Saturday, March 31, 2012

What made me laugh this week

I apologize for not posting much recently, I'm behind on everything--even my pocket pacy contest (I have so many wonderful entries that I can't wait to share! I'll announce winners next week, promise!). The reason why I am so behind is that I've been doing a marathon of school visits (which I will also post about later) which have been fun as well as funny. How funny? Well, this is how I was asked to personalize some of the books I autographed (last name photoshopped out to protect the innocent):

It says to sign books to 1. Elliot 2. Little  Elliot Pelliot Smelliot 3. Master Elliot Edward...a year of the Monkey Child

This made me laugh but I signed as directed! However, I couldn't help wondering if some older sibling was getting in a joke on little Elliot...

Friday, March 30, 2012


We are trying something new: a question of the week we will all answer....or those of us who want to will.

The question this week is:


I was on a lengthy stopover at the Denver Airport after a fairly sleepless trip -- at that stage of tiredness and crankiness when almost everything was irritating me, from getting a few drops of hot water in the restroom sinks (and I had to flap my hands to get THAT -- over and over to get enough to really wash my hands) to people's loud voices and rudeness. The WIFI worked perfectly though, and I read the latest in a discussion among me, my siblings and most of our cousins about the location of a planned family reunion. Things were deteriorating there, too, and I was too tired to deal with it. So I went to get something to eat.

I vaguely tuned into the conversation at the next table: three teenage boys complaining about something -- but I didn't REALLY start listening until the father said:

"It was my bad. Mom had this romantic idea of all of us being together in the snow....."

I looked over: father, 3 boys between the ages of about 11 and 16, and a man who never said a word.

"Why couldn't we have gone to the beach?" one boy said.

"We always go to the beach. You would have liked the mountains better if you'd gone ski-ing."

"If I went ski-ing I'd probably hurt myself," said the first boy.

The argument went on and on, with the father being resolutely cheerful even in the face of:

"It sucked."

"I have no interest in sitting on boat."

"It's less boring than_________."

"The likelihood of any of us killing a shark is zero. Sharks move at...."

The only thing they all agreed on, supported by their father, was NO VEGETABLES. When their meal came, and there was lettuce on the hamburgers, they were sent back, very pleasantly and politely -- the father talked. Then, one of the kids commented on the vegetables in the father's drink.

"I know what you mean," the father said diplomatically, "but somehow I can never think of olives as a vegetable."

Then they went back to arguing.

Maybe this won't make anyone else laugh -- but *I* laughed and it really cheered me up, too. ALL families (not just mine) argue about vacation locations and the point is to go. They had their father (such a nice guy! I don't know how parents have the patience!) and, luckily, we have people in our family, too, who say they're going because they want to see relatives and get to know them better; WHERE we do it is secondary ....and thanks to over-hearing this conversation, I was able to be one of them.

I didn't mean to make this a "what I learned" kind of thing, and if we can answer this question twice, next time I'll just say something funny and leave it at that!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Festival interview

Just returned from a busy week in Virginia at the Festival of the Book. More on that soon! In the meantime, here is a clip from an interview I did for the local news while I was in Charlottesville. It was a total thrill being on a real news set... watching the weather guy in front of the green screen, the anchors chatting casually the second they cut to commercial, how all the graphics and pieces came together to create what you see on screen. One of the anchors spent each of the commercial breaks either surfing the web or texting. I guess once you're used to being on tv you have to fill up that time somehow. Anyhow, I had a blast. I hope it shows. Please pardon my frog voice (I had a cold).

Monday, March 26, 2012

Writing Retreat, and The Today Show!

Hi all, Happy Spring! Sorry for my lack of posting lately. I'm in the crunch time of work deadlines and editing my Spring 2013 list, and have also been cramming wedding planning into any free hour I can find...that deadline is fast approaching, too, as I'm getting married this July!

Last weekend I was on the faculty for the Vermont College Novel Writing Retreat for Middle Grade and Young Adult Writers in beautiful Montpelier, Vermont (VCFA campus pictured above). It was an intimate weekend--about 30 people in total, faculty and attendees combined, with a few alumni who live in the area popping in throughout the weekend. We were housed in the dorms of Vermont College, complete with shared bathrooms (nothing like brushing your teeth together to bond!) and twin-sized beds. I was on the faculty with the brilliant authors Coe Booth and Holly Black.

Author and Vermont College MFA alumni Bruce Black (no relation to Holly) led a wonderful Friday night yoga and journaling workshop on "setting your foundation"--the importance of having a strong foundation in yoga, in life, and in writing (he also led Saturday and Sunday morning yoga sessions, but alas I did not make it to either one). He gave us several writing prompts, one being the question: "What does it take to create a solid foundation as a writer?" (I, of course, answered it substituting "editor" for "writer.") My small epiphany was that getting enough sleep is crucial to having a strong foundation--perhaps because I've been lacking in that aspect of my life lately. But of course there was much more on my list, including great books, a strong support system, and challenges. What would be on your list?

On Saturday morning Coe got us started off with a talk about secondary characters, defining them as the characters in the main character's life who have some impact on his/her life. These generally include, but are not limited to: parents or parent substitutes, siblings, and friends and classmates. She spoke about the important of knowing what each secondary character's life is like beyond the main character. "A flat, lifeless secondary character is a missed opportunity." (she may have been quoting someone else when she said this, so my apologies if I have the attribution wrong) Coe drew on her background as a social worker who did home visits and supplied us with handouts to help everyone establish the structure and system of family relationships. This included interview questions for the adults and other children in the family, as well as questions and prompts for observing the family. Her motto when she writes: "Secondary characters are main characters in her own life!" So true. And you never know when that secondary character in one book is going to star in his/her own book in the future.

There were one-on-one critiques as well as critique groups during the "white space" (some attendees chose to use that time to write) and then after lunch I spoke about narrative voice and structure. I had revised the talk I gave on narrative fiction at the NY SCBWI Annual conference in January, and thankfully none of the attendees of that talk were in Vermont!

There were more critiques in the afternoon, and then after dinner we had a dessert and cocktail reception, and then readings/open mike. People read 2-3 minutes of their work, and it really was wonderful--as I haven't been to Kindling Words in a few years, I realized how much I missed hearing people read their work out loud. They were so varied--some funny, some dramatic, some heartbreaking.

On Sunday Holly spoke about "Fixing the Sickly Book" giving writers guidelines for how to help their writer friends "fix" their book, and how to both be a good doctor and patient. Of course, I found this talk extremely helpful as it relates to editing. I took copious notes, but I'll just highlight a few takeaways. As the "doctor" it's always good to ask the patients to summarize his/her own book, even if you've read it, because it's important to know where they start, what they actually care about in the book, what they think the protagonist's conflict is, what parts they stumble over, and what the overall tone of the book is. As the doctor, it's good to ask yourself: "Is anyone being stupid? Is this how the world really works? Is this how people really work? Does this make sense?" And when offering remedies, be generous, be flexible, frame suggestions in the form of questions, and give up ownership (all things editors do all the time, I must add!).

It was a hugely inspiring weekend--I would strongly recommend the program to any writer, both aspiring and published. There were quite a few published authors in attendance, and I have no doubt that many more of the attendees will achieve their publishing goals soon.


In other news, Andrea Davis Pinkney appeared on The Today Show last week to discuss her middle grade novel Bird in the Box with Al Roker's Book Club. She was marvelous, and I love the questions the kids asked--it was a new group of kids, but they were so poised it was hard to believe this was their first appearing on the Book Club. If you missed the segment, you can watch it here.
Andrea signs books for the kids after the show in the green room.
Congratulations, Andrea!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fiction and fact

Last weekend, This American Life retracted a story -- the one told by the actor who went to China and did a stage show on the horrific conditions in Apple's factories. Conditions there ARE bad; but lots of the dramatic details (like guards wearing guns) were completely made up. Others were exaggerated or distorted.

He was interviewed on last weekend's show and the lies continued; he never admitted that he had lied. The reporters said talking to him was "exhausting" because of the way he qualified every statement, even his denials. He never came out and said anything, and he couldn't seem to see that he had distorted the truth and that it would have all been fine if he'd told audiences his stage show was drama BASED ON facts rather than fact. He said, only more indirectly, that the main point was true and his goal was to get people to care.....billing his show as "based on the truth" rather than true wouldn't have had the same impact. He's probably right about that!

Ira Glass and the others were outraged. Their passion for the truth, for fact checking, for getting every detail exactly right was for me the most interesting and dramatic part of the show (the guy who had lied gave me the creeps, frankly -- his smarmy voice was creepy in his original story and it was almost a relief to have a reason not to like him, before I just hadn't!).

Listening to the reporters talk made me think about fiction and non-fiction. I am guessing (guessing because I am not one!) really great reporters and non-fiction writers are driven by passion to get at the facts, to find out what REALLY happened. For me, research and learning are fascinating-- but that's not why I write, even when I'm writing non-fiction. Research in fact can often be an end it inself; for me, it's really different from writing.

Fiction writers (and like it or not, that's mainly what I am -- what about you? What drives your writing?) are probably driven by other things: the desire to express themselves, tell a good story, reveal an emotional truth, portray a world -- or just make things up.

Some people can't help doing this even when they set out to tell the facts. Carl Sandburg's biography of Lincoln contains a long account of a romance -- a woman (Nancy Rutherford???) Lincoln deeply loved who died. When critics pointed out, pretty conclusively, that this had never happened, Carl Sandburg replied:
"Well, it ought to have happened."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

picture books done in 3D?

Hey guys,

I'm working on improving my school talk and I'm in need of an example of a picture book done in 3D. Sculpture perhaps? I already have the cut paper down. I'm thinking real 3D - something that needs to be photographed. Any ideas? Please do share! Thanks!


Saturday, March 17, 2012

ipad, nook, kindle?

So, I've been traveling a lot this month--school visit marathon!-- and I'm starting to bend towards getting a e-reading device. I loathe checking in bags but being pregnant has made carrying books that much more unwieldy. The idea of carrying a library in a single device has become more and more attractive with each trip I take and with the old ipads dropping in price I am starting to be very, very tempted.

But is the ipad the right device to get? Even though my single purchase is not even a drop in the larger battle of e-books, I'd like to get the one that helps book publishing the most. Apple certainly doesn't seem to need any help (and is of course the most expensive option as well as recent reports of its dubious manufacturing practices). Getting a kindle seems rather like a betrayal of the book industry, considering how ruthless Amazon is to both publishers and indie bookstores. While the nook would support B&N & not indies, at least it would help B&N stay afloat against Amazon. Which device would support the book industry the most, do you think?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Virginia Festival of the Book

Next week I will be packing up the car and heading south for the Virginia Festival of the Book. It takes place in my hometown of Charlottesville, so it's always a mix of visiting friends and family, visiting schools, giving book talks, and enjoying an early dose of spring. In the past I've flown down. But this year Bruno and Tilda will join me and given the mountain of stuff a traveling baby requires, we decided to drive. I am mildly terrified of 10 hours in the car with a toddler, but very excited about the festival.

This year I'll be visiting 5 schools (including the first elementary school I ever attended!), giving a couple of weekend events, and will be interviewed on the local news. I grew up watching my hometown news, so that will be an extra thrill.

If you are in the area, the festival is well worth checking out with hundreds of events around town. But most especially, come join me if you can for these gatherings:

Making a Picture Book with Anna Alter
Sat. March 24th, 2012 - 10:00 AM

A StoryFest Event! Anna Alter shares her latest picture book. Children learn how a book is created from start to finish and then participate in their own art project. Original artwork from Anna's books will be on display. Anna's own books available for purchasing and signing.

CitySpace--Charlottesville Community Design Center
100 5th Street NE

Book Signing at Alakazam
Sun. March 25th, 2012 - 1:00 PM

Author and illustrator Anna Alter shares her book A Photo for Greta and an art activity with her Alakazam fans.

Alakazam Toys and Gifts
100 E Main St

Saturday, March 10, 2012


pretty white girl

I'm traveling around this month, doing lots o'school visits, but this blog post, Why The Pretty White Girl YA Book Cover Trend Needs to End caught my eye. It's written by the fearless & articulate Ellen Oh, who is a great supporter of multicultural authors (as well as being one herself).

One of the topics briefly touched upon was that middle grade novel covers don't suffer as much "white washing" as YA covers. As a middle grade, multicultural author I think that is true. But I still think there is room to grow! What do you think?

Thursday, March 08, 2012

authors are rockstars

Today,there's a fun little podcast interview with yours truly at Authors are Rockstars. I love how they we talked about the story of my Newbery dress--you can see we talked only about the most important things!

Listen HERE!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Slippery fish

It seems to me, in general, there are two types of writers. People for whom ideas come easily and the craft and follow-through are a challenge and people who struggle with their idea, but the craft and revising flow unimpeded. This is a vast oversimplification of course, but in general it seems like most writers I've met lean towards one or the other group.

I am in the second group. I wrestle with ideas like slippery fish, but once I've caught one I can whip up dinner in no time flat. This is probably not the best analogy, books have little in common fish and I am a vegetarian, but slippery carrot doesn't work quite as well... anyhow... I long to be one of those writers with ideas buzzing round their heads all the time, who need merely choose which spark will make their masterpiece. But I do love the rush of energy once I've got my momentum going and can really sink my teeth in. Right now I am at the cusp, about to dive in, writing aimlessly until the pieces I need come together. It's a place I cannot stand and will do anything (blogging for instance) to avoid, but usually passes quicker than I think it will.

Which type of writer are you?

Saturday, March 03, 2012

two things

I'm posting this on an airplane on my flight back from a lovely school visit (I'm still in awe that I can get the internet while in the air) because there were two things that I really wanted everyone to know about.


 Illustrations from Lissy's Friends and Fortune Cookie Fortunes will be shown (along with the art of 6 other artists) at the Wenham Museum as part of their

I'll be at the reception for it this Sunday, March 4th, 1-4 pm

I hope to see some of you! It's a super cute museum--antique toys and trains, definitely worth the trip!

Wenham Museum 
132 Main Street, Wenham, MA 01984 
Tel: (978) 468-2377

AND second:

Here is the Pocket Pacy giveaway I've been promising!

Even with the great turn-out at the launch, I have a dozen Pocket Pacys left! Would you like one? You can win one by simply telling me what journey YOU would like bring Pocket Pacy on! Simply download the Pocket Pacy Activity Page and do the activity. The activity is very simple-- finish the sentence on the page ("I would bring Pocket Pacy to...") and draw background around her. Here's an example:



See! Easy and fun, right? Download the activity sheet HERE.

Then, send me your finished activity sheet scanned or photographed by e-mail at:

OR send it to me via snail mail at:

Grace Lin
PO Box 441457
West Somerville, MA 02144-1457

I will choose 3 winners a month until July 1st. Let your imagination go wild--if you win, you don't really have to take Pocket Pacy on the trip you draw! I can't wait to see where you want to take her!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Snow day

It's a quiet, snowy day up here in the mountains. Not much to do but look out the window and wait for the driveway to be cleared. No babysitter and no writing, just cookies, tea, and Sesame Street. Happy winter to all!