Monday, February 28, 2011


Daniel Pinkwater loves this book. He reads the whole story and then talks about it. Listen here!

Um... I'm glad he likes a good suicide story. I've always been puzzled by this book. Puzzled and FASCINATED. I have to run out the door but more talk on this later! But listen to this story and check it out. Then we can "discuss." Or I'll discuss and you can read....

teeth and work and balance

Last Thursday I had a tooth pulled. I've been having some other teeth issues related to teeth grinding and a misaligned bite that require me to wear a mouth guard during the day for 4-6 months. I've already had a mouth guard to wear at night since college for the aforementioned teeth grinding and TMJ. (I have bad teeth in general--lots of cavities. I think it's genetic.)

Anyway, long story short, the oral surgeon said to me before the surgery, "I guess it goes without saying that you have a stressful job!"

I paused. Because the truth is, my job IS stressful. Or, at least, I get stressed by my job. Everyone in my company gets stressed out. My first assistant would grind through mouth guard after mouth guard. But I laughed and said, "Well, yeah, but it doesn't sound like it would be stressful. I'm a children's book editor."

I realized how ridiculous that sounded.

I remembered this post from about five years ago--"It's not brain surgery." Anyway, I think I take myself too seriously sometimes. I need to remind myself to keep things in perspective.

Getting a random comment such as the one from Anonymous (of course) on my post last week didn't help any. Because the comment was so ridiculous, I have to assume that it was a joke, or at least something written, for whatever reason, to make me angry. It DID make me laugh, and it DID make me a little angry. But anyway. Being a children's book editor is my job. Not my life. I value the work I do, and I dedicate way more than normal working hours to it, but I'm not a robot. I have to remember that balance in my life is important. It's important in everyone's life. Whether we ARE brain surgeons, or authors, or illustrators, or editors, designers, engineers, or teachers. We should all strive for excellence, but we need to also strive for balance. Yes, there's always something more we can do, but without balance, we'd be unstable, without balance, we burn out. With balance, we can do better jobs, and live better lives.

So, in honor of balance, let me share these quotations, all from the reliable source called the internet:

"What I dream of is an art of balance." ~ Henri Matisse

"Happiness is equilibrium. Shift your weight. Equilibrium is pragmatic. You have to get everything into proportion. You compensate, rebalance yourself so that you maintain your angle to your world. When the world shifts, you shift." ~ Tom Stoppard

"People with great gifts are easy to find, but symmetrical and balanced ones never." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Living in balance and purity is the highest good for you and the earth." ~ Deepak Chopra

"Balance is the perfect state of still water. Let that be our model. It remains quiet within and is not disturbed on the surface." ~ Confucius 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

City kids, country kids, and books

I'm a big Mo Willems fan, and was delighted to be asked to read Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity. In case you haven't read it: The heroine wakes up in the night and realizes that she has the WRONG KNUFFLE BUNNY. It's 2.30 in the morning, but her parents are about to call the other child's parents when BRNNG! BRNGG! The phone rings.

It's the other parents, calling to say THEIR child has the wrong knuffle bunny.

A dramatic exchange follows, with both sets of parents and their children rushing out into the night to return the knuffle bunnies to their rightful owners.

The child to whom I was reading (4) accepted all this as a matter of course, but I was horrified. Is this how parents are now? WIth some trepidation, I asked the parents if THEY would call someone up at 2.30 a.m. to exchange stuffed animals.

"Absolutely not," the mother said firmly. She said she too had been appalled.

But -- we live in a small, gossipy town, you call someone at 2.30 in the morning, the whole town is going to hear about it. Many will make comments ("Can you believe what a spoiled brat that _____ kid is? His parents called the _____s at 2.30 in the morning to get back a stuffed animal!").

The parents in the book lived in NY. Maybe there, this is exactly how parents, or some parents, would react. Or maybe Mo is just presenting things the way to a child, they OUGHT to be and of course, are. In the book.

I don't know -- but whatever the right answer to THAT is, I do know kids are raised differently in different parts of the country (Grace and I were talking about this, since she'd just come back from a visit to Mississippi).....and maybe the more interesting question is if hip urban children are over-represented in kids' books. Most editors do not after all live way out in the country, where not so many kids are hip.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

my six

Even though I've just finished up Dumpling Days, I'm already making plans for my next novel "Return to Sky." I admit I've been a bit scared to begin this one, even though I have been thinking about it for quite some time. Truthfully, I'm afraid my ambitions for it are greater than my abilities. But, I'm trying to take courage just like I did before when I first began work on Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. I had said I was going with Samuel Beckett's quote "Try again. Fail again. Fail better." I'm still going with the "fail better."

But a new quote has also crossed my mind. Recently, I read this post by Brenda Bowen where she excerpted Virginia Wolff's speech at the National Book Awards. In that speech Virgina Wolff talked about "Faulkner's six"--the six things writers should write about. Here's an excerpt:

Faulkner said in 1949 in the Nobel speech that if we are not writing about these six things we are not doing our job. They are love, honor, pity, pride, compassion and sacrifice. I think of them as Faulkner's six.

I thought that was interesting and quite moving, and it made me think of the things that are important to me write about, especially for this book. Right now, I think my six would be:


But I think I'll keep tweaking and changing it. What would your six be?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Creating outside your comfort zone

On Saturday night I attending the Gallery Project, an art opening that was the brainchild of my colleague Kirk, formerly the Associate Art Director for LBYR, now an Art Director for Orbit/Yen, our science fiction and graphic novel imprint.

As Kirk says, "We come to work and interact with each other within the confines of our job titles every day. But some folks lead a double life, creating art for no one other than themselves. Knowing this, curiosity got the best of me and I came up with The Gallery Project. The Gallery Project tasked 10 artists to create 3-5 pieces in three months." 

Here's Kirk explaining the inspiration for the project:

Here are a few of the artists with their creations. Most of the artists are coworkers, from design, production, and IT. Others are friends of coworkers. The art ranged from photography, to paintings, to aprons...and Legos!

It was a great show, and inspirational, too. I know many of my colleagues were nervous about the show--many hadn't created art in years, let alone art meant for others to see. It made me wonder--what kind of art would I create if tasked to do this? Perhaps photography...perhaps I would sketch or draw something. For you non-visual artists out there, what kind of art would/could you create?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Creative or imaginative?

As some of you may remember, I write an article every week for my local PATCH.

This week, it's about an eight-year old artist. I included 11 photographs of things she's made, and her comments on them: the oil painting above was done when she was 6, the story-drawing below when she was 3. I wish I could draw and paint as well as she does, and create as effortlessly!

She is, literally, almost always making something. I wonder if being creative -- wanting to, or maybe even having to make something -- is different from being imaginative -- making things UP, but not feeling the need to give them physical form. This of course is not in the article, these pieces are about the kids themselves, not my thoughts!

I do wonder about it, though....maybe both start with an idea, but creative people need to form that idea into something physical? And those of us who are merely imaginative don't?

For me, physically forming something is easy and satisfying when it's something like cooking, super-hard when it's something like a novel. When it comes to writing, I guess I'm more imaginative than creative -- THINKING of the idea is fun, writing it over and over and over to get it right is just plain hard work!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Let It Snow...Let It Snow...Let It Snow: Repetition in Poetry

When I’m writing, I do my best not to repeat myself. I try to vary the way I begin my sentences. I try not to use the same words over and over again. There are times, however, when repetition can be used to great effect in poetry.
I wrote the following poem It’s Raining last April. I was inspired to write it after experiencing a long period of rainy days. It just kept on raining and raining and raining…and sometimes pouring. It seemed as if the rain would never stop. In my poem, I tried to capture the voice of a child who feels his/her world has been inundated with rain.


It’s Raining

It’s raining…
Raining all around.
It’s raining puddles
On the ground.
It’s raining
On my booted feet.
It’s raining
Rivers in the street.
It’s raining cats.
It’s raining dogs.
It’s raining ponds
For polliwogs.
It’s raining
Drop by drop by drop…
A billion trillion—
It won’t stop!
It’s raining buckets
From the sky.
Don’t think the earth
Will EVER dry.

In the past month, we’ve had a LOT of storms where I live. Most of the storms deposited a significant amount of snow. It seemed we’d no sooner shovel ourselves out from one storm when we’d hear that another one was headed our way. The snow is really deep around here! It’s as high as an elephant’s eye—maybe even a giraffe’s eye!

Because of all the storms, I’ve been housebound more than usual this winter. I started taking pictures from inside and outside of my house. The pictures and the “serial snowstorms” inspired me to write poetry.

Here are two snow poems in which I used a lot of repetition. As in my rain poem, I tried to capture a child’s voice in these snow poems.

It Snowed and Snowed
It snowed all day.
It snowed all night.
It snowed and snowed.
Two feet of white
covered everything in sight.
Our yard,
our deck,
our walk,
the road
don’t look the same
because it snowed…
and snowed
and snowed
and snowed
and snowed.
I dress up in my winter wear
And step out in the frosty air.
I look around and what I see
is a marshmallow world
waiting for me!

It’s Snowing Again!

It’s snowing again.
It’s blowing again.
It’s snowing and blowing.
The traffic is slowing.
I watch the drifts growing and growing and growing.
It just keeps on snowing
and snowing and snowing.
I don’t think it’s
to end.

At Wild Rose Reader, I have an original fairy tale poem written in the form of a classified ad titled Apartment for Rent.

You'll find the Poetry Friday Roundup at Great Kid Books.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Seven Tips to Grow Your Mailing List

This week the indomitable Katie Davis has agreed to fill in for Grace (who is on a 2-week school visit marathon). Katie Davis
has published nine books and appears monthly on the ABC affiliate show, Good Morning Connecticut, recommending great books for kids. She produces Brain Burps About Books, a podcast about kidlit, a blog and monthly newsletter. Smart about marketing, books and balance, we're so glad Katie has agreed to share some of her insights with us here:

In my last guest post I talked about all the different things I do in my career as a writer and illustrator and how I balance them. I know a lot of people who read like that just shut down, overwhelmed by everything that could be done. Either that or their heads spontaneously exploded. So let’s pick just one thing you can do to promote yourself and your career.

Let’s get you a mailing list. You are going to grow your audience and then stay connected. (No, that is NOT two things. I promise. Besides, after you’ve collected a mailing list you will want to stay connected and it won’t even feel like a second whole thing. Think of it as part two of the first thing. It’s the psychology of just doing ONE thing.)

Here are tips to grow your list:

1 - Every time you make an appearance as an author, bring your guest book. Whether it’s on your iPad or in a spiral notebook, ask people to sign up. I’ve brought my guest book to school visits, book festivals, conference appearances …wherever people are gathering to celebrate their love of children’s literature, I bring it. Ask only for their name and email address. Make sure they know you won’t share that list, and, though this seems obvious, ask them to print clearly.

2 – When at professional functions, ask for people’s business card and then ask them if it’s okay to add them to your mailing list. At ALA I collected almost 100 cards and only one person told me he didn’t want me to add him. I separated that card from the rest and wrote myself a gigantic note on the card so I wouldn’t include it by accident.

3- Sign up on your site. Make it easy to find, right at the top of your home page (I’m in the midst of a huge overhaul of my site and I’m definitely doing this one!)

4- Don’t abuse your list. Send out things of interest that isn’t just about you and your books. Write articles, include info about other books, or include lesson plans.

5- Give to get…

Elizabeth O. Dulemba
grew her list by establishing “Coloring Page Tuesday” which is when she posts a new downloadable coloring page. She has over 2,500 subscribers and over 1.5 million page views of her site last year. That doesn't even include RSS subbers, facebook followers, etc.

Dianne de las Casas sends a monthly newsletter that includes activities that link to her books, but also suggestions about things to do with kids, her tour schedule, interviews with reviewers and sometimes even a recipe or two!

My own newsletter (sample) has book recommendations and unique information from authors about their books, links to my podcast interviews with other authors and experts, videos and occasional tips. On my new site I plan to have a weekly drawing for all new subscribers.
On your site include a “Tips for …(writing non-fiction for kids/making friends on Twitter/whatever you are good at!” or “Secrets to…” article to download. The key to get the download is your visitor’s email address.

I contacted one of the most successful and well-known children’s literature bloggers, Cynthia Leitich Smith, creator of Cynsations to ask how she increased her mailing list. She actually doesn’t have one, because as she told me, “Email addresses change.” However, I’m not sure at her level she needs a mailing list. After all, she gets 80,000 views per month. She can put her message out on her blog and basically, a bazillion people will see it.

She also told me, “While nailing down specific reasons is about as effective for me as reading tea leaves, I suspect the following are factors: (1) the blog is hosted and mirrored (reproduced) at more than one location for greater outreach and subscription options; (2) I tweet links to the posts and feature them on my facebook author page; (3) I've been blogging for a long time--since 2004--which has allowed ample opportunity to build both an audience and create back links that continue to attract traffic; (4) Cynsations builds on the success of my already popular children's-YA writer and literature resource site, a portal to the world of creating, reading, marketing, and publishing books for young readers; (5) the content is of consistent quality, offered on a regular basis, and features notable voices and visions from throughout the field.
Building on the last point, the content is not only regular and substantive, it's consistently positive, with a focus on inspiring and informing the youth literature community, especially writers. While I may highlight, say, links about supporting library financing, I don't share the particulars of my own political beliefs or otherwise delve into matters beyond the world of books. Consequently, my blog readers know what to expect. At the same time, I do personalize it a bit. While I don't, for example, go into any detail about my Valentine's Day plans, I will be sharing a photo of the flowers I received. It creates a (hopefully) warm and inviting online destination, offering real value to visitors.”

6- Put your signup link in your email signature.

7- Freebies! It’s always nice to offer something for an email address. How about a weekly drawing? I met a guy on Twitter who actually gives a tee shirt for every email address he gets. That’s a big expense if you’re getting a lot of sign ups! Just giving a signed copy of your book would be a huge prize, and would get your book out there. Other great prizes would be, if you are an established writer, to offer a critique to any unpublished writers who sign up.

This isn’t brain surgery, I’m not saying anything new, and if you google “how to increase your mailing list” I’m sure you’ll find even more ideas. The thing is to do something. And my most important tip of all, which should have it’s very own category: once you start building that list, use it for good, never for evil.

local book buying

So I adore my local bookstore, Porter Square Books (they almost always keep a supply of my books--love the "on our shelves now" listing!) but before they were my local bookstore, I lived near Harvard Square and shopped (and worked) almost exclusively at the Curious George Goes to Wordsworth. However, now, I have some pangs of regret not shopping (and working) here:

Though I am glad I don't have to experience this anymore (amazon had just taken off when I stopped being a bookseller):

Ah, the memories!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sweet things

Hope you all had a lovely Valentine's Day yesterday! We made a visit, at last, to the incredible Tartine Bakery down the street from where we're staying in San Francisco. I've been hearing about this place for some time, but every time we've tried to go there was a line down the block to get in. So yesterday we headed out early and thankfully made it through the door. It every bit deserves its reputation for having the best sweets in the city. We had chocolate croissants still warm from the oven, apple brioche bread pudding, and these delicious chocolate hazelnut tarts.

After arriving home I got some sweet news. Disappearing Desmond has been included in the Cooperative Children's Book Center's best-of-the-year list. Hurray! I am truly honored to have Desmond on the list. Grace is on there too with Thanking the Moon: Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival.

The complete list will be here on March 5th. Congrats to everyone!

Lastly baby made some sweet progress this weekend. For the very first time she lifted her head up during "tummy time"! These days you have to give babies time on their belly, since its not considered safe to let them sleep that way, so they can learn to lift their head to prepare for crawling. Normally Wren cries the whole time, but this weekend she not only smiled through it but got some lift! I am a very proud mama.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Photo Shoot

As I mentioned last Monday, last Wednesday was the photo shoot for the yet-to-be-named cover. On Monday, we reviewed the photos of our top choices from the model call. It was interesting to see that the one model I had thought was gorgeous did not photograph as such. One of the photographer's and designer's faves from the model call also did not photograph well. But our other top choice had absolutely lovely photos--she clearly knew how to model, and her poses were expressive and natural. There were a few other strong options as well. However, the problem was that we only had a "second hold" on our top choice, meaning that someone else had also really liked her and was considering her for a Wednesday job. We decided to challenge the first hold, and as of Tuesday morning, we thought we had her booked.

In the meantime, we were also searching for a male model. We had two top choices from Monday, but were told right away that one had been booked. We wanted to see more options, and so the model agencies told us they were sending two male models to the office.

Only one ended up showing up--it was a little surreal to have this tall, good-looking male model with us in a publishing company's conference room. When I saw him, I thought he looked a little familiar, and as I was flipping through his portfolio, I recognized a shot of his (that happened to be a shirtless photo--hee hee) from Friday.

"We've met you before, haven't we?" I asked him. He looked at me a little confused. "Were you at the model call on Friday?" He didn't remember. The models go to so many different calls that I guess I couldn't expect him to remember us.

At any rate, it was good thing we saw him again, because we realized that we liked his look over the other model we had chosen from Friday. We booked him.

It was all set. We were sent the schedule. And then, around 3:30 on Tuesday afternoon, the day before the shoot, we were told there had been a mix-up with the female model and that she had been booked elsewhere. After a flurry of phone calls, we decided to book our second choice, who luckily we still had a first hold on. Whew.

The day of the photo shoot was a busy one at work, and I knew I couldn't be there for the whole day. The designer, Alison, would be there the whole time to art direct, so I knew everything would go smoothly, but I did want to a least stop by to see how it all worked.

Bethany and I stopped by the studio at 10:30. The male model's call time was 9 am, so his make-up was done by the time we arrived. The female model's call time was 10 am, so she was in a robe about the sit down in the make-up artist's chair.

Alison and the stylist showed up the rack of clothing the stylist had picked out for the girl, ranging from leather jackets, to tank tops, textured dresses, slouchy sweaters, skinny jeans, leggings, etc. There was also a table of accessories. Awesome. "Everything's for sale, by the way," the stylist told us, "selling it would mean there's less for me to return later." Tempting, but I managed to resist.

The photographer started shooting the male model while the female model was getting her hair and makeup done. Different poses, different lighting, two different shirts, sitting standing, etc. Various assistants milled around helping with the lighting. Alison and the photographer discussed the different angles and what effect they wanted to achieve. It was fascinating. I love watching other creative professionals at work--it's rare that I have that opportunity (aside from reality television, that is).

Alas, we had to get back to the office before they started shooting the female model, but I was able to see her finished eye makeup before we left. We had asked for a dramatic eye, and we certainly achieved that. Can't wait to see the photos this week!

If all goes well, I should be able to unveil the cover at the beginning of May.

To be continued...

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Charming Prince Has Second Thoughts: An Original Fairy Tale Poem

This is not exactly a love poem for sharing on Valentine's Day! It's another of the poems I wrote for my unpublished collection titled Excerpts from the Fairy Tale Files.


Listen…Sleeping Beauty snoring
Sounds just like a lion roaring!
If I kiss her cheek, she’ll rise
And look into my deep blue eyes.
She’ll fall in love with me no doubt.
I’m the only prince hereabout.

Should I kiss Beauty? Should I not?
In this dilemma I am caught.
If I wake her now she’s mine—
This roaring, snoring valentine!
I know they say that love is blind,
But it’s not deaf. I’m disinclined
To rouse this maid. I’ll let her snore
And dream of me forevermore.

At Wild Rose Reader, I have a new fairy tale poem that I wrote yesterday titled Farewell, My Lovely.

Rasco from RIF has the Poetry Friday Roundup this week.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

school visit photo album: Jackson, MA

I've been in the Chicago area and in Jackson, MS for a two-week school visit marathon (survival tips here)! This last week has been great fun because at the start of the week I taught the kids how to draw tigers:

But by the end of the week, we were drawing rabbits!

That is because I spent Chinese New Year in MS! And while doing a school visit is not the traditional way to celebrate the holiday, it was still quite festive.

One school welcomed me and the Chinese New Year with a little performance inspired from my book Bringing in the New Year:

And at another school, a real rabbit had her home decorated for the new year:

And students were wearing in their good-luck, Chinese red outfits:

But, of course, the most fun for me was seeing how much the students liked my books:

And the great projects the teachers and librarians did to prepare them for my visit:
This says: "I would ask the Old Man of the Moon, 'Can I get an iphone 4?'"

This says, "I would ask the Old Man of the Moon if my brother would ever be nice to me."

Unfortunately, on the last day of my visit, school was canceled due to the weather which made this student-written fortune extremely apropos:
This says, "You will soon meet Nature's destructive powers."

Luckily, it didn't continue to stay true and I was able to make my airplane flight home...Thanks so much for having me, Jackson, MS!