Friday, December 9, 2011

Where does the time go?

I can't believe it's already December. I haven't been keeping up with my blogging as much as I should be. I've just been busy.  Busy with revising my MS. Busy with holiday stuff coming up. And just busy with a bunch of other things on my plate outside of my writing life. 

But I haven't forgotten what I've been working on these past two plus years. So I keep telling myself to get back to work. Though I have to admit that sometimes the whole "I-would-like-to-be-an-author" thing and the thoughts of stuff associated with that can exhaust me not just physically, but emotionally.

So I keep telling myself it's important to find balance and not let one thing I have on my "would-like-to-do" list keep me from enjoying the rest of my life. Notice I don't refer to what I'm working on as something on my "must-do" list because, considering what's going on in the rest of the world, being an author is just frosting on the cake but not an absolute necessity.

Recently, I was really glad to stumble upon this nice article titled On Real Life & Writing written by award-winning kidlit author Rukhsana Khan about why it's important to have a life even though it's easy to get lost in writing. Insightful stuff.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Light Up the Library Auction

Kidlit author Jean Reidy, who recently released LIGHT UP THE NIGHT, is hosting an online auction called Light Up the Library to benefit a library at Musana's Children's Home located in Iganga, Uganda. According to Musana's Children's Home web site, the facility is an orphanage and school. Some kidlit industry professionals are contributing their products and/or services to this auction, which began on November 7 and will end on November 18.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Author Interview with Jennifer Solow

A few years ago, I read THE BOOSTER (Atria)- it’s a book about a woman with a shoplifting compulsion. Last year, Jennifer Solow, the author of THE BOOSTER, released her first kidlit book for middle grade readers, THE ARISTOBRATS (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky). The Aristobrats are legacy students at the prestigious Wallingford Academy where popularity is a must. Parker and her three best friends, incoming eighth-graders, know this is their year to shine but their popularity is threatened when they’re stuck managing the school’s super uncool web casts. Recently, I interviewed Jennifer.

Were you born and raised in New York? Where did you go to college, and what did you major in?
I think because I write a lot about Manhattan, people think I grew up there, which is flattering for a Manhattan-o-phile like myself! I actually grew up in Pittsburgh, PA and went to Rhode Island School of Design. I think I was a ‘closet writer’ disguised as an artist. (Maybe because I can’t really type and can’t really spell and my sentence structure generally needs…uh…help.) Looking back, I was always making paintings of poems. I got an A+ in a screenplay writing class…in art school! It really never occurred to me that I was actually a writer with a paint set. Or maybe I’m still a painter with a Thesaurus. Words…visuals… paint…pens…they all feel so similar to me. 

How did working in advertising help you in fiction writing?                                 
I work hard. I am ambitious. I know how to sell stuff. I know the difference between a good idea and a boring idea. I am comfortable with the notion that the publishing industry is a business and faces challenges like any other industry. I don’t confuse art with commerce. I am also a collaborator by nature – I love working on projects with other smart people with different perspectives. I don’t view the creative process as precious – I think of it as a party with friends I’ve invited.

Was it hard to transition from writing for adults into writing for the kidlit market?                                                                                                                                         
I don’t think of it as a different market; I think of it as different characters. The main character in my first book, THE BOOSTER, is 29 and figuring out how to grow up. The main character in THE ARISTOBRATS is in 8th grade and figuring out how to grow up. Writing is as hard as it is fun, period. No matter how old or young the characters are, it still involves a whole lot of sitting in a chair at your computer.

In your book bio, you mention you had attended an exclusive private school where a student’s social status depended on the haircut they had. At this school, what other factors determined a student’s “acceptability” and how did you use these memories in THE ARISTOBRATS?
I think most teenagers feel like they’re rejects from their world whether they are or they aren’t. We probably all feel like rejects once in a while. I remember fawning over this certain nail polish color that a few of my friends had. With it, I thought I could be anything. Without it, I thought I was nothing. Was that true? No. Same with having the right haircut – is it true you really need the right haircut to be accepted? Who says YOU can’t be the one to say what the right haircut is in the first place? “Acceptability” or “popularity” is really a state of mind more than anything. In THE ARISTOBRATS, Parker says, “You have to picture who you want to be and then just imagine that’s who you already are.” That’s as true now as it was for me then. If you want to be something, just pretend it long enough until you get there.

One of the things I liked about THE ARISTOBRATS is that Parker and her friends (a.k.a. the popular girls) are nice to others. I feel the notion that popular girls have to be mean girls is a false stereotype because unpopular girls and wannabes can also be mean girls. How did it feel to write against a stereotype?    
My daughter, Tallulah, is in middle school and she’s popular. I really wanted to send a message to her that power can be used for good or evil. The idea that nerdy girls are good and popular girls are “Mean Girls” is wrong. People (of all ages) are complex and full of faults and strengths. Anyone can be an inclusive and powerful leader. Popular girls have a unique opportunity to be that for others. It may be writing against stereotype but who says middle grade writing needs to be stereotypical? I wanted my characters to be real and I wanted them to be role models for Tallulah.

I like the sharp details in your settings, such as that of the posh and elite Wallingford Academy. How do you craft vivid and believable settings?                  
A painting teacher I had once said that, “realism is in the details.” I always remember that quote when I write – the deeper and more specific I can go with the details, the more real the world becomes. When I dream, I imagine vivid places that are totally alive for me. I can remember a place from a dream I had 20 years ago. That’s like writing a setting for me – I simply construct it in my imagination like a stage set and then ‘visit’ that place when I write. I also collect image files. I often ‘cast’ my books with photos of the characters and populate the settings with all the relevant details. I keep notebooks that have torn scraps of everything from the ‘perfect white shirt’ that Parker wears to the chandeliers at Wallingford to the wallpaper that the headmistress has in her office. There’s a specificity to these details that I like – they create the world of the story.

What are your favorite kidlit authors or books?                                               
THE GREAT GATSBY is my favorite book. Lorrie Moore is my favorite author. Dr. Seuss taught me the most about writing. I’m a sucker for the Gallagher Girls (obvs!) and could curl up to a good re-read of JENNIFER, HECATE, MACBETH, WILLIAM MCKINLEY, AND ME, ELIZABETH right now, but I get into trouble when I really delve into authors in my genre when I’m writing something. Suddenly, after reading THE HUNGER GAMES, I was depressed that my character wasn’t Katniss, which is silly but true. I have to stay away from books in my genre until after I’m done writing. The book on my bedside table right now is “Easy Composters You Can Build”.

When is THE ARISTOBRATS 2 coming out? What is it about?                    
Hopefully THE ARISTOBRATS II, CONFESSIONS OF A FORMER SOMEBODY will be out in the spring. I’m a little in the dark about it because I’ve lost my second editor at my publishing house and I think they may have forgotten about me. As an author, that’s unfortunately part of the drill (breathe deeply, Jennifer!) But the book, when it does come out, is about love and loss…and rock stars! Parker’s mother loses her job and Parker faces leaving school, the webcast and her best friends behind. One of the girls falls in love (you won’t believe which one…or with whom!). It’s a big turning point for Parker – for all of them. Plus James is so incredibly hot in book 2. I’m desperately in love with James – he’s my ideal guy.

I totally dig the pictures of you in the Famous Author tank top.                                           
I have a painting on my wall by Shari Elf. It’s says, “I always have to ask myself, What would Cher do?” That’s writing for me – not a mechanism for putting words on paper, but a chance to have fun and to be fantabulouz (like Kiki) for a while. I took the “Famous Author” photo with a very famous photographer named Terry Richardson. He owed me a favor from my days in advertising and I called it in. One day after the photo appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, I was hiking a trail near my house. A girl stopped me and pointed: “You’re the Famous Author!” I said, “YES! YES! I’m the Famous Author!” That’s what life is to me. Having fun. Trying ‘characters’ on. Making magic happen. Asking a hotshot photographer to take your picture while you’re still cool enough to do it. My life is about more than writing books – it’s about joy and work and creating something from nothing.

Thanks for the opportunity.

You're so welcome, Jennifer!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Books I Read in October

ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia (Middle Grade-Amistad) In the summer of 1968, an 11 year-old girl and her two younger sisters must spend a summer in Oakland with their disinterested mother who had once abandoned them. While staying with their mother, the girls participate in a youth camp hosted by the Black Panthers. The author was a presenter at the SCBWI discussion  panel on multiculturalism I attended earlier this year. 

DUMPLING DAYS (ARC) by Grace Lin (Middle Grade- Little, Brown & Co.) I was so excited to receive this ARC! To be released in January 2012, this book is a continuation of Pacy's adventures which originated in THE YEAR OF THE DOG. Here, Pacy and her family spend part of their summer in Taiwan. When she is not busy with her Chinese painting class, Pacy is immersed in the food, culture, and lifestyle of her parents' native Taiwan. Check out my author interview in January.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What I'd Be Doing During NaNoWriMo

It's National Novel Writing Month! I've never written a novel during NaNoWriMo, but I do like reading about people who pursue their dreams of being novelists during this month (as well as the other eleven months of the year). Someday, I'd like to participate in NaNoWriMo, to start a novel from a shaky start to a sloppy first draft finish, and then call it a month. 

This November, however, I'll be busy at working on revising my WIP. It has already gone through a few drafts. I recently ran my MS through a couple of AWESOME critique buddies, and have been reflecting on how to incorporate their feedback into the final drafts. 

Revising isn't easy. I'm forced to look at my work from a neutral perspective and I have to frequently remind myself that it doesn't matter if I'm smitten with a part that I'd written- what I need to consider now is if an agent or editor or intended reader would get it too. If not, it means I need to cut or revise. That's why I make it a point not to fall too deeply in love with my first drafts because chances are, I'm going to need to tweak a lot of the stuff around.

How would you be spending NaNoWriMo? (Responses don't have to be writing-related.)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Teaching with Children's Books: Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead

Dia de los Muertos (also known as Day of the Dead) is coming up. This celebration of the dead, occurring on November 1 and November 2, embraces the idea that the living can still continue to care for those who have passed on.
There are many books on Dia de los Muertos out there. Here are a few books I like on this holiday:


CLATTER BASH!: A DAY OF THE DEAD CELEBRATION by Richard Keep (Picture Book- Peachtree) Cheerful skeletons party through the holiday with lots of food, noise, and festivity.

THE DAY OF THE DEAD/EL DIA DE LOS MUERTOS by Bob Barner (Picture Book- Holiday House) This rhyming picture book shares customs associated with the holiday and is dedicated to Jose Guadalupe Posada, an artist known for his skeleton-themed art.

UNCLE MONARCH AND THE DAY OF THE DEAD by Judy Goldman, Illust. by Rene King Moreno (Picture Book- Boyds Mills) "Never be afraid of the dead for those who loved us can never hurt us," an uncle teaches his niece before he passes away.The girl later believes her uncle has returned to her in the form of a monarch butterfly. 

EL DIA DE LOS MUERTOS by Mary Dodson Wade (Picture Book- Scholastic Library Publishing) The color photos in this  book about Day of the Dead take a reader straight to the heart of the holiday and its customs. 

Feel free to recommend other books on Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead.

DAY OF THE DEAD: A MEXICAN-AMERICAN CELEBRATION by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith, Photog. by Lawrence Migdale (Middle Grade Picture Book- Holiday House) This book, with its colored photos, follows a family as they celebrate Day of Dead while explaining the history and the traditions behind this holiday.

Friday, October 21, 2011

CONTEST: Shannon Whitney Messenger's Big Blog Contest

I briefly chatted with Shannon Whitney Messenger in an elevator back at the Big Sur Conference earlier this year. Recently, Shannon scored a really sweet book deal with Aladdin. To celebrate, Shannon's hosting this contest where she's giving away cool necklaces, awesome books, and a WISH that you can work out with her if you win. The books being given away as prizes include scrumptious Lisa Schroeder reads, such as SPRINKLES AND SECRETS and IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES. 

Apologies for the late notice, but the deadline to enter is 11:59 pm PDT on Saturday, October 22, so if you're interested, visit Shannon's post here for more details.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Perils of Writing About Who You Know

You often hear you should write about what you know. Does this apply to writing about who you know? This is what can go wrong when you write about who you know: In this week's episode of Gossip Girl, Dan Humphrey announces the publication of his book to his inner circle of Manhattan's young elite. The book showcases the lives of his close friends and loved ones. At first, Dan's friends and family are amused with the idea of being in the book, but as they read through it, most get pissed over how they're portrayed. Serena, Dan's ex-gf, is upset at being shown as a self-centered party girl. Rufus, Dan's father, doesn't like being labeled as a washed up musician and trophy husband. Blair, who is engaged to the suspicious Prince Louis, freaks out at the suggestion she and Dan had hooked up hooked up. (Blair should've figured out Dan wasn't trying to cut her down when he suggested they'd gotten together. It was wishful thinking on his part, and MINE too.)

At the end of the episode, Dan's inner circle is gone and he is all alone. Poor Dan...he didn't even want his secret book to be made public. On the bright side, no one threatened to sue him.

The outside universe provides a wealth of inspiration to writers, unless one is an absolute hermit who never ever leaves their home and never ever communicates with anybody aside from the voices in their head. So I wouldn't be surprised if some writers may sometimes get ideas for some aspects of their fictional characters from consciously or subconsciously picking up vibes from others, and they can do it without pulling a Dan.

My take: If a real-life person inspires a character to be portrayed in a  flattering way, the writer should still convey this is a made-up character. Now if a real-life person inspires a character who's all sorts of gross, the writer should proceed with some caution when revealing  this character who is supposed to be (REMINDER!!) fictional.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this topic.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Author Interview with Paul Yee

Reading Paul Yee’s book, THE BONE COLLECTOR’S SON, I immersed in a story crossing four genres- young adult, historical fiction, multicultural, and supernatural. In the story, a Chinese Canadian boy living during the early 1900s works in a haunted house owned by a white couple. Many of Paul’s books, such as THE BONE COLLECTOR'S SON (Marshall Cavendish), TALES FROM GOLD MOUNTAIN (Groundwood), and GHOST TRAIN (Groundwood), are rich with history of the Chinese experience in North America, and shed light on the racism and injustices the early Chinese immigrants endured.     

Paul, a third-generation Chinese Canadian, was born in the “prairies” in a small town called Spading, where his parents ran a café. But he grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia. He was raised by a Canadian-born aunt who insisted that he and his brother speak Cantonese at home and attend Chinese language classes every day after English school. He has a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in history, both from the University of British Columbia.

How did you decide you wanted to write children’s books?                               
I never set out to write children’s books. My career as a writer is a fluke. One year, a publisher came to Chinatown looking for a writer. The firm was doing a series of children’s adventures set in real neighborhoods in real cities. In Vancouver, the publisher wanted to set the story in Chinatown, so they asked around for a local writer who knew the community. At that time, I was doing volunteer work in Chinatown, and I had published a short story in a journal, so they asked me if I wanted to try. I said, “Sure. Why not?”  

How did your interest in ghosts, particularly Chinese ghost stories, come about? 
As a child, I was easily scared. I grew up in Vancouver’s Chinatown, then a slummy neighborhood that was being abandoned. The old, falling-down houses made me think that people were running away from ghosts. My aunt believed in ghosts but didn’t fear them. She gave me warnings on how to avoid ghosts, but the advice only terrified me further. My aunt, in another attempt to drum the Cantonese language in me, took me to see black-and-white movies exported from Hong Kong during the 1960s. Some movies involved ghosts, and they were exceptionally scary because they combined visual and sound effects. But it was high drama.

Later, after I had written a few ghost stories, I recalled that the history of the Chinese in North America included many decades where immigrants didn’t see justice, despite their valid grievances. In such an unjust world, where Chinese immigrants were largely powerless, I suggest in my ghost stories that it is only with the interventions of supernatural beings that justice can be attained.

In THE BONE COLLECTOR’S SON, you introduce an interesting concept of helping to bring a ghost to a place of peace instead of fearing it. Where did this idea come from?
As I learned more about ghosts in China’s folk tradition, I discovered that ghosts usually had some “unfinished business” for which they had returned to the living world. As such, the ghosts need not be feared, not by innocent parties, at least. Instead, ghosts needed to be understood, especially if they were seeking justice. Ghosts, as extensions of human beings, seek peace too.

In THE BONE COLLECTOR’S SON, there's a hypercritical Chinese father who constantly berates his son. Where did you get the inspiration for this character?                                                          
In Chinatown, I met many Chinese fathers who barely spoke to their offspring, young and adult children alike. The fathers were too tired from work, or there had been periods of separation, caused by immigration laws, that had erected cultural and language barriers. I sensed frustration and impatience from such fathers, who had been cheated of their own dreams due to the immigrant nature of our community.

In your picture book GHOST TRAIN, you give a moving tribute to the Chinese laborers who contributed to the building of the North American railroads by showing the humanity of the men’s ghosts and those who had died while performing dangerous work. How do you think the present generation can recognize the efforts of the early Chinese laborers?                  
I think the present generation can best honor the workers by being vigilant, like the writer of this Washington Post article, of occasions when the stories of those early workers are ignored, or misrepresented in the mass media. The present generation should stand up to protest such blatant disrespect or distortions of history.     

In your picture book, ROSES SING ON NEW SNOW (Groundwood), a Chinese American girl who gets no credit for her cooking in her father’s restaurant prepares a dish that attracts the attention of a Chinese governor. Might you have the secret recipe for Roses Sing on New Snow, this fish dish?          
The title involved red and white so I use salmon and green onions to supply those colors. I poach salmon fillets, then top them with minced ginger and green onions that have been quickly stir-fried in hot oil. I add light soy sauce at the end. Voila!

How did you conduct your research on the Chinese experience in North America?   My volunteer work in Chinatown led me to Chinese-North American history. In the 1970s, most books on this topic came from California!  We needed Canadian materials, so I started looking at old newspapers on microfilm and in government records. In a history book that I wrote, I interviewed elders from the community. For my Master’s thesis, I used Chinese-language business documents.

What are components of a compelling multicultural story?                               
You need a compelling, sympathetic character to carry your story. You should take the reader into an authentic “multicultural” world. It doesn’t have to be all Chinatown or an entire community; it can just explore one aspect of Asian-derived culture that is suddenly important to the protagonist.

What is your favorite kidlit book?                                                                       
My all-time favorite kidlit book is A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle. I remember our Grade 5 class read it, and everyone bounced off the walls for weeks afterwards because we had never encountered a book that began so strongly anchored in the real world, and then leapt into such magical realms.

Any upcoming book releases?    
I have two new books this fall. THE SECRET KEEPERS (Tradewind Books) is set in San Francisco, a year after the earthquake and fire. It’s a ghost story for ages 8 to 12. The other book is for teens. MONEY BOY (Groundwood Books) tells of a week in the life of a Chinese immigrant teen who gets thrown out of the house in current-day Toronto after his father finds out that he’s been surfing gay websites.

We do need to have more multicultural gay fiction in kidlit. Thanks for chatting with me, Paul.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Asian Ghost Stories and Other Spooky Asian Kidlit

When I was a little kid, I remember getting creeped out hearing the story about the guy who picks up a lady hitchhiker. The guy lets the hitchhiker wear his jacket. Then the hitchhiker disappears when the driver reaches  her house. Later he finds out she has been dead for X number of years, and when he visits her gravesite, he finds his jacket on her tombstone. You know, that one?

How 'bout feeling your heart ache over the '80s Hong Kong movie where this character played by the late Leslie Cheung falls in love with a ghost?  You know, that one? Mmm...hmm...

Ghost stories and spooky tales are pretty big in Asian cultures. With Halloween around the corner, I thought it would be fitting to share a few of the many kidlit books I've read that spotlight spook from an Asian or Asian American perspective:

A BANQUET FOR HUNGRY GHOSTS: A COLLECTION OF DELICIOUSLY FRIGHTENING TALES by Ying Chang Compestine (Young Adult- Henry Holt & Co) Each of the eight stories in this collection references a Chinese dish and the author's insight into ghosts, revenge, injustice, karma, and respect for the dead. Steamed dumplings and cannibalism.  Beef stew and illicit organ harvesting.  Egg stir-fried rice and being buried alive. 

BEHIND THE MASK by Yangsook Choi (Picture Book-Frances Foster)- A Korean American boy is haunted by his last memory of his senile grandfather, who was wearing a "scary" talchum mask worn in a traditional Korean folk dance...until the boy puts on the mask and his grandfather's old dance clothes, and  now has a Halloween costume. 


GHOST TRAIN by Paul Yee, Ilust. by Harvey Chan (Picture Book- Groundwood) Set in the 1800s, this story spotlights a Chinese girl who travels to North America to visit her father only to find out her father died in an accident while he was trying to build a railway. After boarding a ghost train to view the ghosts of the many men who sacrificed their lives to build the railway, the girl is tasked to bring the souls of the dead men back home. Check out my author interview.


THE BONE COLLECTOR'S SON by Paul Yee, (Young Adult-Marshall Cavendish) A Chinese boy living in Canada during 1907 reluctantly helps his father dig up bones of the buried Chinese so the bones could be sent back to China. When the boy and his father dig up a skeleton without a skull, bad luck strikes. The boy ends up working in a house that is haunted and confronts his fear of ghosts. The ghost stories embedded into the main story enhance the spook factor.  


BOY DUMPLINGS by Ying Chang Compestine, Illust. by James Yamasaki (Picture Book-Holiday House) A Chinese boy outsmarts a hungry Garbage-Eating Ghost who threatens to make dumplings out of him.



MORE BONES: SCARY STORIES FROM AROUND THE WORLD (Middle Grade- Viking Juvenile) This book features spooky tales from places like Spain, Scotland, Germany, and Asia. Stories include: The Severed Head (Persia) where a beheaded physician exacts revenge on the king who had wrongly condemned him, The Dangerous Dead (China), where four travelers stay at an inn and room with a homicidal corpse, The Gruesome Test (Japan) where a maiden challenges her suitor to snack on a corpse, and The Ghost of Rainbow Maiden (Hawaii) where a murdered rainbow maiden tries to find her body so she could live again. 

Feel free to add any additional books or stories to this list.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Giving Back: It Gets Better Project

Lately, I've been hearing a bit about bullying in the schools, particularly tragic stories of bullied gay youth who take their own lives. There's something called the It Gets Better Project- this project comprises of a bunch of inspiring videos to assure LGBT youth to hang in there because it gets better. Recently, a group of male librarians got together and modeled for a 2012 calendar called The Men of the Stacks. Proceeds from calendar sales will go to the It Gets Better Project. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Books I Read in September

I read THE HUNGER GAMES, the first book of Suzanne Collin's trilogy, before I even started this blog. When I finished the book, I knew I was going to devour the last two books....and I did just that in September.

WARNING: There are spoilers in the book summaries.

CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins (Young Adult-Scholastic)  While Katniss is regarded as a hero in her District 12 for winning the Hunger Games, the Capitol decides to punish her for her rebellion by putting her and Peeta in another fight-to-the-death contest in a Hunger Games all-stars competition.

MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins (Young Adult-Scholastic) Katniss ends up in District 13 where she has to confront a "brainwashed" Peeta and her duty to take down the Capitol as the rebellion's Mockingjay. The conclusion to the Katniss/Peeta/Gale love triangle also ends here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Writing Kidlit: When the Going Gets Rough...

An author's recent blog post prompted readers to share what they do when they are feeling discouraged as they attempt to navigate through the kidlit industy. My responding comment was that I think about how lucky I am to have the resources accessible to me so I can pursue a career in kidlit writing (even if I might end up not getting published).  

Let me elaborate on the things I have that I'm grateful for:

My dear husband and daughter
2. My ideas
3. My laptop
4. My life experiences 
5. My super cool and supportive writer friends 
6. My super cool and supportive non-writer friends
7. Opportunities to attend selected kidlit writing events, such as workshops and conferences
8. Access to local bookstores (though with Borders shutting down, that access has been compromised a bit)
9. Access to the local library
10. Access to the Internet (though that can sometimes impede on the writing process more than help it along)
11. Access to the time I can scrape together at the end of each day to write in private

I don't take the stuff I listed above for granted because I know what it's like to not have some of these things. For example, I remember what my life as a writer was like before I had "writer friends," and I can definitely say I prefer a life with writer friends than one without.

So on days when I'm feeling discouraged over the whole kidlit writing thing, I remind myself that I'm very fortunate to have the resources to embark on a career in kidlit writing in the first place.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Banned Books Week Sept 24-Oct 1, 2011

Banned Books Week is coming up. This is an annual event celebrating the fabulous First Amendment and our rights to access information. Not surprisingly and unfortunately, there are quite a few kidlit books out there that have been banned. Many of them happen to be classics such as: THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger, THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie, the HARRY POTTER books by J.K. Rowling, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee, BLACK BOY by Richard Wright, and FOREVER by Judy Blume. (And these books are all FANTASTIC.)

When I skim through the stories behind banned book challenges, a common pattern arises: A parent is bothered or feels threatened by something in a book their child has access to, and so they launch a campaign to have that book removed from the classroom or library so no other children can have access to it. 

As a parent myself, I can understand why parents would want to screen their children's reading materials. And certainly, if a parent finds something they perceive as "questionable," they have the right as a parent to keep their own child away from it.  HOWEVER, I don't think it's fair for a parent to make that kind of decision for other people's children. That's where I have to draw the line.

There's lots of information out there on Banned Books Week. Here are a couple of web sites (and there are more out there):

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Muse Online Writers Conference

The Muse Online Writers Conference is happening October 3-9.  The deadline to register for this FREE conference is September 25. I've never participated in this particular conference before but I might check it out. From skimming the 2011 Workshops  section, I get the feeling this event is intended for both writers of kidlit and adult literature.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Online Auction to Fund Hurricane Irene Relief: Read for Relief

Since Hurricane Irene hit at the end of August, many of those affected still need assistance. So four awesome writers got together to run an online auction to help fund Hurricane Irene's relief efforts. The auction is called Read for Relief. Raised funds will go to the American Red Cross. Items up to be auctioned include signed books and critiques.  

I think the organizers are still accepting auction items, so if you're an industry professional and want to donate a service or product, check out the web site.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Teaching with Children's Books: Prepositions

It's back-to-school time, which means I can reintroduce my Teaching with Children's Books segment, YAY! Teaching prepositions is today's subject. I came across the following picture books that highlight prepositions. These books have clear illustrations to help learners visualize prepositional phrases as they're used in a story. Maybe learners can even make their own picture books once they get the idea.

PIGGIES IN THE PUMPKIN PATCH by Mary Peterson and Jennifer Rofé (Picture Book-Charlesbridge) Two mischievous pigs frolick through a farm as they go "over growing green beans," "behind snoring, sleepy sheep" and end up going "into the pumpkin patch." 


JOEY AND JET by James Yang (Picture Book-A Richard Jackson Book, Atheneum) A boy named Joey throws a ball to his dog, Jet. Jet goes after the ball "among the birds," "across the street," "between the tables," then catches the ball and fetches it back to Joey.

BEARS IN THE NIGHT by Stan and Jan Berenstain  (Picture Book-Random House) In this Berenstain Bears book set past bedtime, the bears sneak "out of bed" and "out the window" and go "around the lake" and "up Spook Hill."


ROSIE'S WALK by Pat Hutchins (Picture Book-Simon & Schuster) Published in 1968, this classic features Rosie the hen going out for a walk, oblivious to the hungry but clumsy fox following her as she goes "through the fence," "past the mill" and "under the beehives."

Friday, September 2, 2011

Fess Up Friday: I'm Not a Grammar Book, a Spell Checker, or a Dictionary

Here's another reason why I don't go out of my way to announce to the world that I write: People who unnecessarily feel the need to apologize to me at the end of an email in case they made any grammatical mistakes in their writing. Or people who use my writer status as an excuse to cut a note short, as in, "I better go now before I spell something wrong."

As a writer, I zone in on errors only when it relates to work, especially my work. I don't correct or acknowledge usage errors in friends or acquaintances' grammar or misspellings simply because I just don't pay attention to those things when I'm reading a friendly  email or Facebook comment or postcard or  whatever informal correspondence I get from peeps. And even if I notice a boo-boo, so what. But  trust me, there are pah-lenty of writers and avid language enthusiasts who like to  smugly point out to someone when they should have used lie instead of lay, the past participle instead of the past tense, and yada yada yada instead of blah blah blah, and hence, they make the rest of us look like That Steel-Eyed Grammar Whipping Guard with the Bleeding Red Pen. 

I confess: I make grammar and spelling boo-boos too. So what if I'm a writer.

And while I'm here, I also want to add that just because I write and took Latin in high school, it doesn't mean I know every word ever conceived in the English language.

I still rely on the Internet for  learning   the some of the fancy schmancy stuff. Sometimes I'd learn a neat word and think, wouldn't it be cool if I could actually use  this word out at a party without sounding totally pretentious? 

A fancy schmancy word I do like....hypnagogic. I get a lot of my ideas for stories when I'm in a hypnagogic state. What about you? Alright, DISCUSS, I say in my best Linda Richman twang from SNL's Coffee Talk.

Books I Read In August

NO PASSENGERS BEYOND THIS POINT by Gennifer Choldenko (Middle Grade- Dial) Three siblings are on a plane flight to visit their uncle but end up in a mysterious, unexpected place.

SHIVER by Maggie Stiefvater (Young Adult-Scholastic) A girl falls in love with a boy who is part-wolf.

THIS TREE, 1, 2, 3 by Alison Formento, Illust. by Sarah Snow (Picture Book- Albert Whitman) This counting book explores the environmental significance of a single tree and the animal and insect life inhabiting it. 

THE ARISTOBRATS by Jennifer Solow (Middle Grade-Sourcebooks Jabberwocky) Four best friends from New York's society scene aspire to maintain their popularity during eighth grade in spite of being assigned the "unpopular" job of working on the school's webcast.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Fess Up Friday: I'm Giving Twitter Another Shot

At WriteOnCon, the importance of establishing an online presence was a recurring topic in some of the live chats with industry professionals. Back in March, I learned the significance of an online presence at the Big Sur Children's Writers Workshop, which was why I took a GIANT leap to put myself out there as a writer and started this blog. 

A few of the agents at WriteOnCon referred us attendees to their Twitter accounts. I had a Twitter account awhile ago, but I ended up deleting it because (and now I'm dropping my voice) I didn't know how to work the functions. Like someone would leave a note for me and I wouldn't know what to do. Seriously. Another reason I did away with my old Twitter account was because (and I'm whispering again) I simply couldn't think of anything to post. That's right- me, a writer not knowing what to write. I mean, I doubt the world is sitting at the edge of its seat waiting to hear about what I had for lunch,  how my trip to the DMV went,  what I dreamt last night, or what I think of today's weather....unless there's a  tornado going on outside my window and in that case, I'd have bigger things to worry about than logging in to tweet about my house getting uprooted from the ground.

Anyhoo, I decided to start a new Twitter account today. It took me a solid ten minutes to do my first post. I also "followed" some industry professionals. I haven't posted a picture yet so right now, I'm the Shadowy Faceless Egg Follower (let's play  Sting's "Every Breath You Take" for this post's soundtrack). I have a hunch that I'd spend more time reading people's updates than posting up a storm for the time being. But I'll post my Twitter addy  here once I've built up some momentum. 

WriteOnCon 2011 was Fab

I was busy most of this week participating in WriteOnCon, an online writers conference I could attend from the comfort of my office chair.  I participated in query critiques, live chats, and forum chats and I  rubbed virtual elbows with super cool agents, editors, and writers.  Lots of info packed into three days.

What's great about WriteOnCon is that if you missed it, you can go back and revisit the forums, chat transcripts, and articles. Being that this was a free event run by volunteers, I offered a lil' donation as a way to say "thank you" to all the parties involved.