Wednesday, June 26, 2013

the maintenance year

travelers on our own journey!

So, this is the time of year when publishing world is all abuzz with their national conferences and award ceremonies--none of which I will be attending. As I read my friends' and colleagues' facebook feeds and twitter streams, I do feel slight twinges of envy. However, the emotion I feel in spades is anxiety. I wonder if somehow my work, my books, are being forgotten, left behind--that all I have tried to build is fading away.

But truly, my biggest fear is not that I've been unable to promote or network. My biggest fear is that I will never be able to do my best work again. For creating a book--at least for me-- is a very selfish  endeavor. It needs great chunks of alone time--thinking time, goofing time, as well as writing time.  It also needs very focused brain power.  All of which has been in short supply since Rain Dragon's arrival. Which is why my plans for novel #3 have remained just that--plans. No drafts, no outlines, no sketches.  My ambitions have been forced to take a backseat as the most I could manage this past year was keeping afloat!

I read somewhere that working moms should shift their attitude towards their careers for the year (s?) after their baby's birth. Instead of trying to achieve ambitious promotions, they should, instead, look at this time as "maintenance."

Even though I know I would've cringed at those words last year, I now embrace them.  It's much more comforting to chalk up this past year to maintenance instead of facing the possibility that I've peaked. 

 And if it was a maintenance year, then that also gives me the power  to decide that it's is over. We're now moved into the new house, I've hired a babysitter to help out and the studio is almost in a working state. Hope springs eternal, and hopefully this spring (er, summer) I can start everything anew. Cross your fingers for me!

Monday, June 24, 2013

The tax collector comes to call


Normally I would post this only on my personal blog, but since not much has been posted on BRGs lately for various good reasons, I thought I'd post it here.

I was having breakfast awhile ago--while it was still raining hard all day every day -- when there was a knock at the door. It was the tax collector, over on the boat to inspect my hut and see what sort of tax I owed. Scotland is NOT like the US, and I asked if he would mind taking off his shoes (standard here) and he did, setting them neatly by the door before stepping inside. Then I offered him a cup of tea, which he accepted (also standard here).

Then he told me that I wouldn't owe any taxes at all -- there is no tax ever on "unimproved land" in Scotland, nor is there tax on properties producing less than £10,000 income (this is to protect small businesses in remote places especially), or worth less than a certain amount -- I forget how much.

This good news settled, he proceeded to ask me how much I had paid for my land, and marvel at the bargain I had got.

Scotland has many agreeable and unusal, to me, laws:

  • there aren't any tresspassing laws -- anyone can walk anywhere, always
  • if your dog chases someone else's sheep, the sheep owner can shoot the dog...though I've never heard of anyone doing this, and the one time someone was tempted, he remembered that the dog belonged to a bedridden little girl. When I exclaimed at this, he muttered, embarrassed, "I probably would have missed anyway -- I'm an awful shot." In my experience, the Scots are kind.
  • if an ancestor of yours owned a now-derelict or empty building, and you live in it for a year, it's yours. This applies even to castles!
This last may figure in my next book (not the one I'm writing now, the one after that).

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Rain Dragon's reading corner

I am trying to raise a reader! I'm hoping the reading corner I set up in Rain Dragon's room helps:

the leaf canopy is from IKEA, it reminded my of My Neighbor Totoro!
What do your favorite reading corners look like?

(see more of Rain Dragon's room at my personal blog!)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Lucky Destiny Birthday Party!

If you've read my book Year of the Rat , you'll remember how one-year old Max has a Lucky Destiny party.

So, we had a Lucky Destiny Birthday Party for Rain Dragon! It was themed in red, for the luck:

As well as dragons:

first time I baked in the new house!

But the big event  is the destiny choosing! In The Year of the Rat, Max chooses his destiny at his birthday party. That is a real Chinese custom!  A one year old is presented with a variety of objects, each one symbolizing his/her future vocation.

We had Rain Dragon choose from money (finance manager), wrench (contractor),  computer mouse (computer programmer), book (author/librarian), thermometer (doctor), paintbrush (artist), ball (athlete), spoon (chef/baker), solar lamp (new energy engineer!).

After much hesitation, she chose....

she was a little overwhelmed by all the attention

The spoon!
maybe she will fulfill my cupcake dreams!

Yay!  Rain Dragon is going to be a chef!

Well, even if her lucky destiny isn't quite accurate, at least we know she had a very lucky  birthday party!

everyone clapped, so she clapped too!
I hope you have a Lucky Destiny Party with your one-year-old (or two, or three)! It's great fun!

Monday, June 10, 2013


Well... still no word from BN corporate. What's worse is that today I checked to see if there was anything new with my new book at work - and lo and behold - yes there is!

This is what's happening: The book has gone from "home delivery only," to "prepay only." What does this mean for my S&S books? Oh, worse things my friends, worse things. "Home delivery only" means that the buyers were not intending to carry my S&S books and would not order them in. Furthermore if a customer asked for the book we were supposed to ship it to their home, not to the store. Most books are available to ship to the store. It's a rare case that we can only "ship to home, " unless it's a print-on-demand, etc.  BUT we could still manage to order S&S books into the store and that's what was happening. Clearly the buyers didn't like this so they put a stop to it. So now books like mine are "prepay only." Usually prepay only books are print-on-demand books or books that are small press books with high price tags that we wouldn't want to be stuck with, i.e, non-returnable. So why, oh why would they make S&S books "prepay only" when they are very returnable? Hmm. I sense a is game afoot!

The question is: How will this all end?

Thursday, June 06, 2013

NESCBWI, an epoch in my life

So, I have to admit things in early May were  rather stressful.  Our condo had sold a faster than expected and the packing was in full swing (which was even more challenging now that Rain Dragon was walking!). So when the NESCBWI conference rolled around, everything was in a state of chaos and I was just crossing my fingers that I didn't make any disastrous mistakes. We just made it to conference a half hour before my keynote speech and I think I gave the organizers a heart attack (sorry!).

Because I really regret not being able to partake in more of the conference. It sounded amazing and I can't believe  I missed hearing Sharon Creech speak! She (and Natalie Babbitt) is probably my favorite living author, her book Castle Corona indirectly inspired Where the Mountain Meets the Moon-- I used it to show my publisher how beautiful a novel in full-color would look...and it convinced them!

And what made it even worse is that by getting to the conference so late they ran out of her books at the store (and I was not far-seeing enough to set aside my already-owned copies of her books in an easily identified box) so I missed out on getting a book signed! Boo hoo! But I thought at least Rain Dragon and I could get a photo...and what a photo it is:

Look at Rain Dragon's face! Ha ha! I think she is feeling some professional jealousy out of loyalty to me.

However, even with my less-then-auspicious state of mind, the NESCBWI conference was (as Anne of Green Gables would say) an epoch in my life.  Because, as I've mentioned before (way back when we were having debates about talent) while I am proud of how much I've improved as a public speaker, I'd never consider myself great at it.

But somehow, in the company of fellow children's book author and illustrators and their welcoming, understanding energy, the elements combined and my speech* was  so well-received that I actually got a standing ovation.

photo courtesy of Victoria Lindstrom
This was a first for me! I was very surprised, but also so grateful. It was a lovely moment, lifting me out of the dismal gloom of moving. Thank you, NESCBWI!

*small footnote: in my speech I spoke about how an editor at Charlesbridge asked me to change an Asian girl character to a caucasian boy character because it would pigeonhole me as a multicultural author/illustrator. I'm a little afraid I might not portrayed the story with as much entirety as I intended and people might be judging the editor and the publishing company unfairly. 
-In defense of the editor (who I'll leave nameless unless he wishes to out himself online) his suggestion was his way of looking out for me, trying to make sure I didn't get branded in a way I didn't want. And, he was right.  When my second book featuring Asian characters came out, I was immediately pigeonholed as a multicultural author.
-In defense of Charlesbridge, this was over 13 years ago when they were just starting their fiction line (before that they had been mainly known for educational, non-fiction books). The entire staff has changed since then and their company policy is now known for embracing books with diversity (like Mitali Perkins' Bamboo People)--they are company anyone would be proud to be published with!

Wednesday, June 05, 2013


The test continues.  I read this on an author's blog:

"I just learned that I can’t visit any Barnes and Noble store with the release of my upcoming novel , the thirteenth in the Cork O’Connor series.  There’s a spat going on between my publisher, Simon and Schuster, and the bookstore chain.  No Simon and Schuster author may visit any Barnes and Noble until further notice."

I'm trying a little experiment, but thus far no dice. BN has an email where you can write to them and it'll go to corporate (for employees only). It's supposed to be to complain about things or write  suggestions, etc. But what I wanted was for them to send my letter to the corporate buyers since I don't have their email. What I said in the email was that I'd been a bookseller for the past 12 years and kindly asked them to consider carrying my new book out this month even though there was a dispute going on between them and S&S. They wrote a "congratulations on your new book!" email, and then said they'd forward my email to the correct people (the buyers). I have not yet heard back.

This is what I want to know: does BN value their employees at all? Back in the Riggio days I think they did... but with the new regime, I'm not sure that they do. We shall see. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

New motive for BIC


I have been silent because I bought a tiny piece of land on a remote Scottish island and put this hut on it. The site and garden are still in progress: the hut has to be attached to the ground or it will blow away: it's that windy here!

I still can’t quite believe it’s mine....owning a house (if the hut can count as a house!) and having a garden are deeply satisfying--so satisfying that it's hard to see how people have both ever do anything but garden and decorate. I have been planning and imagining this hut for MONTHS and  love it even more than I thought I would.Here it is outside from all four angles (still a bit messy: the piles of dirt will go into my flower beds, herb garden, and lettuce patch; the solar power wires underground).

The little stone byre is mine, too, and holds all the things the hut can not -- even the solar panel. It is my dream to make it into a little house with a big bathroom, open fireplace right in the center of the room, galley kitchen, and sleeping loft. But for now:

 Bed with big storage drawers underneath-- it's high both for more storage and so I can kneel on it and look out the fanlight to the sea. There are houses out that way, too, so I wanted privacy AND the ocean view. (I'll post the views out all the windows as a separate post.)

 The wood stove and the kitchen behind it, work space and eating table to the right. The big box is for storage and slides out of sight.
Working here is hard--not only because of the charms of decorating and gardening, but because of how much fun  it is to chat with people. For DAYS before I actually started writing, I tried -- and attached signs to both gates saying

"Writing -- please, no visitors."

I felt like a fraud since I wasn't writing; but as someone kindly said when I admitted that,
"Putting up the sign is the first step."

Not that it always worked--someone else (someone I was glad to see, I am not complaining!) knocked on the door and said with a smile:
"I saw you moving around so I knew you weren't writing."

But, finally, I AM writing-- something just clicked into place and I'm back in the novel, rewriting it for what I hope will be the last time before it goes back to my agent.

And knowing that people can see when I'm not writing is actually really good. As Jane Yolen advised Jarret in a hilarious video he made about the writing life,
"Jarret. It's very simple: BIC. Butt in chair."

The sign may be the first step, but that is definitely the second.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Why I've been (relatively) quiet this year


I just posted an update on my personal blog. I hope to get back to blogging about books and publishing again soon!