Writing quote

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

Saturday, September 28, 2013


 The day of the Sonoma County Book Festival dawned grey and dismal. By mid-morning, at the SCBWI Green Gulch Writing Retreat in Marin County where I was enjoying a quiet weekend tending to my muse, the rain pelted the windows in sheets. Things did not look good for my outdoor stage performance on the children's stage. Author Janie Havemeyer (Catherine de Medici, The Black Queen, Goosebottom Books, 2011) and I had been invited to present our books for the festival. 
   Festival readings are often challenging because they tend to draw a younger crowd than our books' target age range (9 - 13). So, Janie and I developed a brilliant plan. We would dress up as our characters, Catherine de Medici and Empress Cixi of China and call our presentation, "A Conversation with Two Dastardly Dames". You can't go wrong with costumes for a younger audience. We met a few times prior to the book festival to write the script and spent several hours the day before at Green Gulch rehearsing our roles. We were ready to roll. But the children's stage was supposed to be outdoors, and who would come out to the book festival in the rain? Despite the nervousness associated with a public presentation, when you put in a lot of time and effort to craft that presentation, you'd like to perform to an audience of more than—one.
   As it turned out, the rain was quite a bit lighter in Santa Rosa, only a misty drizzle by the time we got there, the children's stage had been moved under a covered area, and families with kids did turn out to enjoy the event. Author Mac Barnett presented before us, which put us in a good spot, because he ALWAYS draws a crowd. 
   Janie and I changed into our costumes and by the time we took the stage, parents and kids had filled the seats. Phew! The microphone helped to broadcast the performance, and very soon, it was standing room only.
   Now, I'm not an actress and I was definitely outside my comfort zone. Janie slipped into her role as Catherine much more easily than I did trying to channel Cixi, but you know what? We had a blast. The audience seemed engaged. And, it was a great way to tell the Dames' stories through (what we hoped was a witty) repartee. And we'd do it again!

Authors Janie Havemeyer as Catherine de Medici,
The Black Queen, and Natasha Yim as Cixi, The Dragon Empress
at the Sonoma County Book Festival, Sept. 2013

Friday, September 6, 2013


   One of my favorite Chinese festivals—the Mid-Autumn Festival (or Autumn Moon Festival) is coming up on Sept. 19. In the Chinese calendar, it occurs on the 15th day of the 8th month. This is the day when the moon is supposedly at its brightest and fullest. As a child, I loved this festival because we got to eat moon cakes (round pastries shaped like the moon and filled with lotus seed paste and the yolk of a salted duck's egg), and we went lantern shopping for the Chinese lanterns that we would carry on our evening walks around the neighborhood. In those days, you could still find lanterns made in the shapes of animals—dragons, rabbits, cats, fish—and choosing your animal lantern was a big deal. I still remember orbs of light bobbing up and down as children spilled into the streets with the animals they've chosen to celebrate this day!
   Today, the lanterns you find are plainer—no animal shapes, and in my small-town American neighborhood, my kids are the only ones carrying lanterns around. When they were younger, I'd get lantern painting kits and we'd decorate our own lanterns. My oldest (who's 13) has now outgrown even that tradition. We've made our own mooncakes a few times, but unlike my turnip cakes, they're not as good as the store-bought ones and quite labor-intensive. In spite of this, the tradition lives on and we'll make some moon cakes, enjoy some store-bought ones, and take our evening walk with lanterns in hand.
   This Sunday, Sept. 8, I will be in San Mateo at the San Mateo Autumn Moon Festival, signing Cixi, The Dragon Empress at the Asian American Curriculum Project booth. It promises to be a fun event with Chinese dancing, acrobats, lion dancing, arts and crafts and lots of vendor booths. If you're in the area, visit this fun family event, stop by the AACP booth and say "hello." Would love to see you there!