Writing quote

Sure, it's simple writing for kids...Just as simple as raising them.
— Ursula K. LeGuin

Thursday, March 29, 2012


   My final revised manuscript of Goldy Luck and the Three Chans was approved by the powers to be at Charlesbridge last week, so we're good to go. My editor tells me I should be expecting my first advance check in April. Yay! 
   They're still in the hunt for an illustrator and have decided to look for an Asian artist to better capture the Asian elements of the story. Currently, the suggestion is to depict the three Chans as panda bears which is okay with me—it could be quite cute actually. However, I thought that changing the title to Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas would be over-doing the cuteness and you would lose that element of surprise. Plus, the three Chans has always been inherently funny to me. 
   Anyone want to weigh in on this?

Thursday, March 22, 2012


   Letter Beasties is a “monstrous” alphabet book by author/illustrator Ron Noble. Each letter of the alphabet is a beast or creature from familiar folklore. There’s Alien Beastie, Kraken Beastie, Werewolf Beastie, Zombie Beastie. For parents who may be concerned about whether you should be telling tales of werewolves and zombies to your kids at bedtime, don’t worry. The vibrant and whimsical illustrations of beasties in the shapes of the letters they represent are charming and humorous. They brought a few chuckles to my six year old kindergartener. Now, there’s high praise indeed.
   The verses are simple and very readable with two lines per page in a large, font-size (excellent for those of us who left our reading glasses in some netherparts of the house and are too lazy to go get them—we are, after all, tucked snugly in bed for storytime!). The rhyming is fun in a roll-off-the tongue way (“U.F.O. Beastie zips across the sky, Vampire Beastie becomes a bat who can fly.”), when the writing does rhyme. However, it doesn’t always and this can be a little disconcerting to the adult reader (“Igor Beastie works in a mad scientist’s lab, Jackyl Beastie plays fetch on the desert sand”). When the rhyming structure abruptly changes, it trips you up.
   Kids though will be so delighted by the colorful and fanciful beasties, they will barely notice the rhyming. My son proved this by eagerly turning the page to see the next beastie while I was pondering the rhyming structure.
   Another clue that a kid likes a book? They’ll ask to read it again...and again...and again...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


   Thank you to Elizabeth Stevens Omlor who nominated this blog for the Sunshine Blog Awards. It's my first blog award, so I'm mighty proud and grateful. 
   The parameters of the Sunshine Blog Award are:
  • Include the award’s logo in a post or on your blog
  • Answer 10 questions about yourself
  • Nominate 10-12 other fabulous bloggers
  • Link your nominees to the post and comment on their blogs, letting them know they have been nominated
  • Share the love and link the person who nominated you.

1. Favorite color: Purple, particularly maroon and burgundy

2. Favorite animal: Cheetah

3. Favorite number: I never got this. How can a number be a favorite? Numbers don't really do anything—except give me a tremendous headache. I guess if I had one, it would be 1,000,000—dollars in my bank account, that is. 

4. Favorite non-alcoholic drink: Coffee. Can't write without it. Well, I can, but then I'd be very crabby.

5. Facebook or Twitter: Facebook

6. My passion: Writing, naturally. And reading (never enough time for this, though). Oh, and yes...laughter. I'm big on laughter in my life. Which is why I have such a wacky sense of humor. I laugh at things nobody else finds funny.

7. Prefer giving or getting presents: Both. I
f someone gave me a case of dark chocolate Toblerones...well, I wouldn't turn it down. I hate shopping (the teen me would die to hear me say that!), but when I come across something that I think would be perfect for someone, it's very gratifying. 

8. Favorite pattern: I prefer solids, but anything in purple might catch my eye.

9. Favorite day of the week: Friday evening. Ahhh...the whole weekend ahead of you. No rushing around the next morning fixing school lunches and hurrying the kids to school.

10. Favorite flower: I try not to have one. Flowers all die on me, so I try not to get attached to any. I have a very black thumb (namely because I keep forgetting to water anything that grows). I have a collection of withered plants and flowers on my kitchen windowsill. If 'favorite' means what would most likely survive under my care, then it'd have to be the cactus.

   Over the next few weeks, I'll be looking at blogs I can pass the Sunshine Blog Award to. So, if you have a blog about writing or writers (I'm looking for blogs that are most helpful to other writers or ones that'll have me rolling in the aisle), please leave me a comment with a link to your blog. When I've compiled my list of 10 or 12, I'll post it here.
   In the meantime, Happy Blogging!

Monday, March 19, 2012


   I have taken the last week off from writing to organize my receipts and log them into my writing expense spreadsheet so I can send it off to my tax accountant. It's humbling. I spent twice as much in writing-related things (conferences, website update, travel etc.) as I made in writing income. There were items that I won't incur again next year like the ALA convention, the cost for my website update etc., and I'm still waiting for payment for two articles that have already been published. But still I need to assess where to cut back. Writing conferences? (I only allow myself one or two a year). And conferences are important for professional development, networking, and yes, book promotion, if you have one. My beloved Green Gulch writing retreat? It comes around only once every six months, and is my one good chunk of uninterrupted time. I hate to give it up, but maybe I'll go just once a year. The price has increased, after all. 
   Last year was my most successful writing year to date: I got an agent, my picture book biography Cixi, The Dragon Empress was released by Goosebottom Books, four of my ten-minute plays were produced in Los Angeles, Santa Rosa, Guerneville, and Sydney, Australia (one was accepted for production at the Short+Sweet Festival in Singapore if the festival itself hadn't been cancelled at the last minute), I had an article published in Faces magazine, signed a contract to write Sacajawea of the Shoshone for Goosebottom Books, due out in Oct. 2012, and sold a picture book manuscript, Goldy Luck and the Three Chans, to Charlesbridge Publishing (pub. date Jan. 2014).  But I certainly didn't make enough money to support myself as a writer.
   This all leads me to thinking: what does it take to be a successful writer? Okay, we've already ruled out money, obviously. My friend, YA novelist Jody Gehrman, and I recently discussed how the yardstick for writing success keeps moving up. First, you want to be published; then you'll really feel success if you had more than one book published; next, if you make more money than you spend as a writer; then if you make enough money to support yourself as a full-time writer. When you finally get there, the yardstick will probably move again. You'll really feel like you've arrived if a publisher will offer you a multi-book deal. Then what? The Newberry?
   Face it folks, we're not in it for the money, right? We write, and we write for children, because we love the process, the journey. It's a hard, long road. Whether it's on a magazine article, a play program or a book, the thrill of seeing our name in print   and sharing our stories is why we do this. The J.K. Rowlings of the writing world are few and very far between. Success in whatever form requires hard work, perseverance, a willingness to be open to feedback and to spend countless hours revising to polish that manuscript. The writing life isn't for the faint of heart. Laura Backes, publisher of Children's Book Insider, has a great article on The Mindset of the Successful Author.
   So, relish in the journey, and may the Muse be with you!

Monday, March 12, 2012


   There are some blog posts that are too good not to share. Ever tried to fix an unwieldy novel, but the more you revise, the further you sink into the quick sand? Chuck Wendig's (author of the novels Blackbirds and Mockingbird ) hilarious post 25 Ways to UnFuck Your Story offer some specific tools for revision and identifying story problems that bog down your tale. 

    *WARNING*  Wendig's post contains adult language, so if that sort of thing makes you blush...

   It's a hilarious read though, and if you're stumbling to your desk half-asleep, it'll snap you awake like a double shot of expresso.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


    Toby, the Pet Therapy Dog and his Hospital Friends is a picture book by Charmaine Hammond, a follow up to On Toby’s Terms, Ms. Hammond’s first book about Toby, the five-year old Chesapeake Bay retriever she and her husband adopted.
   Toby is a pet therapy dog who visits sick children in the hospital. Through his patience, and unconditional love, Toby makes the children’s hospital stay a little brighter.
   This simple chronicle of Toby’s day at the hospital gives children (and parents) an insight into what therapy dogs do, and the emotional and spiritual benefits their presence can have. From playing with the kids, dozing to stories told by the nurse at story time, and keeping an older patient company in the garden, Toby’s happy visits are much anticipated not only by the young and old at the hospital, but by Toby himself.
   Being in the hospital can be a frightening experience for a child, and a lonely one, if the stay is long. Pet therapy animals like Toby can have a significant impact on reducing that stress. Toby and his Hospital Friends demonstrates what an important job Toby has. The language and the pictures are simple and easy to understand, and kids will enjoy following Toby on his rounds visiting with different patients.
   A list of questions at the end of the book help engage children in thinking about the story and can promote meaningful discussions between adult and child.
   Books can assist kids in addressing their fears, be it of dogs, doctors, or hospitals, and give voice to anxiety they may have a difficult time expressing. To this end, the gentle story of Toby and his Hospital Friends will definitely appeal to its target audience.

Reviewed for BookPleasures.com

Monday, March 5, 2012


   Welcome to Monday Musings, my attempt to organize my posts into a more consistent schedule, so I'm hoping to post every Monday on writing-related stuff from publishing, editing, and writing tips to helpful links for writers, school presentations, and what I'm doing or not doing writing-wise, and how you can learn from my mistakes and successes (hopefully).
   So, I'll begin my first Monday Musings to say that I am in LOVE with power point presentations—ever since I figured out how to put them together with Apple Keynotes which is so much easier to use than Microsoft's Power Point. 
   The thought of doing an assembly school visit used to have me shaking in my boots. What? Speak to 100 kids in an auditorium? I'd much rather make 3 separate visits to individual classrooms. But a month ago, my publisher arranged for an assembly visit at a school in San Mateo, and I was forced to put together a power point presentation because I couldn't see how listening to me talk for an hour was going to be engaging enough or how it would work to hold up my book and have it be visible to the kids in the back of a large hall. Fortunately, I didn't have to do this visit alone. Janie Havemeyer, author of Catherine de Medici, The Black Queen, and I did this presentation together. It was fun, the kids were really engaged and engaging, and I got a huge boost in confidence—yes! I can do school assemblies!
   Last Monday, I did two school visits, Salmon Creek Elementary School in Occidental, and Guerneville School in Guerneville. The first was to about 50 4th and 5th graders, and the second was to about 100 4th - 8th graders. Again, I was partnered up with another Dastardly Dame author, Gretchen Maurer, author of Mary Tudor, Bloody Mary. Having done one large assembly using power point, I felt so much more relaxed. Through visuals of ourselves as kids, families (and pets, in Gretchen's case—that one elicited a few "awwws" from the audience for her dog, Ozzie), snapshots of early writings, images of reams of revision notes from editors, pictures from the books and other sources about our dastardly dames and the times in which they lived, we were able to summarize in a 45 minute nutshell who we were as authors, our writing and revision process (always much appreciated by teachers), and the story of our subjects.
   So, if you intend to use power point for your next school presentation, here's a few pointers I've learned:

1) Kids love to know that authors were kids once themselves, so put some pictures of your early life in there.
2) If some of your early writing was lucky enough to have survived your childhood, kids and teachers love knowing how you became interested in writing and being a writer, and that the seed of writing doesn't always have to begin with stories or poems. It could be taking notes in a scrapbook, writing letters to pen pals (as Gretchen shared), or keeping a journal.
3) Kids LOVE humor, so funny pictures are a big hit: pictures of you as a toddler or pre-schooler, your kids, family pets etc.
4) The revision and writing process–many teachers are focusing on this in classroom assignments so teachers appreciate when writers share how much revision goes into the writing process to make the work publishable. And kids like knowing that they're not the only ones getting their work marked up.
5) Technological whatsits. Okay, so this is not always easy for writers. Generally, we know how to turn on our computers, find the word processing program, cut and paste, and that's about it. If you know a tech savvy teen who can help you, you're way ahead of the game. I had to spend some time learning all the special effects I could add to my power point. Fortunately, with Keynotes as I said before, after familiarizing myself with where certain bells and whistles were located and how to add them to my slide, it was pretty simple. And the kids love the little image of the airplane I had flying across my map of the world from Hong Kong to California that showed them how I came to the United States.

   If you want to learn how to use Keynotes, here's a clear, concise tutorial to get you started. And if you want to learn Power Point, click here to get a free tutorial download.
   School visits used to be an author's bread and butter in terms of book sales, but with budget cuts, and tighter budgets for everyone including parents, it isn't that way anymore, so don't fret if you travel a distance for a school visit and don't sell many books. Here's something I've learned: school visits are not about selling books, it's about connecting with kids. And if you and your story resonates with kids, you've done your job as an author.