerchief after handkerchief;
This cold you wave away as naught
Is the damnedest cold man ever caught!

You can read the rest of the poem here.


At Wild Rose Reader, I have brief reviews of children's poetry books about winter.

At Political Verses, I have a kind of anti-valentine poem titled Look at the Man: A Poem Explaining Why Women with Mates Gain Weight.

Lee Wind has the Poetry Friday Roundup at I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

you have to be GOOD

There's something else you need besides drive to make it in this industry. That's talent. It's true that once you get to a certain level it's a bit of a crap shoot. It's really hard to tell what book is going to be successful... but during the beginning... the getting published part... requires you to have a certain something. You can have all the desire in the world but that isn't going to get you what you want.

When I first started out w/my first book deal I was right out of college and only 22. I was eager to learn as much as I could but I also thought I had some things to share. I participated on a lot of chat groups for writers. Some people didn't like what I had to say. I got a lot of "You are young and just lucky." LUCKY stuck in my mind. What an awful thing to say! I think I've proven by now (I hope) that this, for me, is more than luck. I DO know what I'm doing! I'd say things like "A few spelling errors on a manuscript is not going to get you rejected by a publisher." I still think that's true. If you've got a great story and you make a few mistakes, I think they'll be overlooked! If you have a perfect MS and a terrible story, however, you will not get your work accepted... and I think that's what some people do not like to hear. How DARE this young person who can't spell and sent in a sloppy manuscript got published!

The lesson is this is that if you're a diamond in the rough, you will be discovered! Work at it and it'll happen. I pounded the pavement when I moved to NY and dropped off my portfolio to every big publisher I could think of while working a 7 dollar an hour job pricing paint brushes. I got a lot of great comments back when I picked up my portfolio... and a few criticisms... but soon enough I got a book deal. I've told others the same thing and for each of them it's eventually happened.

So, if you're good enough, you'll be found eventually.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

just drink it...

I thought I would post a little follow-up to Meghan's half full or half empty? post. I have not read the The Secret (which sounds like an annoying book) nor do I dispute that the reality that life for a children's book author/illustrator is far from glamorous. And, it IS extremely irritating that is seems like a lot of marketing it pretending you are more successful than you actually are (as I said in an earlier post (a LONG time ago).

But, even though Meghan's post was pretty true, I wanted to give our profession a bit more positive light. I had lots of people and professors tell me that "you'll never be able to live off of children's books," demoting what we do instantly to a hobby or a lesser profession. And it's not. You can make a living--it's not easy and maybe you won't make the money the way you thought (school visits support many an author) and it's definitely not for everyone, but it is possible and it can be pretty gratifying too.

Almost all of us have watched new authors and illustrators shoot to instant super stardom or get 6-digit advances with first contracts with a feeling of inadequacy. But they are more the exception than the rule. Making a living as a children's book creator is not a fast process. In 2009, I celebrated the 10 year anniversary of my first book published. It was a book I wrote and illustrated for $5,000--a measly sum when compared to my peers who were getting $10,000. just for illustrating. But it's been a book I've read and signed and sold year after year, using its royalties to pay for insurance and doctor bills and, most importantly, to build the foundation of my career.

And that is truly what making a living in children's books is about. It is about slowly building and scraping what you are able to get-- no matter what it is-- to make a career that will bring you upwards. You have to keep working at it, continuously with love and passion; and every day, every year and every reader--you get a little higher and higher until you can finally appreciate the view. And after over ten years of this, maybe, you can even get yourself a Newbery Honor. It's possible!

So, I guess what I wanted to say is that it doesn't matter much if the glass is half full or half empty. It matters more that you are thirsty enough to drink it.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

New Greta sketch

Still working away on my new project, now titled A Photo for Greta. You can see some of the other sketches here, here, and here.

Monday, February 08, 2010

2010 Acquisitions so far...

This year I thought I'd start posting the acquisitions I've made once they've been announced in Publisher's Marketplace. Last week I had two big acquisitions announced. The first is something that I've been working with the author on since early Fall:
THE ASTONISHING ADVENTURES OF FANBOY AND GOTH GIRL and BOY TOY author Barry Lyga's I HUNT KILLERS, a dark thriller described as DEXTER meets THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS for teens, about a teen boy who uses his killer instinct, inherited from his serial killer father, to help solve a series of gruesome murders, to Alvina Ling at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in a two-book deal, for Spring 2012 publication, by Kathleen Anderson at Anderson Literary Management. (World)

See Barry's announcement here.

I'm a huge fan of the TV Show Dexter (not the children's show Dexter's Laboratory, but the show on Showtime about a serial killer. Yes, a serial killer. For years now I've been telling agents that I'd be interested in publishing a "Dexter for teens" and have been met with doubt (really? Could you publish that? How would that work?) or intrigue (Hmmm. That would be interesting.), but either way, it never led to any submissions. I was having drinks with Barry last year--we had been interested in working with one another for a while, and I mentioned the idea to him. He shrugged it off and didn't seem interested. But later inspiration hit, he sent in a proposal, and I loved it. I'm particularly happy with this acquisition, because I'm fascinated by serial killers (who isn't?), am finally getting my "Dexter for teens", Barry Lyga is the absolute perfect author to write this (he deals with tough issues in such a sensitive, thoughtful way), and I finally get to work with Barry! Win-win-win-win.

My second acquisitions also happens to be, like Barry, a GEEKTASTIC: Stories from the Nerd Herd contributor:

Libba Bray, hot off her Printz win for Going Bovine, has landed a major book deal at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Bray's agent-husband, Barry Goldblatt, sold North American rights, in an auction featuring six houses, to a new YA series called The Diviners to LBBYR senior v-p and publisher Megan Tingley, deputy publisher Andrew Smith, and senior editor Alvina Ling. Ling is set to edit the planned four-book series, which will bow in hardcover in fall 2012...

In The Diviners, a supernatural fantasy series set in Manhattan during the 1920s, Bray follows a teen heroine she says is reminiscent of two of the era's most famous literary women—Zelda Fitzgerald and Dorothy Parker. Bray, who admitted to having always been fascinated by the Jazz Age, said she's looking forward "to offering readers a wild new ride full of dames and dapper dons, jazz babies and Prohibition-defying parties, conspiracy and prophecy—and all manner of things that go bump in the neon-drenched night.”

Read more of the announcement here.

As the announcement says, this acquisition was won in a big auction, which is always nerve wracking. The morning we were supposed to find out the results of the auction, I found myself constantly checking the phone. "I feel like I'm a girl waiting for a boy to call," I told my coworkers. And indeed, I was. When the good news finally came, I was on the street with coworkers heading to an all-company, off-site meeting. As soon as I got on my cellphone, all of my coworkers stopped to see/hear my reaction--they were invested in the outcome too. As soon as the agent said, "Congratulations..." I jumped up and down and screamed, and my coworkers screamed and applauded, too. Very fun.

I'm so excited and honored to be working with both Barry Lyga and Libba Bray, two authors I've admired for a long time. So stay tuned for more news--the former should be out in Spring 2012, the latter in Fall 2012. And it's fun to think of the similarities:
1) Both projects feature a serial killer.
2) Libba and Barry inversely share the same initials: L and B. Just like "Little, Brown"!
3) They both live in Brooklyn.
4) And, as I mentioned, they both wrote short stories for GEEKTASTIC.

So, just for fun, because we're all geeks here, I thought I'd give away two copies of GEEKTASTIC to the first two commentors who answer the following question correctly:

What were the names of my D&D characters as a child?

(and yes, the answer can be found somewhere on this blog...)

Friday, February 05, 2010

POETRY FRIDAY: Back Then by Trish Crapo

I love this poem about childhood and innocence.

Back Then
by Trish Crapo

Out in the yard, my sister and I
tore thread from century plants
to braid into bracelets, ate
chalky green bananas,
threw coconuts onto the sidewalk
to crack their hard, hairy skulls.

The world had begun to happen,
but not time. We would live
forever, sunburnt and pricker-stuck,
our promises written in blood.

You can read the rest of the poem here.


At Wild Rose Reader, I have an original fairy tale poem about Red Riding hood written in the form of a rhyming Q&A.

Mary Ann has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Great Kids Books.


Thursday, February 04, 2010

half full of half empty?

I'm sure you can guess what kind of person I am. I was flipping through the book THE SECRET at work the other day. Anyone heard of it? It was Oprah's big book of the year. That book pisses me off. I won't go into a big tirade but yes, the positive thinking part is good but it doesn't say that you need to do anything else like work hard to make things happen! It also blames sick people for their negative thinking. I guess it's my fault that I'm sic then isn't it? Anyway, what was my point? Ah, yes. Glass half full or half empty. I don't want you all to think that I'm a negative whiney you-know-what all the time because I'm not. I just want people to know what it's really like for authors like me. There are so many out there who are putting on a facade. I could do that too, you know! Here we go.

You meet me for the first time. Let's say you bump into me at BN.

You say: "Oh wow, you're a children's book author?"

"Yes, I am! I've published 9 books and my 10th is coming out this spring! If you buy a copy I'll sign it for you! I'll even personalize it!" (This is what authors usually do).

Then some of them even go further:

"Are your books good for boys or girls?"

"Both! boys and girls love my books. I have won the IRA Children's Choice Award several times. My books have won dozens of other awards including best nonfiction book of the year, ALA best book of the year, and so on. Here, let me sign some books for you!"

So I could do that. I could tell you that everything is great, great, great. I am an award winner. I have spoken to hundreds of school children across the country. Heck, kids have even asked for me to sign their foreheads! I have seen these authors first-hand when they come into the kids' dept. in the bookstore. They act like they're oh-so-special. "Where are my books" they demand. "Why aren't they on display!" It's funny how authors don't even know how the system works! You'd think that they're earning a million dollars and their limo is waiting for them outside. BUT I've spoken to them. It's usually their first book.. they're nervous... they got a low advance... they've got kids to support... and so on. But the face that they display to everyone is not that face.

So if I'm the only one to show you all what it's really like then so be it! I'll take on that challenge.


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Now it's official

Spirit of the Tiger!

PaperTigers has announced an exciting and important new project, Spirit of PaperTigers! This project aims to put a selected set of multicultural books into the hands of children in areas of need in different parts of the world.

This is a wonderful initiative! 100 specially chosen book sets are donated to schools and libraries in need. I am incredible proud that Where the Mountain Meets the Moon has been chosen as part of 2010 book set. PaperTigers is such an amazing organization, with the goal of raising awareness "of our common humanity and to contribute to fuller human community" everyday. Wow. I am honored and humbled that my work is a part of that!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

thank goodness for royalty checks!

Hello folks. So, I finally got my W2s back. For 2009 (I don't know if any of you had noticed) I had NO books out. I remember freaking out when I knew this would happen--there were a few reasons--I was sick, I had an editor out with a baby, and so on. I also remember being assured that it wouldn't matter because I'd sell other stuff during that year that would make up for it (didn't happen). So what did this leave me with? One part of a book advance for my book coming out in 2010. ONE PART. THAT'S IT. And trust me, it's not that much money at all. We're talking just a bit over 10,000. Can I possibly live off of that for a year??? Heck no!

So for one thing, I'm sick of people asking me why I need a part time job. This is why. I need a back up when stuff like this happens. And, of course, I need the health insurance. People with autoimmune diseases can't get health insurance these days too easily without working for a large employer. I was having some hope in Obama but I'm thinking that it might not happen... but I'm getting really off track here. Anyway, my point is that ALIENS has sold quite well and some of my other books are starting to as well. You don't know how nice it is to get a surprise check in the mail when you're about to get another one of those zero APR credit cards to pay the rent with. My royalty checks weren't for that much money either but they were for just enough to get me through the rough parts. Hallelujah. (yes, I had to google this word because I'm a terrible speller. Two thumbs up for using google as a spell-check device!)

Still, I don't know how I manage. I really don't. I'm so SICK of being poor. You'd think by now that I wouldn't have to go through this.


p.s - my part time job earns me under 10,000 a year. Go me!

Writing for other people, writing for me

Yesterday morning someone I'm writing a book with called at 7.15 to see what I'd done since we last talked. The answer was: nothing--there are reasons (I thought he was going to call me, for one) but I felt incredibly guilty. I ran downstairs (yes! I now have a DOWNSTAIRS), made tea, ran back up to my desk and started working.

I worked until it was all done, concentrating completely, not goofing off, and then emailed it off to him, 6 1/2 hours after he'd called me.

I NEVER do my own work this way. I dawdle and delay -- in a way, that makes sense; my agent has 4 unsold mss. of mine, feeling no one is ever going to read anything I write isn't completely irrational....but what if I approached my own work the way I approach freelance jobs? I'd finish my novel so fast!

So I:

1) sent myself a voicemail, asking me what I'd done since yesterday

2) turned this on when I started writing: silly-looking and sounding, but the state of mind I do want to be in --

3) and, if I start to dawdle, will listen to this

IT WORKS! It's probably like a diet, I'm determined to do it so all I need are the external reminders. What I'm determined to do is finish my novel, working, as Scotty says, "as fast as I can." (But do listen to that oily voice that prompts his comment.)

btw I am NOT a Star Trek fan: one of the kids I babysat for had the toy, and I thought it would make a great motivator: funny but serious. It does make me laugh, but it also makes me remember what I'm supposed to be, and want to be, doing.

Monday, February 01, 2010

SCBWI Annual Winter Conference 2010

This past weekend I spoke at the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York for the first time. I've participated multiple times in the Writer's Workshop the day before the conference, but never spoke at the big event, so was excited to see what it was all about. I was also curious to see how it would compare to the Annual Summer Conference in Los Angeles.

So, how did it compare? Well, it was equally wonderful, inspiring, and well organized. The conference was kicked off Saturday morning a keynote speech by the incomparable Libba Bray, who certainly started things off on a humorous, touching, and inspiring note. I especially loved the story about her son: When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he said, "I want to be a giraffe!" Wow. Me too. (okay, not really, I wanted to be a dolphin.) She declared this year the "Year of Writing Dangerously."

Then we broke off into workshops. I led one called "The Real Deal about Literary Novels" which I gave twice in the morning and once in the afternoon. I attempted to define "Literary Fiction," (in general, literary novels are more character focused, whereas commercial fiction is more plot focused--but really, it took almost the whole horror hour to just define it!), gave examples (Firegirl by Tony Abbott, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, North of Beatiful by Justina Chen Headley, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, etc.), read some gorgeous descriptions from the latter two novels, read some examples of literary "voice" (including the opening of Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which most people recognized right away), and weaved in the different definitions of "literary fiction" that I gathered from my colleagues. One of my favorites compared literary fiction to eating a chocolate truffle: "a little goes a long way, you savor each bite slowly, enjoying the nuances of the different ingredients, the textures and how they work together, the coating, the presentation, etc.” I also read a passage from agent Nathan Bransford's very excellent post giving his definition quite clearly. Thanks, Nathan!

The lunchtime keynote was by Jacqueline Woodson. It was soothing, personal, and powerful. I could listen to her talk all day! I wonder if she reads her own audiobooks...
And the afternoon keynote was by Peter Sis. Peter Sis is one of my heroes. I absolutely love his art. I'd never heard him speak, and had never heard his story (except from reading his books), and wow. What a life.

And then it was over. At least for Saturday. I wasn't speaking on Sunday and needed to get some work work done, so stayed away. But I checked out the fabulous Official SCBWI Conference Blog to catch up on everything I missed. Great stuff. If you're a writer and need a kick in the pants of inspiration, I highly recommend attending an SCBWI conference.


In case you're interested in learning about the versus Macmillan ebook kerfuffle that happened over the weekend, you can check out the most excellent summary and interpretation of the whole thing as it unfolded over at Scott Westerfeld's blog here. And read the NYTimes article here. This development, combined with the announcement of the new iPad (yes, I want one. But I'll wait), makes me more interested than ever to see how the ebook industry will develop.


In other is it possible that it's February already?!?! And, I dunno...I have a feeling that this month is going to go by faster than the other months. Just a hunch.