Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Some Books I Read in 2012

I used to list my recent kidlit reads in a monthly post. My reading time took a dip last year while I managed my pregnancy and the arrival of my newborn. So I didn't have too many books to list for my regular monthly "books I read" post.  I ended up compiling the names of some of the books I'd read on a draft with the intention of publishing the list in early 2013.  So here it is:

1. SIDEKICKS by Dan Santat (Arthur A. Levine- Middle Grade Graphic novel) House pets compete to be the new sidekick of their superhero master.

2. PILOT PUPS written by Michelle Meadows, Illust. by  Dan Andreasen (Simon & Schuster- Picture Book)  Toy puppies fly through the house in this rhyming book. Check out my author interview.

3. NOWHERE GIRL by A.J. Paquette (Walker & Company- Middle Grade) A girl born and raised by an American mother in a Thai prison must venture out into the world after her mother's death. Check out my author interview.

4. A TALE DARK AND GRIMM by Adam Gidwitz (Puffin-Middle Grade) Two children leave their home and navigate through many dangers of the outside world. Check out my author interview.

5. MONEY BOY by Paul Yee (Groundwood- Young Adult)  A gay student who is kicked out of his home struggles with an opportunity to make money out on the streets. Check out my author interview.

6. DEAR BULLY edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones (Harper Teen-Young Adult) Authors share their personal experiences with bullying.

7. THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by Brian Selznick (Scholastic-Middle Grade Graphic Novel) An orphan boy tries to finish the work his father had been doing before his death.

8. TRY NOT TO BREATHE by Jennifer R. Hubbard (Viking- Young Adult) A boy tries to recover from his suicide attempt. Check out my author interview. 

9.  THE RED THREAD: AN ADOPTION FAIRY TALE by Grace Lin (Albert Whitman- Picture Book)  A Chinese-born girl hears the story behind her adoption. Check out my author interview.

10. LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green (Speak-Young Adult) A boy attends a boarding school where he meets an intriguing girl named Alaska.

11. SCONES AND SENSIBILITY by Lindsay Eland (Egmont USA-Middle Grade) A girl tries to play matchmaker with the people in her life. Check out my author interview.

12.  THE THREE NINJA PIGS by Corey Rosen Schwartz, Illust. by Dan Santat (Putnam Juvenile- Picture Book) Three ninja pigs stand up to the bullying wolf.

13. THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS by Claire Legrand, Illust. by Sarah Watts (Simon & Schuster - Middle Grade) A girl unravels the secrets behind a mysterious school that holds children against their will.

14. TIME BETWEEN US by Tamara Ireland Stone (Hyperion-Young Adult) A girl meets a boy who is visiting from the future.

What were your favorite reads from last year? 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Please Allow Me to Re-Introduce Myself Blogfest: Labor Stories

First, some fun news. Someone nominated my blog for Misha Gericke's My First Book Paying Forward blogger awards. There are so many talented and motivational bloggers out there, so I am especially flattered that I am one of four nominees for having the Best Writing and/or Inspirational Blog. Click here for more details and to see the nominated bloggers of all four categories. Thanks and sweet potato fries to Misha for organizing this!

Thanks and crispy BLT sandwiches to fellow bloggers Elise Fallson, Stephen Tremp, Carolyn Brown, Mark Koopmans for hosting the Please Allow Me to Re-introduce Myself Blogfest. On Elise's blog, she explains:   
I think it's a wonderful opportunity for many of us blogger to re-introduce ourselves to our readers both new and old as well as to the ever-expanding blogging community. So on January 28th, feel free to take a moment and tell us something interesting about yourself....It can be anything...

Well, lately, I've been brainstorming ideas for another WIP, and this story involves at least one childbirth scene.  So naturally, I've been thinking about my own experiences with labor. I don't know if this really qualifies as "something interesting about myself" but here it is--I had natural births with both my children. No doula either time.  

While I was in labor with my first child,  I'd arrived to the hospital partially dilated, breathless and whimpering from the heavy, excruciating contractions. By the time the nurse finished jotting down my curt, stammering responses to her intake questions, I'd become fully dilated. I pleaded for an epidural but was told I couldn't get one.

There were tears. More contractions. Some  pushing. More tears. Contractions and more pushing. And then I met my daughter.

While I was pregnant with my second child, I did some reading about natural birth and decided to try for one again, this time by choice. Last April, I was near the end of my third trimester. In addition to preparing for the new baby, I was also busy with the Blogging A to Z Challenge.  I was due to give birth in early May and I was seriously worried that if I went into early labor before the month of April ended, I wouldn't be able to complete the challenge! 

A week after I published my post for Day Z-sigh of relief- I was back at the hospital. I didn't fully dilate as quickly this time around, but I still refused the epidural. My decision came with hours of ruthless contractions and again, more tears. But at the end of the ordeal, I met my son.

My babies are growing fast.

Moms and Dads, what was the craziest part of your labor experience(s)? I respect everyone's birthing choices and experiences-- I'd love to hear stories about people who've had epidurals, C-sections, home births, etc...

For those of you who don't have children, feel free to share an experience dealing with labor (not the birthing kind) that was challenging for you.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My Favorite Martian Bloghop: The Alien Doppelganger

A big thanks and a bag of M&Ms to Maurice Mitchell from The Geek Twins for hosting My Favorite Martian Bloghop. Today I'm sharing about an alien that caught my interest.

Many years ago, I watched Alfred Hitchcock's "The Case of Mr. Pelham." Pelham, a single businessman, finds people mistaking him for someone else who looks exactly like him. This lookalike masquerades as Pelham by showing up all around town, appearing at his workplace, and living in his home, all while the real Pelham is elsewhere. The impostor has everyone, including his peers, secretary, and butler fooled. Freaking out, Pelham changes his style of ties to throw the impostor off. But this strategy backfires. At the end of the story, Pelham finally confronts the doppelganger at his home- and we see his duplicate is a more polished version of himself- and the butler decides his real employer would never wear a tie like Pelham's. So he aligns with the impostor.

"There's an agency more than human here," Pelham says when he realizes that the doppelganger, who he compares to an alien, has successfully stolen his identity and his life.

The real Pelham is eventually declared insane.

When I watch TV shows or movies about aliens, I find the fear of an alien presence is often a metaphor for the fear of something else- a foreign power, for example.

The alien doppelganger in "The Case of Mr. Pelham" draws on our fears of encountering someone we perceive as an upgraded version of who we are, and then being displaced by this person. Just when you're enjoying the attention of being the hottest person at the bar, someone hotter walks in. You have a tight social circle- maybe you're the one who tells the best jokes or you throw the best parties- and then someone swoops in with better jokes or better parties, and  your peers begin to overlook you. You have high hopes for your steam punk zombie romance novel- you think it could even be made into a movie someday. But someone else publishes a steam punk zombie romance novel at the same time you do, and while your book sales are lagging, their book ends up on a bestseller list. 

Alien or non-alien doppelgangers, when written well, have also enticed me as a reader. Off the top of my head, I'm listing a few books where lookalikes are used in plot twists: Lois Duncan's STRANGER WITH MY FACE, William Sleator's THE DUPLICATE, Robert Louis Stevenson's THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, and Neil Gaiman's CORALINE. These stories show that doppelgangers aren't always necessarily an upgraded version of a character. We need those "evil twin" stories as reminders to keep our code of ethics in check. (Although in "The Case of Mr. Pelham," the doppelganger was both "evil" and an improved version of Pelham.)

If I have a doppelganger who wants to be me, she and I can co-exist peacefully if she can nail the house chores and my WIP revisions while I'm at the spa.

Can you think of other books, movies, or TV shows with doppelgangers, alien or non-alien?

What would you do if you discover you have a doppelganger? How about a doppelganger who's trying to pass themselves off as you?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Kidlit Art Talk and Exhibit at the Art Museum of Los Gatos

Last night, I attended a children's book illustration panel discussion at the Art Museum of Los Gatos in the South Bay. Titled Children's Illustration A-Z, the event featured Susan Jaekel, a kidlit illustrator, Gennifer Choldenko, a Newbery-winning author, Summer Laurie, a former editor at Chronicle Books for Children, and Heidi Long, a librarian at the Los Gatos Library.

The hour flew by fast as the panelists answered questions presented by both Heidi, who was the moderator, and audience members.  One of the questions: What's the best piece of advice you can give others? 

Summer talked about the importance of having rhino-skin- and certainly, writers and artists need a thick skin to survive the publishing industry.  Gennifer mentioned the late Norma Fox Mazer for her philosophy of feeling one's way through a project instead of thinking the way. Susan remembered an instructor she had in college  who encouraged her to just follow her passion.

Something Gennifer said really resonated with me: "I'm never lonely when I write. I have my characters with me." Sometimes when I'm writing late into the night, and it seems like I'm all alone at my computer, my characters actually keep me entertained. And I think Gennifer's statement speaks to a larger idea---we're never alone as long as we have stories inside of ourselves to share.

Although the panel discussion was a one-night affair, a children's book illustration exhibition, Draw Me A Story- A Century of Children's Book Illustration and Storytelling in Pictures: From Idea to Art, will be sticking around at the Art Museum of Los Gatos from now through February 24. So if you live in the area, you should check this out.

The exhibition is pretty cool. And there's something unique that distinguishes how each of the featured artists show their interpretation of the universe. (I avoid using the word unique because it's so overused- like epic, for example- so I only use this word when I really mean it, and I do mean it here.) Susan Jaekel's animals with personality, Bob Barner's edgy dinosaurs, Yuyi Morales' dreamy, rich brushwork, and Emma T. Capps and Thi Bui's enlightening graphic novel excerpts are just a few of the many things I saw.

As a child, I loved drawing- I used to win all these random poster contests and hang my prize ribbons and certificates up on my wall. Back then, I'd even  fancied being both a children's book author and illustrator someday. But as I got older, I got sidetracked with other stuff and put my art on the back burner. When I heard about this art talk and exhibit, I attended with the intention to learn a thing or two more about picture book writing. But once I arrived at the museum and saw all the  awesome children's book illustrations on the walls, I thought to myself...maybe, just maybe, I can rekindle this old flame someday.

How do your characters keep you company when you write? 

How many of you are both artists and writers? How do you balance the two things? 

Artists of the images shown here, from top to bottom: Bob Barner, Susan Jaekel, Emma Capps, and Thi Bui 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Contest: Bringing YA Authors To Your City

Want 5 best-selling YA authors to visit your area in a special tour? Just visit and fill out a short electronic entry form, which counts as one vote. The more votes your city gets, the bigger the chance you have to score a visit in your city with Marie Lu (LEGEND), Marissa Meyer (CINDER), Beth Revis (ACROSS THE UNIVERSE), Victoria Schwab (THE ARCHIVED), and Megan Shepherd (THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER). 

You can also enter a separate contest to win signed books.Another reason to check this out! 

The contest ends on February 15. 

Living in the Bay Area, I voted for my city (first choice) and a neighboring city (second choice).

Have you heard about this contest? Which author(s) would you like to get a hometown visit from? 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Fess Up Friday: I Like Wearing Old Lady Shoes

My most frequently worn footwear for the last couple of years is a pair of flat-heeled brown ankle boots styled for more mature women. These boots are not what the fashion obsessed would call the most trendy or stylish. Critics might even refer to these as "old lady shoes," but whatever. I can easily walk and run and chase after my toddler in these puppies. 

There used to be a time when I went out of my way to tough it out in "cute" shoes (e.g. strappy stilettos, high-heel boots) wherever I went.  I still wear these cute but less comfy shoes for special occasions. I'm just careful not to wear them for too long-otherwise, the shoes start pinching my toes and feet, and I might even begin to limp.

Finding my niche(s) when it comes to fiction writing is a lot like settling in the shoes most right for me. While it might seem convenient to write the kind of story that is trendy and of-the-moment, the process of writing, editing, and revising a story that's not truly the right fit for me could result in some serious mental blisters. On the other hand, writing a story that unveils what's in my heart is like slipping into a perfectly snug pair of shoes that cushions my feet from all around.

The importance of wearing shoes that fit right can also apply to choices we make in other aspects of our lives, such as our careers, relationships, and extracurricular activities.

I prefer strutting over limping, don't you?

Tell me about your favorite pair of shoes and/or your specific niche(s) in writing. Have you ever worn metaphorical shoes that didn't fit in an area of your life? What did you do about it?

Update 1/12/13: From reading my wonderful readers' comments so far, I feel there's something I need to clarify. My message here isn't about encouraging people to stay in their comfort zone. Sometimes when you're being creative, it's fine to venture out of your comfort zone. What I'm trying to convey is that it's okay if you're not a trend follower, and that there is comfort in doing what fits and feels right for you over doing what everyone else seems to be doing. =) 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

No Kiss Blogfest: The Ending of Romeo Must Die

For those of you who are here for IWSG, that post came right before this one...

A big thanks and some heart-shaped sugar cookies to Frankie Diane Mallis for hosting the 4th Annual No Kiss Blogfest. Copied from Frankie's page:
The No Kiss Blogfest! This is when you get to write a scene or post one from of your favorite books, movies, or TV shows that show the almost kiss-- the rising, crushing, excruciating, longing, tension that comes  when two characters get oh-so-close to kissing that you can just feel it, want it, NEED it....and then...they don't
I still remember listening to the late R & B singer Aaliyah's "At Your Best" as a schoolgirl and being mesmerized by her sweet voice as she belted out the dreamy ballad. I also remember watching some action movie starring Hong Kong action star Jet Li and thinking HAI-YAAAH! while he worked his martial arts magic. So I was excited to hear that Aaliyah and Jet Li were teaming up to star in Romeo Must Die, a movie title that shouts STAR-CROSSED LOVERS and ROMANCE and of course, KISSING. Lots of KISSING!

At the movie's final scene when the bad guys were taken down and Jet Li and Aaliyah had a moment to themselves, they leaned into each other.....and hugged.

To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.

A source says that the original film had actually shown the two actors kissing at the end, and it suggests the studio changed the ending when an audience who previewed the film didn't like seeing an Asian male kissing the girl.  

I find it troubling that anyone would be disapproving of or offended by a film scene featuring an athletic Asian male kissing a beautiful African American female. It's also unfortunate that the studio execs had a chance to push the envelope in their cinematic storytelling, and didn't. 

So what if it isn't conventional to see an Asian male getting his sexy on in American movies? 

As storytellers, some of the stories we want to share might go against mainstream convention, and that's okay.

If you've watched Romeo Must Die, what did you think of the last scene? What matters to you when you watch a kissing scene in a movie or on TV, or when you read one in a book?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

IWSG: Why I Make New Year Resolutions

Happy New Year! I hope you all had an awesome holiday. I spent most of the end of December making merry with friends and family and growling "nom nom nom" over whatever I could sink my teeth into.

Tomorrow is IWSG day. I'm running this post a lil' earlier this time. A big thank you and a handful of dark chocolate fudge topped with bits of candy cane to Alex Cavanaugh for hosting this monthly event.

The topic of the hour: New Year resolutions. The idea of New Year resolutions has become a bit of a joke. When I ask people about what their New Year resolutions are, a common response I get is that they don't make New Year resolutions. The reasoning behind that is they don't want to make promises to themselves they'd most likely break.

A promise is a vow. I take promises I've made quite seriously. I regard New Year resolutions  more as considerations, along the vein of "I'll try my best to...."  So in my book, promises and resolutions are two different things.

Reflecting on ways to improve yourself and acting upon these whims can be a positive thing. But there's also an amount of insecurity that comes with confronting yourself about areas that can use improvement. That's possibly another reason why many people, including myself, don't always like to think about New Year resolutions.

That said, thinking about how you can take charge in certain areas of your life is a reminder of how you have some control over your circumstances.

With regard to my journey as a writer, I'm sharing what I'll try my best to do in 2013:
1. Finish and revise my NaNoWriMo novel. 
2. Begin another novel. 
3. Make time to read.
4. Tweet more frequently.
5. Do stuff outside of reading and writing.

How does fulfilling #5 help me in my writing journey? Having interests outside of reading and writing keeps my perspectives open and my mind fresh, and these are important qualities to have as a writer. I've debated whether I should elaborate some more on some of my other extracurricular activities, but perhaps I'll save that for another post on another day.

Do you make New Year resolutions? Why or why not? If you made resolutions for 2013, feel free to share some of them.