Friday, September 28, 2012


I really wanted to show a painting in progress. This took a really long time to make and it's about 20 sec long. Oh well. I tried:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Simple but not easy

We have a tradition on this blog of not reviewing books -- and I am all in favor of it. So this isn't a review, just a story about the effect this book had on me.

All my life I've dawdled in the morning -- no matter what time I get up. I can be up at 6 and still happily doing I don't even know what by ten or even noon.

When I worked in other people's offices jobs,  everyone showed up pretty late and worked until midnight or so. One boss insisted on everyone being there at nine. From nine to noon, I just sat in front of my computer -- not out of defiance (though I wouldn't put that past me), but because my brain was a blank.

Yet I am not a procrastinator -- at least when it comes to work for other people. I have never in my life missed a deadline. When I get one, I count backwards from the due date, make a schedule, and stick to it.

But when it comes to my own writing, I DO procrastinate. I know I do my best writing first thing in the morning. So why do I waste that precious time dawdling, drinking tea, writing emails?? On the occasional mornings when I get to work as soon as I get up, I'm always amazed at how carefree I feel for the rest of the day: nothing to feel guilty about, no nagging feeling that I should be writing--I've WRITTEN! And on some of these days, after I do the other things I have to do, I write more.

Recently I decided to try to stop the morning dawdling and read the first part of this (up until he started talking about changing businesses):

The ideas that helped me are, first, what a habit is. According to him, it has a trigger or stimulus (eg--see chocolate bar on shelf), a behavior (eat chocolate) and an immediate reward (easy to see in the case of chocolate, less so in the case of, say, wasting a morning dawdling). And the way to change the habit is to use the same stimulus, get a reward--BUT CHANGE THE BEHAVIOR. This is simple to say, not easy to do.

One of my freelance clients, who is a neuroscientist, said the author got the reward part wrong --that Duhigg defines it too superficially and too narrowly; it's really your sense of purpose, not the superficial reward, that drives your behavior. If your purpose is important to you and you see how the behavior affects it, you have a much better chance of changing the behavior. And if that purpose includes a larger good--benefits to other people -- your chances are even better.

But back to HABIT: If you perform the new behavior often enough, and get the reward consistently, you will create a craving for the new behavior; and at that point, you have a new habit. People who run or do some other kind of intense exercise  experience this all the time. But you have to believe in your purpose and practice the new behavior often enough (a MINIMUM of three times a week, and every day is better) to create a craving for it. Otherwise, when you get stressed out, you will fall back into your old ways.

The other idea that helped me a lot was what the author called "a keystone habit," a habit that supports all the rest of your behavior (like the keystone in an arch).

For me, it was hard to figure out how to start--I have no clue what the reward of dawdling is. I have such an irregular schedule that it was hard to find a trigger for it, or a keystone habit.

But I finally thought of one: I always, always drink tea soon after waking up. I'm addicted to it. What if I didn't allow myself to have had my first cup until I was sitting at my computer WRITING?

The first week went really well. The rewards are huge -- but I will wait until I've passed the real test -- sticking to it for, say, a month -- to report back on what they are.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Starry River of the Sky Book Trailer

Here is my book trailer for Starry River of the Sky! Isn't it great? Because it took us so long, we were able to put excerpts in from four of the five (yes, FIVE! just got the fifth one yesterday!) starred reviews. So I guess there are advantages to being late.

Even though the book officially doesn't release until October 2nd, it's already available on Amazon! But you don't want to buy it there-- you want to buy it at my booklaunch on Sunday! And even if you can't make it to my booklaunch, you want to come back here on the October 2nd release day--I'm having an online party!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Brooklyn Book Fest

Yesterday I attended one of my favorite events of the year, the Brooklyn Book Fest. Not only is it walking distance from my apartment (very convenient), but it's always such a vibrant, stimulating day. This year, there were quite a few Little, Brown Books for Young Readers authors on panels, and I was happy to be able to see each one.

First up was Wendy Mass, who was on a Middle Grade panel, "A Blues for Middle School" with R. J. Palacio (Wonder), Adam Gidwitz (A Tale Dark and Grimm), and Sheela Chari (Vanished). Paul Acampora (Rachel Spinelli Punched Me in the Face) was a fantastic moderator, and the authors discussed those perilous middle school years. The highlight for me was the Q&A at the end, where pretty much all of the questions were asked by kids. Several kids asked Wendy about The Candymakers--one asked if Wendy had intentionally tried to make her readers hungry by "all of those adjectives" and another asked what her inspiration for writing the book was, to which Wendy answered, "So I could eat a lot of candy in the name of research."

The next LBYR author up was Libba Bray, fresh off the first leg of her tour for The Diviners which pubbed last Tuesday. Libba competed in "Jeopardy" against Natalie Standiford (Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters) and Daniel Nayeri (Straw House, Wood House, Brick House, Blow), who is a fellow CBC Committee member (and new father to a 13-day old baby!). Author Zoraida Cordova (The Vicious Deep) moderated. Alas, like me, the contestants often had trouble remembering character names, responding to such "answers" as "This couple's vows are likely to include the phrase 'As you wish'" with "Uh, who are Cary Elwes and Robin Wright". Other, questions were "Who was the Mia girl from the novel by Meg Cabot" and "Who are the two characters in A Fault in Our Stars" but thankfully the audience was able to swoop in with any names the panelists were stumped on. 

I then left the Youth Stage for a quick jaunt over to the Target Stage to see Frank Viva read Along a Long Road to a tent full of (mostly) attentive children:

And then it was back to the Youth Stage for the final two panels of the day. Barry Lyga (I Hunt Killers) was on the "It's A Hard Knock Life" panel (that Annie song kept popping into my head periodically all day) with Susane Colasanti (Keep Holding On) and Louise Rozett (Confessions of an Angry Girl), moderated by Jennifer Castle. My favorite moment of the day was during the Q&A--a young girl (I'd guess she was anywhere between 10 and 12) told Barry that she read the description of I Hunt Killers and wanted to read it, but her father (who was sitting right next to her) also read the description and thought it was too gory for her. She asked him what he thought, and Barry said, "Are you asking me to tell your father that it's okay for you to read my book?" and she said yes! Barry handled it well--he told the father that he didn't know his daughter, that he recommended the dad read it first to determine if he thought his daughter could handle it, and also, "Sorry to tell you this, but if your daughter wants to read the book...she's going to read the book." to which the daughter laughed and nodded her head exuberantly. Apparently the father did end up buying the book for his daughter... hope it doesn't give her nightmares!

The last panel of the day was titled "Ghosts, Goddesses, and Wolves" and was moderated by Jessica Shirvington (Entice). Malinda Lo (Adaptation), Andrea Cremer (the Nightshade series), and Kendare Blake (Anna Dressed in Blood) discussed the transformation--both physical and emotional--of the characters in their books. Malinda gamely succeeded in avoiding any spoilers of her new book, although she did reveal one spoiler: that in real life, one generally needs to get a job. 

The weather was absolutely gorgeous in Brooklyn yesterday, and the Book Fair had probably the best turnout I'd ever seen. Every panel was standing room only, and the discussions were great and the audience engaged.

Till next year! 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Why I've Been Away from Blue Rose Girls & A New Place to Live

I apologize for being absent from Blue Rose Girls so much in recent months. My life has changed since I became a nanny granny and began providing daycare for my granddaughter Julia three days a week. Because my daughter and son-in-law lived quite a distance from my house—a 60 to 90 minute drive depending on traffic—I have stayed with them half of every week. Because I’ve been so busy, I have found little time for writing, blogging, or visiting with family and friends. I am also quite tired when I am home—as I have to play catch-up on things around my own house.
A few months ago, my husband, daughter, son-in-law, and I decided that it would be a good idea to find a place where we could all live together. Then I’d always be at home—even when I’m caring for little Julia.
Well, in June, my daughter found a beautiful property: An antique house with a lovely in-law apartment (the former carriage house)—situated on a three-and-a-half-acre lot in a lovely neighborhood. We passed papers on the house a couple of weeks ago.

My husband and I haven't even put our house on the market yet. When I’ve been at my own home, I’ve been trying to clean house and throw stuff away that I no longer need in order to make our eventual move easier. We've also been taking things we don't need at this time and storing them in the barn on our new property. Yup, we have a big old barn that was built around 1850.

Alvina recently wrote about “the elusive work-life balance.” (I'm doing my best to help my daughter with her work-life balance.) I have to admit that I've experienced an elusive blog-life balance since I became a nanny granny. I do miss connecting with people via Blue Rose Girls and Wild Rose Reader—but I can’t seem to carve out enough time to do everything that I have to do AND that I want to do these days. I hope once I’m settled in at my new residence, I’ll find more time to blog, to write poetry, and to connect with my friends in the children’s literature community.
Here are some pictures that I took recently of the grounds around our "new" house:
Here are two pictures of one-year-old Julia enjoying her first taste of her Grampy’s fabulous homemade lasagna:
Here’s a picture that I took of her when we were on vacation in Maine in late August:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

mortgage therapy

So my new book comes out soon...very soon...and I'm on pins and needles about it. I've been ramping up for my booklaunch, dreaming up online giveaways, preparing my little family for the book tour (limited book tour, Rain Dragon is only 4 months),  and, all and all, just trying with all my might to help make my book a success.

However, there comes a point where there's just nothing more an author can do. We write the best book we can, we spread the word the best we can and then we just hope. We hope people like it, we hope people love it, we hope and hope.

Yet, there is also a point where the hope just turns to worry.  Me, myself, I've never been able to rein in that anxiety and it is so unhelpful. By the time my book comes out, I am usually just a blob of agonizing, self-doubt.

But not this time! Why? Not because I've reached some sort of's because we, my little family, have just bought a house! Yes, we're moving!

So now, my brain is completely filled with new house stuff--should I paint the walls green, when should we sell the condo...all sorts of fun and not-so-fun details. It's been a really good way of keeping the book anxiety at bay. But I don't recommend it as a regular remedy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


I often read this blog for bits of inspiration. This weekend she posted a great quote from one of the hackers responsible for some big time sabotage. A condition of his bail required that he not be able to use the internet. Here is what he had to say about the experience.

We've talked before about simplifying and work/life balance, but to be totally unplugged indefinitely? How long do you think you could last? Do you think it would make you more creative? I don't think I've gone more than a few days since day one. Although the way he describes it makes me want to try for longer:

"Things are calmer, slower and at times, I'll admit, more dull. I do very much miss the instant companionship of online life, the innocent chatroom palaver, and the ease with which circles with similar interests can be found. Of course, there are no search terms in real life – one actually has to search. However, there is something oddly endearing about being disconnected from the digital horde.

It is not so much the sudden simplicity of daily life – as you can imagine, trivial tasks have been made much more difficult – but the feeling of being able to close my eyes without being bombarded with flashing shapes or constant buzzing sounds, which had occurred frequently since my early teens and could only be attributed to perpetual computer marathons. Sleep is now tranquil and uninterrupted and books seem far more interesting. The paranoia has certainly vanished. I can only describe this sensation as the long-awaited renewal of a previously diminished attention span.

For it is our attention spans that have suffered the most. Our lives are compressed into short, advertisement-like bursts or "tweets". The constant stream of drivel fills page after page, eating away at our creativity. If hashtags were rice grains, do you know how many starving families we could feed? Neither do I – I can't Google it."

Monday, September 17, 2012

the elusive work-life balance


Earlier this summer, I read this article in the Atlantic and it really struck a nerve. It was written by a Princeton professor who served a two-year stint in a high government job with the State Department, and was about how women still couldn't truly "have it all" in terms of achieving both professional success and success as a mother raising kids. It's an excellent, thought-provoking piece about how far we've come, and yet how much farther we need to go. Here's one section that really struck me:

After the speech I gave in New York, I went to dinner with a group of 30-somethings. I sat across from two vibrant women, one of whom worked at the UN and the other at a big New York law firm. As nearly always happens in these situations, they soon began asking me about work-life balance. When I told them I was writing this article, the lawyer said, “I look for role models and can’t find any.” She said the women in her firm who had become partners and taken on management positions had made tremendous sacrifices, “many of which they don’t even seem to realize … They take two years off when their kids are young but then work like crazy to get back on track professionally, which means that they see their kids when they are toddlers but not teenagers, or really barely at all.” Her friend nodded, mentioning the top professional women she knew, all of whom essentially relied on round-the-clock nannies. Both were very clear that they did not want that life, but could not figure out how to combine professional success and satisfaction with a real commitment to family.

The timing of this article coincided with one of my colleagues announcing that she was leaving her job to spend more time with her family. It especially hit home because, like the author of the article, this colleague has older children--for whatever reason, I always associated a parent needing to be at home more with having younger children, but duh, older kids need their parents around, too, sometimes more than babies do--and they can actually articulate that need.

I don't have kids, but I do want to eventually. And as I was preparing to get married this summer, I've also been trying to reevaluate my work-life balance (something that I seem to ALWAYS be doing). I think I'm better at drawing lines now--in fact, when an agent asked if an author could deliver a manuscript the day before my wedding, I told him "that's fine, but I won't be editing it!" and life went on (and instead the author delivered early and I edited it two weeks before my wedding). I also managed to not check work email while away at my wedding and honeymoon (well, except once...). I'm working on not checking work emails when I'm not in the office. Sometimes it's the small things that matter.

This elusive "work-life balance" is a constant theme--I know we've all talked about it several times on this blog already over the years. We all struggle with it, from entry-level assistants to directors, from writers and illustrators who also have day jobs, to full-time freelancers, whether we have kids or families or not.

Publishing is a great industry to be in, and children's books especially is dominated by women, including many working mothers. Many are able to work at home a day or two a week, and many companies (including mine) offer flex time if you need to adjust your work hours for reasons, including child care. As someone who does want to raise a family, I feel lucky to be in this industry, but it still isn't easy.

I work long hours in the office (on average, I work from 9 am till 8 pm unless I have plans after work) and there's still plenty more to do--there's always more to do. I've gotten better about not feeling guilty about not working more, mainly because I know I can't work more than I do and stay sane, and I know the people I work with need me to stay sane. But the thing is, this is a business built on passion, and we want to honor that. I know that each book means any or all of the following to the authors and illustrators: it's your livelihood. It's your art. It's how you want to be remembered after you're gone. It's your heart and soul poured out on paper. It's your life's work. It's your name on the cover. (is it something else? Let me know!)

I know for freelancers the work/life lines can be even harder to draw--when you don't have a physical office to leave, how do you end the work day? Do you refrain from working weekends? Do you force yourself to take vacations? Do you only work in the mornings/afternoons/evenings?

One editor I know told me that she's willing to work late at the office during the week, but refuses to work on the weekends. An agent recently told me that she starts work late, gives herself a break for a few hours around dinnertime, and then works again at night. Saturdays are her days off, but she works on Sunday. Last year I decided that I wouldn't work at the office past 9 pm. Lately, I've been trying to draw the line at 7:30 or 8. And I give myself at least one weekend day off.

I do think it's important for us to keep drawing lines. So, what lines do you all draw? I'd love to hear any techniques that work for you.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


A few weeks ago, I was driving myself to the airport in a place I don't know at ALL (Northern Minnesota). I'd been at a family reunion, and was returning a day earlier than everyone else to work on a novel I'm really excited about. It's the first time in over 8 years I've felt that way about my own fiction -- and I didn't want to be away from it for too long. Why I thought one day would make such a difference, I don't know -- but I did, and rented my own car instead of going with siblings and cousins.

It was a long drive --  4 hours -- and I decided to get a head start on my writing by using the drive to solve a problem that had been bothering me for the whole book: the heroine's name. Nothing I had was right and I knew it (as one always does).

Fiona McCloud -- too pretentious

Alison -- too plain (though she was Alison for awhile, it didn't suit her: too serious, too plain)

Mackenzie -- too forced, just didn't feel like her

So on the drive I tried to think of new names: I went through every name I knew (like the Queen in Rumplestiltskin) -- NOTHING fit. One name was almost right  but alas, the first name was MY name! And the name of the heroine of my last published novel. And, the more I thought about it, not the right name for this girl anyway. I probably just liked it because at the reunion I'd seen a picture of the person I was named for -- my Scottish great-great-grandmother's sister -- and really liked her name.

So on it went, listing the names; I started repeating some and trying to pretend they were okay but they weren't and I knew it.....after a couple of hours, I looked at the directions I had written down so carefully (or so I thought). The stretch I was on was only supposed to last for 35 minutes, and I'd been on it for well over an hour. With a sick feeling, I pulled over and got out the map.

Yes, I had gone over 150 miles in the wrong direction. I called the airline (there was no way I would get there on time) and I had not only missed MY flight, it was too late for the last flight of the day. So, feeling like a complete idiot, I drove back to the reunion -- having wasted not only the whole day but worse: $750 (the car rental, which had now proved useless since I'd be going to the airport at the same time as the others after all, the change fee, the new, more expensive ticket)....and no, there is no happy ending to THAT part of the story.

But a couple of weeks later, I was listening to a CD someone in Scotland made for me, and heard my heroine's name! The perfect, perfect name for her: it just had that "this is it" feeling.

This was my reward for that fruitless day, and I am absolutely convinced that trying and failing to think of a name was what enabled me, finally, to be given one.

Sometimes things just come the very first time  -- but more often (with my writing, anyway, what about yours?) it's the long slogs -- the putting in the time on the really bad days that makes the good ones possible.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Come to my booklaunch & I might paint your portrait!!

Starry River of the Sky is almost here! I'm planning a glorious book launch! Instead of my usual talk and reading, I'm planning an interactive reader's theatre and game! If all goes as planned, you'll hear a Chinese legend, shoot imaginary arrows and be rewarded with the moon...or at least a super starry goodie bag! And what makes those goody bags starry?

Well, in two of those bags will be a copper coin (as well as other goodies, like a Starry River of the Sky poster!). If your bag has the copper coin in it, you are a grand prize winner!!!

The Grand Prize? I will paint your portrait (or your child's or your dog's...whomever you like) for you to keep forever and ever.

 So, if your bag has a coin, I will paint your portrait:

It would be a portrait of you, not the baby!
Wouldn't that be a fun thing to have? Or the perfect gift for someone (with the book)? Well, come to the book launch and it could be your portrait I'll paint!

Goodie bags are limited so reserve yours by reserving your book, but as usual I'll make extras--so come one, come all!

 Sunday, September 30th at 3pm Porter Square Books
 25 White Street, Cambridge MA
 617-491-2220 (reserve your copy today, which automatically reserves your goodie bag-- no tickets this time!)

Hope to see you!

 Not local? As usual, you can pre-order your book from Porter Square and I will sign it for you on launch day plus send along some extra goodies (probably not the cookies, though). And keep your eyes open--I'm having a virtual book party on October 2nd! Yes, games and prizes (special edition pocket pacys!) for even those who aren't nearby. You'll have a shot at winning a custom portrait, too!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


As Alvina mentioned yesterday, we're all excited to be posting regularly again this fall. Thanks hanging in there with us!

A few links for you:

* Some artwork I've been admiring.

* The Foundation for Children's Books has a fabulous new web site.

* I've started a new series of posts on my blog, called Thank You Thursdays, where I post a sampling of some of the wonderful letters and drawings I get from kids.

And lastly, a recent sketch:

Monday, September 10, 2012

Back to Blog

After a busy summer, us Blue Rose Girls are committed to posting regularly again. While students and teachers are going Back to School, think of it us as going "Back to Blog"! Thanks to everyone for your patience--if you have any suggestions for future posts or questions about publishing, writing, illustration, or children's books that you'd like to hear our take on, please leave them in the comments.

So, what's been going on with me besides this? Work-wise, that is...

Way back in June (gosh, has it really been that long since I've posted?) I attended the ALA Annual Convention in Anaheim.

I had a book I edited become a #1 New York Times bestseller with The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer--the first #1 for me! Not a bad wedding gift--I found out while on my honeymoon, on a wine-tasting trip. Cheers!

My 13-year anniversary of working at Little, Brown was on August 16. Lucky 13! It's been an amazing run--here's hoping the next 13 years are just as eventful.

Speaking of, I got a fancy new title at work: Executive Editorial Director.

We're gearing up for the publication of Libba Bray's new book The Diviners. Check out the amazingly creepy trailer:

Over at the CBC Diversity blog, we hosted another "It's Complicated" conversation, this one about book covers, and featuring posts by an Art Director, a Sales Director, a former Book Buyer, a bookseller, and an author. Check it out, and participate in the discussion!

I've been busy working on Chris Colfer's new novel Struck By Lightning, pubbing this November. Check out the cover here. I've also been working on Holly Black's new novel, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, due out next Fall, as well as other books on my Fall 2013 list: a new Ling & Ting by Grace Lin, a new picture book by Peter Brown, a picture book with Bryan Collier, and a picture book with Mordicai Gerstein. After having only having one picture book on my list published this year (Nighttime Ninja by Barbara DaCosta and Ed Young), it feels quite wonderful to be diving into multiple picture books again!

Speaking of Nighttime Ninja, it's already received two starred reviews. The Diviners and Grace Lin's Starry River of the Sky have already racked up three starred reviews each! I'm hoping the stars will keep coming...

I think that sums up my summer pretty well work-wise...more next week! Happy almost Fall, everyone.