Thursday, February 28, 2013



Writers spend a lot of time waiting -- at least I do: waiting for comments, waiting for contracts, and (during the first draft) waiting for ideas. For me it's one of the hardest things about writing.

Waiting makes me really uncomfortable -- but I've learned that trying to force answers from myself is no more helpful than trying to force them from other people. When I'm writing, I just have to sit and stare at the blank screen -- or go for a walk or do something mindless. Then, sometimes, the solution comes. Or sometimes I write something I know is bad, hoping that when I sit down again the next day I'll know how to make it better.

Raold Dahl said NEVER to stop when you do'nt know what to do next or you'll never start again! I think he's right--even if the solution doesn't come, I still need to sit there, trying: the next day, too.

What do you do when you're stuck in your writing?

These days, I don't allow waiting to hear from an agent or editor to be an activity (it used to be!) -- I just start something else. But I do sometimes wait for comments. And once I send this novel out, even though I will be starting something else, I don't know if I will wait patiently or passively to hear about IT past a certain point....but I might.

When I sent out my last published novel (a long time ago) I made a vow to just put it out of my mind, and (somewhat amazingly) I was able to do that.  I really felt that I had done all I could and it was out of my hands....maybe that's the secret. Anyhow, when I did hear, it came as a surprise: a good surprise.

What do you do when you're waiting to hear from an editor or agent, and haven't? How long do you wait before saying something?

Editors and agents (if any are reading this)! Does it annoy you if authors email you asking? Can you remember any particularly annoying-- or UNannoying -- questions?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Children's Book Week Bookmark

As I mentioned a couple of time earlier, I am the creator the 2013 Children's Book Week Bookmark. I can't tell even begin to tell you how excited I was when I was offered this opportunity. One of my life long pipe dreams is to be the illustrator of a Children's Book Week poster--this is pretty close!

So, I really wanted to do a good job on this. The Children's Book Week people asked that the bookmark include an activity of some kind-- other artists had made their bookmarks into door hangers, even paper dolls!

I racked my brain for a long time trying to think of something as creative. Paper fortune cookie instructions inspired by Fortune Cookie Fortunes? I didn't think it would work out of context (so many people don't realize that fortune cookies are not Chinese and the subtlety of Chinese-American pride might be lost in the misunderstanding).  Origami inspired by Lissy's Friends? I thought that might be hard to follow. How to write the Chinese character for "Book" or "Read?" Maybe... but then at the dentist's office (had to get an old filling replaced!) I saw a Highlight's Magazine:

and remembered how I always loved their "hidden picture" features:

....and the light went on!

From there, I decided to create the bookmark hiding the letters R, E, A, D, I, N, G in the image. It was a lot of fun! Here's the sketch:

can you see the letters?
Here'e the work in progress:

adding the color in! Trying to make the letters not too obvious, but still not too hard to find. 
And the final painting:

I decided to add a bonus activity to the bookmark (like I said,  I really wanted to do a good job!), so I included instructions on how to draw a Chinese dragon using letters (I thought that kind of went with finding the letters on the dragon bookmark--letters, dragons, reading--it kind of works, right?):

And then the bookmark was done! See what the finished thing looks like and download it FREE at the Children's Book Week website! Hope it makes you excited for Children's Book Week--I know I am!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

New sketch

Today I'm having good fun developing developing some new picture book ideas. One involves drawing people, something I haven't done in a long, long time! Here is a sneak peek:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

the necessity of a new studio

One of the reasons we are moving is that we've outgrown the condo. What used to be the studio is now overrun with baby things--now I work in the living room.

This has become problematic because at night, when the baby is sleeping, I like to keep/start working and the Sasquatch wants to unwind by watching a movie. He likes to watch in the dark. I like to work in the light. After many nights of a well-exercised light switch, the Sasquatch came up with this solution:

Yes, it's a light for me to attach to my head!

I did try it:

But in the end, the head lamp was a bust (I do use it to sneak in to the room to cut the baby's fingernails, though).  And the light negotiations continue. Can't wait until I get into the new studio!!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

living on in stories

I've made an annual visit to a local Wellesley school and it's always lovely (I hope I can continue to visit even after the move!). The students never fail to impress me with their beautiful storyboards of their favorite "small story" from Year of the Dog. This year, I was particularly touched by how many of them chose "Uncle Shin and the Special Cake."

That's because my Uncle Shuin, who is the Uncle Shin in the book (I thought that was the way to spell it when I was  a child which is why I kept it that way in the book) passed away in August. Despite his greediness as a boy, he grew up to be a highly respected surgeon, a loving father and truly compassionate human being. Some might think that his naughty deeds as a child are the best way to remember him, but he also had a pretty good sense of humor. I think he'd be pretty amused to see his childhood mischief in cartoon form.  I know I was.

Thanks so much, Wellesley students!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Writing, weight, will power


An article in the NY TIMES once said we only have so much will power.

I hadn't read the article but I guess I believed the idea because I distinctly remember saying to myself: okay, you don't have to do anything else -- use all your willpower to finish this novel. Eat whatever you want: just finish. 

So I ate things I had never allowed myself to eat in my adult life (we're talking mango icecream, pasta etc) and I gained 30 pounds. I did get the novel finished and published, too.

But for OVER TEN YEARS the weight stayed on. Now I have lost 5 pounds, according to the doctor, not just me. Not all of it is from recent efforts -- this is since I last went to the doctor. But still: 5 pounds in the right direction. And I have continued to lose since that visit a few days ago!

The rest of this post is about HOW. I experimented with different methods and have finally found a way to lose weight  that:

a) works for me. When you're over 40 this is really hard! When I was young, I would just not eat for a few days and lose 5...that doesn't work when you're older....though when I added up the actual calorie count of what I USED TO eat in a day, why I wasn't losing weight became all too clear. Yes, it's harder when you're older but at any age those calories added up to too many!

b) I can stick to

What works for me is tracking exercise and calories. I wear a device called a Fitbit that measures how many steps I take in a day, stairs climbed, calories burned. After lunch, I log in what I've eaten -- Fitbit then tells me  how many calories I have left in the day. (Whenever you come near your computer, Fitbit automatically enters how many calories you've burned.)

I experimented with different ways of eating, including:
* vegan lasagna for dinner (so yummy! so healthy sounding! and, alas, when you really add it all up, so high in calories!)
*not eating all day so I could have a nice dinner 
*juice fasts
etc (other idiotic ideas)

What works:

* SMALL breakfast (less than 300 calories) -- usually, quinoa (which I love -- for those of you who don't know it: the Aztec super food! has MUCH more protein than other grains as well as a delicious nutty taste) with a few currants or dried cranberries (when trying to lose weight, QUANTITIES of these kinds of things count -- "a few" = 1 TBSP), and tea with almond milk (only 40 calories)....if I'm not hungry when I wake up, tea only and breakfast later

*lunch (I never want to stop what I'm doing or trying to do for lunch) is always quick: 2 of our local pasture-fed eggs, higher in protein, lower in bad cholesterol than free-range eggs -- either in what I call a fusion omelette  or egg salad on a lot of lettuce

*IF I need a mid-afternoon snack, which usually I do not: spicey lemonade (home-made: maple syrup, red pepper flakes, lots of lemon juice0): perhaps not for everyone but I like it a lot

*dinner is a HIGHLY delicious, high quality protein: really fresh fish (if there is any interest, I will post detailed instructions), lamb, chicken, or beef and green vegetables; salad only if I have the calories left for it. I find that if I have a high quality protein for dinner, I don't eat after dinner....if I must have something sweet, herbal tea with honey.

Alas, for now, anyway: no potatoes, no pasta -- vegan lasagna seemed like such a good idea on paper but always left me feeling hungry and thus eating after dinner. A nutritionist told me once that eating in the night is a sign that you haven't had enoug protein during the day and in my case this seems to be true.

Perhaps it is some kind of atavistic cavewomen wake-up-in-the-night-hungry? Go-out-and-kill-something! response.

It is also really helping:

1. To PAY ATTENTION to what I am eating -- not eat as an adjunct to another activity.

2. Not to have chocolate, nuts, or hard cheese in the house -- only feta, to be crumbled SPARINGLY on salad.

3. To say as a mantra that feeling slightly hungry is a sign that fat is being burned! -- but always eat something before I get really hungry.

4. To never ever eat or drink wine (which I do have with dinner) after dinner....water or herbal tea only!

A nice bath with some lavender in it helps too.

What works for you? Please tell -- the mantra came from a blog reader!

(yes, we've talked about this before, there does seem to be an almost fatal connection between writing and weight)

PS (off topic) Thank you, you in Australia, for what you told us about Frank McCord in your comment on my last post!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Just like Greta

Inspired by A Photo for Greta, this adorable, young reader put on a special outfit, struck a pose, then asked her dad to take her picture. I love it!

I think the resemblance is striking.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Something encouraging


Almost by accident I read ANGELA's ASHES--a book I had never wanted to read because it sounded so depressing. But it was there and so was I, and once I started it, I couldn't stop (even though I started reading it after midnight at the end of a busy day).

His family had no money mainly because his father spent what wages he had in pubs, even drinking away all of the £5 his parents sent when a new baby was born. The children didn't have enough to eat. Three died.

Yet they  laughed a lot. They talked well -- and wittily; read voraciously (under the street lamps sometimes); learned a lot in school;  and had a closeness with each other few American siblings I've known ever achieve. They seemed to deal with the hardness of their lives with a cheerful stoicism -- and dreams of going to America, a dream Francis achieved by leaving school at 14, working, and saving his money. He left when he was 19.

From the later books I think he always missed Ireland. He was a public school teacher for 30 years (I'm now reading the third book in the trilogy, TEACHER MAN) -- he always WANTED to write, but didn't. He considered himself a failure. Then, when he retired, he wrote ANGELA'S ASHES.

I remember hearing when the book came out (does anyone know if this is true??) that he knew so many people from his evenings in NY bars that they helped him find an editor -- an editor who loved the ms. When the book was published, he was 66; and it sold FIVE MILLION copies.

But what probably pleased him just as much was what a good book it is -- not for everyone, maybe -- I know I'm a sucker for stories about children who survive tough times -- but even those who don't like it would, I think, admit that it's really well-written.

Sometimes being a writer can seem like an idiotic choice to make -- but it's something at which you CAN succeed at any age. It's not like being a baseball player or ballerina.....there is always a chance that one day you'll write something that is a huge success.

And I believe that all of us, no matter how we try not to and tell ourselves we're being unrealistic, cherish that hope. Otherwise, why would anyone do it?

I'm not saying that is THE motive -- there are others, including the sheer joy of it (at times). But that hope -- unrealistic as you know it is --  helps keep you writing, especially during the (many) "you'll just have to get through this" phases of finishing a novel.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

sky ceiling, step 2

So, now it was time for step two of Rain Dragon's sky ceiling. I wanted it to be clouds and blue sky during the day but I wanted it to be stars at night.  I wanted the stars to be pretty realistic, those glow-in-the-dark star stickers just didn't seem right after all the work I did to make the clouds. So using the intergoogles I found this make your own planetarium kit  and put it on my Christmas list:

Thanks, Santa!
It was a pretty neat kit. You choose the date and time of your star chart, project it and , following the projection, dab in glow-in-the-dark paint:

I choose Rain's Dragon's birthday as the time and date!

I think the star theater was made for a bigger room because there was a fair amount of distortion. Also, it was impossible to dab the glow in the dark paint in a neat way and at first I was in a nervous panic that I was ruining my clouds.

But, surprisingly, it turned out great! The overall effect is actually rather magical, though you will have to take my word for it because none of the photos came out.  Suffice to say it came out so well that I might do a star ceiling for my studio, too!