Saturday, July 31, 2010

Pain and elation

I've been doing a book with someone old, wise, Zen, and supremely talented. It's not up to ME to blab things out about other people, so I must keep him anonymous; but I have to share this story.

The book we're working on is really complicated, and kind of driving everyone crazy, including us and (though they've been too polite to say so) I think probably all the people at the publishing house who are working on it, too. So the other day he and I were discussing the situation and he said,
"Every book I do brings me elation and pain."
Then he gave this little laugh he has and added,
"We're in the pain part now."

He went on to say that you can't have one without the other,and it's all part of the process of creating something new. If you try to make it easy, if you try to avoid the pain, you'll just keep doing the same old (safe) things -- and you won't grow as an artist. Or get to the elation, either.

Next time I'm tempted to take the easy way out on a book, I'm going to take a deep breath and remember that -- and also remember, it's only pain, one part of the path to elation.

On a less lofty note--last weekend we had what we all agreed was our prettiest table ever - and Grace's best butter cream icing ever, too:

Thank you Blue Rose Girls for a really happy birthday!

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Romance of Middle Age by Mary Meriam

I thought I’d check out Ted Kooser’s site American Life in Poetry this morning in search of a poem to post today at Blue Rose Girls. I didn’t have to spend much time looking for a poem. I loved the first poem I read--Mary Meriam’s The Romance of Middle Age, which is the site's “current column.”

In Kooser’s introduction to the poem, he writes:
Rhyming has a way of brightening a poem, and a depressing subject can become quite a bit lighter with well-chosen rhymes. Here’s a sonnet by Mary Meriam, who lives in Missouri. Are there readers among you who have felt like this?

The Romance of Middle Age
by Mary Meriam

Now that I’m fifty, let me take my showers
at night, no light, eyes closed. And let me swim
in cover-ups. My skin’s tattooed with hours
and days and decades, head to foot, and slim
is just a faded photograph. It’s strange
how people look away who once would look.
I didn’t know I’d undergo this change
and be the unseen cover of a book
whose plot, though swift, just keeps on getting thicker.

You can read the rest of the poem here.


At Wild Rose Reader, I have an original list poem titled Things to Do If You Are a Castle.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Live. Love. Explore!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


I finished my rough draft of "Dumpling Days" late at night on Friday (really, Saturday morning) and I was euphoric. The first draft is always the hardest for me. The next step, revising, is comparably quite fun. Even though revision usually takes longer, it's that initial output that is torturous for me. I always hit a point where I yield to poor quality, over-sentimentality and any other writing sin you can think of just so I can "get the thing out!" (I depend on the revision process to get things in readable condition.)

So, finishing my rough draft (emphasis on "rough") was a big accomplishment for me. I was absolutely thrilled when I wrote "The End" and the first thing I did afterwards was to go online and buy some bedsheets.

But not just any bedsheets.

I bought these sheets that had surprised me in a catalog a couple days earlier. When I saw these sweet, cherry-patterned sheets on clearance I almost jumped (okay maybe I did jump, just a little hop).

Because in one of my old sketchbooks (I have a lot of them!), dated 1999:

was a ripped catalog page with almost the exact same sheets:

I had coveted cherry-patterned sheets over 10 years ago but was too poor purchase them. In 1999, with my extremely modest first book income (as well as part-time bookstore clerk wages) the luxury of matching sheets (no matter how pretty) was a frivolous expense. Rent and ramen noodles was all I could afford then, so the 2nd best thing was to clip the catalog pages and keep them as a little dream.

That I made come true 10 years later! A nice little personal reward, don't you think?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

All things blue rose

This weekend some of us Blue Rose Girls got together to do some celebrating. There was a lot to celebrate... birthdays for Libby and Alvina, Grace finishing the first draft of her new novel, and my little BRG baby on the way.

There were of course blue rose cupcakes created by Grace:

And blue flowers on the table:

Baby on the way was given the most adorable little blue rose outfit, complete with headband (!):

Then we went out to do some shopping. I've been wanting to make a mobile to go over the baby's crib, something like this (pic via Greyhood):

When we were out and about Libby, Grace and I spotted these lovely Vietnamese "prosperity hens":

Aren't they sweet? We all got some to hang around the house. I am working on how to convert mine into a mobile...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Growns up and growns up!

As reported by Publisher's Weekly two weeks ago, we've had two promotions at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (LBYR) recently. Connie Hsu and Kate Sullivan were both promoted to Associate Editor. Hurray!!! Extremely well deserved. Kate is the editor of the Morris Award and Lambda Literary Award finalist Ash by Malinda Lo, as well as the upcoming The Duff by Kody Keplinger. She had been assisting the Poppy imprint for over four years, and will now move over to LBYR to develop a fiction list, focusing on YA novels.

And as faithful readers of this blog probably know, Connie has been my assistant (first as Editorial Assistant, then as Assistant Editor) for over four years (read her Beyond the Book post about her first acquisition, Happyface, here), and she is absolutely fabulous. She has been invaluable in her editorial contribution to virtually all of my titles, especially Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Curious Garden, Wabi Sabi, and Shark vs. Train. Aside from Happyface, which, incidentally, has three starred reviews and is on its third printing, her second acquisition The Adventures of Nanny Piggins by Rachel Spratt is a hilarious, delightfully wicked Middle Grade adventure pubbing next week, and it also just received a starred review! So, you see, it's confirmed. Connie is a star. Connie will be focusing on picture books and novelty books in her new role, as well as selected Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction. She especially loves illustrated novels.

I don't mean this to be patronizing at all, but I couldn't help but think of that scene from the movie Swingers, "My little baby's alls growns up." Connie herself has been joking that she's a "grown up" now. I remember feeling the same way when I became Associate Editor.

For those of you not in publishing, just know that the promotion from Editorial Assistant to Assistant Editor is huge, because you go from "Assistant" as the noun to "Editor" as the noun. But the promotion from Assistant Editor to Associate Editor is really the most important jump, because the word "assistant" is completely gone now. You are no longer anyone's assistant. You are now an editor.

And with that comes some separation anxiety, admittedly. Especially on my part. But I'm very lucky to have a wonderful new Editorial Assistant, Bethany Strout, who comes to us from Writers House. I'm excited to have her on my team. We just discovered that Bethany coincidentally grew up in the town next to New Hartford, NY where Grace grew up, and where I lived for three years. She used to go to the same mall, even. Hurray for Sangertown Square! What a small world.

Here's to exciting new beginnings and chapters! I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of lists Connie and Kate both develop. And perhaps in a few years we'll be reading a guest "Beyond the Book" post from Bethany talking about her first acquisition!

Congratulations all!

Friday, July 23, 2010

It's Wedding Pictures Friday at Blue Rose Girls

This will be an Un-Poetry Friday at Blue Rose Girls this week.
I decided to post more of the pictures that I took
during our fabulous "wedding weekend."

Everyone LOVED the wedding cake (pictured above)--
especially Grace and Squatchie!

One of Sara's bridesmaids took this picture of me dancing!

She also took this picture of me and Sara at the hotel
before we headed off to the church.

I never knew a mother-of-the-bride could have SO much fun
at her daughter's wedding!
Sara and Jerry will return from their two-week honeymoon
in Ireland on Sunday.
I can't wait to see them again!

At Wild Rose Reader, I have an original list poem titled Things to Do If You Are a Mountain.
The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Language, Literacy, Love.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

class notes

I've been entrenched in the writing of my new novel ("Dumpling Days") and while it's always roller coaster, every time the ride feels different. What's interesting this time is when I mention the age range (7-11) I am writing to non-book people, I get a distinct feeling of disappointment in my ambitions. As if by now I should have graduated to writing real books, older books or at least cooler or hipper books that could rival "Twilight."

I always smile politely, as I do understand their idea of success. And who knows, maybe someday I will. But I have a feeling, in terms of writing, that the young middle grade novel will be the book I will never graduate from.

Part of my "lecture" for the Pine Manor class I taught about writing the Middle Grade Novel:

Why write middle-grade novels, especially young middle grade? One can say you have more restrictions in terms of subject matter, audience and even respect than other genres. But I think it is one of the most important forms,if not the most important form, of children's literature. These are the books that change a child that can read books to a child that LOVES to read books. What they call a "reader," a true life-long book lover. The picturebook is rarely read independently and the YA reader has already decided whether he or she likes books. The middle-grade novel is the one that can create a transformation.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mattapoisett Free Public Library on Friday

If you are in the area, come visit me at the Mattapoisett Free Public Library on Friday at 11 am, where I'll be giving a free presentation for kids about my work as part of their Go Green summer reading program. I'll be focusing on how I made What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe? and showing some of the recycling craft activities in the book. Hope to see you there!

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Belated Return to ALA '10

This is a belated wrap-up of ALA--I had posted very briefly about it here, and the other BRGs have also posted about it as well (including Grace's wonderful multi-part series), but here's my overview of the conference.

I took an early early train Saturday morning to D.C. to arrive in time for my booth duty at noon. Booth duty is when one is assigned to be at the booth to help answer questions and introduce our books to librarians and others perusing our books. We also have author and illustrator signings throughout the conference, and we're needed to do various tasks, including selling books, writing names on Post-its for people who want their books personalized, opening the books to the right page for the authors, and so on. Caldecott Medal winner for Lion and the Mouse Jerry Pinkney was in great demand--in fact, he signed every day of the conference!
One of my favorite things about booth duty is that you never know who's going to stop by to say hi. Authors Katie Davis and Barry Lyga stopped by (separately):

and Katie interviewed me for this little video. Cool, huh?

We also help arrange and display advance reading copies for people to take away, like this almost-gone swirl of The Candymakers by Wendy Mass, and this still-tall tower of Sean Beaudoin's You Killed Wesley Payne.

Author Cornelia Funke also had a signing of her upcoming book Reckless right as I was leaving.
Then I was off to meet Grace for a tea in honor of Ambassador of Children's Literature Katherine Patterson. I didn't actually get to meet her, unfortunately, but she gave a few words of thanks, and it was an honor just to be in her presence.
Saturday night was a free night, and Grace and I had planned a dinner with the Blue Rose Girls and a few friends. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone took a picture of the whole table! But here is Grace and Elaine at the restaurant Busboys & Poets:
(Grace is pointing to the word "poets" to refer to Elaine)

I ordered shrimp and grits! Yummmmmm.
Then it was back at the hotel, where Libby, Grace, and I helped each other decide what we would wear at the banquet the next night. (Well, Grace had decided by then, but Libby and I had several options to choose from.)

Sunday morning started with a signing for Grace at the booth. But first, we played around in the booth:

After Grace's signing (she signed Ling & Ting and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon), we were off to the restaurant for our lunch with the Newbery Committee. Before the lunch we had fun with the wall decorations:
It was a thank-you lunch, and it was wonderful to meet the committee and be able to thank them all in person for their selection of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon as one of the Newbery Honor books. Our publisher gave me a lovely introduction, and I turned around and introduced Grace, and then Grace said a few words that made us all smile...and then cry.

And then it was the big night! The Newbery-Caldecott Banquet. We all got dressed up, enjoyed a few snacks and cocktails in a private room, and then headed off to our table:
Here's a video of Grace accepting her award!

As so many people commented to her later, they loved how joyful she was. She was almost dancing onto the stage!

Here's Grace and Alex with her Honor:
After the dinner, we were whisked away to the receiving line where people lined up to congratulate and say hi to all of the winners and honorees.
(I have no clue what I'm saying here! I must have been delirious.)

Then, Grace gave a little interview on the red carpet where she told the story of her dress:
(She made me do an interview first, which I hope never ends up shown anywhere, because I was so exhausted by that point, I had no clue what I was saying!)

Then the fairytale night was over. I made it to bed by 1:30 am, and needed to wake up bright and early for a 7:00 breakfast the next morning.

We had a breakfast in honor of the upcoming picture book Dave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier. We had several pieces of the absolutely breathtaking original art on display:
Laban and Bryan both spoke for a few minutes, and then sat with attendees to talk about how the book had come together. Here's Laban holding court:
Then it was off to the convention center for a signing.
Right after Laban and Bryan's signing was Chris Barton's signing of Shark vs. Train. I donned a Shark hat (yes, I'm biased--but of course I'm Team Shark. Remember our trailer?)
Here's Connie with a few new fans:
Chris and I had lunch after his two signings (he signed his Sibert Honor winning book The Day-Glo Brothers at the Charlesbridge booth immediately following our signing), and then I escaped back to my hotel for a quick power nap before the Printz Awards that evening.

Unlike at the Newbery-Caldecott Banquet, at the Printz Ceremony, the honorees all give speeches as well. This was my first time attending this ceremony, and I soaked it all in (and also live-tweeted the event). Of course, the grand finale was the Gold Medal winner herself, the amazing Libba Bray, author of Going Bovine (who, as you may know, I have the honor of working with on a new series launching in 2012, The Diviners):
Libba was funny ("I'd like to thank the makers of Spanx"), personal, touching, and inspiring ("There is a place where the most amazing parallel universes exist. It's called the library."). Awesome.

After the awards, we mingled and enjoyed cocktails and dessert. Here, Libba is greeted by two Newbery Award winners. First, Linda Sue Park:
And then Libba and Rebecca Stead share a laugh:
Because I was feeling energized from my power nap, I decided to stay for the impromptu after-party at a hotel bar for more drinks and snacks:
The last event of the conference was the Coretta Scott King Book Award Breakfast. Again, I was up bright and early after a late night--but it was worth it. It was a joyful, festive atmosphere complete with singing. And you know how I love to sing! For a great wrap-up of the breakfast, check out honoree for Mare's War, Tanita Davis's blog here.

Charles R. Smith won the Illustrator award for his photographs in My People. It was the first time the award has been given for photographs:

Here's author award winner Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal) in her cowboy hat:

And with that, ALA was over. It was busy, exhilarating, fun, exhausting, and overall, just wonderful. Of all of the conferences I attend, I have to say that ALA is my favorite. What can I say, I love librarians! Even though they make terrible pets.*
*art from Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown.