Thursday, January 31, 2013

Back to earth with a thud


I've always loved Little Bear (as drawn by Maurice Sendak)

imagining himself flying to the moon and telling his mother all about his plans.
And I also love his mother, in the words of Else Minarik, replying that maybe he is "a fat little bear cub" and "will come down very fast, with a big  plop."

I've landed with a big thud: my book is off to its first readers and I'm back in the world of doing my freelance work and getting my taxes done and cleaning my house, those kinds of things. Being OUT OF that world and in another of one's own creation is part of the fun of writing.

But this book reminded me of the other things I love about writing -- things I haven't felt in a long, long time. When I revise, I can just do it -- and for long hours at a stretch; it's very satisfying to be so engrossed and to see something get better. The first draft is usually torture, though: all the waiting, all the times when nothing comes or what does seems (and may well be) completely inadequate. This time, though, sometimes what I wrote in the first draft  surprised me and  made me laugh out loud, and that was fun, too.

One difference between a book that has life and potential and one that doesn't are those surprises, those ideas that just come....but those moments don't mean the book as a whole is GOOD or even works.

What I enjoyed most, though, was being IN the book: not wanting to do anything else. Not thinking about anything else. Waking up in the morning and wanting to write -- even though it usually took a lot of dawdling before that happened.

This is the first book I've really enjoyed writing in a long, long time -- and whether it all holds together or not (my biggest worry), whatever my first readers say about it, I've had that -- and learned a lot, too, about how to make it happen.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


So the big library awards were announced on Monday and my book did not receive one. Of course, I wasn't expecting one but I admit after hearing some very respectable people favoring it, I did nurture some hopes.

However, even though the award was not meant to be, it's been heartwarming to hear from individuals who thought the book was worthy. If anything it reminds me that my pact as an author is with the reader. I promise to create my absolute best for the readers of my book, not for a committee and not for an award. And the winning books are wonderful...heck, I probably would've chosen them over mine as well.

This year, while the winners were being called and the announced I was at a doctor's appointment for Rain Dragon and she had to get her vaccination shots. I hate when she has to get shots, I've had to hold her while the nurse pricks her and she looks at me with wails of betrayal.  I feel awful;  the last time she got her shot I had to close my eyes and not watch.

But on Monday, for the very first time she didn't cry. When the nurse poked her with the needle, she tensed up, screwed up her face but didn't cry. She just sucked her fingers and looked at me as if to say, "Now, can we go home?"

I wouldn't be human if I didn't admit I was a little disappointed about the awards, but if Rain Dragon can be that brave, I think her mama can take some lumps too.

Congrats to all the winners!!

Friday, January 25, 2013

It's "Dumpling Days" for Julia!

Like Anna and Grace, I’m having work done on my new home. I’m fortunate to be able to have renovations done while still living at my “other” house—the place that I have called home for nearly thirty-seven years.
In late December, I posted a couple of pictures of the built-in bookcases that we had installed in the upstairs office/library/den of our new home.

I’ve already begun filling the shelves—mostly with children’s picture books.
Because I have sooooo many books, my husband and I decided to have another built-in bookcase made for our upstairs hallway. Village Woodworking in Topsfield (MA) did such a wonderful job with our bookcases and china cabinet that we also decided to have them make us a media center with bookshelves, drawers, and other storage for our living room.
 Our Built-in China Cabinet

Julia likes to visit the upstairs “library” at our new house, look at the picture books, pull some off of the shelves and “read” them. Sometimes, she insists on taking one of the picture books back over to HER side of the house. 

I often grab my “gram cam” to snap pictures of Julia reading books.

Julia reading Secret Seahorse.
Julia reading Miss Mary Mack.

One of Julia’s new favorites isn’t a picture book. It’s Grace’s novel Dumpling Days. One night last week, she refused to go to bed without the book. On Wednesday afternoon, she sat on the floor of the family room quietly flipping through the pages and looking at the sketches that Grace included in her novel. That night, her dad told me she chose Dumpling Days over her favorite stuffed animal when he put her to bed.
Julia reading Dumpling Days yesterday afternoon.

 Babies loving books! Is there anything better?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

sky ceiling, step 1

Like Anna, I'm redecorating too! My pet project is the baby's room. I have big plans for it. At first I though I would paint a mural in it like I did for some friends  but the view outside changed my mind:

and I decided on an elaborate sky ceiling instead. First, I needed to paint a daytime sky with soft puffy clouds which meant blue paint on the ceiling:

Rain Dragon watched me with great interest and confusion the whole time. Since she was going to be witness to all my painting I used low voc paint which is pretty amazing-- it really is odorless!--but gave me a bit of shell-shock at the cash register. So I tried to use it sparingly. The color is Benjamin Moore Barely Teal, which is a very light greenish blue instead of the typical sky blue because I wanted more of a fairy tale sky.

But I still wanted the clouds to be realistic looking. So I mapped out cloud formations:

and then I layered in four different shades of white (just in case you want to do this yourself the colors were Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace, Vanilla Ice Cream and then a mixture of Vanilla Ice Cream + Peach Parfait  and a mixture of Vanilla Ice cream + Majestic mauve) to give the clouds depth.  Painting clouds and making them look real isn't that difficult (the trick is to dry brush--not a lot of paint on the brush and be willing to ruin your brush by scrubbing the color in with it), but it is time consuming--mainly because you have to keep going up and down the ladder to figure out each step. It took me a couple days until I was satisfied.

And while I liked how the winter white color of the walls brought out the whiteness of the clouds, I felt it was too cold for a baby's room. So we changed the wall color to a soft cream which makes the clouds look a little peachy--like a clouds at sunrise.

I think it turned out well, if I do say so myself! I admit I'm pretty proud!

Rain Dragon didn't seem that impressed, though. Oh well, maybe step 2 of the sky ceiling-- glow-in-the-dark constellations-- will!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

First resolution

Like some of the other BRG, I've set my resolutions for the year. I'm feeling encouraged that this year my list is both practical and achievable.

My first goal is to create a more inspiring work space. Since we moved into our cozy cabin in the woods, space has been a challenge, there is just not quite enough room for everything. I've had my work things spread throughout the house in a disorganized way for some time, and I feel like it has really affected my productivity.

So at last I've centralized it all. I turned our makeshift office/storage spot/place to put things we don't know what to do with into a little studio. I am already feeling much more inspired to work in this space. Cheers to checking off resolution #1!



Monday, January 21, 2013

An epiphany


At the end of 2012, I talked about burn out. Well, I started this year feeling re-energized (although very busy, still!), and part of the reason for my reinvigoration was that I had a small epiphany. (I may actually have had this epiphany on epiphany...)

What I realized is that during my busiest work times, when I'm feeling overwhelmed by everything I have to do, what I always wish for is the ability to stop time. (You know, like Evie from Out of This World!) What I don't wish is to be able to just sweep the work off my desk. This served as a reminder to me of how much I love my work, every part of it. (well, almost.) I actually want to do all the work. Of course, this hasn't taken away the fact that I don't always have time to do it all as quickly as I would like, but it did help me put things in perspective.

As with many (most?) of us, work-life balance is an on-going issue, and probably will be for most of my life. I don't have the solution, but in addition to some of my new year's resolutions (which are more about making boundaries between work and life, not how to handle workload), I do have some strategies to tackle workload issues this year.

I recently attended a management training that evaluated my personality in terms of leadership. One of the many insights I gained was into how I deal with high-pressure situations. During busy, high-stress times, there is one part of my personality that tends to gets disorganized, and another side of my personality that tries to do even more, take more onto my plate. Not a great combination, and I have to say, very true to my nature.

I've already known this about myself, but it was a good reminder. So I need to get back into the habit of saying "no" more, or at the very least, not volunteering up my time so easily. And I need to stay more organized--I have a few newish tools that I'm trying out, including, which was introduced to me by an agent.

We'll see how it goes!

Regardless, I know it's going to be a great year.


I'm heading to Seattle for ALA Midwinter on Friday. If you'll be there, come by the Little, Brown booth to say hi! I'll also be speaking on a CBC Diversity panel on Sunday, January 27, from 3-4. Hope you can make it!

Friday, January 18, 2013



I am rewriting my novel, and -- for the first time in my life -- have said no to EVERYTHING else while that's going on.

I'm very lucky to have that luxury, I know, and it is absolutely amazing what a difference it makes.

At some point, the author (good editors do this too, I think?) has to look at the book as a whole. To do that, for me, anyway, takes uninterrupted (and unworried) time and solitude.

I've never had that before; and I only have it now until the end of the month, so I hope to get everything that requires this kind of time done by then.

Polishing the language can wait for the next draft, but this time I do need to nail things I can only see in this state: how everything contributes (or, sadly, DOESN'T contribute -- those things all have to go or be fixed!) to the story.

First drafts, for me, anyway, are like catching a wind--I have to just sit there, with the sail loose (flapping? luffing? what do sailors say?), until one comes. If I write without that inspiration, I produce pages and pages of chatter.

A large part of rewriting is getting rid of all that. So far in this rewrite I have been able to see what belongs there instead. Usually, something does: I just couldn't see what.

The best parts are the scenes that just came to me: and that's why (for me) first drafts are hard. I can't control what comes. (Or could I? If I just sat there long enough without chattering, sail flapping and waiting for the wind?)

But rewriting is different -- again, this  may be just me, but I can sit down and make myself do it, and do it for hours and hours. When it comes to REwriting, what Thomas Edison said --

"There is no substitute for hard work" -- is true. But first drafts, I do think depend upon inspiration (that wind).

I've learned a lot from this book, though, and one thing is to test my idea before writing -- for months if need be -- and then do the entire first draft with the same kind of uninterrupted time, if I can find it, and not stop until I get to the end. If I can't, I think the best substitute is sitting down every single day at the exact same time and trying to get into the same state.

How do you find, or make, the time?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

resolutions for 2013

Just like Alvina, Every year I make resolutions. Sometimes I achieve them (donating my hair, finishing my novel), other times not so much.  Last year,  my only goal was to have a healthy and happy baby (which I am so grateful  came true!).  But this year, I'm going back to the resolution tradition, though I like to pretend that I don't have to start until Chinese New Year (Feb 10th, Year of the Snake!).  Here are some of mine (I'm just listing the work-related ones here, you can see all of them at my personal blog).

1. Novel I want (and need) to nail down a plot (and hopefully a draft) of my new (and perhaps final) novel. I have all these nebulous ideas floating around but nothing concrete--time to start making things solid.

2. Illustrate.  Strangely, I now think of myself more as an author than an illustrator these days. In some ways, I think my illustration growth has stagnated because I've been stretching  and focusing so much on writing. I'd like to get back to my illustration roots a bit  and growing in that direction, focusing on...

3. New books. Baby books or a new picturebook--more ideas (Star Baby wants to be born!) that need to be nailed down and brought to fruition.

4. Branch out.  With Rain Dragon around, I've had to start cutting down on school visits which is painful on the pocketbook. Babies= increased expenses + decreased income = not a good combo! So I've been trying to think of ways to make extra income without having to leave home. Right now the two ideas I have are offering portraits (though I need to see how well the winners' portraits come out first) or making & selling Chinese flashcards, but I'm not sure if either are going to be financially feasible...

5. Connect. All these goals are well and good, but people--baby, husband, family and, yes, readers!--must have a place, too. I want to make sure for all my personal goals in which I focus inward, I also spend time outward.

6. Remember. Every year has its low points and I know this year will have its share. When that happens, and even when it doesn't, I want remember how lucky I am. Life is a wonderful thing--sweet and sour--and I want to make sure I live it --a sentiment that I now realize, in hindsight, is partially inspired by the words of  Maurice Sendak:

Monday, January 14, 2013

This year's holiday craft

Every year I like to make a little something around this holidays. This year I was inspired by these lovely little bird ornaments, so I gave a shot at making something similar with my illustrations.

First, I printed out some images on to iron-on sheets, then ironed them on to a large piece of linen:

Next, I cut them out, and matched each with a piece of bright, patterned fabric for the back:

Then, I added a small piece of ribbon (at last something to do with my re-used ribbon collection!), sewed, and stuffed them. My assistant inspected each very carefully.

Once they were approved, we hung them on the tree or gave them away. Perhaps next year they will find their way to my Etsy Shop.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Happy New Year!


This is my first post of the New Year, and as usual, I've made a bunch of new New Year's Resolutions. I wasn't as successful as keeping my resolutions from 2012 as I have been in the past, but I'll let myself off the hook. 2013 is a brand-new year!

Here are some of my resolutions for this year:

-No spending money on internet shopping, unless for a gift, a necessity, or for work. (For some reason, this is a controversial goal for a lot of people. I'm not opposed to internet shopping in general--this is just me, but I find I spend too much time and money buying things I don't really need.)

-No candy (I fell off the wagon big time the second half of last year. So I thought I'd revive this one.)

-Have at least one weekend day where I work less than two hours (unless I'm at a conference)

-Don't stay at the office past 9 pm, and if I do stay till 9, only once a week.

-Have at least one unscheduled night a week.

-Do at least one good deed each month

-Throw out or give away at least 150 items (not including trash)

What are some of your resolutions, if you make them?

Friday, January 04, 2013

It Snowed and Snowed: An Original Poem

Here’s one of the “weather-inspired” poem that I wrote two years ago. The winter of 2011 we kept getting one snowstorm after another here in Massachusetts. There was so much snow piled up around our house that we had no place left to shovel it. I didn't go out much for a while. I DID stay inside a lot and write poetry though.

Here are some pictures that I took in early February of 2011:

Seeing the picture that Anna posted of Tilda out in the snow inspired me to share the following poem, which I wrote that snowy winter:

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!

At Wild Rose Reader, I have a “forgotten” mask poem that I wrote some years ago titled Dinosaur Egg.

Matt has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Happy new year!

May the coming year bring you all good things. Here are a few pictures from our first days of 2013:


I'm a horrible person. I haven't been blogging anywhere. I am going to try to change that!



Children's Literary Salon: Ethics in Nonfiction for Kids

Saturday, January 5, 2013, 2 - 3 p.m.
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Margaret Liebman Berger Forum (Map and directions)
Fully accessible to wheelchairs
Join authors Sue Macy, Susan Kuklin, Deborah Heiligman, and author/illustrator Meghan McCarthy for a discussion of informational texts and ethical standards.

First readers


Yesterday I finally finished* the first draft of my novel and printed it out, planning to sit down, pencil in hand, and mark it up.... and I now find myself reluctant to read it. But that's another topic. (Any insights into it welcome, though.)

When I do read it, I'll answer the questions I'd like someone else to answer, subjectively and honestly:
  • Where did you want more?
  • Where did you want less?
  • What did you really like?
  • What DIDN'T you like?
  • What made you laugh? cry?
  • What confused you?
  • Bored you?
  • What did I explain that I didn't NEED to explain?
  • Did you want more background information/backstory?

Those last two questions maybe only other people CAN answer....I really struggle a lot with them always.

These next questions I wouldn't ask anyone else, but I will also be reading for where I could:

  • make the writing better, sharper, more vivid
  • increase the intensity and drama of scenes (or eliminate them all together!)
  • speak more in my own voice -- I really like it when OTHER writers do this, and find myself sometimes not doing it enough
  • shift (or not shift) the POV...I tend to go inside the main character's head too much --often, it's more interesting to the reader -- at least, this reader, and after all, I have to love this before anyone else can! -- to stay OUTSIDE

I'll scribble the answers in the margin quickly, without pausing to think. Thinking can come later! These first reactions are most valuable when they come from the gut.

When MY eyes start to skip over something, I will cross it out.

What do YOU want your first readers to tell you? I say it in the plural because one of the many things that surprised me at the end of the book VERITY was how many first readers she had.

*I thought it was finished, but there were lots of little things that I wanted to add -- I was surprised by how many and by how quickly I wrote them. I guess it was easier than usual because they'd been niggling at me for awhile.