Thursday, October 30, 2008

POETRY FRIDAY: Halloween by Mac Hammond

I won’t be at home this weekend. This afternoon, my husband and I will be leaving for Keene, New Hampshire. My husband plans to do some hiking on Saturday while I’m attending the Keene State College Children’s Literature Festival. This will be my last year serving on the festival’s advisory board.

Since I won’t be home for the holiday festivities, I thought I’d post a Halloween poem.

by Mac Hammond

The butcher knife goes in, first, at the top
And carves out the round stemmed lid,
The hole of which allows the hand to go
In to pull the gooey mess inside, out -
The walls scooped clean with a spoon.
A grim design decided on, that afternoon,
The eyes are the first to go,
Isosceles or trapezoid, the square nose,
The down-turned mouth with three
Hideous teeth and, sometimes,
Round ears.

You can read the rest of the poem here.


At Wild Rose Reader, I have an original political list poem about all the folks, including Joe the Plumber, who are out on the campaign trail for a certain candidate.

Sylvia has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Poetry for Children.



Seabiscuit is out this week! Check it out. I'm working on a webpage for it -

Also, I'm adding some coloring pages for the astronaut book, so check them out - go to the books page and click on the book.

Also, I've collected a lot more "street art" so stay tuned for that:

And I'm working on some new songs (when I feel up to it, i.e NORMAL). This is a rough draft of something I want to work on and polish up and turn into a real song:

Oy. Lots of work to do! And I feel sick all the time because I'm catching every germ on earth! Constant diarrhea for 3 days! Yay! Just thought you'd like to know....


when children's books and pumpkins meet

George and Martha say Happy Halloween! My friends and I had a little pumpkin party to celebrate the holiday...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

rabbit hill

Over eight years ago, a lady caught the eye of the director of the Westport Public Library.
"May I help you?" she asked the woman who was staring intently at one of the patron donation tiles on the wall.
"Oh, it's just that I so wished that we had been the one to sponsor this Rabbit Hill tile," she said, pointing to the decorative tile honoring Robert Lawson, "Because we live at Rabbit Hill, Robert's Lawson's old home and studio, now."

"Oh," the director said, "Well, maybe we can think of something else."

And that something else was the Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature which is one of the best children's literature festivals I have ever been to. It was definitely an honor to be a part of it-- I was on the impressive (but intimidating) roster of:

Mo Willems, EB Lewis, David Wiesner, Steve Jenkins, Nick Clark (Founding Director of the Eric Carle Museum) and Barbara McClintock. Let's count the Caldecotts, shall we? I think there's about 7 in there, add a Geisel, mix it up with some NY Times Best is pretty amazing for me to be in the same sentence with them, let alone in the same picture.

But everyone was so friendly and nice that I quickly got over my intimidation and actually had a great time. And I got through my speeches, even a brand-new speech I wrote up just for the occasion (all about the inspirations behind my stories and art style). Yes, like a cat with a million lives, I survived public speaking yet again!

Read Elaine's write-up HERE for a blow-by-blow run-down!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Web site preview for Old Red Shoe

Lately I've been busy with building a web site for my book What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe?, which comes out next April. Something about making web sites is immensely satisfying. I guess what I like about it is how utilitarian they have to be. I've always liked making books too for that reason too, art with a particular purpose.

Anyways, thought I'd give you all a sneak peak of what the book is going to look like. I uploaded some of the spreads onto the web site here. The design of the web page is still in the works, but you can see how the book is laid out with all the artwork and text in place! (There have been a couple revisions since this version btw, so pages are not completely finalized...)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Matchmaking: finding the perfect style and illustrator for a text

This past Saturday I was down in Arlington, VA for the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI conference. It was a wonderful, smoothly-run event.  I was asked to give a talk about how illustrators are chosen. For those of you not familiar, SCBWI stands for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and I have to say, this is the first time I've ever been asked to address the "I" in SCBWI. Which is why I started my talk by declaring, "There IS an I in SCBWI!"

I also declared that the audience was about to witness a historic moment, perhaps more momentous that having the first black president or first woman vice president. They were about to witness my very first presentation with Powerpoint!

Every talk I give, I think, "I'm going to do a Powerpoint!" but of course never end up pulling it together. Well, this time I was talking about illustration, so I HAD to do it. And I did. And it was pretty fun preparing and choosing the images, although I have to say, it took a long time to do.

Anyway, I won't post the whole talk, because it's quite long, but here's a sampling:

There are generally three types of projects that we may need to find illustrators for. The first and probably most obvious is for a picture book text. The second is for a novel cover—oftentimes a cover is photographic, and we tend to use stock photos a lot, but sometimes we really do want the perfect illustrator to capture just the mood and image we want. And the third project that we’d commission an illustrator for are interior illustrations for a novel. Generally, this is for middle grade chapter headers, or chapter books where the illustrations are more integrated, but it’s becoming more common to also have illustrations in young adult fiction, such as in Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

As I was preparing for this talk, I was realizing that calling it “Matchmaking” perhaps wasn’t the most accurate analogy. There’s matchmaking involved—you’re trying to match the text with the perfect illustrator, and hope it results in a loving marriage of picture and word. However, how I really feel when I’m trying to find an illustrator for a project is more like a casting agent trying to find the perfect actor for a movie role.

At Little, Brown, picture book art is generally driven initiated by the editor, or in other words, the editor is the casting agent, while for cover and interior illustrations it’s the designer that’s the casting agent, although in both cases the editor and designer will work together to make the decision.

Generally, the editor and designer will come up with a list of possibilities individually, and then meet to compare lists, and then come up with a master list which will then be approved by the publisher. At this point, I would also ask the author if he or she had any suggestions for illustrators, or had a vision for what style they envisioned. It's very rare for an author to have actual consultation or approval over an illustrator choice, however, but of course we want the author to be happy with the illustrator we ended up going with.

Now, I’ll be talking about two picture books and three novels today and the process we went through in order to find the perfect illustrator. I think this examples will help you understand the process of how this all works.

The first picture books I’ll be discussing is Jerry Spinelli’s I CAN BE ANYTHING! (This is a tentative title—as of this past week, it had been called WHAT SHALL I BE?)

Jerry’s picture book is a simple poem outlining all the fun things one can be in the world. And what I love is that it isn’t really a book about jobs, it’s more of a whimsical look at the things you can do. Here's a sampling:   

When I grow up,

what shall I be?


Of all my many many jobs,

which one will be the best for me?


pumpkin grower

dandelion blower


paper plane folder

puppy dog holder


puddle stomper

apple chomper


tin can kicker

mixing bowl licker


Because Jerry Spinelli is a well-known author, we didn’t feel that the illustrator would also need to be a “big name.” I suppose this is like when you have a movie with a big star like Tom Hanks, you may not necessarily need another star of his caliber in the movie to drive the audience into the theaters—instead, you can have a little more freedom in casting that up-and-comer or B-list star, like Ellen Page or Jason Bateman.

But because the text was so simple and straight-forward, but also imaginative, we felt that we needed someone very creative who could bring another layer to the book—therefore, we didn’t want a complete newcomer. I guess you could say that we wanted a character actor—someone whose skills are proven. Like William H. Macy or Philip Seymour Hoffman before they became big stars.

Like casting, picturing an illustrator style is like trying to envision a certain actor in a role. Sometimes the matches seem fairly obvious, like Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire or Kate Winslett in a Jane Austen movie, but sometimes it’s a bit of a stretch at first, like Adam Sandler in a drama or Charlize Theron in Monster.

Anyway, I won't go more into specifics, but I will give a sneak peak of the final art for this book--we ended up choosing illustrator Jimmy Liao, whose books from Taiwan we've adapted for the U.S. children's market: Sound of Colors and The Blue Stone.

Here are a few spreads:

The book will be published at the beginning of 2010. 

And then here was the end of the talk:

So, to summarize, when we’re thinking about possible illustrators for a project, there are several things we consider. What is our budget? How well known is the author? Do we want to pair a famous author with an up-and-coming artist? Or a newer author with an established artist? What tone and style lend itself to the story? How long would we have to wait for the illustrator to have room on his or her schedule? Have we worked with the illustrator before, and do we want to work with him or her again?

I asked another editor at Little, Brown what she considers when trying to pick an illustrator, and this was what  she said: 

I consider where the illustrator is in her career.  Is the artist a seasoned pro or someone new who we could build on our list?  I evaluate whether the artists’ technique will have broad commercial appeal or if it will be better suited for the library market.  And, I consider how accessible the artwork is for our target audience of kids between the ages of three and six.  Lastly, I evaluate what the artist can bring to the story—humor, emotion, warmth, and so on.

In terms of the places we look for illustrators, I think all editors and designers have their own personal art file, some more organized than others. Mine is simply a folder where I throw the postcards and tear sheets that I like. Others might have their organized by style or age group. Many of us tack up postcards of our favorite images. There are also reference books such as PICTUREBOOK and WORKBOOK—these are huge, thick books where an artist would pay a certain amount per page to be included. I’ve also used the brochure from the Original Art Show that the Society of Illustrators in NY produces every year.

And then, of course, there’s the internet. Everyone I spoke to mentioned checking out both artist rep sites, as well as blogs. One of our editors really loves searching through, both to shop, and to find talent. Our Senior Art Director loves the illustrator blog Drawger. And a lot of people said that they love just following links—they might find the blog or website of one artist they like, go to their links section, and just keep exploring, going from one artist to another, bookmarking sites that they like along the way.

For novel covers, many of the designers look at websites for editorial artists as well, because they tend to be able to do jobs very quickly, while a picture book artist may be completely booked up with book projects.

So, what should an aspiring illustrator do? I think the #1 thing you can do is to make great art! If you’re interested in picture book illustration, make sure that you have children and/or animals in your portfolio. It’s also a good idea to include two or three pieces that feature the same characters, so an editor and designer can see that you’re able to maintain characters throughout a book. Another editor mentioned that she always looks to see if the artist can capture emotion.

One designer recommended having at least a few pieces that are stylized in a unique way, even if that technique is not representative of the bulk of your work, because if there’s a style that’s uniquely yours, it’s bound to garner attention, and then people will also see your other work.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, postcards are a great investment, because they’re relatively cheap to produce. Send them both to editors and designers, because we do both use them, and if we like your art, we’ll both look at your website and keep your art on file—you never know when it might turn into something.

And speaking of websites, if you’re an illustrator, you HAVE to have a website. If you don’t have the budget to build one, then just use one of the free blogging services like blogger and start posting illustration samples. Start linking to other artists and authors and have them link to you. 

And that concludes my very first talk with Powerpoint. I will leave you with this quote from Emile Zola who said, “The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.” So work hard and keep on, and I hope to someday play matchmaker with your art.

And that's it! Any questions?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Real Meltdown (Real Children # 7)

This really happened. I wasn't there, and neither was the woman running the store the day I was there and took this photograph:
"But I heard about it," she said. Her tone implied that it had been quite a scene.

We'll never know the rest of the story -- did one of Savannah's parents make her write that apology? Did she do it on her own? What made her have the melt-down? How old was she? (And maybe some of you know the asnwer to this one: is it usual for children old enough to write letters to scream and cry in public?) But, maybe part of the fun of being a writer is that you don't need to know the answers; you just need to be interested enough to ask the questions.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

School Visit Tips

So I just finished my 3 week school visit marathon, finishing in Houston. I had never done visits that continually for such a long duration was kind of trial by fire. But it went great, and I feel like I am a better, stronger presenter because of it. However, here are some little tips I learned on the way:

1. Flats are your friends.
I tend to wear heels when I visit schools because I am so short and I feel self-conscious when I have to look up at a fourth grader. But by the end of week two, I gave up the heels and ballet flats became my shoe of choice.

2. Sugar-free Ricola drops
My voice started to give on day 3, and I anxiously scoured the web for voice-saving advice. I learned that Broadway and opera singers swear by sugar-free ricola works! I was constantly sucking a drop, which made photos of me not the most flattering, but my voice lasted the whole way.

3. Keep well-watered
Losing my voice was a primary concern, I quickly learned that not one, but two bottles of water should be kept nearby at all times. Even at the slightest hint of dryness, gulp that water down.

4. Know where the bathroom is
Which goes hand-in-hand with tip #3

5. Have good press info on your website, including high rez photos
Because you never know when you might be facing yourself super large:
(Like how it says," boo!" right next to me? I was scared.)

6. Have back up
Projectors and computers are finicky, sometimes they don't work on cue. I usually project the pages of my book when I am reading, but I also have a "big book" version that I use in a pinch. It's not as good as projected images, but it gets the job done.

7. Love your iphone
or blackberry or whatever PDA you have, because it is perhaps the most important thing that connects you to your life at home. And because you are presenting all day, most things will have to be e-mailed or voice mailed--things that will inform you on what you are doing tomorrow.

8. Enjoy yourself
Sure, school visits is work and exhausting but they are also an amazing exercise of seeing your books come to life. When kids are thrilled to meet you and excited about your books, one realizes that the books we make do have a purpose outside of the studios we create and the publishing business we work within. And it's a great, grand purpose, one that makes living out of a suitcase for three weeks worth it!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Wedding painting finished

Apologies for not finishing this post last week as promised! Here is the conclusion of the painting I posted about here, a gift for a friend who recently got married. These are her pets Janie the lab and Splash the cat.

Sketching in their clothes:

Refining figures and outfits:

Building pattern on dress and flowers (based on her actual dress and bouquet):

Finished it off with some daisies and bubbles, again based on the actual wedding:

Monday, October 20, 2008

Carle Honors and Original Art Show

As I mentioned in the yesterday's Question of the Week, I've been a bit obsessed with politics recently, and am also a little burned out from my 4-part series on Wabi Sabi. So, today I'll let the pictures do most of the talking.

Here are some pics from the Carle Honors a few weeks ago. There's a wrap-up of the evening over at Fuse #8 (including a blurry picture of me and Peter Brown, who was our guest for the evening), so I won't say more except to say it was a lovely event. Maurice Sendak was honored, and strangely enough, the shrubbery was fittingly fantastic. Here I am posing with Max from Where the Wild Things Are:

Peter with one of the wild things:
Even the leaves had eyes!


And then last Thursday was the Opening Reception of the Original Art Show at the Society of Illustrators. Little, Brown had a record seven books chosen for the show, and I had my personal record of three books that I edited, including Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein and illustrated by Ed Young (which you are all infinitely familiar with by now):
(thank goodness we even had original art to display!!)

The Blue Stone by Jimmy Liao:
and Sergio Makes a Splash by Edel Rodriguez:

And here is fellow BRG Meghan McCarthy's fabulous piece from Seabiscuit: The Wonder Horse:

If you live in the NY area, be sure to check out the exhibit, which will be up until November 26th--it's free! And it's truly magical seeing the beauty and diversity of the art displayed.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Question of the week: How are you procrastinating?

GRACE: I keep window shopping via the internet at Chinese dresses, even though I have no place to wear one to. A bit much for a book signing, don't you think?

ANNA: Looking at handmade birdies by Ann Wood. Amazing. Check them out here!

LIBBY: Dawdling. One thing leads to another. It's hard to even remember at the end of the sequence what all the little activities were.....and they do seem at the time like fascinating activities, though really they could probably be categorized accurately as "getting organized" or, even more accurately, "doing nothing"--unless they really get out of hand and morph into a redecorating project. Next month I'll pay attention, make a list, and report back -- unless realizing I'm doing it makes me stop. It could.

ELAINE: Reading political blogs; watching C-Span, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, etc.; and writing Palinoems--poems about Sarah Palin.

ALVINA: Like Elaine, I've become overly obsessed with this election. Some of it depresses me and makes me cry, but thankfully some of it makes me laugh. Oh, and I've also reverted back to my college years and started playing Tetris on Facebook way too much. It's so addicting. Must. Stop. Although one quick game wouldn't hurt...

Friday, October 17, 2008

POETRY FRIDAY: Two Poems for Daughters

My beautiful twenty-eight-year-old daughter has been much on my mind lately. When I came upon the poem Daughter, written by Minnesota poet James Lenfestey, it struck a cord inside me. I thought I’d post it today along with What Is Supposed to Happen, one of by favorite poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. I included Nye’s poem in a memory book that I made for my only child before she went off to college.

by James Lenfestey

A daughter is not a passing cloud, but permanent,
holding earth and sky together with her shadow.
She sleeps upstairs like mystery in a story,
blowing leaves down the stairs, then cold air, then warm.
We who at sixty should know everything, know nothing.

You can read the rest of the poem here.

What Is Supposed to Happen
by Naomi Shihab Nye

When you were small,
we watched you sleeping,
waves of breath
filling your chest.
Sometimes we hid behind
the wall of baby, soft cradle
of baby needs.
I loved carrying you between
my own body and the world.

You can read the rest of the poem here.


At Wild Rose Reader I have two original acrostic poems that I wrote for Halloween.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Becky’s Book Reviews.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


signings and such

I did a signing this weekend for 2 days (ugh, crazy trying to fit everything in!!!) I have "google alert" with my name and I found this on a blog:

Art Festival

Not much to report except that Meghan McCarthy had a booth next to the library that said "award winning author" and the Internet reports that she is indeed now a semi-famous children's book author. She is now easily the most successful person I know who went to Clayville Elementary School.

I have no idea who wrote it but it cracked me up!

Okay, I'm sick today. DO NOT get a flu or pneumonia shot when you're on high doses of immune suppressants. I've been having fevers, chills, black outs, shortness of breath, chest pain... you name it. THIS SUCKS. I've been trying to go about things as normal but that only makes things worse.

See some of you at the SOI show? I'll be there. If I pass out and you know who I am then tell the EMT I'm on steroids. It's important that they know.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

meeting the ambassador

So I am in Houston for another week of visits (which I will blog about in my next post) which is lucky enough in itself, but what makes my trip even more fortuitous is that it gave me and opportunity to meet the new Ambassador of Children's Literature Jon Scieszka! Yes, Ambassador. I didn't know we had one either but whomever chose Mr. Scieszka made a fabulous choice.
The wonderful Blue Willow Bookshop gave the event all the pomp and circumstance that an ambassador requires. Not only did they drive him up in a snazzy convertible, they had trumpets announce his arrival as he walked on the red carpet. There was also a cub scout flag ceremony as well as a presentation of the keys to the city, er, bookstore.
Then after a hilarious talk about his new book KNUCKLEHEAD, I joined the long, long book signing line. They told us not to take pictures with the Ambassador for security reasons (no, really because it would be too time consuming) which is why I am trying to sneak a photo in on the side here.
But as I got my book signed, my lovely librarian companion Gayle informed Ambassador Sciescka that I was Grace Lin, a fellow author and illustrator. Surprisingly, he seemed to know who I was and I got to take a photo with him after all (with ambassadorial medal).
I was quite shocked that he recognized little ol'mushroom me, but maybe that is why he is THE AMBASSADOR. They probably have to know all those kinds of things for diplomacy reasons.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Publication Story of WABI SABI, Part 4 (the final chapter...I think!)

Read Parts 1, 2, and 3.

I last left off when the lost art for Wabi Sabi was found. The book printed beautifully, and it's now out in stores and has received two starred reviews so far, including one from Kirkus:
Reibstein's plain yet poetic text, which deftly incorporates original and traditional Japanese haiku, works harmoniously with Young's deceptively simple, vertically oriented collages of natural and manmade materials to create their own wabi sabi. Simply beautiful.
Our marketing department decided to make a short (3-5 minutes or so) video for the book to be distributed to some key accounts and also be posted on our website. We wanted to include the story of the lost art in the video, and as both versions of the art were at my office, I was to bring the art up to Ed's studio for the filming.

My assistant Connie carefully packaged up all the art so it would be manageable for me to carry by myself on the Metro North train. The film guy was due to arrive at Ed's studio at 3 pm, so I got on the train that arrived around 2:30. I had a rushed morning and no time for lunch, so I picked something up at Grand Central. The train was fairly empty at that time of day, and I had a row of seats to myself, but as I was about to eat some messy pasta, I thought it best to put the art on the overhead luggage rack to keep it safe and clean.

It was an uneventful trip, and I arrived at Ed's town right on schedule, gathered up all my stuff, and went out to find Ed who was picking me up. I saw him on the other end of the platform with his car and waved gaily at him. He waved back but had a bit of a perturbed look on his face. He put his hand out in a "what happened?" gesture, and all of a sudden, I knew.

I had left the art on the train.



"You left the art on the train?" Ed asked, with just a flash of irritation. Luckily for me, Ed is so Zen and understanding, and considering that he had been the one to lose the art in the first place, was even more understanding. Although, one might say this should have made him be less understanding--after all that the art had been through, how could I have been so careless?

"We'll get it back," he said. "It happens."

My mind was racing, trying to figure out what to do. I called information to get the MTA lost and found number. They informed me that they couldn't call the train because of federal regulations, but that when the train reached the end of the line, anything remaining on the train would be taken off, and would eventually be sent back down to the lost and found office in Grand Central. But I couldn't wait that long--we had a taping in 30 minutes! They said I could try the MTA police. I called Connie and she got on the case. In the meantime, I decided to get on the next train up (about 20 minutes later) and follow the art to the last stop, which luckily wasn't too far--about a half hour away.

Connie called and said that she spoke to the MTA police and that they were calling someone to check the train, and would call back to let her know the station where the package would be held. In the meantime, I also enlisted the help of the train ticket taker. When he took my ticket, I asked him if he was able to call other trains. He paused. "Why? What happened?" He asked. I explained my story. I told him that the MTA police was on the case. He shook his head. "They're not going to do anything," he said, "Let me see what I can do. I'll make some calls." He asked me some specific questions--which train, which car was I sitting in, what did the package look like, etc. I saw him making calls, but he had no news. Then he told me that at the very least, he now knew where the train was parked, and he would go on the train himself to look for the package when we arrived at the final station.

One stop away, he came up to me. "Someone will be waiting for us at the end of the platform," he said. "They have the package."

"THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!" I was so relieved and happy and grateful. I looked at him and blurted out, "Do you have any kids?"

His face lit up. "Two boys! Ages 2 and 5!"

"Perfect!" I said, "Give me your address. I'm going to send you a box of books for them."

"No, don't worry about it, I'm just doing my job."

But I felt that he had gone above and beyond. And it was the least I could do.

I got the package, called Ed, and hopped on the next train heading back. It turned out that the filmmaker had gotten lost and had arrived after 3:30. The train would get me back around 4. We were only an hour off schedule. The filmmaker, Ed, and I all had a good laugh about it. Of course, it was easy to laugh now that the art was safe and sound again.

The taping went quite well--here are a few pictures I took:

(Ed holding a wabi sabi material that he used in the art)

Half of the art stayed safely with Ed, and half of the art returned safely with me to the office for scanning. I kept it on my lap the whole ride back.

This video is still being edited--I saw a rough cut of it last week and it looks really great so far (Mark Reibstein was also interviewed in a separate taping out in California). I'll share it with all of you as soon as it's ready.

And that is the final chapter of my Wabi Sabi story. So far.

Oh, the stories that art could tell...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Finishing Frisco

So, last Thursday I finished up my first round (I am returning in the Spring) of visits in Frisco, TX. It was a great trip, special thanks to all the teachers and librarians whose warmth and hospitality made Frisco a lovely twelve-day home. As I caught my flight to Houston, I made a little list of all the things I learned in Frisco:

1. If you go to Frisco, stay in the Homewood Suites. My trip included a weekend stay--all the librarians were so kindly worried that I would be bored and stuck and kept offering to take me out. No need. Did you see the pool? It was like a resort paradise, and the perfect place to unwind after a week of visits.

2. I CAN present to really large groups. I've always tried to put a limit on the number of students I present to--in the past it's been at most 150 kids at a time. In Frisco, the schools were so big that every group was at least 350 kids. Yikes! It was a definite trial by fire! But by day 3, I got the swing of it and now I feel pretty confident about it. Of course, it helped a lot that the students were very well prepared for me by the super-librarians of Frisco.
3. Lisa Yee is afraid of birds. I met authors Lisa and Carl Deuker in Frisco (they were presenting to the older grades) and were amazed and impressed by their ability to speak to the audience without any visual clues or pre-planned speech. Public speaking is something I have had to really work on and while I have been able to fake it to an extent, it will always scare me. As birds in Frisco will always scare Lisa (she said it was something about symmetry in nature, but I think it's really that Alfred Hitchcock movie).
4. Chicken-Fried steak is just a sample of what they fry in Texas. I had my first chicken fried steak experience which was coronary-killingly delicious. As my mouth rejoiced and my arteries clogged, I was informed that there was a plethora of other deep-fried dishes that I could try--including deep-fried jellybeans, deep-fried bacon and deep-fried twinkies. It's like Japanese tempura gone wild.
5. If you but a penny in a bag of water and hang it in the sun, it will scare away flies. Apparently, something about the way the light reflects the copper in the water does something to the eyes of a fly that freaks them out, which is why this restaurant has those bags hanging on the porch. Anyway, if the pennies in the bags don't scare the flies, I'm sure the enormous bear will.
6. The best nighttime indulgence is a glass of pinot noir and a Little Debbie nut bar. This combination was sworn to me by Debra (seen below), the tireless and wonderful CRM of Barnes and Nobles who followed me to each school carting and carrying loads of my books. After trying it myself, I am inclined to agree. I may buy myself a case of each when I return to Boston!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Just for fun

Adam and I are writing a book together--one with a very silly plot, made up by me; and dialog and details from both of us: NOT something to publish, just something to write. It's an ongoing thing; and he's very excited by it, so excited that he's writing some of it by himself when I'm not there. As you probably know by now, I find Adam's observations about everything pretty interesting, including his response to my explanation of how royalties work. I didn't need to tell HIM most writers don't make much money:
"A lot of books are really boring."
The other night, he said:
"I think in kids' books, kids should make up what the people say."

His dialog is certainly very different from mine. EXAMPLE: The two main characters are Adam himself and his cousin Morgan (kind of a more sensible, less wild version of me as a kid -- I want Adam to be the star, her to be more the narrator). They're around the same age, their mothers are sisters (Adam's real mother, me grown-up -- only more serious and motherly), and the mothers are always saying how nice it is for the cousins -- who are both only children -- to have each other. Morgan and Adam, though, don't like each other. To them, the one good thing about the relationship is
"It's not every day."

Then, to save money, which their parents are obsessed with, Morgan and her mother have to move in with Adam and his parents. The story starts just after this decision and another decision: turn the back yard into a farm, use their boats for fishing, spend NO MONEY. The family will grow, catch, or pick their own food; make everything they need, etc....they won't buy anything.

The children are appalled -- no soccer uniforms, no candy, no video games?! The father says if they want money, they can earn it themselves. The mothers are so busy canning etc. (which they are not at all good at -- some sisterly fights and domestic catostrophes there, too) that they supervise the children far less than usual.

So Adam and Morgan are free to try out their money-making ideas, most of which (and the funniest ones -- I laughed so hard at one that tears came into my eyes) have been supplied by the real-life Adam. They argue about the ideas, then do some of them --with results that we (the real-life Adam and Libby) find hilarious.

But they still hate each other -- I want them to get to be better friends but Adam says no, "not until the last book" -- he has long been telling me to "write a series -- then you won't have to keep thinking of new topics." In the scenes I write by myself,which are all from Morgan's point of view, her feelings about Adam are shown indirectly in her treatment of Adam and, sometimes, directly -- but only in Morgan's thoughts and comments to her mother.

Adam tends to write lines like this:
"Hi, Adam. I hate you," Morgan said.
"Guess what? I hate you more," said Adam.

Other things change over the course of the book. For example, when they go to the Candy Shack that plays such a large part in their lives with the first money they've earned, Morgan sees her mother's favorite candy and buys it for her. Adam does the same for his mother. In real life, Adam is very generous and actually once bought ME a bag of candy when we went to this store (which is a pretty great place). But in the book, he grows into this kind of generosity, as does Morgan.

I'm not sure whether they will end up liking each other or not, but I do know that by the end, when the father gets offered a new job, no one will want him to take it because everyone is enjoying their new life so much. In real life, typically, Adam said:
"What's the job and how much money would he get?"

This is just for fun, though I can't help trying to make it better and think we may end up having two stories, as we do now: one (written by me and us together) about realistic ways the kids try to earn money -- showing the parents, too, and everyone's characters etc. The chapters the real Adam writes by himself --which tend to be very short, action-packed and highly UNrealistic -- could be stories-within-a-story. Diary of what he wished had happened? Story he's writing?

At RISD I remember hearing about a teacher who made everyone spend the whole class drawing something-- and then at the end of the class, he said:
"Now rip it up."
That always appalled me -- but I DO think there is something to be said for just making something without a money-making or goal-oriented purpose, and that's what this is. It's actually energized my "real" writing and reminded me of how light-hearted writing can be, something it's easy to lose sight of when you're expecting it to support you. But -- as I wrote last week -- getting a part-time job will also relieve that pressure.

PS About last week's post (the spy one): One of the BRGs emailed me saying she'd read it & thought it was a really fun post and why had I taken it down? I deleted it in a fit of thinking it was boring and bad -- which just goes to show that a) it's high time for me to stop taking writing so seriously ad b) I have to let something sit for awhile before I judge it! c) ALmost EVERYONE who writes is subject to these fits, which are really more moods than anything else. I have never in my life met a writer who didn't, at times, think that her writing totally sucked. But, encouraged by the BRGs, I have a new resolution: to write what I want -- including here in this blog -- and not be inhibited by what I imagine other people think, or even those black moods of mine. Easy to say, hard to do: but if *I* don't write what I want and enjoy doing it, why not just go back to a money-making job?

POETRY FRIDAY: The White Witch

Here’s a witch poem for October. This poem is not, however, about the kind of Halloween crone one typically envisions as an old hag wearing a black cape and peaked hat who travels through the air on a broom. This “witch” is more of an enchantress with lips red as carnations, eyes blue as the ocean, and hair of gold.

The White Witch
by James Weldon Johnson

O brothers mine, take care! Take care!
The great white witch rides out to-night.
Trust not your prowess nor your strength,
Your only safety lies in flight;
For in her glance there is a snare,
And in her smile there is a blight.

The great white witch you have not seen?
Then, younger brothers mine, forsooth,
Like nursery children you have looked
For ancient hag and snaggle-tooth;
But no, not so; the witch appears
In all the glowing charms of youth.

Her lips are like carnations, red,
Her face like new-born lilies, fair,
Her eyes like ocean waters, blue,
She moves with subtle grace and air,
And all about her head there floats
The golden glory of her hair.

You can read the rest of the poem here.


At Wild Rose Reader, I have the third in my series of Palinoems.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Picture Book of the Day.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

I have Lupus

Or… SLE—Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. I’ve been saying this in my head repeatedly for the past week. I’m trying to get more comfortable with the idea. I’m not at all comfortable yet. Maybe I never will be. I thought this might be good practice. To be frank, the whole idea of it makes me cringe—it doesn’t sound very noble. “I got in a car accident,” sounds more “cool,” if that makes any sense. SLE attacks the connective tissues in the body--sky's the limit!

After two and a half years of searching and after wracking up 100,000 dollars worth of medical bills (don’t worry, the health insurance took the tab), last week I got “the call.” I have to say it was rather anticlimactic. No one dumped any balloons and confetti over my head and said” congratulations!” but no one ran out from the streets to give me a hug, either (it’s okay, I don’t much like hugs anyway). The rheumatologist said, “I got your fax. You have Lupus.” I said, “Are you sure?” He said, “Yes.” I said “Oh.” He said “Would you like treatment?” I said, “Yes. I’ve been taking Prednisone, you know.” He said, “Yeah, I know.”

Prednisone (a steroid with serious side effects) happens to be a treatment for Lupus. I’ve been on a very high dose of it for the past 6 months, despite EVERY doctor telling me to get off it. “It’s just masking the symptoms,” they’d say, and “Of course it makes you feel better, it would make anyone feel better.” But I knew differently. I knew I was treating my symptoms. I’d done so much research that the neur-ophthalmologist asked if I was a doctor. I laughed but he was serious. It’s something when you can fool a top doctor!

Anyway, now I have a lovely choice—I can either take a chemotherapy drug, which might cause hair-loss, or an organ transplant drug, which will cause any baby I might have to be certainly deformed (while on it). I chose the latter. After doing some reading it looks like I might not easily be able to have children anyway. Having a child can be risky to a Lupus patient (or shall I say victim) and one must be symptom free for 6 months or some such (this is what I read somewhere anyway), and I haven’t been at all symptom-free since the start of this.

And when was the start of this? I remember feeling fatigued and having a lot of pain when I started work on Aliens Are Coming! Things only got worse as time went on. I remember one editor a while back saying that she didn’t understand why I used to turn my books in on time, or even early, but was now having so much trouble. Well, this is your answer. And believe me, I was and am WAY more sick than I’ve been letting on. Sometimes someone noticed that I didn’t look right and asked if I was “okay.” I always said, “Yeah. I’m fine.” Lie. I am a big fat liar. I would be (before I self-prescribed Prednisone) nauseous for literally 3 weeks to a month at a time, almost non-stop. Then it would on occasion escalate and I would vomit. I vomited in the car, almost in the subway countless times, at physical therapy, at work, and so on. The pain has woken me up every night for the past 2 years. I have had opposite problems too—extreme fatigue (not like not getting enough sleep – something else entirely, which I can’t quite explain) and would fall asleep while driving at 3 in the afternoon. It was hard to stay awake at work when I was like that as well. And to be perfectly honest (this admission will be a big first) I was suicidal for a short while. No doctor could help me or knew what was wrong with me and people, I could tell, didn’t believe me. One person in publishing even asked “Are you a hypochondriac?” That is not something you want to hear, especially when you’re suffering. Then a lot of annoying folks would say things like "Just eat right and take more vitamins." Then there was the doctor who said, “You’re fine. Chill out and do some yoga,” or the one who demanded I “see a psychologist.”

So I guess now I have a lot of figuring out to do. How will I continue to make a living when I’m sick so often? How can I maintain my part-time job for health insurance? How can I ever really do school visits? What happens if I get worse? My cousin died of Lupus when he was in his early 20s. I read that over 20,000 Americans die of the disease every year. I got a book on it and it suggests getting power of attorney documents and looking into finding a patient advocate in case I, the patient, am unable to speak for myself. This isn’t at all depressing. Not even slightly (at least my sense of sarcasm hasn’t taken a vacation). I, of course, have to also deal with the fact that the Lupus has caused systemic nerve damage (I think this is rare – only 10%), caused by vasculitis—inflammation of the blood vessels. So that's more pain and agony.

So, there will be some good times ahead for me. Hopefully with the new medication I can get on with my life, but I must realize that it will never be the same. I’m not saying this to be dramatic--it’s a fact. But most people live relatively normal life spans, so I’m hoping for the best.

I’m saying all of this for a few reasons. 1) As great as making books can be, there are more important things in life – always remember that when you get too stressed over a deadline! 2) please believe someone when they say they aren’t feeling well 3) buy my books because I’m going to need the extra cash!


p.s - Seabiscuit is coming out soon! Stay tuned.

p.p.s - I really don't want anyone's pity. Why not instead complain about the economy or George Bush--those are always a fun topics! Or let's talk about Palin's wolf shooting. I will, however, accept sympathy gifts in the form of cases of beer... or you can take me out for a bloody mary (my latest drink of choice)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

half-way point

So I am half-way through my three-week school visit tour of TX. For the last week and a half, I have been visiting the schools of Frisco where the first five episodes of the TV show DALLAS (remember, "Who shot JR?") were shot.
Apparently, the producers of DALLAS rented the house and location from a Frisco owner who had built the house for his wife who was a fan of GONE WITH THE WIND. Unfortunately, after the first five episodes were shot, the house burned down and before the owner could finish rebuilding he and his wife got divorced, she took the insurance money, the producers went elsewhere and he was stuck with an unfinished house. And it is still unfinished to this day. I think that is the story. It sounds like something from the DALLAS soap opera itself, doesn't it?

However, the drama that I have been experiencing at the schools has been on the very pleasant side. There is nothing like hundreds of students calling out, "GraceLin, GRACELIN!" as I walk through the halls. Suddenly, I feel like a rock star.

And that is only because the wonderful Frisco librarians have prepared the students SO well for me. The librarians not only read my books to the students but did my book crafts and activities. Like my coloring pages,

my kite making activity, and

the dim sum
and fortune cookie lesson suggestions.

It was amazing! And it made all the difference in my presentations. Without the students' excitement fueling me, there is no way I could keep up my presentations. Yay, Frisco students! Yay, Frisco Librarians! Yay, 1.5 weeks!